Superstitions in Normandy: love and wedding

Up to the 20th century it was custom to go to the source of Catherine of Alexandria in Lisors (Eure, Haute-Normandie) and ask her, to help to find a partner, by praying and leaving her donations of coins and needles. In the Basse-Normandie people went to the source of Saint Cenericus, a local saint of Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei (Orne).

Die Quelle des Heiligen Cenericus in Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei.

The source of Saint Cenericus in Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei. Photo by Hubert, liccence:Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

If a young man wanted to ask the family of his beloved for her hand in marriage, he brought a bottle of cidre as a gift. If his appeal was denied, the parents layed a broom across the entrance. If he was accepted, the couple was engaged for several years.

If a girl was able to peel an apple without interruption, she would get a beautiful wedding dress. If she threw the paring over her shoulder behind her, it showed the first letter of the forename of her future husband. If a young woman cut an apple in half and a pip was split, her fiancé thought of her.

An exotic custom, that existed until the 19th century, had Gallic origins. Young women bought small phallic charms, called gargans, and put them in their blouse to find a fiancé.

Beckwith James Carroll Normandy Girl

Normandy Girl, painting by James Carroll Beckwith (1852–1917), painted around 1883. licence:public domain

Young women added a drop of their blood to the cup of coffee or wine of a young man they wanted to enamour. A more complicated method, that was practised by men, demanded to take ones blood on a Friday in spring, cook it, add the testicles of a hare, add the liver of a dove, cook all until it’s a powder and give it to the desired woman in a glass of liqueur.

Bad omens could delay a marriage. It was a bad omen to step on the tail of a black cat, to spoil a meal and to get called “Madame” (Mrs). Don’t bestow pearls on a woman, because they look like tears.


La fiancée hésitante (1866) Auguste Toulmouche

La fiancée hésitante, the hesitating fiancée. Painting by Auguste Toulmouche (1829 -1890), painted in 1866. licence:public domain

If bride and groom were not born in the same village, they were considered as horsain, strangers. In such cases the bride had to make gifts to the young men of her village, or invite them to the wedding, to integrate her husband.

It was considered as a bad omen to marry on the day of a funeral. It was frowned upon to marry in May, because that month was dedicated to Virgin Mary. If two sisters married on the same day, one of them would become miserable. If it was raining on the day of the wedding, the bride would cry, because the rain looks like tears. To avoid bad luck the bride was wearing a handkerchief or a stocking of a happily married woman. The bride may not sew her wedding dress and she may not look backwards during the wedding procession.

Wedding procession of three couples in Auray in Brittany. Postcard of 1908, collection H. Laurent. licence:public domain

While bride and groom exchanged wedding vows, young men shot with their guns in the air, to dispel evil spirits. The groom served during the wedding feast, wearing a white apron and a cotton bonnet. In the wedding night the bed of the happy couple was decorated with small statues of phalluses and bells.

Evil sorcerers were able to hex a sortilege of erectile dysfunction on the husband, the “aiguillette nouée”. The sorcerer went near the house of the couple, called the husband, and if the groom answered, the sorcerer wrapped a fresh penis of a wolf in a white ribbon. To lift this curse the husband ate a roasted green woodpecker, salted with blessed salt. If the woodpecker did not solve the problem, the groom inhalated the smoke of a tooth of a recently deceased man, peed across his wedding ring, smeared his doorstep with the fat of a wolf and fabricated a ring, that enclosed the eye of a weasel.

A green woodpecker. photo by Andrea Lupo, licence: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

On the morning after the wedding night a brewage called “chaudée” (“the heated”) was prepared. It consisted of white wine with spicery, pepper and chili. the brewage was considered as aphrodisiac. Other aphrodisiacs were roasted turtle doves, swallows, common wood pigeons or sparrows. If a man wanted his wife to be more passionate, he gave her a bit of belladonna (do not attempt).

Based loosely on :
Croyances Populaires de Normandie by Solange Lebreton, published at Éditions Bertout in 2005, ISBN=2-86743-587-0


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