20 January 2012

20 January - Saint Agnes Eve

Tomorrow being the feast of Saint Agnes, tonight is Saint Agnes Eve, “not to be despised as a period of prophetic promise for maidens in search of a husband”.

And on sweet St. Agnes' night
Please you with the promis'd sight,
Some of husbands, some of lovers
Which an empty dream discovers.  
Ben Jonson.

First let us dispose of a healing charm for the ague.  It is to be spoken up the chimney tonight by the eldest female in the family:
Tremble and go!
First day shiver and burn;
Tremble and quake!
Second day shiver and learn;
Tremble and die!
Third day never return.

Are you wishful to see your future spouse?  Here are several charms to try:

Upon St. Agnes' night you take a row of pins, and pull out every one, one after another, saying a Pater Noster, sticking a pin in your sleeve, and you will dream of him or her you shall marry.

A more elaborate method is to leave your home and go to a strange locality.  Before going to bed (without supper, mind you), take the stocking from your right leg and knot it to the garter from your left leg, singing the following,—
I knit this knot, this knot I knit,
To know the thing I know not yet,
That I may see
The man that shall my husband be,
Not in his best or worst array,
But what he weareth every day;
That I to-morrow may him ken
From among all other men.

Then lie down on your back with your hands under your head, and your future spouse will surely appear in a dream and give you a kiss.

Take a sprig of rosemary and a sprig of thyme; sprinkle each three times with water, then place one in each shoe (probably shouldn't be the shoes you've been wearing all day, lest you wilt the herbs), and stand one shoe and sprig on each side of the bed, repeating,—

St. Agnes, that's to lovers kind,
Come ease the trouble of my mind.

Your future spouse should then appear in a dream.

Meet a bunch of your friends (male and female) at midnight near a cornfield.  One by one, each person should go into the cornfield and throw grain on the soil.  When you have all gathered together again, repeat the following rhyme:

Agnes sweet and Agnes fair, 
Hither, hither, now repair; 
Bonny Agnes, let me see 
The lad [or lass] who is to marry me. 

On your return home, you should see in a mirror the shadow of your destined spouse. 

For the more adventuresome: Place on the floor a lighted pigtail (a small candle), which must have been previously stolen, or else the charm will not work.  Then sit down in silence and watch it till it begins to burn blue, when your future husband will appear and walk across the room. 
The following is a very simple plan: Spread bread and cheese on the table, and sit down to it alone, observing strict silence. As the clock strikes twelve your future lover will appear and join you at your frugal meal.

Eat nothing all day till bedtime, then boil an egg hard, extract the yolk, fill up the cavity with salt, and eat the egg, shell and all [oh, ick].  Then walk backwards to bed, repeating these lines: 

Sweet St. Agnes, work thy fast; 
If ever I be to marry man, 
Or man be to marry me, 
I hope him this night to see. 

Some say that the same result may be effected by eating a raw red herring, bones and all, before going to bed [that hardly seems any better]. 

On going to bed, place your shoes at right angles to each other in the shape of a T, saying the while: 

I place my shoes in form of a T, 
Hoping my true love to see; 
Not dressed in his best array, 
But in the clothes he wears every day.

Another more elaborate ceremony is the preparation of the dumb-cake.  The cake must be prepared fasting, and in silence. When ready it must be placed in a pan on the coals to bake, and at midnight the future husband will come in, turn the cake, and go out again.

From Mother Bunch's Closet Newly Broke Open
"On that day thou must be sure that no man salute thee, nor kiss thee; I mean neither man, woman, nor child, must kiss thy lips on that day; and then, at night, before thou goest into thy bed, thou must be sure to put on a clean shift, and the best thou hast, then the better thou mayst speed. And when thou liest down, lay thy right hand under thy head, saying these words, Now the god of Love send me my desire; make sure to sleep as soon as thou canst, and thou shalt be sure to dream of him who shall be thy husband, and see him stand before thee, and thou wilt take great notice of him and his complexion, and, if he offers to salute thee, do not deny him." 

And again, "Upon this day thou must be sure to keep a true fast, for thou must not eat or drink all that day, nor at night; neither let any man, woman, or child kiss thee that day; and thou must be sure, at night, when thou goest to bed, to put on a clean shift, and the best thou hast, then the better thou mayst speed; and thou must have clean cloaths on thy head, for St. Agnes does love to see clean cloaths when she comes; and when thou liest down on thy back as straight as thou canst, and both thy hands are laid underneath thy head, then say,—

Now, good St. Agnes, play thy part,
And send to me my own sweetheart,
And shew me such a happy bliss,
This night of him to have a kiss.

And then be sure to fall asleep as soon as thou canst, and before thou awakest out of thy first sleep thou shalt see him come and stand before thee, and thou shalt perceive by his habit what tradesman he is ; but be sure thou declarest not thy dream to anybody in ten days, and by that time thou mayst come to see thy dream come to pass."

However, Mother Bunch later writes: "I have found a more exact way of trial than before. You need not abstain from kisses, nor be forced to keep fast for a glance of a lover in the night. If you can but rise, to be at the church door between the hours of twelve and one in the morning, and put the forefinger of your right hand into the keyhole and then repeat the following words thrice:

'O sweet St. Agnes, now draw near,
And with my true love straight appear.'

Then will he presently approach with a smiling countenance." 

[No texting the guy of your dreams to be at the church after midnight.  That would be cheating] 

"Fair Saint Agnes, play thy part,
And send to me my own sweetheart,
Not in his best nor worst array,
But in the clothes he wears every day;
That to-morrow I may him ken,
From among all other men." 

On the other hand, there are these verses from Poor Robin’s Almanack for 1734:

“Saint Agnes Day comes by and by,
When pretty maids do fast to try
Their sweethearts in their dreams to see,
Or know who shall their husbands be.

But some when married all is o’er
And they desire to dream no more,
Or, if they must have these extremes,
Wish all their sufferings were but dreams.”

Careful what you wish for….