Posted tagged ‘marriage’

Blog Post 190 – Magical Gift Giving

August 22, 2014

“Die Neujahrsbretzel für den Herrn Pfarrer”, 1884 (via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve had several people recommend a book to me called The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. It’s a book that looks at the various ways in which people give and receive love. It gets into a lot of psychology and interpersonal communication theories, but in a nutshell it assumes that people tend to give or receive affection via physical touch, loving words, acts of kindness or service, quality time, or gifts. I am definitely a gift-giver when it comes to expressing my feelings—I will work for weeks to handcraft something for someone I care about. When my lovely wife and I were courting, I put hundreds of sticky notes all over her apartment with love messages so that she would constantly find them for months and months afterwords. Even when we ship products out of our Etsy shop, I tend to add layers of Spanish moss to the packing material, as well as little lagniappe touches to the shipment to make it feel magical for the person who opens the box. None of this is to brag, but simply to frame the point that giving gifts is a major part of my connection to others.

Giving gifts has been an important aspect of human relationships for a very lnog time. The Ancient Roman patronage system essentially operated on a large-scale gifting economy. In North America, giving gifts with a magical bent appears time and again. A number of superstitions and rituals surround the acts of gifting and receiving gifts. Possibly one of the gifts most beset by magical rules is the knife:

  • One must not give a friend a knife or other sharp instrument, as it “cuts love.” (Price 34).
  • “Giving a knife as a gift is bad luck as it cuts the friendship” (Hines 12).
  • A present of knives will break the friendship between you (the giver) and the recipient of the gift. (Hines 13)
  • No hillman would think of giving a steel blade to a friend such a gift is sure to sever their friendship (Randolph 58).

The ‘hillman’described in the last point would have been obliged to pay for a knife if he received it as a gift, in order to abate any potential tragedies:

Whenever a knife changes hands, it must be paid for, even if the sum is merely nominal. I have seen a salesman, a graduate of the University of Missouri, present his son with a valuable hunting knife but he never let it out of his hand till the boy had given him a penny (Randolph 58).

This is a sentiment I’ve seen echoed through other traditions as well, including some Wiccan circles and their beliefs about gifting athames. I have also seen contrary points, insisting that Wiccan ritual blades must never be purchased, but only gifted.

Knives, however, are only scratching the surface of the myriad taboos, beliefs, and customs surrounding giving and receiving. In the following paragraphs, I hope to lay out some of these traditions (though certainly not all of them… The concept of Christmas and birthday gifts is well outside the scope of a single survey article, for example, and the topic is much larger than a 2,000 word synopsis could handle). What I hope that you will see is the sheer humanity of this process. People seem to develop an entire language around gifting (see the Victorians and their flowers, for example), and understanding that language, especially within a magical context, expands the conversation on American folk magic immensely.

Since we’ve started in the domestic realm with knives, let’s continue in that vein. In the Ozarks, even very small gifts can have great significance:

A button received as a gift is always lucky, no matter what the color. Years ago, many an Ozark girl collectedbuttons from her friends and strung them together into a sort of necklace called a charm string. A charm string not only brought good fortune to the owner but also served as a sort of memory book for women who could not read one button recalled a beloved aunt, another a friend’s wedding, still another a dance or a quilting party or an apple-peelin’ or some other pleasant occasion. (Randolph 61)

These little tokens often represent a greater whole. In the example Randolph cites the ‘memory book’ aspect of the charm pushes it out of the realm of luck and into a broader realm of personal narrative. It tells the story of where the girl has been. The luck may then be a cumulative blessing from all those around her, an assembly of good wishes designed to attract further goodness into her life. Similarly, some fairly small gifts can act as predictors or insurance of future blessings, as in these two examples from Louisiana:

  • A midwife should plant a flower for a baby at its birth.
  • It is good luck for visitors to place a silver coin in a baby’s hand (Roberts 150).

Here we see blessings which ensure growth and health (the flower) and insurance against poverty (the coin) passed onto a baby, with the hopes that the child will grow and prosper in the future.

Of course, there are just as many taboos on gifting as there are joyous customs. As we saw with knives, some of those can be firmly established and nigh universal at times. Let’s look at another domestic commonplace with strong taboos:

  • Never borrow salt or you will have bad luck (Hines 12).
  • Never return salt that has been borrowed (Roberts 178)

Why salt? In my family, we frequently gave salt as a component of a new house blessing for people we knew, which as I understood it derived from Polish traditions (after investigating this a bit, I’m reasonably sure this was adopted from a similar Jewish custom picked up by my family in the area on the border between Lithuania and Poland). We give a jar of salt with some bread and a penny in it, ‘So that the family may never be hungry (bread), never be poor (penny), and their lives may never lack flavor (salt).” The salt, then, can be seen as the experience and cumulative personality of the family, its seasoning or flavor which makes it distinct. Borrowing someone else’s flavor would, in essence, give them power over you, especially when the salt is returned carrying traces of your own eau de familie. It could also be that by taking one family’s wisdom and experience, then returning it, you set off a disruptive cycle whereby your two families will be struggling to rebalance power for a long time, which definitely sounds like bad luck. A similar Louisiana superstition says ‘Don’t give spades, etc., to your neighbors; you will have a fuss if you do (Roberts 174). In that case, the tool is symbolic of a person’s work and labor, and to lend it out cheaply doesn’t bode well for anyone (and makes me think of Homer Simpson borrowing essentially every tool in Ned Flanders’ garage…a very bad neighbor).

The issue of when a gift is given can also impact its significance and magical qualities. While I will avoid holidays and the like here, there are plenty of other occasions when gift-giving is an expectation, such as at baby showers:

  • At a baby shower, the giver of the seventh gift to be unwrapped will be the next to have a baby (Hines 14).

In this example, the gift-giver receives the magical benefit of a prediction. I suppose that if you are not in the market to start a family, this superstition could seem more like a taboo than a blessing. Another key occasion for giving gifts is after a new family moves into a new home. I mentioned my family’s custom for making a house-blessing from my Polish roots, but it turns out that the general concept of the house-warming may come from the other side of my family tree in the British Isles. The hint of magic behind this tradition comes from the original house-warming present, which actually served to warm a new home:

“As poet John Greenleaf Whittier noted…’The Irish who settled here about the year 1720, they brought indeed with them, among other strange matters, potatoes and fairies.’…The Scots [who were also early settlers in America, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic region and parts of Appalachia]…believed in ‘brownies,’ a more subdued version of the leprechaun. Brownies lived in the kitchen fireplace, and the belief was that the owners of the house had a responsibility to always keep these fairy-creatures warm by keeping a constant fire in the hearth. The Yankees noted that Scots-Americans, when moving from one house to another, would always remove burning embers from the old house to the new, to provide a warm home for the brownies that would move in right along with the family. This was how the tradition of ‘house-warmings’ started” (Cahill 32).

I tend to think this is a bit of fancy on Cahill’s part, and that the giving of gifts to new homeowners is something much older and less literal than a brownie’s ‘house-warming,’ but I would be completely unsurprised to find that the actual practice of moving hearth coals to entice fairy-beings to move houses exists in the Old World or the New.

Marriage also features a number of gift-giving customs, some with superstitious components. For example, in Kansas groups of Russian-German emigrants pin money to the bridal skirt as a way of blessing the bride and groom with prosperity. Additionally, a fun game is made of the best man’s gift, and the “custom of some young buck’s stealing the shoe of the bride. The best man had to redeem the shoe with cash, which went into the household fund” (Tallman 227-8). The best man might contribute some or all of the money, with the remainder raised by good-natured begging of the wedding guests.

A number of tales from Appalachia and New England, including stories from Hubert Davis’ The Silver Bullet and other collections of supernatural American folklore, indicate that magical gifts have particular rules when it comes to witches. For example, a witch might offer a very low price for some livestock or sundries she fancies from a local homestead. If she is refused the gift—which is all such a lowballed agreement could be seen as—she curses whatever it is she wanted, rendering it useless to the family that has it. Often she will curse a cow so it won’t produce milk, or she might even curse an entire herd of pigs or sheep rather than just the one she wanted. On the flip-side, a witch should never be given a present of anything from the household, or she could use it to harm those who dwell within. One story features a housewife who loans the local witch-woman a cup of sugar in a neighborly—if cautious—manner, only to find her butter won’t come when she churns it afterwords. She summons a local witch-doctor who takes a piece of hot silver and drops it in the churn, then spills cream on the fire and whips a pan of the scalded dairy until they hear shrieks from the direction of the witch-woman’s home. She, of course, suffers great pains and bears the marks of a whipping and burning the next day, and everyone knows just what’s what. Oh, and the butter is fine after that, too, of course.

Not all witches or magical practitioners are conniving and dangerous when it comes time to share the wealth, though. For example, many witch-doctors and conjurers in the Southern Mountains will not take direct payment for their work, but only offers of gifts made in-kind, such as foodstuffs, clothing, or other necessities. Vance Randloph noted that one witch woman in the Ozarks did not ask a fee for her work, but would accept such donations: “This woman makes no charge for her services, but if somebody offers her a present, such as a new dress or a side of bacon, she seldom refuses the gift” (Randolph 126).

Lest you think all these magical gifting traditions are limited to the realm of humanity, here’s a bit of lore from John George Hohman’s Long Lost Friend to show otherwise:

A GOOD METHOD OF DESTROYING RATS AND MICE.

Every time you bring grain into your barn, you must, in putting down the three first sheaves, repeat the following words: “Rats and mice, these three sheaves I give to you, in order that you may not destroy any of my wheat.” The name of the kind of grain must also be mentioned. (Hohman 70).

Here we see the old idea of “one for the rabbit, one for the crow, one to rot, and one to sow” extended from nursery rhyme to magical practice. Giving the animals a bit of the household bounty seems to be a way to stave off any thievery on their part, at least in this example.

Finally, I can’t help but offer up a humorous story from Maryland which shows animals getting in on the gift-giving action:

It seems that Mrs. Morison’s uncle and her father went fishing one time and as always they carried their [moonshine] jug along. They came to this water moccasin who was just about ready to swallow a frog. So Mrs. Morison’s father took a forked stick and clamped it down over the snake’s head and took it [the frog] away ‘cause they wanted to use it for bait.

Well, that snake looked so darn downhearted that they gave him a drink of moonshine, and off he went. So they went on with their fishing and about an hour later one of them felt a tug on his leg. He looked down and there was that snake back with another frog. All I can say is, that must have been awful good moonshine” (Carey 31).

I’m not sure if the ‘magic’ in that tale is so much in the moonshine or the moccasin, but I couldn’t resist sharing it with you.

I’m sure there are many other magical giving traditions I’m missing here, so if you have any you want to share, please do!

Thanks for reading,

-Cory

Sources

  1. Cahill, Robert Ellis. Olde New England’s Strange Superstitions (1990).
  2. Carey, George G. Maryland Folklore (Tidewater Pub.: 1989).
  3. Davis, Hubert J. The Silver Bullet, & Other American Witch Stories (Jonathan David Pub.: 1975).
  4. Hines, Donald M. “Superstitions from Oregon,” Western Folklore, Jan. 1965.
  5. Hohman, John George. The Long-Lost Friend (Llewellyn, 2012).
  6. Price, Sadie. “Kentucky Folklore,” Journal of American Folklore, Jan-Mar 1901.
  7. Randolph, Vance. Ozark Magic & Folklore (Dover: 1964).
  8. Roberts, Hilda. “Louisiana Superstitions,” Journal of American Folklore, Apr-Jun 1927.
  9. Tallman, Marjorie. Dictionary of American Folklore (Philosophical Library, NYC: 1959).
Advertisements

Blog Post 171 – Magical Cakes

February 12, 2013

King Cake Bagel, via Wikimedia Commons

Laissez les bon temps rouler, y’all! It’s Mardi Gras, which means a last-minute pre-Lenten extravaganza of flesh, fun, and other words starting with the sixth letter of the alphabet. In honor of the Carnival spirit of feasting (another “f” word!), I thought I’d take  a brief look at one of the things I most associate with this holiday: cake.

Cake may not have the aesthetic magical impact of a cauldron bubbling over a fire or a bag full of bones scattered in the dirt, but this bakery standby (and some of its culinary cousins) manages to surface in a number of magical practices. Since this is Mardi Gras, let’s start with one of the most obvious, the King Cake. The King Cake originates in Epiphany and Old Christmas celebrations from Catholic countries, but has also become incredibly prominent in Carnival and Mardi Gras celebrations. The one you’re most likely to find in a local bakery (I have found Hispanic bakeries frequently are my best source) will be big, doughy cakes covered in icing and lots of colored sugar—usually gold, green, and purple. Somewhere inside, a small plastic or metal baby lurks, waiting to grant luck on the one fortunate enough to get a slice with the little token in it (or unfortunate enough, if you happen to bite into the baby and chip a tooth before you know what you’re doing). The lucky association of the baby in the King Cake resembles other traditions in which a bean is baked into a cake and the recipient receives blessings, money, or good luck upon finding it. Sometimes the “King” or “Queen” of the feast would be chosen by the finding of a bean or a pea:

Samuel Pepys (whose wife was French) recorded a party in London on Epiphany night, 6 January 1659/1660: “…to my cousin Stradwick, where, after a good supper, there being there my father, mothers, brothers, and sister, my cousin Scott and his wife, Mr. Drawwater and his wife, and her brother, Mr. Stradwick, we had a brave cake brought us, and in the choosing, Pall was Queen and Mr. Stradwick was King. After that my wife and I bid adieu and came home, it being still a great frost.”[1] The choosing of King and Queen from the pie, usually by the inclusion of a bean and a pea, was a traditional English Twelfth Night festivity. (via Wikipedia’s article on “King Cake”)

Most Westerners know about the significance of candles on birthday cakes, as well as the wishing tradition that comes with blowing them all out at once. Some of the other quirky and semi-magical rituals we perform in conjunction with cake:

  • “Portions of the wedding cake are often saved to eat at anniversary parties (and at christenings) to symbolize that the marriage has lasted and matured” (Brunvand 63).
  • Brides are not supposed to bake their own wedding cakes, for fear of bad luck.
  • A newly married couple frequently joins hands to cut the wedding cake and serve the first slice, which can symbolize their union and service to one another, their joint role in serving the community and their families (in some cases members of the family are served first by the bride and groom),  or their shared prosperity and a wish that they should never know hunger together.
  • “The wedding reception provides more folklore, mostly concerning the wedding cake. One popular belief says that if the bride cuts the cake first, with the groom placing his hand over hers, their marriage will be cooperative. This ritual also ensures fertility. Some traditions urge the couple to fast, while others insist that they eat their entire meal for good luck. Trinkets in the shape of rings, horseshoes, and cupids are often baked inside the cake” (Brunvand 1548).
  • “Let a bride on her wedding-night throw a piece of wedding-cake outdoors and next morning watch how many birds eat the cake; the number of birds will be the number of her children” (Hyatt 54).
  • “If a slice of the birthday cake tips over on the plate, that person will never marry” (Brunvand 170)
  • Over-the-Hill celebrations frequently involve black or coffin-shaped cakes to symbolize (humorously, we hope) the ever approaching death of the recipient.
  • Several cultures celebrate the Passover-and-Easter holidays with special cakes, including the Jewish use of unleavened cakes in Pesach meals, the Dutch use of Paas cakes in the Easter feast, fastnaacht cakes of the Pennsylvania Dutch, and other similar baked treats.
  • Also from the Germanic tradition: “Years ago it was almost a general custom among Germans in Quincy to bake a coffee-cake and eat it with the family who had a new baby so that the child would become wealthy” (Hyatt 73).
  • From the files of American History: “Although Election Day is not a legal holiday, the event  nonetheless is associated with folk customs. For example, in New England, there is a tradition of preparing Election Day cake. This yeast-raised cake, prepared with spices, raisins, and nuts, dates back to the 1700s in Connecticut. It is tied to an era in which the trip to cast one’s vote was a journey punctuated with visits to friends and family. By the 19th century, polling places were more accessible, and the customs of Election Day cake and callers waned” (Watts 125).

Of course, Western culture hardly has a monopoly on cake-based traditions. Since we’re also entering the Chinese New Year, I can’t help but mention the delicious little mooncakes you can find in a number of Chinese bakeries at this time of year. In some cases, these sorts of little glutinous cakes might be offered to ancestors or deities (as with the tt’ok of Korean origin) or simply consumed as a symbol of prosperity and blessing during the celebrations.

According to American Folklore: An Encyclopedia, “Some American children enjoy baking a ‘thundercake’ when they first hear thunder and starting to eat it when the storm breaks (if the storm allows enough time for baking)” (Brunvand 1553). I’m not entirely sure what the significance of this weather-ritual might be, although I would speculate it brings some kind of protection or prosperity. Harry Hyatt recorded an interesting pregnancy divination based on a baking cake: “’ When I was young, whenever my bread or cake cracked open in the middle, I always was in a family way. It never failed.’ Some say the cracking open is not necessary; a raising-up more than usual in the center is sufficient”  (Hyatt 54). A variation on this technique says if the cake breaks open during baking, a baby girl is not far behind.

Cakes also can have a darker (“devil’s food?”) side. Some cakes can be used to cause harm or to undo hurtful magic by sending it back to its origins. The famous “witchcake” made from urine and grains which Tituba allegedly showed the Parris girls how to make in Salem, MA, was supposed to have caused tremendous suffering to whomever was attempting to curse the young ladies. Another rather evil-sounding cake was allegedly used to poison a child: “One instance is given [in an account from 1895] of ‘toad heads, scorpion heads, hair, nine pins and needles baked in a cake and given to a child who became deathly sick’” (“Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors in the Southern United States,” Journal of American Folklore, p. 143). Gruesome.

Still, all in all, cakes tend more towards the “angel food” side of things, and bring luck, prosperity, and joy along with other blessings. After all, it is cake, right?

So enjoy your Mardi Gras celebrations with whatever baked sweetmeat you find most appealing. I will be having pancakes with FROG jam (Fig-Raspberry-Orange-Ginger, made by our local Amish country market and SO delicious!) and hopefully laissez-ing the bon temps rouler all day long! Here’s wishing you a wonderful day!

Thanks for reading,

-Cory

Sources

  1. Brunvand, Jan. American Folklore: An Encyclopedia (1998).
  2. “Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors in the Southern United States,” Journal of American Folklore (1896).
  3. Hyatt, Harry M. Folklore of Adams Co., Illinois (1935, 1965).
  4. King Cake.” Wikipedia (2013).
  5. Milne, Gerald C. Signs, Cures, & Witchery (2007).
  6. “Tituba.” Famous American Trials: Salem Witchcraft Trials 1692. Univ. of Missouri (Kansas City, 2012).
  7. Watts, Linda S.The Encyclopedia of American Folklore (2006).

Blog Post 162 – Broom Lore

September 20, 2012

I recently helped out on a project for a local folklorist looking for information on broom lore, and wound up with easily twenty pages of notes on the topic from a wide variety of sources. I thought that today I would share a few of the commonly held beliefs regarding brooms, as well as look at some of the most unusual practices surrounding this wonderful household item.

Of course there are many instances of witches riding broomsticks in art and media, but of course brooms were only one of the preferred methods for nocturnal transportation to Sabbat rites. Other mounts included pitchforks, stangs, goats, and eggshells (and even the occasional human being fitted with a magical bridle, in the cases of alleged ‘hag-riding’) (The Historical Dictionary of Witchcraft, Bailey: 23-4). Brooms served magical folk for more than hobby-horses and transport, though. In European culture, broom magic goes back at least as far as Ancient Rome. In that culture, the broom’s sweeping function translated into a purification rite. Eli Edward Burriss notes in his Taboo, Magic, Spirits that the Romans believed a new baby and its mother were in danger of being tormented by woodland spirits—particularly one called Silvanus—and goes on to quote St. Augustine about a three-part, three-tool ritual in which several spirits were invoked to provide protection. Let’s see what the good saint himself says on the subject (from Burriss’ book, and his translation of Augustine):

‘. . . After the birth of the child, three protecting divinities are summoned lest the god Silvanus enter during the night and harass mother and child; and to give tokens of those guardian divinities three men by night surround the threshold of the house and first strike it with an ax and a pestle; then they sweep it off with a broom, that, by giving these signs of worship, the god Silvanus may be kept from entering. For trees are not cut nor pruned without iron; nor is spelt powdered without a pestle; nor is grain piled up without a broom. Now from these three objects are named three divinities: Intercidona from the intercisio of the ax; Pilumnus from the pilum; Deverra from the sweeping (verrere) of the broom; and by the protection of these divinities new-born babies are preserved against the violence of Silvanus.’ (Burriss 28)

Burriss goes on to note that the iron in several of the implements provide the expected protection from evil, but the ceremonial sweeping is what actually drives away the wicked spirit. He also notes that Sir James Frazer observed something similar in his book The Golden Bough, which included sweeping salt out of a dwelling and disposing of it in a churchyard to remove any vengeful souls of the dead from the premises (Frazer 144, Burriss 35). Charles Leland noted that Gypsies used broom straws in spells to protect a mother during childbirth (echoing St. Augustine’s writings) and also says that Romanian Gypsies would use iron and broomstraws interchangeably as protective wards placed beneath pillows at night (Gypsy Sorcery & Fortune Telling, Leland: 47-48, 136).

In the New World, brooms retain much of their old purifying & protective power, but also begin to adopt new abilities within the new culture. African American folk practices show a strong connection to brooms and domestic bonds. African American cultural tradition (as well as other cultures) have a wedding practice of “jumping the broom” to seal the ceremony. It’s common enough that in 2011 a romantic comedy film about an African American wedding was entitled Jumping the Broom. This connection to marriage and the household also involves a number of superstitions and folk spells centered on weddings and love in association with brooms. Here’s a short collection of such beliefs:

From Harry M. Hyatt’s Folklore of Adams County, Illinois

  • 9614. To sweep under the feet of someone sitting on a table signifies that person will marry before the year ends.
  • 9615. Do not let anyone sweep entirely around the chair on which you are sitting; you will remain single seven years longer.
  • 9616. The person under whose chair you sweep will marry once say some, twice say others — soon after his or her mate dies.
  • 9617. If you sweep your own feet, you will never get married.
  • 9618. Whoever breaks a broom handle will soon break someone’s heart.
  • 9619. For luck in love, a woman may wet the bushy part of her broom and sprinkle the water about the house.
  • 9935. The significance of an engaged girl dropping a broom is as follows: if the handle points to the north, she or her fiancee will break the engagement; if to the south, she will marry him and live a happy life.
  • 10129. It is very unlucky for a bride to see a broom on her wedding day before she goes to church.

From Kentucky Superstitions, by Daniel & Lindsey Thomas

  • 1614. If you let some one sweep under your feet, you will never be married.
  • 1615. If you sweep your feet with a broom, you will never be married.
  • 1619. If the broom falls across the doorway, someone will call.
  • 1620. If two people sweep a floor together, they may expect bad luck.
  • 1621. If you sweep after dark, you will bring sorrow to your heart.
  • 1625. If you sweep the house after the sun goes down, you may expect a man caller.

I should note that these are only a very small handful of the superstitions associated with brooms in these two texts. Hyatt’s book alone has easily five hundred individual entries featuring various examples of broom magic and lore.

Of course, the broom’s protective power and its association with witches also become increasingly complex in the New World. Many sources (Hyatt, Thomas, Randolph, Puckett, etc.) all say that witches will not cross over a broom, and so it can be a powerful protective charm to put one across your doorway. Similarly, one could reverse a jinx or witchcraft by stepping backwards over a broom. Brooms can also be a component of spells to reverse the evil eye, according to curandero lore:

A treatment for mal ojo (the evil eye) – “She got some kind of herb from the garden. I don’t know what kind it was. She made signs of the cross with the herb by his head and all over his body, and his feet. All this time she was saying something in Spanish, but I couldn’t understand what it was. Then she turned  him over and did the same thing on the other side. She got an egg and did the same thing with the egg, holding the egg and making signs of the cross all the way down his body and across. She told me to get a cup with some water. She cracked open the egg and put it in the water in the cup. Then she had me get a broom straw, which she cut, and made a little sign of the cross that she put on top of the egg. She told me to put the egg under his crib at night while he slept, under his head, and the next day he would be O.K. I looked at the egg the next day, and, my God, it was cooked! I was so surprised! The yolk and the white were hard and cooked like a hard-boiled egg. She told me to bring the egg to her and she could tell if it was a man or woman who had done it. If the cross went one way it was a male, and if it went the other way it was a female” (“Mexican American Folk Disease,” Keith Neighbors, Western Folklore, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Oct., 1969): 254).

Here again we have a connection to magical protection, especially for children, much as we saw in the European lore. Brooms can also cure physical ailments, like warts, as well.

One of the most interesting themes in broom lore has to do with relocating a household. If one is moving, for example, one should not take the old broom along. Likewise, when you are moving, you should break your old broom and burn it before leaving the house. The superstitious believe that a new broom should be one for the first things you bring into a new home:

  • 11288. You will be lucky, if before moving out of the old house you send a broom and a loaf of bread to your new home.
  • 11289. To have luck in the new house, take in the broom and a loaf of bread before anything else; the broom first, the bread next. Then sweep with the broom.
  • 11290. A broom and a dish pan should be the first things taken into your new home for luck.
  • 11291. A broom and a dish towel should be the first things taken into your new home for luck.
  • 11292. The woman who takes a broom and a dust pan into her new home first will always be lucky there. (Folklore of Adams County, Hyatt)

A number of superstitions also note that the first thing a person does in his or her new home should be to sweep it with a broom, then throw the ashes out the door to ensure that all bad luck is swept clean of the house before anyone sleeps there. Likewise, a new home can be blessed with good luck by throwing a broom over it.

While there’s much, much more that could be said on the topic of brooms, I’ll finish up today with a small grab-bag of the more unusual beliefs and practices involving these wonderful magical tools:

  • If a bunch of straw comes out of a broom when sweeping, name it and place it over the door, and the person named will call (“Kentucky Folk-lore,” Sadie F. Price, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 14, No. 52 (Jan. – Mar., 1901), 34).
  • 12368. If you sweep on New Year’s Day, your house will be dirty all year; but if you leave the dirt in a pile on the floor until the next day, clean all year.
  • 12369. To sweep on Monday causes bad luck; all week say some.
  • 12370. The bad luck that comes from sweeping on Monday can be warded off by keeping the dirt in the house until the following day.
  • 12371. The bad luck that comes from sweeping on Monday can be warded off by sprinkling salt over the dirt and burning it.
  • 12372. Sweep on Monday and you are sweeping away all your company that week. (previous five from Hyatt)
  • To draw your enemies to you (so that you may know who they are), clean out your stove, all the time keeping your wish in your mind, but don’t speak it. Then break a stick into four pieces, all of them the  Same length, and pin them together in the middle like this and set them afire in the middle. Then go to the four corners of the room, with your wish in your heart and mind, (but don’t say it), and sprinkle salt. Then, when you see your enemies coming, go outside your door and throw your broom down careless and step over it into the house and talk to them across it and they can’t come in, but they can’t help  from coming to your gate. (“Hoodoo in America,” Hurston:  393).
  • It is bad luck to sweep the dirt out of a house at night; sweep it up into a corner and sweep out in the daytime. If obliged to sweep it out at night, take a coal of fire and throw it first in front of you (“Superstitions & Beliefs of Central Georgia,” Roland Steiner, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 12, No. 47 (Oct. – Dec., 1899), pp. 261-271).
  • To make a guest leave, place a broom upside down behind the door (Puckett 317).
  • If a very young child, without being told, picks up a broom and starts sweeping the house, you might as well prepare for a visitor, the idea apparently being that an innocent child can see things in the future that grown-ups cannot, and knows that the house must be tidied up for the company. (Puckett 444).

And just for fun, you should listen to blues legend Robert Johnson singing “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom.”

Some of our own NWW posts which have featured other broom lore:

Blog Post 113 – Spiritual House Cleaning
Blog Post 126 – Walpurgisnacht 2011
Blog Post 137 – Curandero Spells, part I

So there’s my brief take on magical brooms. The short, sweet version is that they’re not just for riding up to unholy Sabbats upon anymore. I hope this information is useful to you! Until next time, thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 159 – Birthday Superstitions

June 5, 2012

Hi all! No, this is not a shameless effort to harvest as many birthday wishes as I can, but today happens to be my birthday and I remembered a bit of magical lore that says it is particularly good luck to receive white flowers on one’s birthday.  That got me to thinking about some of the other fun birthday folklore and little bits of magic, and so I thought I’d do a little compilation post on the topic. Some of this has likely been covered in our show on New Year’s, Anniversaries, & Birthdays, but I think I’ll get into some new material, too, so I hope you enjoy!

Starting with probably the most unpleasant aspect of birthday folklore, the birthday spanking, let’s look at a fairly detailed explanation of this superstition, which I am pulling from Kentucky Superstitions, by Daniel & Lindsey Thomas:

“On a child’s birthday, he should receive a blow with a switch or other instrument of pain for each year of his life. Each blow should be accompanied by the pronouncing of one line of the following or a similar incantation, adapted to fit the age of the child:

One to live on;

One to grow on ;

One to eat on;

One to be happy on;

One to get married on” (#96)

Building on the “instrument of pain” idea, Thomas also records this rather morbid tidbit:

“If you let your birthday pass without thinking of it, you will die before the next birthday” (Thomas #2854)

Here are several bits of birthday lore in the form of admonitions about what not to do on your birthday, from Europe and the Caucasus regions:

  • One should not celebrate one’s birthday before the actual date of one’s birth. It will bring bad luck.
  • It is bad luck to be wished a happy birthday if one is over the age of 40 (instead, many people will have parties on their ‘name day’ instead, which is the feast day of the Saint with whom they share a name).
  • If you stumble with your right leg, and your birthday is an odd day, it is good luck. If you stumble with the left and your birthday is an even day, it is good luck. But stumbling with the wrong combination (right leg, even day or left leg, odd day) is very bad luck.
  • You should always have an odd number of candles on the cake or pie for a birthday, even if you have to add an extra candle.

Of course, almost everyone knows that blowing out your candles brings you good luck and wishes, but they can also be divinatory tools. In an article which probably has my favorite title of any folklore article (“Signs & Superstitions Collected from American College Girls,” by Martha W. Beckwith), I found this bit of birthday augury:

“Blowing out the candles on a birthday cake will tell you how many years it will be before you are married:

(a) By the number of times you have to blow to put them all out.

(b) By the number of candles left lighted after the first blow.”

This latter belief is supported by superstition from Kentucky as well (Thomas #246, #247), so perhaps the birthday folklore from Kentucky isn’t all bad news. Vance Randolph notes that Ozark natives regard birthdays as powerfully divinatory days, especially in terms of determining bad luck:

“The typical hillman is upset by any trifling piece of ill luck which happens on his birthday, knowing that  one who is unfortunate on this particular day is likely to have bad luck all year” (Randolph 66).

Randolph also records a wonderful method of bibliomancy related to one’s birthday:

“Many hillfolk tell fortunes and predict marriages by means of certain quotations from the Bible. For example, the twentyfirst and thirty-first chapters of Proverbs have thirty-one verses each. Chapter 21 is man’s birthday chapter; chapter 31 is woman’s birthday chapter. A boy looks up his proper verse in the man’s chapter, according to the date of his birth. A man born on the twenty-third of any month, for example, reads Proverbs 21 : 23 the content of this verse is supposed to be especially significant to him” (Randolph 184).

My particular verse using this method (and the King James) is: “The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want.” So apparently, I should spend some time in diligent thought, today? Hmm, I’ll need to think on that a bit.

A fairly common divination performed for young children is to place a number of items around them on their first birthday and see which one they pick up. That will determine their future occupation. Harry M. Hyatt records this belief in several forms:

“3529. On a boy’s first birthday lay before him on the floor a deck of cards, a bottle, a Bible and a piece of money: if the deck of cards is selected, he will be a gambler; if the bottle, a drunkard; if the Bible, a  preacher; and if the money, a hard worker.

3530. The day a boy is a year old put down before him on the floor a pocket- book, a whiskey bottle and a deck of cards: if he reaches for the pocketbook, he will be opulent; if for the bottle, a drunkard; and if for the cards, a gambler.

3531. A boy’s future can be discovered on his first birthday by laying in front of him on the floor a book, a dollar and a hat: if he clutches the book, he will be a good learner; if the dollar, a miser; and if the hat, a stylish dresser” (Folklore from Adams Co.)

Hyatt also records an interesting variation on the birthday-candle-wish belief, saying “The person whose candle burns out first at a birthday party may make a wish,” which indicates that perhaps each party guest lights one of the birthday candles on the cake (Hyatt #8715).

Mixing the good with the bad, American Folklore: An Encyclopedia shares these pieces of birthday folk belief:

  • The best day to start a business is on your birthday
  • If a slice of birthday cake tips over on your plate, you will not marry
  • You should put a pat of butter on your nose on your birthday for good luck (Brunvand 170-2)

The book also mentions the carnival-esque atmosphere of birthdays, in which an ordinary person might become “Queen” or “Boss” for the day—echoing the elevation of the Fool during Carnival and Mardi Gras celebrations, and the idea of baking a birthday cake with little divinatory charms inside echoes the “King Cake.”

So there’s a bit of fun birthday lore for you. I don’t know which of these I’ll try out this year, though I might just secretly be hoping for that birthday spanking. One to grow on and all that. It’s all in the name of folklore, I promise.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 24 – Love Magic

February 11, 2011

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 24-

Summary

Tonight’s show is all about the love…magic!  We discuss different types of love spells, the ethics of casting them, the power of scent to inspire love, and the famous Love Potion #9.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 24

-Sources-
Earth Power – Scott Cunningham
Ozark Magic & Folklore – Vance Randolph
Mules & Men and “Hoodoo in America” – Zora Neale Hurston
Voodoo & Hoodoo – Jim Haskins
Witches, Ghosts, & Signs – Patrick W. Gainer
Buying the Wind – Richard Dorson
The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook – Denise Alvarado

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1 – Forest Grove Botanica
Promo 2 – Wigglian Way
Promo 3 – The Infinite & the Beyond

Podcast Special – The Boo Hag

October 22, 2010

-SHOWNOTES FOR PODCAST SPECIAL-


Summary
This tale relates the events of a marriage that takes a turn for the worse when the husband finds out his new bride is a skin-shedding witch.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Special – The Boo Hag

-Sources-
“The Boo Hag,” retold by S.E. Schlosser, in her collection Spooky North Carolina. Also available on her website.


Promos & Music
“Grifos Muertos” by Jeffery Luck Lucas, from his album What We Whisper, on Magnatune.com

Podcast Special – The Devil’s Marriage

October 15, 2010

-SHOWNOTES FOR PODCAST SPECIAL-


Summary
The story of a brother, a sister, the devil, and a helpful witch.  From the folklore of North Carolina.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery Special – The Devils Marriage

-Sources-
Tales from Guilford County, North Carolina,” by Elsie Clews Parsons.  In The Journal of American Folklore, v. 30, no. 116, 1917.
“The Devil’s Marriage,” retold by S.E. Schlosser, in her collection Spooky South.


Promos & Music
“Grifos Muertos” by Jeffery Luck Lucas, from his album What We Whisper, on Magnatune.com


%d bloggers like this: