The thinning of the veils also offered some advantage to humans in that it allowed them a peek into the future. Foretelling the future was a significant part of the Samhain gatherings of the kings of Ireland. Elsewhere, it was employed on a tribal level to attempt a little certainty at an uncertain time. Most divination was reasonably prosaic: who would live or die- and who would marry, and so by definition, perpetuate life.
In Scotland, communal or family bonfires would be surrounded by a ring of stones, each one marked to represent an individual at the gathering. The stones would stay in place as the flames died down and in the morning the clan revisited them. If any were found to be marked or moved, people believed that the person the stone belonged to would die in the coming year. Similarly, in Wales, each family member would score a white pebble and throw it into their family bonfire. If any person’s pebble was not found in the ashes the next morning, that unfortunate individual could not expect to live long.
But the divination at Halloween was not all doom and gloom. It offered hope for the future once winter had passed. In Wales, families cooked a unique winter stew of vegetables and milk with a wedding ring added as part of the Halloween celebrations. All the single members of the gathering were encouraged to eat up all the stew between them. Whoever found the ring would be the first to marry in the spring. In Ireland, the ring was baked in a tastier dish: the Bairin Breac, or Halloween cake.
Seasonal foods such as nuts could also be used to divine the future- and determine if a marriage was even worth pursuing. The Scottish poet Robert Burns described the practice of a couple roasting a pair of hazelnuts together to divine the future of their relationship:
“Burning the nuts is a favorite charm. They name the lad and lass to each particular nut, as they lay them in the fire; and accordingly, as they burn quietly together or start from beside one another, the course and issue of the courtship will be.”