This lesson really would’ve been more appropriate two weeks ago. But I have only become aware of this Irish Halloween tradition in the past week, when I read about it on-line somewhere. Like so many other divination methods I’ve discovered, my first reaction was “I’ve got to try this. I don’t care if Halloween was last Thursday.” Like many people in the U.S., I have a good dose of Irish in my background. The idea of trying a Halloween divination tradition my Irish ancestors likely observed is deeply appealing.
Barmbrack, in my divination categorization system, I classify as Simpleomancy. It is also a divination method which demands group participation. This is one of those things like glucksgriefe or cookie divination, which you’d serve at a group get-together, such as a party, or among family at holiday-time.
The Celts thought of the year as having two seasons: Summer and Winter. All Hallow’s Eve, October 31, was thought of as marking the end of summer and the beginning of winter. For this reason, Halloween was the Celtic New Year. It was a time for divining one’s fortune for the coming year. Barmbrack, a sweet loaf with charms baked into it, is a traditional way the Irish did this.
I have no idea how old it is. Probably centuries, because the Irish have been observing Halloween for at least a couple thousand years. The word ‘barmbrack’ is a running-together of two Irish Gaelic words, ‘bairin’ meaning ‘loaf’ and ‘breac’ meaning ‘speckled.’ So the literal translation is ‘speckled loaf.’ Raisins and sultanas (white raisins) are a traditional ingredient in this sweet bread, which accounts for the name. What made this bread a special event was, it was baked specifically for Halloween and, traditionally it had five or six non-edible objects baked into it. These objects and their meanings were, as follows: