We recently received a nice blanketing of snow here (which is somewhat rare for our area), and it got me to thinking about weather magic. When I was little, before we moved to the farm, I used to go out to the dirt hill near our house with a big staff in my hands and shout at the wind, seeing if I could get it to gust up or gentle down. I remember feeling like I always had a strong connection to weather, particularly those winds. When we moved out to the farm, my understanding of weather changed dramatically. Our house was on a hill at the top of our acreage, and we were exposed to a number of tempests, some of which were quite severe. When we had snow, 4-foot drifts piled up off of our back porch, deep enough that when I jumped into them I was buried up to my chest. And I still remember waking up one morning and looking out the window only to see a tornado receding back into the clouds after having passed but a quarter-of-a-mile or so from the house and uprooting a number of trees. Being a teenager, I had slept through it, of course.
What I learned on that farm was that weather was wild, and would always be wild. It’s something we can react to, prepare for, run from, or attempt to block out, but we can never really control it the way we like to think we control so many other things—the cleanliness of our water or where our next meal comes from, for example. Magic seems to have the advantage over empirical science here, as many magicians swear by inherited techniques that allow them to control or predict the weather to one degree or another.
Today I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at a few techniques, charms, and proverbs regarding the weather from various North American sources.
From Nova Scotia (in Folklore of Nova Scotia, by Mary L. Fraser):
“An Acadian boy would not dare to kill a toad or a spider, for his outdoor pleasure would then be spoiled by the downpour of rain that was sure to follow. A boy of Scotch or Irish descent would be deterred from doing so because it would bring him bad luck.
‘If you wish to live, not die,
Let the spider go alive.’”
I’ve heard this before as an admonition not to harm toads (and for some reason, I always assumed lizards) when out of doors, for fear of bringing on bad weather. The spider is a new twist for me, but I generally try not to disturb any of the bite-ier creatures out in the wild world.
Mary Fraser also reports a weather-predicting system I’ve seen in a couple of places. She mentions that the twelve nights between Christmas and Epiphany represent the coming twelve months of the year. In other words, if you have cold, wet weather on the third day after Christmas, you can expect a rather clammy and dismal March.
From the Pennsylvania Dutch (in The Long-Lost Friend, by J. G. Hohman):
For protection of one’s home against storms, say “Beneath thy guardianship I am safe against all tempests and all enemies, J. J. J.” (These three Js signify Jesus three times.)
Chris Bilardi, in his excellent book on PA-Dutch braucherei, The Red Church, suggests the following Psalms for weather-work:
- Psalm 2 – For danger at sea (storms); also for headache
- Psalm 21 – For dangerous storms at sea
- Psalms 24 and 25 – For dangers of nature—especially the danger of floods
- Psalm 76 – For averting danger from water
From the Appalachians (in the Foxfire series of books):
It will be a bad winter if –
- Squirrels’ tails grow bushier
- Crows gather together
- The wooly worm has a heavy coat
- Onions grow more layers
- Blackberry blooms are especially heavy
It will rain –
- Within three days if the horns of the moon point down
- If leaves show their backs
- If cows are lying down in the pasture
- If there is a ring around the moon (count the stars in the ring and it will rain within that many days)
The weather will be fair if –
- You hear a screech owl
- Smoke rises
- Crickets holler (the temperature will rise)
Additionally, here are some bits of lore from the Appalachians:
- If it’s cloudy and smoke rises, there’s a chance of snow
- The number of days old the moon is at the first snow tells how many snows there will be that winter
- For every frost or fog in August, there will be a snowy day in winter
- A late frost means a bad winter
- The darker green the grass is during the summer, the harder the winter
- If it rains on Easter Sunday, it will rain every Sunday for seven weeks
- If it rains on ‘Blasting Days’ (the three longest days of the year, there won’t be any ‘mast’ (acorns, chestnuts, etc.) for animals like hogs to feed on
From the Ozarks (in Ozark Superstitions and Ozark Magic and Folklore, by Vance Randolph):
Rain will come –
- If the tall grass is bone dry in the morning, or if there is heavy dew
- If rabbits play in a dusty road
- If dogs start eating grass
- If sheep turn their backs to the wind
- If cats sneeze, wash behind their ears, or lick their fur against the grain
Signs of dry weather –
- A red sunset promises at least twenty-four hours of dry weather
- A rainbow in the evening means clear weather (but a rainbow at morning tells of a storm in the next twenty-four hours)
- A ‘sundog,’ or a circle around the sun, indicates prolonged dry weather, or at least a radical change in weather soon
- When the crescent moon travels ‘horns up,’ there will be no rain for some time
And finally, one of the most interesting weather-predictors around, also from the Ozarks:
“The blood of a murdered man—bloodstains on a floor or garments—will liquefy on even dry sunshiny days, as a sign that a big rain is coming”
This is only a small sampling of everything out there. I’ve used many of these predictors (leaves turning their backs or cattle lying in a pasture) to prepare for bad weather, and there are many I’ve never even thought to pay mind to (rabbits in a dusty road, for example). So what about you, dear readers? Do you have any family or local lore regarding the weather you’d like to share? If so, please post a comment or send us an email, and indicate roughly what part of the world you’re in and what your weather charm or proverb is. We may do a show on these if we get enough interest!
I’d also like to issue a friendly challenge to you: make mental note of a few of these and start paying attention to them. See if they actually do predict or cause weather patterns for you in your area. Report your findings back here and share your observations with the rest of us. Who knows, we may read your results on the podcast, or something better (he said slyly).
I hope wherever you are, the weather’s treating you fair. If it’s not, you can always contact your neighborhood witch.
Thanks for reading!