Posted tagged ‘superstition’

Podcast 45 – The Bag Lady Show

November 30, 2012

Summary
This episode is a grab-bag of different items: a recap of PPSM3, some music from artist Leslie Fish, a recording of a mini-class, and listener feedback. Think “Mary Poppins’ traveling bag,” but full of NWW goodies.

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Download: Episode 45 – The Bag Lady Show
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 -Sources-

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

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 Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.

We feature three songs by artist Leslie Fish, from her album Avalon is Risen: ““Hallows Dirge,” “Hymn to the Night-mare,” & “Lucifer”

Promo 1-Inciting a Riot
Promo 2-Lakefront Pagan Voice
Promo 3-Pennies in the Well
Promo 4-Borealis Meditation

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Blog Post 164 – Superstitions and Omens, Redux

October 9, 2012

Hi everyone!

At the recent Pagan Podkin Super Moot, I had the privilege of teaching a class which I called “The Clear Moon Brings Rain,” focusing on living an “omen-ic” life. There’s a possibility that a recording of that class may surface at some point, and I really enjoyed getting to be a part of that experience, as it was mostly a directed conversation rather than a lecture-type of class, but I thought some of the notes and information I shared might be of interest to my readers.

I began with a question about the movie Practical Magic, which I love. I used the line “Broom fell; company’s coming,” to start talking about the way we learn and adopt signs and omens into our lives. Some people had not heard that particular sign prior to the movie, and some grew up with it. On some level, it seems that many people—especially those involved in a magical lifestyle of some kind—recognize that the world is essentially ‘speaking’ to them, if they are willing to listen. A prime example of living by signs transcends the purely magical and veers into the realm of science, specifically meteorology. People frequently use idiomatic expressions or folk methodologies to detect patterns in the weather around them and predict potential changes that will personally impact them. In some cases, these changes are immediate: a greenish sky and hail preceding a tornado in some parts of the country; animals freaking out prior to an earthquake in another place (like San Francisco, where PPSM3 took place). There is a wonderful infographic which displays a lot of weather lore quite succinctly, and touches on some of the scientific reasons behind each phenomenon:

Source: http://dailyinfographic.com/how-to-forecast-weather-without-gadgets-infographic

From there, we looked at why we are able—as a whole—to accept signs related to imminent weather disasters, but we resist signs with more tenuous connections, like when wasps build their nests up high prior to a long, hard winter. Several people made excellent points about detachment from our surroundings, particularly nature, and I was very pleased to hear people making the point that when we don’t directly rely upon natural phenomena to feed us or make us comfortable (due to living someplace with regular access to food, climate control, and entertainment), we ‘unlearn’ the connective language of omens in the process. However, I then posited that we should develop a new set of omens in place of the old ones: predicting traffic based on certain sounds or sights, for example. Several folks attending said that they already did exactly that, which seems to me a prime example of being ‘tapped in’ to the world around you, no matter what environment you live in.

I asked if the signs and omens, then, were universal or personal, or some combination of the two. A marvelous array of answers suggested that for most folks, reading the world around you requires familiarity with it, with at least some aspect of personal interpretation involved. Likewise, it was pointed out that symbols register differently: an owl swooping across the road in front of your car may just be a raptor on the hunt. But a second owl doing the same thing may be a tap on the shoulder from the universe. We also brought up the point that ignoring a good omen frequently lands one in hot water in mythological circumstances, so paying attention can be more valuable than blissful ignorance.

Knowing how to discern signs is also important.  A song stuck in your head may just be an infectious earworm surfacing for no reason, but if you live an “omen-ic” life, then frequently those sorts of little details can alter your perception enough to add enchantment and significance to everything. Taken to an extreme, however, omens can become superstition. While I tend to embrace the latter term, I also recognize that for most people, superstition denotes custom or tradition without substance, or a fear-motivated lifestyle, and I would absolutely agree that spending seven years in fear after breaking a mirror is not a life really lived anymore.

Near the end, we played some games involving reading omens from other people’s experiences, and I shared this passage from Toni Morrison’s Sula:

“[E]vil must be avoided, they felt, and precautions must naturally be taken to protect themselves from it. But they let it run its course, fulfill itself, and never invented ways to either alter it, to annihilate it or to prevent its happening again. So also were they with people.

What was taken by outsiders to be a slackness, slovenliness or even generosity was in fact a full recognition of the legitimacy of forces other than good ones. They did not believe doctors could heal—for them, none ever had done so. They did not believe death was accidental—life might be, but death was deliberate. They did not believe Nature was ever askew—only inconvenient. Plague and drought were as “natural” as springtime. If milk could curdle, God knonws that robins could fall” (89-90).

This comes after the return of the titular character in the novel to her hometown, where she is regarded as something of a wonder, something of a witch, and definitely not a welcome presence. So unwelcome is she, that the town endures a “plague of robins,” with hundreds of the birds roosting and dying all around the townsfolk after Sula arrives. My point in bringing up this passage was to focus on the cosmology implicit in it: Nature never askew, only problematic, and always offering hints as to what comes next; deciding when it is better to fight against Fate, and when stepping out of her way as she passes is best; and seeing great moments as personally symbolic in life. I think that Morrison’s words capture a bit of the sense of what I mean when I speak of the “omen-ic” life. It is a life lived fatefully, purposefully, and with a tremendous awareness of the vast interconnection of all the moving parts of existence. It is also a life in which fear becomes secondary to strength and wisdom—fear may be present, but it does not dominate.

All of this hardly captures the gorgeous conversation that those attending the class provided. They were deeply engaged and we had some incredibly sharp minds present. What I present here reflects more of my opinion than it does the dynamics of the group, but I hope that perhaps the conversation can continue. What are your thoughts on omens, signs, and fate? I’ve asked about such things before, of course, but it’s been a while, and perhaps you differently about them now, or perhaps not. Either way, feel free to leave comments below, or to email me and tell me about your interpretations of an “omen-ic” life.

Finally, I can’t resist the opportunity to share some more signs and omens from other sources. Here are some of the more common, and some of the most unusual, examples I’ve found (these were included in the class handout):

A Short List of Typical Signs & Omens of the Americas

1.  If you cut your nails on a Saturday, you’ll see your sweetheart on Sunday.

2. The accidental crossing as four people shake hands together means that one of them will soon marry.

3. A baby smiling in its sleep has an angel speaking to it.

4. When passing a wagon-load of hay, you should grab a handful—it will bring good luck if you do, and bad luck if you don’t.

5. If the stars are thick, it is a sign of rain.

6. Lightning in the south means dry weather.

7. If you find an inch-worm on your clothes, you will soon have new garments.

8. You should never watch a friend walk out of sight, or you will never see him/her again.

9. If two persons say the same thing at the same time, they must lock their little fingers without saying a word and make a wish.

10. Dream of a funeral and attend a wedding.

11. It is bad luck to tell a dream before breakfast.

12. Cutting a baby’s hair before it is a year old will give it bad luck (also said of letting a baby look in a mirror).

13. A baby born with a caul over its face will be a prophet or a seer.

14. A whippoorwill which alights on a house and calls is announcing a death to come.

15. Misfortunes always come in threes.

16. A bride should not look at her complete wedding attire in the mirror until after she is married, or else the marriage will end badly.

17. If sparks from a fire favor someone (move towards him/her in unnatural ways or numbers) he/she has significant magical powers.

18. Hearing raps, knocks, bells, chimes, or ticking with no apparent cause announces a death in the near future.

19. The seventh son of a seventh son will be a naturally gifted healer, seer, or witch.

20. A cat, coiled up with its head and stomach showing, means bad weather is coming; if it yawns and stretches, good weather is not far behind.

21. A rooster crowing at night brings rain in the morning.

22. Seeing a “sundog” (a halo around the sun) indicates either a drought or a radical change in weather soon.

23. Fogs in August are snows in winter.

24. If you are walking or riding at night and feel a sudden warmth or chill, it is a spirit, and you should turn your pockets inside out to keep it from doing you harm.

25. Stepping over a broom forwards is bad luck, but you can reverse it by stepping over the broom backwards.

 

Some Unusual Signs, Omens, & Superstitons

1.  People with short fingernails are tale-bearers.

2. If the first snake you see in spring is already dead, you will conquer your enemies.

3.  For hot-peppers to prosper, they must be planted by a red-headed or hot-tempered person.

4. You shouldn’t cut a baby’s nails in the first year of life; you should bite them off.

5. If you catch a butterfly and bite off its head, you will soon have a dress the same color as the butterfly.

6. If a bird builds a nest in your shoe or pocket, you will die within a year.

7. If you find a hairpin in the road, you shall soon have a new friend. If the pin’s tines are of equal length, the friend will be a girl; unequal means a boy.

8. It is very bad luck to be photographed with a cat.

9. If you kiss a witch, all the silver in your pockets will turn black.

10. You can’t swear and catch fish.

References:

That’s it for today! Thanks so much 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

Blog Post 112 – 5…4…3…2… (New Year’s Traditions)

December 29, 2010

With one set of holidays just behind us, we still have a little more celebration left before the deep, dark, quiet winter sets in.  Today, I’ll be sharing some of the New Year’s traditions from North America (and to some extent, from around the world).  New Year’s has a lot of obvious components: a sense of rebirth, optimism, setting goals for improvement, and even a little romance.  Let’s look at some of the big traditions associated with this glittering and festive affair.

1)      Fireworks – These are a common component of New Year’s festivals worldwide, including the Chinese New Year which occurs later in the winter.  Aside from being a celebratory demonstration of light and wonder, the noise and fire from these explosives may serve to frighten away any lingering demons or bad spirits.  And, of course, they help keep everyone awake until the crucial midnight hour.  This also ties into other noise-making activities on New Year’s Eve, such as singing, banging cymbals, and other loud demonstrations of the party spirit.

In the Appalachians, this sometimes mixed with the mumming traditions of the Christmas season and became something known as a Shanghai Parade.  Gerald Milnes describes the practice in his book, Signs, Cures, & Witchery:

“The shanghai tradition once included music played on violins, flutes, horns, and drums in the Valley [of Greenbriar Co., West Virginia].  There is even a fiddle tune called ‘Shanghai’ that is known in West Virginia and may be connected to the shanghai ritual…people also cross-dress and put on exotic, mostly homemade costumes.  Reversal is a theme, and they generally whoop it up in the spirit of old midwinger revelry” (p. 192)

Jack Santino also describes similar uses of noise-makers, including guns, in his All Around the Year:  “In Hawaii, the custom involves the traditional beliefs of the native Hawaiians, who say that the fireworks scare off demons.  In Ohio, they are used as noisemakers, often instead of a gun, since ‘shooting in the New Year’ is the tradition” (p. 13).

2)      Kissing at Midnight – This tradition is related to others more regionally or culturally specific (such as “First Footing,” discussed below), but has become a broader practice among Occidental celebrants of the New Year.  The Snopes.com page on New Year’s superstitions has this to say on the subject:

“We kiss those dearest to us at midnight not only to share a moment of celebration with our favorite people, but also to ensure those affections and ties will continue throughout the next twelve months. To fail to smooch our significant others at the stroke of twelve would be to set the stage for a year of coldness.”

The idea of setting the stage for the coming year based on what one does on New Year’s Day ties into a lot of the other superstitions and customs related to this holiday.  With kissing, the idea seems to be that if you start the New Year off with someone you love, or at least by kissing someone attractive, you will invite positive romance into your life over the coming year.

3)       First Footing – To those of Scottish extraction, this is probably a very familiar practice.  The Scottish New Year is called Hogmany, and involves several key rituals, including house-cleaning, preparing traditional meals (see “New Year’s Food” below), and First Footing.  Sarah at Forest Grove has written an excellent entry on the Hogmany traditions, and describes First Footing thusly:

“First footing is a divinatory folk tradition where the first person who sets foot in your house in the wee hours of the New Year determines the luck and happenings of the year ahead. A man is preferred over a woman, and a man of dark hair and eye over a man of light hair and blue or green eyes. Redheads are especially unlucky to be the first to set foot across your threshold in some areas of Scotland.”

In some cases this practice requires that the first-footer be not of the household.  We received several pieces of lore in our Winter Lore Contest related to the New Year, including a bit about First Footing from listener/reader Akia: “Some of her [grandmother’s} holiday superstitions included: not letting anyone out of the house or enter until an unrelated male came into the house on New Years Day.”

4)      New Year’s Food – There are a lot of traditions about just what to eat on New Year’s Day.  Some of the most common components of a New Year’s meal are:

      • Black-Eyed Peas
      • Cabbage
      • Collard Greens
      • Ham or Pork
      • Lentils
      • Whiskey (or good, strong booze in general)
      • Potato Pancakes

Most of the foods associated with the New Year are related to prosperity and wealth in some way.  For instance, lentils and potato pancakes are shaped like coins.  Black-eyed peas have fertility and abundance going for them.  Cabbage and collards look like wads of bills waiting to be spent, etc.  Some folks recommend the addition of non-edible components to the meal, such as coins for prosperity.  Patrick W. Gainer says, “It will bring good luck if on New year’s Day you cook cabbage and black-eyed peas together and put a dime in them” (p.123).   Listener and podcaster Aria Nightengale shared her New Year’s food lore during our recent contest, saying, “[W]e always eat pork and cabbage on new year’s day.  According to my Momaw, we eat pork because pigs eat moving forward not backwards, so pork will help you move forward through the new year.  I don’t know the specific purpose of the cabbage…but Momaw cooks it with a silver dollar in it for prosperity.”

There’s a distinctly Southern dish called Hoppin’ John made from black-eyed peas, onions, and ham which can usually be found simmering away on most stovetops during the New Year.  It’s so important to our traditions that many restaurants also offer some version of it on New Year’s Day.  My wife and I have a tradition of going to one specific restaurant every year where we can get good potato pancakes and hoppin’ john to help bring in the New Year with a couple of our friends.  It makes for a nice way to spend the day, and ensures that we get our black-eyed pea requirement taken care of.

There are still many more traditions we could discuss (and I hope to!), such as cleaning practices, taboos, whether or not to give gifts, etc.  But for now, I hope this has been a nice introduction to the wonderfully lore-rich practices of New Year’s celebration.  Here’s wishing you a great day, and a great ending to the year!

All the best, and thanks for reading,

-Cory


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