The Egg of the New Year

Holly pricks and evergreen sticks, 
Mistletoe above, and fortunes of love; 
The short, sunless days-- a world without light.
We witches still play on Christmas Night.

          Winter comes and with it, the bite of the frost and the long nights.  The boughs of the trees will weigh heavy with snow, the rains will freeze in the sky and blister our skin.   We will wrap our homes in light and tell stories by the fireside; stories of nativities and saints and devils and gifts.  Winter is a story-telling time, especially in Indigenous cultures, including the in the Northwest; winter dances and potlatches used to be more common, because winter is a time for stories, for tales that thrill and teach us on the long nights.

         They used to say that cattle and horses kneel to Christ near Christmas.   They used to say that the winter was haunted by Hags.  They also used to say that fortunes and love divinations were just as useful at Midwinter as they are at Midsummer.  In the folklore of the New World, witches and portents of the future tend to ride on the days of Hallow's Eve, May's Eve, Midsummer and Midwinter, and today it is the latter we will honor.

        Midwinter, Winterstide or Christmastime is a peculiar season- from the end of Thanksgiving to the day of the New Year, our world becomes a festive, illuminated, highly spiritual time.  Whether secular or religious, whether Christian or pagan, the Yultide season is so deeply rooted in our traditions that we continue the magic of the season onward through the generations with joy.  Part of this time is spent in frantic materialism and commercialism, driving ourselves into debt over expectations unrelated to the history of the season, and the other part is spent in joy and revelry with family as we fatten on sweets the way "rabbits fatten on frost".I don't care for Christmas, at least, I used to truly dislike it until recently.  The more I started to separate my celebration of folk charms from the consumerism and obligations, the better I felt about the season as a whole. These days my "Christmas" is about divination, baking sweets, attending the ballet and waiting for my more favorite holiday, New Years.  This year, my New Years is for reading the future, looking ahead, seeing the way.

Sorceries in the Venus Glase
Egg divination is a very cute and underrated folk-magic.  The idea that there's an entire magical world surrounding eggs as portents of love or death, as talismans of luck or cursing, as vehicles that witches sail overseas in (according to the German American folklore of the Midwest),2 is just too cute to me.  In the part of Southern California we grew up in, it wasn't uncommon to hear of someone's granny or abuela rubbing them with eggs or cracking eggs over them for all kinds of purposes; to remove internal blockages, to tell fortunes, to absorb bad spirits and evil eyes, or to heal wounds and transfer pain- even to curse children or sick or elderly people.  Oomancy is part of many different healing traditions and their method for use in that regard isn't too dissimilar to the love divination games reported in folklore.  Witches seemed to love haunting eggs in the same way they loved haunting butter in folklore; witches were accused of rotting the hen's eggs or producing yokeless eggs much to the irritation of their neighbors according to Puckett’s Popular Beliefs and Superstitions.  Emrich had reported in The Folklore of Love and Courtship that a portent of someone's intended lover would themselves enter the home to turn an egg put into the coals of a hearthfire, an egg that legend says "sweats blood".   I've never seen the famed "egg-sweating" that's discussed in some of our folklore, but when candle wax or liquid mercury wasn't available, we would turn to egg-whites cracked into bowls.  As we move closer to the long night, the Winter Solstice, I've been dreaming of folk charms for the occasion...

“If an egg, placed in front of the fire by a young woman, be seen to sweat blood, it is a sign that she will succeed in winning the sweetheart she desires.”3

Every bit of lore regarding this divination varies; sometimes the egg-whites must be poured into the water and the bowl left unmolested overnight to be read in the morning (just as it is on May Day), other times you read the whites by candlelight straight-away.

"Drop an egg in water at midnight on New Year's Eve, and whatever it forms is what will happen to you during the year."4

One operation for this fortune given in the Journal of American Folklore tells a pretty fantastic tale, here it is not directly referenced as a Christmas or Halloween divination, but it can be if you want it to;

“One or more girls place some eggs to roast before an open fire, while they seat themselves in front of the fire on chairs. Each one who is trying her fortune rises to turn her egg when it begins to sweat ; it will sweat blood! As she is turning the egg the person she is to marry will enter through a door or window (all of which must be left open) and take her vacant chair. If she is to die before she marries, two black dogs will enter, bearing her coffin, which they will deposit on her chair. Mrs. Fanny D. Bergen.”

         According to C.L Daniels' collection of occult lore, egg folklore among different cultures was not only common, it was fairly serious business much of the time.  But, like most divinations and fortunes, these magics were not always associated with witchery, mostly with 'little sorceries' and fortune-telling, and were usually practiced by younger people (girls in particular) in order to divine for luck in love and life, or to foresee theft and death.  One of the divinations given in reference to the holidays (we witches know as our flying-days), goes as such;

"To foretell coming events, break a new-laid egg, separate carefully the white from the yolk, drop the white into a large tumbler half full of water, place this uncovered in a  dry place, and let it remain untouched for twenty-four hours.  Then look again, and the figures which will have formed indicate the occupation of your future husband,--” the charm continues, "The more whites are dropped into the glass the more figures there will be.  This fortune-telling experiment is believed to be  particularly efficacious if undertaken between midnight and 1 am on May Day, or Midsummer morning, on Halloween, Christmas Eve or New Year’s.

An egg for luck, sugar for sweetness, milk for comfort, rice for wealth and an orange for beauty, may these New Year symbols bring their spirits into my path...

The same egg divinations practiced especially on May Day and Halloween are just as effective at Midsummer, Christmas and New Year’s, days associated with witch’s flight and so, if you’re feel the need to bring some folk magic into your Holiday season, you could turn to egg magic for New Year fortune-telling with friends and family, or make egg-magic part of your Christmas Eve activities with the kids.

Take an unblemished egg from the fridge or hen-house, one for each person involved, and some glass goblets or bowls.  Fill the bowls with water and by firelight, crack the eggs and separate the whites.  Pour the whites into the bowls and save the yellows for baking goods.  Tuck the bowls under your bed and in the morning, pull them out carefully and read the shapes within.  If you see images of wealth, your mate will be rich.  If you see boats and waves, he will be a traveler who breaks your heart.  If you see headphones and turn-tables, bet he’s gonna be a DJ.  Have fun with this little game, or take it as seriously as you please.  For some, egg-reading is their primary form of divination, for others it’s just a fun but of fortune-telling.  The choice is yours as always.

New Year’s divinations make a good deal of sense; why wouldn’t we read our futures when the year turns?  New Years is huge for us as a culture, maybe we should focus more on bringing divination into this time as New World Witches, make it about more than just first-kisses, fireworks and binge drinking (I mean we should keep all that, but we can add more), maybe we can bring back some of the old customs and superstitions of the past in a fun new way.

"A branch of holly with berries on it, brought into the house, will bring luck; but for every berry that falls before New Year's, a bit of the luck will go."

Duncan Emirch’s The Hodgepodge Book: An Almanac of American Folklore has some advice for ushering in a merry New Year, like making wishes on horseshoes kept under the pillow on the eve of the New Year, and leaving out symbols of the future you desire out on the tables; bread and salt and coins and the like in order to draw in health, wealth and prosperity, or, eating foods with symbolic meaning for good luck in the year to come.

"Lay a green ivy leaf in a dish on New Year's night, cover it with water and set it in a safe place until the fifth day of the year. If the leaf is then still green and fair, you will be safe from any sickness all the year; but if you find black spots on it, you may expect sickness."- CLD

This time around I will be leaving out bread and milk for the tricksters who visit and I will be eating an egg for luck, black-eyed-peas6 for prosperity, and peppers to make my love-life spicy.  I’ll also be doing holly, apple and egg-divinations to usher in the New Year with my mates.  I'm looking forward to a new kind of Yuletide set of traditions, ones that make the season truly feel magical to me.

“By giving to a number of mistletoe leaves the names of her several suitors, and ranging them in line before the fire, she can test the affection of each sweetheart. The leaf which the heat causes to pop over nearest to where she is standing will indicate which lover is most sincere in his professions, and in the same way will be shown the relative ardor of the others.”7

1. Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore, Vol VII
2. Wayland D. Hand, Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina. 4874-8569, Volume 4874, Issue 8569
3. Journal of American Folklore
4. Newbell Niles Puckett, Wayland Debs Hand, Anna Casetta, Sondra B. Thiederman, Popular Beliefs and Superstitions: A Compendium of American folklore: from the Ohio Collection of Newbell Niles Puckett, Volume 1
5. Cora Linn Morrison Daniels, ‎Charles McClellan Steven, Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World, Volume 2
6. Thomas G. Burton, Ambrose N. Manning, A Collection of folklore by Undergraduate Students of East Tennessee State University
7. Journal of American Folklore

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