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St Agnes's Eve


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(20/1 January).

Martyred in ad 303, St Agnes was the patron saint of young girls, so this was a favourite date for love divinations—a tradition which became widely known through Keats's poem ‘The Eve of St Agnes’, though his idea of the ritual is heavily romanticized. Reality was much simpler. In Derbyshire, girls fasted for 24 hours before going to bed at midnight of the 20/1 January, and lying on the left side said three times:St Agnes be a friend to me,In the gift I ask of thee,Let me this night my husband see.

They then dreamed of their future husbands (Long Ago 2 (1874), 80). John Aubrey gives another: ‘Upon St Agnes night, you take a row of pins, and pull out every one, one after another, saying a paternoster, sticking a pin in your sleeve, and you will dream of him or her you will marry’ (Aubrey, 1696: 136).

Other methods included making the dumb cake, and scattering barley seeds. The latter was practised in Lincolnshire up to the Second World War:Two or three lasses at a time would go out into the orchard or garden and one or two kept guard while the other sowed the barley. They didn't like being out in the dark on their own so they went out a few at a time. If an apple tree was not at hand an oak tree would do. A ditty was said while the seeds were sown, I never got to know what that was. A secret, I was told. The seeds did grow quite quickly in many cases. (Sutton, 1997: 27–8).

Two or three lasses at a time would go out into the orchard or garden and one or two kept guard while the other sowed the barley. They didn't like being out in the dark on their own so they went out a few at a time. If an apple tree was not at hand an oak tree would do. A ditty was said while the seeds were sown, I never got to know what that was. A secret, I was told. The seeds did grow quite quickly in many cases. (Sutton, 1997: 27–8).

Wright and Lones, 1938: ii. 106–10.


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