Page:Notes on the folk-lore of the northern counties of England and the borders.djvu/122

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100
HOLLY-LEAF SPELL.

the throats of three bears; as these sounds die away they will be succeeded by as many horse-laughs, after which the form of her future husband will appear. If he is deeply attached to her, he will change the position of the water pails; if not, he will pass out of the room without touching them. Tradition tells how, on one occasion, the lover who had been thus invoked, while moving the pails of water, let fall a rope with a noose at the end, which the young woman took up the next morning and laid in her press. She was married soon afterwards to the man whose form she had beheld, but within a fortnight of the marriage he hung himself with that very rope in a fit of intoxication.

The use of holly in this form of divination recalls a somewhat different use made of it in Northumberland. We hear there of he-holly and she-holly, according as it is with or without prickles, and the leaves of the she-holly are alone deemed proper for divination. These “smooth and unarmed” leaves, as Southey calls them, must be plucked, late on a Friday, by persons careful to preserve an unbroken silence from the time they go out to the next morning’s dawn. The leaves must be collected in a three-cornered handkerchief, and on being brought home nine of them must be selected, tied with nine knots into the handkerchief, and placed beneath the pillow. Dreams worthy of all credit will attend this rite, though, if the old rhyme

ing the spikes appear in blossom then there will be “aye love between them twae.” The same rite has been practised in Northamptonshire. Witness the following lines from Clare’s Shepherd’s Calendar:

Or, trying simple charms and spells,
Which rural superstition tells,
They pull the little blossom threads
From out the knotweed’s button-heads,
And put the husk with many a smile
In their white bosoms for a while.
Then if they guess aright the swain
Their love’s sweet fancies try to gain,
’Tis said that ere it lies an hour
’Twill blossom with a second flower,
And from the bosom’s handkerchief
Bloom, as it ne’er had lost a leaf.