Rhamanta Or Omen Seeking
: RHAMANTA, OR OMEN SEEKING.
: Welsh Folk-lore
Rhamanta was a kind of divination that could be resorted to without the
intervention of any outside party, by anyone wishful to ascertain the
future with reference to herself or himself. It differed, therefore,
from the preceding tales of conjurors or witches, insomuch that the
services of neither of these parties were required by the anxious seekers
of coming events. They could themselves uplift the veil, using, however,
for this purpose certain means, which were credited with possessing the
power of opening to their view events which were about to happen.
As there was something uncanny in this seeking for hidden information,
young women generally in companies of three sought for the information
their inquisitiveness required. This was usually done in the dead of
night, and twelve o'clock was the hour when they resorted to their
incantations. Some of the expedients adopted were harmless, though
silly; others were cruel. To the effective carrying out of the matter it
was generally necessary that at least one of the party should have slept
within the year on an oat-straw bed, or a bed made of the leaves of
mountain ash, mixed with the seeds of a spring fern, and a pillow of
The nights generally resorted to for the purpose mentioned above were All
Hallow Eve, S. John's Eve, and Mayday Eve, but there were other times
also when the lovesick could get a glimpse of their life partners.
I have said that some of the means employed were innocent and others
cruel. Before proceeding I will record instances of both kinds. It was
thought that if a young woman placed a snail under a basin on Nos Wyl
Ifan, S. John's Eve, it would by its movements trace the name of her
coming husband underneath, or at least his initials. One can very well
imagine a young woman not over particular as to form, being able to
decipher the snail's wanderings, and making them represent her lover's
name. Should the snail have remained immovable during the night, this
indicated her own or her lover's death; or at the least, no offer of
marriage in the coming year.
It was usual for young women to hunt for Llysiau Ifan (S. John's Wort)
on Nos Wyl Ifan, at midnight, and it was thought that the silvery light
of a glow-worm would assist them in discovering the plant. The first
thing, therefore, was to search for their living lanthorn. This found,
they carried the glow-worm in the palm of the hand, and proceeding in
their search they sought underneath or among the fern for St. John's
Wort. When found, a bunch was carried away, and hung in the young
woman's bedroom. If in the morning the leaves appeared fresh, it was a
sign that she should be married within the year; if, however, the leaves
were found hanging down or dead, this indicated her death, or that she
was not to get a husband within that year. We can well understand that a
sharp young person would resort to means to keep the plant alive, and
thus avert what she most feared.
The following instance of Rhamanta I received from a young woman who
witnessed the work done. She gave me the name of the party, but for
special reasons I do not supply names.
A young woman was madly in love with a young man, and she gave the
servant man a jug of beer for procuring a frog for her. This he did; and
she took the poor creature to the garden, and thrust several pins into
its back. The tortured creature writhed under the pain, but the cruel
girl did not cease until the required number had been inserted. Then she
placed the frog under a vessel to prevent its escape, and turning to my
informant, she said, There, he will now come to our house this evening.
The man certainly came, and when he entered she smiled at my informant,
and then both went together to the lacerated frog, and the pins were
extracted one by one from its back, and the wounded animal was set at
liberty. My informant said that the hard-hearted girl mumbled something
both when inserting and extracting the pins.
It was believed that the spirit of a person could be invoked and that it
would appear, after the performance of certain ceremonies, to the person
who was engaged in the weird undertaking. Thus a young woman who had
gone round the church seven times on All Hallow Eve came home to her
mistress, who was in the secret that she was going to rhamanta, and
said, Why did you send master to frighten me? But the master had not
left the house. His wife perceived that it was the spirit of her husband
that had appeared to the girl, and she requested the girl to be kind to
her children, for, said she, you will soon be mistress here. In a
short time afterwards the wife died, and the girl became her successor.
I obtained the preceding tale from the Rev. P. Edwards, son of the Rector
of Llanwyddelan, Montgomeryshire, and the lady who related the tale of
herself to Mr. Edwards said the occurrence took place when she was
There are several versions of the above tale to be met with in many
places in Wales.
I will give one, omitting names, from my work on Old Stone Crosses,
p. 203:--An aged woman in Gyffylliog parish, who is still alive (1886),
saw her husband by rhamanta; and so did her fellow-servant. I am
indebted to Mr. Jones, Woodland Farm, to whom the woman related it, for
the story I am about to give. When young women, she and her
fellow-servant, in accordance with the practice of the country,
determined to obtain a sight of the men whom they were to marry. The
mistress was let into the secret that that night one of the two was going
to raise the veil of the future, and the other the following night. As
the clock began striking twelve the fellow-servant began striking the
floor with a strap, repeating the doggerel lines
Am gyd-fydio i gyd-ffatio,
and almost immediately she saw her master come down stairs. The girl
innocently the next day asked her mistress why she had sent her master
down stairs to frighten her. The answer of her mistress was, 'Take care
of my children.' This girl ultimately married her master. The next
night it was the other girl's turn, and she saw a dark man, whom she had
never seen before; but in the course of a week or so, a stranger came
into the farmyard, and she at once perceived that it was the person whom
she had seen when divining. Upon inquiry, she ascertained that he was a
married man, but in time his wife died, and the girl became his wife.
There were several ways of proceeding by young girls who were anxious to
ascertain whom they were to marry. One of these was by means of yarn.
This divination was usually performed by two young girls after the family
had retired for the night. It has been called Coel ede wlan, or the
yarn test, and under this name I will describe the process.