St. Agnes Eve

St. Agnes Eve

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

St. Agnes Eve is the night of January 20. It was the traditional time for Witches to perform love magic and spells. According to H. Pomeroy Brewster, "next to the Evangelists and Apostles there is no saint whose effigy is older" than St. Agnes. Barbara Walker states that Agnes is associated with the Roman-Jewish Agna, virgin incarnation of the ewe-goddess Rachel. At thirteen, Agnes was put to death for renouncing the love of Sempronius, a Roman officer. Sempronius's father was a prefect, and he directed that Agnes become a vestal virgin. When she refused, the prefect sent her into the streets naked. It is said that onlookers shouted, "Burn the Witch!" She was taken into custody and placed on a pyre, but the flames died down and went out. She was then beheaded.

Agnes's true nature, according to Walker, was as an orgiastic priestess-heroine. Bollandus's Acts of the Saints claims that Agnes founded her nunnery in a house of sacred prostitutes. She was supposed to have appeared a week after her execution, carrying a lamb in her arms. Today, on her feast, two white lambs are blessed by the Pope, and their wool is used by nuns to make the pallia of Western Archbishops.

References in periodicals archive ?
Madeline awakens on St. Agnes Eve to find Porphyro and the lavish feast he has prepared, and the impression of the reality of her pallid and drear lover disappoints her:
The plot of Keats's poem is built around an ancient superstition that a maiden who retires to her bed on St. Agnes Eve after practicing a particular ritual will be awakened in her dreams by her lover.
When she sleeps, caught up in the enchantment of St. Agnes Eve, "It seem'd he never, never could redeem / From such a stedfast spell his lady's eyes" (286-87).