13 February 2011

13 February - St. Valentine's Eve

Tomorrow being Saint Valentine's Day, tonight is St. Valentine's Eve, and time for another love charm.

From Mother Bunch's Closet Newly Broke Open:
"Fifthly, my daughters, know ye the 14th of February is Valentine's day, at which time the fowls of the air begin to couple ; and the young men and maids are for choosing their mates. Now, that you may speed, take this approved direction: Take five bay-leaves, lay one under every corner of your pillow, and the fifth in the middle; then lying down to rest, repeat these lines seven times:
" Sweet guardian angels, let me have,
What I most earnestly do crave,
A Valentine endowed with love,
That will both kind and constant prove."
Then to your content you'll either have the Valentine you desire, or one more excellent."

[Be ready to explain to your mother why her stock of bay leaves is suddenly diminished: "But it's for a good cause, Mom!  You want grandchildren someday, don't you?"]
Another form of divination was to take hempseed in hand and go to the porch of a church tonight; at half-past midnight the seeker after knowledge would "proceed homewards, scattering the seed on either side, repeating these lines:

Hempseed I sow, hempseed I mow,
She (or he) that will my true love be,
Come rake this hempseed after me; 

The person's true love would be seen behind in a winding-sheet [i.e. grave-clothes or a shroud], "raking up the seed just sown." [That seems to me to be a mixing of the superstition of seeing the people who will die in the coming year on St. Mark's Eve with the love-charm of the hempseed on St. John's Eve.  In any case, it is not one that I will try, and not just because it is far too cold to be walking home from church in the wee hours of the morning!]
From the Chromolithograph (1868):
"A curious custom is still kept up in Norwich, on the eve of St. Valentine, of giving presents; and the mode adopted among all classes, that of placing the presents on the doorsill of the house of the favoured person, and intimating what is done by a run-away knock or ring, as the giver pleases.  In Madder's "Rambles in an Old City" (Norwich), it is thus described: "The streets swarm with carriers, and baskets laden with treasures; bang, bang, bang go the knockers, and away rushes the banger, depositing first upon the doorstep some packages from the basket of stores ; —again and again at intervals, at every door to which a missive is addressed, is the same repeated till the baskets are empty. Anonymously, St. Valentine presents his gifts, - labeled only with 'St. Valentine's love' and 'Good-morrow, Valentine.' 

Then within the houses of destination, the screams, the shouts, the rushings to catch the bang-bangs—the flushed faces, sparkling eyes, rushing feet to pick up the fairy gifts—inscriptions to be interpreted, mysteries to be unravelled, hoaxes to be found out—great hampers, heavy and ticketed 'With care, this side upwards' to be unpacked, out of which jump live little boys, with St Valentine's love to the little ladies fair—the sham bang-bangs, that bring nothing but noise and fun—the mock parcels that vanish from the doorstep by invisible strings when the door opens— monster parcels that dwindle to thread papers denuded of their multiplied envelopes, with fitting mottoes, all tending to the final consummation of good counsel, 'Happy is he who expects nothing, and he will not be disappointed.' It is a glorious night: marvel not that we should perpetuate so joyous a festivity." 

[Much more fun than the generic box of chocolates and the half-hearted "Where do you want to go for dinner?"]