Halloween In America
IN Colonial days Hallowe'en was not celebrated much in America. Some English still kept the customs of the old world, such as apple-ducking and snapping, and girls tried the apple-paring charm to reveal their lovers' initials, and the comb-and-mirror test to see their faces. Ballads were sung and ghost-stories told, for the dead were thought to return on Hallowe'en.
"There was a young officer in Phip's company at the time of the finding of the Spanish treasure-ship, who had gone mad at the sight of the bursting sacks that the divers had brought up from the sea, as the gold coins covered the deck. This man had once lived in the old stone house on the 'faire greene lane,' and a report had gone out that his spirit still visited it, and caused discordant noises. Once . . . on a gusty November evening, when the clouds were scudding over the moon, a hall-door had blown open with a shrieking draft and a force that caused the floor to tremble."
--BUTTERWORTH: Hallowe'en Reformation.
Elves, goblins, and fairies are native on American soil. The Indians believed in evil manitous, some of whom were water-gods who exacted tribute from all who passed over their lakes. Henry Hudson and his fellow-explorers haunted as mountain-trolls the Catskill range. Like Ossian and so many other visitors to the Otherworld, Rip Van Winkle is lured into the strange gathering, thinks that he passes the night there, wakes, and goes home to find that twenty years have whitened his hair, rusted his gun, and snatched from life many of his boon-companions.
"My gun must have cotched the rheumatix too. Now that's too bad. Them fellows have gone and stolen my good gun, and leave me this rusty old barrel.
"Why, is that the village of Falling Waters that I see? Why, the place is more than twice the size it was last night--I---
"I don't know whether I am dreaming, or sleeping, or waking."
--JEFFERSON: Rip Van Winkle.
The persecution of witches, prevalent in Europe, reached this side of the Atlantic in the seventeenth century.
"This sudden burst of wickedness and
--LONGFELLOW: Giles Corey of the Salem Farms.
Men and women who had enemies to accuse them of evil knowledge and the power to cause illness in others, were hanged or pressed to death by heavy weights. Such sicknesses they could cause by keeping a waxen image, and sticking pins or nails into it, or melting it before the fire. The person whom they hated would be in torture, or would waste away like the waxen doll. Witches' power to injure and to prophesy came from the Devil, who marked them with a needle-prick. Such marks were sought as evidence at trials.
"Witches' eyes are coals of fire from the pit." They were attended by black cats, owls, bats, and toads.
Iron, as being a product of fire, was a protection against them , as against evil spirits everywhere. It had especial power when in the shape of a horseshoe.
"This horseshoe will I nail upon the
--LONGFELLOW: Giles Corey of the Salem Farms.
The holiday-time of elves, witches, and ghosts is Hallowe'en. It is not believed in here except by some children, who people the dark with bogies who will carry them away if they are naughty.
"Onc't they was a little boy wouldn't say
--RILEY: Little Orphant Annie.
Negroes are very superstitious, putting faith in all sorts of supernatural beings.
"Blame my trap! how de wind do blow;
--RILEY: When de Folks is Gone.
While the original customs of Hallowe'en are being forgotten more and more across the ocean, Americans have fostered them, and are making this an occasion something like what it must have been in its best days overseas. All Hallowe'en customs in the United States are borrowed directly or adapted from those of other countries. All superstitions, everyday ones, and those pertaining to Christmas and New Year's, have special value on Hallowe'en.
It is a night of ghostly and merry revelry. Mischievous spirits choose it for carrying off gates and other objects, and hiding them or putting them out of reach.
"Dear me, Polly, I wonder what them boys
--WRIGHT: Tom's Hallowe'en Joke.
Bags filled with flour sprinkle the passers-by. Door-bells are rung and mysterious raps sounded on doors, things thrown into halls, and knobs stolen. Such sports mean no more at Hallowe'en than the tricks played the night before the Fourth of July have to do with the Declaration of Independence. We see manifested on all such occasions the spirit of "Free-night" of which George von Hartwig speaks so enthusiastically in St. John's Fire (page 141).
Hallowe'en parties are the real survival of the ancient merrymakings. They are prepared for in secret. Guests are not to divulge the fact that they are invited. Often they come masked, as ghosts or witches.
The decorations make plain the two elements of the festival. For the centerpiece of the table there may be a hollowed pumpkin, filled with apples and nuts and other fruits of harvest, or a pumpkin-chariot drawn by field-mice. So it is clear that this is a harvest-party, like Pomona's feast. In the coach rides a witch, representing the other element, of magic and prophesy. Jack-o'-lanterns, with which the room is lighted, are hollowed pumpkins with candles inside. The candlelight shines through holes cut like features. So the lantern becomes a bogy, and is held up at a window to frighten those inside. Cornstalks from the garden stand in clomps about the room. A frieze of witches on broomsticks, with cats, bats, and owls surmounts the fireplace, perhaps. A full moon shines over all, and a caldron on a tripod holds fortunes tied in nut-shells. The prevailing colors are yellow and black; a deep yellow is the color of most ripe grain and fruit; black stands for black magic and demoniac influence. Ghosts and skulls and cross-bones, symbols of death, startle the beholder. Since Hallowe'en is a time for lovers to learn their fate, hearts and other sentimental tokens are used to good effect, as the Scotch lads of Burns's time wore love-knots.
Having marched to the dining-room to the time of a dirge, the guests find before them plain, hearty fare; doughnuts, gingerbread, cider, popcorn, apples, and nuts honored by time. The Hallowe'en cake had held the place of honor since the beginning here in America. A ring, key, thimble, penny, and button baked in it foretell respectively speedy marriage, a jouney, spinsterhood, wealth, and bachelorhood.
"Polly was going to be married, Jennie was going on a long journey, and you--down went the knife against something hard. The girls crowded round. You had a hurt in your throat, and there, there, in your slice, was the horrid, hateful, big brass thimble. It was more than you could bear--soaking, dripping wet, and an old maid!"
--BRADLEY: Different Party.
The kitchen is the best place for the rough games and after-supper charms.
On the stems of the apples which are to be dipped for may be tied names; for the boys in one tub, for the girls in another. Each searcher of the future must draw out with his teeth an apple with a name which will be like that of his future mate.
A variation of the Irish snap-apple is a hoop hung by strings from the ceiling, round which at intervals are placed bread, apples, cakes, peppers, candies, and candles. The strings are twisted, then let go, and as the hoop revolves, each may step up and get a bite from whatever comes to him. By the taste he determines what the character of his married life will be,--whether wholesome, acid, soft, fiery, or sweet. Whoever bites the candle is twice unfortunate, for he must pay a forfeit too. An apple and a bag of flour are placed on the ends of a stick, and whoever dares to seize a mouthful of apple must risk being blinded by flour. Apples are suspended one to a string in a doorway. As they swing, each guest tries to secure his apple. To blow out a candle as it revolves on a stick requires attention and accuracy of aim.
The one who first succeeds in threading a needle as he sits on a round bottle on the floor will be first married. Twelve candles are lighted, and placed at convenient distances on the floor in a row. As the guest leaps over them, the first he blows out will indicate his wedding-month. One candle only placed on the floor and blown out in the same way means a year of wretchedness ahead. If it still burns, it presages a year of joy.
Among the quieter tests some of the most common are tried with apple-seeds. As in England a pair of seeds named for two lovers are stuck on brow or eyelids. The one who sticks longer is the true, the one who soon falls, the disloyal sweetheart. Seeds are used in this way to tell also whether one is to be a traveler or a stay-at-home. Apple-seeds are twice ominous, partaking of both apple and nut nature. Even the number of seeds found in a core has meaning. If you put them upon the palm of your hand, and strike it with the other, the number remaining will tell you how many letters you will receive in a fortnight. With twelve seeds and the names of twelve friends, the old rhyme may be repeated:
"One I love,
Nuts are burned in the open fire. It is generally agreed that the one for whom the first that pops is named, loves.
"If he loves me, pop and fly;
Often the superstition connected therewith is forgotten in the excitement of the moment.
"When ebery one among us toe de smallest
--IN WERNER'S Readings, Number 31.
Letters of the alphabet are carved on a pumpkin. Fate guides the hand of the blindfolded seeker to the fateful initial which he stabs with a pin. Letters cut out of paper are sprinkled on water in a tub. They form groups from which any one with imagination may spell out names.
Girls walk down cellar backward with a candle in one hand and a looking-glass in the other, expecting to see a face in the glass.
"Last night 't was witching Hallowe'en,
"Took I the mirror then, and crept
"And then I stole out in the night
--OPPER: The Charms.
There are many mirror tests. A girl who sits before a mirror at midnight on Hallowe'en combing her hair and eating an apple will see the face of her true love reflected in the glass. Standing so that through a window she may see the moon in a glass she holds, she counts the number of reflections to find out how many pleasant things will happen to her in the next twelve months. Alabama has taken over the Scotch mirror test in its entirety.
A girl with a looking-glass in her hand steps backward from the door out into the yard. Saying:
"Round and round, O stars so fair!
she goes to meet her fate.
"So Leslie backed out at the door, and we shut it upon her. The instant after, we heard a great laugh. Off the piazza she had stepped backward directly against two gentlemen coming in.
"Doctor Ingleside was one, coming to get his supper; the other was a friend of his. . . .
'Doctor John Hautayne,' he said, introducing him by his full name."
--WHITNEY: We Girls.
A custom that is a reminder of the lighted boats sent down-stream in Japan to bear away the souls of the dead, is that which makes use of nut-shell boats. These have tiny candles fastened in them, are lighted, and named, and set adrift on a tub of water. If they cling to the side, their namesakes will lead a quiet life. Some will float together. Some will bear steadily toward a goal thou the waves are rocked in a tempest. Their behavior is significant. The candle which burns longest belongs to the one who will marry first.
The Midsummer wheel which was rolled down into the Moselle River in France, and meant, if the flames that wreathed it were not extinguished, that the grape-harvest would be abundant, has survived in the fortune wheel which is rolled about from one guest to another, and brings a gift to each.
The actions of cats on Hallowe'en betoken good or bad luck. If a cat sits quietly beside any one, he will enjoy a peaceful, prosperous life; if one rubs against him, it brings good luck, doubly good if one jumps into his lap. If a cat yawns near you on Hallowe'en, be alert and do not let opportunity slip by you. If a cat runs from you, you have a secret which will be revealed in seven days.
Different states have put interpretations of their own on the commonest charms. In Massachusetts the one who first draws an apple from the tub with his teeth will be first married. If a girl steals a cabbage, she will see her future husband as she pulls it up, or meet him as she goes home. If these fail, she must put the cabbage over the door and watch to see whom it falls on, for him she is to marry. A button concealed in mashed potato brings misfortune to the finder. The names of three men are written on slips of paper, and enclosed in three balls of meal. The one that rises first when they are thrown into water will disclose the sought-for name.
Maine has borrowed the yarn-test from Scotland. A ball is thrown into a barn or cellar, and wound off on the hand. The lover will come and help to wind. Girls in New Hampshire place in a row three dishes with earth, water, and a ring in them, respectively. The one who blindfolded touches earth will soon die; water, will never marry; the ring, will soon be wedded.
To dream of the future on Hallowe'en in Pennsylvania, one must go out of the front door backward, pick up dust or grass, wrap it in paper, and put it under his pillow.
In Maryland girls see their future husbands by a rite similar to the Scotch "wetting of the sark-sleeve." They put an egg to a roast, and open wide all the doors and windows. The man they seek will come in and turn the egg. At supper girls stand behind the chairs, knowing that the ones they are to marry will come to sit in front of them.
The South has always been famous for its hospitality and good times. On Hallowe'en a miniature Druid-fire burns in a bowl on the table. In the blazing alcohol are put furtunes wrapped in tin-foil, figs, orange-peel, raisins, almonds, and dates. The one who snatches the best will meet his sweetheart inside of a year, and all may try for a fortune from the flames. The origin of this custom was the taking of omens from the death-struggles of creatures burning in the fire of sacrifice.
Another Southern custom is adapted from one of Brittany. Needles are named and floated in a dish of water. Those which cling side by side are lovers.
Good fortune is in store for the one who wins an apple from the tub, or against whose glass a ring suspended by a hair strikes with a sharp chime.
A very elaborate charm is tried in Newfoundland. As the clock strikes midnight a girl puts the twenty-six letters of the alphabet, cut from paper, into a pure-white bowl which has been touched by the lips of a new-born babe only. After saying:
"Kind fortune, tell me where is he
she puts the bowl into a safe place until morning. Then she is blindfolded and picks out the same number of letters as there are in her own name, and spells another from them.
In New Brunswick, instead of an apple, a hard-boiled egg without salt is eaten before a mirror, with the same result. In Canada a thread is held over a lamp. The number that can be counted slowly before the thread parts, is the number of years before the one who counts will marry.
In the United States a hair is thrown to the winds with the stanza chanted:
"I pluck this lock of hair off my head
The direction in which the hair floats is prophetic.
The taste in Hallowe'en festivities now is to study old traditions, and hold a Scotch party, using Burn's poem Hallowe'en as a guide; or to go a-souling as the English used. In short, no custom that was once honored at Hallowe'en is out of fashion now. "Cyniver" has been borrowed from Wales, and the "dumb-cake" from the Hebrides. In the Scotch custom of cabbage-stalk, if the stalk comes up easily, the husband or wife will be easy to win. The melted-lead test to show the occupation of the husband-to-be has been adopted in the United States. If the metal cools in round drops, the tester will never marry, or her husband will have no profession. White of egg is used in the same way. Like the Welsh test is that of filling the mouth with water, and walking round the house until one meets one's fate. An adaptation of the Scottish "three luggies" is the row of four dishes holding dirt, water, a ring, and a rag. The dirt means divorce, the water, a trip across the ocean, the ring, marriage, the rag, no marriage at all.
After the charms have been tried, fagots are passed about, and by the eerie light of burning salt and alcohol, ghost stories are told, each concluding his installment as his fagot withers into ashes. Sometimes the cabbage stalks used in the omens take the place of fagots.
To induce prophetic dreams salt, in quantities from a pinch to an egg full, is eaten before one goes to bed.
"'Miss Jeanette, that's such a fine trick! You must swallow a salt herring in three bites, bones and all, and not drink a drop till the apparition of your future spouse comes in the night to offer you a drink of water.'"
--ADAMS: Chrissie's Fate.
If, after taking three doses of salt two minutes apart, a girl goes to bed backward, lies on her right side, and does not move till morning, she is sure to have eventful dreams. Pills made of a hazelnut, a walnut, and nutmeg grated together and mixed with butter and sugar cause dreams: if of gold, the husband will be rich; if of noise, a tradesman; if of thunder and lightning, a traveler. As in Ireland bay-leaves on or under a man's pillow cause him to dream of his sweetheart. Also
"Turn your boots toward the street,
Lemon-peel carried all day and rubbed on the bed-posts at night will cause an apparition to bring the dreaming girl two lemons. For quiet sleep and the fulfilment of any wish eat before going to bed on Hallowe'en a piece of dry bread.
A far more interesting development of the Hallowe'en idea than these innocent but colorless superstitions, is promised by the pageant at Fort Worth, Texas, on October thirty-first, 1916. In the masque and pageant of the afternoon four thousand school children took part. At night scenes from the pageant were staged on floats which passed along the streets. The subject was Preparedness for Peace, and comprised scenes from American history in which peace played an honorable part. Such were: the conference of William Penn and the Quakers with the Indians, and the opening of the East to American trade. This is not a subject limited to performances at Hallowtide. May there not be written and presented in America a truly Hallowe'en pageant, illustrating and befitting its noble origin, and making its place secure among the holidays of the year?