Blog Tour: Victorian Halloween Party Decorations, Games, and Spells

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Today I have the lovely Stephanie Carroll on the blog who will share her a guest post for her book, A White Room.

GUEST POST:
Halloween History: Victorian Halloween Party Decorations, Games, and Spells

By Stephanie Carroll

The following turn of the century Halloween festivities were taken from two articles in the October 25, 1903 edition of The Sunday Herald of Syracuse, New York. The first article is titled “Halloween: Unique and Ghost-Like Decorations” and is an account of a Halloween party for adults, focusing specifically on the decorations.

The second article was titled “Halloween: What to do on this Witching Eve,” and is an instruction for a witch themed party for young unmarried girls. It includes detailed descriptions of Halloween “charms” or what we would call spells, most of which were designed to determine the girls’ future husbands.

Victorian Halloween Decorations for a Turn of the Century Party
The writer of the article explained that this was a party he actually attended, and it is given from his perspective. When he asked the hostess where she got the ideas for the decorations, she said she had thought them up on the spur of the moment.

Outside of the house, yellow jack-o-lanterns and squash hung from plazas. They included a lamp and had eyes, noses, and grins carved into them. The author of this article writes about the jack-o-lantern faces in a way that suggests it may have been a novelty, at least to him.

Just at the door stood a tall wooden figure draped in black sheets. It had red eyes, a nose, and a grinning mouth. The author commented that the figure “suspiciously looked like a photographer’s lantern on a jag.” Chains bound the hands of the figure and also hung from the door, making it rattle as guests entered the house.

Inside, the only light came from green flames burning in tin plates. The flame came from alcohol sitting on a bed of salts. The writer commented that the flames made the guests’ faces glow green, a color that was “subconsciously associated with ghosts.” Inside the library there were more of these plates with green flames, which the author then commented created a mood that “was enough to conjure up his Satanic Majesty to the ‘flow of soul’ about to begin.” The author’s remark about the devil being conjured suggests lighthearted references to the satan were common during Halloween even at this time period. This may disprove a common conception that the Victorians were too religious for the darker side of Halloween.

Cushions were strewn about the floor for the guests in the library. When the green flames flickered out, someone lit the fireplace, and attendees began telling ghost stories. Each guest had been instructed to bring a ghost story or be “threatened with violent ejection.” The author commented that the stories were so frightening more than one person screamed when an alarm clock went off in the middle of it. He also commented that it was surprising how many guests had brought alarm clocks for this purpose. After the stories had ended, electric lights flickered on to reveal popping corn, games, and refreshments.

The author then goes into a long list of party favors suitable for a Halloween party. It was difficult to discern whether or not all of these favors were at the party he attended or if these were examples of what could be done at a party.

Some of the objects described as party favors were more games as opposed to gifts. Dainty salt cellars with tiny spoons could be provided, so guests could stand in a place they have never stood before, eat a bit of salt, and make a wish. Little mugs or cups could be filled with water and accompanied by paper cutouts of the alphabet as “Every properly educated girl knows that the initial of her future husband will be the only letter that can be depended upon to float.”

Several Halloween souvenirs were described and they all seemed to include messages. There were small bits of silver beaten into favors, like miniature frames in odd shapes from abroad and accompanied with a note saying, “May it be your fate to travel double.” The writer described desk scales with the motto “Don’t weigh your friends in the balance,” and collapsible lanterns with the message “The light fails when you are absent,” along with boxes for holding cord with the message “Always have a string to your kite.” Other gifts included devil paperweights, gnome and toadstool inkstands, and rabbit designs for keeping away ghosts.

Halloween Witchcraft Spells for Unmarried Girls
In addition to the spells below, this article also suggests some decorations and refreshments as this was an instruction for a witch themed party. It describes how to set a dinner table with a jack-o-lantern centerpiece and carved carrots and turnips as candlesticks. Red and green cabbages could be used as baskets for nuts, fruit, and marshmallows for toasting. The article explains refreshments should also include apples, cider, fried cakes, and tea grounds, which are good for prophesizing one’s future. On the dinner cards could be placed witch dolls. The doll could be made with a nut for a head, with a witch hat on top and toothpicks for the body.

The article also recommends using “Burn’s Poem” to determine other fun things to try or to use lines from the poem for dinner cards. The fact that the article only ever refers to this poem as “Burn’s Poem” suggests that it was a common reference around Halloween time, and that anyone would recognize it. Robert Burn’s 1785 Halloween Poem is almost guaranteed the poem to which the article is referring to because it includes the same and additional instructions on Halloween charms. All the charms below appear to have come from this poem.
Although the “charms” or spells below are reminiscent of something 12 or 13-year-old girls would partake in today, this article does not specify an age but is clearly directed toward unmarried girls. It was expected that most girls would be married before or during their early twenties.

I cannot help but point out the fact that unmarried girls at this time were expected to be virgins, and virgins are common components in spells popularized through modern-day pop culture. However, there was no mention of a virgin in this article.  

Charms and Games for a Bewitching Halloween Party:

1. Girls can throw two nuts into a fire, each representing a person. Most pop out but the two that burn quietly to ashes show a good omen for those two people.

2. Melt lead taken from tea boxes in a cheap iron spoon (as the lead will ruin the spoon) and then drop it into cold water. It will turn into a shape representative of the occupation of the girl’s future husband. Almost any shape can be formed, but the common shapes and meanings are: shears for a tailor or newspaperman, sword for a soldier, book for an author, or a desk for a preacher.

3. Seven girls can mix a dumb cake consisting of water and flour mixed into stiff dough. The girls cannot speak a word during this. Each girl stirs the dough once or twice and before baking uses a “new pin” to carve her and her beloved’s initials. The initials that are still visible after baking belong to the couples who will be married within the year.

4. Another cake of the usual ingredients can be made with silver objects mixed into the dough. The girls can speak while making this cake, and each must stir it once or twice. After it’s baked, each girl has a slice. Whichever object is in her slice of cake prophesizes her future. A ring means a happy wife; a dime means riches; a raisin means happy motherhood; a thimble means she will never cease to wear it; a key unlocks the hearts of all men but means many lovers and never a husband; and a wheel means travel over land and sea.
5. Everyone knows about bobbing for apples, according to the article, but few are aware that if you hang an apple by a string and then catch it with your mouth without using your hands, it foretells the successes of the coming year.

6. A girl can name an apple the name of her most desired person then pierce the core with a needle. If the needle goes through a seed, the desired one is hers.

7.  The girls can name several apple seeds and place them on their lips. The one that stays the longest is the one with the name of the man who loves her most.

8. If a person peels an apple, then turns the peel around her head three times and drops it on the ground, the peel will form the initial that she wishes her future name to have.
9.  In complete silence, a girl can walk down the stairs backwards, while eating an apple and holding a mirror up to look for the face of her true love who will appear in it. (The article mentioned that this one is trying on the nerves even if a friend is holding a lamp at the bottom of the stairs.)

10. Girls can run two new needles, one representative of her and the other of “he,” into a candle at right angles so that they cross. The article isn’t clear, but I’m pretty sure you are supposed to stick the needles into the hard wax of a standing candle or candlestick, and not into the flame. If the candle burns passed the spot where the needles cross, all will go well but if it does not, who knows.

11. The cabbage charm originates from Scotland. Girls walk blindfolded into a cabbage field and pick a head. If a lot of dirt clings to the roots, wealth is coming by marriage. If the stem is good and straight, the future husband will be comely. A taste of the cabbage heart indicates the disposition of the man of a woman’s future. The article recommends people who cannot go into an actual field, bring cabbages in and store them in a cellar. It does not explain how guests are supposed to read the cabbage accurately when the freshly pulled roots are what are to be read.

12. To produce a prophetic dream: Seven girls each make a string of acorns and wind it around the same log or stick of wood and place it into a fire. They must all sit at the opposite side of the room in complete silence until all is burned. Then they take out the ashes without any help and repeat:

May my marriage be my theme
To visit me in this night’s dream
The image of my lover send
Let me see his name and face
And his occupation trace

13. A charm that is not well known, according to the article, is the card charm. At a quarter to 12 a.m., all sit at a table and say nothing. One word will break the spell. Promptly at midnight, cards are dealt using only face cards. A king means a speedy marriage; a jack means a broken engagement; a queen means an old maid; a diamond means riches; a spade means thrift; a club means poverty; and a heart means love in a cottage.

14. When the guests leave, one last charm can be done by a girl alone in her room. This charm will determine the faithfulness of a lover. She must pick two long stem roses and return to her room without saying a word. She names one rose for herself and the other for her current beloved. She then binds the stems together with twine while gazing intently at her sweetheart’s rose and recites:

Twine, twine and intertwine
Let my love be wholly mine
If his heart be kind and true
Deeper grow his rose’s hue

If he is faithful, the color of his rose will darken and become more intense. The article says there are recorded accounts of roses actually changing hue, but the only witnesses were the girls who produced the charm.

I hope you enjoyed reading these historical accounts of Victorian Halloween decorations, parties, and party games as much as I enjoyed researching and writing about them. I hope they make a unique and fun addition to your Halloween party this year.

Stephanie Carroll is the author of Gothic Victorian novel A White Room, on sale for $0.99 cents until Oct. 31! As a reporter and community editor, Stephanie Carroll earned first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and from the Nevada Press Association. She holds degrees in history and social science and graduated summa cum laude. Her Gothic and magical writing style is inspired by the classic authors Charlotte Perkins Gilman (The Yellow Wallpaper), Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden), and Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights).

Connect with her on:

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About A White Room
At the close of the Victorian Era, society still expected middle-class women to be “the angels of the house,” even as a select few strived to become something more. In this time of change, Emeline Evans dreamed of becoming a nurse. But when her father dies unexpectedly, Emeline sacrifices her ambitions and rescues her family from destitution by marrying John Dorr, a reserved lawyer who can provide for her family.

John moves Emeline to the remote Missouri town of Labellum and into an unusual house where her sorrow and uneasiness edge toward madness. Furniture twists and turns before her eyes, people stare out at her from empty rooms, and the house itself conspires against her. The doctor diagnoses hysteria, but the treatment merely reinforces the house’s grip on her mind.

Emeline only finds solace after pursuing an opportunity to serve the poor as an unlicensed nurse. Yet in order to bring comfort to the needy she must secretly defy her husband, whose employer viciously hunts down and prosecutes unlicensed practitioners. Although women are no longer burned at the stake in 1900, disobedience is a symptom of psychological defect, and hysterical women must be controlled.
A novel of madness and secrets, A White Room presents a fantastical glimpse into the forgotten cult of domesticity, where one’s own home could become a prison and a woman has to be willing to risk everything to be free.

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