Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Old Ways about Weddings

As part of my research for The Wedding Ghost, I wanted to know about the traditions and superstitions around marriage in Sussex. At modern weddings we throw confetti, and in some places rice - but in Sussex it was wheat.
Ear of Wheat by Michael J. Connors

I've noticed Sussex churches often have lychgates - and so I 'borrowed' a custom  that's found in other counties. Local children, or members of the family, tie up the gates out of the churchyard, and won't let the Bride and Groom out until they pay a ransom.

Bolney Lychgate via John Gasson
Creative Commons
{The block in the middle is where they rested coffins}

Traditionally, there were many ways for a young woman to find out who her husband would be. One of the best nights for such divination was the Eve of St. Agnes (20th January) John Keats wrote a marvellous, rather Gothic and sensual poem about this.
    They told her how, upon St. Agnes' Eve, 
     Young virgins might have visions of delight, 
     And soft adorings from their loves receive 
     Upon the honey'd middle of the night, 
     If ceremonies due they did aright; 
     As, supperless to bed they must retire, 
     And couch supine their beauties, lily white; 
     Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require 
  Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire. 

'Madeline' by Millais 1850
courtesy of Martin Beek
Creative Commons

Halloween, of course, was another time. In Sussex, a young woman  would place an apple pip on the fire grate, representing the man she might marry. If the pip burned silently - that courtship would go smoothly with a happy ending; if the pip burst, they would break up.
Apple Pip by Mary K. Baird
I think you would have to be quite brave to try this last one. You waited until the first full moon was predicted after New Year's Day, then sit across a stile all alone in the dark. Of course, you had to keep still and silent - and probably go fasting according to most traditions - for the spell to work. When the moon rose you said this rhyme:
All hail to thee, Moon, all hail to thee,
I pray thee good Moon, reveal to me
This night who my husband must be.
Moonlight by Paul Anderson

Then you waited to see his 'glim' or spirit appear.
Would you dare?

Information from Superstitions of Love & Marriage by E. & M. A. Radford, ed. C. Hole, and  A Sussex Garland, T. Wales

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