Looking for Love Through Traditional Lore

Herbs and flowers aren't the only ingredients for love. Dancing can also add a little spice to life, as Gianturco saw in Vienna, Austria.

At the Rudolfina Redoute, single women don masks to conceal their identities, then whirl out on the dance floor. At this special ball, it's the women who choose the partners. The men who don't end up as wallflowers find their partners to be very flirtatious. At midnight, everyone dances a special quadrille, and the masks come off.

Women also have license to be bold at the Moroccan festival of Moussem of Imilchil, said Gaintruco. Once a year, Berber shepherds bring their herds down from the Atlas Mountains to a huge market, where they stock up on provisions for the winter, she said. A tent community of 20,000 or 30,000 people springs up.

"After they've sold their animals and bought their provisions, the divorced and widowed women among them can wander through the tents and flirt," said Gianturco. "You have to wander around and flirt with any man that looks nice to you and ultimately invite him to marry you."

Apparently a lot of men are quite flattered to be asked, because a lot of wedding ceremonies are held at the close of the festival.

But only widows and divorcées are allowed to take the initiative. Unmarried girls and young women must wait for their families to arrange a match.

Praying to the Saints

Having so little say in their own future, it's not surprising that young women or girls would start seeking some divine intervention. In the Catholic tradition, Sts. Nicholas, Andrew and Catherine of Alexandria are the patrons of unmarried women.

St. Nicholas, the jolly fellow who became known as Santa Claus, was said to have been a bishop in what is now Turkey, although the Catholic Church says it has no proof that he actually existed. According to legend, Nicholas threw three bags of gold through a poor man's window so that his three daughters would have dowries.

St. Andrew the Apostle, who was martyred on an X-shaped cross, is venerated on Nov. 30. The Catholic Community Forum notes some "peculiar superstitions" have grown up around Andrew's feast day. According to an old German tradition, single women can pray to St. Andrew on that day for help in finding a husband, then go to sleep naked. They will see their future husbands in their dreams.

According to another story, young women should take note of the location of any dogs heard barking on St. Andrew's Eve -- their future husbands will come from the same direction as the hounds' howls.

Young women have been known to pray to St. Catherine of Alexandria, virgin and martyr -- asking not to end up like her. In France, single women over 25 used to be called "Catherinettes," and on Nov. 25, her feast day, they would parade through the streets wearing little paper caps. To "don St. Catherine's bonnet" or "wear St. Catherine's coif" meant one was considered a hopeless old maid.

Single women would beg her to help them find a spouse with prayers like this:

St. Catherine, St. Catherine, O lend me thine aid

And grant that I never may die an old maid

Versions vary, but another prayer runs:

A husband, St. Catherine

Handsome, St. Catherine

Rich, St. Catherine

Soon, St. Catherine!

And if St. Catherine didn't help out? Well, then there was always St. Jude -- patron saint of lost causes.

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