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WOW Guess I got off lucky, just washing my face in the grass! ;-)
Over here in Pennsylvania, we have a lot of superstitions and traditions brought by the various people who settled here. We have black dog-type legends brought over with some of the British settlers in this area. My grandmother was from a more rural area and she had always heard that when you killed a snake, you had to cut off its head or it would come back to life. That's actually kinda similar to some Scottish traditions about where the Beithir come from.
There is also one which states that the appearance of a white dove near a sickbed presages the death of the sick.
I've also heard that walking 13 times (sometimes backwards, sometimes not) around a cemetery makes any ghosts appear.
I remembered another one. My Gran used to say if an Owl sat on the roof of a house and hooted, someone in the household was going to die.
A few from my good Scottish friends.
In parts of the Highlands it was customary on the 31 January to place a bed near the door of the house. A member of the family went outside saying (translation since Gaelic is not my strong) "Bridget, Bridget, come in, your bed is ready".
A candle was lit by the bed to burn through the night and everybody retired. This was to invite St Bridget of Kildare (Christian version of Brigantia/Brigit) to come into the house and hence hasten the arrival of spring.
There are also a number of traditions regarding horses in Scotland (possibly linked to the worship of Epona) which have dying away ever since the advent of motorized transport. One says that a horse will refuse to pass by a gate through which a corpse has been carried (that's why good carters always took pains at avoiding the routes used in funeral). Another said that a horse skull set in the gable of house would protect it from evil for many generations. Finally there was belief in something called "Horsemen's Word". This was a secret charm, known only to trained horsemen, from grooms to ploughmen, which gave them complete control over the horse when whispered into its ear. Apprentices were supposedly taught this word of power on their 18th birthday.
On the issue of folk cures snail slime was believed to be a good remedy for warts and gout. Hazel milk (once a popular baby food) mixed with honey was believed to be a cure for lethargic children and hair from the tail of an ass were believed to be a good cure for aching joints and limbs.
There are also a number of traditions regarding chilbirth which are common with other parts of Europe. "Auld spey wifies" made sure that all dors were unlocked and all knots untied to easy the passage of birth (by the way my great-grand mother was one of the very last midwifes in the Alps... ;-)) and it was believed that the husband could share his wife's labor pains by placing his clothes over the woman at the moment of delivery.
In Distortion We Trust
"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"
-Kalevala, Rune XIII-
The following appeared in the Gentlemans Magazine (pre 1900 probably) and were repeated in an artice in the Black Country Bugle in 2004.
A list of things considered to unlucky in the Worcestershire and Shropshire regions.
(1)...To meet a cross-eyed woman who is a stranger - unless you speak to her, which breaks the spell.
(2)...To embark on a journey on Friday.
(3)...To spill salt or help another person to it, at the table.
(4)...To have crickets in the house.
(5)...To be one of a party of thirteen at Christmas.
(6)...To have a female come into your house, the first thing on New Year’s morning. So generally does this absurdity prevail that in many towns and villages young lads make a ‘good thing of it’ by selling their services to go round and enter the houses first that morning.
(7)...To have a cut onion lying about in the house - which breeds distempers.
(8)...To cross knives accidentally at mealtimes.
(9)...To walk or stand under a ladder.
(10)...For the first young lamb or colt you see in season to have its tail pointing toward you.
(11)...To kill a lady-cow (sometimes called ‘God Almighty’s cow).
(12)...To see the first of the New Moon through a window, or glass of any sort is unlucky. But if you see it in the open air, turn the money in your pocket, and express a wish for luck during the ensuing month - which is supposed to ensure same...
(13)...To have apples and blossoms on a tree at the same time is a sign of an imminent death in the family.
(14)...To have a long succession of black cards (spades or clubs) dealt to a person whilst in play, is prophetic of death to himself or some member of the family.
(15)...When a corpse is limp it is a sign of another close death in the family.
(16)...As to cutting your nails on Sunday, the following couplet is very expressive...
Better a child was
than have his nails
on Sunday shorn...
(17)...The itching of the nose is a sign of bad news. If the ear itches, you may expect news from the living. If the face burns, someone is talking about you - and when you shudder, someone is walking over the spot where your grave will be.
(18)...To accidentally leave a teapot lid open is a sign that a stranger is coming and when a cock crows in your doorway or a bit of black stuff hangs on the bars of the grate, it is a sign of a similar event...
(19)...If a bit of coal pops from the fire and in shape resembles a purse or a coffin, it pertains good luck or death.
(20)...Tea-drinking is said to foreshadow a large number of coming events, like the receipt of presents, the coming of strangers, or obtaining sweethearts and the like, merely from the shape of the grounds (tea-leaves)...
(21)...A bright speck in the candle, is a sure indication that a letter is coming to the individual to whom it points.
(22)... ‘A great year for nuts - a great year for children’ is a common saying.
(23)...To present a friend with a knife is supposed to be the instrument of cutting off a friendship...
(24)...A donkey braying is an infallible sign of rain.
(25)...To cut your hair during the increase of the moon is said to promote favourable growth.
(26)...The horse-shoe is still seen over the door in many places and fastened to bedsteads it is supposed to keep witches away.
(27)...A pillow filled with hops and laid under a patient’s bed, is an undoubted cure for rheumatism.
The Bugle goes on:
In rural districts, great faith is put in rings made from shillings and sixpences given at the Sacrement and many clergymen have told us of repeated applications having been made to them for Sacrement shillings, for the purpose of keeping away evil spirits, or as a remedy for fits. Mr Watson in his ‘History of Hartlebury’ says that he believes nearly every person in that district, who was subject to fits, wore such a ring - and there is another parish in the county, where, I am told, even the Protestant poor go to the Romanist priest to have the relics of saints applied to their limbs for the cure of diseases...
A superstition exists in some parts of the county that if pieces of the Alder tree are carried in the pockets, they are a safeguard against rheumatism. In the Wyre Forest, near Bewdley, is a botanical curiosity, namely, the celebrated Pyrus Domestics, said to be the only tree of its kind growing wild in England. It is of the same kind as Rowan or Mountain Ash, which was, and even now, is vulgarly worn as a remedy against witchcraft. It is much thought of by common people and there are various traditions concerning it. The name given to the tree is ‘The Withy Pear’ - the Mountain Ash also being called ‘The Withy Tree’ - and the leaves of this tree are very similar. One of our Naturalist Field Clubs visited it in August 1853. Vegetation was then entirely confined to its top boughs which, however, still held a few pears on them...
Charms are still believed in to a great extent among the poor. Again, in the neighbourhood of Hartlebury, they break the legs of a toad, sew it up in a bag, alive, and tie it round the neck of a patient.
The peasantry around Tenbury and Shrawley, have also great faith in charms and ‘The Toad Remedy’ is there applied as in the former place - the life or death of the patient supposed to be shadowed forth by the survival or death of the toad. At Mathon, old women are entrusted with the curing of burns by charming which they do by repeating the lines of a doggerel rhyme, beginning...
There were two Angels
came from the North
with burning wings
they sallied forth
One was named Jess’ca
the other was Wray.
As their wing-es shrivel
shall thy burns go away.
In the neighbourhood of Stoke Prior, a charm was, some time ago, used by a labouring man for the removal of the thrush (or ‘throcks’ - as it is locally termed). He put his finger into his mouth and then into the mouth of a child, rubbing the gums while he mumbled out something, terminating with... ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost ‘tiz clear who needs the throcks the most’... Then, putting down the child he would, without speaking another word, leave the house without eating or drinking, confident that he would be cured on the morrow. At least, one third of the population believe entirely in these things and allow their lives to be ruled by them, terrified are they if they hear a howling dog or the flame of a candle in its movements form the shape of a winding sheet - for they surely, as they believe, signal the approach of The Grim Reaper.
The colliers at Dudley, in the event of a fatal accident to one of their number, all of those in the same pit immediately cease work until the corpse is buried. A certain sum must also be spent on drink and this is called ‘Dead Money’. Nor will folk there allow any washing to be done on Good Friday and also firmly believe that hot-cross buns or any other bread made on that same blessed day, will never go mouldy and if kept for twelve months and then grated into some liquor, it will prove a great soother of the belly-ache...
Many superstitions also attach to the keeping of bees. It is firmly believed that when who keeps them dies, and his corpse is being carried from the house, the bee-hives must be turned at that precise moment or they will follow their dead keeper to the grave and never return to the hives. In one instance, I was told, that on one such sad occasion, one of the bearers, as he helped carry the coffin from the house, shouted to a farm servant... ‘Turn the Bees’. The fellow, being much lacking in intelligence, through close breeding, not knowing the custom and being greatly feared when the command ‘Turn the Damn Bees’ was angrily repeated, lifted the hives up and laid them down on their sides. The bees, thus disturbed, swiftly swarmed and fastened onto the attendants and mourners and for a time the corpse was left to his own devices. Hats, wigs and shawls were lost in the confusion and the dolt who had caused the scene of chaos, made haste to clamber over a five-barred gate and make his escape...
A weight of awe, not easy to be bourne,
Fell suddenly upon my spirit - cast
From the dread bosom of the unknown past
When first I saw that family forlorn.. Read More »