As someone who reads and writes romance, it doesn’t surprise me that from the first glimmer of time, women—especially young girls—have had an insatiable curiosity to learn who their future husband might be. When I was a kid, there was a board game my friends and I used to play called Mystery Date. I don’t remember much about it other than you collected cards and then spun a dial on a door to find out who your mystery date would be. The guys waiting on the other side ranged from a suave dancer in coat and tie, to a laid back surfer in beach clothing, and a string of others in between. Even then, as ten-year-old girls, we wanted to know the kind of guy we were going to end up with.
Women of the past were no different and often employed tricks of nature and time to catch a glimpse of their future husband. Certain days and seasons worked better than others, with some rituals highly involved, others basic. Of the later variety, a girl might place a two-leafed clover in her right shoe before venturing outside. The first man she encountered would either be her future husband or bear the same name. What a contrast, huh?
To discern the trade of the man she was destined to marry, all a girl had to do was gaze out her window on Valentine’s Day. The first bird she spied told the tale: Blackbirds indicated a cleric, a robin a sailor, a goldfinch a rich man. But woe to the poor maiden who spotted a woodpecker, for it was a certain indication she would never marry.
On Midsummer’s Eve maidens plucked rose blossoms and placed the petals beneath their pillows before falling asleep. On this magical night dreams were given power, allowing the girl to glimpse her future husband as she slept. The image would remain with her when she awoke, allowing her to recognize her true love in the waking world.
On the eve of St. Agnes, the patron saint of virgins, girls would bake a mixture of flour, water, eggs, and salt, called a “dumb cake.” It had to be prepared in absolute silence and eaten before retiring. If done correctly, the girl would meet her future husband in her dreams.
Another trick—performed on any night—was to walk around a churchyard twelve times at midnight. And, finally, on Christmas Eve, maidens prepared a feast to attract a husband. Like the dumb cake, the banquet had to be prepared in silence. The girl would set a sumptuous repast on the table then hide nearby. If a man appeared and ate the meal, he would marry her within the year. But the forces of darkness were at their peak in winter, and sometimes brought ill omens rather than favor. Should some foul monster devour the feast instead, it was a sign the poor maiden was doomed to marry a man who would make her miserable.
I’m sure there are many more superstitions related to seeing the future love of your life. I recall one about placing your shoes in the form of a “T” before going to bed, and I know there are several related to May Day. Can you think of any others? Have you ever tried any? I remember doing the shoe trick as a tween, but why I would have been thinking about a husband then, escapes me now.
Maybe I’ve just always been a diehard romantic. In any event, I met the right man. Dream or no dream, it’s beautiful magic.