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To celebrate February, the month of love, with Valentine's Day, I delved into the superstitions of the past when a village lass searched for her one true love.
Folklore abounds in the villages of England around the single girl’s search for a husband—as in the eighteenth century marriage was what most young women had to look forward to, or they’d be ridiculed and regulated to spinsters, farmed out as governesses, or forced to live on the charity of their family.
Most of these search-for-true-love customs revolved around the seasons.
At the ruined Abbey of Cerne Abbas in Dorsetshire, girls flocked around the wishing-well in all seasons. To obtain their heart’s desire, they’d pluck a leaf from a nearby laurel bush, make a cup of it, dip this in the well, then turn and face the church. The girl would then “wish” for presumably a man she already has in mind, but must keep this wish a secret or it wouldn’t come true.
Other customs included, in Somersetshire on May Day Eve or St. John’s Eve, a lass putting a snail on a pewter plate. As the snail slithered across the plate it would mark out the future husband’s initials.
On another ritual to this end, writer Daniel Defoe remarked by saying: “I hope that the next twenty-ninth of June, which is St. John the Baptist’s Day, I shall not see the pastures adjacent to the metropolis thronged as they were the last year with well-dressed young ladies crawling up and down upon their knees as if they were a parcel of weeders, when all the business is to hunt superstitiously after a coal under the root of a plantain to put under their heads that night that they may dream who should be their husbands.”
Throwing an apple peel over the left shoulder was also employed in the hopes the paring would fall into the shape of the future husband’s initials. When done on St. Simon and St. Jude’s Day, the girls would recite the following rhyme as they tossed the peel: St. Simon and St. Jude, on you I intrude, By this paring I hold to discover, without any delay please tell me this day, the first letter of him, my true lover.
On St. John’s Eve, his flower, the St. John’s Wort, would be hung over doors and windows to keep off evil spirits, and the girls who weren’t off searching for snails in the pastures, would be preparing the dumb cake. Two girls made the cake, two baked it, and two broke it. A third person would put the cake pieces under the pillows of the other six. This entire ritual must be performed in dead silence-or it would fail. The girls would then go to bed to dream of their future husbands.
On the eve of St. Mary Magdalene’s Day, a spring of rosemary would be dipped into a mixture of wine, rum, gin, vinegar, and water. The girls, who must be under twenty-one, fastened the sprigs to their gowns, drink three sips of the concoction, then would go to sleep in silence and dream of future husbands.
On Halloween, a girl going out alone might meet her true lover. One tale has it that a young servant-maid who went out for this purpose encountered her master coming home from market instead of a single boy. She ran home to tell her mistress, who was already ill. The mistress implored the maid to be kind to her children, then this wife died. Later on, the master did marry his serving-maid.
Myths and customs were long a part of village life when it came to match-making.
Source: English Country Life in the Eighteenth Century, by Rosamond Bayne-Powell, 1935.
Diane lives in Western Pennsylvania with her husband and one naughty dachshund.
I learn so much from BWL authors!!ReplyDelete
So many interesting customs. I love it when authors do their historical research. I like to learn something new when I read a novel. Thanks for sharing.ReplyDelete
Wow! Superstitions and old traditions abound. Thanks for sharing, Diane!ReplyDelete
How interesting. I've seen some of these customs used in books. ThanksReplyDelete
thank you for all the comments. Appreciated.ReplyDelete