The Red String of Fate is another one of these legends that comes up from time to time in anime and manga and I swear I have known about it since I was a kid. Except did I? Did I actually just see it in an anime and decide, yeah, that sounds like a legend that exists, I think I heard about it before somewhere. I can’t tell anymore.

Of course, it doesn’t help that it’s both popular enough to have been referenced in a lot of works from all over the world, yet not quite so popular that everyone knows about it. It’s that grey zone that makes me unsure where I even heard about The Red String of Fate first.

If I can use a Daganrompa image – I will

In an effort to fix that, I decided to at least look into where this legend started in the first place and go from there.

For those of you who might not be familiar with The Red String of Fate and wonder what the heck I’m talking about here is the short version. Every person in the world is connected to their soul mate (fated one) through a red string tied around their pinky finger and invisible to common mortals. That’s it. It’s a cute little legend and perfect for St-Valentine’s day wouldn’t you say! Cough!

This little legend has been used integrally in a lot of romance manga because it’s such a visual way to represent two characters being destined to be together. But it’s also been obliquely referenced in others. I think Your Name has one of the best subtle references with the red string Mitsuha keeps in the hair. Once I noticed it, I thought it was extremely sweet.

So where exactly did it all start? As I’m doing these mini-research posts, I’m finding out that a lot of things in fact started in China. The Red String of Faith is no exception. Even though the legend is popular all throughout East Asia it is believed to have its origins in Chinese mythology. Those of you who have been around for a bit, know that I’m always happy to learn a bit more about Chinese mythology.

making it more obvious

This is a very old legend with a few variables so I wasn’t able to get a fixed date on it. Let’s just say it’s from before you were born. It might even be from before I was born! I read a few of the variations. There’s not much to it, most of the stories are very short and boil down to two characters being told they are fated to fall in love and not believing it, only to eventually fall in love. YAY! But I did notice a few similarities.

For one, every story features a character named Yue Xia Lao who plays the role of the prophet if you will. This is the character who seemingly can see the string tying people together and tells them of their fated love. I’m not sure why though.

Looking more into it, Yue Xia Lao is a god of love and marriage in Chinese mythology and is potentially the one who is tying the strings to people’s fingers in the first place. I’m, just not sure why he’s telling specific people about it. Then again maybe he just tells everyone. He’s one of those chatty gods.

For the record, Yue Xia Lao always appears as an old man. So if some old dude starts talking to you about your love life out of the blue, pay attention. But not if he says he’s your destined lover, it doesn’t work that way.

the problem with strings is that they get tangled

Another similarity between legends of The Red String of Fate is that the couples never really mesh at the beginning. In fact, almost unfailingly the boy or young man is mean to the girl. Naturally, this is a strictly heterosexual legend but there have been plenty of modern updates!

In the mildest version, the boy simply turned down a girl when she confessed and made fun of her causing her to go off crying only to meet her again years later and fall in love. But in some other variants, when a young boy is told his fated love is a girl by the river, he thinks girls are gross and have cooties so he throws rocks at her and scars her face for life only to get betrothed to her years later.

The most extreme case has the man trying to murder his fated lady love and her mother. Leaving her not only scarred but with a permanent limp. He does this because she looks poor and he wants to marry rich…She just forgives him, no further questions. In fact, in all the cases the ladies just forgive their husbands. Personally, I might draw the line at attempted murder. I’m very picky!

A lot of love legends aren’t particularly kind to the women involved. This isn’t specific to the Red String of Fate or Chinese mythology in any way. And when you consider women’s roles historically, it’s not very surprising. However, when you take the abusive bits out of the equation, there is something charming about The Red String of Fate.

red string harem version – not sure if it works that way…

I’m not a big believer in the soulmate thing. I don’t think that people only have the potential to love one person, I just think relationships are hard and most people probably can’t really maintain more than one really good one in a lifetime. However, most stories I have read following the Red String have a certain element of free will. You don’t need to pick your fated one, and you can be very happy with someone else. It’s just that you’re fated one will be perfect for you from the start.

It’s completely unrealistic but that’s what fairytales are all about, isn’t it?

There are a few other elements I found interesting. For instance, the thread is tied to a finger, most commonly the pinky. You know, like a pinky swear… And when you think about it, pinkie swears are sort of a weird ritual, aren’t they? Yet the notion of it exists all over the world and seemingly has for a very long time.

Is it because pinkies hold some odd spiritual significance for us that we aren’t even consciously aware of? Or is it because linking pinkies is a lot like being tied together at the pinky, intertwining two people’s fates for a short time. Right?

After all this, I still don’t know where I personally first heard/read about the Red String of Fate but now I know a lot more about it. Just in time for Valentine’s. And I hope you had fun learning about it too.

Do you know any variations of the Red String of Faith? Maybe you have a favourite!

10 thoughts

  1. I’d never even heard of it until I started watching anime seriously and systemically as an adult all those years ago…but, you know, it’s not a million miles from the Greek myth of the Fates weaving the span of a human’s life; or, in Norse mythology, the Norns shaping a person’s destiny. And the pinkie thing? Could that be the same thing as a “pinkie promise” being especially meaningful? And, yes, i thought Your Name utilised Mitsuha’s hairband as a nicely subtle metaphor for the string…

  2. I kind of have the same time. Some vague remembrance about a red string of fate tying people together. Not sure if i got it from anime but i picked the term up some where. Not sure what it actually ment until i read your article. Great way to explore this legend better!

  3. The first I ever heard of the Red String of Fate was, I think, in the 90ies or early 2000s; it was some live action film I wanted to watch, but I never ended up near a cinema that played it. I thought the concept was weird, how two people run around tied together with this red string (I don’t remember whether it was the pinky), and later I heard about the concept in a review. I never saw the film, and I don’t remember what it was. I tried to google and find out what it was but failed. I’ve found a few candidates, but none that fit my imperfect memory perfectly.

    When I saw the harem version I imagined them tumbling down the stairs in giant tangled ball…

    1. I would love a literal string interpretation. And it sounds kind of hilarious in an action film. Too bad you don’t remember the title.

  4. I don’t think I ever heard about the “Red String Of Fate” until I saw it in “Black Clover.” And then Years later; I found out that it’s something very prominent in Eastern Culture. Thank you for telling me more about it!

  5. Well I guess it can’t all be happiness for me on February. So yeah. The red string that binds is prevalent in a ton of stories involving romantic pairings. And most never even mention any string whatsoever!

    It embodies the connection between two people that grows stronger the closer they are together, and brings them back together even after time and adversity has happened. You see that in lots of movies. The Princess Bride (yes, the one and only acting role of Andre The Giant is one of my favorite romantic movies).

    Without a doubt the best modern movies that exemplifies these bonds between two people is… Well… Spider-Man. Be it Tobey Maguire and Kristen Dunst, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, or the present pair of Tom Nathan Drake Uncharted Holland and Zendaiya. Which brings us to something nobody wants to think of, but happens. What happens when the red string snaps, and your lifemate dies? Of course that means the death of Gwen Stacy.

    The very same string that can keep you connected even at a long distance… Yes. Die Hard 2 and John McClaine fighting to save his wife counts… Becomes a painful thing when it’s severed, and we lose that loved one. There is even a moment in Spider-Man No Way Home where Andrew Garfield speaks of losing Gwen from Amazing Spider-Man 2 which fits that theme. The very same things that bind you and sustains you can hurt when it’s gone.

    And yes. That same string can bind far more than just lifemates. It’s probably best to say you have a whole bunch of red strings that forms a an emotional network to all the people your connected to. Like a metaphysical cardiovascular system that links people. It ties lovers, families, and even strong friendships together. Forming a wide or narrow network of ties that bind from you to others. Your mileage may vary, please read the instruction pamphlet before attempting to connect with others, some restrictions may apply.

    Finally there’s the ties that must be severed because the match just didn’t work out. Sometimes you just need to snap that red string, and tie a new connection with another person. Especially if that old tie proved to be bad for your health. Yes. Some people try to tie on more loving connections than they are capable of having. Some are never confident enough to even try to make that first connection. As I see it you need to go out and physically emotionally and so on find a person to create that tie off bond with. It’s never done for you, you always have to do it. Yeah. Some people just seem destined to be together. On behalf of the 79% of humanity not so lucky to be so gifted? We resent being told your happy stories of such easy love. Also our therapists warned us about people like you! Your the reason antidepressants exist! That and Bob Chapek… And SJWs… The creators of Reality TV… Whoever made chocolate so yummy yet so bad to eat… Whoever keeps making Milla Jovovich be in movies so campy Ed Woods corpse is disturbed by their existence…

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to check my ball of red string. Maybe a basic cat is tangled up in it and I can take her home… Look we all need hobbies. Mine is living in denial and saying stupid things. Happy It’s Only Fun When Your In Love Day… Sigh. Time for more antidepressants.

    1. André is beloved around here. And he’s actually acted in a lot of stuff if you’re interested. There a few Qc movies’, he was in the 6 million dollar man, BJ and the Bear, The Fallguy, The greatest American hero, Conan the destroyer, Zorro… I thinks there’s actually a lot more,

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