Agnes of Rome was purportedly a member of the Roman nobility, born in AD 291. She had the misfortune of being raised as a Christian, and when a young man she had spurned reported her to the authorities the local Prefect had her dragged naked through the streets to a brothel. A number of miracles followed, including having hair grow all over her body to hide her nakedness, the men attempting to rape her being struck blind, and the Prefect being struck dead. She prayed and the Prefect was returned to life, but a court sentenced her to death nonetheless. She was martyred at age 13, still a virgin. Because of this, she is known as the patron saint of virgins.
Agnes' feast day is January 21, but St. Agnes' Eve is perhaps better known than the feast day itself. Popular superstition has it that this night a young girl will dream of her future husband. Since this is a big deal, and people might want assurance that their dreams could well be wrong, a number of superstitions have grown up around how to 'dream right'.
These include, but are not limited to:
- Don't let anyone, even a child, kiss you all day.
- Go to bed without eating the evening meal.
- Or, fast all day.
- Or, eat a yolkless boiled egg with salt filling the hole where the yolk was, so your dream-husband will be compelled to bring you a glass of water.
- Or, bake a special cake called a 'dumb cake' and walk backward with it to bed, and then eat it.
- Do not speak.
- Pull a row of pins, saying a Pater Noster for each one.
- Sprinkle sprigs of thyme and rosemary with holy water, placing them on each side of the bed, and invoke St. Agnes.
- Walk backwards to bed; do not look over your shoulder, but only straight ahead.
- Sleep in the nude.
- Or, put on a clean shift before bed, and a clean cloth on your head.
- Lay with your hands under your pillow, and face up towards heaven.
- Go to a field at midnight, throw grain, and say "Agnes sweet, and Agnes fair, Hither, hither, now repair; Bonny Agnes, let me see the lad who is to marry me."
- Don't tell anyone your dream for ten days.
- And dreams do not count if the boy doesn't kiss you and eat with you.
Many of these are best known because they appeared in The Eve of St. Agnes, a relatively well-known poem by John Keats published in 1820. Keats, in turn, took them from John Aubrey's Miscellanies, published in 1696. However, there have been no shortages of guidelines for young women seeking interesting St. Agnes Eve dreams. I'm fairly certain you could do just as well to invent your own.
Now good St. Agnes, play thy part,
And sent to me my own sweetheart,
And shew me such a happy bliss,
This night of him to have a kiss.
Mother Bunch's Closet Newly Broke Open,
George Laurence Gomme, 1885.