Friday, January 2, 2015

Oomancy: Food for the New Year

If you were to walk into my childhood home on New Year’s Day, you would see six children tip-toeing around a dining room table, careful to not bump and disturb the tall, clear glasses that had been set on it the night before. They were filled to the rim with still tap water. "You can't move them even a bit!," we would caution each other, "If you do then none of it counts!"

Inside each glass, floating like a plump newborn, would be a globulous raw egg. The water would grow bubbly as it sat over the hours, the strings of congealed egg white taking shape, reaching for the top with their thin strands of arms. I remember thinking how much those gelatinous peaks of egg white looked exactly like the sea monkey habitat ads from the back of my brother’s comic books.

It was the New Year, and my Colombian immigrant family was doing what we do on New Year's Day: egg divination. Oomancy. An egg symbolizes a beginning, and my grandmother, my abuela, would seek to predict our future for the coming year by the power of raw eggs in water. My grandmother lived with us and had been her small Colombian town’s esteemed medicine woman: a bruja buena, good witch. She was in charge of making her town’s monthly coca water (just what you think it is) as well as possessing the knowledge of fortune telling, in this case, via egg whites.

The first thing at midnight on New Year's Eve, my family would fill eight ounce glasses with water. We would then take take a still in its shell raw egg, rub it over our body, hand it to my grandmother who in one sweep of a movement, would crack the egg into our glass. This egg in water ensemble sat undisturbed through New Year's Eve and into the night. Most important of anything, was that the egg remain unshaken, motionless, in the tepid water. Nothing could influence or jeopardize the egg as it wove and dodged, the thick egg white separating from the yolk, stretching to the point of almost breaking as it searched for the meaning in the year to come.

We would awake the morning in the new year, and run to find our abuela. We surrounded her as she took each of our glasses, which we had left sitting on top of square pieces of paper with our names printed by our own hand. One by one, she'd hold our glasses up to the day's light, shifting the angle this way and that. Humming and murmuring, sometimes silent, she assessed the predictions for the new year. The egg white swirls pointing the way to good, or bad, news.

Your swirls could tell you who your future husband would be. If your egg had red spots, someone had put the evil eye on you. The egg white swirls could point to the next  possessor of the oomancy powers. If there was to be a long trip in your future, the peaks of the egg white would form a mountain, making sure you were the first to know and pack accordingly.

* * *

What child could keep something this amazing a secret? If you had a grandmother who was able to interpret egg white strands, you would tell everyone in school, wouldn't you? And so, we did. My five siblings and I came back from Christmas break one school year, with stories to tell, chest bursting proud ones, of my abuela, the good witch with the egg divining powers. And since she did this every year, they were all invited to our house for New Year's! "Bring your own eggs!" we reminded them.

That New Year’s Eve, people did come. They came dressed like Mad Magazine’s Spy versus Spy, incognito in black coats, black head scarves, and black movie star sunglasses; sneakily knocking at the back door, whispering if now was a good time for an egg reading.

None who came seeking were turned away.

They hungrily took in what their egg peaks revealed. Miss Quill, who was my second grade teacher and single, in particular nodded eagerly when my grandmother pointed out that her egg whites were forming a bell shape. Miss Quill, rapt with her lashes just inches from her glass, begged my grandmother, "But Senora Pinzon, please, what does it mean??" In her broken English, my abuela answered back, "... a wedding, una boda, perhaps for you, maybe soon..." My grandmother had to shake her head no as Miss Quill pulled a plastic bag of eggs out of her spy coat pocket, begging for a continuation of the reading.

By everyone's smiles and general cheeriness, my siblings and I knew that our visitors had no idea  what was about to go down next. Your egg divination session didn’t simply end with an individualized reading of your egg white swirls.

No Sir.

After your egg white fortune telling was complete, my grandmother handed you back your glass with the raw egg congealed and wobbling at the bottom. Toast!Salud!” she would motion with a nod of her head for you to clink your glass with hers, and then 1-2-3 you were to tilt your head back along with her and let that good fortune slide right down the back of your throat, like it was the world's biggest slug. We could stand and peek from behind the kitchen door watching 15 pained gringo egg glottal slammings in a row and it never got old.


Years later, my brothers and I went to see the movie Rocky when it first came out. I remember the three of us gasping out loud as we watched Sylvester Stallone take an egg, and in the same precise one-handed manner as my grandmother, he cracked it on the edge of his water glass and plopped the yolk in. Then he sat and studied his glass as the strands of egg white floated upward. The popcorn fell out of our mouths as we turned to each other in disbelief, asking, “Rocky’s Colombian?!"

Who knew.

* * *

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  1. I would have loved to had an egg read by your grandmother. Cool talent!

    1. I need to learn more and do it myself, Estelle. Thank you!

  2. These wonderful customs from other cultures. I hope they're never lost. In our family, my grandmother taught me (and my mother before me) to "read" cards. Only the 9s-the Aces. I used to do it a lot when I lived here in Paris and made some nice cash for it. I still do it and found my old Cartomancie book here, which I promptly threw into my luggage!

    1. So true, isn't it? Sometimes, I get sad... after my mother passed away, so much I still wanted to know, was gone forever. Love to you, Suzy, I hope your mother is better soon!

  3. Sooooooo... are you a possessor of the oomancy powers?

  4. Ooh yes I would love to meet your amazing Abuela. :D

  5. I love it! I love you! I love this...I LOVE THIS!!!!!!

  6. Oh! The egg-slamming! Pass me a bucket. Blergh.

  7. I'm crazy for this post: I learned new things (always love that), I got to read your words (always love that), you used the phrase "gringo egg glottal slammings" (which I will always love, from this day forward), and you ended with a killer good hoot-out-loud closing line (which I have always loved).

    Summary: LOVE.

    1. I am so happy to know you, you have this gift of making everyone feel like a million dollars. THANK YOU. Happy New Year, friend!

  8. Which part of Colombia does your family hail from? My mother's side of the family is Colombian.

  9. LOVE this post ... but as much as i would love to gaze at the strands of my future - the swilling it back is more than i could handle ;)



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