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.
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.
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.
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.
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!