A-Z of superstitions
Posted 10 November 2007 - 04:51 AM
The sacred cup used in the Communion or Eucharist services of the Christian Church, which is said by some to have its own special powers. Many people value items of church silver for their healing properties, and in the past children have often been taken to drink from chalices in the belief that this would cure them of WHOOPING COUGH. It was vital that the children did not touch the chalice itself with their hands, and also that the chalice was one used in the Catholic rather than the Protestant service. Until relatively recent times chalices, though made of valuable precious metals, were relatively immune from the attentions of THIEVES, who feared they would suffer extreme misfortune if they included such a sacred object in their haul.
Tomorrow: chamber pot
Posted 10 November 2007 - 04:53 AM
The chamber pot features little in the annals of the superstitious, other than at the time of WEDDINGS. In Scottish tradition, the bride’s chamber pot was once the first of her belongings brought into the new home, on which occasion it was filled with SALT, some of which was then scattered on the floor for luck. One variant of this custom required the bride and groom to jump three times over the salt filled pot.
Posted 11 November 2007 - 06:35 AM
An incantion, prayer or other form of words that is supposed to have in itself magical power. Carrying pieces of paper bearing verses from the BIBLE or certain other words or phrases (see ABRACADBRA) about the person was formerly reputed to ward off illness and other forms of evil, while reciting given lines has always been an essential feature of spell making. Thus, various rhymes may be uttered when attempting to conjure up visions of future lovers, driving away demons or overcoming physical ailments by magical means. The power of the spoken word is such that merely repeating a person’s name over and over may be sufficient to cause them to appear in the flesh, while simply uttering a phrase like ‘white rabbits’ on the first day of the month will guarantee one’s luck in the days ahead. Conversely, certain words are regarded with intense misgiving, and seafarers around the globe will resent anyone using words like ‘pig’ or ‘priest’ while a vessel is at sea for fear of the consequences. Among the more common instances of charms in everyday usage are those designed to protect one’s luck when evil threatens. These include the various challenges and greetings that should be spoken aloud on sighting a MAGPIE and the simple business of saying ‘bless you’ to a person who is SNEEZING.
See also AMULET and TALISMAN.
Tomorrow: charm wand
Posted 11 November 2007 - 06:37 AM
A slender glass stick with a curved end, sometimes filled with seeds, which is often kept in the home as an ornament but was originally intended to ward off evil during the hours of darkness. The theory runs that any evil attracted to the house will be lured to the wand and distracted from harming the occupants by the challenge of counting the seeds (or the hair lines) in the glass. When morning comes, the charm wand is simply wiped clean of any evil it may have ensnared. A broken charm wand was a cause of some concern and promised ill luck to the whole household.
See also WALKING STICK.
Posted 12 November 2007 - 05:14 AM
Superstition explains that blushing is attributable to the fact that someone somewhere is talking about the person concerned. In Oxfordshire women may respond to a blush with the following charm:
Right cheek, left cheek, why do you burn?
Cursed be she that doth me any harm.
If it be a maid, let her be slayed,
If it be a wife, let her lose her life,
And if it be a widow, long let her mourn;
But if it be my own true love, burn, cheek, burn.
The pseudo science of PHYSIOGNOMY, in which a person’s character is expressed in their appearance, dictates that fat cheeks suggest greed and sensuality, while hollow ones betray envy and meanness or a cold personality. Best of all are those with nicely rounded cheeks, which indicates wisdom and liveliness. A cheek with wrinkles is a symptom of MADNESS.
See also DIMPLE.
Posted 12 November 2007 - 05:18 AM
Growers of cherry trees in Switzerland are advised by superstition to offer the first fruit of a tree to a woman who has recently given birth, for this will ensure that the trees always fruits plentifully. A cherry tree planted in the middle of a vineyard will have a similar effect and guarantee good wine. Other superstitions focus on cherry stones, the most widespread of which is the custom of counting out the stones of consumed cherries one by one while chanting ‘This year, next year, never’ to find out when one will be married. Others include the rather unsavory habit of flicking cherry stones towards the ceiling by squeezing them between the fingers: if the ceiling is reached at the first attempt, the marksman is destined to marry shortly. A final superstition from the country of Kent warns anyone walking in a cherry orchard to rub their shoes with a cherry leaf in order to avoid choking on a cherry stone.
Posted 13 November 2007 - 01:16 PM
Various beneficial properties are assigned by superstition to both the horse chestnut and the sweet chestnut, and more specifically to their fruits. Carrying two horse chestnuts about the person is said on both sides of the Atlantic to relieve the pain of arthritis, backache and RHEUMATISM. If sweet chestnuts are eaten boiled with honey and glycerine they will also alleviate ASTHMA. Superstition also recommends leaving an offering of a few sweet chestnuts on the table at HALLOWEEN as gifts for the dead.
Tomorrow: chewing gum
Posted 13 November 2007 - 01:16 PM
Sharing a single stick of chewing gum with another person may be a sign of friendship or love, but superstition suggests that in certain circumstances gum may play a more active role in proceedings. Offerings someone a stick of gum over which one expressed a desire to be loved by that person is, according to twentieth century US mythology, certain to persuade the reluctant lover of one’s charms if accepted and well chewed.
Posted 14 November 2007 - 03:21 AM
Blue flowered plant, which has long been considered a harbinger of good luck when carried by travelers and explorers. More specifically, it is credited with bestowing the gift of INVISIBILITY and assists in overcoming obstacles of various kinds; included secured locks, if held against them. To work in such a way, however, the chicory must be cut at twelve noon or twelve midnight on St James’s Day (25 July) with a golden blade and in complete silence, on pain of death.
Posted 15 November 2007 - 05:16 AM
Painful inflammation of the fingers, toes or ears that is caused by prolonged exposure to cold and wet. Superstition offers an impressive range of treatments for this complaint. Chilblains can be cured or prevented, it is alleged, by wearing or carrying of horse TEETH: by pricking the affected area with HOLLY leaves: by keeping a half eaten CHRISTMAS cake or the remains of the YULE LOG under the bed; by applying URINE and strawberry juice; by wearing wolf skin gloves and shoes; by circling a mare three times while gripping one’s shirt with one’s teeth; or dipping one’s hands in manure on 1 May and then clapping them three times on the lid of a bread box. Dipping the affected part in water in which slaughtered PIGS have been immersed is also recommended. Applications of WALNUT oil, carpenter’s glue, turnip pulp, soot and vinegar or CANDLE wax will lessen the pain while a choice of more permanent treatment is made.
Posted 15 November 2007 - 05:19 AM
The business of childbearing was once much more hazardous than it is today and superstition was called upon in all its various guises to assist the expectant mother and the unborn BABY. Through medical advances have reduced some of these notions to little more than quaint echoes of bygone eras, others still influence expectant parents and relations (though less often now midwives and doctors).
In remote parts of Europe people will still open all the DOORS in a house and untie KNOTS in the mother to be’s clothing to make the delivery easier. Other measures to assist the mother in labour include placing a razor sharp AXE blade edge up under her bed, spilling a little SALT in her palm, placing SILVER coins taken from a church in her mattress and bringing an empty hornets’ nest into the room. In Kentucky, birthing assistants may tickle the mother’s nose with a feather, while elsewhere in the USA she may be offered a drink partly drunk by another woman or administered a potion made from the powdered rattles of rattlesnakes.
Among the many birthing customs that have fallen into disuse are driving IRON nails into the bed to keep away evil spirits; laying the mother on a bare earth floor from which she might derive extra strength; hanging charms (see AMULET) in the bedchamber to ward off witches; and ringing the church BELLS or, if this could not be arranged, tying a piece of bell rope round the mother’s waist to summon up divine assistance. Hanging an item of clothing borrowed from a man whose wife is known to be unfaithful to him may also aid the process, according to the Irish. Once the baby is delivered, chicken feathers may be burned under the bed to stop any bleeding (see also AFTERBIRTH; UMBILICAL CORD).
Much can be predicted about a baby’s future from the circumstances of its birth. A baby born in a wagon, by CAESAREAN SECTION or when the mother’s head lies in a northerly direction are deemed especially lucky, as it is also is if born with an extra finger or toe. If the baby is born in the breech position (feet first), according to one old English superstition, the child – sometimes called a ‘footling’ – is fated to be lamed in a accident unless its legs are hastily rubbed with BAY leaves, but will also benefit from special healing powers as will a baby whose mother dies in giving birth (see WHOOPING COUGH). If the father is already dead at the time of the baby’s birth it may find consolation in special occult powers.
The timing of the birth is important, according to the science of ASTROLOGY: the phase of the MOON and the state of the TIDES, as well as the date, the day of the week and the hour of the day, all have an influence on the baby’s character. Babies born under a new moon are fated to a life of failure (or conversely will grow up very strong). According to the Sicilians a baby’s sex is determined by the phase of the moon at the hour of birth: it will be a girl if the moon is on the wane and a boy if it is waxing. If the baby is born with the moon on the wane, it is maintained that the next baby the woman has will be of the opposite sex; if the moon is waxing the next baby will be of the same sex. Babies born when the tide is on the ebb are doomed to die young.
Babies born at CHRISTMAS or NEW YEAR can look forward to a lifetime of good luck. Unluckiest of all are the babies born on CHILDERMAS DAY (28 December) or on 21 March, which, according to US superstition, is a day of particularly bad omen (US custom also suggests that babies born between 23 June and 23 July will be unlucky and those born in May will never enjoy good health).
When it comes to the day of the week, a widely known children’s rhyme offers a summary of what may be expected:
Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go;
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living.
But the child born on the Sabbath Day
Is blithe and bonny, good and gay.
It should be noted, however, that this is not the only version: in Cornwall and Scotland, children born on Tuesday are ‘solemn and sad’ and those arriving on Wednesday are ‘merry and glad’, while those arriving on a Thursday are ‘inclined to thieving’; in Shropshire, moreover, it is Friday’s children who are born to sorrow. All are agreed, however, that Sunday’s children are especially blessed and will be immune from witchcraft throughout their lives.
Babies arriving at midnight will be able to see GHOSTS, while any ‘chime child’ born at three, six, nine or twelve noon (the hours when church bells chime) may prove unlucky in life will be able to see things others cannot and will also be safe from witchcraft. Births that take place at sunrise bode well for the future, but babies born at sunset will be lazy in later life.
Finally, a safely delivered mother is strongly advised to make her first trip out of the house after childbirth to the church, to show thanks for her survival and thus to be cleaned (a ceremony known as ‘churching’). If she disobeys this and visits a female friend instead, the latter can expect her own child within the year.
See also BIRTHMARK, CHILDREN, PREGNANCY, TWINS and ZODIAC.
Tomorrow: childermas day
Posted 23 November 2007 - 02:51 PM
Holy Innocents’ Day, on which the slaughter of the children by Herod is remembered. Commemorated on 28 December, this is widely held to be the unluckiest day of the year. Children born at Childermas are fated to unlucky lives and no new project should be embarked upon on that date, for it will surely end in failure; neither should new clothes be worn for the first time. Superstition warns that even such mundane domestic chores as WASHING and trimming FINGERNAILS should not be attempted. Perhaps in reference to the origins of the festival, though, children’s parties were often held on Childermas Day in parts of northern England.
See also CALENDAR.
Posted 23 November 2007 - 02:53 PM
Superstition offers detailed guidance on virtually every aspect of a child’s existence in the first few days of life, though once the child has survived the early stages and has acquired a measure of divine protection through the ritual of the CHRISTENING service there are fewer specific taboos and rituals to be observed beyond those in general currency. Most of these may be divided into those that are intended to preserve the child against various illnesses such as WHOOPING COUGH, which have inspired countless remedies in folklore and those that give some clue about what life holds in store for the infant.
Odd beliefs that have lasted into the twenty first century include the widely held notions that it is lucky to have children on board SHIP, that dreaming of children is an omen of trouble and possibly of death in the offing, and that child prone to blisters on the TONGUE will turn out to be habitual liars. In the USA it was formerly said that any male child who showed a weakness for wearing strings of beads was doomed to die by hanging. A first born child is reputed by some to be immune from witchcraft, while a seventh child should choose a career as a doctor because he or she will have special healing powers. A tenth child, in deference to the old custom of paying tithes to the Church, should consider a career as a cleric.
See also BABY, CHILDBIRTH, NAMES, PRECOCIOUSNESS and TEETH.
Tomorrow: chime child
Posted 09 December 2007 - 10:52 AM
The chimney and the hearth, as the focus of family life in past centuries, have always been of mystical significance. FIRE it itself a magical element but also attracts evil spirits, and measures must be taken to ensure that no hostile entity forces its way into the house via the chimney. Tradition has it that witches left for their covens mounted on broomsticks by means of the chimney, and popular folklore in modern times still has Father Christmas entering the house in this way. On the whole, though, chimneys are held to be lucky and may even be touched for luck.
Among the many superstitions concerning chimneys are never using a new chimney for the first time on a FRIDAY; making the sign of the CROSS three times before lighting a fire; throwing three grains of SALT into the fireplace; never allowing a fire to go out unintentionally; blessing the fireplace with HOLY WATER, salt and signs of the cross whenever there is a birth or a death in the house; never POINTING at a fireplace nor SPITTING into it; spitting on logs before burning them; and always handling the logs by the larger end. Fire irons and other household implements should always be stored to the right of the hearth and up ended on special occasions, SOOT coming down the chimney is deemed a bad omen, particularly if it falls during a WEDDING party, while a fire that burns too strongly warns of an argument in the household.
See also BELLOWS and POKER.
Tomorrow: chimney sweep
Posted 17 December 2007 - 12:24 PM
Just as the CHIMNEY is considered an important focus of magic in the house, so too is the chimney sweep universally regarded as a lucky figure. Receiving a ‘lucky’ kiss from a black faced chimney sweep after leaving the church is one of the time honoured traditions associated with brides in the British Isles, and many people will bow or make a point of greeting a sweep should they meet one in the street (possibly a relic from an old legend about a sweep who saved the life of an English king, who thus acknowledged his assistance). Some people will spit when they see a sweep, and make a wish.
Tomorrow: china ornaments
Posted 20 December 2007 - 01:34 PM
Though cholera is now rare in Western countries, certain superstitions concerning its detection have survived to the present day. In the British Isles, it is said that a piece of raw meat thrown into the air will instantly turn black if cholera is in the vicinity. Sufferers in Australia are advised to sleep in a churchyard in order to be cured.
Posted 20 December 2007 - 01:35 PM
In countries where chopsticks are used as a matter of course, it is widely believed that ill luck will dog anyone who breaks a chopstick. Children, furthermore, are warned that they will be struck dumb if they allow chopstick to tap anything other than their dish.
See also CUTLERY.