Day 5 of our countdown to Halloween – five apples bobbing

Day 5 of our countdown to Halloween – five apples bobbing

“On the fifth day of Halloween my true love sent to me five apples bobbing, four soulers souling, three nuts a cracking, two cats a mewing and a vampire in a coffin.”

Missed the first few blogs?  See

Apples and October 31st

Apples were symbols fertility in Roman culture and are widely used in Halloween games and divination. An apple beneath the pillow on November’s Eve brings prophetic dreams, whilst an apple paring thrown over the shoulder at midnight will form the initial of the man you will marry.


Apples bobbing

This games seems like a classic bit of Halloween fun and silliness but bobbing for apples was originally a type of divination.  Each apple would symbolise something (a letter might be written on each apple, or names, or future careers etc.) and which apple you picked would provide a clue to your future.  In a similar way, pumpkins could be carved with letters, the blindfolded person would then place their hand or a pin somewhere on the pumpkin to reveal clues to their future.

‘Snap Apple Night’ or ‘All Hallow Eve’ 

This is a copy of Daniel Maclise’s painting, produced after the artist visited an All Hallows Eve party in County Cork in 1832. Like the Scottish Halloween, it was a time of mischief and merriment where working people and the gentry mingled freely.


Several divination practices can be seen(from bottom left):

  • The woman in the shawl in the foreground (emblazoned with a portrait of Daniel O’ Connell, a campaigner for Catholic emancipation) is trying to divine the character of her beau by his shoe.
  • A woman tells the fortune of two young lovers using cards.
  • A dark haired girl pours molten lead through a key into an earthenware bowl of water.
  • Children duck for apples and coins in a tub.

In addition, we can see a traditional ‘snap apple game’ where apples are suspended from a cross of wood with lit candles on each end. The trick was to get the apple without being covered in hot wax. Photograph below of a snap apple game courtesy of Jane Cox.


The Garland of Knowledge (apple garland – a version of which is photographed below)

“The apple has always been seen…as the fruit of the Underworld…If you cut an apple horizontally you will reveal the secret within it: a five pointed star , emblem of the Goddess…At the apple’s heart are the seeds.  Cut through their centres, each resembles the great mystery of the female body, the womb…

The Garland of Knowledge] can be hung in any room where you read, study, spell cast or meditate.  On Samhain (October 31st) itself, the apple garland can be hung above any divination work you plan to do and will inspire your efforts, particularly if  you hope to contact your ancestors.”


From the Real Halloween by Sheena Morgan


Photograph courtesy of Paul Atlas-Saunders

Allantide or Halloween in the Camel Valley, Cornwall by Alex Langstone

“Our Druidic hearth in the heart of the Camel Valley celebrates the old festival of Samhain. In particular we strive to incorporate local traditions into our celebrations. Margaret Courtney recorded that this time of year was known as Allantide in the far west of Cornwall and in Penzance and St Ives, large red ‘Allan Apples’ were sold at markets. These apples were incorporated into the folk-traditions of West Penwith around the end of October. Nothing has been written about this in other parts of Cornwall, and East Cornwall seems to be void of any particularly local lore. However across Britain there are various traditions concerning the old feast of Samhain, and we draw on these to create our own unique take on the festival.

We particularly focus on remembrance of the ancestors, and we create various shrines, some outside and one in the window of our old farmhouse. Here we invite guests to place photos of their dear departed and we encourage folk to not only remember their human family, but also animal friends that have passed on.

We create the shrine around the photographs with autumn leaves, symbolising the transition from one state of existence to another, and we place apples on the shrine in honour of the old Cornish Allantide tradition. The candles are lit at dusk to help guide our ancestors’ home for the sacred gathering. We share a meal with friends and all the ancestors are invited, too. We leave a place at the table for those souls who wish to visit. Lanterns are lit outside and we gather round to commune with our dearly departed and the spirits of the land.”  


Photograph courtesy of Alex Langstone.

Tomorrow, the sixth day of Halloween – six witches flying!





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