An old Gaelic superstition – little known today – was that a maid could see her future marital state by eating an apple in front of a mirror in a dim room on Halloween. If she was destined to be married, an apparition with the face of her future husband would appear alongside her in the glass. If she was destined to die a spinster, a disembodied skull would float over her shoulder in the mirror, cackling at her.
Robert Burns, the famous Scottish poet, mentions the practice in his poem “Hallowe’en.” A young maid asks her grandmother to perform the ritual with her, and is sternly rebuked by the old woman, who suggests she is tempting fate and the devil (see the entire poem here).
Wee Jennie to her grannie says,
“Will ye go wi’ me, grannie?
I’ll eat the apple at the glass
I gat frae Uncle Johnnie:”
She fuff’t her pipe wi’ sic a lunt,
In wrath she was sae vap’rin’,
She notice’t na, an aizle brunt
Her braw new worset apron
Out through that night.
“Ye little skelpie-limmer’s face!
I daur you try sic sportin’,
As seek the foul thief ony place,
For him to spae your fortune.
Nae doubt but ye may get a sight!
Great cause ye hae to fear it;
For mony a ane has gotten a fright,
And lived and died deleeret
On sic a night.
Given the state of marriage today, I’d highly recommend that single women avoid looking in mirrors this evening — it might not turn out so well.