A Celtic Valentine
In honor of Valentine’s Day, here is some Celtic folklore about romance and relationships. And in case all goes well, I’ve included some Irish wedding traditions too.
Romance and Relationships
Want to know who your true love is and what he or she will be like? Celtic folklore offers several ways.
--Sleep with lavender under your pillow to dream of your true love.
--Honeysuckle also will achieve these precognitive dreams. As an added bonus, folklore claims having this flower in the house will bring about a marriage within the year but be careful! Honeysuckle has an intoxicating aroma and has the potential—according to lore—to produce risqué dreams!
--What will your true love be like? To find out, get a handful of hazel nuts, choose one and eat it. If tastes good, your beloved will be sweet. If it’s bitter, your future spouse will be unkind and life with him or her will be unhappy.
--An alternative way to find out is to run blindfolded through a cabbage patch, grab a random cabbage, then cook it to see if it's sweet or bitter. I wouldn't recommend this activity though. You could end up with more than a broken heart.
To attract romance, try a little herbal magic. Roses, lavender, and chamomile as well as certain spices are said to be particularly effective in bringing love to you. Here are some suggestions:
--Spray rosewater on your front door or rub a rose-infused oil on your wrists.
--Bathe in lavender or drink lavender tea.
--For guys who don’t want to smell too girly, savory rosemary is said to attract love as well.
--Add chamomile to any of the above as it is said to strengthen love spells and to induce marriage proposals.
--Red spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger, are believed to arouse passions, so burn a cinnamon candle and be sure to add these spices to your food when you invite someone you’re interested in over for dinner.
--If there is a special someone with whom you want to have a romantic relationship, but you’re not seeing much movement on his or her part, you could resort to this Irish love spell: on the night of a full moon, go to the window of the one you love and whisper his or her name to the wind three times. Perhaps the night wind’s guardian spirit will take compassion on you and cause that person to fall in love with you. (If this works be sure to let me know in the comments!)
--You also can win the heart of your beloved, folklore says, by turning a bluebell inside out without tearing it. I would caution against trying this though. Bluebells are a favorite flower of the faeries. If you harm the flower while you’re attempting to turn it inside out, you’ll likely incur the wrath of the Good People. Before attempting this one, you should read my post “Irish Faeries: They’re No Disney Princesses” to find out how scary angry faeries can be!
Before, During, and After the Wedding
If you’ve found your one and only and you’re ready to commit for life, congratulations! Here are some Irish wedding and marriage traditions to consider.
Proposing and sealing the deal
--In ancient Irish law, used until the seventeenth century, women were equal partners in a marriage. They had many rights, unlike their counterparts in Europe, including the right to divorce their husbands and regain the amount of property and other goods they had brought to the marriage. Women even could propose. Oddly, however, they could propose only on February 29th—so once every four years.
--The traditional big day for weddings was Lughnasa (August 1st)
--Also on Lughnasa, couples would exchange love knots (usually made from straw) as a symbol of their intention to marry.
--Hand-fasting was—and still is—a popular way to tie the knot. During the ritual, a ribbon or a strip of cloth is tied around the couple’s wrists to symbolize their union. Hand-fasting traditionally took place on Lughnasa and marked the beginning of a year-long trial marriage. At the next Lughnasa, the couple could walk away freely from the union or make it permanent with a church wedding.
--There is a saying “You’re goose is cooked,” meaning you’re in for it now! This, perhaps, has its origin in the Irish custom of the bride’s family having a dinner for the groom and his family. A sumptuous feast was laid out and, according to custom, once the goose was cooked, the groom was obligated to go through with the wedding. So when the goose was cooked, the deal was sealed.
Preparing the Bride and Walking Down the Aisle
--Wearing a white dress is a custom which originated with Queen Victoria but Irish brides traditionally wear blue as it is the color of purity and fidelity in Celtic tradition.
--Customarily, Irish brides do not wear veils. Instead, they don a garland of flowers, particularly of lavender (love) and gorse (fertility). They also weave ribbons and lace into their hair. Some braid their hair too as this is a Celtic symbol of feminine power.
--It is of the utmost importance that the bride not fix her own hair and headdress. This must be done by someone else in order to avoid bad luck.
--The bride should wear old shoes. This is said to aid fertility. Why? I have no explanation to offer.
--Inside one of her shoes, the bride should place a sixpence for good luck.
--No Irish bride would walk down the aisle without wearing or carrying her magic hanky. This, generally, is a lace handkerchief that is handed down from mother to daughter through the generations. This hanky later will be used as a bonnet for the baby at the christening of the couple’s first child.
--A word about the groom: remember he has been committed since the goose was cooked but, to ensure he won’t do a wobbly at the wedding, the doors of the church are locked. No running away on the day!
Leaving the Church and At the Reception
--Upon leaving the church, the groom should toss a handful of coins into the crowd. This is said to bring the couple good luck.
--For further good luck, a wedding guest should throw an old shoe over the bride’s head. (With any luck, neither she nor any of the guests will get hit by it!)
--At the reception, the bride and groom traditionally dink honey wine rather than champagne. They continue to drink it for the next month during their honeymoon. Honey wine is said to promote fertility and keep faeries from stealing the bride.
--The wedding cake is a little different from a typical American one. A traditional Irish cake is a rich fruit cake. The small top tier is soaked in good Irish whiskey and is not cut at the reception. Instead, it is stored away and eaten at the celebration for the first-born’s christening.
--A large cake is required as each of the women at the reception is given an extra slice to take home. This slice is then placed under their pillows to help them dream of their future husbands.
--Another slice is given to the bride’s mother-in-law who breaks it over the bride’s head. Mysteriously, folklore says this will ensure the two women will be friends for life.
--What’s a wedding reception without music? Traditionally, there should be a harpist (the national symbol of Ireland is a harp), but there’s no harm in having a band as well. The bride and groom, naturally, dance together but he must be careful not to sweep her off her feet. If, at any point, both of her feet leave the ground at the same time, she will be in danger (folklore warns) of being carried away by the faeries.
Two Final Thoughts for the Future
According to Brehon law (the ancient Irish legal code), the husband has some serious responsibilities towards his wife. Here are two to keep in mind:
--The husband must come to his wife’s bed or he will be fined.
--When a woman is pregnant, a husband must obtain for her whatever she craves.
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Happy Valentine’s Day!
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