This Finnish New Year's tradition promises to reveal your fortune in 2020

December is over.

Coniferous corpses are starting to appear along the sidewalks. There is no snow this year to cover their nakedness.

It’s 11 p.m., just one hour left until glasses are raised, and kisses are shared to celebrate the end of another solar rotation; the end of a decade. 

Entering Janus’ month, we stand on a precipice: looking back at what was, then, somewhat hesitantly, face forward to embrace new challenges. 

In Numerology, 2020 represents the number 4: focus, discipline, opportunity and courage. It’s what I’ve been waiting for: the doors are open.

For those who take an interest in esoteric tradition, nights such as these are imbued with significance, and on occasion, even those who typically balk are tempted to play along. Just in case. 

This year will be my first reading of the tin: uudenvuodentina

Outside after dark, the air seems to hum with potential and secrets; there are whispers of what is to come for those who are listening. Tonight, so many will drown out the universe with the electronic bass of night clubs and shut their eyes with drink. To experience the stillness of only a crackling fire, is welcome after 10 long years of regretful parties and hangovers. 

A small gathering of people huddle against the warmth, ready to begin the ritual. This thousands year-old method of divination using molten lead was practiced first in Ancient Rome and later by the Alchemists and medieval witch hunters.

Lead is the metal of Saturn, a planet associated with rebirth, transformation and omens of fate. It is a harbinger of death and curious substance of opposites. Heavy and dense, it is also soft and pliable- easily be transformed to liquid, or pressed into brittle sheets. At one time, it was the preferred element used in this ceremony, but is now banned, in favour of safer options.

Today this tradition of fortune-telling is considered children’s fun in Scandinavia. Small kits containing horseshoe-shaped pieces of environmentally-friendly alloy, can be acquired at the local grocer.

How often we make light of the things that make our hair stand on end.

At the fire, the tools are assembled: a large flat spoon, a basket of tin pieces and a bucket of ice-cold water. Each of us in turn will select a lump of metal to be melted over the fire. This molten liquid is then tossed quickly into the bucket. The resulting shape of omen or fortune, contains the prophecy for the participant’s coming year.

Laughs are shared, no one is taking this too seriously.

They have all done it many times before, some, since their childhood in Finland.

Later, reading over the list of interpretations, I can see why. Many are austere: death, bad omens, ill health. The inevitable things we would love to blame on something as silly as melted metal.

I watch eagerly as my lump changes to liquid, shimmering in the flames. We will not be using horseshoes, our tin has been recycled.

It is ready. I have already watched a few others complete their turn. I am excited.

I flick, but it is too fast- clumsy. The spoon grazes the water’s surface and my shape explodes into shards, a crumbly mess in the bucket’s bottom.

“If you get a bad one, just do it again,” someone says.

My tin casting, Jan. 1, 2020

A shattered piece can mean riches. It can also mean bad luck. It depends who you talk to. Disappointed, I retrieve the pieces from the icy water and hold them in my hands. 

“Go again, go again,” they say. Half-heartedly I return my tin to the spoon. I believe in the nature of prophecy and do not set much store in this second attempt. My card has been played.

I flick again. Three pieces this time. I retrieve the larger two. Whether for money or ill will, my die has been cast it seems.

There are no smooth surfaces, or immediately visible shapes. It resembles a chunk of bleached coral plucked and preserved from some desolate reef. I will not do another, but coalesce to take it inside for interpretation. 

There is a line ahead of me. One woman sits by a desk lamp, pointed toward the wall. She is holding each shape in turn, revolving it, examining its shadow. Others are drawing their own conclusions. 

“It looks like the Eiffel Tower! Maybe I’m finally going to Paris!” one exclaims. 

“This one looks like a giraffe, maybe we’re going to the zoo- or Africa!”

The interpretive guide wasn’t brought to the party, forgotten or lost. We will have to wait until tomorrow, when another can be procured. 

I present my shapes. Money, for the pieces. Maybe an island, maybe a ship. It doesn’t look like anything. I take it back, like a child, disappointed. 

The tin sculptures are soon abandoned throughout the house. They litter bookshelves, window sills and end tables. The others have already moved on from the spectacle, but I am still thinking about that first cast, and the mystery of my second.

It is almost midnight. I raise my glass along with the others, unsure what this new decade may hold for me. Shortly after the countdown, I sneak away to bed unnoticed. The reality of having a 7-month old has significantly decreased my stamina. I will examine the tin again tomorrow.

The following morning, a woman from the party returns by bicycle to delivery the tin reading guide and I set to work. I look over each discarded shape in turn. One is particularly foreboding, but I can’t recall whom it belongs to. Maybe this is for the better.

The holes in my shape could mean loss and missed opportunities, but its rough surface signifies wealth. Because it broke into multiple pieces, I am promised a busy year, but to beware of distraction. The shadow to me, appeared as an island or submarine. Both marine vessels and islands indicate a trip, success or promotion. This aligns with my numerology personal year number for 2020, which is 1: new beginnings, rebirth, goals, opportunity and action.

As we pass them around the table, each person’s eye sees something different, another meaning. Is it fair then, to read one’s own fortune? Or to draw conclusions about someone else’s?

Perhaps when we make a guess, we already know what it is we’re meant to do, the tin merely affirms. If we are gripped by resistance and fear, the tin reflects this too. It provides the excuse we crave, to avoid what is planned for us. If our hearts are seeking the courage to pursue a goal, the tin provides permission.

It is hard to say.

What do you see?


Interpretation guide

Surface and shape

First examine your casting in normal light without shadows. Do not look for figures, just examine the surface and shape.

Smooth: Relentless boredom in the future, uneventful year, possibly ill health.

Flat: You are not going to be the shining star, the year is promising to be lazy and no achievement in sight. It is time to check your attitude.

Shape with holes: Losses and missed opportunities.

Rough surface: Money and wealth.

Lacy surface: You will be surrounded by admirers and suitors.

Fluted cavities and bowls: Bad omens, maybe even a death in the family.

Long ribbons or sticks: You need patience. No quick results, you need to wait.

Curvy ribbons or crooked sticks: The future holds a symbolic or actual trip that you need to take before you can move forward.

If your casting breaks in two or more pieces: The new year promises to be very busy, the busier the more pieces you have.

A casting with a round shape attached to a long stick: Stop chewing past problems and let them go.

Tail: A long tail brings a promise of good health and longevity.

Casting in small, separate pieces: Busy year ahead, too much distraction leads to non-caring. you need to focus on the essential things in life.

Small, tear-shaped crumbs: Tears are in the forecast, amount you can deduct from the amount of crumbs.

Casting that is forked: You have to make difficult choices and your plans will have surprising turns. You will realize you can’t have everything.

Leaves and tiles: You will receive news. A little or a lot, big or small.

Spikes and sharp ends: You have protection against, ‘the evil eye’.

Shadow casting

Anchor: Solidity, commitment and loyalty
Angel: Health improves and your creativity rules
Apple: Time to realize your dreams
Ax: Your happiness is in your hands, an ax in a woman’s hand brings a good lover
Bear: Quarrel and competition with a friend
Brush: A hairbrush will bring illness, other brushes bring hard work
Bunny: Addition to the family
Butterfly: Success and love
Candle: Faithful friends
Car: Trip or expenses
Cat: Enemies and intrigue
Chicken: More work, rewards and a happy reunion
Church: Funeral coming
Dice: You will achieve success in an underhanded way
Dog: Worries
Dragon: Control yourself, don’t let your drives and lusts control you
Earring: New job
Egg: Messy relationships
Elephant: Achievements, adventure and desire to see the world
Fan: Good news
Fish: Unfaithful friends and boredom
Flower: Happiness and family celebrations
Foot: Busy year, accident on the way
Grave: Long life
Guitar: You will meet a pleasant person and there is a possibility of harmonious romance
Horse: Fame and fortune, genuine feelings and romantic adventures
Horseshoe: New job or promotion, lucky year
Island: Trips and success
Jewelry: Loving spouse
Keyhole: Secrets, don’t get too involved in others’ affairs
Man: Pleasant and successful time in life
Padlock: Worries and confusion
Pearl: Great happiness and influential friends
Pillow: Raise in salary
Rake: Finish your own unfinished tasks. No point waiting for help
Shark: Threats and dangerous enemies
Ship: Promotion or trip
Sickle: Unpleasant duties
Snail: Bad news will arrive slowly but surely
Snake: Difficulties and stormy times
Spectacles: Don’t get caught in a scam and don’t lend money to anybody
Star: Health and success
Sun: You can say goodbye to your worries
Sword: Success at work
Teeth: Illness, difficulty and bad luck; learn to let old problems go
Tree: Tree in leaves will bring happiness and wealth, dead standing tree will bring sorrow
Unicorn: Happiness, love and joy
Violin: Harmonious family life and success in business
Waves: Big changes
Weapon: You will quarrel with your friends or separate from your loved one
Woman: Intrigue around you

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