Blog Post 139 – Eggs

In marble walls as white as milk,
Lined with skin as soft as silk,
Within a crystal fountain clear,
A golden apple doth appear.
No doors there are to this stronghold
Yet thieves break in to steal the gold (from “Riddles,” American Folklore: An Encyclopedia, p. 1318)

This riddle (a variant of which appears in Tolkien’s The Hobbit during Bilbo’s riddle-game with Gollum) probably isn’t very hard to figure out.  Eggs are one of the food staples which exist nearly worldwide, and almost every culture has traditions dealing with eggs. They are cooked, painted, dyed, emptied and filled with dioramas, and the shells are even ground up and added to the soil to prevent garden pests.

Today we’re going to look a little at some of the magical traditions surrounding eggs, particularly the ones we find in the New World.

Much of the lore about eggs has to do with their production or bewitchment, such as these tidbits (from Folklore of Adams Co. Illinois, by Harry M. Hyatt):

  • 1772. Hit a hen on the back and she will lay an egg.
  • 1773. A hen never lays eggs near a potato patch.
  • 1774. Eggs are not laid by hens on a windy day.
  • 1823. If you set a hen in the dark of the moon, half of the chicks hatched will be deformed.
  • 1824. Set a hen at sunrise in the light of the moon and all the eggs will hatch.
  • 1825. If you set a hen to hatch in the light of the moon, more of the eggs will be hatched.
  • 1848. To procure chickens of different colors, set the eggs on Sunday morning as the congregation leaves church; the various colors in the clothing of the church-goers produces this result.
  • 1849. Chickens of various colors are procured by setting the eggs on Ash Wednesday.
  • 1892. For white diarrhea among chickens [sometimes believed to be caused by witchcraft], drop a piece of iron into their drinking water and also let them eat corn saturated with urine.

Eggs are frequently used to heal magical illnesses or to help with prophetic work. John George Hohman records several uses of eggs in magic among the Pennsylvania Dutch, including a method for curing “falling away,” a folk sickness characterized by physical weakness, by boiling an egg, putting three holes in the shell, and then leaving it on an anthill to be devoured. A common belief among several traditions says that eggs left in the hands of a murder victim will compel the murder to return and be caught before the eggs rot. A bit of folklore related to Midsummer festivals (which may be from Latin American or Slavic sources, as the book is unclear to which culture it is referring): “In one divination, a girl seeks her betrothed by reading the shape of a  egg white in a glass of water; in another, the index is a wreath floated on a stream” (“Solstices,” Amer. Folklore: An Encyclopedia, p. 1412). This seems to be related to a more general set of European folklore focused on St. John’s Day and Midsummer Eve, such as this ritual from Madeira:

On St. John’s eve at ‘Ave Maria’ the village maidens in Madeira try  their fortunes in various ways. They take a newly laid egg, break  it in a tumbler of cold water, and  place it out of doors in a secluded  place. Should the white rise in lines  that in any way represent a ship,  they will soon take a voyage. If it  at all resembles a house, it means  marriage and settling down. If a coffin or tombstone, it means death (Ecyc. of Superstitions, Folklore & the Occult Sciences, by Cora L.M. Daniels, p. 1551)

This practice may sound familiar, as it is very similar to the curandero method of egg reading done during a limpia, or spiritual cleansing. In that process (which I touched on briefly in Blog Post 137 – Curandero Spells, part I), an egg is used to rub and mark a person’s body in order to cleanse them of curses, witchcraft, bad luck, and general spiritual illness. An Ozark superstition says that if a man eats owl eggs it will cure him of alcoholism (this is not recommended, especially due to the potential environmental damage it could cause).

Eggs can also be used to cause harm as well as to cleanse it. Newbell N. Puckett records that among Southern African Americans eggs put into a couple’s bed will cause them to quarrel and fight (perhaps because they smash the eggs and get into a row about who’s going to clean it up?).  A curious German method recorded by Harry M. Hyatt uses “a glass of salt water that will hold an egg up”and a picture of a person (usually a former lover). The egg is floated in the glass, the picture put upside down over it, and the water swirled around while making a wish for ill (or good, if the conjurer is so inclined) fortune for the person (Folklore of Adams Co., 16006). Hyatt also records that a witch can give a person a ‘gift’ of three eggs in order to curse them. In his extensive masterwork on folk magic (Hoodoo-Conjuration-Witchcraft-Rootwork), Hyatt records a number of other curses using eggs, including using buzzard’s eggs to cause someone harm or this spell, which allegedly forces a straying spouse to be faithful:

WRITE YOUR HUSBAND’S NAME
AND THE NAME OF THE WOMAN HE’S FOOLING AROUND WITH
ON AN EGG.
THROW THE EGG AWAY FROM YOU
IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER,
AGAINST THE EAST CORNER OF YOUR HOUSE.
DO THIS FOR NINE CONSECUTIVE MORNINGS,
AND THAT AFFAIR WILL BE OVER.

Yes, ah learnt dis on chicken aigs.  Yo’ take a aig, if a woman is runnin’ wit yore husband, an’ yo’ git chew a aig an’ bust a aig fo’ nine mawnin’s – an’ write dere names on dat aig – an’ bust de aig in [the] east fo’ nine mawnin’s.  Throw it away from yo’ “In the Name of the Father” in de east – in de cornah of de house fo’ nine mawnin’s.  Dat bust ’em up an’ yo’ nevah will be bothahed wit ’em no mo’ – yo’ won’t have tuh worry.  Jes’ write dere names on dose aigs an’ bust ’em fo’ nine mawnin’s – yeah one each mawnin’.

(Whose house do you bust that on, your own house?)
Yore own house, yeah.
(Despite the ‘on’ of my question, these eggs are broken inside the house.  This is a rite to separate a man and woman, not to make someone move from a house.  The eggs are busted against the wall, thrown away from you so that the dangerous substance will not spatter on you.)
[Memphis, TN; A lady who once worked in Louisiana; Informant #1419. D15:3-D23:6 = 2698-2706.] (Vol. 2, p.1581)

Eggshells also have magical uses completely on their own and apart from their high-protein filling. A curious southern tradition involves using eggs as a method to deter predators from killing young chickens on a farm: “Hawks may be kept from catching your chickens by sticking a poker in the fire; by threading eggshells, from which chickens have recently hatched, on a piece of straw (or putting them in a covered tin bucket) and hanging them in the chimney” (Puckett, Folk Beliefs, p.323). Vance Randolph records that a tea made from “toasted egg shells in water” was taken by a girl near Forsyth, Missouri, for ailments unknown, but likely related to stomach issues. And I would be much remiss if I didn’t mention the magical ingredient of cascarilla, or powdered eggshell, which is used in Santeria/Lukumi as well as a few other traditions. It is usually sold in little paper cups (though it is not hard to produce yourself if you just wash and save your eggshells from a few breakfasts), and used to ward off evil and occasionally to draw sigils for ritual work.

Dreaming of eggs is supposed to be good luck, indicating everything from monetary gain to a wedding or children on the horizon. Traditions conflict about whether the eggs must be whole or broken to indicate good news, with convincing arguments presented on both sides (a fragile relationship situation—such as one affected by a lover’s quarrel–could be deemed finished by dreaming of broken eggs, or the possession of whole eggs might mean wealth, for instance). Randolph records this tidbit about the use of eggs to produce prophetic dreams:

Sometimes a mountain damsel boils an egg very hard, then removes the yolk and fills the cavity with salt. Just before bedtime she eats this salted egg. In the night, according to the old story, she will dream that somebody fetches her a gourd filled with water. The man who brings her the water is destined to be her husband. It is surprising how many young women have tried this, and how many feel that there may be something in it (Ozark Magic & Folkore, p. 174)

While this method seems popular, I think it would probably not be good for anyone’s blood pressure.

Wow, that’s a lot of material about eggs! And I’ve only scratched the surface here. There are so many more superstitions, spells, and sayings about eggs that I couldn’t begin to cover them all. So I’ll just recommend that if you want a good, easily available household tool for magic, you just can’t beat the humble egg.  Hm, speaking of beaten eggs, I wonder if there are any magical meringues out there?

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 121 – Watching Birds

Today we’ll be looking at birds and their place as divinatory aids in the New World, something we touched on briefly in the second post on Magical Animals.  Birds have historically been turned to by humans for secret knowledge, largely owing to their unfettered freedom to fly from place to place.  Virtually all mythologies have some tale of a great mythic bird:  the Roc in the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, Zeus’s swan-form, the Thunderbird of some Native American stories, and the haunting Crane Dance of Japan are some of the better-known examples. A creation myth of the Haida people of the Queen Charlotte Islands says that a raven, lonely in his long flight, spit upon a clam and opened it up, freeing the first humans (see Magical Creatures by E. Pepper & B. Stacy for more on this).  What have birds to do with divination, though?  Many readers probably already know about the branch of fortune-telling known as augury, but for those who haven’t heard of it, it simply means predicting fate by observing the flights of birds.

So how does one go about performing augury?  Here things get a bit fuzzy—in some cases, the future comes as a vision released by a relaxed mind observing with detachment the loops and turns of soaring birds.  Portuguese writer Paulo Coelho incorporates this type of augury into his novella, The Alchemist when he has a young shepherd accidentally catch a glimpse of coming war while he watches two hawks diving over desert sands.  The other method, and the one which makes up a good bit of North American lore, simply involves noting the behavior of birds and interpreting it by means of known connotations.  This sort of augury has numerous manifestations, and is especially prominent in Appalachian lore.  Folklorist W. L. McAtee recorded a number of bird-related divinations in an essay from 1955:

From “Odds & Ends on North American Folklore on Birds,” by W. L. McAtee:

  • “[I]f ever a bird builds in your shoe or pocket, or any of your clothes, you may prepare to die within the year.”
  • “The loon, a favorite with folklorists, is called ‘Bad Luck Bird’ by the natives [of the Sea Islands of Georgia], who will not speak of it, or if possible even look at it when they meet it in a journey by water.”
  • “While recording the common beliefs as to the storm petrels, that ‘Their appearance portends bad weather,’ Mrs. Simcoe [McAtee’s informant] adds: ‘To kill them is unlucky. Each bird is supposed . . . to contain the soul of a dead sailor.’
  • “The Reverend J. H. Linsley in his Birds of Connecticut (1843) noted that the cry of the bittern is a cause of superstitious fear and recorded that one man hearing it ran a mile, saying, that the Devil was after him.”
  • “’A token,’ said Archibald Rutledge [another informant], writing of the Santee Country, South Carolina, ‘is an apparition foretelling death,’ and cites as examples an eagle feeding with black vultures, a wild turkey standing alone under a certain great oak tree, and an albino robin.”
  • “[An] Abundance of people here look upon [whip-poor-wills] . . . as birds of ill omen, and they are very melancholy if one of them happens to light upon their house, or near their door, and set up his cry (as they will sometimes upon the very threshold) for they firmly believe one of the family will die very soon after.”
  • “Canada Jays are supposed to embody the souls of hunters or lumbermen who die in the north woods and it, therefore, brings bad luck to kill them.”
  • “In western North Carolina, it means seven years of bad luck to kill a raven.”
  • “To end this section on a more cheerful note, we cite the Ozark fancy that ‘If a redbird flies across a girl’s path . . . she will be kissed before night.’”

Other mountain lore about birds tends to focus on weather prediction (a subject we’ve covered in our posts on Signs & Omens to some extent, but you can never have enough weather-prediction lore).  Patrick Gainer observes: “When the geese wander on the hills and fly homeward squawking, there will be a storm within twenty-four hours,” and “When the red birds call in the morning, it will rain before night.”  Vance Randolph records some Ozark lore along the same lines:

  • Chickens or turkeys standing with their backs to the wind and with ruffled feathers mean a storm’s coming.
  • A rooster crowing at nightfall portends rain through the dark hours.
  • A sudden burst of robin-song foretells of bad weather.
  • Kingfishers nesting near the water mean a dry season to come.

Birds seem indelibly linked with concepts of luck and death, too.  Anyone who’s seen the 90’s cult film The Crow probably remembers the voice-over at the movie’s opening telling a pseudomyth about how people once believed that a crow ferried souls between the land of the living and the land of the dead, and occasionally allowed one to come back for vengeance (I call this a pseudomyth not because there’s no truth in it, but rather that I’ve never been able to find exactly that myth borne out in folklore, though there are certainly close correlatives to it—corvids are often associated with death).  There are many other pieces of Appalachian lore in this vein:

  • Barn swallows bring good luck where they nest, and it is bad luck to shoot one. (Randolph, OM&F)
  • Redbirds or roosters lingering near one’s doors or windows tend to mean tragedy will come soon after. (Randolph, OM&F)
  • Whippoorwills nesting at a home mean death will soon come to it. (Randolph, OM&F)
  • If a bird flies in the window, someone in the family will die. (Gainer, WG&S)
  • It is bad luck for a hen to crow. (Gainer, WG&S)
  • “Owls are omens of great ill.  If you spot one nearby while you are inside your home, the direction in which it flies away is an indication of the fate of your household.  If it flies off to the left of the cabin, very bad luck can be expected, but if it flies off to the right, it indicates an evil influence has chosen to pass you by.”(Edain McCoy, In a Graveyard at Midnight)
  • “Many western occult traditions regard peacocks as omens of ill fortune and their feathers as tokens of bad luck.” (Pepper & Stacy, MC)

Finally, in the category of “Odds & Ends,” there are some really spectacularly unique bits of North American folklore about birds which come from all over:

  • Buzzards will vomit upon anyone guilty of incest. (Randolph, OM&F)
  • “When you hear the first robin sing in the spring, sit down on a rock and take off your left stocking.  If there is a hair in it, your sweetheart will call on you soon.” (Gainer, WG&S)
  • “If a bird flies down and gets tangled in your hair, it is an indication that the bird has linked itself with your soul, and whatever befalls the bird is likely to befall you also.” (McCoy, IaGaM)
  • Richard Dorson records a legend in Buying the Wind found amongst Illinois “Egyptians” (or what many would call “Gypsies”) about a mouse, a bird, and a sausage who all keep house together until the sausage is eaten and the mouse accidentally kills himself that feels like it must have some embedded magical meaning, though I’ve yet to figure it out.

That’s it for our bird-watching entry.  If you’ve got lore you’d like to share about birds, we’d love to hear it!  It certainly gives me a good reason to keep watching the skies, so please feel free to comment with any augury methods you’ve got.

As always, thanks so much for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 120 – Divination in the New World (an Overview)

Greetings everyone!

First of all, sorry for the complete absence of posts last week.  I got a little swamped and didn’t get as much research time as I wanted, but hopefully today’s rather long article will make up for it.

We’re going to be looking over the next few posts at divination, fortune-telling, and other methods of forecasting fate.  Before we dive into details, though, I thought it might be good to tackle the topic generally and look at the types of divination which have been historically popular in the New World, as well as some more modern methods.  .  Some of these systems are ones which I can only cover cursorily, as my experience is relatively shallow with them.  I hope to cover each of these in more detail with time, or at least provide references to help anyone wanting to learn more about them, eventually.

So what are the most popular divinatory methods in the New World?

Arithmetic Methods – Probably the most common divinatory methods used in the modern New World are astrology and numerology.  Almost anyone can tell you his or her sun sign.  A Harris Poll from 2009 shows that about 26% of adult Americans believe in astrology.  Horoscopes related to these sun signs are printed in a majority of national newspapers in the United States, and a surprising number of folks know their ideal romantic compatibility as far as sun signs are concerned.  Less well-known but still fairly prevalent is numerology, particularly the form of numerology known as alphabetic numerology.  This is closely related to Gematrian numerology—a kabbalistic practice which uses Hebrew letters as symbols for numerals to understand a sort of universal mathematics arranged by G-d for the wise to know the world.  Another arithmetic method of divination which has found a certain degree of New World success is geomancy, which depends upon mapping energetic lines upon the earth and determining information based on their patterns and intersections.  The most commonly found version of geomancy in North America is the practice of dowsing, which seeks to uncover hidden water, mineral, oil, or other deposits within the earth using surface-based detection methods.  Science generally frowns upon all of these fields, despite their incredibly intricate mathematical structures, though there have been a few efforts to validate the powers of geomancy, and some large oil companies consult dowsers periodically to help determine ideal drilling locations.

Natural Objects & Phenomena – We’ve covered this a bit already, particularly the signs & omens which seem to pervade much of American folklore, but it is worth examining a few of the other natural-object-based divinatory systems, too.  For example, in many parts of the New World, some system of augury (divination based on birds) has been practiced.  One of the most interesting versions of this can be found in a practice known as alectromancy, which studies the patterns scratched by a rooster when grain is strewn for him.  Traces of this practice can be found in one of the primary influences on later hoodoo, The Black Pullet.  Other objects commonly used in various New World magical systems are cowrie shells (small whitish shells which bear a strong resemblance to the female genitalia) and chamalongos (ritually prepared and polished pieces of coconut shells).  These can both be “cast” in the same manner as dice might be (see “Games” below), and the resulting patterns interpreted to provide answers to specific questions. Another method which has fallen out of favor in modern times—though it was tremendously popular in ancient Rome—is haruspicsy, or the reading of livers or entrails from sacrificed animals.  A modern version of this, however, lives on in the wishbone ritual from the Thanksgiving turkey.  Luck is afforded whoever takes the biggest part of a wishbone snapped in twain between two people when the bird has been cooked and eaten.  Of course, there are a vast number of natural phenomena which are interpreted as portents of the future in traditional folklore—everything from weather to insect behavior to the color of certain animals can have deep meaning to the right person.  Since we’ve touched on that idea in other places, however, I’ll simply leave it at that.

“Gypsy” Methods – I will admit I don’t like the title I’m giving this section, but please understand that by “gypsy” methods I’m not referring necessarily to Romany traditional practices.  Instead, I’m really evoking the Hollywood and fictional version of the Gypsy so often mistaken for the real thing.  But, since the methods employed by those characters are actually relevant, I thought this might be the best category in which to assemble them.  Some of the best known methods are palmistry, cartomancy, and crystal gazing.  Each of these, despite its Hollywood glamorization, is actually a legitimate method.  Palmistry uses the lines on the palm of a person’s hand to determine the overall trajectory of his or her life.  It’s been popular as a parlor entertainment for over a century in America, and likely has been on New World soil for much longer than that.  Cartomancy is probably the best known fortune-telling method in the New World other than astrology, though a much smaller number of people seem to put stock in it.  One of the fun twists to cartomancy is that while tarot is a popular method (even immortalized in American poet Sylvia Plath’s poem, “Daddy,” as a “Taroc pack” and associated with Jewishness), it has long been common for root workers in America to use simple playing cards to get answers to difficult questions.  Crystal gazing, a type of scrying which uses highly polished spheres of minerals like quartz or amethyst to relax the mind and allow visions to enter the mind of the seer, is another popularly seen method, though it is often ridiculed in modern society—poked fun at in cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Scooby Doo, and The Simpsons, for example.  Other methods which commonly get attributed to Gypsies are candle reading—though this is a bit controversial because of something known as the “Gypsy candle scam”—and tasseomancy, which involves reading the patterns left in a cup after someone has drunk tea from it.  In this latter method, coffee is also fairly popular.  The reputation of these methods has suffered a bit due to public ridicule, but they also have their staunch supporters, and in many cases are the methods magical practitioners learn first.

Games – This is a peculiar but fascinating branch of divination which has been surprisingly prevalent in the United States.  I’ve already mentioned the use of playing cards as divinatory aids, and they certainly straddle this category nicely.  Dice and dominoes have also been used to predict the future in several magical systems, particularly those originating from Africa, a practice known as cleromancy which is also referred to as “casting lots.”  It seems to be related to older methods of throwing bones—such as knuckle bones from sacrificial offerings—and interpreting the resulting patterns.  A version of cleromancy is likely the primary version of divination condoned in the Bible (hence all the references to “casting lots” for things in Joshua, I Samuel, Proverbs, Jonah, and Acts (in the last case, lots are cast to determine who the replacement apostle for Judas Iscariot will be).  Famed Wiccan author Raymond Buckland has a book on domino divination for those interested entitled, appropriately enough, Buckland’s Domino Divination.  One of the methods for divination which took off rapidly in the United States after its introduction was the Ouija board.  This system, based on the automatic writing device called the planchette and a special board containing letters, numbers, and symbols, became a central method for communicating with the other world in movements like Spiritism.  Mitch Horowitz’s Occult America devotes an entire chapter to the “talking board” and its impact on American metaphysics, not to mention its economic impact (it outsold leading board games like Monopoly at times).  Other games have brought fortune-telling to the masses through clever marketing, as well.  The Magic 8 Ball which was created by Alabe Crafts in the mid-twentieth century, combined elements of the Ouija board and the crystal ball, and despite its novelty was actually inspired by the clairvoyant mother of one of the inventors.  We spoke a bit on our previous show about “cootie catchers,” the finger-mounted puppet-like devices used by young children to predict future happiness and misfortune.  There are several games played by children in this vein, including MASH (which stands for Mansion, Alley, Shack, House) and a plethora of predictive skip-rope rhymes.  Children, it seems, know a lot about divination and incorporate it into their play regularly.

Text-based Fortune-telling – This isn’t a particularly diverse branch of divination in the Americas, but it does seem to be important.  A recent correspondence sent to me by Arrow of the Wandering Arrow blog outlined a form of bibliomancy, which is the use of the Bible (or other important book) to determine things like marital candidates and the identity of thieves.  Bibliomancy is still practiced in many places, and the techniques involved can be as simple as opening to a random passage in a book and seeing if it has any relevance to the question at hand.  Methods can also be quite complex, involving for example a key placed at a passage in the book of Ruth while the Bible is held between the hands of two people standing opposite each other as they name people they know until the key moves on its own to reveal the perfect marriage partner.  Less prevalent in North America but still quite important is the Chinese predictive system of the I Ching, or Book of Changes.  This method, which combines elements of the “Natural Objects” casting in the form of yarrow stalks with significant markings on them that get thrown to reveal patterns, relies heavily on a book of short hexagrams.  These six-line poems match up to the patterns revealed by the yarrow stalks and provide insight into a particular problem.  The I Ching has become increasingly popular in the West, largely due to Asian immigration into population centers.

Other Methods – Plenty of other methods for determining the future exist which don’t quite fit one category or another (or which I have arbitrarily decided to lump in this “Other” category because, well, I’m the one writing this article).  One bit of outdated but once profoundly influential methods of determining someone’s fate is phrenology, the study of the bumps, divots, and ridges of the scalp.  During the late 19th century there were a number of scientists who supported phrenology as a way of understanding psychology.  It has since fallen much out of favor (partly due to its connection to eugenics—the “science” of building a better person which often involved rather racist and callous methods), but still may hold a bit of interest for those who like old-fashioned divinatory techniques.  Oneiromancy remains popular, and dream-interpretation guides are readily available in most bookstores.  Many folks who do hoodoo also keep dream-interpretation books around to help predict winning lottery numbers.  The biblical precedent (see the stories of Joseph or Daniel interpreting dreams) may have a lot to do with why this technique has stayed more or less legitimate even among conservative audiences.  Necromancy is a word that conjures up (pardon the pun) specters of horror for some, but which had tremendous impact on the American spiritual landscape through Spiritist séances and mediumship.  The practice of talking to the dead is common in a number of religions, and guidance from deceased ancestors is highly valued in Vodoun, Santeria, and Obeah traditions.  On the flip-side, the practice of cold reading takes the idea of necromancy and removes the dead from the equation completely, instead allowing “psychics” to use broad statements, on-the-spot observation, and leading questions to “interpret” messages which are fraudulent, but often quite comforting (I can’t help but think of the South Park episode on this subject, which I highly recommend).  There are other great techniques being generated on New World soil all the time, too.  For instance, Juniper from Walking the Hedge has adapted the old “stones and bones” casting technique to include other objects from her life and has developed a unique and beautiful divinatory system.

There are so many methods of forecasting the future that I haven’t even touched upon here, so please don’t feel left out if I omitted your personal favorite (in fact, feel free to share a little about it in the comments section!).  Many of these methods fall in and out of favor depending on the fashion of the time—phrenology was once almost regarded as fact, but is regarded by many diviners today as at best a quaint and outdated method of uncovering information.  Some of them seem outright silly on the surface or are utter fakery (the Magic 8 Ball for the former, cold reading for the latter).  A number of these techniques, however, still hang on.  The popularity of astrology remains strong, and bibliomancy seems to be indulged quite openly, as proven by the publication of things like The Book of Answers, which I’ve seen in not only bookstores but also in greeting card shops and trendy furniture outlets.  Of course, plenty of these methods are practiced just under the radar of mainstream society, too.

Whatever your preferred method of fortune-telling, I wish you well and hope this article has been useful to you.  More will be coming on specific subcategories within this list…but you probably knew that already.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 24 – Love Magic

-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

Blog Post 110 – The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

“ ‘I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?’ said Scrooge.
The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.
‘You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,’ Scrooge pursued. ‘Is that so, Spirit?’
The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer he received.”
(from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol)

To mark Christmas Eve—which is probably my favorite winter holiday, simply because it’s the one I’ve always celebrated and the one I’ve always found most magical—I thought today I’d put up a few of the many fortune-telling techniques employed at this time.  While many of these are not specifically New World, they are often quite ethnically linked and so are found in a variety of ethnic communities both in the “Old Country” and the New.

Polish Customs
(you can read more about these customs here)

  • Girls who grind poppy seeds on Christmas Eve can expect a swift marriage
  • After dinner on Christmas Eve, a girl will leave the house and listen for a dog bark.  Wherever it comes from is the direction from which her future husband will arrive.
  • A maiden could go down to the river on Christmas Eve and dip her hand in the water, pulling out the first object she touched.  Wood meant her future husband might be a carpenter, leather a cobbler, iron a blacksmith, etc.
  • Straws could be placed under the tablecloth at dinner, then pulled by guests to foretell the future.  A green straw meant marriage, a yellow straw meant spinsterhood, a short straw meant an early grave.

Czech Customs
(you can read more about these customs here)

  • Every member of the family lays some bread on the floor, after which the dog is called in.  Whose bread the dog eats will go on a journey in the next year (or in some variations, be dead by that time).
  • Melted lead is dropped into cool water, and the shapes are used to interpret the future.  For example a sheep-shaped piece might indicate a future job in agriculture, or perhaps peace and rest in the near future.  I’ve heard of tin being substituted, and I imagine candle wax would be a reasonable replacement, too, if you lack the means to melt metal in your home.
  • Lighted candles could be placed in walnut shells, then floated in the bathtub.  Whoever had the shell which went the farthest would be making a long and important journey soon.
  • After dinner, guests take an apple and cut it crosswise.  If it reveals a star-shape, good fortune awaits the subject.  If it shows a cross, illness or death is coming.
  • Walnuts can also be cracked to reveal the future.  A kernel that is big and sweet reveals happiness and prosperity, while a shriveled or bitter kernel foretells sorrow or sickness.

Irish Customs
(you can read more about these customs here, here and here)

  • A sheep’s shoulder-blade could be “read” to indicate the future.  After the lamb was eaten at Christmas dinner, its shoulder would be scraped clean without using iron (preferably by the teeth or a wooden implement), and the spots left at the thinnest parts of the blade would show shapes to the reader indicating the future.
  • In a very grave ceremony, a round cake would be baked (sometimes of ashes or even cow dung) and a candle would be placed in it for each member of the family.  The order in which the candles burned out indicated the order in which family members would die.
  • The neighing of horses on Christmas Eve indicated whether there would be peace or war in the coming year.
  • A girl going to a well just before midnight on Christmas Eve could see her future spouse in the calm waters.
  • A girl could knock at a hen-house door on this night, and if the cock crowed, she would soon marry.  If not, she would remain celibate.

British Customs
(you can read more about these customs here and here)

  • Whoever lit the new Yule log with a piece of the previous year’s Yule log would have good fortune all year.  This concept was immortalized in verse by Robert Herrick’s poem, “The Yule Log.”
  • The plow was to be brought in and kept under the table all through the twelve days of Christmas in order to ensure good luck.  If you had a plow, that is.
  • A girl could place a sprig of hawthorn in a glass of water and if it sprouted on Christmas Eve, she would be sure to soon marry.

Italian Customs
(you can read more about these customs here, here, and here)

  • Each member of the family puts a heap of flour on the table and leaves the room.  The head of the family then comes in and stashes different presents or charms in the flour piles, and the family returns to find their fortune for the year based on the charm they received.
  • If Christmas Eve is moonlit, there will be bad fruit in the coming year.
  • A man in costume standing on the church steps can watch for those who attempt to enter the church on Christmas Eve but find themselves unable to do so.  The man then identifies those who did not make it into the church as witches.
  • Those born on Christmas Eve are thought to become either werewolves or witches, depending on their gender.
  • Anyone who invokes the Devil before a mirror on Christmas Eve may become a witch (not really divination, but I thought it was interesting anyway!).

If you have Christmas Eve fortune-telling or divination customs, we’d love to hear them!  I know this barely scratches the surface of all the various cultures which partake in a little bit of magic on Christmas Eve, but I must stop here.  I still have a few presents to wrap, and I think I may need to track down some lead, a plow, and maybe a mirror.
Have the very best of holidays, everyone!  Thank you all so much for reading, and all my wintry blessings go out to our readers!  May the light find you, wherever you are.

-Cory

Blog Post 109 – Holidays in the Mountains

Hi there, everyone!

Today, I’m going to be sharing a little bit of holiday lore from the mountains, both the Ozarks and the Appalachians (to those readers wondering when I’ll start including the Rockies, I promise I’ll get there one day!  I’m just woefully ignorant of the traditions from that area).  There are a number of pieces of folklore associated with the winter holidays in the mountains.  Often, storytelling and family visits were the primary entertainment in the financially poor but folklore-and-culturally-rich mountains once the cold weather set in.  Christmas was not always celebrated, especially during the early years of settling, largely because many Protestants settling in the Appalachians viewed the holiday with suspicion and regarded it as a Catholic celebration.  One source records that the penalty for observing Christmas during the Puritan era was a “fine of five shillings” (WG&S, p.28).  Over time, however, as more people of mixed backgrounds settled the area, Christmas became a social holiday.  Patrick Gainer records that holidays in the mountains included:

  • Fireworks and noisemaking
  • Very little decorating prior to the widespread introduction of electricity (most homes didn’t have a Christmas tree)
  • School Christmas parties
  • Costumed visits to friends and neighbors (called “Belsnickling”—more on that in a minute)
  • Toys for children, though almost entirely homemade ones

Belsnickling

The tradition of Belsnickling is particularly interesting.  It seems to be a mumming tradition in the vein of similar British activities, but is really practiced by only the Germanic settlers in the Appalachians.  It relates to the Belsnickle (whose name may come from pelz Nicholas, or “furry Nick”), a devilish traveling companion to good St. Nick during his holiday visits who would punish the wicked children in the same way that the saint rewarded the good ones.  In some variations, it was not St. Nick who traveled with Belsnickle, but Kriss Kringle (likely a derivation from the Germanic kriskindl, or “Christ-child”).   Gerald Milnes describes the practice thusly:

“To people in the Potomac Highlands, belsnickling is the action of going from house to house in masquerade, with residents guessing the belsnicklers’ identities…Sometimes treats were offered to the belsnicklers, and sometimes belsnicklers offered treats to the household” (SC&W, p.186)

Milnes also offers a variety of pranks and tricks related to this practice:

  • Candy would be thrown on the floor, and when children dove for it, they would have their fingers switched by the belsnicklers
  • Bands of belsnicklers would wander through the countryside hooting and yelling all through the night
  • People in costume would tap on the windows of houses and scare the children inside
  • Firecrackers would be lit and thrown into people’s homes

He also relates this practice back to something deeply witchy—the Wild Hunt:

“Belsnickling and similar activities, as group practices, have obscure beginnings, but they may well go back to the old Teutonic concept of the wild hunt.  In Scandinavian and German versions of this myth, a huntsman with dogs, accompanied by spirits, hunts the wild woman.  In some versions, the huntsman, a lost soul, leads a band of wild spirits to overrun farms at Christmas time (the winter solstice)” (SC&W, p. 186).

Christmas Dinner in the Mountains

Of course, no Christmas would be complete without a feast in modern minds, but the table offerings were not quite the same for every family.  Often, up in the mountains in the early-to-midwinter, the meal would consist on the wild meat that was available rather than anything domestically raised.  In Foxfire 12, informant John Huron describes a most particular holiday meal:

“Groundhogs aren’t bad eatin’ either if you cook them right…baked and layered with onions and sweet potatoes.  That was what Charlie’s daughter, Margaret, would fix him for Christmas dinner every year.  They invited me and my wife, Sandy, and my son, Jay, over for Christmas dinner one time, and that’s what we had.  A groundhog is a lot cleaner animal than a chicken.  When you get right down to it, a chicken is a nasty critter” (FF12, p.248)

Signs and Omens on Christmas

There are a number of superstitions which have sprung up around the holiday season, too.  Often, weather and luck are intimately tied to Christmas, though sometimes the date shifts a little between December 25th (“New” Christmas) and January 6th (“Old” Christmas).  Some of the signs and omens from the Appalachians and Ozarks include:

  • It will be a fruitful year if the eaves of the house drip on Christmas (SC&W)
  • Children born on Christmas Day can understand the speech of animals (WG&S and OM&F)
  • Being the first to say “Christmas Gift” to another on Christmas Day yielded good luck (WG&S)
  • On Christmas Eve at midnight, all farm animals will bow down and speak to acknowledge Christ’s birth (SC&W and OM&F)
  • Those with the “second sight” make predictions most accurately on Christmas Eve (IaGaM)
  • “A green Christmas makes a fat graveyard” – warm weather at Christmas will lead to many deaths over the coming year (OM&F)
  • On Old Christmas, the sun actually rises twice instead of just once (OM&F)
  • Bees buzz so loudly on Old Christmas they can be heard for miles away (OM&F)
  • Elderberries always sprout on Old Christmas, no matter what the weather (OM&F)

Even with its rather slow, Puritanical start, Christmas in the mountains has become one of the most magically charged times of the year.  From eating groundhogs to playing rowdy pranks to witnessing the miraculous behavior of animals, this is certainly one of the most interesting times of the year.  And, in my humble opinion, one of the most magical.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 96 – Critters 2 (Magical Animals, Part II)

Hi all!

This is a continuation from the last post about magical animals, so you may want to look at that one before diving into this one.  Or not.  It’s up to you really.  Either way, here’s some more on North American animals showing up in magical folklore.

(More) American Magical Animals

Deer – Legends about magical deer are hardly new, nor are they limited to the New World.  White stags appear in Arthurian legends, and the label of Jagermeister liqueur bears the image of an enchanted cervid.  Charlemagne also had a stag legend associated with him.   In American folktales, they retain similar significance, though often they lead hunters astray or into mischief.  In a tale from Gilmer Co., WV, a normally gifted hunter encounters a doe he can’t shoot, even at close range when he knows he should be able to.  He decides to try shooting it with a silver bullet and succeds in hitting it in the leg, and then follows the blood trail back to a cabin where an old woman is nursing her bleeding leg, thus revealing her as a shape-shifting witch (Gainer p.157).  In New York State, there’s also the tale of “Auntie Greenleaf and the White Deer,” which bears a strong resemblance to the Gainer tale.  The Huichol natives of Mexico engage in a type of spiritual quest called the Peyote Hunt in which the peyote (a type of hallucinogenic cactus) is treated as a magical deer to be caught:

The Hunt is a symbolic re-creation of “original times” before the present separation occurred between man, the gods, plants and animals; between life and death; between natural and supernatural; be-tween the sexes. On the Peyote Hunt, the men who return to their homeland become the gods, and at the climatic moment of the ceremony, they slay and eat the peyote, which is equated with the deer and with maize (“The Deer-Maize-Peyote Symbol Complex…” by Barbara G. Myerhoff, Anthropological Quarterly, Apr. 1970)

It’s not surprising that a continent whose inhabitants until only fairly recently depended upon deer for food would assign it such a high mythical value, and there are plenty of good stories about witch deer or helper deer to be found in every region.

Rabbit/Hare – This is the animal most associated with witches in folklore (other than perhaps the black cat).  North American magical tales are no exception, and there are a plethora of rabbit-related witch stories out there.  As I mentioned in the Spiders/Insects section, Anansi has an avatar in the form of a rabbit in the New World, a form probably best known and realized through his appearance in Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus stories.  The Trickster Rabbit of these tales became so ingrained in our cultural psyche that we turned him into an icon recognized worldwide, even though he is distinctly American in attitude:  Bugs Bunny.  Native American legends also provide Trickster Rabbit stories, such as “Rabbit Plays Tug-of-War” from the Creek tribe.  Hares could also be less mirthful magical creatures, and often appear in American folklore as witches in disguise.  Richard Dorson records a tale in Buying the Wind of a witch-hare that could not be caught or killed by anyone.  Even when they trapped it and set everything around it on fire, the rabbit still managed to escape.  Finally a hunter thought that perhaps this hare might be a witch in disguise, and so drew a picture of it and shot it in the leg with a silver bullet.  Not long after, he found out that a local woman with a rather witchy reputation had fallen and broken her leg while sweeping the floor.  The hare was not seen again (Dorson, p. 316-17).  Stories like this are echoed in the Deer and Cat stories mentioned above and other tales of witches becoming hares can be found in the collections from Patrick W. Gainer and Hubert J. Davis, too.

Bear – The figure of the Bear is a mainstay in several traditions of American lore.  He appears as Brother/Brer Bear in the aforementioned Uncle Remus tales, where he comes off as a bit of a brute.  The bear is a key figure in Native American lore, appearing as a spiritual totem animal for chiefs and warriors, as in the tale of the “Spirit Lodge” from the Nariticong people in the northeastern U.S. A curious tale from the Pacific Northwest features a comical (and obviously fictional) encounter between a Sasquatch, a black bear, and a river boat captain.   In northern Mexico, the story of “The Bear’s Son” describes a mytho-magical quest undertaken by a brave young man.  The repeated motif of strength and battle seems to be the bear’s primary contribution to North American folklore.  Yet occasionally bears appear as guides or wise teachers as well—even unintentional ones, as in the Maine tale of “The Fisherman and the Bear,” in which a clever ursine demonstrates a remarkably effective method of fishing to a hungry human.

Birds – This is a pretty broad category, and there are many different types of birds which appear in American magical tales.  The most common appearances of birds are as magical omens or forerunners of good and bad luck.  We touched a bit on this in our Weather Lore posts, but we also had to leave a number of bits out, so I’ll share a couple of them here:

  • A bird building a nest out of your hair will cause madness or headaches.
  • A bird building a nest in any piece of your clothing (shoes, hat, pockets, etc.) means you should prepare to die within the year.
  • Loons portend bad weather (because they are the souls of dead sailors).
  • Whippoorwills calling indicate death or bad luck soon to follow (I prefer Gillian’s interpretation of this, which is that a whippoorwill call means that you’ve done a good day’s work).
  • Killing barn swallows will cause your cows to give bloody milk.
  • To cure a backache, wait until you hear a whippoorwill call then roll on the ground three times.
  • It is bad luck for a hen to crow.

(These examples are taken from Ozark Magic & Folklore by Vance Randolph, Witches, Ghosts, & Signs by Patrick Gainer, and “Odds & Ends of North American Folklore on Birds” by W. L. McAtee [in Midwest Folklore, 1955])

There are truly endless numbers of folk spells, omens, signs, stories, and legends regarding animals in North America.  And there are plenty of animals I didn’t cover here that probably deserve some attention.  Critters like possums, raccoons, gators, eagles, buffalo, cattle, sheep, pigs, mountain lions, and any number of other animals all have abundant magical lore surrounding them, which I will hopefully be able to cover someday.  For now, though, I hope this couple of posts has helped open up some areas for you to explore with regards to animals and magic.  I’m hoping to get at least one more post out this week or early next week focusing on animal parts in magic, so stay tuned for that, too.  And if you have animal lore you’d like to share, feel free to comment on the blog or email us!

And thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 60 – Appalachian Mountain Magic, Part III

Today I’m finishing up the introduction to the magic of Appalachia by looking at “yarb Doctors” and some of the other magical oddities of the mountains.

Yarb Doctors
The final part of the mountain magical triumvirate is the “Yarb Doctor.”  These are often seen as the male counterparts to the Granny women already discussed.  These were folks who knew enough herbal medicine to make cures and remedies for all manner of ailments.  Vance Randolph describes them thusly:

“Besides the regular and irregular physicians, who live mostly in the villages, the backwoods country swarms with ‘yarb doctors’…who have never studied medicine at all. Some of these nature doctors are women, others are preachers who do a little doctorin’ on the side, and many of them are unable to read or write. They rely mainly upon herbs, barks, roots, and the like. For internal medication these substances are steeped in hot water, and “horse doses” of the resulting teas are administered at frequent intervals. In some cases the tea is boiled down to a thick paste called ooze, or mixed with strained honey to make a syrup” (OM&F, p.92)

Often, this is what we think of when we talk about “snake oil salesmen.”  The yarb Doctor basically dealt in herbal formulas for treating common ailments.  Some of these formulas became fairly well-known.  When a particular yarb Doctor’s formula reached a particular level of renown (and often even if it didn’t and an unscrupulous “doctor” was simply chasing a dollar) these medicines would become a famous “patent medicine.”   This is not to say that the yarb Doctor (variously known as an “herb doctor,” “rubbing doctor,” or “nature doctor”) was simply a quack making money off of ignorant mountain folk.  In most cases, these were locals with a knack for making formulas and medicines from the indigenous flora of the area, including roots, barks, flowers, and leaves.  Some of the mixtures are still in use today, albeit changed much from their original purpose.  Root beer is a prime example of what happens when you make a patent medicine out of sarsaparilla and sassafras roots and mix it with a little sugar and soda water.  Appalachian yarb Doctors had good reason to make medicines:  they lived in the pharmaceutical breadbasket of the country.  According to Dave Tabler’s Appalachian History blog:

“Big Pharma had not yet perfected the widespread manufacture of synthetic drugs in 1932. Instead, the industry relied on ‘western North Carolina, southwestern Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and eastern Tennessee [to] furnish 75% of the crude botanical drugs which the continent of North America supplies to the drug markets of the world,’ according to an article in Economic Geography that summer”

The remedies proffered by yarb Doctors were not limited only to plants and their components, but often included a few more unusual ingredients.   For example, dealing with a toothache was a common enough problem in the mountains, where access to regular dental care was limited or non-existent:

“There were many treatments for a toothache.  Some of the more common ones were holding tobacco smoke, a sip of red oak bark decoction, or whiskey in the mouth; chewing ragweed leaves; applying cinnamon or clove oil, camphor, or persimmon juice to the tooth and gum; placing a ball of cotton soaked in paregoric, camphor, turpentine, or kerosene on top of the tooth; and holding a bag of warm ashes or salt against the cheek.  If a large cavity was present, it was stuffed with soda, salt, cow manure, spider webs, aspirin, burned alum, dried and pulverized buckeye skin, or crushed puff-balls” (FMSA, p.107)

There are a number of remedies used by these mountain medicine men which are still in common practice.  Clove oil, for example, is still used to numb the pain of a toothache.  Some methods, though, such as packing a cavity with cow dung, seem to have fallen by the wayside (I’ll not say whether I think that a good or bad thing, though I’m less than eager to put cow dung in my own mouth if I’m being entirely honest).

Other Aspects of Mountain Magic
There are, of course, many areas of mountain magic which don’t fall neatly into the three categories I’ve laid out here.  yarb Doctors and Granny women had much in common and there is a great deal of crossover in their particular lines of work.  Likewise, one who could dowse for water could usually also perform some other occult action, such as simple curing.  I have an in-law whose great-grandfather (the seventh son of a seventh son, no less) could dowse and “buy” warts off of people in order to effect a cure, for example.

Other aspects of mountain magic have already been touched on in this blog.  Some of the areas we’ve covered here which have a huge place in the folk magical practices of Appalachian peoples include:

One of the biggest areas I’ve not yet covered in detail is the Appalachian preoccupation with death, dying, corpses, and graveyards.  Edain McCoy’s In a Graveyard at Midnight includes a great deal of this lore in her chapter on “Death, Dying, and ‘Haints,’” which focuses mostly on the rituals surrounding death and burial as well as protection from the dead.  At some point, I’ll be doing a bit more on this topic, but for now I think the most important thing to note is that death and birth were—and are—the two most important events in a human life, and the mountain folk treated them with respect, awe, and not a little fear.

A final area of interest for mountain dwellers where the occult was concerned had to do with divining the future.  Rather than foreseeing events having to do with money or fame or anything like that, almost all Appalachian divinations performed in the home had to do with love.  This is, again, a topic I’ll be delving into with more depth at another time.  But often the “games” played by young girls in the mountains revolved almost entirely around divining the name, appearance, or attributes of a future husband.  And there are also plenty of tales which deal with the terrible consequences of treating these sorts of divinations lightly (such as the story of the “dumb supper” which eventually leads to a young girl’s brutal murder).  Suffice to say, Appalachian folk know that life has its dark side, and they aren’t afraid to talk about it.

That’s it for mountain magic this week.  I hope this has been a useful introduction.  This, like many of the other topics here, only scratches the surface, and I hope to return and look at Granny women, yarb Doctors, dowsers, power doctors, signs and omens, death lore, and just about everything in more depth at a later date.  But for now, I’ll wish you a happy weekend.
Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 28 – Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign…

Do I date myself by referencing that song in the title of this blog post?  Oh well…
I thought I’d wrap up the week with a few more examples of signs, tokens, and omens from American folklore.  We’ll be up in the mountains today, both the Appalachians and the Ozarks.
From the Appalachian History blog:

News Bees

“In both Appalachian and Ozarks folklore, news bees appear as omens to those wise enough to read them.”

News bees are not actually bees, but flower flies from the Syrphidae family.  They are marked with bands of black and yellow, much like bees, but are harmless.  They do look an awful lot like sweat bees, however, which can sting a person (though not as severely as other bees or wasps).

News bees, which also go by names like “sand hornets,” “sweat flies,” or “Russian hornets” derive their folk name from the belief that these hovering insects watch the events of humanity unfold, then fly off to deliver their news to others.  According to the folklore, “There are yellow news bees, which mean that good things are in the offing– it’s good luck if you can get one to perch on your finger–and black news bees, which warn of imminent death. The black news bees fly in the windows and out again, and fly straight for the nearest cemetery; they hover making a sound like a human being talking.” (Tabler, par.2)

From Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic and Folklore:

Some Animal Lore

“It is very generally believed that the appearance of an albino deer is a bad sign ; some hillfolk think it has something to do with witches’ work, others that it is an indication of disease among the deer, and that venison will be unwholesome for seven years” (p. 241)

“Groundhogs are hunted by boys with dogs, and young groundhogs are very good eating. But some of the old-timers frown on the modern practice of shooting groundhogs. They don’t mind if city sportsmen do it but often forbid their own children to shoot groundhogs, because it is supposed to bring bad luck” (p. 243)

Household Signs & Omens

“The Ozark housewife seldom begins to make a garment on Friday never unless she is sure that she can finish it the same day. Many a mountain man is reluctant to start any sort of job on Saturday, in the belief that he will ‘piddle around’ for six additional Saturdays before he gets it done” (p. 69)

“It is bad luck to burn floor sweepings or shavings that have been produced inside the house. An old-time Ozark housewife seldom sweeps her cabin after dark, and she never sweeps anything out at the front door” (p. 70)

The fantastic Appalachian blog Blind Pig and the Acorn has a fascinating entry on a death omen called a “belled buzzard.”

Belled Buzzards

According to the site, which cites a newspaper story about this phenomenon, in King George County, VA, a buzzard was observed flying low by houses with a bell around its neck and streamers tied to its body.  Similarly adorned birds figure in tales from the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas.  According to the blog’s author:

“Most of the sightings or ‘hearings’ caused folks to believe the belled buzzards foretold death. One legend even tells the story of a belled buzzard harassing a man after he killed his wife-to the point of the man turning himself in for her murder” (Tipper par.2).

So if you happen to see any big birds around your neighborhood with bells, chimes, or any musical instrument on their person, take heed!

Personal Lore

Finally, today, I thought I’d share a few of the things I was brought up believing.  Most of this information is from my mother.

  • When cooking soups, stews, and sauces, she’d often include a bay leaf in the pot.  Whoever found the bay leaf was thought to be in for some good luck.
  • If rain broke out of a clear sky, my mother always said that “the Devil is beating his wife.”
  • She taught me that if your ears burn, someone’s talking about you.  If your nose itches, someone wants to kiss you.  And if your hands itch, money’s coming your way soon.
  • You should never kill a spider or a frog indoors, as it will bring bad luck, she always said.  Unless the spider was a black widow or brown recluse.  Then it seemed to be okay.
  • She always kept an aloe plant in her kitchen window, both for an easy source of bug-bite and sunburn treatment and to bless the house in general with good fortune.

Okay, that will do it for today, I think.  Please feel free to share your own lore.  I’m always eager to hear it!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 27 – More Signs & Omens

Hi everyone.  I received a fantastic email From Sarah R. about a number of traditions she remembered from a book called The Fortune Telling Book, by Gillian Kemp.  I thought I’d share a few of the wonderful tidbits she sent me, along with some other signs and omens we didn’t get to in the podcast.

Marriage Omens (from Sarah R.)
1. It is considered unlucky to be married in a church where there is an open grave.
2. A solitaire cut engagement ring indicates a solitary existence.
3. If three women sitting together at a dinner table possess the same initial to their Christian name, one of the three women will soon marry.
4. It is considered lucky to have an even number of guests at the wedding and unlucky to have an odd number.
5. Wedding Dress Omen:

Married in white you will have chosen alright,
Married in green ashamed to be seen,
Married in grey you will go far away,
Married in blue you will always be true,
Married in yellow you’re ashamed of your fellow,
Married in black you will wish yourself back,
Married in pink of you he will think.

6. To see a flock of birds in flight on your wedding day is a sign of fidelity and a long and happy marriage blessed by heaven.

Here are some signs from Richard Dorson’s Buying the Wind, from the “Illinois Egyptians” section.  The “Egyptians” he refers to occupy the southern “triangle” of Illinois, beginning “when the flat prairie lands of grain-rich central Illinois turn to foothills” (p.289).  The culture here is influenced by several ethnic groups, including the Irish, the French, and African-Americans.

A Death Omen
The McConall Banshee
Before anyone of the McConnal family died, a banshee [sic] would scream, and it would take the route that the family would go to the cemetery.  The neighbors along the route would hear it.

When old lady Brown died—she was a McConnall—the banshee came into the house and got in bed.  It looked like a little old woman about a foot high, with a rag tied around its head.  John Gentry was going to kill it, but Mrs. Brown said, ‘Don’t bother that.  That’s my baby.’

Some folks said that the banshee was a curse sent by the church, for the McConnalls had once burned a church.

When Walter Fraley’s baby died, the banshee cried all over the place, but no one could see it” (p.313)

Birth and Infancy Signs
“A baby speaks with angels when it smiles”
“An ugly baby makes a pretty adult.”
“It is bad luck to name a first child after its parents.”
“You should not cut a baby’s hair before it is a year old.”
“A baby will be a prophet if it is born with a veil over its face.”*
*This veil is known as a caul, and is somewhat common in births.  I’ve got more about it in Blog Post 8 – Seaside Sorcery

Dream Signs and Omens
“Dream of a funeral and attend a wedding.”
“It is bad luck to tell a dream before breakfast.”
“It is bad luck to dream of muddy water.”
“It is good luck to dream of clear water.”
“You will have enemies if you dream of snakes.”
“Count seven stars for seven nights, and you will dream of the man you will marry”
“You will be successful if you dream of being dead.”
“Marry soon if you dream of a corpse.”
“You will make true friends if you dream of ivy.”
“Dream of letters and receive good news.”
(all preceding quotations from Dorson, pp. 338-340)

That’s plenty of prophetic phraseology for today, so I’ll wrap it up.  But I still have many more tokens to tell of, so I’ll likely do another post on them later this week.  If you have any folklore regarding forecasting future events (or even current or past ones) via dreams, signs, etc., we’d love to hear them!  Feel free to add them as a comment to this post, or send us an email.
Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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