Thursday, August 21, 2014

Apple Peels and Snails to Snare a Husband in the Eighteenth Century?

by Diane Scott Lewis

Folklore abounds in the villages of England around the single girl’s search for a husband—as in the eighteenth century marriage was what most young women had to look forward to, or they’d be ridiculed and regulated to spinsters, farmed out as governesses, or forced to live on the charity of their family.

Most of these search-for-true-love customs revolved around the seasons.

At the ruined Abbey of Cerne Abbas in Dorsetshire, girls flocked around the wishing-well in all seasons. To obtain their heart’s desire, they’d pluck a leaf from a nearby laurel bush, make a cup of it, dip this in the well, then turn and face the church. The girl would then "wish" for presumably a man she already has in mind, but must keep this wish a secret or it wouldn’t come true.

Other customs included, in Somersetshire on May Day Eve or St. John’s Eve, a lass putting a snail on a pewter plate. As the snail slithered across the plate it would mark out the future husband’s initials.

On another ritual to this end, writer Daniel Defoe remarked by saying: "I hope that the next twenty-ninth of June, which is St. John the Baptist’s Day, I shall not see the pastures adjacent to the metropolis thronged as they were the last year with well-dressed young ladies crawling up and down upon their knees as if they were a parcel of weeders, when all the business is to hunt superstitiously after a coal under the root of a plantain to put under their heads that night that they may dream who should be their husbands."

Throwing an apple peel over the left shoulder was also employed in the hopes the paring would fall into the shape of the future husband’s initials. When done on St. Simon and St. Jude’s Day, the girls would recite the following rhyme as they tossed the peel: St. Simon and St. Jude, on you I intrude, By this paring I hold to discover, without any delay please tell me this day, the first letter of him, my true lover.


On St. John’s Eve, his flower, the St. John’s Wort, would be hung over doors and windows to keep off evil spirits, and the girls who weren’t off searching for snails in the pastures would be preparing the dumb cake. Two girls made the cake, two baked it, and two broke it. A third person would put the cake pieces under the pillows of the other six. This entire ritual must be performed in dead silence-or it would fail. The girls would then go to bed to dream of their future husbands.

On the eve of St. Mary Magdalene’s Day, a spring of rosemary would be dipped into a mixture of wine, rum, gin, vinegar, and water. The girls, who must be under twenty-one, fastened the sprigs to their gowns, drink three sips of the concoction, then would go to sleep in silence and dream of future husbands.

On Halloween, a girl going out alone might meet her true lover. One tale has it that a young servant-maid who went out for this purpose encountered her master coming home from market instead of a single boy. She ran home to tell her mistress, who was already ill. The mistress implored the maid to be kind to her children, then this wife died. Later on, the master did marry his serving-maid.

Myths and customs were long a part of village life when it came to match-making.


In my novel, Ring of Stone, which takes place in eighteenth-century Cornwall, my heroine Rose will experience magic on All Hallows Eve and glimpse her future husband-a most inappropriate man-over her shoulder.

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For more on Diane Scott Lewis’s novels, visit her website: http://www.dianescottlewis.org

Source: English Country Life in the Eighteenth Century, by Rosamond Bayne-Powell, 1935.

4 comments:

  1. And now days we have match making sites.

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  2. Lol. I read a lot of these from a book on Irish folklore. One was to arrange your shoes in the shape of a T then recite, "Hoping this night my true love to see, I place my shoes in the shape of a T." Then go to bed without saying anything else. Presumably it only worked if you were literate enough to know what a T was!

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  3. What a delightful post!
    Thanks so much for such a wealth of information!

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  4. Wow Diane, interesting post. I would be a spinster than play around with those snails.

    Regards

    Margaret

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