three dishes

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A cluster of related divinatory customs, called ‘three dishes’ after one variant, but better known in Scotland and Ireland (where it often took place at Halloween or at funerals), than in England. In its simplest form, three basins are set out—one with clean water, one with dirty water, and the third empty. Participants are blindfolded and place their hand into one of the bowls, which signifies their future, as, for example, he or she will marry a maiden, a widow, or remain single, respectively. In a version reported from Gloucestershire c.1890 (Folk-Lore 34 (1923), 155), three plates were set out at Halloween, containing gold, a ring, and a thimble, which symbolized a rich marriage, an early marriage, and no marriage. Another variant from Devon (N&Q 3s:2 (1862), 62) had objects placed on the floor of an otherwise empty room, including a turf, basin of water, ring, and so on.

Opie and Tatem, 1989: 120–1.

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