Rhamanta Or Omen Seeking


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,
r /> 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

Maiden Hair.

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

servant girl.

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.