Fortune or Folly? Try Finland’s Water Casting Tradition to Foretell the New Year!

There’s nothing like a quirky cultural tradition to make me applaud humanity’s diverse yet shared quest for meaning. While we may chuckle at another country’s baffling pastimes, we have to remember that even our own most deep-seated customs look comically arbitrary from an outsider’s point of view. New Year’s traditions can be a wonderful window into the variety of our celebrations, hopes, and intentions.

ABOVE: Water casting, or heating metal to a molten state before dropping it into cold water, creates beautifully organic, gnarled shapes. In Finland, interpreting these shapes to predict the new year is a common tradition.

In Denmark, people break plates against the doors of friends’ and family’s homes to express affection and well wishes. Coins are baked into sweets for a lucky nibbler to find in Bolivia. In the Philippines, people dress in polka dots and collect round items in hopes of summoning wealth. What has captured my attention this year is Finland’s tradition of foretelling the coming year by casting tin in water.

Left: I preheat the crucible before adding metal. Right: Hollie focuses the flame on the bronze casting grain we purchased for our water casting experience at Colorado State University’s metalsmithing studio.

Left: I preheat the crucible before adding metal. Right: Hollie focuses the flame on the bronze casting grain we purchased for our water casting experience at Colorado State University’s metalsmithing studio.

New Year’s Tin: Predictions with Water Casting

Known in Finnish as uudenvuoden tina for “New Year’s tin,” the English equivalent is molybdomancy from the Greek words “lead” and “divination.” On New Year’s Eve, people in Finland traditionally melt horseshoe-shaped tin bullion — sold for this specific purpose — in a ladle over a flame. The molten tin is then dropped into a bucket of cold water, where it instantly solidifies into an organic shape.

Casting metal and shadows: According to tradition, you can make your forecast based on the metal shape itself or on the shadow it casts.

Casting metal and shadows: According to tradition, you can make your forecast based on the metal shape itself or on the shadow it casts.

Now the fun begins! Each person does his or her best to interpret the shape of the tin, which reveals what to expect in the year ahead. Interpretations are made either by looking at the tin shape itself or by looking at the shadow it casts against a wall. Rough and bumpy metal suggests money, while shiny and even surfaces hint at a peaceful future. Beware fragile or broken figures, as they portend misfortune. A whole variety of interpretations abound for different shapes you may see in the figure. Here are just a few of them:

basket: a good year for mushroom gathering
bird: good luck
flowers: new friendships
hen: riches
horse: a journey or a new car
key: career success
rat: treachery
ring: marriage
sheep: prosperity
ship: travel
straight lines: happiness and peace
tree: good luck

Interpreting water-cast metal is known in various cultures, including other Scandinavian regions, the Balkans, Germany, and Turkey. Often, lead is cast instead of tin.

Hollie (left) and I hold up our favorite shapes from our water casting experience.

Hollie (right) and I hold up our favorite shapes from our water casting experience.

Harbingers of the Future: What’s Your Interpretation?

Since New Year’s Eve is fast upon us, several of us from Interweave were eager to try this tradition for ourselves. Hollie Goodman, our marketing manager, and I had the fortuitous opportunity to use the jewelry studio at Colorado State University. Since Hollie has a degree in metalsmithing and jewelry from CSU, she reached out to her former professor, Haley Bates, who generously invited us to come by.

Our collaborator on the east coast joined in as well. Tamara Honaman, editor of Beadwork magazine, got busy in her studio and reported back. Take a look at our results and interpretations. What do you see in these random water-cast shapes? I’ll start with mine:

water casting

Dinosaur or Dragon

Metal used: Bronze

Interpretation: My largest piece looks like a dinosaur or perhaps a dragon, and one of my smaller pieces resembles a claw. I viewed these shapes as a complete success since I love reptiles — prehistoric, mythological, or otherwise. Since fossils and unknown creatures imply new discoveries, I see the coming year as a chance to learn and explore.

water casting

Prancing Poodle, Motorcycle, Tree

Metal used: Bronze

Interpretation: I am interpreting my water casting as a prancing poodle or a motorcycle and then, when it’s turned on its side, a tree. I hope that means starting the new year heading in a good direction of growth and good fortune!

— Hollie Goodman, Marketing Manager

water casting

Scallop, Tree, Mushroom

Metal used: Fine silver

Interpretation: The heat I used was not enough to have a truly successful pour, but for this exercise and for the fun of it, the pieces I retrieved from the bucket are perfect. When I look at the metal, I see shiny surfaces (thank you, fine silver!) – which means peace in the future. I’ll take it and gladly share it with all of you! When pressed to find a shape in the mix, immediately, one makes me think of a scallop shell I’d find along the Jersey shore. Maybe that portends a trip to the ocean, soon? Another looks like a mushroom or maybe a tree. A tree means good luck, so I’ll take that route, but given that I live near the mushroom capital of the world, perhaps sticking to my first thought would be best.

Whatever you see in my castings or those made by your own hand, I wish you a wonderful, blessed, and Happy New Year!

— Tammy Honaman, Group Editorial Director, Bead & Jewelry

Your Turn

If you have the basic supplies for water casting in your jewelry studio, consider adding this Finnish tradition to your festivities this year. Gather your friends and family to safely participate, and afterward enjoy interpreting your unique shapes while sipping on Merle’s Famous Eggnog.

If you join in, we would love to see your images! Please tag our Instagram account @interweavejewelry, or simply tell us about your experience in the comments below. No matter how you ring in the new year, all of us at Interweave wish you a memorable evening of camaraderie and favorite pastimes!

Wishing you an auspicious New Year,

– Tamara Kula
Producer, Bead & Jewelry Group


Celebrate the Coming Year with Casting and More!

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