24 April 2011

24 April - St. Mark's Eve

Tomorrow being the feast of Saint Mark, tonight is Saint Mark's Eve, and traditionally a time of divination.

Wishful to see your future lover?  Then you should fast from sunset; between 11 pm and midnight, make and bake a cake containing an eggshell-full of salt, of wheat meal, and of barley meal.  Put the flat cake on a griddle to bake, open one of the house doors, and sit and watch. Your future lover should come in and turn the cake. [Explain to your parents that the prowler they caught going through the kitchen drawers was looking for something to turn the cake with, not for the family silver.  Remind your father that shooting a future in-law is not a good thing.]

This is also the night to stand in the church porch (if your church has one) and, at midnight, see the wraiths of the people in the parish who will die in the coming year [one of whom is probably that same prowler, now looking for the church silver].

To do this, you must stand either in the church porch, or in a place where you can see it, from 11 pm to 1 am.  Do not fall asleep, or you will see yourself in the line that enters the church. (Some traditions say that you must do this for three years in succession, and on the third year, you will see the procession of souls.)

In some places, it is the opposite: the watcher will see the entire congregation pass into the church, but only those that do not come out again are the ones that will die.

But be warned!  If you start watching on St. Mark's Eve, you must continue for the rest of your life.  On your last watch, you will be unable to stay awake; by that, you will know that you will die within the year.

Another warning is found in the poem, The Vigil of St. Mark, by James Montgomery, in which the beautiful Ella convinces her lover Edmund to watch that night. 
"'Tis now," replied the village Belle, 
"St. Mark's mysterious Eve; 
And all that old traditions tell 
I tremblingly believe :—

How, when the midnight signal tolls, 
Along the churchyard-green 
A mournful train of sentenced souls 
In winding-sheets are seen: 

The ghosts of all whom Death shall doom 
Within the coming year, 
In pale procession walk the gloom 
Amid the silence drear.

If Edmund, bold in conscious might, 
By love severely tried, 
Can brave the terrors of to-night,  
Ella will be his bride." 

Edmund does so, and at midnight... 

Then, glaring through the ghastly gloom, 
Along the churchyard-green,  
The destined victims of the tomb 
In winding-sheets were seen. 

In that pale moment Edmund stood, 
Sick with severe surprise!  
While creeping horror drank his blood,  
And fix'd his flinty eyes.

But worse is to come... 

That moment streaming through a cloud 
The sudden moon display'd,  
Robed in a melancholy shroud, 
The image of a maid.

Her dusky veil aside she threw, 
And show'd a face most fair: 
 - To clasp his Ella - Edmund flew 
And clipt the empty air.

"Ha! who art thou!" His cheek grew pale 
A well-known voice replied, 
"Ella, the lily of the vale; 
Ella, thy destin'd bride." 

To win his neck her airy arms 
The pallid phantom spread; 
Recoiling from her blasted charms, 
Th' affrighted lover fled.

As well he might! 

To shun the visionary maid, 
His speed outstript the wind; 
But, - though unseen to move, - the shade 
Was evermore behind.

O'er many a mountain, moor, and vale, 
On that tremendous night, 
The ghost of Ella, wild and pale, 
Pursued her lover's flight.

But when the dawn began to gleam, 
Ere yet the morning shone, 
She vanish'd like a nightmare-dream, 
And Edmund stood alone.

After wandering around for three days, Edmund finally reaches his home, to be met with a funeral...

"'Tis she! 'tis she!" - he burst away; 
And bending o'er the spot 
Where all that once was Ella lay, 
He all beside forgot.

A maniac now, in dumb despair, 
With love-bewilder'd mien, 
He wanders, weeps, and watches there, 
Among the hillocks green.

And every Eve of pale St. Mark, 
As village hinds relate, 
He walks with Ella in the dark, 
And reads the rolls of Fate.

On a happier note, another tradition says that those who watched would see the people destined to wed in the coming year walking out of church side-by-side.  If you see yourself as one of them, count the number of bridesmaids in your procession, which will indicate the number of months you will wait until your wedding day.

However, if you see a coffin covered with a white cloth carried into the church, you will die unwed.

To see your future, pluck three tufts of grass from a churchyard and place them under your pillow. Repeat the following: 

"Let me know my fate, whether it be weal or woe; 
whether my rank's to be high or low; 
whether to be single or be a bride, 
and the destiny my star doth provide." 

The answer will appear in your dreams tonight.