Some Quaint Ceremonies Of Olden Days Regarding Hemp

Let’s look at some quaint ceremonies involving hemp that were practiced in the old countries and brought to America. This first story was printed in 1856 and it relates to the practice of the sowing of hemp seeds to determine one’s future lover.

Kitty returned to find them engaged in this inconsistent amusement, but like a wise damsel she took no note of trifling discrepancies. She on the contrary, proposed that as they were trying Ave games, they should at a later hour, before going to bed, try the famous old one of sowing hemp-seed by moonlight.

“What is it? How do you do it” cried the sisters, and Kitty went on to explain, how that the girl who would look into the future as to her fate, must go by night, alone, and beyond the hearing of her friends, and scattering hemp seed in the moonlight, must say, “Hemp seed I sow. Hemp seed must grow. Whoever will be my true love, come after and mow.” And then looking over her right shoulder, she would see the man she was going to marry, coming after with a great scythe, mowing” the hemp.

Then there is the story written in 1875 of the man who sowed hemp seed and repeated the chants. He got a terrible fright. The next morning he was found passed out among the scattered hemp seed. He said that he had received a warning.

“A warning of death?” he was asked. “No, of marriage” cried uncle Guilford with a groan. “I sowed hemp seed last night, Fred, and I own I expected to see nothing, or else a fine young woman; but my boy, I saw the most fiendish, hideous mirage shaking a hearth-brush at me! I was wide awake on my feet, in my full senses, and there she was! And you know I cant’ help it. It’s fate. Fred. – Fate!”

The custom was practiced in many European countries. This short piece from 1879 informs us…
In Derbyshire, they have a method which it would take a bold heart to perform: The young woman, to find out her future husband, runs round the church at midnight, as the clock strikes 12, repeating:
“I sow hemp seed, hemp seed I sow. He who loves me best come after and me and mow.”
After which her destined partner is believed to follow her.

In 1887 we get a short piece about the practice in England. It says:
The following passage from Gay’s “Pastorals” would seem to indicate that this divination was also practiced by the English peasantry:

At eve last midsummer no sleep I sought,
But to the field a bag of hemp seed I brought;
I scattered round the seed on every side,
And three times in trembling accent, cried:
“This hemp seed with my virgin hand I sow,
Who shall my true love be the crop shall mow”

Tying the Knot

Hemp could not only foretell who a person was to marry but was also involved in the marriage ceremonies themselves. The phrase to “tie the knot” comes from the practice in many cultures around the world from ancient times until now of holding the hands of the husband and wife and binding them together with a hemp cord or a piece of hemp fabric.

From The Legend of Saint Katherine written around 1225 we have this rough translation into modern English:
As we are fastened & tied together, so the knot is knitted between us two.*

Then there is this gem :
“The uncontrollable nature of the sea has given way to many a nautical lore. It has Long been said amongst sailors that when the yearning for home and the woman you love takes over your soul, you must send her a length of (hemp) rope from your vessel. If she returns that rope tied in a knot than she is you one true love who agrees to your [betrothal] and promises to spend the rest of her life with you upon your return.”

Hemp was involved in many marriage ceremonies around the world. For instance, hemp strands were an integral of Japanese love and marriage. Hemp strands were often hung on trees as charms to bind young lovers. Gifts of hemp were sent as wedding gifts by the man’s family to the prospective bride’s family as a sign that they were accepting the girl and hemp strands were prominently displayed during wedding ceremonies to symbolize faithfulness of the wife. The Japanese priests performing the ceremony wore robes made of hemp.

In certain parts of France the bride would throw hemp seeds over her left shoulder.
“Though the exact origin is unknown, historians primarily believe ancient Egypt started the tradition most like our modern wearing of a wedding band. Archeological discoveries, some dating back more than 3,000 years ago, led them to this conclusion. Imagery on artifacts, such as papyrus scrolls, reveal an ancient culture that exchanged rings braided from reeds and hemp…”

~Les Stark, Hemp Historian and NHA Contributor

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