Every-Day Book
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October 31.

St. Quintin, A. D. 287. St. Wolfgang, Bp. of Ratisbon, A. D. 994. St. Foillan, A. D. 655.


Respecting this, which is the vigil of All Saints-day, Mr. Brand has collected many notices of customs; to him therefore we are indebted for the following particulars:—

On this night young people in the north of England dive for apples, or catch at them, when stuck upon one end of a kind of hanging beam, at the other extremity of which is fixed a lighted candle. This they do with their mouths only, their hands being tied behind their backs. From the custom of flinging nuts into the fire, or cracking them with their teeth, it has likewise obtained the name of nut-crack night. In an ancient illuminated missal in Mr. Douce's collection, a person is represented balancing himself upon a pole laid across two stools; at the end of the pole is a lighted candle, from which he is endeavouring to light another in his hand, at the risk of tumbling into a tub of water placed under him. A writer, about a century ago, says, "This is the last day of October, and the birth of this packet is partly owing to the affair of this night. I am alone; but the servants having demanded apples, ale, and nuts, I took the opportunity of running back my own annals of Allhallows Eve; for you are to know, my lord, that I have been a mere adept, a most famous artist, both in the college and country, on occasion of this anile, chimerical solemnity."*[1]

Pennant says, that the young women in Scotland determine the figure and size of their husbands by drawing cabbages blind-fold on Allhallow Even, and, like the English, fling nuts into the fire. It is mentioned by Burns, in a note to his poem on "Hallow E'en," that "The first ceremony of Hallow E'en is pulling each a stock or plant of kail. They must go out, hand in hand, with eyes shut, and pull the first they meet with. Its being big or little, straight or crooked, is prophetic of the size and shape of the grand object of all their spells—the husband or wife. If any yird, or earth, stick to the root, that is tocher, or fortune; and the taste of the custoc, that is the heart of the stem, is indicative of the natural temper and disposition. Lastly, the stems, or, to give them their ordinary appellation, the runts, are placed somewhere above the head of the door; and the christian names of the people whom chance brings into the house, are, according to the priority of placing the runts, the names in question." It appears that the Welsh have "a play in which the youth of both sexes seek for an even-leaved sprig of the ash: and the first of either sex that finds one, calls out Cyniver, and is answered by the first of the other that succeeds; and these two, if the omen fails not, are to be joined in wedlock."*[2]

Burns says, that "Burning the nuts is a favourite charm. They name the lad and lass to each particular nut, as they lay them in the fire; and accordingly as they burn quietly together, or start from beside one another, the course and issue of the courtship will be." It is to be noted, that in Ireland, when the young women would know if their lovers are faithful, they put three nuts upon the bars of the grates, naming the nuts after the lovers. If a nut cracks or jumps, the lover will prove unfaithful; if it begins to blaze or burn, he has regard for the person making the trial. If the nuts, named after the girls and her lover, burn together, they will be married. This sort of divination is also in some parts of England at this time. Gay mentions it in his "Spell:"—

"Two hazel nuts I threw into the flame,
And to each nut I gave a sweet-heart's name:
This with the loudest bounce me sore amaz'd,
That in a flame of brightest colour blaz'd;
As blaz'd the nut, so may thy passion grow,
For t'was thy nut that did so brightly glow!"

There are some lines by Charles Graydon, Esq.—"On Nuts burning, Allhallows Eve."

"These glowing nuts are emblems true
Of what in human life we view;
The ill-match'd couple fret and fume,
And thus, in strife themselves consume;
Or, from each other wildly start,
And with a noise for ever part.
But see the happy happy pair,
Of genuine love and truth sincere;
With mutual fondness, while they burn,
Still to each other kindly turn:
And as the vital sparks decay
Together gently sink away:
Till life's fierce ordeal being past,
Their mingled ashes rest at last."*[3]

Burns says, "the passion of prying into futurity makes a striking part of the history of human nature, in its rude state, in all ages and nations; and it may be some entertainment to a philosophic mind to see the remains of it among the more unenlightened in our own." He gives, therefore, the principal charms and spells of this night among the peasantry in the west of Scotland. One of these by young women, is, by pulling stalks of corn. "They go to the barn yard, and pull, each, at three several times, a stalk of oats. If the third stalk wants the top-pickle, that is, the grain at the top of the stalk, the party in question will come to the marriage bed any thing but a maid." Another is by the blue clue. "Whoever would, with success, try this spell, must strictly observe these directions: steal out, all alone, to the kiln, and, darkling, throw into the pot a clew of blue yarn; wind it in a new clew off the old one; and, towards the latter end, something will hold the thread; demand, 'wha hauds?' i. e. who holds? and answer will be returned from the kiln-pot, by naming the christian and surname of your future spouse." A third charm is by eating an apple at a glass. "Take a candle and go alone to a looking-glass; eat an apple before it, and some traditions say, you should comb your hair all the time; the face of your conjugal companion to be, will be seen in the glass, as if peeping over your shoulder."

In an appendix to the late Mr. "Pennant's Tour," several other very observable and perfectly new cusoms of divination on this night are enumerated. One is to "steal out unperceived, and sow a handful of hemp-seed, harrowing it with any thing you can conveniently draw after you. Repeat, now and then, 'hemp-seed I saw thee, hemp-seed I saw thee; and him (or her) that is to be my true, come after me and pou thee.' Look over your left shoulder and you will see the appearance of the person invoked, in the attitude of pulling hemp. Some traditions say, 'come after me and shaw thee,' that is, show thyself; in which case it simply appears. Others omit the harrowing, and say, 'come after me and harrow thee.'"

Another is, "to winn three wechts o'naething." The wecht is the instrument used in winnowing corn. "This charm must likewise be performed unperceived and alone. You go to the barn and open both doors, taking them off the hinges, if possible: for there is danger that the being, about to appear, may shut the doors and do you some mischief. Then take that instrument used in winnowing the corn, which, in our country dialect, we call a wecht, and go through all the attitudes of letting down corn against the wind. Repeat it three times; and, the third time, an apparition will pass through the barn, in at the windy door, and out at the other, having both the figure in question, and the appearance or retinue marking the employment or station in life."

Then there is "to fathom the stack three times." "Take an opportunity of going unnoticed to a bear stack (barley stack), and fathom it three times round. The last fathom of the last time, you will catch in your arms the appearance of your future conjugal yokefellow." Another, "to dip your left shirt sleeve in a burn where three lairds land's meet." "You go out, one or more, for this is a social spell, to a south-running spring or rivulet, where 'three lairds' lands meet,' and dip your left shirt sleeve. Go to bed in sight of a fire, and hang your wet sleeve as if to dry the other side of it."

The last is a singular species of divination "with three luggies, or dishes." "Take three dishes; put clean water in one, foul water in another, and leave the third empty: blindfold a person, and lead him to the hearth where the dishes are ranged: he (or she) dips the left hand: if by chance in the clean water, the future husband or wife will come to the bar of matrimony a maid; if in the foul, a widow; if in the empty dish, it foretells with equal certainty no marriage at all. It is repeated three times: and every time the arrangement of the dishes is altered." Sir Frederick Morton Eden says, that "Sowens, with butter instead of milk, is not only the Hallow E'en supper, but the Christmas and New-year's-day's breakfast, in many parts of Scotland."*[4]

In the province of Moray, in Scotland, "A solemnity was kept on the eve of the first of November as a thanksgiving for the safe in-gathering of the produce of the fields[.] This I am told, but have not seen: it is observed in Buchan and other countries, by having Hallow Eve fire kindled on some rising ground."[5]

In Ireland fires were anciently lighted up on the four great festivals of the Druids, but at this time they have dropped the fire of November, and substituted candles. The Welsh still retain the fire of November, but can give no reason for the illumination.‡[6]

The minister of Logierait, in Perthshire, describing that parish, says: "On the evening of the 31st of October, O. S. among many others, one remarkable ceremony is observed. Heath, broom, and dressings of flax, are tied upon a pole. This faggot is then kindled. One takes it upon his shoulders; and, running, bears it round the village. A crowd attend. When the first faggot is burnt out, a second is bound to the pole, and kindled in the same manner as before. Numbers of these blazing faggots are often carried about together; and when the night happens to be dark, they form a spendid illumination. This is Halloween, and is a night of great festivity."§[7] Also at Callander, in Perthshire:—"On All Saints Even they set up bonfires in every village. When the bonfire is consumed, the ashes are carefully collected into the form of a circle. There is a stone put in, near the circumference, for every person of the several families interested in the bonfire; and whatever stone is moved out of its place, or injured before next morning, the person represented by that stone is devoted, or fey; and is supposed not to live twelve months from that day. The people received the consecrated fire from the Druid priests next morning, the virtues of which were supposed to continue for a year."*[8] At Kirkmichael, in the same shire, "The practice of lighting bonfires on the first night of winter, accompanied with various ceremonies, still prevails in this and the neighbouring highland parishes."† [9] So likewise at Aberdeen, "The Midsummer Even fire, a relict of Druidism, was kindled in some parts of this county; the Hallow Even fire, another relict of Druidism, was kindled in Buchan. Various magic ceremonies were then celebrated to counteract the influence of witches and demons, and to prognosticate to the young their success or disappointment in the matrimonial lottery. These being devoutly finished, the Hallow fire was kindled, and guarded by the male part of the family. Societies were formed, either by pique or humour, to scatter certain fires, and the attack and defence here often conducted with art and fury."—"but now"—"the Hallow fire, when kindled, is attended by children only; and the country girl, renouncing the rites of magic, endeavours to enchant her swain by the charms of dress and of industry." ‡[10]

Pennant records, that in North Wales "there is a custom upon All Saints Eve of making a great fire called Coel Coeth, when every family about an hour in the night makes a great bonfire in the most conspicuous place near the house; and when the fire is almost extinguished, every one throws a white stone into the ashes, having first marked it; then, having said their prayers, turning round the fire, they go to bed. In the morning, as soon as they are up, they come to search out the stones; and if any one of them is found wanting, they have a notion that the person who threw it in will die before he sees another All Saints Eve." They also distribute soul cakes on All Souls-day, at the receiving of which poor people pray to God to bless the next crop of wheat.

Mr. Owen's account of the bards, in sir R. Hoare's "Itinerary of archbishop Baldwin through Wales," says, "The autumnal fire is still kindled in North Wales on the eve of the first day of November, and is attended by many ceremonies; such as running through the fire and smoke, each casting a stone into the fire, and all running off at the conclusion to escape from the black short-tailed sow; then supping upon parsnips, nuts, and apples; catching at an apple suspended by a string with the mouth alone, and the same by an apple in a tub of water; each throwing a nut into the fire, and those that burn bright betoken prosperity to the owners through the following year, but those that burn black and crackle denote misfortune. On the following morning the stones are searched for in the fire, and if any be missing they betide ill to those that threw them in."

At St. Kilda, on Hallow E'en night, they baked "a large cake in form of a triangle, furrowed round, and which was to be all eaten that night."*[11] In England, there are still some parts wherein the grounds are illuminated upon the eve of All Souls, by bearing round them straw, or other fit materials, kindled into a blaze. The ceremony is called a tinley, and the Romish opinion among the common people is, that it represents an emblematical lighting of souls out of purgatory.

"The inhabitants of the isle of Lewis (one of the western islands of Scotland,) had an antient custom to sacrifice to an sea god, called Shony, at Hallow-tide, in the manner following: the inhabitants round the island came to the church of St. Mulvay, having each man his provision along with him. Every family furnished a peck of malt, and this was brewed into ale. One of their number was picked out to wade into the sea up to the middle; and, carrying a cup of ale in his hand, standing still in that posture, cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Shony, I give you this cup of ale, hoping that you'll be so kind as to send us plenty of sea-ware, for enriching our ground the ensuing year;' and so threw the cup of ale into the sea. This was performed in the night time. At his return to land, they all went to church, where there was a candle burning upon the altar; and then standing silent for a little time, one of them gave a signal, at which the candle was put out, and immediately all of them went to the fields, where they fell a drinking their ale, and spent the remainder of the night in dancing and singing," &c.[12]

At Blandford Forum, in Dorsetshire, "there was a custom, in the papal times, to ring bells at Allhallow-tide for all christian souls." Bishop Burnet gives a letter from king Henry the Eighth to Cranmer "against superstitious practices," wherein "the vigil and ringing of bells all the night long upon Allhallow-day at night," are directed to be abolished; and the said vigil to have no watching or ringing. So likewise a subsequent injunction, early in the reign of queen Elizabeth, orders "that the superfluous ringing of bels, and the superstitious ringing of bells at Alhallowntide, and at Al Soul's day, with the two nights next before and after, be prohibited."

General Vallancey says, concerning this night, "On the Oidhche Shamhna, (Ee Owna,) or vigil of Samam, the peasants in Ireland assemble with sticks and clubs, (the emblems of laceration,) going from house to house, collecting money, bread-cake, butter, cheese, eggs, &c. for the feast, repeating verses in honour of the solemnity, demanding preparations for the festival in the name of St. Columb Kill, desiring them to lay aside the fatted calf, and to bring forth the black sheep. The good women are employed in making the griddle cake and candles; these last are sent from house to house in the vicinity, and are lighted up on the (Saman) next day, before which they pray, or are supposed to pray, for the departed soul of the donor. Every house abounds in the best viands they can afford. Apples and nuts are devoured in abundance; the nut-shells are burnt, and from the ashes many strange things are foretold. Cabbages are torn up by the root. Hemp-seed is sown by the maidens, and they believe that if they look back, they will see the apparition of the man intended for their future spouse. They hand a shift before the fire, on the close of the feast, and sit up all night, concealed in a corner of the room, convinced that his apparition will come down the chimney and turn the shift. They throw a ball of yarn out of the window, and wind it on the reel within, convinced that if they repeat the paternoster backwards, and look at the ball of yarn without, they will then also see his sith, or apparition. They dip for apples in a tub of water, and endeavour to bring one up in the mouth. They suspend a cord with a cross stick, with apples at one point, and candles lighted at the other; and endeavour to catch the apple, while it is in a circular motion, in the mouth. These, and many other superstitious ceremonies, the remains of Druidism, are observed on this holiday, which will never be eradicated while the name of Saman is permitted to remain."

It is mentioned by a writer in the "Gentleman's Magazine," that lamb's-wool is a constant ingredient at a merry-making on Holy Eve, or on the evening before All Saints-day in Ireland. It is made there, he says, by bruising roasted apples, and mixing them with ale, or sometimes with milk. "Formerly, when the superior ranks were not too refined for these periodical meetings of jollity, white wine was frequently substituted for ale. To lamb's-wool, apples and nuts are added as a necessary part of the enternatinment; and the young folks amuse themselves with burning nuts in pairs on the bar of the grate, or among the warm embers, to which they give their name and that of their lovers, or those of their friends who are supposed to have such attachments; and from the manner of their burning and duration of the flame, &c. draw such inferences respecting the constancy or strength of their passions, as usually promote mirth and good humour." Lamb's-wool is thus etymologized by Vallancey:—"The first day of November was dedicated to the angel presiding over fruits, seeds, &c. and was therefore named La Mas Ubhal, that is, the day of the apple fruit, and being pronounced lamasool, the English have corrupted the name to lamb's-wool."


Fennel-leaved Tickseed[.] Corcopsis ferulefolia.
Dedicated to St. Quintin.


Now comes the season when the humble want,
And know the misery of their wretched scant:
Go, ye, and seek their homes, who have the power,
And ease the sorrows of their trying hour.

"There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth:
To him who gives a blessing never ceaseth.

Notes [all notes are Hone's unless otherwise indicated]:

1. Life of Harvey, the conjuror, 8vo., 1728. [return]

2. Owen's Welsh Dictionary. [return]

3. Graydon's Collection of Poems, 8vo. Dublin, 1801. [return]

4. Eden's State of the Poor. [return]

5. Shaw's Hist. of Moray. [return]

6. Vallancey, Collect. Hibern. [return]

7. Sinclair's Stat. Acc. of Scotland. [return]

8. Sinclair's Stat. Acc. of Scotland. [return]

9. Ibid. [return]

10. Ibid. [return]

11. Martin's Western Islands. [return]

12. Ibid. [return]