Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Serious Fairy Tale Business of Finding a Mate

The Serious Business of Finding a Mate
(The historical background of necromancy employed to find a mate.)

(The lover revealed on St. Andrew’s Eve)

Although May is the most popular month for lovers, according to German folk custom the serious business of finding a mate traditionally began much earlier in the gloomy month of November.  This was not because Germans were naturally inclined to approach love in a somber way and therefore chose the darkest time of year for romance. Rather a popular belief persisted into relatively modern times that the dead, if so disposed, could actively intervene in the affairs of humans during the winter season. Winter itself was likened to a kind of death and it was believed that the barrier between the living and dead was especially permeable at the time starting with All Soul’s Day (Nov. 30) and lasting until the early days of January and beyond. During this period a supplicant could call on Saint Andrew, the Patron Saint of Lovers, on the eve of his feast day (November 29).  Seekers of love would perform certain rituals, make offerings to the saint and conjure through an entire evening. In return, the saint was supposed to send some vision or sign of the seeker’s future life partner. In some cases a flesh and blood lover might even appear.  The British Isles had their own saint for inducing these visions of love; it was St. Agnes the Patron Saint of Girls. The importance of this plucky saint seems to rest on her insistence to remain chaste before marriage. But Keats in his poem The Eve of St. Agnes emphasizes a mysterious sort of eroticism that probably comes much closer to the underlying folk belief.

Such customs had even Martin Luther scratching his head.  He reports in his Tischreden (No. 6186)  that maids, having stripped themselves naked, fell onto to the ground and prayed fervently to Saint Andrew:

God, oh my God, oh you dear St. Andrew. Give me a pious man, show me now the man I am to wed.

Luther dryly reports that no suitor came and one girl almost froze to death while waiting.

The Scottish prayer to Saint Agnes follows the same line:

Agnes sweet, and Agnes fair. Hither, hither, now repair;

Bonny Agnes, let me see,

The lad who is to marry me.

The sentiments in both prayers are similar enough to suggest some connection between the Agnes/Andrew characters, who at one time might have been a single pagan deity, subsequently renamed by Christian priests who were tired of dealing with frost-bitten teenage girls. In this new role as saint, the heathen deity’s function was now re-ascribed, blurring the overtly sensuous aspects of the custom while accommodating cultural and regional peculiarities. It’s a pity the identity of this mysterious divinity has long since been forgotten.

Link to fairy tales on this blog concerning Finding a Mate:

Read more fairy tales! Click on the link below: