24 April 2013

24 April - Saint Mark's Eve

‘Twas St. Mark’s Eve,
and towards the midnight drear,
when their wailing ghosts are flitting about
who must die within the year.

When the churchyard walk is crowded,
as the spirits come and go,
gliding along through the closed gates,
and dim aisles to and fro…
                                                        From The Eve of St. Mark’s, a poem by W.S.G. (1871)

You can find instructions (and a warning) for watching tonight here, along with a couple of love charms.  Here are more for your collection:

Go to the barn before midnight, open the doors wide, and at the stroke of twelve, riddle the chaff. (To riddle is to separate the grains of wheat (or other cereal) from their dry, protective covering (chaff), using a sieve-like bowl called a ‘riddle’.)  If, as you riddle, you see two men carrying a coffin past the open doors, you will die within the year.

For matrimonial divination, make and eat a dumb-cake tonight from an eggshell-full each of salt, wheat meal, and barley meal.  The charm says to make this into a dough “without the aid of spring water”, but doesn’t say anything about any other liquid, so you could use milk or soda or even city water.  No more than three young ladies must meet to make the cake, and all must be done in silence (good luck with that).  At midnight, each participant must break off and eat a portion of the cake, then walk backwards to bed.  Those who will be married will see the shades of their intendeds hurrying after them, with the intention of catching hold, but wily girls will be ready to jump into bed before they are caught (the shades being too gentlemanly to jump in after, I guess).

If no pursuing likeness is seen, the future brides might hear a rustling in the house or a knocking at the door, but don’t leave your bed to investigate.  “Those that are to die unmarried neither see nor hear anything; but they have terrible dreams, which are sure to be of newly-made graves, winding-sheets, and churchyards, and of rings that will fit no finger, or which, if they do, crumble into dust as soon as put on.”  
William Shepard Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898), p. 351.