Summer Love: Celtic Romance and Marriage
Updated: Jul 30
On the Celtic calendar, August 1st is the feast of Lughnasa. While the ancient fire festival is primarily a celebration focused on the harvest, it also was the traditional day for handfasting rituals. These temporary marriages were valid for approximately a year. On the following Lughnasa, the couple could either make the union permanent or go their separate ways, no harm, no foul. Handfasting was practiced in Ireland and Scotland into the seventeenth century. Today, many couples choose to use the handfasting ritual as a part of their wedding ceremony and, in Celtic lands, August 1st is still a popular day to get married. Before getting married, though, it’s advisable to fall in love. This week’s post looks at some Celtic folklore traditions for attracting romance, discovering who your true love is, and what he/she will be like as a spouse. In the hope that all goes well, the post also explores some Irish, Scottish, and Welsh wedding traditions.
Herbs possess strong magic, or so Celtic folklore claims. It says roses, lavender, and chamomile as well as certain spices will attract love and romance. Here are a few suggestions for using these botanicals:
* 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, try drinking or spritzing on a little rosemary tea.
* 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 you’d like to be in a romantic relationship with—and you’re open to a little overt magic—you could try 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.
Alternatively, 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.
To dream of your true love, Celtic folklore suggests you sleep with lavender under your pillow. Honeysuckle also will achieve these precognitive dreams. The lore claims that having this flower in the house will bring about a marriage within the year. But be careful! Honeysuckle, according to the lore, has an intoxicating aroma and has the potential to produce risqué dreams!
If you’d like to know what your future spouse be like, take a handful of hazelnuts, 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. Celtic folklore says another way to find out is to run blindfolded through a cabbage patch, pick up a cabbage at random, then cook it to see if it's sweet or bitter. But I would advise against this method.
A Celtic Wedding
If you’re preparing for a wedding (or even just dreaming about one), here are some folk customs to give your big day a touch of Celtic authenticity.
Something old / something new /something borrowed / something blue. Irish brides have both the blue and the old covered. A traditional Irish wedding dress is blue and is worn along with old shoes. The something new could be a freshly-minted penny. The bride must walk down the aisle with a coin in her shoe for good luck. For the borrowed item, perhaps her mother could lend her some lace to weave into her hair. And she absolutely cannot walk down the aisle without her magic hankie, a handkerchief handed down through the ages from mother to daughter. For more Irish wedding customs for before, during, and after the ceremony as well as at the reception, check out my post “Listen for the Cuckoo.”
One of my favorite Scottish folk customs associated with matrimony is Lang Reel. It’s impractical nowadays but it is lovely. In fishing communities, at the end of the reception, the wedding party would gather at the harbor and start reeling into town. Each couple would break off as they neared their home until, at last, the bride and groom were alone.
Here are some Scottish customs that can be incorporated into a modern wedding:
* the groom gives the bride a luckenbooth, a silver brooch of two entwined hearts. Usually, it is engraved with loving words.
* the bride starts the marriage off on the right foot by stepping out of her home right foot first as she leaves for the wedding. For good luck, she should have a penny in her shoe and heather hidden in her bouquet.
* after the ceremony, her father brings financial good luck to the couple by throwing coins to the children present just as the bride steps into the car to leave.
* the bride and groom along with the best man and maid of honor are led to the church by a piper or a fiddler, taking care to cross water twice for good luck.
* going to the reception, the bride and groom are piped into the room. The sound of the bagpipes is said to chase away all evil and bring good luck. But the newlyweds must be sure to pay the piper or there’s no guarantee the luck will hold. The piper’s payment: a dram of good whiskey.
A slightly bizarre Welsh wedding tradition is the kidnapping of the bride before the ceremony. This is done by members of her family. She then is found and rescued by the groom and his family. A modern version of this is to abduct the bride and take her to a pub. The groom rescues her by paying the ransom: a round of drinks for all involved. Other Welsh traditions include:
* for good luck, the bride should be awakened by birdsong.
* the bride wears a lavender dress and puts myrtle in her bouquet.
* a cutting from the myrtle is giving to each of the bridesmaids. Each woman plants her cutting. If it grows, she will soon be married.
* rather than throwing rice as the happy couple exits the church, flower petals used to be thrown. This was replaced with rice or grain. The current practice is to throw confetti.
* instead of throwing a bouquet, the bride wears a pin during the ceremony then throws it into the crowd as she departs for the honeymoon. Whoever finds it is said to be the next one to marry.
A custom I think needs revived is the sending of the Bidder. The Bidder, wearing a lover’s knot and carrying a decorated willow staff, goes to the home of each person on the guest list to present a personal invitation to the wedding. After knocking on the guest’s door with the staff, the Bidder is admitted. Once in the house, he/she knocks on the floor with the staff and announces the wedding invitation in the form of a rhyme. How fun!
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Slan go foil!
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