Love month in Slovakia - if the Birch tree fails, try the love potion

May is the month of love in Slovakia. On the first of the month beautiful birch trees decorated with colourful ribbons appear in front of houses in villages all over the country. These trees are called Máje. Young men would put the trees outside the house of their intended. The decorated birch tree was a definite marriage proposal not usually refused given the fact that the whole village could see the tree. And in the villages of Slovakia, if the tree did not do the trick then a love potion just might. In this merry month of May Anca Dragu went to the Museum of the Slovak Village in Martin in Central Slovakia to seek the advice of a love potion expert.

“My name is Jela Smidova and I am here as a traditional consultant in the matters of love. In villages people like me used to have a very important position because girls were very keen on finding a good husband so they paid close attention to all the customs related to it, for example, making somebody to fall in love with them or stay faithful to them.

One common practice was to make small wreath and let it flow down the river. If the wreath was going smoothly down the river it meant they were going to get married in a village downstream, if it moved up the river, they were supposed to get married in a village upstream. Another custom is to put willow canes in some manure and depending on which direction they turned to they knew where they were supposed to be married -in the East, West and so on.”

Herbs have played a very important role in the economy of fortune telling so no wonder that bunches of flowers and herbs were spread all over the table in front of the consultant. I don’t know how effective they are in making somebody fall in love but I know that their perfume made me a little giddy.

“You see this bunch made of 9 herbs? Girls put it under the pillow and the guy they dreamt of that night was supposed to become their husband. There is one condition, however, the herbs must by picked by Saint George’s Day which is April the 24th. This dry bunch of straw that I have here was used to foresee the future too. Those who had thatched roofs could pick a handful of straw from the roof and draw it one by onegiving them three choices: to marry a widower, a young single man or not to marry that year at all. The last straw provided them with an answer.”

As for the receipe on how to make your boyfriend/girlfriend stay faithfull….well I wouldn’t really try it.

“You take some cubes of sugar and keep it under your ampit for a while than secretly put it in your partner’s tea.”

Tea was often used as the perfect medium for hiding a few drops of love potions. These were often tinctures made of a wide range of herbs, including rosemary, caraway seeds, lavender, cloves and even strawberries. And in case you did not know it, the banal carrot has a long history as an aphrodisiac.

Jela Smidova says that in the recent years most of the customs she has spoken about have slowly but surely become more a subject of interest for ethnographers than for young people living in the villages. Even those few old sayings and customs which are still in use have got a humoristic perspective and only very supersticious people are still very fond of them.