249: Love Divinations

There are a whole lot of Ozark love and marriage divinations. All aimed at finding out the name of your love, getting them to come around, then keeping them faithful for the rest of your lives. This sort of divination appears more than any other in Ozark folklore, giving you a good idea of what was really on the minds of most hillfolk.

Here are some good examples from Vance Randolph’s “Ozark Magic and Folklore”:

“There are many ways of determining whether or not one’s sweetheart is faithful. If the fire which a man kindles burns brightly, he knows that his sweetheart is true to him, but if it smolders, she is likely to prove unfaithful.”

“As a further test, he may go into a clearing and bend down a mullein stalk so that it points toward her cabin; if she loves him the stalk grows up again, but if she loves another it will die. Mrs. Addah Matthews, Monett, Missouri, says that ‘a girl used to name a mullein stalk, then bend the stalk toward her fellow’s house; if it grew bent in that direction he loved her.’”

“Sometimes the girl puts a bit of dodder or love vine on a growing weed; if it flourishes, her lover is faithful, and if it withers he is not to be trusted.”

“Or she may pluck a hair from her head and draw it between her fingers if it curls he loves her, if it remains straight he does not.”

“Another girl picks a cocklebur, names it for her lover, and throws it against her skirt; if it sticks, she knows that her lover is true to her, if it doesn’t stick she thinks he is false.”

“A hill girl often names a match for a boy whom she admires and then lights the match; if it burns to the end without breaking, she is assured that the boy loves her. My neighbor’s daughters once used up half a box of matches in this search for knowledge, an extravagance which was harshly rebuked by the frugal parents. Another common trick is for a girl to light a match and hold it straight up; if the blackened head turns toward her boy friend or her boy friend’s home, it is a sign that he loves her. But if the match points in some other direction, she has reason to doubt his fidelity.”

“If a ring suddenly breaks upon a person’s finger, without any obvious reason for its breaking, it means that his or her loved one is unfaithful; some say that it means the absent one has committed an act of infidelity at the exact moment when the ring cracks.”

“To find out if her sweetheart loves her, a girl hangs a Bible up with a string and repeats aloud: ‘Whither thou goest, I will go. Where thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, thy God my God.’ Then she shouts the name of her boy friend Jim or Bill or Alec or whatever it is. If the Bible turns on the string so that the edge points toward the speaker, it is a sign that the boy loves her. Some say it means that they will marry.”

“There are many ways in which a mountain girl may learn the identity and characteristics of her future husband. She may put a live snail in a glass fruit jar over night; the initials of the man she is to marry will be outlined in the snail’s slimy track.”

“An old woman once told me that if a girl counts nine stars each night for nine consecutive nights, on the ninth night she will inevitably dream of her husband-to-be. A simpler method is to stare very hard at the brightest star in sight and wink three times; this produces the dream on the first night and gets the same result with much less expenditure of time and energy.”

“Some girls divine their future marital adventures by what is called cancellation; they write down their own names with those of their boy friends, and cancel out identical letters, shoutin’ ‘false, true, false, true’ the while. This cancellation business is a bit more complicated than appears at first sight, and I have never been able to understand exactly how it works.”

“Down south of Hot Springs, Arkansas, they tell me that a girl goes out in the woods after a rain and ‘repeats a verse’ meaning a passage from the Bible. Then she reaches behind her without looking and lifts up a flat stone. Under the stone she’ll find a hair, and it will be the same color as that of the man she is destined to marry.”

“A woman at Zinc, Arkansas, says that when a girl hears a dove and sees the new moon at the same instant, she repeats this verse: ‘Bright moon, clear moon, bright and fair, lift up your right foot there’ll be a hair.’ Then she takes off her right shoe and finds in it a hair like that of her future husband.”

“Sometimes a mountain damsel boils an egg very hard, then removes the yolk and fills the cavity with salt. Just before bed- time she eats this salted egg. In the night, according to the old story, she will dream that somebody fetches her a gourd filled with water. The man who brings her the water is destined to be her husband. It is surprising how many young women have tried this, and how many feel that there may be something in it.”

“In some sections, when a backwoods girl sees the new moon, she names a boy pronounces his name aloud. Then she watches for the boy, day after day. If he happens to have his face toward her, the first time she sees him, she thinks that they will someday be sweethearts. If his back is toward her, she feels that there is nothing to do but forget him.”

“The first day of May is important to girls who are looking for information about their future mates. If a girl gets up early on the morning of May 1, goes to the spring, and breaks a guinea’s egg into a cup, she’ll see the face or the initials of her husband-to-be in the water. A girl who looks obliquely into a mirror when she first wakes up on May Day will see the reflection, or at least initials or letters forming the name, of the man who is to be her mate.”

“A maiden lady who wants to see her future husband goes to a well at noon on May 1 and holds a mirror so as to reflect the light down into the darkness. Some girls say that they have actually seen their mates-to-be in the water. Others are afraid to try this stunt, because sometimes a girl doesn’t see any man, but an image of herself in a coffin, which means that she’ll die before another May Day. If a girl sees nothing at all in the water, she is very likely to be an old maid.”

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