Superstitions and Omens

Apples

"An apple a day keeps the doctor away," goes the saying. Who doesn't like apples? They are delicious, contain potassium, Vitamin A, pectin and unless you are Snow White and have a wicked stepmother, apples are good for you.

The apple fruit has been an important part of the most ancient folk-lore ever since the Bible told of how Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

In ancient Ireland, it was one of the three things that could only be paid for by living objects, the others being a hazel bush and a sacred grove. It grew in the Celtic Paradise. They mysterious land to which King Arthur was taken for the healing of his wounds was the Vale of Avalon, the Apple vale.

Many omens and charms are associated with apples. A Hallowtide game was for all the unmarried young people to fasten an apple apiece on a string and twirl it around before a hot fire. The one whose apple fell off first would be the first to marry.

If the apple was peeled in one long strip, and the peeling thrown backwards over the left shoulder, the shape it made showed the initial of the future wife or husband.

Apple-wassailing (or Apple-howling) was a ceremony of the Christmas season, performed usually on the Twelfth Night. Everyone went to the Orchard at dusk and one tree was chosen to represent all. The company drunk to it and threw cider over its roots. Lots of noise was needed to rouse the sleeping tree-spirit and drive away the spirits off ill-luck. Songs were sung and all of them started with "Hail to Thee, old Apple Tree" and kindly ask the tree to bear well and generously. The orchards are still wassailed in some countries.

Apples have been growing on Earth long before they appeared in the book of Genesis. Some historians date the cultivation of the apple back to the Stone Age. That's a million years ago and a lot of applesauce since!

The Albatross

In the days of sail, an albatross flying around a ship in mid-ocean was an omen of wind and bad weather to come. It was very unlucky to kill it because it was thought to embody the restless soul of some dead mariner.

Echoes of these time-honored traditions were heard in July 1959 when the cargo liner, Calpean Star, docked at Liverpool with engine trouble, after a voyage from the Antarctic that had been dogged by many misfortunes. The crew blamed these on the presence on board of an albatross destined for a zoo. Fifty of the crew staged a sit-down strike because they were unwilling to continue their unlucky voyage. The captain is reported in the Daily Telegraph of July 7, 1959 that it had required some courage on his part to bring the albatross on board in the first place. And most of his crew still believed that the bird would bring bad weather or misfortune, or that it was connected with the souls of the dead.

Beds

Getting up in the morning is still more important then going to bed. And getting out of bed on the right side (as opposed to the wrong side) is vial for the coming day.

It seems that this superstition originated from the idea that anything left-handed was unnatural, on the basis that the majority of humans were right-handed. Left feet were unlucky, as were left hands, so that getting out of bed on the left side had also to be considered unlucky.

Bed-making must also be performed according to certain rules.

When making the bed, don't interrupt your work, or you will spend a restless night in it.

Avoid sneezing or the soul rushes out of the body and into the bed and again will bring poor sleep.

Never turn a mattress on a Sunday.

If you make a bedspread, make sure to finish it or marriage will never come to you.

Bells

The sound of church bells was once believed to drive away demons that brought storms and pestilence. But in pre-Christian times as well as later, ordinary bells were used to defeat spirits. The idea that these entities dislike loud noises still survives in some crop-protecting customs of the Balkans and Central Europe.

Church bells were often pealed during thunderstorms to prevent damage by lightning and to protect those within hearing range.

Whenever this bell sounds,
Let the power of enemy retire,
So also the shadow of phantoms,
The assault of whirlwinds,
The stroke of lightning,
The harm of thunders,
The injuries of tempests,
And every spirit of the storm-winds.

Ordinary bells have their superstitious lore as well as those connected with churches. If one rings, the omen is bad. If two ring at the same time, it is a sign of parting. If one stays silent and places a finger over the lips during the ringing, the omen may be averted.

Brooms

The early household broom, or besom, was made form the broom plant or form birch twigs or heather, and shared some of the traditional lore attached to these plants. It was also considered a feminine symbol, and if the woman of the house wanted to indicate that she was not at home, she placed her besom outside her front door.

That witches rode on brooms was a very common belief. The choice of a broomstick as a likely means of transportation is probably due to the fertility association of the broom plant and the female connection of the besom, and the broom got associated with many magical spells.

Follow these tips and you can insure yourself against the evil spirits lurking in or around your broom:

  • Never take a broom along when you move. Throw it out and buy a new one.
  • Do not lean a broom against a bed. The evil spirits in the broom will cast a spell on the bed. No one wants bad luck in bed.
  • If you drop a broom, you will soon have company. If is best just to pick up the broom and clean up a bit, just in case that company drops in.

Birthday Cake

We place candles on a birthday cake and blow them out with a wish.

The very concept of the birthday celebration is as ancient a superstition as any. The blowing out of the candles began with the Greek tradition in honor of the birthday of Artemis, goddess of the moon, marriage and childbirth. For this occasion special cakes were baked in the shape of the moon and candles were placed on altars within the temple. During the celebration the candles were to be blown out with one breath, and Artemis would then gaze favorably upon her worshipers.

Cats

The cat has always had a very special place in folk-belief. At various times, and in different places, it has been regarded as holy or as a diabolical beast, as a bringer of good fortune or as an omen of evil. In antiquity it was sacred to more then one divinity.

The Egyptian Bast was cat-headed and attended by cats. To kill one was sacrilege.

The witchcraft of the Middle Ages turned the black cat into a creature that changed shape and helped perform rituals and spells for the Witch.

If a black cat walks towards you, it brings good fortune, but if it walks away, it takes the good luck with it. Mothers should always keep cats away from babies because they "suck the breath" of the child.

If we watch cats while they snuggle up to us on our laps, they will come close to the mouth and sniff. One can imagine how this might have seemed, given the fear of dark forces, like a sucking motion that might endanger a child by sucking out its life.

Many people today still fear the black cat that crosses our path. But remember, cats are wonderfully independent creatures, they obey no one. Because they are not obedient, in some circles they have a bad reputation — similar to independent women. But what kind of world would it be without cats — or independent women?

Chimney-Sweep

The chimneysweep, by virtue of his blackened face and his connection with fire and hearth, is a very lucky person to meet by chance. He should be bowed to and greeted. It is customary to make a wish on seeing him, and those who do so confidently believe that the wish will be granted.

If he meets a bridal procession it is a very good omen, and doubly so if he offers good wishes. From time to time, Press photographs of such fortunate wedding encounters appear in newspapers. This is a sure sign that the tradition is still very much alive.

I personally will not let any chance go by without making a wish upon seeing a chimneysweep. I still have too many wishes, and meet just not enough chimneysweeps.

Chicory

Chicory was believed to have the power of making its possessor invisible. It could also open doors or boxes if it was held against the locks. These charms, however, would only work if the plant was gathered at noon or at midnight on St. James's Day (July 25th). It had to be cut with gold and in perfect silence; if the gatherer spoke during the operation, he would die, either at once or shortly afterwords.

Chicory perhaps owes its magical reputation to the lovely blue of its flower, which may have caused it to be indemnified or confused with the Luck-Flower of German folklore. This also was blue and whoever carried it could make rocks open before him, and so gain entry into the subterranean regions beyond. Several legends relate how some bold adventurer came to an unknown cavern, and there found gold and treasures which he was allowed to take for himself. In most versions of this tale, the ending is tragic. The man, excited by so much sudden wealth, forgets the all-important flower when he leaves and the rocks close upon him as he passes through them to the outer world, and either injure him seriously or kill him outright.

Clover

Clover was one of the anti-Witch plants which protected human beings and animals from the spell of magicians and the wiles of fairies, and brought good luck to those who kept it in the house. It would be used in love-divinations and to dream of it was very fortunate indeed, since such a dream foretold a happy and prosperous marriage.

Although all clover had this magical power, it was the rare four-leaved kind that was especially powerful. Such a plant, when found, enabled the finder to see fairies, detect witches, and recognize evil spirits. The good luck became even more powerful if the four leafed clover was presented as a gift. The receiver was safe from all malicious enchantments.

There is a story in the Denham Tracts of a girl who, when returning from milking, saw fairies dancing in the field. No one else could see them, though she pointed them out. She was normally not second-sighted and it was afterwords discovered that the source of her vision lay in the circular pad she wore on her head to support the milk-pail. Amongst the grasses with which it was stuffed was a four-leafed clover.

Ears

The ear is part of the head which is often hidden and forgotten, yet it is the single, most sensitive region of the body as far as acupuncture is concerned.

There are over a hundred acupuncture points in the ear connected with organs and specific parts of the body.

Ringing of Ears

A ringing of ears is a great ill omen if you can't count or recite the alphabet.

As soon as the ringing occurs you must ask someone else for a number and then count the letter of the alphabet until you arrive at the given number. The corresponding letter will then be the first letter of the name of the person one can expect to marry.

Ringing in the ears was called "News Bells" and the appropriate letter could also apply to someone thinking or talking about you.

Burning of Ears

A common idea even today is that when the ear is burning, others are gossiping.

In the original lore the superstition was refined to give a more precise idea of the reason behind the burning ear.

Left for love and right for spite,
Left or right, good at night.

Of course, you have a very resourceful counter attack for your condition. In case your right ear is burning, pinch it. The person who is speaking spitefully of you will immediately bit his or her tongue.

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