Saturday, October 20, 2012

Hazelnuts at Halloween

The use of hazelnuts in Halloween divination rites is well-attested. There are several methods, which are somewhat contradictory, but this is likely attributable to regional variations in tradition and transmission.

Today's card shows an imp-like figure with what looks like a nineteenth century bedwarming pan filled with smoking roasted nuts. The smoke is being carried upward to a classic witch in silhouette flying across a crescent moon. The verse at the bottom reads:

"A hazel nut is named for you
And dropped upon the coals.
If it burns and burns to cinder
There's nothing more to hinder
For my love burns true."

This echoes the variant of the spell in which one would name a selection of nuts after one's suitors and line them up before the hearthfire, or, alternately,  cast them directly into the fire. A nut that burned cleanly would indicate that the person's affections were true, while a nut that popped or did not burn suggested that the lover would be dishonest. Yet another variation has a couple each naming a nut for him- or herself, then casting them into the fire, watching the behavior of the nuts to determine their partner's true feelings. (Personally I think watching your partner's behavior a better indicator of their true feelings than watching nut activities, but hey--it's Halloween).

The hazelnut spell with which I am most familiar involves naming the nuts for your potential love interests, then lining them up at the edge of the fire and chanting the following:

"If you love me, pop and fly;
If you hate me, burn and die."

This is a reversal of the imp's method above, but to each his own; again, the difference can most likely be ascribed to regional variations and to changes that occur in transmission. Who hasn't received a bit of "oral lore" that, upon later comparison with another practitioner, has proven to have come through as garbled as a message passed through a child's "telephone game"?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Witches at Midnight

"If you see two witches at midnight
With a peacock feather all of white
You may be assured there's a lover's spat
So steal the feather from off their hat
Pick a four leaf clover and your lover keep
On Halloween and there'll be no cause to weep."

Peacocks are typically associated with luxury and outward display, an obvious link thanks to the male's flamboyant nether plumage. White peacocks are rare in captivity and even more so in the wild, so that additional symbolism may come into play here. Captive peafowl are monogamous, whereas their wild counterparts typically are not.

What does any of this have to do with the verse/spell given? My frantic, and fruitless, attempts at making this thing make sense.

Why would a white peacock feather symbolize a lover's spat? I haven't the slightest idea. My (admittedly half-assed) research into the subject brought me no answers. Perhaps it's the fact that two witches are fighting over the feather; although it's not explicitly stated that the witches are at odds over the feather, experience indicates that if there are two witches present and one thing that both of them want, there will be strife. Note, however, that while the verse initially speaks of "feather" singular, the image shows each witch with a feather of her own. Are you as confused as I am? Good.

One is then instructed to steal the feather from the witch's hat, and then pick a four leaf clover to ensure harmony in one's relationship. Good luck finding said clover after dark on Halloween night. Better to be finding yourself a place to hide, since those witches probably will be annoyed at having their hat plumes stolen. They might even come after you, at which point a lover's spat will be the least of your concerns.

All joking aside, this is a lovely example of an early 20th century Halloween postcard. The colors and imagery are rich and elegant, and many of the classic symbols of witchery and the season are present: pointed hats (these with buckled bands and plumes, no less), black cats with fine collars, a glowing carved jack-o-lantern, a bat in flight, a full moon casting a denuded forest into silhouette, a besom for one of the witches, an owl, and surrounding it all a beautifully intricate scrolled border. Even if the spell verse makes no sense, this is still one of the prettiest cards I've come across. I hope you all enjoyed it too.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Halloween Treats

As has become my custom, I'll be posting vintage Halloween postcards in the month of October. In collecting and curating them, however, I've discovered that quite a number of them contain very classically witchy charms and spells. Those seemed more appropriate for posting here, and so over the course of the rest of the month I'll be selecting my favorites and sharing them with all of you.

Let's begin with this one:

I love this one, as it combines two of my favorite things: witchcraft and science (specifically of the mad-scientist variety). She appears to have a vial of potion in one hand and a flask containing a conjured heart in the other. She's heating the heart over a candle's flame, which is of course witchier than using a Bunsen burner; familiars in the forms of cat and owl observe. One assumes the broom is present to sweep up any lab accidents, since it doesn't seem to figure into the working.

The spell/verse reads as follows:

On Hallowe'en the witches resort
To test lovers' hearts in a glass retort
If they turn Black she knows what to do
Should it stay Red your lover is true
Throw ink down her well, to break the charm
And your lover is safe for it will shield him from harm.

So here we see that the witch is experimenting--divining, in a way--to determine if further magickal working will be necessary. If the heart turns black, the lover is dishonest, and thus must be spelled; if the heart stays red, no further intervention is required. Note that the counterspell is provided at the end of the verse; this is apparently a failsafe for the witch's client, should she have a (you should pardon the pun) change of heart about bewitching her lover.