I thought this piece on superstitions from The Black Country Bugle might be interesting today
OLDEN DAYS SUPERSTITIONS CUSTOMS & BELIEFS...
Recently browsing through some old copies of ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ we came across the following references to Worcestershire Superstitions - some of which still ring distant bells for most of us - even in this ultra-modern age. For instance, if you spill salt do you still throw a little of it over your shoulder to neutralise the bad luck supposedly incurred?
Cutting your nails, or having them cut, on Sunday is still taboo in many Midland households and probably much further afield. In fact the Gentleman’s Magazine contributor who provided the following list of ‘occurrences considered unlucky’ stated that though he had gathered them in Worcestershire, from Dudley to the City of Worcester, itself, many were also just as widely believed in Shropshire. The list reads as follows...
(1)...To meet a cross-eyed woman who is a stranger - unless you speak to her, which breaks the spell.
(2)...To embark on a journey on Friday.
(3)...To spill salt or help another person to it, at the table.
(4)...To have crickets in the house.
(5)...To be one of a party of thirteen at Christmas.
(6)...To have a female come into your house, the first thing on New Year’s morning. So generally does this absurdity prevail that in many towns and villages young lads make a ‘good thing of it’ by selling their services to go round and enter the houses first that morning.
(7)...To have a cut onion lying about in the house - which breeds distempers.
(8)...To cross knives accidentally at mealtimes.
(9)...To walk or stand under a ladder.
(10)...For the first young lamb or colt you see in season to have its tail pointing toward you.
(11)...To kill a lady-cow (sometimes called ‘God Almighty’s cow).
(12)...To see the first of the New Moon through a window, or glass of any sort is unlucky. But if you see it in the open air, turn the money in your pocket, and express a wish for luck during the ensuing month - which is supposed to ensure same...
(13)...To have apples and blossoms on a tree at the same time is a sign of an imminent death in the family.
(14)...To have a long succession of black cards (spades or clubs) dealt to a person whilst in play, is prophetic of death to himself or some member of the family.
(15)...When a corpse is limp it is a sign of another close death in the family.
(16)...As to cutting your nails on Sunday, the following couplet is very expressive...
Better a child was
than have his nails
on Sunday shorn...
(17)...The itching of the nose is a sign of bad news. If the ear itches, you may expect news from the living. If the face burns, someone is talking about you - and when you shudder, someone is walking over the spot where your grave will be.
(18)...To accidentally leave a teapot lid open is a sign that a stranger is coming and when a cock crows in your doorway or a bit of black stuff hangs on the bars of the grate, it is a sign of a similar event...
(19)...If a bit of coal pops from the fire and in shape resembles a purse or a coffin, it pertains good luck or death.
(20)...Tea-drinking is said to foreshadow a large number of coming events, like the receipt of presents, the coming of strangers, or obtaining sweethearts and the like, merely from the shape of the grounds (tea-leaves)...
(21)...A bright speck in the candle, is a sure indication that a letter is coming to the individual to whom it points.
(22)... ‘A great year for nuts - a great year for children’ is a common saying.
(23)...To present a friend with a knife is supposed to be the instrument of cutting off a friendship...
(24)...A donkey braying is an infallible sign of rain.
(25)...To cut your hair during the increase of the moon is said to promote favourable growth.
(26)...The horse-shoe is still seen over the door in many places and fastened to bedsteads it is supposed to keep witches away.
(27)...A pillow filled with hops and laid under a patient’s bed, is an undoubted cure for rheumatism.
Having given his list, the writer continued in more expansive style - as follows...
In rural districts, great faith is put in rings made from shillings and sixpences given at the Sacrement and many clergymen have told us of repeated applications having been made to them for Sacrement shillings, for the purpose of keeping away evil spirits, or as a remedy for fits. Mr Watson in his ‘History of Hartlebury’ says that he believes nearly every person in that district, who was subject to fits, wore such a ring - and there is another parish in the county, where, I am told, even the Protestant poor go to the Romanist priest to have the relics of saints applied to their limbs for the cure of diseases...
A superstition exists in some parts of the county that if pieces of the Alder tree are carried in the pockets, they are a safeguard against rheumatism. In the Wyre Forest, near Bewdley, is a botanical curiosity, namely, the celebrated Pyrus Domestics, said to be the only tree of its kind growing wild in England. It is of the same kind as Rowan or Mountain Ash, which was, and even now, is vulgarly worn as a remedy against witchcraft. It is much thought of by common people and there are various traditions concerning it. The name given to the tree is ‘The Withy Pear’ - the Mountain Ash also being called ‘The Withy Tree’ - and the leaves of this tree are very similar. One of our Naturalist Field Clubs visited it in August 1853. Vegetation was then entirely confined to its top boughs which, however, still held a few pears on them...
Charms are still believed in to a great extent among the poor. Again, in the neighbourhood of Hartlebury, they break the legs of a toad, sew it up in a bag, alive, and tie it round the neck of a patient.
The peasantry around Tenbury and Shrawley, have also great faith in charms and ‘The Toad Remedy’ is there applied as in the former place - the life or death of the patient supposed to be shadowed forth by the survival or death of the toad. At Mathon, old women are entrusted with the curing of burns by charming which they do by repeating the lines of a doggerel rhyme, beginning...
There were two Angels
came from the North
with burning wings
they sallied forth
One was named Jess’ca
the other was Wray.
As their wing-es shrivel
shall thy burns go away.
In the neighbourhood of Stoke Prior, a charm was, some time ago, used by a labouring man for the removal of the thrush (or ‘throcks’ - as it is locally termed). He put his finger into his mouth and then into the mouth of a child, rubbing the gums while he mumbled out something, terminating with... ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost ‘tiz clear who needs the throcks the most’... Then, putting down the child he would, without speaking another word, leave the house without eating or drinking, confident that he would be cured on the morrow. At least, one third of the population believe entirely in these things and allow their lives to be ruled by them, terrified are they if they hear a howling dog or the flame of a candle in its movements form the shape of a winding sheet - for they surely, as they believe, signal the approach of The Grim Reaper.
The colliers at Dudley, in the event of a fatal accident to one of their number, all of those in the same pit immediately cease work until the corpse is buried. A certain sum must also be spent on drink and this is called ‘Dead Money’. Nor will folk there allow any washing to be done on Good Friday and also firmly believe that hot-cross buns or any other bread made on that same blessed day, will never go mouldy and if kept for twelve months and then grated into some liquor, it will prove a great soother of the belly-ache...
Many superstitions also attach to the keeping of bees. It is firmly believed that when who keeps them dies, and his corpse is being carried from the house, the bee-hives must be turned at that precise moment or they will follow their dead keeper to the grave and never return to the hives. In one instance, I was told, that on one such sad occasion, one of the bearers, as he helped carry the coffin from the house, shouted to a farm servant... ‘Turn the Bees’. The fellow, being much lacking in intelligence, through close breeding, not knowing the custom and being greatly feared when the command ‘Turn the Damn Bees’ was angrily repeated, lifted the hives up and laid them down on their sides. The bees, thus disturbed, swiftly swarmed and fastened onto the attendants and mourners and for a time the corpse was left to his own devices. Hats, wigs and shawls were lost in the confusion and the dolt who had caused the scene of chaos, made haste to clamber over a five-barred gate and make his escape...