There was a kind of divination game that children used to play with cowslips, called Tisty-Tosty, or Tosty-Tosty, Blossoms, picked on Whit Sunday for preference, were tied into a ball (hence another name, quite simply Cowslip-Ball). Strictly, the balls were the Tisty-Tosties, though the growing flowers got the name, too, as did GUELDER ROSE. Lady Gomme mentioned the game as belonging to Somerset, but it had a much wider spread than that. The cowslip ball is tossed about while the names of various girls and boys are called, till it drops. The name called at that moment is taken to be the "one indicated by the oracle", as Udal puts it, for the rhyme spoken at the beginning is:
Tisty-tosty tell me true Who shall I be married to?
Instead of actual names, some used the time-honoured Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor sequence (Opie & Tatem). The game is also known in Wales, where the purpose is different, for the rhyme there is:
Pistey, Postey, four and twenty, How many years shall I live? One, two, three, four ... (Trevelyan).
A Gloucestershire rhyme has:
Tisty Tosty, cowslip ball, Tell me where you're going to fall? Dursley, Uley, Coaley, Cam, Frampton, Fretherne, Arlingham?
John Clare called them cucking balls:
And cowslip cucking balls to toss Above the garlands swinging light.
A different tradition here, obviously. Roy Genders, who used the name cucka balls, says they were often threaded on twine and hung from one window to another across the street.
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