La Vailintin sona (Happy Valentine’s Day)! Admittedly, the Celtic cultures aren’t renowned as romantic. In fact, “Do you want to hang my washing” or “Would you want to be buried next to my people” are among a few traditional ways for an Irish guy to ask his beloved to marry him. But today is Valentine’s Day and the Celts do have a rich treasury of traditions, folklore, and magic related to love and marriage. So, in honor of the holiday, this post will offer a small sampling of Celtic love, some of it lovely, some of it magical, and some it, well, just plain odd.
Let’s start with the lovely: the Celtic languages. When spoken, they sound beautiful, musical. Take, for example, the Irish endearment mo stór (pronounced “muh shtor”). It translates from Irish into English as “my darling,” or more accurately as “my treasure.” For me, though, the beauty lies not just in the sound but in the way ideas and feelings are expressed, the figures of speech which are used. The Irish for “I love you,” Tá mo chroí leat, actually means “My heart is in you.” Wow! If someone wrote that to me on a Valentine’s card, it would take my breath away. Here are a few other Celtic expressions of love you could write on a note to your sweetie (or whisper in his / her ear—if you check out online how to pronounce them).
--Tha gaol agam ort = “I love you” in Scots Gaelic
--Rwy’n dy garu di = “I love you” in Welsh
--mo chroí = “my heart” in Irish
--mo ghrˋaidh = “my beloved” in Scots Gaelic
--Tá tú go hálainn = “You are beautiful” in Irish
--A chuisle mo chroí = “Pulse of my heart” in Irish
-- Maireann lá go ruaig ach maireann an grá go huaigh = “The day lasts until it's chased away but love lasts until the grave” in Irish.
If you feel ready to pop the question to your beloved, consider incorporating one of the Celtic sayings above into your proposal. Also, a Claddagh ring would be a good traditional choice for an engagement / wedding ring. The design of the ring is two hands holding a crowned heart. The hands stand for friendship, the heart for love, and the crown for loyalty. Be careful how you put it on though. The direction in which it’s facing makes a difference. If the points of the crown face towards the tip of the finger, it indicates that you are married. If the crown points towards the hand, it means you are engaged (or just friends). In keeping with standard Western tradition, the ring is worn on the left hand ring finger.
For the woman who feels it is time to ask her heart’s love to make a life-long commitment, 2020 is the perfect time. By Irish tradition dating back to St. Patrick, it’s totally acceptable for women to propose marriage—but only on February 29th! Which means, of course, only on one day every four years. The great thing is that 2020 is a leap year, so go for it! You don’t want to have to wait another four years, do you? Then again, you don’t have to be bound by tradition either.
What if you haven’t quite made up your mind about the relationship yet? Maybe your heart says yes, but your mind has some qualms (or you’d just like a sign to affirm your feelings)? There are some ways to get an indication if the one you’re thinking of would be a good match for you. A couple involve using hazelnuts, the Celtic symbol of wisdom and knowledge.
The first way is to take two hazelnuts, one representing you and the other representing your intended. Place them in a flame-resistant container, such as a pot or a heat-proof bowl, leaving a little distance between them. Light a match and place it between the two nuts (of course, this should be done only by fire-safety conscious adults). Then watch how the nuts react. If the two nuts move toward one another, your relationship will be happy. If the nuts move away from each other, you will have a difficult or short-lived relationship. If the nuts dance a bit back and forth, be careful about entering into the relationship. It might be an emotional roller coaster ride.
The second Celtic folk way to use a hazelnut to learn what your beloved would be like as a spouse is less dangerous than the first. For this divination method, take a handful of hazelnuts and choose one to represent your beloved. Bite into the nut. If it tastes good, your future mate will be sweet to you and the relationship will be wonderful. If the nut is bitter—well, you know: bad news. The person will be unkind to you and life together will be unsatisfying. Incidentally, you don’t even have to be in a relationship to employ this folk practice. You can use it as a general predictor of what married life will be like for you. So I encourage you not to use this method. I would hate for you to give up on love and marriage altogether just because you bit into one bad nut!
The Irish have another folk tradition for finding out about one’s true love. It is to run, blindfolded, through a cabbage patch, then pull up a head of cabbage at random, take off your blindfold and look at the vegetable. If its roots are intact, you will marry someone with money. Next, you need to take the vegetable home and cook it, perhaps making some colcannon (an Irish dish of potatoes and cabbage. Eat the food. If it’s sweet…well, you know the drill. Sweet or bitter mean the same as with the hazelnut. By the way, I seriously discourage using this way to predict the future as well. Obviously, running through a cabbage patch blindfolded could result in serious injury. Besides, to get the most accurate results, the running should be done between midnight and one A.M. on the most magical night of the year: Samhain (Oct. 31st). If you read my post on Samhain (if you haven’t, click here to find it), you know the veil between the two worlds is at its thinnest on that night and that residents of the Otherworld can—and do—cross over easily into this one. While you’re racing blindly through the field, you might run into a ghost or trip over a faerie, which could have bad consequences. Dire consequences, in fact. So, even if you have access to a cabbage patch, I advise strongly against this particular folk custom.
If you’re single this Valentine’s Day, and longing for love, Celtic folklore offers a number of ways to attract romantic love. The good news is that most of them are easy and much safer than the cabbage patch run. If you are willing to wait for a bit, you can wish on a hawthorn tree. Normally, you shouldn’t mess around with hawthorn trees as, according to Celtic tree lore, each is protected by a tree guardian. However, there is one day a year when you can ask the tree guardians to grant a wish. That one day is on the feast of Beltane (May 1st). The tradition (which continues to this day) is to choose a ribbon to represent your wish. Choose a color which symbolizes what you desire. A red ribbon would be a good choice if you’re looking for romance. Bring the ribbon to a hawthorn tree. Make the wish then tie the ribbon (gently) onto a branch. Be sure, before you go, to thank the tree’s guardian for considering your request. By the way, be certain you the tree is a hawthorn and not a blackthorn. Blackthorns are guarded by ferocious moon faeries who will do serious harm to anyone who disturbs their tree. They are particularly fierce in their retaliation of the feasts of Samhain and Beltane.
If there is someone specific that you want to fall in love with you, there are magical ways you can accomplish that. According to Celtic folklore, the night wind has a guardian, so an old Irish love spell advises you to go, on the night of a full moon, to the window of the one you love and whisper his or her name to the wind three times. The night wind's guardian might choose to make the person fall in love with you.
Perhaps an old-time phone conversation will win over that special person’s heart. To get the one you pine for to call you, follow these simple steps: On a piece of good quality paper, write the person's name twice, each time in an arc. Do this so that the arcs join together to make a circle. Concentrate on the person while you do this and long for him / her to call you. Still thinking about the person, push a needle or pin through the center of the circle and place the paper by a phone. According to folklore, the person should call within five days.
A third way is to create a bond of trust between the two of you (Note: this one can be done only with someone with whom you are already friendly and someone you feel safe to be vulnerable with.) Weave some of your hair into a bracelet and offer it to the person. Folk belief teaches that people can cast spells on someone else by using a personal item such as hair so, by offering your hair to a person, you are showing how much you trust him or her. If the person accepts the bracelet, two of you will be bonded. If the person doesn't accept the gift, the magic will be broken and there will be no romance.
Herbs offer an excellent way to use practical magic to lure love to you. The best herbs to use are rose, rosemary, chamomile, lavender, and red or hot spices. Here are some suggestions for how to use these herbs:
1) Celtic folklore says spraying rosewater on your front door will attract love, but you also could take a more direct approach. Infuse oil with rose petals, then rub a little on your wrists when you go to social occasions or even to work.
2) Wear a sprig of rosemary.
3) Put rose water or a few drops of lavender in your bathwater.
4) Chamomile is said to increase the effectiveness of any love charm, so have a cup of chamomile and lavender tea. You don’t have to make your own; it’s available commercially.
5) According to folklore, red or hot spices arouse passion, so invite that special someone over to dinner and add cinnamon and / or ginger to the food. Also burn a cinnamon candle before or during the meal.
6) Decorate your living room with a bouquet of honeysuckle. Celtic folklore promises that having this fragrant flower into the home will bring about a wedding within a year. Be careful though because the scent also is said to cause risqué dreams. Oh my!
7) Proceed at your own risk with this one: Win your beloved's heart by turning a bluebell inside out without tearing the leaves. Be warned however: the flower is a favorite of the Good Folk. If you harm it in the process, you may get cursed by the Faeries.
Finally, if you want to take a more 21st century and proactive approach (and if you have the time and money), you could go to Lisdoonvarna. Each year, the village of Lios Dúin Bhearna, aka Lisdoonvarna, in County Clare, Ireland, holds the largest matchmaking event for singles in Europe. Taking place in September, it is a month-long festival of music, dancing, and socializing which attracts tens of thousands of people each autumn. There even is an official matchmaker, Willie Daly. Meeting with the matchmaker is no longer required (the Lisdoonvarna tradition has been going on for 160 years) and even Mr. Daly admits that most matches are made now by people socializing over drinks. Even so, should you consider his services, he has a massive book of names, and legend has it that anyone who touches the book with both hands will be married within six months. Worth a try, perhaps? This year’s festival will be held from September 4th through September 30th. For more details, see the official website, https://www.matchmakerireland.com/.
On this Valentine’s Day, I wish you grá, dílseacht, agus cairdeas (love, loyalty, and friendship) and lots of fun as you consider these riches of Celtic love.
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Disclaimer: This post is meant as entertainment. The folk magic practices mentioned are shared for cultural information and fun, and are not to be taken as lifestyle advice.