Thursday, March 17, 2011

Superstitions and Old Wives' Tales-Happy St. Patrick's Day

I thought I would be different today. Curious about superstitions after watching an Irish movie I thought I would mention some. These are not necessarily Irish but they're interesting anyway.

Hair Superstitions:

The 'crowning glory' is one of the most indestructible parts of the body. As such, a sudden loss of hair is unlucky, forecasting a decline in health, loss of property or failure in business, or the death of a closely related child. Red hair is associated with fiery-tempered people (e.g. Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth I); black and dark brown hair indicate strength; fair hair implies timidity. On a man, if the hair grows low on the forehead and back above the temples he will have a long life; if a woman's hair grows in a low point on her forehead ('widow's peak') she will outlive her husband. If a woman suddenly develops curls on her forehead her man has not long to live.

Lank hair = a cunning nature; Curly hair = good natured, full of fun; Long hair = strength (e.g. Samson) and luck.

It is said to be unlucky to have your hair cut when the moon is in the wane as this will cause it to fall out and lose its lustre. Cutting your own hair will tempt fate. To determine your future: set fire to some strands of your hair - cut them off first!. If they burn brightly, you are in for a long life. If they splutter and smoulder, it is said to be a death omen. Never pull out grey hairs, for one will be replaced by ten. It has often been believed that a sudden fright can turn hair white.

Eyes superstitions:
Are the 'windows to the soul' and the colour leads to differing beliefs.

Dark blue eyes = delicate and refined souls; Light blue or grey eyes = strong and healthy ones; Green eyes = hardy souls; Hazel eyes = vigorous, deep-thinking folk.

Itching eyes: if the right eye tickles, it's lucky, and vice versa. Theocritus has it, 'My right eye itches now and I shall see my love.'

'Trust not the man whose eyebrows meet,

For in his heart you'll find deceit.'


Or 'a little death' (in places where it is believed the soul momentarily leaves the body with the sneeze). We still use the expression 'Bless you' (short for 'God Bless You'). This stems from the times when a sneeze could mean the plague, viz. 'Coughs and sneezes spread diseases'.

Sneeze 'once for a wish, twice for a kiss, three for a letter, four for something better'. In Scotland, a newborn child is said to remain under 'the fairy spells' until it has sneezed for the first time. It was also believed that an idiot could not sneeze, so that a child's first sneeze was important. If you sneeze when talking you are telling the truth (America); three sneezes before breakfast means you will receive a present during the day (Germany); any sneeze is an indication that someone, somewhere, is saying nice things about you (Japan). It is very lucky to sneeze at exactly the same time as someone else you are with.

COUGHING meant the unexpected entry of a devil into a person who had been telling lies or carrying out misdemeanours of some kind.

HICCUPS are caused by someone who dislikes you complaining to someone else. The only way to stop them is to guess the name of the person maligning you.


Can lead to evil spirits entering the body unless you cover your mouth with your hand; it is a sign that Death is calling to you, and you must snap your second finger and thumb (American Indian).

A SHIVER means that someone is walking over your (eventual) grave.

LAUGH before breakfast and it will end in tears before supper; to laugh excessively shows that the person is possessed and that his days are numbered.

An English country superstition says that it is bad luck to throw any water out of the house after nightfall because it has long been regarded as a deterrent to the denizens of the night and by throwing it out you are weakening your protection during the hours of darkness.

'They that wash on Monday, have the whole week to dry.

They that wash on Tuesday, are not so much awry.

They that wash on Wednesday, will get their clothes so clean.

They that wash on Thursday, are not so much to mean.

They that wash on Friday, wash for their need.

But they that wash on Saturdays are dirty folks indeed.'


'They that wash on Monday,

Have all the week to dry.

They that wash on Tuesday,

Are not so much awry.

They that wash on Wednesday,

Are not so much to blame.

They that wash on Thursday,

Wash for shame.

They that wash on Friday,

Wash in need.

They that wash on Saturday,

Oh, they are slow indeed!'

DINING TABLE: when rising from the table take care not to upset your chair, for this is a sign that you have lied at some time during your conversation. Anyone who lies down on a table will die within a year; any engaged girl who sits on a table while talking to her fiancé risks losing him; it is unlucky to change your position at the table after a place has been allocated to you; to place your chair back against the wall or fold your napkin after a meal at a fiend's home will prevent you ever visiting there again (America).

FIREPLACE: a fire that roars up the chimney = an omen of an argument or a storm; sparks clinging to the back of the chimney are a sign of important news in the offing; a sudden fall of soot presages bad weather or a disaster of some kind. Coal (a symbol of fire) is lucky and small pieces were often carried in the pocket. Its use in the tradition of 'first footing' on New Year's Eve is well known.

MIRRORS AND LOOKING-GLASSES: to break one will result in seven years bad luck. Early man, on seeing his image reflected in water, believed it represented his soul and should anything disturb this image then his own life was in danger. Mirrors have always been closely associated with magic. Mirrors are covered over with cloth in the room where someone has died for fear that anyone who sees himself in the glass will similarly die.

STAIRCASE: it is unlucky to pass anyone on the stairs (cross your fingers if you do so). Stairways symbolized the means of ascending to the abode of the gods and it was dangerous to trespass; also, early stairways were very narrow and two people passing each other left themselves open to attack from behind. Stumbling on the staircase is said to be a good omen and may indicate a wedding in the household before long.

UPSTAIRS: do not sing in bath as this will lead to sorrow before evening; any young girl who persistently splashes herself or her clothes when washing will end up with a husband who is a drunk. Get out of bed the right side. The left-hand side is associated with the Devil; but, if you can't avoid it, put your right sock and shoe on first. You will always get the best night's sleep if your bed is positioned in a north-south direction with your head to the south - this will ensure a long life. To be rich, point your head to the east; to travel widely, the west. It is unlucky to put a hat on the bed (America).

HOUSEWORK: china ornaments of animals should never be placed so that they face a door for they will allow the luck to run out of the house. It is unlucky to sweep any dust or waste material directly out of the house, as this will carry the good luck with it. Sweep such waste into the centre of the room, collect it up in a pan and then carry the lot out of doors to avoid any repercussions. A new broom should always be used the first time to sweep something into the house, to symbolize luck. Never buy any new brush in May; as the Romans decreed May to be the month of death:

'If you buy a broom or brush in May

You'll sweep the head of the household away.' and it was said that to gather broom, which they believed was a magical plant of phallic significance, might well endanger the life of the man who performed the act. The phallic significance is also evident in an English country belief that a young girl who walks over a broomstick will become pregnant before she marries.

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Happy St. Patrick's Day!!!


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  3. A shiver can also be the touch of the Vili, the wild woods-women of Eastern European folklore. This is the source of the expression "It gives me the willies." The touch of the Vili is a foreboding of death, since the Vili collect the soul at death, similar to the Valkyries in Northern European myth. The Celts believed their souls would be collected by one of the trinity of goddesses. Since divine beings had "blue blood," Celts painted themselves blue in battle so that if they were killed, the Goddesses would prefer them.

  4. Thank you for commenting Erin. I did not know that. It is very interesting how certain phrases we use today stemmed from some superstition or other.

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  6. OMGosh ! Some are so scary !
    I am so sure our ancestor believed those...WOW we still have some today.
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  10. Those were interesting. Some I have heard of...some I haven't. I'm not sure if I'm really that superstitious (if I even spelled that right).

    Following from Thursday Blog Hop!

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