In the 18th and 19th centuries, Halloween was a time for parties. These weren’t the elementary school kids parties with monsters and candy and haunted houses. Instead, they were adult parties where the main events were games for young adults to learn about their future spouses.
One of the most common involved mirrors. Although there were countless variations (as you can see by the differences in the cards), most of them involved gazing into a mirror on Halloween night in order to see the face of your beloved.
Some versions said this had to be done right at midnight, most often carrying a candle. (Bannatyne, 73)
Others required you to eat an apple while looking into the mirror. (Some even mixed this with the apple peeling game.)
Some required the young woman to brush her hair before the spell could work. (Bannatyne, 75)
A few went all out and figured that if one weird task was good, lumping them all together was better.
Some of the strangest required a young woman to walk down the stairs backwards at midnight while holding a mirror. Not exactly the safest way to do it.
It’s no surprise that this game was ripe for pranks and tricks, and many of the cards show people trying to scare those taking the game a bit more seriously. There are also legends that the game could backfire in terrifying ways Lisa Morton quotes a tale about just that:
A lady narrates that on the 1st of November her servant rushed into the room and fainted on the floor. On recovering, she said that she had played a trick that night in the name of the devil before the looking-glass; but what she had seen she dared not speak of, though the remembrance of it would never leave her brain, and she knew the shock would kill her. They tried to laugh her out of her fears, but the next night she was found quite dead, with her features horribly contorted, lying on the floor before the looking-glass, which was shivered to pieces. (Morton, 39)
I still haven’t quite figured out where it came from, but it may just be an old folk tradition that became a game. Still, I prefer this to saying Bloody Mary three times and freaking myself out.
Bannatyne, Lesley Pratt. Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Co., 1990.
Morton, Lisa. Trick or treat: A history of Halloween. London: Reaktion Books, 2012.