Ashes are a central element in a few Halloween FORTUNE-TELLING customs, mainly found in Ireland, the Isle of Man, and Lancashire. In one form of the custom, the fortune-seeker was told to blow on fine ashes; if they flew into the face, one’s future marriage would be unhappy, but if they scattered in front of the seeker, a happy future was foretold.

Ashes from the fireplace that were flattened out around the open HEARTH would be carefully examined the morning after Halloween; any FOOTPRINTS found then would foretell the future. For example, if they turned toward the front door, it signified a death in the family within the year; if, however, they turned in the opposite direction, a marriage was indicated. One Irish story tells of a man who didn’t believe in the return of the dead on Halloween, so he scattered ashes about the floor. In the morning he was found dead, and there were footprints in the ashes.

Ashes from Halloween BONFIRES (especially those that were sacred or kindled by “need-fire,” or friction) were thought to have protective powers; they were sprinkled on fields, and even placed within SHOES. One American Halloween GAME involved a “fate ring” created by sprinkling ashes (although FLOUR could be substituted) on the floor in a large circle. A participant would then be blindfolded and told to walk across the ring while the hostess recited:

The ashes from the hearth we raked
And sifted in a ring;
Step forth—your footprints will reveal
What luck the year will bring.

The blindfolded walker now responded:

Go, unguided footsteps, go,
Fortune in your prints to show.

Footprints pointing toward an outside door foretold ill luck, while the opposite direction portended marriage or good fortune. The footprints might also point towards a future spouse.


The Halloween Encyclopedia Second Edition written by Lisa Morton © 2011 Lisa Morton. All rights reserved