Just like Midsummer's Eve and Halloween, the holidays are a time when the veil between the world of mankind and the spirit world is a bit thinner. This has contributed to the appeal of fortune-telling traditions at New Year's Eve parties.
One of these traditions is called "the casting of tin," or molybdomancy. Party-goers are given tin charms in the shape of horseshoes, which are melted in tiny pots over a flame before being poured into cold water. The tin solidifies into a shape that can be read as a means of telling the caster's future. Some of the symbols are fortuitous (an angel foretells good news, a full moon love), while others are not so good (beans mean money trouble, an owl someone you can't trust). It is thought that this form of divination was an outgrowth of the practices of medieval alchemists.
At my family's New Year's Eve party, I'm known to disappear just before the arrival of the mysterious Madame Ghurka, a beturbaned, bare-midriffed soothsayer. She gathers the guests around a basin of water surrounding the island of Happiness, the Island of Riches, the Island of True Love, and other Islands of Good Fortune. Fortune cookie strips rest around the basin and strings run from them into the water. Each friend gets a boat, consisting of a walnut shell and a tiny candle. They take turns lighting the candle and setting their boat afloat. The boat comes to rest on an island or touches one of the strings, thus telling that person's fate. I wish I would get a chance to play, but Madame Ghurka always vanishes before I come back into the room!
The pictures seen here are some New Year's fortune-telling postcards in our collection. They're fun because they incorporate mirror writing that can only be read when held to a mirror. It's hard to do that on a computer, though, so I've put the reverse pictures below -- scroll down to read your fortune!