How The Humble Egg Has Been Used To Tell Fortunes For Centuries

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Anyone who has ever had their tea leaves or coffee grounds read knows that food fortune-telling is a tradition as old as time. According to MSN, the list of foods used to try to divine the future is vast, with beans, salt, coconuts, onions, flour, and wine being just some of the common kitchen ingredients soothsayers have drawn upon throughout the ages. But what you might not know is that across the world, Halloween has been the time of year when foods have most often been consulted about what's to come.

As reported by Thrillist, on Samhain, the Celtic pagan celebration of the dead that was typically observed at the end of October, divination was commonly attempted via apple bobbing, picking out the seeds from oranges, roasting nuts in a fire, and other activities. Eventually, Samhain was combined with the November 1 Christian festival of All Saints Day, and that offspring came to be called Halloween, celebrated on October 31.

"Samhain is the time when the veil between our world and the spirit world is thinnest," clairvoyant Colette Brown, author of How to Read an Egg: Divination for the Easily Bored, told Thrillist. "By doing divination at this time, we are likely to have a few spirit helpers joining in." So, if you're in the mood to contact some spirits this Halloween, you might want to reach into your fridge for an egg or two because they're one of the main foods used for centuries to tell the future.

Oomancy may have originated in ancient Greece

Oomancy, the practice of telling the future through the observation of eggs, comes from the Greek words "oon" (egg) and "manteia" (divination). This provides a clue that such fortune-telling may have originated in ancient Greece and was then disseminated worldwide. According to Atlas Obscura, Roman historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, who lived from 69 to 122 B.C., once wrote of how Empress Livia Drusilla kept a chicken egg in her cleavage believing that the sex of the chick, once hatched, would predict the sex of her unborn baby.

Oomancy has been utilized worldwide in about as many ways as you can use an egg, the outlet relates. For example, according to Hivefirm, eggs are thrown onto the ground in Southeast Asia, and the shapes they make as they splatter are read. In parts of Mexico, traditional healers perform an egg cleanse, in which a whole egg is "used as a psychic vacuum cleaner. It's rubbed all over the body to pull off negative energy, cords, to move stuck emotions," Mexican healer Atava Garcia Swiecicki told KQED.

One method of oomancy called the "Venus Glass" may have roots in Scotland and goes like this: You take a glass of warm water, pour in a raw egg white, and observe the shapes that form as the proteins denature in the water. As in tea reading, the shapes can indicate whom you might marry, for instance, or how you might die, according to Atlas Obscura.

The Venus Glass got some Puritans in major trouble

"If you see that the egg whites kind of look like a plow or a horse, your husband might be a farmer," Peter Muise, author of Witches and Warlocks of Massachusetts, told Atlas Obscura. "Or if it looks like a fortress, your husband might be a soldier, or if it looks like a boat, your husband might be a fisherman."

In the colonial United States, the outlet writes, the Venus Glass may have been an easy way for Puritans — who didn't have a lot of material or technological goods lying around, although they had plenty of eggs — to try to understand the complicated times they were living through. Ministers explicitly banned the practice, but during the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692-1693, two women confessed to oomancy (via Smithsonian). Instead of seeing an innocuous plow or boat in the egg whites, however, they saw a coffin, the Puritan reverend John Hale recalled in his 1702 account of the trials A Modest Enquiry Into the Nature of Witchcraft.

Hale claimed that both suffered from "diabolical molestations" and that one died shortly after the trials. So if you want to read some eggs this Halloween, make sure to be as prepared for a dark omen as you are for news about your imminent lottery win.