Charms to Predict Future Bridegrooms and Brides

translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2021

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.


  1. Saint Andrew's Eve (Germany / Austria).

  2. Superstitions (Germany).

  3. The Spell (England).

  4. Midsummer Superstitious Customs (Cornwall, England).

  5. Halloween (Scotland).

  6. The Bible and Key Trial (Scotland).

  7. Rhamanta, or Romantic Divination (Wales).

  8. A Story (Ireland).

  9. Hallow-E'n (Ireland).

  10. Hallowe'en Customs (Ireland).

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Saint Andrew's Eve

Germany / Austria

It is believed that on Saint Andrew's Eve, Saint Thomas's Eve, Christmas Eve, and New Year's Eve a maiden can conjure up and see her future beloved. To do so she must set a table for two, but no forks can be included with the untensils. Whatever is left behind by the lover must be carefully set aside. Later he will return to the person who has it and love her passionately. However, he must not see the object, for it would remind him of the torment he endured that night when he had been overcome by supernatural powers. Great misfortune would follow.

Once in Austria a beautiful maiden wanted to see her future beloved. At midnight, following the necessary rituals, a shoemaker with a dagger appeared to her. He threw the dagger in her direction and then disappeared. She picked up the dagger and and locked it in her chest.

Soon afterward the shoemaker came to her and asked her to marry him. Some years after their marriage, on a Sunday after mass, she went to her chest to get some handwork for the following day. Her husband came up to her just as she was opening the chest, and he wanted to see what was inside. She tried to keep him away, but he pushed her aside, looked into the chest, and saw the lost dagger. He picked it up and demanded to know how she came to have the dagger that he had lost some time ago.

Frightened and confused, she confessed that this was the dagger that he had left with her that night when she had magically seen him.

With anger he shouted at her: "Whore! So you are the hussy who frightend me so terribly that night!" And he stabbed her through the heart with the dagger.

This story is told at various places and about different individuals. For example, there is an oral account about a hunter who left his hunting knife. When his wife was recovering from childbirth she sent him to her chest to fetch some bedding, not thinking about the magical item that was there. He found the hunting knife and killed her with it.



The numbers in parentheses refer to the numbered items in the original text by Jacob Grimm.

The Spell


Hobnelia seated in a dreary vale,
In pensive mood rehears'd her piteous tale;
Her piteous tale the winds in sighs bemoan,
And pining eccho answers groan for groan.

I rue the day, a rueful day I trow,
The woeful day, a day indeed of woe!
When Lubberkin to town his cattle drove,
A maiden fine bedight he hapt to love;
The maiden fine bedight his love retains,
And for the village he forsakes the plains.
Return, my Lubberkin, these ditties hear;
Spells will I try, and spells shall ease my care.

With my sharp heel I three times mark the ground,
And turn me thrice around, around, around.

When first the year, I heard the cuckow sing,
And call with welcome note the budding spring,
I straitway set a running with such haste,
Deb'rah that won the smock scarce ran so fast.
'Till spent for lack of breath, quite weary grown,
Upon arising bank I sat adown,
Then doff'd my shoe, and by my troth, I swear,
Therein I spy'd this yellow frizled hair,
As like to Lubberkin's in curl and hue,
As if upon his comely pate it grew.

With my sharp heel I three times mark the ground,
And turn me thrice around, around, around.

At eve last midsummer no sleep I sought,
But to the field a bag of hemp-seed brought,
I scatter'd round the seed on ev'ry side,

And three times in a trembling accent cry'd,
This hemp-seed with my virgin hands I sow,
Who shall my true-love be, the crop shall mow.

I strait look'd back, and if my eyes speak truth,
With his keen scythe behind me came the youth.

With my tharp heel I three times mark the ground,
And turn me thrice around, around, around.

Last Valentine, the day when birds of kind
Their paramours with mutual chirpings find;
I rearly rose, just at the break of day,
Before the sun had chas'd the stars away;
A-field I went, amid the morning dew
To milk my kine (for so should huswifes do)
Thee first I spy'd, and the first swain we see,
In spite of fortune shall our true-love be.
See, Lubberkin, each bird his partner take,
And can'st thou then thy sweetheart dear forsake?

With my sharp heel I three times mark the ground,
And turn me thrice around, around, around.

Last May-day fair I search'd to find a snail
That might my secret lover's name reveal;
Upon a gooseberry-bush a snail I found,
For always snails near sweetest fruit abound.
I seiz'd the vermine, home I quickly sped,
And on the hearth the milk-white embers spread.
Slow crawl'd the snail, and if I right can spell,
In the soft Ashes mark'd a curious L;
Oh, may this wondrous omen lucky prove!
For L is found in Lubberkin and Love.

With my sharp heel threetimes mark the ground,
And turn me thrice around, around, around.

Two hazel-nuts I threw into the flame,
And to each nut I gave a sweetheart's name.
This with the loudest bounce me sore amaz'd,
That in a flame of brightest colour blaz'd.
As blaz'd the nut so may thy passion grow,
For 'twas thy nut that did so brightly glow.

With my tharp heel three times mark the ground,
And turn me thrice around, around, around.

As peascods once I pluck'd, I chanc'd to see
One that was closely fill'd with three times three,
Which when I crop'd I safely homeconvey'd,
And o'er my door the spell in secret laid.
My wheel I turn'd, and sung a ballad new,
While from the spindle I the fleeces drew;
The latch mov'd up, when who should first come in,
But in his proper person, -- Lubberkin.
I broke my yarn surpriz'd the sight to see,
Sure sign that he would break his word with me.
Eftsoons I join'd it with my wonted slight,
So may again his love with mine unite!

With my sharp heel I three times mark the ground,
And turn me thrice around, around, around.

This lady-fly I take from off the grass,
Whose spotted back might scarlet red surpass.
Fly, lady-bird, north, south, or east or west,

Fly where the man is sound that I love best.

He leaves my hand, see to the west he's flown,
To call my true-love from the faithless town.

With my sharp heel I three times mark the ground,
And turn me thrice around, around, around.

I pare this pippin round and round again,
My shepherd's name to flourish on the plain.
I fling th' unbroken paring o'er my head,
Upon the grass a perfect L is read;
Yet on my heart a fairer L is seen
Than what the paring makes upon the green.

With my sharp heel I three times mark the ground,
And turn me thrice around, around, around.

This pippin shall another trial make:
See from the core two kernels brown I take;
This on my cheek for Lubberkin is worn,
And Boobyclod on t'other side is born;
But Boobyclod soon drops upon the ground,
A certain token that his love's unsound,
While Lubberkin sticks firmly to the last;
Oh were his lips to mine but join'd so fast!

With my tharp heel three times mark the ground,
And turn me thrice around, around, around.

As Lubberkin once slept beneath a tree,
I twitch'd his dangling garter srom hi sknee;
He wist not when the hempen string I drew,
Now mine I quickly doff of inkle blue;
Together fast I tye the garters twain,
And while I knit the knot repeat this strain;

Three times a true-love's knot I tye secure,
Firm be the knot, firm may his love endure.

With my sharp heel I three times mark the ground,
And turn me thrice around, around, around.

As I was wont, I trudg'd last market-day
To town, with new-laid eggs preserv'd in hay;

I made my market long before 'twas night,
My purse grew heavy and my basket light.
Strait to the pothecary's shop I went,
And in love-powder all my mony spent;
Behap what will, next Sunday after prayers,
When to the ale-house Lubberkin repairs,
These golden flies into his mug I'll throw,
And soon the swain with fervent love shall glow.

With my sharp heel I three times mark the ground,
And turn me thrice around, around, around.

But hold ---- our Light-foot barks, and cocks his ears.
O'er yonder stile see Lubberkin appears.
He comes, he comes, Hobnelia's not betray'd,
Nor shall she crown'd with willow die a maid.
He vows, he swears, he'll give me a green gown,
Oh dear! I fall adown, adown, adown!

Midsummer Superstitious Customs

Cornwall, England

If on midsummer-eve a young woman takes off the shift which she was been wearing, and, having washed it, turns its wrong side out, and hangs it in silence over the back of a chair, near the fire, she will see, about midnight, her future husband, who deliberately turns the garment.

If a young lady will, on midsummer-eve, walk backwards into the garden and gather a rose, she has the means of knowing who is to be her husband. The rose must be cautiously sewn up in a paper bag, and put aside in a dark drawer, there to remain until Christmas-day.

On the morning of the Nativity the bag must be carefully opened in silence, and the rose placed by the lady in her bosom. Thus she must wear it to church. Some young man will either ask for the rose, or take it from her without asking. That young man is destined to become eventually the lady's husband.

At eve last midsummer no sleep I sought,
But to the field a bag of hemp-seed brought;
I scatter'd round the seed on every side,
And three times in a trembling accent cried, --
"This hemp-seed with my virgin hands I sow,
Who shall my true love be, the crop shall mow."
I straight look'd back, and, if my eyes speak truth,
With his keen scythe behind me came the youth.
Gay's Pastorals

The practice of sowing hemp-seed on midsummer-eve is not especially a Cornish superstition, yet it was at one time a favorite practice with young women to try the experiment. Many a strange story have I been told as to the result of the sowing, and many a trick could I tell of, which has been played off by young men who had become acquainted with the secret intention of some maidens. I believe there is but little difference in the rude rhyme used on the occasion, --

Hemp-seed I sow,
Hemp-seed I hoe,

(the action of sowing the seed and of hoeing it in, must be deliberately gone through); --

And he
Who will my true love be
Come after me and mow.

A phantom of the true lover will now appear, and of course the maid or maidens retire in wild affright.

If a young unmarried woman stands at midnight on midsummer-eve in the porch of the parish church, she will see, passing by in procession, every one who will die in the parish during the year. This is so serious an affair that it is not, I believe, often tried. I have, however, heard of young women who have made the experiment. But every one of the stories relates that, coming last in the procession, they have seen shadows of themselves; that from that day forward they have pined, and ere midsummer has again come round, that they have been laid to rest in the village graveyard.



Editor's Note (DLA)

In twenty-eight rhymed stanzas Rober Burns describes how "some merry, friendly, countra folks" convened on Halloween to perform various traditional rituals, with the hope of thus conjuring up images of their future marriage partners. Each ritual, described in Scottish dialect, is elucidated with an explanatory footnote.


The following POEM will, by many Readers, be well enough understood; but, for the sake of those who are unacquainted with the manners and traditions of the country where the scene is cast, Notes are added, to give some account of the principal Charms and Spells of that Night, so big with Prophecy to the Peasantry in the West of Scotland. The passion of prying into Futurity makes a striking part of the history of Human-nature, in it's rude ftate, in all ages and nations; and it may be some entertainment to a philosophic mind, if any such should honor the Author with a perusal, to see the remains of it, among the more unenlightened in our own.


Yes! Let the Rich deride, the Proud disdain,
The simple pleasures of the lowly train;
To me more dear, congenial to my heart,
One native charm, than all the gloss of art.


Note to the Title "Halloween"

Is thought to be a night when Witches, Devils, and other mischief making beings, are all abroad on their baneful, midnight errands: particularly, those aerial people, the Fairies, are said, on that night, to hold a grand Anniversary.

Note to Stanza 4

The first ceremony of Halloween, is, pulling each a Stock or plant of kail. They must go out, hand in hand, with eyes shut, and pull the first they meet with: its being big or little, straight or crooked, is prophetic of the size and shape of the grand object of all their Spells -- the husband or wife. If any yird, or earth, stick to the root, that is tocher, or fortune; and the taste of the cufloc, that is, the heart of the stem, is indicative of the natural temper and disposition. Lastly, the stems, or to give them their ordinary appellation, the runts, are placed somewhere above the head of the door; and the christian names of the people whom chance brings into the house, are, according to the priority of placing the runts, the names in question.

Note to Stanza 6

They go to the barn-yard, and pull each, at three several times, a stalk of Oats. If the third stalk wants the top-pickle, that is, the grain at the top of the stalk, the party in question will want the Maidenhead.

Note to Stanza 7 Burning the nuts is a favourite charm. They name the lad and lass to each particular nut, as they lay them in the fire; and according as they burn quietly together, or start from beside one another, the course and issue of the Courtship will be.

Note to Stanza 11

Whoever would, with success, try this spell, must strcitly observe these directions. Steal out, all alone, to the kiln, and, darkling, throw into the pot, a clew of blue yarn; wind it in a new clew off the old one; and towards the latter end, something will hold the thread: demand, wha hands? i. e. who holds? and answer will be returned from the kiln pot, by naming the christian and sirname of your future Spouse.

Note to Stanza 13

Take a candle, and go, alone, to a looking glass: eat an apple before it, and some traditions say you should comb your hair all the time: the face of your conjugal companion, to be, will be seen in the glass, as if peeping over your shoulder.

Note to Stanza 16

Steal out, unperceived, and sow a handful of hemp seed; harrowing it with any thing you can conveniently draw after you. Repeat, now and then, "Hemp seed I saw thee, Hemp seed I saw thee; and him (or her) that is to be my true love, I come after me and pou thee." Look over your left shoulder, and you will see the appearance of the person invoked, in the attitude of pulling hemp. Some traditions say, "come after me and shaw thee," that is, show thyself; in which case it simply appears. Others omit the harrowing, and say, "come after me and harrow thee."

Note to Stanza 21

This charm must likewise be performed, unperceived and alone. You go to the barn, and open both doors; taking them off the hinges, if possible; for there is danger, that the Being, about to appear, may shut the doors, and do you some mischief. Then take that inftrument used in winnowing the corn, which, in our country dialect, we call a wecht; and go thro' all the attitudes of letting down corn against the wind. Repeat it three times; and the third time, an apparition will pass thro' the barn, in at the windy door, and out at the other, having both the figure in question and the appearance or retinue, marking the employment or station in life.

Note to Stanza 23

Take an opportunity of going, unnoticed, to a Bear-stack, and fathom it three times round. The last fathom of the last time, you will catch in your arms, the appearance of your future conjugal yoke-fellow.

Note to Stanza 24

You go out, one or more, for this is a social spell, to a south-running spring or rivulet, where "three Lairds' lands meet," and dip your left shirt-sleeve. Go to bed in sight of a fire, and hang your wet sleeve before it to dry. Ly awake; and sometime near midnight, an apparition, having the exact figure of the grand object in question, will come and turn the sleeve, as if to dry the other side of it.

Note to Stanza 27

Take three dishes; put clean water in one, foul water in another, and leave the third empty: blindfold a person, and lead him to the hearth where the dishes are ranged; he (or she) dips the left hand: if by chance in the clean water, the future husband or wife will come to the bar of Matrimony, a Maid; if in the foul, a widow; if in the empty dish, it foretells, with equal certainty, no marriage at all. It is repeated three times; and every time the arrangement of the dishes is aliered.

The Bible and Key Trial


In my young days, a process of divining, allied to casting lots, was resorted to by young women in order to discover a thief, or to ascertain whether a young man who was courting one of them was in earnest, and would in the future become that girl's husband. The process was was called the Bible and key trial, and the formula was as follows:

A key and Bible were procured, the key being so much longer than the Bible that, when placed between the leaves, the head and handle would project. If the enquiry was about the good faith of a sweetheart, the key was placed in Ruth i. 16, on the words, "Entreat me not to leave thee: where thou goest I will go," etc.

The Bible was then closed, and tied round with tape. Two neutral persons, sitting opposite each other, held out the forefingers of their right hands, and the person who was consulting the oracle suspended the Bible between their two hands, resting the projecting parts of the key on the outstretched forefingers. No one spoke except the enquirer, and she, as she placed the key and Bible in position, repeated slowly the whole passage, "Entreat me not to leave thee," John or James, or whatever the name of the youth was, "for where thou goest I will go," etc.

If the key and Bible turned and fell off the fingers, the answer was favourable; and generally by the time the whole passage was repeated this was the result, provided the parties holding up the key and Bible were firm and steady.

For the detection of a thief, the formula was the same, with only this difference, that the key was put into the Bible at the fiftieth Psalm, and the enquirer named the suspected thief, and then repeated the eighteenth verse of that Psalm, "When thou sawest a thief then thou consentest with him," etc. If the Bible turned round and fell, it was held to be proof that the person named was the thief.

This method of divining was not frequently practised, not through want of faith in its efficacy, but through superstitious terror, for the movement of the key was regarded as evidence that some unseen dread power was present, and so overpowering occasionally was the impression produced that the young woman who was chief actor in the scene fainted. The parties holding the key and Bible were generally old women, whose faith in the ordeal was perfect, and who, removed by their age from the intenser sympathies of youth, could therefore hold their hands with steadier nerve. It is only when firm hands hold it that the turning takes place, for this phenomenon depends upon the regular and steady pulsations in the fingers, and when held steadily the ordeal never fails.

Rhamanta, or Romantic Divination


The customs of rhamanta, or romantic divination, by which lovers and sweethearts seek to pierce the future, are many and curious, in all parts of Wales. Besides such familiar forms of this widely popular practice as sleeping on a bit of wedding-cake, etc., several unique examples may be mentioned.

One known as the Maid's Trick is thus performed; and none must attempt it but true maids, or they will get themselves into trouble with the fairies: On Christmas eve, or on one of the Three Spirit Nights, after the old folks are abed, the curious maiden puts a good stock of coal on the fire, lays a clean cloth on the table, and spreads thereon such store of eatables and drinkables as her larder will afford. Toasted cheese is considered an appropriate luxury for this occasion.

Having prepared the feast, the maiden then takes off all her clothing, piece by piece, standing before the fire the while, and her last and closest garment she washes in a pail of clear spring water, on the hearth, and spreads it to dry across a chair-back turned to the fire. She then goes off to bed, and listens for her future husband, whose apparition is confidently expected to come and eat the supper. In case she hears him, she is allowed to peep into the room, should there be a convenient crack or keyhole for that purpose; and it is said there be unhappy maids who have believed themselves doomed to marry a monster, from having seen through a cranny the horrible spectacle of a black-furred creature with fiery eyes, its tail lashing its sides, its whiskers dripping gravy, gorging itself with the supper. But if her lover come, she will be his bride that same year.

In Pembrokeshire a shoulder of mutton, with nine holes bored in the blade bone, is put under the pillow to dream on. At the same time the shoes of the experimenting damsel are placed at the foot of the bed in the shape of a letter T, and an incantation is said over them, in which it is trusted by the damsel that she may see her lover in his every-day clothes.

In Glamorganshire a form of rhamanta still exists which is common in many lands. A shovel being placed against the fire, on it a boy and a girl put each a grain of wheat, side by side. Presently these edge towards each other; they bob and curtsey, or seem to, as they hop about. They swell and grow hot, and finally pop off the shovel. If both grains go off together, it is a sign the young pair will jump together into matrimony; but if they take different directions, or go off at different times, the omen is unhappy.

In Glamorganshire also this is done: A man gets possession of a girl's garters, and weaves them into a true lover's knot, saying over them some words of hope and love in Welsh. This he puts under his shirt, next his heart, till he goes to bed, when he places it under the bolster. If the test be successful the vision of his future wife appears to him in the night.

A curious rhamanta among farm-women is thus described by a learned Welsh writer [Cynddelw, Manion Hynafiaethol, 53]: The maiden would get hold of a pullet's first egg, cut it through the middle, fill one half-shell with wheaten flour and the other with salt, and make a cake out of the egg, the flour, and the salt. One half of this she would eat; the other half was put in the foot of her left stocking under her pillow that night; and after offering up a suitable prayer, she would go to sleep. What with her romantic thoughts, and her thirst after eating this salty cake, it was not perhaps sur prising that the future husband should be seen, in a vision of the night, to come to the bedside bearing a vessel of water or other beverage for the thirsty maid.

Another custom was to go into the garden at midnight, in the season when "black seed" was sown, and sow leeks, with two garden rakes. One rake was left on the ground while the young woman worked away with the other, humming to herself the while:

Y sawl sydd i gydfydio,
Doed i gydgribinio!

Or in English:
He that would a life partner be,
Let him also rake with me.

There was a certain young Welshwoman who, about eighty years ago, performed this rhamanta, when who should come into the garden but her master! The lass ran to the house in great fright, and asked her mistress, "Why have you sent master out into the garden to me?"

"Wel, wel," replied the good dame, in much heaviness of heart, "make much of my little children!"

The mistress died shortly after, and the husband eventually married the servant.

The sterner sex have a form of rhamanta in which the knife plays a part. This is to enter the churchyard at midnight, carrying a twca, which is a sort of knife made out of an old razor, with a handle of sheep or goat-horn, and encircle the church edifice seven times, holding the twca at arm's length, and saying, "Dyma'r twca, p'le mae'r wain?" (Here's the twca, where's the sheath?)

A Story


This hapened on a Hallow Eve night. There were two girls living in this house. Their names were Peg and Etna. Peg was very rough and wild but Etna was very mild and gentle.

They were playing tricks with the object of seeing their future husband. It was said that anyone who would get into a haunted room and start peeling an apple while looking into the mirror would see her future husband in the mirror. Peg took courage and braved it. As she started to peel the apple she heard terrible laughing. Immediately she saw a man in the mirror.

The next day a man came to this old haunted ruin. It was the very same man she saw in the mirror the night before. Then Peg fell very much in love with him. They planned that they would get married and then go away. They were to go on a certain night, and Peg arranged that Etna was to go to bed early that night.

At a late hour the knock came to the door. By some stroke of ill-luck Peg was not ready to answer the door. Then Etna came down the stairs and she had a good light. She looked down at the feet and what did she see but the cloven feet. She knew then the visitor was no other than the devil. She pointed out this to Peg and she saved her from eternal damnation.

Peg got very ill and never did much good after. That ended the Hallow E'en tricks in that neighbourhood for a long and many a day after.

Ettie Millar, 6th May, 1938.



Long ago the young people used to peel an apple before a looking glass at midnight [on Halloween] and they would see their future wife or husband looking over their shoulder.

Collector: Mary McCafferty.

Informant: Bernard McCafferty.

Hallowe'en Customs


On Hallowe'en night many customs are practiced in my district. On that night it is said that "pookas" and other evil spirits roam from house to house casting evil spells on man and beast, so on that account everybody stays indoors.

In the evening the woman of the house makes a sweet cake and puts a ring in it,. At supper that night whoever happens to get the ring is supposed to be the first to get married. Two nuts are also placed beside the fire and the name of a boy and girl put on each of them. If they happen to jump into the fire they will not be married, but if they remain together they will. Three saucers are then procured, water is placed in one, clay in another and a ring on the third. Then the company are blindfolded on turn. If they touch the water, they will cross water before the year is out. If they touch clay they will die, and if they ring is touched they will be married.

This custom is never practised nowadays, but was practised much long ago. One of the girls of the house went into a dark room and peeled an apple before a mirror. At the hour of midnight she was supposed to see the face of her future husband in the glass. About sixty years ago a girl named McDonagh who live in Keash was said to have seen her future husband one Hallowe'en night. About two months afterwards she was returning from the town one evening when she met the very same (roads) man as she had seen in the looking-glass. On the instant she fell in a faint on the road. She never recovered from the shock and in less than three months afterwards, she died.

The following custom was also practised long ago. One of the girls of the house went to a lime-kiln at the hour of mid-night and brought a ball of wool with her. She threw the wool into the lime-kiln and held the end of the thread. She then shouted "who holds the wool?" three times and her future husband was supposed to shout up his name.

On this night also cabbage is strewn about the roads and in the towns the knockers on the door are tied together.

The above was told by: Mr. Cryan, Tully, County Sligo.

Written by: Maeve Turbitt, Boyle, County Roscommon.

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Revised June 21, 2021.