October 29, 2012

Mirror Magic for Halloween

Halloween wasn't really celebrated in New England until the 19th century. The Puritans frowned on most holidays although they and their descendants did celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, which has some similarities with Halloween like costumes and people roaming around begging for things.

Unlike Halloween Guy Fawkes Day doesn't have a supernatural component. No witches, ghosts or monsters, just raucous excess and drunken revelry. But when large numbers of Irish and Scottish immigrants began to arrive in the United States in the 19th century they brought Halloween and its supernatural practices with them. These Halloween practices spread across the country, through both immigrant social networks and magazines and newspapers. Eventually Halloween magic became part of the nation's regional folklore, including New England's.

Most modern Americans associate Halloween with scary things, but a lot of the older folklore deals with love magic and love divination. Here's a nice example I found in Eva Speare's New Hampshire Folk Tales.

On Halloween night, an unmarried man or woman should hold a mirror and walk down the cellar steps backwards. As they walk down the steps, they should repeat:

Whoever my true love is to be
Come and look in this glass with me.

A person's face will appear in the mirror, looking over the unmarried person's shoulder. This will be the person they will marry. However, if a coffin appears in the mirror the unmarried person will die. (Hmm. I guess even the love magic can be a little scary, and walking down the stairs backwards sounds dangerous.)

Watch your step with that mirror...

There once was a young man who was very sick with tuberculosis. Despite being weak from his illness, he walked down backwards into the cellar while looking into a mirror on Halloween night. His family heard a crash, and rushed down to find him collapsed on the dirt floor.

When he revived, the young man said, "Don't worry! I did not see a coffin, but instead saw a pretty young girl in a blue dress. I will live and marry her."

The prediction came true. He recovered and went on to become a school teacher in Maine. While he was there he met a pretty young woman who looked exactly like the girl he had seen in the mirror. Upon talking with her, he discovered that she had once owned a blue dress exactly like he had seen in the mirror that Halloween night. The two fell in love, got married, and lived long happy lives.

Happy Halloween everyone!

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