Folklore has so many different ways to divine a future spouse, or at least, most commonly, a future husband. It makes sense that girls were more the target for such foretelling methods than men. For much of history and in most cultures, marriage put a girl into the hands of her husband or her husband’s family. When husbands could do almost anything they liked, short of murder, a girl might be wise to be wary, and anxious to know what was ahead of her.
Divination on certain nights
In my current work-in-progress, it is Easter, and coming up to St Mark’s Eve (24 April, which in that year was a week after Easter), when good Lincolnshire maidens wait in the church porch to see who passes them at midnight. In other parts of England, they might expect to see the shades of those who will die during the year. A Lincolnshire girl could see those visions, too, but she might also see her future spouse, if she is going to marry during the year.
Another night for such divination is this Saturday, St Agnes Eve, 21 January. In Scotland, girls would go out to throw grain, saying:
“ Agnes sweet, and Agnes fair,
Hither, hither, now repair;
Bonny Agnes, let me see
The lad who is to marry me. ”
The shadow of their destined groom would be seen in their mirror later that night.
In other parts of the country, girls would fast. If they kept St Agnes Fast, their future husband would appear in a dream.
Midsummer Eve, 23 June, was the time to lay out a clean cloth with bread, cheese, and ale, and sit down with the street door open. The girl’s future husband would then, according to folklore, enter the room and drink the ale, bow, refill the glass, bow again, and leave. That’s a pretty detailed vision.
Halloween came at the time of apple harvest, and in some parts of the country girls would bob for apples, then put their apple under their pillow to fetch a dream of the man they would marry. Others would walk upstairs looking in a mirror to see a vision of their future spouse walking behind them.
And on New Year’s Eve, some maidens would sweep the room backwards while looking into a mirror.
Finally, girls had an opportunity every new moon to try this rhyme:
New moon, true moon,
Dressed in blue,
If I should marry a man,
Or he should marry me,
What in the name of love,
Will his name be?
Or any other time of the year
But if you couldn’t wait for one of those special evenings, you could try one of these:
- When you go to bed, place your shoes at right angles to one another, saying “Hoping this night my true love to see, I place my shoes in the form of a T”
- Pass a piece of wedding cake three times through the bride’s wedding ring, then put it under your pillow (or, in some places, a piece of cheese)
- Knit your left garter around your right stocking and keep knotting, at each line of the following rhyme tying another knot:
This knot I knit,
To know the thing I know not yet,
That I may see The man that shall my husband be;
How he goes, and what he wears,
And what he does all days and years.
- If you’re a Shropshire lass, fetch a half-brick from the nearest churchyard, and put that under your pillow
- Lay a four leaf clover under each corner of your sheet
- Eat a salt herring before you go to sleep
- Count thirteen stars for thirteen nights
- Clip your fingernails and drop the clippings into the flame of your lamp. Then hang your shift (petticoat) over the lamp, and while the fingernails are burning, the shadow of your future husband will appear on the shift.
- Peel an apple and throw the peel over your shoulder. The letter it falls into will be the initials of your future spouse.