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Title: Domestic folk-lore
Author: Dyer, T. F. Thiselton (Thomas Firminger Thiselton)
Language: English
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              DOMESTIC FOLK-LORE.



    _Author of "British Popular Customs" and
             "English Folk-lore."_

          _LONDON, PARIS & NEW YORK._

            [ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.]


For the name "Folk-lore" in its present signification, embracing the
Popular Traditions, Proverbial Sayings, Superstitions, and Customs
of the people, we are in a great measure indebted to the late editor
of _Notes and Queries_--Mr. W. J. Thoms--who, in an anonymous
contribution to the _Athenæum_ of 22nd August, 1846, very aptly
suggested this comprehensive term, which has since been adopted as
the recognised title of what has now become an important branch of
antiquarian research.

The study of Folk-lore is year by year receiving greater attention,
its object being to collect, classify, and preserve survivals of
popular belief, and to trace them as far as possible to their
original source. This task is no easy one, as school-boards and
railways are fast sweeping away every vestige of the old beliefs
and customs which, in days gone by, held such a prominent place in
social and domestic life. The Folk-lorist has, also, to deal with
remote periods, and to examine the history of tales and traditions
which have been handed down from the distant past and have lost
much of their meaning in the lapse of years. But, as a writer in
the _Standard_ has pointed out, Folk-lore students tread on no
man's toes. "They take up points of history which the historian
despises, and deal with monuments more intangible but infinitely more
ancient than those about which Sir John Lubbock is so solicitous.
They prosper and are happy on the crumbs dropped from the tables of
the learned, and grow scientifically rich on the refuse which less
skilful craftsmen toss aside as useless. The tales with which the
nurse wiles her charge asleep provide for the Folk-lore student a
succulent banquet--for he knows that there is scarcely a child's
story or a vain thought that may not be traced back to the boyhood of
the world, and to those primitive races from which so many polished
nations have sprung."

The field of research, too, in which the Folk-lorist is engaged is
a most extensive one, supplying materials for investigation of a
widespread character. Thus he recognises and, as far as he possibly
can, explains the smallest item of superstition wherever found, not
limiting his inquiries to any one subject. This, therefore, whilst
enhancing the value of Folk-lore as a study, in the same degree
increases its interest, since with a perfect impartiality it lays
bare superstition as it exists among all classes of society. Whilst
condemning, it may be, the uneducated peasant who places credence in
the village fortune-teller or "cunning man," we are apt to forget
how oftentimes persons belonging to the higher classes are found
consulting with equal faith some clairvoyant or spirit-medium.

Hence, however reluctant the intelligent part of the community may be
to own the fact, it must be admitted that superstition, in one form
or another, dwells beneath the surface of most human hearts, although
it may frequently display itself in the most disguised or refined
form. Among the lower orders, as a writer has observed, "it wears its
old fashions, in the higher it changes with the rapidity of modes
in fashionable circles." Indeed, it is no matter of surprise that
superstition prevails among the poor and ignorant, when we find the
affluent and enlightened in many cases quite as ready to repose their
belief in the most illogical ideas.

In conclusion, we would only add that the present little volume has
been written with a view of showing how this rule applies even to the
daily routine of Domestic Life, every department of which, as will be
seen in the following pages, has its own Folk-lore.

                                       T. F. THISELTON DYER.

    _Brighton, May, 1881._



    BIRTH AND INFANCY.                                          PAGE

    Value of Superstitions--Lucky Days and Hours of Birth--The
    Caul--The Changeling--The Evil Eye--"Up and not
    Down"--Rocking the Empty Cradle--Teeth, Nails, and
    Hands--The Maple and the Ash--Unchristened Children            1



    Nursery Literature--The Power of Baptism--Confirmation--Popular
    Prayers--Weather Rhymes--School Superstitions--Barring
    out                                                           16



    Love-tests--Plants used in Love-charms--The Lady-bird--The
    Snail--St. Valentine's Day--Midsummer Eve--Hallowe'en--Omens
    on Friday                                                     23



    Seasons and Days propitious to Marriage--Superstitions connected
    with the Bride--Meeting a Funeral--Robbing the Bride of
    Pins--Dancing in a Hog's Trough--The Wedding-cake--The Ring   36



    Warnings of Death--The Howling of Dogs--A Cow in the
    Garden--Death-presaging Birds--Plants--The Will-o'-the-Wisp--The
    Sympathy between Two Personalities--Prophecy--Dying
    Hardly--The Last Act--Place and Position of the Grave         48



    Superstitions about Deformity, Moles, &c.--Tingling of the
    Ear--The Nose--The Eye--The Teeth--The Hair--The
    Hand--Dead Man's Hand--The Feet                               65



    New Clothes at Easter and Whitsuntide--Wearing of Clothes--The
    Clothes of the Dead--The Apron, Stockings, Garters, &c.--The
    Shoe--The Glove--The Ring--Pins                               81



    Thirteen at Table--Salt-spilling--The Knife--Bread, and other
    Articles of Food--Wishing Bones--Tea-leaves--Singing before
    Breakfast--Shaking Hands across the Table                    100



    Folk-lore of the Looking-glass--Luck of Edenhall--
    Clock-falling--Chairs--Beds--The Bellows                     111



    Prevalence and Continuity of Superstitions--Sneezing--
    Stumbling--A Whistling Woman--Sweeping--Breaking
    Crockery--Fires and Candles--Money--Other Superstitions      120



    Bible and Key--Dipping--Sieve and Shears--Crowing of the
    Cock--Spatulamancia--Palmistry and Onymancy--Look-divination--
    Astrology--Cards--Casting Lot--Tea-stalks                    134



    Charm-remedies--For Ague--Bleeding of the Nose--Burns--Cramp--
    Epilepsy--Fits--Gout--Headache, &c.                          148



    Horse-shoes--Precautions against Witchcraft--The Charmer--Second
    Sight--Ghosts--Dreams--Nightmare                             169

    INDEX                                                        181




    Value of Superstitions--Lucky Days and Hours of Birth--The
    Caul--The Changeling--The Evil Eye--"Up and not Down"--Rocking
    the Empty Cradle--Teeth, Nails, and Hands--The Maple and the
    Ash--Unchristened Children.

Around every stage of human life a variety of customs and
superstitions have woven themselves, most of which, apart from
their antiquarian value, as having been bequeathed to us from the
far-off past, are interesting in so far as they illustrate those
old-world notions and quaint beliefs which marked the social and
domestic life of our forefathers. Although, therefore, many of these
may appear to us meaningless, yet it must be remembered that they
were the natural outcome of that scanty knowledge and those crude
conceptions which prevailed in less enlightened times than our own.
Probably, if our ancestors were in our midst now, they would be able
in a great measure to explain and account for what is often looked
upon now-a-days as childish fancy and so much nursery rubbish. In
the present chapter it is proposed to give a brief and general
survey of the folk-lore associated with birth and infancy, without,
however, entering critically into its origin or growth, or tracing
its transmigration from one country to another. Commencing, then,
with birth, we find that many influences are supposed to affect the
future fortune and character of the infant. Thus, in some places
great attention is paid to the day of the week on which the child is
born, as may be gathered from the following rhyme still current in

    "Sunday's child is full of grace,
    Monday's child is full in the face,
    Tuesday's child is solemn and sad,
    Wednesday's child is merry and glad,
    Thursday's child is inclined to thieving,
    Friday's child is free in giving,
    Saturday's child works hard for his living"--

a piece of folk-lore varying, of course, in different localities. By
general consent, however, Sunday is regarded as a most lucky day for
birth, both in this country and on the Continent; and according to
the "Universal Fortune-teller"--a book very popular among the lower
classes in former years--"great riches, long life, and happiness" are
in store for those fortunate beings born on Sunday, while in Sussex
they are considered safe against drowning and hanging. Importance
is also attached to the hour of birth; and the faculty of seeing
much that is hidden from others is said to be granted to children
born at the "chime hours," _i.e._, the hours of three, six, nine, or
twelve--a superstition found in many parts of the Continent. There
is, too, an idea prevalent in Germany that when a child is born
in leap-year either it or its mother will die within the course of
the year--a notion not unknown in our own country. Again, from time
immemorial various kinds of divination have been in use for the
purpose of discovering the sex of an infant previous to its birth.
One of these is by means of a shoulder-of-mutton bone, which, after
the whole of the flesh has been stripped clean off, must be hung up
the last thing at night over the front door of the house. On the
following morning the sex of the first person who enters, exclusive
of the members of the household, indicates the sex of the child.

We will next turn to some of the countless superstitions connected
with the new-born child. A highly popular one refers to the caul--a
thin membrane occasionally found covering the head at birth, and
deemed specially lucky, as indicating, among other things, that the
child will never be drowned. It has been, in consequence, termed
the "holy" or "fortunate hood," and great care is generally taken
that it should not be lost or thrown away, for fear of the death or
sickness of the child. This superstitious fancy was very common in
the primitive ages of the Church, and St. Chrysostom inveighs against
it in several of his homilies. The presence of a caul on board ship
was believed to prevent shipwreck, and owners of vessels paid a large
price for them. Most readers will, no doubt, recollect how Thomas
Hood wrote for his early work, "Whims and Oddities," a capital ballad
upon this vulgar error. Speaking of the jolly mariner who confidently
put to sea in spite of the ink-black sky which "told every eye a
storm was soon to be," he goes on to say--

    "But still that jolly mariner
      Took in no reef at all;
    For in his pouch confidingly
      He wore a baby's caul."

It little availed him, however; for as soon as the storm in ruthless
fury burst upon his frail bark, he

      "Was smothered by the squall.
    Heaven ne'er heard his cry, nor did
      The ocean heed his _caul_!"

Advocates also purchased them, that they might be endued with
eloquence, the price paid having often been from twenty to thirty
guineas. They seem to have had other magical properties, as Grose
informs us that any one "possessed of a caul may know the state of
health of the person who was born with it. If alive and well, it is
firm and crisp; if dead or sick, relaxed and flaccid." In France the
luck supposed to belong to a caul is proverbial, and _être né coiffé_
is an expression signifying that a person is extremely fortunate.
Apart from the ordinary luck supposed to attach to the "caul," it
may preserve the child from a terrible danger to which, according
to the old idea, it is ever exposed--namely, that of being secretly
carried off and exchanged by some envious witch or fairy for its own
ill-favoured offspring. This superstition was once very common in
many countries, and was even believed by Martin Luther, if we are to
rely on the following extract from his "Table Book:"--"Changelings
Satan lays in the place of the genuine children, that people may
be tormented with them. He often carries off young maidens into
the water." This most reprehensible of the practices attributed
to the fairies is constantly spoken of by our old writers, and is
several times mentioned by Shakespeare. In the speech of Puck, in _A
Midsummer Night's Dream_ (Act ii., sc. 1), that jovial sprite says of
Titania's lovely boy--the cause of quarrel between the King and Queen
of Elfland:--

    "She never had so sweet a changeling."

In the _Winter's Tale_ (Act iv., sc. 4) the Shepherd, on discovering
the babe Perdita, tells the Clown, "It was told me I should be
rich by the fairies. This is some changeling." As a preservation
against this danger, sundry charms are observed. Thus, in the
North of England, a carving-knife is still hung from the head of
the cradle, with the point suspended near the child's face. In the
Western Isles of Scotland idiots are believed to be the fairies'
changelings, and in order to regain the lost child, parents have
recourse to the following device:--They place the changeling on the
beach, below high-water mark, when the tide is out, and pay no heed
to its screams, believing that the fairies, rather than allow their
offspring to be drowned by the rising waters, will convey it away and
restore the child they had stolen. The sign that this has been done
is the cessation of the child's crying. In Ireland, too, the peasants
often place the child supposed to be a changeling on a hot shovel, or
torment it in some other way. A similar practice is resorted to in
Denmark, where the mother heats the oven, and places the child on the
peel, pretending to put it in; and sometimes she whips it severely
with a rod, or throws it into the water. The only real safeguard,
however, against this piece of fairy mischief is baptism, and hence
the rite has generally been performed among the peasantry as soon as
possible after birth.

Another danger to which the new-born child is said to be exposed, and
to counteract which baptism is an infallible charm, is the influence
of the "evil eye;" certain persons being thought to possess the power
of inflicting injury by merely looking on those whom they wish to
harm. Although this form of superstition has been gradually dying out
for many years past, yet it still retains its hold in certain country
places. It is interesting to trace this notion as far back as the
time of the Romans; and in the late Professor Conington's translation
of the "Satires of Persius" we find it thus laughably spoken
of:--"Look here! A grandmother or a superstitious aunt has taken baby
from his cradle, and is charming his forehead against mischief by the
joint action of her middle finger and her purifying spittle; for she
knows right well how to check the evil eye." Confining ourselves,
however, to instances recorded in our own country, we find that,
even now-a-days, various charms are practised for counteracting the
baneful influence of this cruel species of witchcraft. Thus, in
Lancashire, some of the chief consist in spitting three times in the
child's face, turning a live coal in the fire, exclaiming, "The Lord
be with us;" whilst in the neighbourhood of Burnley "drawing blood
above the mouth" was once a popular antidote. Self-bored or "lucky
stones" are often hung by the peasantry behind their cottage doors;
and in the South of England a copy of the apocryphal letter of our
Lord to Abgarus, King of Edessa, may occasionally be seen pasted
on the walls. In many places, when a child pines or wastes away,
the cause is often attributed to the "evil eye," and one remedy in
use against this disaster is the following:--Before sunrise it is
brought to a blacksmith of the seventh generation, and laid on the
anvil. The smith then raises his hammer as if he were about to strike
the hot iron, but brings it gently down on the child's body. This
is done three times, after which the child is considered certain
to amend. This superstition survives in Cornwall; and the late Mr.
Hawker, of Morwenstow, a noted authority on such topics, tells us
that two-thirds of the inhabitants of the Tamar side firmly believe
in the power of the evil eye. In Scotland this piece of folk-lore has
prevailed extensively from time immemorial, and one of the charms to
avert it is the "gold and silver water." A sovereign and a shilling
are put into water, which is sprinkled over the patient in the name
of the Trinity. Again, in the Highlands of Scotland, ash-sap is given
to new-born children, because, in common with the rowan, that tree is
supposed to possess the property of resisting the attacks of witches,
fairies, and other imps of darkness. The Irish think that not only
their children but their cattle are "eye-bitten" when they fall
suddenly sick.

Among other important items of folk-lore associated with birth may
be mentioned the popular belief that a child should go up in the
world before it goes down. On leaving its mother's room for the first
time, it is considered absolutely necessary that it should be carried
_up-stairs_ before it goes _down-stairs_, otherwise it will always
keep low in the world, and never rise in after-life either to riches
or distinction. When, however, as often happens, the mother's room
is on the top storey, the nurse overcomes the obstacle by placing
a chair near the door, on which she steps before leaving the room.
In Yorkshire it is further stated that a new-born infant should
always be placed first in the arms of a maiden before any one else
touches it. It has been aptly questioned by Mr. Henderson, in his
"Folk-lore of the Northern Counties," whether we may not trace in
this practice an outgrowth of the mediæval belief that the Virgin
Mary was present at the birth of St. John the Baptist, and received
him first in her arms. Some, too, will never permit an infant to
sleep upon bones--that is, the lap--a piece of folk-lore founded
on some degree of truth; for it has been pointed out that it is
undoubtedly better for a child to support it throughout its whole
length, than to allow its head or legs to hang down, as they might
probably do if the infant was sleeping on the lap. Again, there is
a common idea that a baby and a kitten cannot thrive in the same
house; and should, therefore, as is not unfrequently the case, a cat
have kittens at the time of a birth, these are immediately either
destroyed or given away. Few nurses, also, can be found courageous
enough to weigh a young child, from a superstitious conviction that
it is unfortunate so to do, the child often dying, or, at any rate,
not thriving afterwards. Equally unlucky, too, is it considered to
rock baby's empty cradle, it being an omen of its death--a belief
which also prevails in Scotland. The same notion exists in many parts
of the Continent, and the Swedish folk tell us that it should be
avoided, as it is apt to make the child noisy and given to crying. It
is also deprecated on another ground, that it is ominous of another
claimant for that place of rest--a piece of folk-lore which the
Sussex peasantry express in the following rhyme:--

    "If you rock the cradle empty,
    Then you shall have babies plenty."

Many consider it a bad sign when the first tooth makes its appearance
in the upper jaw, denoting, it is said, that the child will not
survive its infancy. Whilst speaking of teeth, it may be noted that
they occupy an important place in the folk-lore of infancy. Many
readers will no doubt recollect how the Duke of Gloucester, in
_3 Henry VI._ (Act v., sc. 6), when describing the peculiarities
connected with his birth, relates that--

    "The midwife wondered, and the women cried,
    'O Jesus bless us, he is born with teeth!'
    And so I was, which plainly signified
    That I should snarl, and bite, and play the dog."

In Sussex it is still customary for little children to wear a
necklace of beads made from the root of the peony, as this is
supposed to act as a charm in assisting the cutting of their teeth.
In the same county, too, the peasantry have a great dislike to
throwing away the cast teeth of young children, believing that should
any be accidentally found and gnawed by an animal, the child's new
tooth would exactly correspond with the animal's which had bitten
the old one. Once more, in Scotland and the North of England, when
the first teeth come out, sundry precautions are taken, to make sure
that the fresh ones may be sound and healthy. One of these consists
in filling the cavity with salt, after which the tooth must be burnt,
while the following formula is repeated:--

    "Fire! fire! burn bone;
    God send me my tooth again."

This practice exists in Sweden, and likewise in Switzerland, where
the tooth is wrapped up in paper, with a little salt, and then
thrown into the fire. The teeth, however, are not the only objects
of superstition in infancy, similar importance being attached to the
nails. In many places, for instance, it is considered imprudent to
cut them till baby is a year old, and then they should be bitten off,
or else there is a likelihood of its growing up dishonest, or of its
being, as the Sussex peasantry say, "light-fingered." Anyhow, special
attention is to be paid to the day of the week on which the child's
nails are cut, if there be any truth in a well-known proverb--

    "Better a child had ne'er been born,
    Than cut his nails on a Sunday morn."

The same warning is given in Germany, and if it is disregarded, it
is said that the child will be liable to stammer as it grows up. A
curious Northumberland belief affirms that if the first parings of a
child's nails are carefully buried under an ash-tree, it will turn
out in after-life a capital singer. It is also a popular fancy in
nursery folk-lore that the child's future career in this world can
be easily augured from the little specks on its nails, a species of
palmistry still extensively credited by even educated persons, and
one, too, not confined to infancy. Again, the infant's tiny hands
are not free from superstition, and here and there, throughout the
country, there is a notion that for the first few months after its
birth the right one should remain unwashed, the reason assigned for
this strange piece of eccentricity being that it may gather riches.
According to another idea, children born open-handed are said to be
of a bountiful disposition. In Scotland, too, great attention is
paid as to which hand a child uses when taking up for the first time
a spoon to eat. If it should happen to be the left, then, alas! he
is doomed to be an unlucky fellow all through his life. Indeed, as
far as we can judge from the numerous items of folk-lore still in
vogue, it would seem that the early period of infancy, in one way
or another, furnishes countless opportunities for ascertaining what
kind of life is in store for the child in years to come, almost
every trivial action being regarded as indicative of something or
other that shall befall it. Although many of these ideas may seem to
us in this nineteenth century apparently senseless, yet it must be
remembered they are frequently survivals of primitive culture, and
are interesting as having been handed down to us from the distant
past. According to an old superstition, parents desirous of securing
long life for their children should pass them through the branches of
a maple. A few years ago one of these trees had long been resorted
to for this purpose in West Grinstead Park, and as soon as a rumour
spread through the parish that it was about to be demolished, quite
a consternation prevailed in the neighbourhood. Similar properties
are supposed to belong to the ash, weakly infants that do not thrive
being drawn through a cleft in its trunk. This charm, as performed
in Cornwall, is thus:--A large knife is inserted into the trunk of a
young ash, about a foot from the ground, and a vertical opening made
for about three feet. Two men then forcibly pull the parts asunder,
and hold them so, whilst the mother passes the child through the
cleft three times. The ceremony does not end here, as the child has
to be washed for three successive mornings in the dew from the leaves
of the "charmed ash." This supposed magical property of the ash has
an additional interest, when we consider that some thousands of
years ago our ancestors regarded it as one of their wonder-working
trees, and associated it with some of their oldest traditions. At the
present day, too, it is the subject of an extensive folk-lore, to
which we shall have occasion to refer in a succeeding chapter.

Again, if a baby frets and does not appear to thrive, it is supposed
by some to be "longing." Thus, a Sussex nurse one day said to a lady,
"Baby is so uncommon fretty, I do believe he must be longing for
something." When asked what he could be longing for, she replied,
"Something that his mother longed for, but did not get, before he
was born, and the best way to satisfy him would be, I think, to
try him with a brandied cherry, or some hare's brains." This piece
of superstition, however, is not confined to Sussex. Once more,
in addition to the popular notion that cats suck the breath of
infants and so cause their death--one, indeed, without a particle
of truth--there is another in which poor pussy is the victim, an
illustration of which we quote from "Rambles in an Old City," by a
Norfolk author:--"Not long since a woman, holding quite a respectable
rank among the working classes, avowed herself determined to 'drownd'
the cat as soon as ever her baby, which was lying ill, should die.
The only explanation she could give for this determination was that
the cat jumped upon the nurse's lap as the baby lay there soon after
it was born, from which time it ailed, and ever since that time the
cat had regularly gone under its bed once a day and coughed twice.
These mysterious actions of poor 'Tabby' were assigned as the cause
of the baby wasting, and its fate was to be sealed as soon as that
of the poor infant was decided. That the baby happened to be the
twenty-fourth child of his mother, who had succeeded in rearing only
four of the two dozen, was a fact that seemed to possess no weight
whatever in her estimation." This strange antipathy to our domestic
animal no doubt took its origin in the old belief that the cat's is
one of the numerous forms which witches are fond of assuming, and on
this account, in days gone by, poor pussy was oftentimes subjected
to gross ill-treatment at the hands of the ignorant classes. At the
present day, in Germany, there is a deep-rooted belief that witches,
when bent on doing mischief, take the form of a cat, and many stories
are current of their frightening their victims by appearing as "the
nightmare;" or, if dishonestly disposed, of their drinking their
neighbour's beer. Returning, however, again to the subject of our
present chapter, there is a superstitious fancy in the North of
England that it is unlucky to walk over the graves of unchristened
children, which is vulgarly called "unchristened ground," the person
who does so rendering himself liable to catching the fatal disease
of the "grave-scab." This complaint, we are told by Mr. Henderson,
"comes on with a trembling of the limbs and hard breathing, and at
last the skin burns as if touched with hot iron," in allusion to
which an old ballad tells us--

    "And it ne'er will be cured by doctor on earth,
      Tho' every one should tent him, oh!
    He shall tremble and die like the elf-shot eye,
      And return from whence he came, oh!"

There is, however, a remedy, though not easy of attainment--"It lies
in the wearing a sark, thus prepared:--The lint must be grown in a
field which shall be manured from a farmyard heap that has not been
disturbed for forty years. It must be spun by Habbitrot, the queen of
spinsters; it must be bleached by an honest bleacher, in an honest
miller's mill-dam, and sewed by an honest tailor. On donning this
mysterious vestment, the sufferer will at once regain his health and
strength." Unfortunately the necessary conditions for the successful
accomplishment of this charm are so difficult, that he must be a
clever man who can fulfil them. In the South of England, on the
other hand, we do not find the same dread attaching to the graves
of still-born children. Thus on a certain occasion, when one of the
Commissioners of Devonport complained that a charge of one shilling
and sixpence should have been made upon the parish authorities for
the grave and interment of a still-born child, he added that "when
he was a young man it was thought lucky to have a still-born child
put into an open grave, as it was considered to be a sure passport
to heaven for the next person buried there." According to another
superstitious notion, if a mother frets and pines after her baby when
it is dead, it is said that it cannot rest, and will come back to
earth again. Various stories are on record of children thus visiting
their mothers after death, an instance of which we quote from the
"Dialect of Leeds:"--It appears that soon after the birth of the
mother's next child, the previous one that had died entered her room
with eyes deeply sunken, as if with much weeping, and on approaching
the bed, said, "Mother, I can't rest if you will go on fretting."
She replied, "Well, lad, I wean't fret any more." He then looked
upon the bed and said, "Let's luke at it, mother!" She turned down
the coverlet and let him look at her new-born babe. "It'll die," he
said, and vanished. These, then, are some of the boundless dangers
and difficulties that are supposed to beset the beginnings of life;
and, taking into consideration the importance of that momentous
crisis, when a fresh actor is introduced upon the world's great
stage, it is not surprising that this event has, in most ages and
countries, been associated with divers superstitions, and given rise
to sundry customs, each of which has helped to invest man's entry
into this world with all that grandeur which such a solemn occasion



    Nursery Literature--The Power of Baptism--Confirmation--Popular
    Prayers--Weather Rhymes--School Superstitions--Barring out.

It must not be supposed that childhood has no special folk-lore of
its own. It is, in fact, of a most varied kind, many of the old
traditionary beliefs and practices associated with the nursery being
relics of what the Scandinavian mothers taught their children in days
of long ago. The familiar fairy-tales of our own childhood still form
the nursery literature in most homes, and are of unusual interest
as embodying not only the myths and legends of the ancient Aryan
race, but their conceptions about the world around them. Thus, for
instance, the well-known story of "Cinderella," like many others of
the same character, such as "Jack the Giant Killer," or "Beauty and
the Beast," are to be found in almost all countries, and although
the versions differ in some respects, yet they point to a common
origin at a very remote period. Indeed, it is curious that there
should still exist among the children of the nineteenth century an
undying love for these survivals of Aryan literature, couched in
such graceful and simple language that few modern compositions can
be found to equal them. In reading, therefore, about the dwellers
in Wonderland, the young mind is unconsciously taking in primitive
notions about the workings of nature as seen in the succession of
day and night, the changes of the seasons, and so on. In the story
of "Cinderella," we have the ancient nature-myth of the sun and the
dawn, representing the morning sun in the form of a fairy prince
pursuing Cinderella, the dawn, to claim her for his bride, whilst the
envious clouds, her sisters, and the moon, her stepmother, strive
to keep her in the background. It would, however, take too long and
require a book of itself to discuss the history and meaning of these
fairy tales which so delight the childish fancy, and exercise such a
wholesome influence, inculcating some of the noblest sentiments and
loftiest teachings of the founders of our race. Referring then more
particularly to the superstitions connected with childhood, we would,
first of all, briefly speak of those relating to certain outward
circumstances, which are believed to affect more or less the child's
welfare in life.

Thus, it is a deep-rooted belief that a child never thrives until
after its baptism; and in cases of illness the clergyman is more
often perhaps sent for by the poor from a belief in the physical
virtue of the sacred rite itself, rather than from any actual
conviction of its religious importance. Indeed, how much potency is
supposed to reside in baptism may be gathered from the countless
superstitions with which it is associated, the omission of this rite
being attended more often than not with fatal results. Hence it is
frequently performed as soon as possible after birth, one reason
being, as we have already seen, that so long as the child remains
unbaptised it is thought to be at the mercy of ill-disposed fairies,
and subject to the influence of the evil eye. According to another
popular fancy, not confined to our own country, should a child have
the misfortune to die unchristened, it is doomed either to flit
restlessly around its parents' abode, or to wander about in deserted
spots, daily repining over its hard and unenviable lot. In Germany,
tradition says that such children are transformed into that delusive
little meteor known as the will-o'-the-wisp, and so ceaselessly hover
between heaven and earth. On one occasion, we are told of a Dutch
parson who, happening to go home to his village late one evening,
fell in with no less than three of these fiery phenomena. Remembering
them to be the souls of unbaptised children, he solemnly stretched
out his hand and pronounced the words of baptism over them. Much,
however, to his terrible consternation and surprise, in the twinkling
of an eye a thousand or more of these apparitions suddenly made
their appearance--no doubt all equally anxious to be christened. The
good man, runs the story, was so terribly frightened, that forgetting
all his good intentions, he took to his heels and ran home as fast
as his legs could take him. In Lusatia, where the same superstition
prevails, the souls of these unhappy children, which hover about in
the form of will-o'-the-wisps, are said to be relieved from their
unhappy wanderings so soon as any pious hand throws a handful of
consecrated ground after them.

In Scotland, to make quite sure of baptism being altogether
propitious, it was deemed highly important that the person entrusted
with the care of the child should be known by common report to be
lucky. She was generally provided with a piece of bread and cheese,
which she presented to the first person she met as an offering
from the infant. If the party readily accepted and partook of the
proffered gift, it was undoubtedly a good omen; but if refused
it was considered tantamount to wishing evil to the child. Hence
the future destiny of the little one was often augured from this
superstitious ceremony, which, by-the-by, is also practised in the
West of England, but the events of its after-life only too often
belied the weal and woe predicted for it. Again, it is thought highly
necessary that the child should cry at its baptism, or else ill-luck
will sooner or later overtake it, the idea being that, when the child
screams and kicks, the evil spirit is in the act of quitting it; its
silence, on the other hand, indicating that it is too good for this
wicked world. An amusing little episode in illustration of this
curious superstition is related by Mrs. Latham, in the "Folk-lore
Record:"--"I was lately present at a christening in Sussex, when a
lady of the party, who was grandmother of the child, whispered in
a voice of anxiety, 'The child never cried; why did not the nurse
rouse it up?' After we had left the church she said to her, 'O nurse,
why did not you pinch baby?' And when the baby's good behaviour was
afterwards commented upon, she observed, with a very serious air, 'I
wish that he had cried.'" In the same county it is considered unlucky
to divulge a child's intended name before its baptism; and the water
sprinkled on its forehead at the font must on no account be wiped
off. Whilst on the subject of baptism, we would just note that in
former years peculiar curative properties were supposed to reside in
water that had been used at this rite, and on this account it was
employed for various disorders. It was also regarded in Scotland as a
preservative against witchcraft; and eyes bathed in it were rendered
for life incapable of seeing ghosts.

It may not be inappropriate to allude here to the superstitions
relative to confirmation, following in due time, as this rite does,
on baptism. In Norfolk, for instance, it is considered unlucky to be
touched by the bishop's left hand; and in Devonshire, also, where a
similar notion prevails, young people look upon his right hand as the
lucky one, and should it not be their privilege to receive it, they
leave the church much disappointed. In some of the northern counties,
we are informed that the unfortunate recipients of the left hand
are doomed, then and there, to a life of single blessedness. This
is not the only species of superstition belonging to confirmation,
for instances are on record of persons who, although confirmed in
their early life, have again presented themselves for confirmation
in their old age, under a conviction that the bishop's blessing
would cure them of some bodily ailment. It is related that, at one
of the confirmations of the venerable Bishop Bathurst, an old woman
was observed eagerly pressing forward to the church. A by-stander,
somewhat amazed at her odd conduct, and struck with her aged
appearance, inquired if she was going to be confirmed, and, being
answered in the affirmative, expressed his astonishment that she
should have procrastinated it to such an advanced time of life. The
old woman, however, resented his reproof, replying "that it was not
so; that she had already been bishopped seven times, and intended to
be again, it was so good for her rheumatism!"

In some cases the prayers taught by the poor to their children
are curious. Thus, a popular prayer, formerly in use, and not yet
forgotten, is evidently a relic of Roman Catholic times, having been
handed down from a period anterior to the Reformation. As the reader
will see, the version below contains a distinct appeal to certain
saints for their intercession with God on the child's behalf:--

    "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
    Bless the bed I lie upon;
    Four corners to my bed,
    Four angels at its head,
    One to watch, two to pray,
    And one to bear my soul away;
    God within and God without,
    Sweet Jesus Christ all round about;
    If I die before I wake,
    I pray to God my soul to take."

It has been pointed out that it is very singular that this prayer
should have survived the great change which took place in religious
opinion in the sixteenth century, and that it even still remains in
use. There are many variations of it, and the following two distiches
obtained from Lancashire are quaint, having been written, it has been
thought, by the Puritans, in ridicule:--

    "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
    Hold the horse that I leap on.
    Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
    Take a stick and lay upon."

A Lincolnshire clergyman, anxious to learn something of the nature of
the prayers said by the children of the agricultural poor, visited
some of their cottages a few years ago in the evening, and listened
to the little ones as they said their prayers. The concluding
portion, he tells us, was always intercession for relations, but
the form it generally took was peculiar. In the first place, it was
not, as is the case with the more educated classes, "Pray God bless
father and mother," &c., but "Pray for father, pray for mother, pray
for brothers and sisters," and so on. In certain cases, through
carelessness and rapidity, the words had degenerated into "Pray
father, pray mother," &c. There can be no doubt that originally the
prayer was this:--"Pray for father;" then a _Pater noster_, or an
_Ave Maria_, or both, would be said; then "Pray for mother," &c.
After the Reformation, as time went on, the constant repetition of
the _Pater_ and the use of the _Ave Maria_ would gradually die out
with the change of religious ideas, and thus the prayer would assume
its present form, "Pray for father, pray for mother."

Referring, in the second place, to the superstitions of children,
we find an immense number of curious rhymes on various subjects
used by them throughout the country. While many of these have,
no doubt, been taught them by nurserymaids, a great part, as Mr.
Chambers has pointed out in his "Popular Rhymes of Scotland," may
be thought to have taken their rise in the childish imagination
during that familiar acquaintance with natural objects, which it is
one of the most precious privileges of the young to enjoy in rural
districts. Besides, too, we must not forget that children seem to
have a peculiar love for all natural objects, often finding pleasure
in looking at some wayside flower, or in watching the movements of
some tiny insect, which in after-years do not bring them the same
interest. The fact, indeed, that the young mind is a true admirer of
nature in all probability accounts for many of those pleasing rhymes
which constitute much of the child's folk-lore.

Some of the charms, for instance, used to influence the weather are
curious, and it is worthy of note that these, in many cases, are not
confined to childhood only, but are frequently found in the mouths
of our peasants. Thus the child's appeal to rain for its departure
has become a general charm, and is familiar to most readers:--

    "Rain, rain, go to Spain,
    Fair weather, come again."

Aubrey considers this rhyme of great antiquity, and says that
"it is derived from the Gentiles." Often in summer-time, when a
thunder-shower interrupts some out-door game, one may hear a chorus
of young voices shouting--

    "Rain, rain, go away,
    Come another summer's day."

Or, as other versions have it, "Come again on washing-day." The
appearance of a rainbow is generally, too, the signal for various
marks of dissatisfaction on the part of the young, who, besides
entreating it to vanish as soon as possible, frequently try to
charm it away. This they do by placing a couple of straws or twigs
crossways on the ground, and so, to quote their phrase, "cross out
the rainbow." Another way is to make a cross of two sticks, and to
lay four pebbles on it, one at each end. Again, some of the rhymes
relating to snow are highly quaint, the following being repeated when
it makes its first appearance:--

    "The men of the East
    Are picking their geese,
    And sending their feathers here away, here away."

When, however, boys wish the snow to go away, they sing:--

    "Snow, snow, give over,
    The cow's in the clover."

Thunder, in the North of England, is called by children
"Rattley-bags," and during a storm the boys are in the habit of

    "Rowley, Rowley, Rattley-bags,
    Take the lasses and leave the lads."

There is a rhyme which is often repeated by the juvenile folks in the
north and midland counties upon seeing the new moon, which, perhaps,
may have an indirect allusion to its supposed lucky influence:--

    "I see the moon and the moon sees me,
    God help the parson that baptised me!"--

containing, evidently, a congratulation upon their birth. Boys,
too, have a curious saying respecting the reflection of the sun's
beams upon a ceiling, which they term "Jack-a-dandy beating his
wife with a stick of silver." If a mischievous boy, with a piece of
looking-glass, throws the reflection into the eyes of a neighbour,
the latter complains "he's throwing Jack-a-dandy in my eyes."

Passing on to other charm-rhymes connected with natural objects,
there are a very numerous class relating to the animal creation. In
evening-time, for instance, when the dew begins to fall, boys are
fond of hunting the large black snails, on discovering which they

    "Snail, snail, put out your horn,
    Or I'll kill your father and mother i' th' morn."

This charm, however, is not confined to our own country, but under
a variety of forms is found on the Continent. In Scotland, too,
children prognosticate the coming weather from the movements of this
little creature:--

    "Snailie, snailie, shoot out your horn,
    And tell us if it will be a bonny day the morn."

School-life, again, has its customs and superstitions, many of which
have been transmitted from generation to generation; and childhood,
indeed, would seem quite incomplete without them. Thus, according
to an odd notion universally accepted in days gone by, and still
received with implicit faith, if the master's cane is carefully
nicked at the upper end, and a hair inserted, it will, as soon as
used, split immediately to the very tip. In school-games, the usual
antipathy to odd numbers is found, and a child is easily persuaded
to give away a marble to make the number even. A kind of divination,
also, is still frequently employed by boys to settle matters of
difficulty, such, for example, as who shall be the leaders in a game,
the choice of partners, and other details which are deemed of equal
importance. The mode of procedure is this:--A long stick is thrown
into the air, and caught by one of the parties. Each one then grasps
it hand over hand, and he who succeeds in getting the last hold is
the successful party. Mr. Henderson says that an odd expression
was formerly connected with the lending a knife among boys for the
cutting up of a cake or other dainty, the borrowers being asked to
give it back "laughing," _i.e._, with some of the good things it was
used to cut.

Among the many old school customs, we may close our present chapter
by mentioning a popular one known as "barring out," upon which, it
may be remembered, Miss Edgeworth has founded one of her instructive
stories. The practice consisted in "barring out" the masters from the
scene of their educational labours, the agents in this ceremony being
the pupils of the school. It was an occasion of no small disorder--

    "Not school-boys at a barring out,
    Raised ever such incessant rout."

Addison is reported to have been the leader of a barring out at the
Lichfield Grammar School, and to have displayed on the occasion a
spirit of disorderly daring very different to that timid modesty
which so characterised his after-life. So much, then, for the
folk-lore of childhood, a subject indeed full of interest, and
possessing a worth far beyond the circle of its own immediate
influence, inasmuch as even the simplest nursery jingle or puerile
saying has often been found of help in proving the affinity of
certain races, and has an ethnological value which the student of
comparative philology would be slow to underrate in his task of



    Love-tests--Plants used in Love-charms--The Lady-bird--The
    Snail--St. Valentine's Day--Midsummer Eve--Hallowe'en--Omens on

No event in human life has, from the earliest times, been associated
with a more extensive folk-lore than marriage, which is indeed no
matter of surprise, considering that this is naturally looked upon as
the happiest epoch--the _summum bonum_--of each one's career in this
world. Hence, to write a detailed account of the charms, omens, and
divinations, as well as of the superstitions and customs, connected
with marriage, including its early stages of love and courtship,
would require a volume for itself, so varied and widespread is this
subject of universal interest.

In the present chapter, however, have been collected together,
in as condensed a form as possible, some of the principal items
of folk-lore connected with love and courtship, as we find them
scattered here and there throughout the country. Commencing, then,
with love-divinations, these are of every conceivable kind, the
anxious maiden apparently having left no stone unturned in her
anxiety to ascertain her lot in the marriage state. Hence in her
natural longings to raise the veil of futurity, the aspirant to
matrimony, if she be at all of a superstitious turn of mind, seldom
lets an opportunity pass by without endeavouring to gain from it
some sign or token of the kind of husband that is in store for her.
As soon, too, as the appointed one has at last presented himself,
she is not content to receive with unreserved faith his professions
of love and life-long fidelity; but, in her sly moments, when he is
not at hand, she proves the genuineness of his devotion by certain
charms which, while they cruelly belie his character, only too often
unkindly deceive the love-sick maiden.

In the first place, we may note that love-tests have been derived
from a variety of sources, such as plants, insects, animals,
birds, not to mention those countless other omens obtained from
familiar objects to which we shall have occasion to allude. At the
outset, however, it may not be uninteresting to quote the following
account of love-charms in use about one hundred and fifty years
ago, and which was written by a young lady to the editor of the

"Arabella was in love with a clever Londoner, and had tried all the
approved remedies. She had seen him several times in coffee grounds
with a sword by his side; he was once at the bottom of a tea-cup in
a coach and six, with his two footmen behind it. On the last May
morning she went into the fields to hear the cuckoo; and when she
pulled off her left shoe, she found a hair in it the exact colouring
of his. The same night she sowed hempseed in the back yard, repeating
the words:--

    'Hempseed I sow, hempseed I hoe,
      And he that is my true love,
    Come after me and mow.'

After that she took a clean shift and turned it, and hung it on the
back of a chair; and very likely he would have come and turned it,
for she heard a step, and being frightened could not help speaking,
and that broke the spell. The maid Betty recommended her young
mistress to go backwards, without speaking a word, into the garden on
Midsummer Eve, and gather a rose, keep it in a clean sheet of paper
without looking in it till Christmas Day, it will be as fresh as in
June; and if she sticks this rose in her bosom, he that is to be her
husband will come and take it out. Arabella had tried several other
strange fancies. Whenever she lies in a strange bed, she always ties
her garters nine times round the bed-post, and knits nine knots in
it, saying all the time:--

    'This knot I knit, this knot I tie,
    To see my love as he goes by,
    In his apparel and array,
    As he walks in every day.'

On the last occasion Mr. Blossom drew the curtains and tucked up the
clothes at the bed's feet. She has many times pared an apple whole,
and afterwards flung the peel over her head, and on each occasion the
peel formed the first letter of his Christian name or surname."

Referring to the use of plants in love-charms, they are very
numerous. One popular one consists in taking the leaves of yarrow,
commonly called "nosebleed," and tickling the inside of the nostrils,
repeating at the same time these lines:--

    "Green 'arrow, green 'arrow, you bear a white blow,
    If my love love me, my nose will bleed now;
    If my love don't love me, it 'ont bleed a drop;
    If my love do love me, 'twill bleed every drop."

Some cut the common brake or fern just above the root to ascertain
the initial letters of the future wife's or husband's name; and
the dandelion, as a plant of omen, is much in demand. As soon as
its seeds are ripe they stand above the head of the plant in a
globular form, with a feathery top at the end of each seed, and
then are without any difficulty detached. When in this condition
the flower-stalk must be carefully plucked, so as not to injure the
globe of seeds, the charm consisting in blowing off the seeds with
the breath. The number of puffs that are required to blow every seed
clean off indicates the number of years that must elapse before
the person is married. Again, nuts and apples are very favourite
love-tests. The mode of procedure is for a girl to place on the bars
of the grate a nut, repeating this incantation:--

    "If he loves me, pop and fly;
    If he hates me, live and die."

As may be imagined, great is the dismay if the anxious face of the
inquirer gradually perceives the nut, instead of making the hoped-for
pop, die and make no sign. Again, passing on to insects, one means of
divination is to throw a lady-bird into the air, repeating meanwhile
the subjoined couplet:--

    "Fly away east, and fly away west,
    Show me where lives the one I like best."

Should this little insect chance to fly in the direction of the house
where the loved one resides, it is regarded as a highly-favourable
omen. The snail, again, was much used in love-divinations, many an
eager maiden anxious of ascertaining her lover's name following the
example of Hobnelia, who, in order to test the constancy of her
Lubberkin, did as follows:--

    "Upon a gooseberry bush a snail I found,
    For always snails near sweetest fruit abound.
    I seized the vermin, home I quickly sped,
    And on the hearth the milk-white embers spread;
    Slow crawled the snail, and, if I right can spell,
    In the soft ashes marked a curious L.
    Oh! may this wondrous omen lucky prove,
    For 'L' is found in Lubberkin and Love."

Three magpies are said to prognosticate a wedding; and in our rural
districts the unmarried of either sex calculate the number of years
of single blessedness still allotted to them by counting the cuckoo's
notes when they first hear it in the spring.

Some days are considered specially propitious for practising
love-divinations. Foremost among these is St. Valentine's Day, a
festival which has been considered highly appropriate for such
ceremonies, as there is an old tradition that on this day birds
choose their mates, a notion which is frequently alluded to by the
poets, and particularly by Chaucer, to which reference is made also
in _A Midsummer Night's Dream_:--

    "Good morrow, friends, St. Valentine is past;
    Begin the wood-birds but to couple now."

Thus, the Devonshire young ladies have a fancy that on St.
Valentine's Day they can, if they wish, make certain of their future.
If so disposed, they go into the churchyard at midnight, with some
hempseed in their hand, which, after they have walked round the
church a certain number of times, they scatter on either side as they
return homewards, repeating a certain charm. It is supposed that the
true lover will be seen taking up the hempseed just sown, attired for
the ceremony in a winding-sheet. Another species of love-divination
once observed consisted in obtaining five bay leaves, four of which
the anxious maiden pinned at the four corners of her pillow, and
the fifth in the middle. If she was fortunate enough to dream of
her lover, it was a sure sign that he would be married to her in
the course of the year. Again, some young people would boil an egg
hard, and, after taking out the contents, fill the shell with salt,
the charm consisting in eating the shell and salt on going to bed at
night without either speaking or drinking after it. A further method
of divination was practised in the following way:--The lady wrote
her lovers' names upon small pieces of paper, and, rolling them up
in clay, put them into a tub of water. The first that rose to the
surface was to be not only her Valentine, but, in all probability,
her future husband.

Another time, which has been equally popular from time immemorial for
such superstitious practices, is Midsummer Eve. People gathered on
this night the rose, St. John's wort, trefoil, and rue, each of which
was supposed to have magical properties. They set orpine in clay
upon pieces of slate in their houses, under the name of a Midsummer
man. As the stalk next morning was found to incline to the right or
left, the anxious maiden knew whether her lover would prove true to
her or not.

Hallowe'en, again, has been supposed to be the time, of all other
times, when supernatural influences prevail, and on this account is
regarded as a night of sure divination in love matters. All kinds
of devices have, therefore, been resorted to at this season, and in
the North of England many superstitions still linger on, where this
festival is known as "nutcrack-night," from nuts forming a prominent
feature in the evening feast. Once more, Christmas Eve is well known
to love-sick swains and languishing maidens as an excellent day
for obtaining a glimpse into futurity. Numerous are the spells and
ceremonies by which this is attempted. Thus in some places, at "the
witching hour of night," the young damsel goes into the garden and
plucks twelve sage leaves, under the belief that she will see the
shadowy form of her future husband approach her from the opposite
end of the ground. In trying this delicate mode of divination great
care must be taken not to break or damage the sage-stalk, as should
this happen serious consequences might ensue. The following barbarous
charm was also much practised in days gone by:--The heart was taken
from a living pigeon, stuck full of pins, and laid on the hearth, and
while it was burning, the form of the young person's future partner
was believed to become visible to mortal eye.

Friday has been held a good day of the week for love omens, and in
Norfolk the following lines are repeated on three Friday nights
successively, as on the last one it is believed that the young lady
will dream of her future husband:--

    "To-night, to-night, is Friday night,
    Lay me down in dirty white,
    Dream who my husband is to be;
    And lay my children by my side,
    If I'm to live to be his bride."

There are numerous other modes of matrimonial divination which still
find favour in the eyes of those who prefer the married state to
that of virginity. Thus the seeds of butter-dock must be scattered
on the ground by a young unmarried girl half an hour before sunrise
on a Friday morning in a lonesome place. She must strew the seeds
gradually on the grass, saying these words:--

    "I sow, I sow!
      Then, my own dear,
      Come here, come here,
    And mow, and mow."

After this she will see her future husband mowing with a scythe at a
short distance from her. She must, however, display no symptoms of
fear, for should she cry out in alarm he will immediately vanish.
This method is said to be infallible, but it is regarded as a bold,
desperate, and presumptuous undertaking. Some girls, again, make
a hole in the road where four ways meet, and apply their ear to
it, with the hope of learning of what trade their future husband
is to be. It is unnecessary, however, to illustrate this part of
our subject further, for the preceding pages amply show how varied
and extensive are the omens and divinations connected with an
event without which life is considered in the eyes of most persons
incomplete. Although these may seem trivial and often nonsensical,
yet they have often exercised an important influence over that period
of anxious suspense which intervenes between courtship and marriage,
often tantalising and damping in a cruel manner the hopes of many an
ardent lover.



    Seasons and Days propitious to Marriage--Superstitions
    connected with the Bride--Meeting a Funeral--Robbing the Bride
    of Pins--Dancing in a Hog's Trough--The Wedding-cake--The Ring.

In selecting the time for the marriage ceremony precautions of every
kind have generally been taken to avoid an unlucky month and day for
the knot to be tied. Indeed, the old Roman notion that May marriages
are unlucky survives to this day in England, a striking example,
as Mr. Tylor has pointed out in his "Primitive Culture," of how an
idea, the meaning of which has perished for ages, may continue to
exist simply because it has existed. That May with us is not a month
for marrying may easily be seen any year from the list of weddings
in the _Times_ newspaper, the popular belief being summed up in the
familiar proverb, "Marry in May and you'll rue the day." Some of
the numerous reasons assigned for the ill-luck attaching to this
month are the following:--That women disobeying the rule would be
childless; or if they had children, that the first-born would be an
idiot, or have some physical deformity; or that the married couple
would not live happily together in their new life, but soon become
weary of each other's society--superstitions which still retain
their hold throughout the country. In spite, however, of this absurd
prejudice, it seems that in days gone by May was honoured in feudal
England as the month of all months especially congenial to lovers.
Most readers are no doubt acquainted with the following stanza in the
"Court of Love:"--

    "I had not spoke so sone the words, but she,
      My soveraine, did thank me heartily,
    And saide, 'Abide, ye shall dwell still with me
      Till season come of May, for then truly
      The King of Love and all his company
    Shall holde his feste full rially and well,'
    And there I bode till that the season fell."

On the other hand, June is a highly popular month for marrying, one
reason perhaps being that the earth is then clothed in her summer
beauty, and that this is a season of plenty. At any rate, this notion
may be traced up to the time of the Romans, and thus when Ovid was
anxious about the marriage of his daughter, he--

    "Resolved to match the girl, and tried to find
    What days unprosp'rous were, what moons were kind;
    After June's sacred Ides his fancy strayed,
    Good to the man and happy to the maid."

Among the other seasons admitting or prohibiting matrimony may be
mentioned the following, contained in a well-known rhyme:--

    "Advent marriages doth deny,
    But Hilary gives thee liberty;
    Septuagesima says thee nay,
    Eight days from Easter says you may;
    Rogation bids thee to contain,
    But Trinity sets thee free again."

Equal importance has been attached by some to the day of the week
on which the marriage is performed. Thus Friday, on account of its
being regarded as an inauspicious and evil day for the commencement
of any kind of enterprise, is generally avoided, few brides being
found bold enough to run the risk of incurring bad luck from being
married on a day of ill-omen. In days gone by, Sunday appears to have
been a popular day for marriages; although, as Mr. Jeaffreson, in
his amusing history of "Brides and Bridals," remarks, "A fashionable
wedding, celebrated on the Lord's Day in London, or any part of
England, would now-a-days be denounced by religious people of all
Christian parties as an outrageous exhibition of impiety. But in our
feudal times, and long after the Reformation, Sunday was, of all
days of the week, the favourite one for marriages. Long after the
theatres had been closed on Sundays, the day of rest was the chief
day for weddings with Londoners of every social class." The brides
of Elizabethan dramas are usually represented as being married on
Sunday. Thus in the _Taming of the Shrew_, Petruchio, after telling
his future father-in-law "that upon Sunday is the wedding-day," and
laughing at Katharine's petulant exclamation, "I'll see thee hanged
on Sunday first," says:--

    "Father, and wife, and gentlemen, adieu;
    I will to Venice; Sunday comes apace:
    We will have rings, and things, and give array;
    And, kiss me, Kate, we will be married o' Sunday."

Among the Scottish people, we are informed by the Registrar-General,
there is a peculiar fondness for marrying on the last day of the
year. Indeed, there are more marriages in Scotland on that day than
in any week of the year, excepting, of course, the week in which that
day occurs. Thus, in the year 1861, the returns give the number of
marriages in the eight principal towns as averaging about twenty-five
a day, exclusive of Sunday, as marrying is one of the things not to
be done on this day in Scotland. On the 31st of December, however, in
the same towns there were between 400 and 500 marriages. Curious to
say, too, in Scotland, Friday seems to be considered a lucky day for
weddings; for Mr. Watson, the City Chamberlain of Glasgow, affirms
that "it is a well-established fact that nine-tenths of the marriages
in Glasgow are celebrated on a Friday; only a few on Tuesday and
Wednesday; Saturday and Monday are still more rarely adopted, and I
have never heard of such a thing in Glasgow as a marriage on Sunday."

Leaving seasons and days considered propitious for marriage, we
find, in the next place, a number of superstitions associated with
that prominent and all-important personage on such an occasion, the
bride. Thus it is above all things necessary that the sun should
shine on her--"Blest is the bride that the sun shines on!"--a notion,
indeed, which, it has been suggested, had a practical application
in years gone by when marriages were celebrated in the church
porch. A wet day, at such a time, was a serious matter, especially
as our forefathers had not the many contrivances of modern times
for preservation from rain. Whereas, now-a-days, young ladies when
alluding to being married speak of "going to church," formerly they
spoke of "visiting the church-porch." After prevailing for centuries,
this ancient usage was discountenanced, if not actually abolished,
by the ecclesiastical reformers of Edward VI.'s reign, who "ordained
that the performance of the binding ceremony should take place in
the body of the church." Referring again to the bride, it is deemed
absolutely necessary by very many that she should weep on her
wedding-day, if it be only a few tears, the omission of such an act
being considered ominous of her future happiness. It is, too, the
height of ill-luck for either the bride or the bridegroom to meet
a funeral on going to or coming from the church, for if it happen
to be that of a female, it is an indication that the bride will not
live long, and if it should be that of a male, then the bridegroom is
doomed to an early death. In the North of England there is a strong
prejudice against a marriage taking place while there is a grave
open in the churchyard. In many parts of the country, also, special
care is taken that the bees are informed of a wedding, and as a
mark of respect to them their hives are decorated with a favour. In
Sussex a bride on her return home from church is often robbed of all
the pins about her dress by the single women present, from a belief
that whoever possesses one of them will be married in the course of
a year. Much excitement and amusement are occasionally caused by the
youthful competitors for this supposed charm; and the bride herself
is not unfrequently the victim of rather rough treatment. According
to another piece of superstition, the bride, in removing her bridal
robe and chaplet at the completion of the marriage ceremonies, must
take care to throw away every pin worn on this eventful day. Evil
fortune, it is affirmed, will sooner or later inevitably overtake the
bride who keeps even one pin used in the marriage toilet. Woe also
to the bridesmaids if they retain one of them, as their chances of
marriage will thereby be materially lessened, and anyhow they must
give up all hope of being wedded before the following Whitsuntide.

Again, in some parts of Yorkshire, to rub shoulders with the bride
or bridegroom is considered an augury of a speedy marriage; and a
piece of folk-lore prevalent in the neighbourhood of Hull is to
this effect: "Be sure when you go to get married that you don't go
in at one door and out at another, or you will always be unlucky."
Cuthbert Bede, in "Notes and Queries," records an instance of a
similar superstition that occurred at a wedding in a Worcestershire
village in October, 1877. He says, "The bride and bridegroom at the
conclusion of the ceremony left the church by the chancel door,
instead of following the usual custom of walking down the church and
through the nave door. One of the oldest inhabitants, in mentioning
this to me, said that it 'betokened bad luck,' and that she had never
known a like instance but once in her life when the married couple
went out of the church through the chancel door, and the bride was a
widow before the twelve months was out."

Alluding briefly to other superstitions associated with marriage, we
are told in the North of England that she who receives from the bride
a piece of cheese, cut by her before leaving the table, will be the
next bride among the company. In Yorkshire, too, when a newly-married
couple first enter their house, a hen is brought and made to cackle
as a sign of good luck. The old Roman practice, also, of lifting the
bride over the threshold of her husband's home, had its counterpart
in Scotland within the present century, it being customary to lift
the young wife over the doorstep, lest any witchcraft or evil eye
should be cast upon and influence her. Indeed, we are informed that
the same practice prevailed in the North of England some years
ago--an interesting survival of the primitive superstitions of our

Another curious custom which was once practised in different parts of
the country was that of the elder sister dancing in a hog's trough
in consequence of the younger sister marrying before her. "Upon one
occasion," says Mr. Glyde in his "Norfolk Garland," "a brother went
through the ceremony also; and the dancers performed their part so
well that the trough itself was danced to pieces." It was considered
the most correct thing to dance in green stockings. It was also
customary in former years for elder sisters to dance barefooted at
the marriage of a younger one, as otherwise they would inevitably
become old maids. Hence Katharine says to her father, in allusion to

    "She is your treasure, she must have a husband.
    I must dance barefoot on her wedding-day,
    And for your love to her lead apes in hell."

The last line, the meaning of which, however, is somewhat obscure,
expresses a common belief as to the ultimate fate of old maids.
Malone, on this passage, remarks that in Shakespeare's time "to lead
apes" was one of the employments of a bear-ward, who often carried
about one of those animals along with his bear.

Referring in the next place to some of the chief ceremonies
associated with marriage, we may note that "the putting up of the
banns" is not without its superstitions, for in the North of England
it is considered highly unlucky for a young woman to be present at
church when this important event takes place, any children she may
hereafter have running the terrible risk of being born deaf and dumb.
Thus, a Worcestershire girl, some years since, refused to attend
church and hear the publication of her own banns, lest by doing so
she should bring the curse of dumbness on her offspring. She stated
that one of her friends had transgressed this rule "by hearing
herself asked out at church," and in due course had six children, all
of whom were deaf and dumb. Again, the wedding-cake, without which
no wedding would be considered complete, is evidently a survival of
the symbolical corn-ears originally worn by the bride, and which in
after-times were made into cakes and sprinkled upon the bride's head.
In course of time these cakes were by degrees converted into one
large mass, enriched with almond paste; and that the ingredients of
a wedding-cake in the seventeenth century did not differ materially
from one at the present day may be gathered from Herrick, who says:--

    "This day, my Julia, thou must make,
    For mistress bride, the wedding-cake;
    Knead but the dough, and it will be
    To paste of almonds turned by thee;
    Or kiss it thou but once or twice,
    And for the bride-cake there'll be spice."

Indeed, corn in one form or another has always entered into the
marriage-ceremony, a practice which, as Sir John Lubbock, in his
"Origin of Civilisation," has pointed out, may be found among remote
savages or semi-civilised people. It would be difficult to enumerate
the many superstitions, beliefs, and usages that have at different
times clustered round the wedding-cake, some of which are as popular
as ever. In days gone by, either corn ears or fragments of broken
biscuit or cake were dropped on the newly-married couple on their
return from church, a custom which is still kept up in some country
districts. In Scotland and the North of England, for instance,
as soon as the bride returns to her new home, one of the oldest
inhabitants, who has been stationed on the threshold in readiness,
throws a plateful of shortbread over her head, taking care that
it falls outside the house. This is immediately scrambled for, as
it is considered most fortunate to secure a piece, however small.
Thus, just a century ago, Smollett, in his "Expedition of Humphrey
Clinker" (1771), described how Mrs. Tabitha Lismahago's wedding-cake
was broken over her head, and its fragments distributed among the
bystanders, who imagined that to eat one of the hallowed pieces would
insure the unmarried eater the delight of seeing in a vision the
person to be his wife or her husband. Numerous other divinations,
also, have been practised by means of wedding-cake, one of the most
popular being that of passing it through a wedding-ring, and placing
it under the pillow to dream upon. In some parts of Lancashire and
Cumberland it is customary to put a ring amongst the ingredients of
the wedding-cake, and to invite the guests in turn to cut a slice.
The person who is fortunate enough to hold the knife when it comes
upon the hidden ring is considered to be sure of happiness during
the ensuing twelve months. Again, Mr. Henderson mentions an exciting
custom practised in the North at the wedding-feast. He says:--"The
bride sticks her knife into the cheese, and all at table endeavour
to seize it. He who succeeds without cutting his fingers in the
struggle thereby insures happiness in his married life. The knife
is called 'the best man's prize,' because the 'best man' generally
secures it. Should he fail to do so, he will indeed be unfortunate in
his matrimonial views. The knife is, at any rate, a prize for male
hands only; the maidens try to possess themselves of a 'shaping' of
the wedding-dress, for use in certain divinations regarding their
future husbands." The custom of throwing the shoe for luck at a
bridal couple we shall notice elsewhere, a practice which is perhaps
the principal source of merry-making and fun at most weddings. We
must not omit to allude to that indispensable little article at
a marriage, the wedding-ring, concerning which so much has been
written. The Puritans, it may be remembered, tried to abolish it, on
account of, as they thought, its superstitious and heathen origin.
Thus, Butler, in his "Hudibras," says:--

    "Others were for abolishing
    That tool of matrimony, a ring,
    With which the unsanctified bridegroom,
    Is marry'd only to a thumb."

Though, however, the ring of gold is generally looked upon as a
necessity in the marriage-ceremony, yet it is not legally so, but
there is a very strong prejudice against being married without it,
and it would be no easy task to find a couple brave enough to act in
opposition to this universal superstition. Thus, by way of example,
Mr. Jeaffreson, in his "Brides and Bridals," tells us that the poor
Irishman is so convinced that a marriage lacks validity unless it
has been solemnised with a golden ring, that, when he is too needy
to buy a circlet of the most precious metal, he hires a hoop of gold
for use on his wedding-day. Not long since a tradesman, in a market
town at Munster, made a considerable addition to his modest income
by letting out rings of gold to persons about to marry, who restored
the trinkets to their owner after being wedded at church. A case is
related, on the other hand, of a party that came to the church and
requested to be married with a church key. It was "a parish wedding,"
and the parish authorities, though willing to pay the church fees,
because, as the account runs, "they were glad to get rid of the
girl," had not felt disposed to provide the wedding-ring. The clerk,
however, feeling some hesitation as to the substitution of the church
key, stepped into a neighbouring house, and there borrowed an old
_curtain ring_, with which the marriage was solemnised. Again, most
ladies are especially particular in their notions respecting their
wedding-ring, objecting under any pretence to take it off from their
finger, extending, it would seem, the expression of "till death us do
part," even to this pledge and token of matrimony.

In various parts of the country we find many a curious marriage
custom, of which, however, we can only give one or two instances.
Thus, in some parts of Kent, it was formerly customary to strew the
pathway to the church of the bridal couple, not with flowers, but
with emblems of the bridegroom's trade. A carpenter, for instance,
walked on shavings, a paperhanger on slips of paper, a blacksmith on
pieces of old iron, and so on. In some parts of Durham the bridal
party was, in days gone by, generally escorted to church by men armed
with guns, which they fired again and again in honour of the festive
occasion. In Scotland there was an amusing custom, called "Creeling
the bridegroom." A basket or creel was filled with heavy stones and
fixed to the bridegroom's shoulder, and with this burden he was
obliged to run about until his wife unfastened the creel.



    Warnings of Death--The Howling of Dogs--A Cow in the Garden--
    Death-presaging Birds--Plants--The Will-o'-the-Wisp--The
    Sympathy between Two Personalities--Prophecy--Dying
    Hardly--The Last Act--Place and Position of the Grave.

The superstitions associated with the last stage of human life are
most numerous; and that this should be so is not surprising when it
is considered how, from the earliest time, a certain dread has been
attached to death, not only on account of its awful mysteriousness,
but owing to its being the crisis of an entirely new phase of the
soul's existence.

Commencing then with popular omens, it may be noted that every
incident out of the common course of natural events is looked upon
by the superstitious as indicative of approaching death. Hence
we find the credulous ever conjuring up in their minds imaginary
prognostications of this sad occurrence, which, apart from the
needless terror they cause, are based on no foundation of truth.
Foremost among these is the howling of a dog at night, a superstition
which, while not confined to our own country, appears to have been
almost as well known in ancient times as at the present day. As
a plea, however, for its prevalence, even among the educated, we
might urge that it is not unnatural for the mind, when unstrung
and overbalanced by the presence of sickness and impending death,
to be over-sensitive, and to take notice of every little sound and
sight which may seem to connect themselves with its anxiety. Out
of the innumerable instances which are recorded in our own country
respecting this popular superstition, may be mentioned one which
happened a few years ago at Worthing. It appears that no slight
consternation was caused by a Newfoundland dog, the property of a
clergyman in the neighbourhood, lying down on the steps of a house
and howling piteously, refusing to be driven away. As soon as it
was known that a young lady, long an invalid, had died there, so
much excitement took place that news of the occurrence reached the
owner of the dog, who came to Worthing to inquire into the truth of
it. Unfortunately, however, for the lovers of and believers in the
marvellous, it eventually turned out that the dog had by accident
been separated from his master late in the evening, and had been seen
running here and there in search of him, and howling at the door of
the stable where he put up his horse, and other places which he often
visited in Worthing. It happened, moreover, that his master had been
in the habit of visiting the particular house where the young lady
had died, which at once accounted for the apparent mystery. In the
same way, indeed, other similar instances of this superstition might
be easily cleared up, if only properly investigated at the time of
the occurrence. The howling of the dog is ascribed by some to its
keen sense of the odour of approaching mortal dissolution; whereas
others affirm that this animal can see the spirits which hover round
the house of sickness, ready at the moment of death to bear away the
soul of the departed one to its distant home. In Aryan mythology the
dog is said to see ghosts, and in Germany, at the present day, a dog
howling before a house portends either a death or a fire. In Wales,
it is thought that horses, too, have the gift of seeing spirits.
Carriage-horses, it is said, have been known to display every sign of
the utmost terror, although the occupants of the carriage could see
no cause for alarm. Such an occurrence is considered highly ominous,
and thought to forebode that a funeral will soon pass by that way,
bearing to his resting-place some person not dead at the time of the
horse's fright.

Whilst speaking of animals in connection with death, it may be
noted that an ox or a cow breaking into a garden is an omen of
death. In illustration of this notion a correspondent of _Notes and
Queries_ relates the following narrative as written down by himself
about the time to which it relates. He says, "Though I laugh at the
superstition, the omen was painfully fulfilled in my case. About the
middle of March, 1843, some cattle were driven close to my house, and
the back door being open, three got into our little bit of garden,
and trampled it. When our school-drudge came in the afternoon, and
asked the cause of the confusion, she expressed great sorrow and
apprehension on being told--said that it was a bad sign--that we
should hear of three deaths within the next six months. Alas! in
April we heard of dear J----'s murder; a fortnight after A---- died;
and to-morrow, August 10th, I attend the funeral of my excellent
son-in-law. I have just heard of the same omen from another quarter.
But what is still more remarkable is that when I went down to Mr.
M----'s burial, and was mentioning the superstition, they told me
that while he was lying ill, a cow got into the front garden and was
driven out with great difficulty. It is still a common saying in
Scotland, when any one is dangerously ill, and not likely to recover,
'The black ox has trampled upon him.'"

Another common omen of death is the hovering of birds around a
house, and their tapping against the window-pane. Amongst the
death-presaging birds may be mentioned the raven, the crow, and the
swallow. The crowing of the cock, also, at the dead of night is
regarded as equally ominous. The appearance of a jackdaw is in some
parts of the country much dreaded. Thus a correspondent of _Notes
and Queries_ tells us, that a stonemason at Clifton related to him
an accident that happened to a workman at the suspension bridge over
the Avon, at the time when the river was simply spanned by a single
chain, placing much emphasis on the fact that a single jackdaw had
been noticed by some of the workmen perched upon the centre of the
chain, and had been regarded by them as a precursor of death. We
must not omit the evil reputation of the owl and the magpie; and a
well-known superstition current in some parts that to catch a sparrow
and keep it confined in a cage is an omen of death. Once more, it is
a bad sign when an invalid asks for a dish of pigeons to eat, such an
occurrence being considered an omen of his approaching death. Some
also affirm that if one hears the cuckoo's first note when in bed,
illness or death is certain to come upon the hearer or one of his
family. If any one be about to die suddenly, or lose a relation, the
cuckoo will light upon a piece of touchwood, or rotten bough, and

Plants, in the next place, are sometimes regarded as ominous of
approaching mortality. When, for example, an apple-tree or pear-tree
blooms twice in the year it denotes a death in the family. If,
too, green broom be picked when in bloom it is believed that the
father or mother will die in the course of the year. Mrs. Latham,
in her "West Sussex Superstitions," gives the following touching
little anecdote:--"A poor girl, who was lingering in the last stage
of consumption, but whose countenance had always lighted up with
pleasure at the sight of flowers, appeared one morning so exceedingly
restless and unhappy after a fresh nosegay of gay spring flowers had
been laid upon her bed, that I asked her if the scent of them was
disagreeable to her. 'Oh, no!' she exclaimed, 'they are very nice
indeed to smell; but yet I should be very glad if you would throw
away that piece of yellow broom; for they do say that death comes
with it if it is brought into the house in blossom during the month
of May.'" According to a Yorkshire superstition, if a child gathers
the germander speedwell its mother will die during the year; and
others consider it equally unlucky to bring the first snowdrop of
the year into the house. To dream that a tree is uprooted in one's
garden is regarded as a death-warning to the owner. Indeed plants
may be said to hold an important place in the folk-lore of death, so
many curious legends and quaint superstitions having clustered round
them both in ancient and modern times. Thus, to quote one further
instance, if yew is accidentally brought into the house at Christmas
among the evergreens, it is looked upon as a sign that a death will
occur in the family before the end of the year.

Among other omens of death, may be noticed the will-o'-the-wisp,
which has on this account been much dreaded, its undulating movement
being carefully observed, from an anxiety to ascertain in which
direction it disappears, as it is supposed to be--

    "The hateful messenger of heavy things,
      Of death and dolour telling"

to the inhabitants of the house nearest that spot. We have heard
also of an occasion in which considerable uneasiness was created
by a pale light moving over the bed of a sick person, and after
flickering for some time in different parts of the room to vanish
through the window. It happened, however, that the mystery was
cleared up soon afterwards, for, on a similar light appearing, it
was found to proceed from a luminous insect, which proved to be the
male glow-worm. In the same way the "corpse-candles" in Wales, also
called the "fetch-lights," or "dead man's candles," are regarded as
forerunners of death. Sometimes this unlucky sign appears in the
form of a plain yellow candle, in the hand of a ghost, and at other
times it looks like "a stately flambeau, stalking along unsupported,
burning with ghastly blue flame." It is considered highly dangerous
to interfere with this fatal portent, and persons who have attempted
to check its course are reported to have been severely afflicted in
consequence, many being actually struck down on the spot where they
stood as a punishment for their audacity.

There is a popular idea prevalent in Lancashire that to build
or even to rebuild a house is always fatal to one member of the
family--generally to the one who may have been the principal promoter
of the plans for the building or alteration. Again, we are also told
how the household clock has been known to depart from its customary
precision in order to warn its owner of approaching death by
striking _thirteen_. A clergyman relates that one evening he called
on an old friend more than eighty years of age, who had lost her
husband about six months before. Whilst sitting with her he heard the
clock strike the hour in an adjoining room, and counted it _seven_.
Being surprised that it was no later he involuntarily took out his
watch, and found that it was in reality _eight_ o'clock. The old lady
noticing this remarked, "Ah! the clock lost a stroke against my poor
husband's death, and I have not altered it since."

According to another very common superstition there seems to be a
kind of sympathy and harmony between two personalities, whereby dying
persons themselves announce their departure to their friends in
certain mysterious ways. Countless instances are on record of such
supposed forebodings of death. A curious and interesting example
of this species of folk-lore happened not so very long ago, in
connection with the lamented death of Mr. George Smith, the eminent
Assyriologist. This famous scholar died at Aleppo, on the 19th of
August, 1876, at or about the hour of six in the afternoon. On the
same day, and at about the same time, a friend and fellow-worker of
Mr. Smith's--Dr. Delitzsch--was passing within a stone's-throw of the
house in which Mr. Smith had lived whilst in London, when he suddenly
heard his own name uttered aloud in a "most piercing cry," which,
says _The Daily News_ (Sept. 12th, 1876) thrilled him to the marrow.
The fact impressed him so strongly that he looked at his watch, noted
the hour, and, although he did not mention the circumstance at the
time, recorded it in his note-book.

Again, as a further illustration, we are told how on board one of
Her Majesty's ships lying off Portsmouth, the officers being one
day at mess, a young lieutenant suddenly laid down his knife and
fork, pushed away his plate, and turned extremely pale. He then
rose from the table, covered his face with his hands, and retired.
The president of the mess, supposing him to be ill, sent to make
inquiries. At first he was unwilling to reply; but on being pressed
he confessed that he had been seized by a sudden and irresistible
impression that a brother he had in India was dead. "He died," said
he, "on the 12th August, at six o'clock; I am perfectly convinced of
it." No argument could overthrow his conviction, which in due course
of time was verified to the letter. Events of this kind, which in
the minds of many seem to point to a mysterious sympathy between two
individuals, are explained by others as simply the result of "fancy
and coincidence." Any one, it is argued, may fall into a brown study,
and emerge from it with a stare, and the notion that he heard his
name spoken. That is the part of fancy, and the simultaneous event is
the part of coincidence. Against this theory it will always be argued
that these coincidences are too many to be accidental, and this
position, as a writer in _The Daily News_ has shown, will generally
be met by counter-efforts to weaken the evidence for each individual
case, and so to reduce the cumulative evidence to nothing. Taking
into consideration however, the countless instances which are on
record of this kind, many of them apparently resting on evidence
beyond impeachment, we must, whilst allotting to them the credence
they deserve, honestly admit they are occasionally beyond the limits
of human explanation.

From a very early period there has existed a belief in the existence
of the power of prophecy at that period which precedes death. It
probably took its origin in the assumed fact that the soul becomes
divine in the same rate as the connection with the body is loosened.
It has been urged in support of this theory that at the hour of death
the soul is, as it were, on the confines of two worlds, and may
possibly at the same moment possess a power which is both prospective
and retrospective. Shakespeare in his _Richard II._ (Act ii., sc.
1) makes the dying Gaunt, alluding to his nephew, the young and
self-willed king, exclaim:--

    "Methinks I am a prophet new inspired,
    And thus expiring do foretell of him."

Again in _1 Henry IV._ (Act v., sc. 4), the brave Percy, when in the
agonies of death, conveys the same idea in the following words:--

                      "O, I could prophesy,
    But that the earthy and cold hand of death
    Lies on my tongue."

Some have sought for the foundation of this belief in the forty-ninth
chapter of Genesis:--"And Jacob called his sons, and said, Gather
yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you
in the last days. And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his
sons, he gathered up his feet into his bed, and yielded up the ghost,
and was gathered unto his people." This notion has not died out, but
still prevails in Lancashire and other parts of England.

Referring to death itself, there is a widespread belief that deaths
mostly occur during the ebbing of the tide: a superstition to which
Charles Dickens has so touchingly alluded in "David Copperfield."
While the honest-hearted Mr. Peggotty sat by the bedside of poor
Barkis, and watched life's flame gradually growing dimmer, he said to
David Copperfield, "People can't die along the coast except when the
tide's pretty nigh out. They can't be born unless it's pretty nigh
in. Not properly born till flood. He's agoing out with the tide--he's
agoing out with the tide. It's ebb at half-arter three, slack water
half an hour. If he lives till it turns, he'll hold his own till past
the flood, and go out with the next tide." And after many hours'
watching, "it being low water, he went out with the tide."

Persons, too, are said to "die hard," to quote a popular phrase, or,
in other words, to have a painful and prolonged death, when there
are pigeons' feathers in the bed. Hence, some will not allow dying
persons to lie on a feather bed at all, maintaining that it very
much increases the pain, and retards the inevitable crisis of their
departure. Many, on the other hand, have a superstitious feeling that
it is a great misfortune, nay, even a judgment, not to die in a bed.
Many are the anecdotes illustrative of the former superstition, one
or two of which we will quote. Thus a Sussex nurse one day told the
wife of her clergyman that "never did she see any one die so hard as
old Master Short; and at last she thought (though his daughter said
there were none) that there must be game-feathers in the bed. She,
therefore, tried to pull it from under him, but he was a heavy man
and she could not manage it alone, and there was no one with him but
herself, and so she got a rope and tied it round him and pulled him
by it off the bed, and he went off in a minute quite comfortable,
just like a lamb." Again, one day, when an old woman near Yarmouth
was speaking of the burning of game-feathers as a precaution in case
of death, her neighbours said to her, "Of course we don't believe
that can have anything to do with a hard death," whereupon she
replied, "Then you yourself use such feathers." "Oh, no; we always
burn them, unless we want them for a chair-cushion." The same notion
prevails in Yorkshire with regard to cocks' feathers. According to
another popular fancy a person cannot die comfortably under the
cross-beam of a house, and we are told of the case of a man of whom
it was said at his death, that after many hours' hard dying, being
removed from the position under the cross-beam, he departed peaceably.

Again, the interval between death and burial has generally been
associated with various superstitious fears and practices. Thus, as
soon as the corpse is laid out there is still a widespread custom of
placing a plate of salt upon the breast, the reason being no doubt
to prevent the body swelling; although there is a belief that it acts
as a charm against any attempt on the part of evil spirits to disturb
the body. Pennant tells us that formerly in Scotland, "the corpse
being stretched on a board and covered with a coarse linen wrapper,
the friends laid on the breast of the deceased a wooden platter,
containing a small quantity of salt and earth, separate and unmixed;
the earth an emblem of the corruptible body, the salt as an emblem
of the immortal spirit." Mr. Napier, in his "Folk-Lore of the West
of Scotland," points out that we may find another explanation for
the plate of salt on the breast in the "sin-eaters," persons who, in
days gone by, when a person died, were sent for to come and eat the
sins of the deceased. On their arrival their first act was to place a
plate of salt and one of bread on the breast of the corpse, repeating
a series of incantations, after which they devoured the contents of
the plates. By this ceremony the deceased person was supposed to be
relieved of such sins as would have kept his spirit hovering about
his relations to their discomfort and annoyance.

It is customary, especially among the poor, for those who visit a
house while the dead body is lying in it to touch the corpse, thereby
showing that they owe the departed one no grudge. This practice, in
all probability, originated in the belief that a corpse would bleed
at the touch of the murderer, constant allusions to which we find in
old authors.

The practice of watching the dead body until its burial is not yet
obsolete, a custom indeed which, among the Irish, is even still
occasionally the scene of the most unseemly revelries, those present
oftentimes indulging in excessive drinking and riotous merry-making.
In days gone by, however, this practice was attended with every mark
of respect to the deceased one, the leading idea being to see that
the devil did not carry off the body.

Lastly, since the formation of cemeteries, many of the quaint old
funeral customs which formerly existed in many of our country
villages have passed away. Now-a-days, the "last act," as the
committal of the body to the grave has been termed, has been shorn
of much of its pomp. Thus, in the North of England it was customary,
only a few years ago, to carry "the dead with the sun" to the grave,
a practice corresponding with the Highland usage of making "the
deazil," or walking three times round a person, according to the
course of the sun. On one occasion, in the village of Stranton, near
West Hartlepool, the vicar was standing at the churchyard gate,
awaiting the arrival of the funeral procession, when, much to his
surprise, the entire group, who had come within a few yards of him,
suddenly turned back and marched round the churchyard wall, thus
traversing its west, north, and east boundaries. On inquiring the
reason of this extraordinary procedure, one of the mourners quickly
replied, "Why, ye wad no hae them carry the dead again the sun; the
dead maun ay go wi' the sun." This is not unlike a Welsh custom
mentioned by Pennant, who tells us that when a corpse was conveyed
to the churchyard from any part of the town, great care was always
taken that it should be carried the whole distance on the right-hand
side of the road. A curious custom, which still survives at Welsh
funerals, is termed "the parson's penny." After reading the burial
service in the church, the clergyman stands behind a table while a
psalm is being sung. In the meantime each of the mourners places a
piece of money on the table for his acceptance. This ceremony is
regarded as a token of respect to the deceased, although it was no
doubt originally intended to compensate the clergyman for praying for
the soul of the departed. In some Welsh parishes a similar custom,
called "spade-money," is observed. As soon as the corpse has been
committed to its resting-place, the grave-digger presents his spade
as a receptacle for donations, these offerings, which often amount to
a goodly sum, being regarded as his perquisites.

From time immemorial there has been a popular prejudice among the
inhabitants of rural villages against "burial without the sanctuary."
This does not imply in unconsecrated ground, but on the north
side of the church, or in a remote corner of the churchyard. The
origin of this repugnance is said to have been the notion that the
northern part was that which was appropriated to the interment of
unbaptised infants, excommunicated persons, or such as had laid
violent hands upon themselves. Hence it was generally known as "the
wrong side of the church." In many parishes, therefore, this spot
remained unoccupied while the remaining portion of the churchyard
was crowded. White, in his "History of Selborne," alluding to this
superstition, says that as most people wished to be buried on the
south side of the churchyard, it became such a mass of mortality that
no person could be interred "without disturbing or displacing the
bones of his ancestors." A clergyman of a rural parish in Norfolk
says:--"If I were on any occasion to urge a parishioner to inter a
deceased relative on the north side of the church, he would answer me
with some expression of surprise, if not of offence, at the proposal,
'No, sir, it is not in the sanctuary.'"

Great attention has, also, generally been paid to the position of
the grave, the popular idea being from east to west, while that
from north to south has been considered not only dishonourable,
but unlucky. Indeed, the famous antiquary, Thomas Hearne, was so
particular on this point that he left orders for his grave to be made
straight by a compass, due east and west. In _Cymbeline_ (Act iv.,
sc. 2), Guiderius, speaking of the apparently dead body of Imogen
disguised in man's apparel, says:--

    "Nay, Cadwal, we must lay his head to the east;
    My father hath a reason for 't."

It is worthy of notice that the burial of the dead among the Greeks
was in the line of east and west; and thus it is not to late and
isolated fancy, but to the carrying on of ancient and widespread
solar ideas, as Mr. Tylor has so clearly shown, that we trace the
well-known legend that the body of Christ was laid towards the east,
and the Christian usage of digging graves east and west. A pretty
custom was once observed in many of our country villages at the
funeral of a young unmarried girl, or of a bride who died in her
honeymoon; a chaplet of flowers being carried before the corpse by a
girl nearest in age, size, and resemblance, and afterwards hung up in
the church over the accustomed seat of the deceased.

Among other customs connected with burial may be mentioned "funeral
feasts," which have prevailed in this and other countries from
the earliest times, and are supposed to have been borrowed from
the _Coena feralis_ of the Romans: an offering, consisting of
milk, honey, wine, aloes, and strewed flowers, to the ghost of the
deceased. In a variety of forms this custom has prevailed amongst
most nations, the idea being that the spirits of the dead feed on
the viands set before them. In Christian times, however, these
funeral offerings have passed into commemorative banquets, under
which form they still exist amongst us. In the north of England the
funeral feast is called "an arval," and the loaves that are sometimes
distributed among the poor are termed "arval bread."

The poor seem to have always been fond of inviting a large number
of friends to attend a funeral. Instances are on record of a barrel
of beer, two gallons of sack, and four gallons of claret being
consumed at a funeral, and the cost of wine has been five times more
than the cost of the coffin. In one of the parishes on the borders
of Norfolk there is a tradition, says Mr. Glyde in his "Norfolk
Garland," that when the warrior Sir Robert Atte Tye was buried, four
dozen of wine were drunk, according to his last directions, over
his grave, before the coffin was covered with earth. Many curious
anecdotes might be given of funerals having been solemnised within
the church-porch, and of the scruples entertained by great men as
to the practice of interment in churches. A part of the churchyard,
too, was occasionally left unconsecrated for the purpose of burying
excommunicated persons. Among some of the superstitions associated
with burial we may just note that it is considered by some unlucky to
meet a funeral; and that, according to another notion, the ghost of
the last person buried keeps watch over the churchyard till another
is buried, to whom he delivers his charge.



    Superstitions about Deformity, Moles, &c.--Tingling of the
    Ear--The Nose--The Eye--The Teeth--The Hair--The Hand--Dead
    Man's Hand--The Feet.

In the preceding pages we have given a brief survey of that
widespread folk-lore with which the life of man has been invested,
stage by stage, from the cradle to the grave. In like manner the
popular imagination has, in most countries from the earliest times,
woven round the human body a thick network of superstitions, many
of which, while of the nature of omens, are supposed to indicate
certain facts, such as the person's character, the events connected
with his life, and to give that insight into his future career which
eager curiosity would strive to ascertain. Thus, according to an old
prejudice, which is not quite extinct, those who are defective or
deformed are marked by nature as prone to mischief, in accordance
with which notion Shakespeare makes Margaret, speaking of Richard,
Duke of Gloucester, in _King Richard III._ (Act i., sc. 3), say:--

    "Thou elvish-mark'd, abortive, rotting hog
    Thou that was seal'd in thy nativity
    The slave of nature and the son of hell."

Moles, too, have generally been thought to denote good or ill-luck
from their position on the body. Thus one on the throat is a sign
of luck, but one on the left side of the forehead near the hair is
just the reverse. Again, a mole on either the chin, ear, or neck is
an indication of riches, but one on the breast signifies poverty.
Indeed, if we are to believe the "Greenwich Fortune-teller," a
popular chap-book in former years, omens to be drawn from moles are
almost unlimited.

Referring, however, more especially to the folk-lore associated with
the different parts of the human body, this, as we have already
stated, is very extensive, being in many cases the legacy bequeathed
to us by our ancestors. Commencing, then, with the ear, there is a
well-known superstition that a tingling of the right one is lucky,
denoting that a friend is speaking well of one; a tingling of the
left implying the opposite. This notion differs according to the
locality, as in some places it is the tingling of the left ear which
denotes the friend, and the tingling of the right ear the enemy.
Shakespeare, in _Much Ado about Nothing_ (Act iii., sc. 1), makes
Beatrice say to Ursula and Hero, who had been talking of her, "What
fire is in mine ears?" in allusion, it is generally supposed, to
this popular fancy, which is old as the time of Pliny, who says,
"When our ears tingle some one is talking of us in our absence."
Sir Thomas Browne also ascribes the idea to the belief in guardian
angels, who touch the right or left ear according as the conversation
is favourable or not to the person. The Scotch peasantry have an omen
called the "death-bell"--a tingling in the ears which is believed to
announce some friend's death. Hogg alludes to this superstition in
his "Mountain Bard":--

    "O lady, 'tis dark, an' I heard the death-bell,
    An' I darena gae yonder for gowd nor fee,"

and gives also an amusing anecdote illustrative of it:--"Our two
servant-girls agreed to go on an errand of their own, one night after
supper, to a considerable distance, from which I strove to persuade
them, but could not prevail; so, after going to the apartment where
I slept, I took a drinking-glass, and coming close to the back of
the door made two or three sweeps round the lip of the glass with
my finger, which caused a loud shrill sound, and then overheard the
following dialogue:--

"_B._ 'Ah, mercy! the dead-bell went through my head just now with
such a knell as I never heard.'

"_I._ 'I heard it too.'

"_B._ 'Did you indeed? That is remarkable. I never knew of two
hearing it at the same time before.'

"_I._ 'We will not go to Midgehope to-night.'

"_B._ 'I would not go for all the world! I shall warrant it is my
poor brother Wat. Who knows what these wild Irish may have done to

The itching of the nose, like that of the ears, is not without
its signification, denoting that a stranger will certainly appear
before many hours have passed by, in allusion to which Dekker, in
his "Honest Whore," says:--"We shall ha' guests to-day; my nose
itcheth so." In the north of England, however, if the nose itches it
is reckoned a sign that the person will either be crossed, vexed,
or kissed by a fool; whereas an old writer tells us that "when a
man's nose itcheth it is a signe he shall drink wine." Many omens,
too, are gathered from bleeding of the nose. Thus Grose says, "One
drop of blood from the nose commonly foretells death or a very
severe fit of sickness; three drops are still more ominous;" and
according to another notion one drop from the left nostril is a sign
of good luck, and _vice versâ_. Bleeding of the nose seems also
to have been regarded as a sign of love, if we may judge from a
passage in Boulster's "Lectures," published early in the seventeenth
century:--"'Did my nose ever bleed when I was in your company?' and,
poor wretch, just as she spake this, to show her true heart, her
nose fell a-bleeding." Again, that bleeding of the nose was looked
upon as ominous in days gone by, we may gather from Launcelot's
exclamation in the _Merchant of Venice_ (Act ii., sc. 5), "It was
not for nothing that my nose fell a-bleeding on Black Monday last at
six o'clock"--a superstition to which many of our old writers refer.
Among further superstitions connected with the nose we may mention
one in Cornwall, known as "the blue vein," an illustration of which
occurs in Mr. Hunt's "Popular Romances of the West of England," who
relates the following little anecdote:--"A fond mother was paying
more than ordinary attention to a fine healthy-looking child, a boy
about three years old. The poor woman's breast was heaving with
emotion, and she struggled to repress her sighs. Upon inquiring if
anything was really wrong, she said, 'The old lady of the house had
just told her that the child could not live long because he had a
blue vein across his nose.'" This piece of folk-lore, which caused
the anxious mother such distress, is not confined to the West of
England, but crops up here and there throughout the country. While
speaking of the nose, we may just note that it is the subject of
various proverbs. Thus "to put the nose out of joint" means to
supplant one in another's favour, and the popular one of "paying
through the nose," implying extortion, may, it has been suggested,
have originated in a poll-tax levied by Odin, which was called in
Sweden a nose-tax, and was a penny per nose or poll. Once more,
we have the term "nose of wax" applied to a person who is very
accommodating, and one may occasionally hear the phrase "wipe the
nose" used in the sense of affront.

Leaving the nose, however, we find similar odd fancies attached
to the eye. In many places we are told that "it's a good thing to
have meeting eyebrows, as such a person will never know trouble,"
although, curious to say, on the Continent quite a different
significance is attributed to this peculiarity. In Greece, for
instance, it is held as an omen that the man is a vampire, and in
Denmark and Germany it is said to indicate that he is a werewolf. In
China, also, there is a proverb that "people whose eyebrows meet can
never expect to attain to the dignity of a minister of state." There
can be no doubt that, according to the general idea, meeting eyebrows
are not considered lucky:--

    "Trust not the man whose eyebrows meet,
    For in his heart you'll find deceit."

Thus, Charles Kingsley, in "Two Years Ago," speaks of this idea
in the following passage:--"Tom began carefully scrutinising Mrs.
Harvey's face. It had been very handsome. It was still very clever,
but the eyebrows clashed together downwards above her nose, and
rising higher at the outward corners, indicated, as surely as the
restless down-drop eye, a character self-conscious, furtive, capable
of great inconsistencies, possibly of great deceit."

Again, the itching of the right eye is considered a lucky omen, an
idea that is very old, and may be traced as far back as the time of
Theocritus, who says:--

    "My right eye itches now, and I shall see my love."

According to the antiquary Grose, however, who collected together
so many of the superstitions prevalent in his day, "When the right
eye itches, the party affected will shortly cry; if the left, they
will laugh." The power of fascination has generally been considered
to be a peculiar quality of the eye, a notion by no means obsolete,
and numerous charms have been resorted to for counteracting its
influence. In our chapter on "Birth and Infancy" we have already
spoken of the danger to which young children are said to be subject
from the malevolent power of some evil eye, and of the pernicious
effects resulting from it. Shakespeare gives several references to
it, one of which occurs in the _Merry Wives of Windsor_ (Act v., sc.
5), where Pistol says of Falstaff:--

    "Vile worm, thou wast o'erlook'd even in thy birth."

And once more, in _Titus Andronicus_ (Act ii., sc. 1), Aaron speaks
of Tamora as

    "----fetter'd in amorous chains--
    And faster bound to Aaron's charming eyes,
    Than is Prometheus tied to Caucasus."

It was not very long ago that a curious case of this superstition was
brought before the guardians of the Shaftesbury Union, in which an
applicant for relief stated his inability to work because he had been
"overlooked" by his sister-in-law. Although his wife had resorted
for help to a wise-woman, yet she was unable to remove the spell
under which he lay, and thus the unfortunate man, incapable of labour,
applied for relief, which he did not obtain.

In the next place, some of the superstitions connected with the teeth
are quaint, and afford opportunities to the credulous for drawing
omens of various kinds. Thus, to dream about teeth is held to be a
warning that sorrow of some kind is at hand; and it is even unluckier
still to dream of one's teeth falling out. It is also frequently the
custom, for the sake of luck, to throw a tooth when extracted into
the fire, a practice which, as we have already seen, is frequently
most scrupulously kept up in the case of young children, to make
sure of the remainder of their teeth coming properly. Furthermore,
to have teeth wide apart is a sign of prosperity, and is said to
indicate one's future happiness in life. As an instance of this piece
of folk-lore we may quote the following, narrated by a correspondent
in _Notes and Queries_:--"A young lady the other day, in reply to an
observation of mine, 'What a lucky girl you are!' replied, 'So they
used to say I should be when at school.' 'Why?' 'Because my teeth
were set so far apart; it was a sure sign I should be lucky and
travel.'" Trivial as many of these superstitions may seem, yet they
are interesting, inasmuch as they show how minutely the imagination
has at different times surrounded the human body with countless items
of odd notions, some of which in all probability originated from
practical experience, while others have been the result of a thousand
circumstances, to ascertain the history of which would be a matter of
long and elaborate research.

Passing on to the hair, there is a popular notion that sudden fright
or violent distress will, to use Sir Walter Scott's words, "blanch at
once the hair." Thus, in Shakespeare's _1 Henry IV._ (Act ii., sc.
4), Falstaff, in his speech to Prince Henry, says:--

    "Thy father's beard is turned white with the news."

Although this has been styled "a whimsical notion," yet in its
support various instances of its occurrence have been from time
to time recorded. The hair of Ludwig of Bavaria, for example, it
is said, became almost suddenly white as snow on his learning the
innocence of his wife, whom he had caused to be put to death on a
suspicion of infidelity; and the same thing, we are told, happened
to Charles I. in a single night, when he attempted to escape from
Carisbrooke Castle. A similar story is told of the unfortunate Marie
Antoinette, when her flight from France was checked at Varennes.
According to another notion, excessive fear has occasionally caused
the hair to stand on end, a belief which Shakespeare has recorded. In
_Hamlet_ (Act iii., sc. 4), in that famous passage where the Queen
is at a loss to understand her son's mysterious conduct and strange
appearance, during his conversation with the ghost which is hidden to
her eyes, she says:--

    "And, as the sleeping soldiers in th' alarm,
    Your bedded hair, like life in excrements,
    Starts up, and stands on end."

Once more, too, in that graphic scene in the _Tempest_ (Act i., sc.
2), where Ariel describes the shipwreck, he says:--

                            "All but mariners
    Plunged in the foaming brine and quit the vessel,
    Then all afire with me; the king's son, Ferdinand,
    With hair up-staring--then like reeds, not hair--
    Was the first man that leap'd."

The sudden loss of hair is considered unlucky, being said to
prognosticate the loss of children, health, or property; whereas many
consider it imprudent to throw it away, or to leave the smallest
scrap lying about. One reason assigned for this notion is that if
hair is left about, birds might build their nests with it, a fatal
thing for the person from whose head it has fallen. Thus, should
a magpie use it for any such purpose--by no means an unlikely
circumstance--the person's death will be sure to happen "within a
year and a day." Some say, again, that hair should never be burnt,
but only buried, a superstition founded on a tradition that at the
resurrection its owner will come in search of it. On the other hand,
it is customary with some persons to throw a piece of their hair
into the fire, drawing various omens from the way it burns. Should
it gradually smoulder away, it is an omen of death; but its burning
brightly is a sign of longevity, and the brighter the flame the
longer the life. In Devonshire, too, if the hair grows down on the
forehead and retreats up the head above the temples, it is considered
an indication that the person will have a long life. There is a very
prevalent idea that persons who have much hair or down on their arms
are, to quote the common expression, "born to be rich," although the
exception, in this as in many other similar cases, rather proves the
rule; but abundance of hair on the head has been supposed to denote a
lack of brains, from whence arose an odd proverb, "Bush natural, more
hair than wit." Once more, Judas is said to have had red hair, and
hence, from time immemorial, there has been a strong antipathy to it.
Shakespeare, in _As You Like It_ (Act iii., sc. 4), alludes to this
belief, when he makes Rosalind say of Orlando:--

    "His very hair is of the dissembling colour."

To which Celia replies:--

    "Something browner than Judas's."

It has been conjectured, however, that the odium attached to red
hair took its origin in this country from the aversion felt to
the red-haired Danes. One reason, perhaps, more than another why
this dislike to it arose, originated in the circumstance that the
colour was thought ugly and unfashionable, and the antipathy to
it, therefore, would naturally be increased by this opinion. Thus,
in course of time, a red beard was also held in contempt, and was
regarded as an infallible token of a vile disposition. Yellow hair,
too, was formerly esteemed a deformity, and in ancient tapestries
both Cain and Judas are represented with yellow beards, in allusion
to which, in the _Merry Wives of Windsor_ (Act i., sc. 4), Simple,
when interrogated, says of his master, "He hath but a little wee
face, with a little yellow beard--a Cain-coloured beard." While
alluding to beards, we may note that in former years they gave rise
to various customs, many of which, however, have long ago fallen
into disuse. Thus, dyeing beards was a common practice, and our
readers may recollect how Bottom, in _A Midsummer Night's Dream_
(Act i., sc. 2), is perplexed as to what beard he should wear in
performing his part before the Duke. He says, "I will discharge
it either in your straw-coloured beard, your orange-tawny beard,
your purple-in-grain beard, or your French-crown-colour beard,
your perfect yellow." It was evidently quite as much the habit for
gentlemen to dye their beards in Shakespeare's day as it is said to
be for ladies to dye their locks now-a-days. When beards, too, were
the fashion, to mutilate or cut off one was considered an irreparable

Pursuing our subject, we find that the cheek is not without its quota
of folk-lore; for, like the ear, nose, and eye, it is considered
ominous when one's cheek itches. According to Grose, "If the right
cheek burns, some one is speaking to the person's advantage; if the
left, to their disadvantage." One may still occasionally hear the
following charm uttered by a person whose cheek suddenly burns:--

    "Right cheek! left cheek! why do you burn?
      Cursed be she that doth me any harm;
      If she be a maid, let her be staid;
      If she be a widow, long let her mourn;
    But if it be my own true love--burn, cheek, burn."

Again, the hand has been honoured with a very extensive folk-lore,
and the following extract from an old writer shows that nearly every
peculiarity of the hand has been made emblematical of some personal
trait of character. Thus, we are told:--"A great thick hand signifies
one not only strong, but stout; a little slender hand, one not only
weak, but timorous; a long hand and long fingers betoken a man not
only apt for mechanical artifice, but liberally ingenious. Those
short, on the contrary, note a fool, and fit for nothing; a hard
brawny hand signifies one dull and rude; a soft hand, one witty,
but effeminate; a hairy hand, one luxurious. Long joints signify
generosity; yet, if they be thick withal, one not so ingenious. The
often clapping and folding of the hands note covetousness; and their
much moving in speech, loquacity. Short and fat fingers mark a man
out as intemperate and silly; but long and lean, as witty. If his
fingers crook upward, that shows him liberal; if downward, niggardly.
Long nails and crooked signify one to be brutish, ravenous, and
unchaste; very short nails, pale and sharp, show him subtle and
beguiling." Among other omens, we are told that the itching of the
right hand signifies that it will shortly receive money, whereas if
the left hand be the one to itch, it is a sign that money will before
very many days have to be paid away. In Suffolk the peasants have the
following rhyme on the subject:--

    "If your hand itches,
    You're going to take riches;
    Rub it on wood,
    Sure to come good;
    Rub it on iron,
    Sure to come flying;
    Rub it on brass,
    Sure to come to pass;
    Rub it on steel,
    Sure to come a deal;
    Rub it on tin,
    Sure to come agin."

A moist hand is said to denote an amorous constitution, and in _2
Henry IV._ (Act i., sc. 2), the Lord Chief Justice enumerates a dry
hand among the characteristics of age and debility.

Palmistry, or divination by means of the hands, a species of
fortune-telling still much practised, we have already described in
another chapter. A superstition, however, which we must not omit to
mention, is the practice of rubbing with a dead hand for the purpose
of taking away disease, instances of which, even now-a-days, are of
occasional occurrence. Mr. Henderson mentions a case that happened
about the year 1853. The wife of a pitman at Castle Eden Colliery,
who was suffering from a wen in the neck, went alone, according
to advice given her by a "wise woman," and lay all night in the
out-house, with the hand of a corpse on her wen. She had been assured
that the hand of a suicide was an infallible cure. The shock, at any
rate, to her nervous system from that terrible night was so great
that she did not rally for some months, and eventually she died from
the wen. As a further specimen of this incredible superstition, we
may quote the following case, which happened some years ago in an
Eastern county. A little girl of about eight years of age had from
birth been troubled with scrofulous disease, and had been reared
with great difficulty. Her friends consulted the "wise man" of the
neighbourhood, who told the mother that if she took the girl and
rubbed her naked body all over with the hand of a dead man she would
be cured. The experiment was tried, and the poor little girl was
nearly killed with fright, and, of course, made no progress whatever
towards health.

Many of our readers are, no doubt, acquainted with the famous "dead
man's hand," which was formerly kept at Bryn Hall, in Lancashire. It
is said to have been the hand of Father Arrowsmith, a priest who,
according to some accounts, was put to death for his religion in the
time of William III. Preserved with great care in a white silken bag,
this hand was resorted to by many diseased persons, and wonderful
cures are reported to have been effected by this saintly relic. Thus,
we are told of a woman who, afflicted with the small-pox, had this
dead hand in bed with her every night for six weeks; and of a poor
lad who was rubbed with it for the cure of scrofulous sores. It is,
indeed, generally supposed that practices of this kind are rare and
of exceptional occurrence, but they are far more common than might
be imagined, although not recorded in newspapers. This is, however,
in a great measure owing to the fact that those who believe in and
have recourse to such rites observe secresy, for fear of meeting with
ridicule from others.

The nails, also, as we have mentioned in our chapter on Childhood,
have their folk-lore, the little specks which are seen on them being
regarded as ominous. Many have their particular days for cutting
the nails. Of the numerous rhymes on the subject, we may quote the
following as a specimen, from which it will be seen that every day
has its peculiar virtue:--

    "Cut them on Monday, you cut them for health;
    Cut them on Tuesday, you cut them for wealth;
    Cut them on Wednesday, you cut them for news;
    Cut them on Thursday, a new pair of shoes;
    Cut them on Friday, you cut them for sorrow;
    Cut them on Saturday, see your true love to-morrow;
    Cut them on Sunday, the devil will be with you all the week."

This old rhyming-saw differs in various localities, although in the
main points it is the same; as by general consent both Friday and
Sunday are regarded as most inauspicious days for cutting both the
nails and hair.

Once more, to sit cross-legged is said to produce good
fortune; and occasionally at a card-table one may find some
superstitiously-inclined person sitting in this attitude with a
view of securing good luck. Sir Thomas Browne, on the contrary,
tells us that in days gone to "sit cross-legged, or with the fingers
pectinated" or shut together, was accounted a sign of bad luck: a
superstition alluded to by Pliny. Referring to the feet, we cannot
do more than just allude to two or three items of folk-lore with
which they are connected. Thus, a flat-footed person is generally
considered to have a bad temper, a notion indeed which daily
experience often proves to be incorrect. The itching of the foot has
been supposed to indicate that its owner will shortly undertake a
strange journey; while that unpleasant sensation popularly styled
"the foot going to sleep," is often charmed away by crossing the
foot with saliva. When the division between the toes is incomplete,
and they are partially joined, they are called "twin toes," and are
said to bring good luck. This section of our "Domestic Folk-lore"
might have been prolonged to an almost indefinite extent had space
permitted, but as the preceding pages amply bear witness to the
prevalence of such ideas, we will proceed to discuss another, and, it
is to be hoped, not less interesting class of superstitions.



    New Clothes at Easter and Whitsuntide--Wearing of Clothes--The
    Clothes of the Dead--The Apron, Stockings, Garters, &c.--The
    Shoe--The Glove--The Ring--Pins.

One would scarcely expect to find a host of odd fancies attached to
such matter-of-fact necessities as articles of dress, but yet they
hold a prominent place in our domestic folk-lore. However trivial at
first sight these may seem, they are nevertheless interesting, in
so far as they illustrate certain features of our social history,
and show from another point of view how superstition is interwoven
with all that appertains to human life. Beginning, then, with a
well-known piece of folk-lore, most persons wear new clothes on
Easter-Day, mindful of the old admonition:--

    "At Easter let your clothes be new,
    Or else be sure you will it rue"

--a notion that still retains its hold on the popular mind, few being
found bold enough to transgress this long-rooted custom. In the North
of England, so strong is the feeling on this point, that young people
rarely omit visiting the nearest market-town prior to Eastertide, to
buy some new article of dress or personal ornament, as otherwise they
believe the birds--notably rooks--will spoil their clothes. A similar
fancy prevails with regard to Whitsuntide, and many would consider
that they had forfeited their good luck for the next twelve months if
they did not appear in "new things" on Whitsunday.

The superstitions relating to clothes are very numerous, varying
in different localities. Thus, according to a Suffolk notion, "if
you have your clothes mended on your back, you will be ill-spoken
of," or as they say in Sussex, "you will come to want." Again, many
before putting on a new coat or dress, take care to place some money
in the right-hand pocket, as this insures its always being full. If
by mistake, however, the money is put in the left-hand pocket, then
the person will never have a penny so long as the coat lasts. It
is also a very prevalent belief that if one would secure luck with
any article of dress, it must be worn for the first time at church.
Equal attention, too, is paid by many to the way they put on each
article of dress--as, in case of its being accidentally inside out,
it is considered an omen of success. It is necessary, however, if one
wishes the omen to hold good, to wear the reversed portion of attire
with the wrong side out till the regular time comes for taking it
off. If reversed earlier, the luck is immediately lost. The idea of
the "hind-side before" is so closely related to that of "inside out,"
that one can hardly understand their being taken for contrary omens;
yet, "It is worthy of remark, in connection with this superstition,"
says a correspondent of Chambers's "Book of Days," "that when
William the Conqueror, in arming himself for the battle of Hastings,
happened to put on his shirt of mail with the hind-side before,
the bystanders seem to have been shocked by it, as by an ill-omen,
till William claimed it as a good one, betokening that he was to be
changed from a duke to a king." Another piece of superstition tells
us that the clothes of the dead never last very long, but that as
the body decays, so in the same degree do the garments and linen
which belonged to the deceased. Hence, in Essex there is a popular
saying to the effect that "the clothes of the dead always wear full
of holes." When therefore a person dies, and the relatives, it may
be, give away the clothes to the poor, one may frequently hear a
remark of this kind, "Ah, they may look very well, but they won't
wear; they belong to the dead." A similar belief prevails in Denmark,
where a corpse is not allowed to be buried in the clothes of a living
person, lest as the clothes rot in the grave, that person to whom
they belonged should waste away and perish. In accordance also with
a superstition prevalent in the Netherlands, the rings of a dead
friend or relative are never given away, as it is a sure sign that the
giver too will soon die. An absurd notion exists in many parts--one
much credited by our country peasantry--that if a mother gives away
all the baby's clothes in her possession, she will be sure to have
another addition to her family, although the event may be contrary
to all expectation. Among other items of folk-lore associated with
clothes, we may mention that in the North of England to put a button
or hook into the wrong hole while one is dressing in the morning, is
held to be a warning that some misfortune will happen in the course
of the day; and in Northamptonshire it is said that servants who go
to their places in black will never stay the year out. A Dorsetshire
superstition is that if a gentleman accidentally burns the tail
of his coat, or a lady the hem of her skirt, during a visit at a
friend's house, it is a proof they will repeat their visit.

Another article of dress that has its superstitions is the apron,
which some women turn before the new moon, to insure good luck
for the ensuing month. In Yorkshire, when a married woman's apron
falls off, it is a sign that something is coming to vex her;
when, however, the apron of an unmarried girl drops down, she is
frequently the object of laughter, as there is considered no surer
sign than that she is thinking about her sweetheart. Again, if a
young woman's petticoats are longer than her dress, this is a proof
that her mother does not love her so much as her father, a notion
which extends as far as Scotland. This piece of folk-lore may have
originated in the mother not attending so much to the child's dress
as was her duty, whereas, however much the father may love his child,
he may at the same time be perfectly ignorant of the rights and
wrongs of female attire: an excuse which does not hold good in the
case of the mother. Some of the descriptions of plants in use among
the rural peasantry refer to the petticoat. Thus, the poppy is said
to have a red petticoat and a green gown; the daffodil, a yellow
petticoat and green gown, and so on; these fancies being the subject
of many of our old nursery rhymes, as, for instance:--

    "Daffadown-dilly is come up to town,
    In a yellow petticoat and a green gown."

Passing on in the next place to stockings, it is lucky, as with
other articles of dress, to put one wrong-side out, but unlucky
to turn it on discovering one's mistake. Some, too, consider it a
matter of importance as to which foot they put the stocking on first
when dressing themselves in the morning--the luck of the day being
supposed in a great measure to depend on this circumstance--as to
clothe the left foot before the right one is a sign of misfortune.
"Flinging the stocking" was an old marriage custom, being really a
kind of divination, which Misson, in his "Travels through England,"
thus describes:--"The young men, it seems, took the bride's
stockings, and the girls those of the bridegroom, each of whom,
sitting at the foot of the bed, threw the stocking over their heads,
endeavouring to make it fall upon that of the bride or her spouse;
if the bridegroom's stocking, thrown by the girls, fell upon the
bridegroom's head, it was a sign that they themselves would soon be
married; and similar luck was derived from the falling of the bride's
stockings, thrown by the young men."

There is a superstitious notion in some places that when the bride
retires to rest on her wedding-night, her bridesmaids should lay
her stockings across, as this act is supposed to guarantee her
future prosperity in the marriage state. Another use to which the
stocking has been put is its being hung up to receive presents
at Christmas-time, a custom which, as Mr. Henderson points out,
the Pilgrim Fathers carried to America, and bequeathed to their

It is curious to find even the garter an object of superstition,
being employed by young women in their love divinations on Midsummer
Eve, a period, it must be remembered, considered most propitious for
such ceremonies. Their mode of procedure is this:--The maiden anxious
to have a peep of her future husband must sleep in a county different
from that in which she usually resides, and on going to bed must take
care to knit the left garter about the right stocking, repeating the
following incantation, and at every pause knitting a knot:--

        "This knot I knit
    To know the thing I know not yet;
        That I may see
    The man that shall my husband be;
    How he goes, and what he wears,
    And what he does all days and years."

On retiring to rest the wished-for one will appear in her dreams,
wearing the insignia of his trade or profession.

Again, as a popular object of superstition the shoe is unrivalled,
and antiquaries are still undecided as to why our forefathers
invested this matter-of-fact article of dress with such mysterious
qualities, selecting it as the symbol of good fortune, one of the
well-known uses in which it has been employed being the throwing of
it for luck, constant allusions to which practice occur in our old
writers. Thus, Beaumont and Fletcher, in _The Honest Man's Fortune_,
refer to it:--

    "Captain, your shoes are old; pray put 'em off,
    And let one fling 'em after us."

And Ben Jonson, in his _Masque of the Gipsies_, represents one of the
gipsies as saying:--

    "Hurle after an old shoe,
    I'll be merry what e'er I doe."

This custom, which was once so prevalent, has not yet died out, for
in Norfolk, whenever servants are going after new situations, a shoe
is thrown after them, with the wish that they may succeed in what
they are going about. Some years ago, when vessels engaged in the
Greenland whale fishery left Whitby, in Yorkshire, the wives and
friends of the sailors threw old shoes at the ships as they passed
the pier-head. Indeed, this practice is frequently observed in towns
on the sea-coast, and a correspondent of _Notes and Queries_ informs
us that one day, when at Swansea, he received a shoe on his shoulder
which was intended for a young sailor leaving his home to embark upon
a trading voyage. Tennyson has not omitted to speak of this piece of

    "For this thou shalt from all things seek
        Marrow of mirth and laughter;
    And wheresoe'er thou move, good luck
        Shall throw her old shoe after."

As an emblem of good luck, the shoe is thrown with much enthusiasm
after a bridal couple. Various explanations have been given of this
popular custom. Some think that it was originally intended as a sham
assault on the bridegroom for carrying off the bride; and hence
a survival of the old ceremony of opposition to the capture of a
bride. Others again are of opinion that the shoe was in former times
a symbol of the exercise of dominion and authority over her by her
father or guardian; the receipt of the shoe by the bridegroom, even
if accidental, being an omen that the authority was transferred to
him. Thus, in the Bible, the receiving of a shoe was an evidence
and symbol of asserting or accepting dominion or ownership; whereas
the giving back of the shoe was the symbol of resigning it. Another
reason for throwing the shoe is given in the following old rhyme:--

        "When Britons bold
        Wedded of old,
    Sandals were backward thrown,
        The pair to tell
        That, ill or well,
    The act was all their own."

Throwing the shoe after the wedded pair was, also, no doubt intended
as an augury of long life to the bride. In Yorkshire the ceremony
of shoe-throwing is termed "thrashing," and the older the shoe the
greater the luck; and in some parts of Kent the mode of procedure is
somewhat peculiar. After the departure of the bride and bridegroom
the single ladies are drawn up in one row, and the bachelors in
another. When thus arranged, an old shoe is thrown as far as
possible, which the fair sex run for: the winner being considered to
have the best chance of marriage. She then throws the shoe at the
gentlemen, when the first who gets it is believed to have the same
chance of matrimony. A somewhat similar custom prevails in Germany,
where the bride's shoe is thrown among the guests at the wedding,
the person who succeeds in catching it being supposed to have every
prospect of a speedy marriage.

Many auguries are still gathered from the shoe. Thus young girls
on going to bed at night place their shoes at right angles to one
another, in the form of the letter T, repeating this rhyme:--

    "Hoping this night my true love to see,
    I place my shoes in the form of a T."

As in the case of the stocking, great importance is attached by many
superstitious persons as to which shoe they put on first, in allusion
to which Butler, in his "Hudibras," says:--

    "Augustus, having b' oversight
    Put on his left shoe 'fore his right,
    Had like to have been slain that day
    By soldiers mutin'ing for pay."

An old writer speaking of Jewish customs tells us that "some of them
observe, in dressing themselves in the morning, to put on the right
stocking and right shoe first without tying it. Then afterwards to
put on the left shoe, and so return to the right; that so they may
begin and end with the right one, which they account to be the most
fortunate." A Suffolk doggrel respecting the "wear of shoes" teaches
us the following:--

    "Tip at the toe: live to see woe;
    Wear at the side: live to be a bride;
    Wear at the ball: live to spend all;
    Wear at the heel: live to save a deal."

Among some of the many charms in which the shoe has been found
efficacious, may be mentioned one practised in the North of England,
where the peasantry, to cure cramp, are in the habit of laying
their shoes across to avert it. Mrs. Latham, in her "West Sussex
Superstitions," published in the "Folk-lore Record," tells us of
an old woman who was at a complete loss to understand why her
"rheumatics was so uncommon bad, for she had put her shoes in the
form of a cross every night by the side of her head, ever since she
felt the first twinge." In the same county, a cure for ague consists
in wearing a leaf of tansy in the shoe.

It is curious that the shoe should have entered into the
superstitions associated with death. According to an Aryan tradition,
the greater part of the way from the land of the living to that of
death lay through morasses, and vast moors overgrown with furze and
thorns. That the dead might not pass over them barefoot, a pair of
shoes was laid with them in the grave. Hence a funeral is still
called in the Henneberg district "dead-shoe," and in Scandinavia
the shoe itself is known as "hel-shoe." There are countless other
items of folk-lore connected with the shoe: thus in days gone by
the phrase, "Over shoes, over boots" was equivalent to the popular
phrase, "In for a penny, in for a pound," an allusion to which we
find in Taylor's "Workes" (1630):--

            "Where true courage roots,
    The proverb says, once over shoes, o'er boots."

Again, "to stand in another man's shoe" is a popular expression
for occupying the place or laying claim to the honours of another.
"Looking for dead men's shoes" is still an every-day phrase denoting
those who are continually expecting some advantage which will
accrue to them on the death of another. The shoe-horn, too, from its
convenient use in drawing on a tight shoe, was formerly applied in a
jocular metaphor to subservient and tractable assistants. Thus, for
instance, Shakespeare in _Troilus and Cressida_ (Act v., sc. 1) makes
Thersites in his railing mood give this name to Menelaus, whom he
calls "a thrifty shoeing-horn in a chain, hanging at his brother's
(Agamemnon's) leg." It was also employed as a contemptuous phrase for
danglers after young women.

A further article of dress that has had much honour conferred upon
it is the glove, holding as it does a conspicuous place in many of
our old customs and ceremonies. Thus in days gone by it was given,
by way of delivery or investiture, in sales or conveyances of lands
and goods. It was also employed as the token of a challenge to
fight, a symbolical staking, perhaps of the prowess of the hand to
which the glove belonged. Hence to hang up a glove in church was a
public challenge, very much as a notice affixed to a church-door is
a public notice. _Apropos_ of this custom, a story is given in the
life of the Rev. Bernard Gilpin, of the diocese of Durham, who died
in 1583. It appears that he observed a glove hanging high up in his
church, and ascertaining that it was designed as a challenge to any
one who should dare to displace it, he desired his sexton to do so.
"Not I, sir, I dare do no such thing," he replied. Whereupon the
parson called for a long staff, and taking it down himself, put it in
his pocket. Preaching afterwards on the subject, he denounced this
unseemly practice, saying, "Behold, I have taken it down myself," and
producing the glove, he exhibited it to the whole congregation as a
spectacle of honour. This custom, we are told, does not appear to
have been much older in this country than the thirteenth century, for
Matthew Paris, in writing of the year 1245, speaks of it expressly as
French. Noblemen wore their ladies' gloves in front of their hats, a
practice mentioned by Drayton as having been in vogue at the battle
of Agincourt:--

    "The noble youth, the common rank above,
      On their courveting coursers mounted fair,
    One wore his mistress' garter, one her glove,
    And he her colours whom he most did love;
      There was not one but did some favour wear;
    And each one took it on his happy speed,
    To make it famous by some knightly deed."

The gift of a pair of gloves was at one time the ordinary perquisite
of those who performed some small service; and in process of time,
to make the reward of greater value, the glove was "lined" with
money; hence the term "glove-money." Relics of the old custom still
survive in the presentation of gloves to those who attend weddings
and funerals. It is difficult, however, to discover the connection
between gloves and a stolen kiss. Our readers, for example, may
recollect how, in Sir Walter Scott's "Fair Maid of Perth," Catharine
steals from her chamber on St. Valentine's morn, and catching Henry
Smith asleep, gives him a kiss; then we have the following:--"Come
into the booth with me, my son, and I will furnish thee with a
fitting theme. Thou knowest the maiden who ventures to kiss a
sleeping man, wins of him a pair of gloves." Gloves are still given
to a judge at a maiden assize, a custom which, it has been suggested,
originated in a Saxon law, which forbade the judges to wear gloves
while sitting on the Bench. Hence, to give a pair of gloves to a
judge was tantamount to saying that he need not trouble to come to
the Bench, but might wear gloves. Again, in bygone times gloves
were worn as a mark of distinction by sovereigns, ecclesiastical
dignitaries, and others; their workmanship being excessively costly,
richly embroidered as they were and decorated with jewels. "The
association of gloves with ecclesiastical dignity survived," says
Mr. Leadam in the _Antiquary_, "the Reformation in England; for
although they ceased to be worn in the services of the Church, yet
as late as the reign of Charles II. bishops upon their consecration
were accustomed to present gloves to the archbishop, and to all who
came to their consecration banquet. The lavender gloves with golden
fringes which do often adorn their portraits, may still remind our
modern prelates of the ancient glories of their predecessors." It
was also customary to hang a pair of white gloves on the pews of
unmarried villagers who had died in the flower of their youth, and at
several towns in England it has been customary from time immemorial
to announce a fair by hoisting a huge glove upon a pole--a practice
which exists at Macclesfield, Portsmouth, Southampton, and Chester;
the glove being taken down at the conclusion of the fair. Hone,
in his description of Exeter Lammas Fair, says:--"The charter for
this fair is perpetuated by a glove of immense size, stuffed and
carried through the city on a very long pole, decorated with ribbons,
flowers, &c., and attended with music, parish beadles, and the
nobility. It is afterwards placed on the top of the Guildhall, and
then the fair commences; on the taking down of the glove the fair
terminates." Mr. Leadam also quotes a passage from the "Speculum
Saxonicum" which throws light on the origin of this custom:--"No one
is allowed to set up a market or a mint, without the consent of the
ordinary or judge of that place; the king ought also to send a glove
as a sign of his consent to the same." The glove, therefore, was
the king's glove, the earliest form of royal charter, the original
sign-manual. Among other items of folk-lore connected with this
useful article of dress, we may mention that the term "right as my
glove" is a phrase, according to Sir Walter Scott, derived from the
practice of pledging the glove as the sign of irrefragable faith.
Gloves, too, were in olden times fashionable new year's gifts, having
been far more expensive than now-a-days. When Sir Thomas More was
Lord Chancellor, he happened to determine a case in favour of a lady
named Croaker, who, as a mark of her gratitude, sent him a new year's
gift in the shape of a pair of gloves with forty angels in them. But
Sir Thomas returned the money with the following letter:--"Mistress,
since it were against good manners to refuse your new year's gift,
I am content to take your gloves, but as for the lining I utterly
refuse it." In the time of Queen Elizabeth, the rural bridegroom wore
gloves in his hat as a sign of good husbandry; and on the "Border"
to bite the glove was considered a pledge of deadly vengeance,
in allusion to which Sir Walter Scott, in his "Lay of the Last
Minstrel," says:--

    "Stern Rutherford right little said,
    But bit his glove and shook his head."

The ring, apart from its eventful history, has from the most remote
period been surrounded, both in this and other countries, not only
with a most extensive legendary lore, but with a vast array of
superstitions, a detailed account of which would be impossible in a
small volume like the present one; so we must confine ourselves to
some of the most popular.

In the first place, then, certain mysterious virtues have been
supposed to reside in rings, not so much on account of their shape as
from the materials of which they have been composed. Thus, they have
been much worn as talismans or charms, being thought to be infallible
preservatives against unseen dangers of every kind. Referring to some
of these, we find, for instance, that the turquoise ring was believed
to possess special properties, a superstition to which Dr. Donne

    "A compassionate turquoise, that doth tell,
    By looking pale, the wearer is not well."

Fenton, too, in his "Secret Wonders of Nature," describes the
stone:--"The turkeys doth move when there is any peril prepared to
him that weareth it." The turquoise ring of Shylock, which, we are
told in the _Merchant of Venice_ (Act iii., sc. 1), he would not part
with for a "wilderness of monkeys," was, no doubt, valued for its
secret virtues.

The carbuncle, again, amongst other properties, was said to give out
a natural light, to which it has been supposed Shakespeare alludes in
_Titus Andronicus_ (Act ii., sc. 3), where, speaking of the ring on
the finger of Bassianus, he says:--

    "Upon his bloody finger he doth wear
    A precious ring, that lightens all the hole,
    Which, like a taper in some monument,
    Doth shine upon the dead man's earthy cheeks,
    And shows the ragged entrails of the pit."

A piece of popular superstition makes it unlucky to wear an opal
ring, although this lovely stone has always been an object of
peculiar admiration from the beautiful variety of colours which it
displays, and in the Middle Ages was even thought to possess the
united virtues of all the gems with whose distinctive colours it was
emblazoned. The diamond was believed to counteract poison, a notion
which prevailed to a comparatively late period; though, according to
another belief, it was considered the most dangerous of poisons, and
as such we find it enumerated among the poisons administered to Sir
Thomas Overbury, when a prisoner in the Tower. An emerald ring was
thought to insure purity of thought; and a toadstone ring was worn
as an amulet to preserve new-born children and their mothers from

Among the omens associated with rings, we may briefly note that to
lose a ring which has been given as a pledge of affection is unlucky;
as also is the breaking of a ring on the finger; while further
superstitions relating to the wedding-ring have been noticed at
length in our chapter on marriage. In days gone by, too, "medicated
rings" were held in great repute, and were much used for the cure of
diseases, instances of which we find among the remedies still in use
for cramp, epilepsy, and fits. Silver seems to have been considered
highly efficacious; and rings made of lead, mixed with quicksilver,
were worn as charms against headaches and other complaints.
Dactylomancy, or divination by rings, is not quite forgotten among
eager aspirants after matrimony, one mode being to suspend a ring by
a thread or hair within a glass tumbler, notice being taken as to how
many times it strikes the sides of the glass without being touched.
Once more, there is an old piece of folk-lore on the colours of
stones in "keepsake rings":--

    "Oh, green is forsaken,
    And yellow is forsworn,
    But blue is the prettiest colour that's worn."

Passing from the ring to another article of dress--perhaps the most
insignificant--namely, the pin, we nevertheless find it invested with
all kinds of curious superstitions. Thus, it is said that on seeing
a pin, one should always pick it up for the sake of good luck, as
those who omit to do so run into imminent danger of being overtaken
by misfortune, a notion embodied in the following rhyme:--

    "See a pin and pick it up,
    All the day you'll have good luck;
    See a pin and let it lie,
    All the day you'll have to cry."

Why, however, North-country people are so persistent in their refusal
to give one another a pin, it is not easy to discover. When asked for
a pin, they invariably reply, "You may take one; but, mind, I do not
give it." One of the most popular species of enchantment to which
pins have been applied is that sometimes employed in counteracting
the evil effects of witchcraft. One mode is by "pin-sticking," a
case of which recently occurred in the parish of Honiton Clyst,
in Devonshire. A landlord having lost one of his tenants, certain
repairs and improvements were found necessary to prepare for the
next. In carrying out the work a chimney had to be explored, when,
in the course of the operation, there was found carefully secreted a
pig's heart stuck all over with thin prickles, evidently a substitute
for pins. This is supposed to have been done by the direction of some
"wise" or cunning person, as a means of taking revenge on the witch
to whose incantations the party considered some mischief due, in the
belief that the heart of the ill-wisher would be pierced in like
manner, until it eventually became as pulseless as that of the pig.

It appears, too, that pins were largely used in a particular species
of sorcery. Whenever, for instance, some malevolent individual wished
to carry out her ill-natured designs, she made a clay image of the
person she intended to harm, baptised the said image with the name
of the party whom it was meant to represent, and stuck it full of
pins or burnt it. Where the pins were placed the person whom it
represented was afflicted with pain, and as the figure wasted, so he
was said to waste away. Shakespeare alludes to this superstition, and
in _Richard III._ (Act iii., sc. 4) makes the Duke of Gloucester say
to Hastings:--

    "Then be your eyes the witness of this ill,
    See how I am bewitch'd; behold, mine arm
    Is, like a blasted sapling, withered up!
    And this is Edward's wife, that monstrous witch
    Consorted with that harlot strumpet Shore,
    That by their witchcraft thus have marked me."

Pins, too, have been in extensive demand for divination, and here and
there throughout the country we find "wishing wells," into which if
the passers-by only drop a crooked pin and breathe their wish, it is
said they may rest assured of its fulfilment at some future date.

So much, then, for our illustrations of the folk-lore of dress, a
subject which, interesting though it is, we have now discussed at
sufficient length.



    Thirteen at Table--Salt-spilling--The Knife--Bread, and other
    Articles of Food--Wishing Bones--Tea-leaves--Singing before
    Breakfast--Shaking Hands across the Table.

It is frequently found that even strong-minded persons are not exempt
from the prejudice against sitting down to dinner when there are only
thirteen present. Many amusing anecdotes are recorded of the devices
resorted to for avoiding the consequences supposed to be incurred by
the neglect of this superstition--the notion being that one of the
thirteen, generally the youngest, will die within the next twelve
months. To avoid, therefore, any such contingency, many persons,
should they be disappointed in one of their guests, have the empty
place filled by a child, and should one not always be forthcoming, no
slight inconvenience is occasionally produced. Not very long ago a
case was recorded in which a lady, not being able at the last moment
to make up the number fourteen, had her favourite cat seated at the
table, hoping thereby to break the fatal spell attaching to the
unlucky number thirteen.

The origin popularly assigned to this widespread superstition is
the fact that thirteen was the number at the Last Supper, Judas
being the thirteenth. A correspondent of the _Gentleman's Magazine_,
however, writing at the close of the last century, says that it is
"founded on the calculations adhered to by the insurance offices,
which presume that out of thirteen persons, taken indiscriminately,
one will die within a year." But this is not the probable origin,
that which connects it with the Last Supper being no doubt the
correct one. Some, says Lord Lyttelton, in _Notes and Queries_,
have carried the superstition "to the extent of disliking the
number thirteen at all times; but the commoner form limits it to
Friday--not that there is any ground for fact in this, for the Last
Supper was on the fifth, not the sixth day of the week. Sailors are
held somewhat superstitious, and I knew an eminent naval officer who
actually would walk out of the room when the conjunction happened
on a Friday, after the death of the wife and eldest daughter, both
of which events were preceded by the said conjunction." Among other
instances of this piece of superstition, we may quote the following,
related by Addison in the _Spectator_:--"I remember," he says, "I
was one in a mixed assembly that was full of wine and mirth, when on
a sudden an old woman unluckily observed that there were thirteen
of us in company. This remark struck a panic terror into several
who were present, insomuch that one or two of the ladies were going
to leave the room; but a friend of mine, taking notice that one of
our female companions was likely to become a mother, affirmed there
were fourteen in the room, and that instead of portending that one
in the company should die, it plainly foretold that one of them
should be born. Had not my friend found this expedient to break the
omen, I question not but half the women in the company should have
fallen sick that very night." Again, we may give another anecdote
recorded by Rachel, the celebrated _tragédienne_. On her return from
Egypt, in the spring of 1857, she installed herself in a villa in
the neighbourhood of Montpellier. There she received a visit from
the poet Ponsard and Arséne Houssaye, the latter of whom was making
a tour as inspector of the Departmental Museums. "Do you recollect
the dinner we had at the house of Victor Hugo, at the close of the
repetition of _L'Angelo_?" she said to the former. "You remember
there were _thirteen_ of us. There was Hugo and his wife, you and
your wife, Rebecca and I, Girardin and his wife, and some others.
Well! where to-day are the thirteen? Victor Hugo and his wife are
in Jersey; your wife is dead; Madame de Girardin is dead; my poor
Rebecca is dead; Gerard de Nerval, Oradie, Alfred de Musset are
dead. I--say no more. There remain but Girardin and you. Adieu! my
friends. Never laugh at thirteen at a table!" Anecdotes, indeed,
relating to this superstition are without number, and form many an
amusing episode in the lives of noted characters. It may be mentioned
here that the number thirteen is considered ominous in other
ways. Fuller, by way of example, tells us how a covetous courtier
complained to King Edward VI. that Christ College, Cambridge, was a
superstitious foundation, consisting of a master and twelve fellows,
in imitation of Christ and His twelve Apostles. He, therefore,
advised the king to take away one or two fellowships, so as to
dissolve that unlucky number. "Oh, no," replied the king, "I have a
better way than that to mar their conceit; I will add a thirteenth
fellowship to them," which he accordingly did.

Another equally popular superstition is the ill-luck supposed
to attach to salt-spilling: one notion being that to upset the
salt-cellar while in the act of handing it to any one is a sign of an
impending quarrel between the parties. It is also said to indicate
sorrow or trouble to the person spilling it, and to counteract the
evil consequences of this unlucky act one should fling some salt over
the shoulder. Gay speaks of this popular fancy in the fable of the
"Farmer's Wife and the Raven":--

    "The salt was spilt, to me it fell,
    Then to contribute to my loss,
    My knife and fork were laid across."

Indeed constant allusions are found to this widespread superstition
both in our old and modern writers. Gayton, describing two friends,

    "I have two friends of either sex, which do
    Eat little salt, or none, yet are friends too,
    Of both which persons I can truly tell,
    They are of patience most invincible
    Whom out of temper no mischance at all
    Can put--no, if towards them the salt should fall."

This piece of folk-lore dates back up to the time of the Romans, and
at the present day is not limited to our own country. It has been
suggested that it may have originated from the circumstance that
salt was formerly used in sacrifices, and that to spill it when once
placed on the head of the victim was regarded as a bad omen. Bailey,
however, assigns a very different reason, telling us that salt was
considered by the ancients incorruptible, and on this account was
made the symbol of friendship. If it, therefore, was spilt, the
persons between whom it happened thought their friendship would not
be of long duration.

Some people dislike even so much as to put salt on another person's
plate, considering this act equivalent to wishing one's neighbour
misfortune. Hence there is a well-known couplet:--

    "Help me to salt,
    Help me to sorrow."

A correspondent of _Notes and Queries_ relates how one day he offered
to help an old Highland lady at dinner to some salt from the cellar,
which stood much nearer to him than to her; when she gravely put
back his hand, and drew away her plate, saying at the same time, with
a kind of shudder, between her teeth, "Help me to salt, help me to
sorrow." The ill-luck may be averted by a second help. Salt has also
been considered a powerful safeguard against evil spirits; and in
Scotland it was once customary in brewing to throw a handful of salt
on the top of the mash to ward off witches. Again, as an interesting
illustration of the change which has passed over our domestic
manners, we may quote the phrase "to sit above the salt," that is,
in a place of honour, whereby a marked and invidious distinction
was formerly maintained among those at the same table. A large
salt-cellar was usually placed about the middle of a long table,
the places above which were assigned to the guests of distinction,
those below to inferiors and poor relations. It argues little for
the delicacy of our ancestors that they should have permitted such
ill-natured distinctions at their board; often, as it has been said,
placing their guests "below the salt" for no better purpose than that
of mortifying them. Hence Ben Jonson, speaking of the characteristics
of an insolent coxcomb, says:--"His fashion is not to take knowledge
of him that is beneath him in clothes. He never drinks below the

Among the many other odd items of folk-lore associated with the
table, we may mention in the next place those relating to the knife.
Thus, to let a knife drop is a sign that a visitor is coming to the
house; and to lay the knife and fork crosswise on one's plate is an
omen that crosses and troubles will soon occur. Equally unlucky,
too, is it to give any kind of knife away, for, as Gay in his
"Shepherd's Week" says:--

    "But woe is me! such presents luckless prove,
    For knives, they tell me, always sever love."

Indeed, this superstition is not confined to a knife, but extends
to any sharp or cutting instrument, such as a pair of scissors, a
razor, &c. To avoid the danger of such a misfortune, some trifling
recompense must be made in return. This superstition was confuted
by a versifier of the last century--the Rev. Samuel Bishop--who
presented a knife to his wife on her fifteenth wedding-day, with
a copy of some very clever verses of which the following are a

    "A knife, dear girl, cuts love, they say,
    Mere modish love perhaps it may;
    For any tool of any kind
    Can separate what was never joined;
    The knife that cuts our love in two
    Will have much tougher work to do;
    Must cut your softness, worth, and spirit,
    Down to the vulgar size of merit," &c.

Some consider it unlucky to find a knife, from a notion that it will
bring ill-luck to them; while others again often place a knife near
a sleeping child as a charm to preserve it from danger, a belief to
which Herrick thus refers:--

    "Let the superstitious wife
    Near the child's heart lay a knife;
    Point be up, and haft be down;
    While she gossips in the town.
    This 'mongst other mystic charms
    Keeps the sleeping child from harms."

Even the loaf of bread, too, without which the most frugal board
would be incomplete, has not escaped without its quota of folk-lore.
Thus, many a housewife still marks the sign of the cross upon her
loaf before placing it in the oven, just as the Durham butcher does
to the shoulder of a sheep or lamb after taking off the skin--the
notion probably being to protect it against the injurious influence
of witchcraft. In many parts of Scotland peasants were formerly in
the habit of making a cross on their tools, considering that by so
doing they would be rendered safe against the mischievous pranks of
the fairy folks as they went on their midnight errands. Again, if
a loaf accidentally parts in the hand while an unmarried lady is
cutting it, this either prognosticates that she will not be married
during the next twelve months, or, what is still worse, that there
will be a dissension of some kind in the family. Some, too, have a
superstitious objection to turning a loaf upside-down after cutting
it. Herrick refers to the custom of carrying a crust of bread in the
pocket for luck's sake--a practice which is not quite obsolete:--

    "If ye fear to be affrighted
    When ye are, by chance, benighted;
    In your pocket for a trust
    Carry nothing but a crust,
    For that holy piece of bread
    Charms the danger and the dread."

While speaking of bread it may not be inappropriate to refer to a
few other articles of fare around which superstition has cast its
mantle. Thus, eggs have an extensive folk-lore both in this and other
countries. Many persons, for instance, after eating an egg take
special care to crush the shell; the omission of this ceremony, as
they fancy, being attended with ill-luck. Sir Thomas Browne informs
us that the real reason is to prevent witchcraft: "lest witches
should draw or prick their names therein, and veneficiously mischief
their person, they broke the shell." It is also considered a bad
omen to bring eggs into the house after dark, and many persons avoid
burning egg-shells lest the hens should cease to lay. According to a
superstition current in the West of England, one should always make
a hole through an egg-shell before throwing it away, as, unless this
is done, there is a danger of witches using them to put to sea for
the purpose of wrecking ships. Beaumont and Fletcher in their "Women
Pleased" allude to this notion:--

    "The devil should think of purchasing that egg-shell
    To victual out a witch for the Burmoothies."

Just as it is considered, too, unlucky to bring eggs into the house
after dark, so the same prejudice exists with regard to taking them
out. One day, we are told in the _Stamford Mercury_ (Oct. 29, 1852),
a person in want of some eggs called at a farmhouse and inquired
of the good woman whether she had any eggs to sell, to which she
replied that she had a few scores to dispose of. "Then I'll take them
home with me in the cart," was his answer, to which she somewhat
indignantly replied, "That you will not; don't you know the sun has
gone down? You are welcome to the eggs at a proper hour of the day,
but I would not let them go out of the house after the sun is set on
any consideration whatever." A Norfolk superstition warns persons
against eating the marrow of pork lest they should go mad; and, in
the North of England, we are told that should the meat for dinner
shrink in the pot, it presages a downfall in life. Should it swell,
on the contrary, to a large size, it denotes that the head of the
family will be prosperous in his undertakings. These odd fancies
vary in different localities, and in out-of-the-way districts where
the railway has not yet penetrated, they still retain their hold on
the primitive and uncultivated minds of our agricultural peasantry.
At the same time, however, occasional survivals of many of these
old worn-out superstitions crop up in unexpected quarters, showing
they are not completely dead. Thus, our children still practise
their divination by means of the "wishing bone" of a fowl, and
are, moreover, ever on the alert to discover, what they consider,
infallible omens from any article of food which nursery tradition has
stamped as possessing such remarkable qualities. As we have already
pointed out in another chapter, tea-leaves often afford to both old
and young a constant source of amusement; and we may, now and then,
find some elderly damsel, who still aspires to enter one day on the
marriage state, taking care to put the milk into her tea before the
sugar lest she should lose her chance of securing a sweetheart. Mrs.
Latham, too, tells us how matrimonial fortunes are often told by
seers at home from the grounds or sediment remaining at the bottom of
a tea-cup; and where to unenlightened eyes nothing is apparent but
a little black dust floating in a slop, those who have the wit to
do so may discern a hidden meaning. Again, among the host of small
superstitions connected with our daily meals, one at the very outset
relates to breakfast; there being a widespread belief that if a
person sings before breakfast, he will cry before supper. This notion
probably has some reference to another popular one, namely, that high
spirits forebode evil, proving the forerunner of adversity. Many
anecdotes illustrative of this theory have been recorded at various
times. In the last act of _Romeo and Juliet_, Romeo is introduced as

    "If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep,
    My dreams presage some joyful news at hand;
    My bosom's lord sits lightly on his throne;
    And all this day an unaccustomed spirit
    Lifts me above the ground with cheerful thoughts."

In the evidence given at the inquest upon the bodies of four persons
killed by an explosion at a firework manufactory in Bermondsey,
October 12th, 1849, one of the witnesses stated:--"On Friday they
were all very merry, and Mrs. B. said she feared something would
happen before they went to bed, because they were so happy."

If, in a social gathering of any kind, an unmarried person is
inadvertently placed between a man and his wife, it is an indication
that the individual so seated will be married within the course
of a year. Many consider it unlucky to shake hands across the
table; and there is also an old superstition mentioned by Grose,
that, in eating, to miss the mouth and let the food fall is a bad
omen, betokening approaching sickness. Once more, if a person in
rising from table overturns his chair, this is not a very fortunate
occurrence, as it is said to show that he has been speaking untruths.
Without further extending our list of the superstitious beliefs and
practices that have clustered round the table--to which many of our
readers will doubtless be able to make their own additions--we may
briefly sum up this branch of the subject by saying:--

                      "'Tis a history
    Handed from ages down; a nurse's tale,
    Which children open-eyed and mouth'd devour,
    And thus, as garrulous ignorance relates,
    We learn it and believe."



    Folk-lore of the Looking-glass--Luck of
    Edenhall--Clock-falling--Chairs--Beds--The Bellows.

The desire to gather omens from the various surrounding objects of
every-day life has naturally included articles of furniture; and
hence we find signs and portents attached to certain of these which
are implicitly credited by many, from the highest to the lowest, who,
notwithstanding, would consider themselves deeply insulted if the
idea of their being superstitious were only so much as hinted at by
some sceptical friend. Among the most common of these odd fancies
are those relating to the looking-glass. As a piece of furniture
this is most necessary, and its very importance is, perhaps, the
chief reason why superstition has invested it with those mysterious
qualities which certainly do not belong in the same ratio to chairs
and tables. A chair, however beautiful and costly in its manufacture,
may nevertheless be cruelly broken with perfect impunity; whereas, if
some wretched, dilapidated looking-glass is accidentally cracked, the
inmates of the house are thoroughly discomposed, from a conviction
that such an event is sure to be followed by misfortune of some kind
or other. In Cornwall, the supposed penalty for such an offence
is seven years of sorrow; and a Yorkshire proverb informs us that
this unfortunate occurrence entails "seven years' trouble, but no
want." It has also been said to foretell the speedy decease of the
master of the house; and in Scotland it is regarded as an infallible
sign that some member of the family will shortly die. It has been
suggested that this popular superstition dates very many years back,
and probably originated in the terror inspired by the destruction of
the reflected human image--an interesting illustration of how the
formation of certain ideas is often determined by mere analogy. A
similar style of thinking also underlies the mediæval necromancer's
practice of making a waxen image of his enemy, and shooting at it
with arrows in order to bring about his death.

The folk-lore, however, of the looking-glass does not end here;
for many consider it the height of ill-luck to see the new moon
reflected in a looking-glass or through a window-pane; and some
mothers studiously prevent their youngest child looking in one until
a year old. It is also associated with marriage and death. Thus, in
the South of England it is regarded as a bad omen for a bride on
her wedding morning to take a last peep in the glass when she is
completely dressed in her bridal attire, before starting for the
church. Hence very great care is generally taken to put on a glove
or some slight article of adornment after the final lingering and
reluctant look has been taken in the mirror. The idea is that any
young lady who is too fond of the looking-glass will be unfortunate
when married. This is by no means the only occasion on which
superstitious fancy interferes with the grown-up maiden's peeps into
the looking-glass. Thus, Swedish young ladies are afraid of looking
in the glass after dark, or by candle-light, lest by so doing they
should forfeit the goodwill of the other sex.

The practice of covering the looking-glass, or removing it from
the chamber of death, still prevails in some parts of England--the
notion being that "all vanity, all care for earthly beauty, are
over with the deceased." It has also been suggested that, as the
invisible world trenches closely upon the visible one in the chamber
of death, a superstitious dread is felt of some spiritual being
imaging himself forth in the blank surface of the mirror. Mr. Baring
Gould considers that the true reason for shrouding the looking-glass
before a funeral was that given him in Warwickshire, where there is a
popular notion that if a person looks into a mirror in the chamber of
death he will see the corpse looking over his shoulder. Again, Brand
informs us that looking-glasses were generally used by magicians "in
their superstitious and diabolical operations." He quotes an old
authority, who says:--"Some magicians, being curious to find out by
the help of a looking-glass, or a glass full of water, a thing that
lies hidden, make choice of young maids to discern therein those
images or sights which a person defiled cannot see." Sometimes, too,
our ancestors dipped a looking-glass into the water when they were
anxious to ascertain what would become of a sick person. Accordingly
as he looked well or ill in the glass, when covered with the drops
of water, so they foretold whether he would recover or not. Mirrors
were also regarded by our forefathers as the most effective agencies
in divining secrets and bringing to light hidden mysteries. Thus,
there is a tradition that the Gunpowder Plot was discovered by Dr.
John Dee with his magic mirror. We find in a prayer-book, printed by
Baskett in 1737, an engraving which depicts the following scene:--In
the centre is a circular looking-glass, in which is the reflection
of the Houses of Parliament by night, and a person entering carrying
a dark lantern. On the left side there are two men in the costume
of James's time looking into the mirror--one evidently the king,
the other probably Sir Kenelm Digby. On the right side, at the top,
is the eye of Providence darting a ray on to the mirror; and below
are some legs and hoofs, as if evil spirits were flying out of the
picture. This plate, says a correspondent of _Notes and Queries_,
"would seem to represent the method by which, under Providence (as
is evidenced by the eye), the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot was at
that time seriously believed to have been effected. The tradition,
moreover, must have been generally believed, or it never could have
found its way into a prayer-book printed by the king's printer." It
may be noted, however, that as the fame of Dee's magic mirror was
at its zenith about the time of the Gunpowder Plot, this may have
led to the mirror being adopted as a popular emblem of discovery,
or "throwing light" upon a subject. Hence it has been reasonably
suggested that the mirror in the print may simply be a piece of
artistic design, rather than evidence of its actual employment in the

In days gone by, too, it appears to have been customary for both
sexes to wear small looking-glasses--a fantastic fashion much
ridiculed by Ben Jonson and others of his time. Men even wore them
in their hats--an allusion to which custom we find in Ben Jonson's
_Cynthia's Revels_ (Act ii., sc. 1): "Where is your page? Call for
your casting-bottle, and place your mirror in your hat as I told
you." We may infer that this was the very height of affectation by
the manner in which the remark is introduced. While men of fashion
wore mirrors as brooches or ornaments in their hats, ladies carried
them at their girdles or on their breasts. Thus Lovelace makes a lady

    "My lively shade thou ever shalt retaine
    In thy inclosed feather-framed glasse."

It was a popular superstition in former years that fine glass, such
as that of Venice, would break if poison were put into it. To this
curious notion Massinger thus gracefully alludes:--

    "Here crystal glasses . . . .
    . . . . . . . . . . This pure metal
    So innocent is, and faithful to the mistress,
    Or master, that possesses it, that rather
    Than hold one drop that's venomous, of itself
    It flies in pieces, and deludes the traitor."

This is among the errors noticed by Sir Thomas Browne, who says, "And
although it be said that poison will break a Venice glass, yet have
we not met with any of that nature. Were there a truth herein, it
were the best preservative for princes and persons exalted to such
fears, and surely far better than divers now in use." It may not be
inappropriate here to refer to the well-known tradition connected
with the "Luck of Edenhall." From time immemorial there has been a
current belief that any one who had the courage to rush upon a fairy
festival and snatch from the merry throng their drinking-glass, would
find it prove to him a constant source of good fortune, supposing he
could carry it across a running stream. A glass has been carefully
preserved at Edenhall, Cumberland, which was in all probability a
sacred chalice; but the legend is that the butler, one day going
to draw water, surprised a company of fairies who were amusing
themselves on the grass near the well. He seized the glass that was
standing upon its margin, which the fairies tried to recover, but,
after an ineffectual struggle, they vanished, crying:--

    "If that glass do break or fall,
    Farewell the luck of Edenhall."

The good fortune, however, of this ancient house was never so much
endangered as by the Duke of Wharton, who, on one occasion having
drunk the contents of this magic glass, inadvertently dropped it,
and here most assuredly would for ever have terminated the luck of
Edenhall, if the butler, who stood at his elbow to receive the empty
glass, had not happily caught it in his napkin.

Referring, however, more particularly to our subject, we find several
items of folk-lore associated with the clock. Thus, in the North
of England, there is a superstition called "Clock-falling," the
idea being that if a woman enters a house after her confinement,
and before being churched, the house-clock will immediately fall
on its face. So strong was this belief in years past that a woman
would never think of transgressing this rule under any circumstances
whatever. In some places the house-clock is stopped on the occasion
of a death, no doubt to remind the survivors that with the deceased
one time is over, and that henceforth the days and hours are no
longer of any account to him. A correspondent of _Notes and Queries_
informs us that he knew "an intelligent, well-informed gentleman in
Scotland who, among his last injunctions on his death-bed, ordered
that as soon as he expired the house-clock was to be stopped, a
command which was strictly obeyed." Aubrey also tells us that
formerly it was customary for people of a serious turn of mind to
say, every time they heard the clock strike, "Lord, grant my last
hour may be my best hour."

Chairs, again, have their superstitions. It is regarded as a bad
omen, for instance, if, when a person leaves a house, he replaces the
chair on which he has been sitting against the wall, the probability
being that he will never visit the house again. The chair on which a
woman sits after her confinement to receive the congratulations of
her friends is popularly termed "a groaning chair," an allusion to
which we find in "Poor Robin's Almanack":--

    "For a nurse, the child to dandle,
    Sugar, soap, spiced pots, and candle,
    A groaning chair, and eke a cradle."

Another article of furniture not without its folk-lore is the bed.
Thus some superstitious persons always have their bedsteads placed
parallel to the planks of the floor, considering it unlucky to sleep
across the boards. Others again pay particular attention to the point
of the compass towards which the head should be when in bed, a belief
we find existing even among the Hindoos, who believe that to sleep
with the head to the north will cause one's days to be shortened.
To lie in the direction of the south they say is productive of
longevity, whereas the east and west, it is asserted, are calculated
to bring riches and change of scene respectively. Various theories in
this country have been, at different times, started as to the proper
position of the bedstead during the hours of sleep, which find ready
acceptance among those who are ever ready to grasp any new idea,
however fanciful it may be. A correspondent of _The Builder_, writing
on the subject, says:--"So far as my own observations have gone, I
know that my sleep is always more sound when my head is placed to the
north. There are persons whom I know, the head of whose bed is to the
north, and who, to awake early, will reverse their usual position
in the bed, but without knowing the reason why, beyond 'that they
could always wake earlier,' the sleep being more broken." An eminent
physician in Scotland states that, when he failed by every other
prescription to bring sleep to invalid children, he recommended their
couches or little beds to be turned due north and south--the head
of the child being placed towards the north--a process which he had
always found successful in promoting sleep. After all, however, as
has been so often said, the best prescription for a good night's rest
is a healthy body and a sound mind.

The well-known phrase, "to get out of bed the wrong way," or "with
the left leg foremost," is generally said of an ill-tempered person;
the term having originated in an ancient superstition, which
regarded it as unlucky to place the left foot first on the ground on
getting out of bed.

Once more, as a mark of the simplicity of ancient manners, it was
customary for persons even of the highest rank to sleep together, an
allusion to which practice occurs in _Henry V._, where Exeter says:--

    "Nay, but the man that was his bedfellow,
    Whom he hath cloy'd and grac'd with kingly favours."

In conclusion, we may take one further illustration on this subject
from that useful little article, the bellows, to place which on a
table is considered extremely unlucky, and few servants will either
do it or allow it to be done.



    Prevalence and Continuity of
    Superstitions--Sneezing--Stumbling--A Whistling
    Woman--Sweeping--Breaking Crockery--Fires and
    Candles--Money--Other Superstitions.

It has often been asked how that formidable array of superstitions,
which are so firmly established in most houses, came into being, and
what is their origin? Although indeed one may occasionally smile at
the "reign of terror" which these frequently exercise over their
credulous believers, yet it must be admitted they are not limited to
any one class. In discussing and comparing the intellectual condition
of one class of society with another, we are apt, while passing
censure on the one for its odd notions and fanciful beliefs, to
forget how the other often cherishes the very same, although it may
be in a more disguised form. Thus, by way of example, whereas some
ignorant persons resort to a cunning man or "wise woman" for advice
in case of emergency, many an educated person is found consulting
with equal faith a clairvoyant or spirit-medium. While, too, some
uneducated person believes in a particular omen, which is condemned
by an intelligent community as the height of folly, many cultivated
people, as we have said, may be found who hesitate before sitting
down to dinner when the party consists of thirteen. However much,
therefore, we may dislike to own the fact, we must acknowledge that
superstition is a distinct element in the human character, although
under the influence of education it has not the same opportunity
for development as in the case of those whose mental powers have
never been thoroughly trained. These superstitions, beliefs, and
practices, too, it must be remembered, have not sprung up in a day,
but have been handed down from generation to generation in popular
traditions, tales, rhymes, and proverbs, and consequently have become
so interwoven with the daily life as to make it no easy task to root
them out. It has been truly said:--

    "How superstitiously we mind our evils!
    The throwing down salt, or crossing of a hare,
    Bleeding at nose, the stumbling of a horse,
    Or singing of a cricket, are of power
    To daunt whole man in us."

As Mr. Tylor has truly shown, when a custom or superstition is
once fairly started in the world, disturbing influences may long
affect it so slightly that it may keep its course from generation
to generation, as a stream once settled in its bed will flow on for
ages. Thus thousands of superstitions, the true meanings of which
have perished for centuries, continue to exist simply because they
have existed. A striking example of this fact may be found in the
widespread folk-lore associated with the act of sneezing in this
and other countries, which may be traced back to the most remote
period. Thus, in the classic ages of Greece and Rome, we read of the
lucky sneeze of Telemachus, and of Aristotle's remark that people
consider a sneeze as divine, but not a cough. On account of sneezing
being deemed lucky, it has always been customary to salute the
sneezer, a custom which the ancient Greeks claimed to have derived
from Prometheus, who stole celestial fire to animate his newly-made
figure of clay. Tradition says that as the fire permeated its frame,
the creature sneezed, which caused Prometheus to invoke blessings
on it. Anyhow the practice of salutation on sneezing dates from
the earliest times, and it is interesting to find a superstition
of this kind, which may be looked on as a curiosity of primitive
civilisation, still existing in our midst. Thus, in the Midland
counties, grandmothers still exclaim, "God help you!" when they hear
a child sneeze; and it is a very common notion that to sneeze three
times before breakfast is a pledge that one will soon receive a
present of some kind. The sneezing of a cat is considered an evil
omen, it being a sign that the family will all have colds. According
to a Scotch superstition a new-born child is in the fairy spells
until it sneezes, but when this takes place all danger is past. A
correspondent of _Notes and Queries_ tells us that he once overheard
"an old and reverend-looking dame crooning over a new-born child,
and then, watching it intently and in silence for nearly a minute,
she said, taking a huge pinch of snuff, 'Oich! Oich! No yet--no
yet.' Suddenly the youngster exploded in a startling manner, into a
tremendous sneeze; when the old lady suddenly bent down and, as far
as I could see, drew her fore-finger across the brows of the child,
very much as if making the sign of the cross (although as a strict
Calvinist she would have been scandalised at the idea), and joyfully
exclaimed, 'God sain the bairn it's _no a warlock_.'" Indeed it is a
very prevalent idea that no idiot ever sneezed or could sneeze. Some
attach importance to the day on which a person sneezes; and in the
West of England it is said that--

    "Sneeze on Sunday morning fasting,
    You'll enjoy your own true love to everlasting."

Another household superstition which has come down to us from the
far-off past is connected with stumbling; frequent allusions to which
occur in the classic writers. Thus, at the present day to stumble
up-stairs is considered unlucky by some, but just the reverse by
others. Grose remarks that to stumble up the stairs is a prognostic
of good luck, and in some places it is supposed to indicate that
the stumbler if unmarried will cease to be so before the year is
out. Others affirm that to stumble in the morning as soon as one
goes out of doors is a sign of ill-luck. As an instance of this
omen in ancient times, it is stated that Tiberius Gracchus, as he
was leaving his house on the day of his death, stumbled upon the
threshold with such violence that he broke the nail of his great
toe. It is not necessary, however, to quote further cases of this
superstition in years gone by, it being sufficient for our purpose to
show that it has been handed down to us by our ancestors, and that
stumbling, like sneezing, has always been regarded as an ominous act.
Again, stumbling at a grave has been ranked among unlucky omens, a
superstition to which Shakespeare refers in _Romeo and Juliet_ (Act
v., sc. 3), where Friar Laurence says:--

                    "How oft to-night
    Have my old feet stumbled at graves."

We may also compare Gloucester's words in _3 Henry VI._ (Act v., sc.

    "For many men that stumble at the threshold
    Are well foretold that danger lurks within."

Hence various charms have been practised to counteract the supposed
ill-effect of this unlucky act, upon which Poor Robin, in his
"Almanack for 1695," quaintly remarks:--"All those who, walking the
streets, stumble at a stick or stone, and when they are past it turn
back again to spurn or kick the stone they stumbled at, are liable to
turn students in Goatam College, and upon admittance to have a coat
put upon him, with a cap, a bauble, and other ornaments belonging to
his degree."

Again, in most places there is a very strong antipathy to a woman
whistling about a house, or even out of doors, this act being
said to be always attended with fatal results. Thus, there is a
Cornish saying to the following effect:--"A whistling woman and a
crowing hen are the two unluckiest things under the sun;" and the
Northamptonshire peasantry have this rhyme which is to the same

    "A whistling woman and crowing hen
    Are neither fit for God nor men."

Or, according to another version:--

    "A whistling wife and a crowing hen
    Will call the old gentleman out of his den."

Why there should be this superstitious dislike to a woman's whistling
it is difficult to decide, but at the same time it is a curious
fact that one seldom hears any of the fair sex amusing themselves
in this manner. Mr. Henderson informs us that the seafaring part
of the population on the coast of Yorkshire have the same dread of
hearing a woman whistle. A few years ago, when a party of friends
were going on board a vessel at Scarborough, the captain astonished
them by declining to allow one of them to enter it. "Not that young
lady," he said, "she whistles." Curiously enough the vessel was
lost on her next voyage; so, had the poor girl set foot on it, the
misfortune would certainly have been ascribed to her. According to
one legend, this superstition originated in the circumstance that
a woman stood by and whistled while she watched the nails for the
Cross being forged. A correspondent of _Notes and Queries_ assigns
another origin. He tells us that one day, after attempting in vain
to get his dog to obey orders to come into the house, his wife
essayed to whistle, when she was suddenly interrupted by a servant,
a Roman Catholic, who exclaimed in the most piteous accents, "If you
please, ma'am, don't whistle. Every time a woman whistles, the heart
of the Blessed Virgin bleeds." The French, it seems, have a similar
prejudice to hearing a woman whistle about a house, their proverb
being as follows:--"Une poule qui chante le coq, et une fille qui
siffle, portent malheur dans la maison."

There are numerous signs and omens connected with household work.
Thus, in Suffolk, the people say that if after sweeping a room the
broom is accidentally left up in a corner, strangers will visit the
house in the course of that day; while others affirm, in the Northern
counties, that to sweep dust out of the house by the front door is
equivalent to sweeping away the good fortune and happiness of the
family. Care should rather be taken to sweep inwards--the dust being
carried out in a basket or shovel--and then no harm will happen.
Furthermore, the spider, which in daily life is little noticed except
for its cobweb, the presence of which in a house generally betokens
neglect, is by no means an unfriendly intruder. Although the servant
oftentimes ruthlessly sweeps this uncared-for little visitor away
from the wall, yet a common proverb reminds us that--

    "If you wish to live and thrive,
    Let the spider run alive,"

ill-luck being supposed to quickly overtake those who kill or even so
much as injure it. It was a notion formerly prevalent in many parts
of Scotland that should a servant wilfully kill a spider, she would
certainly break a piece of crockery or glass before the day was out.
One reason why the spider is protected against ill-usage is that it
is supposed to bring prosperity; but the real cause, perhaps, is due
to the influence of an old legend which relates how, when Christ lay
in the manger at Bethlehem, the spider came and spun a web over the
spot where He was, thus preserving His life by screening Him from all
the dangers that surrounded Him.

Referring to the breaking of crockery, of which we have just spoken,
there is a prevalent idea that if a servant breaks two things she
will break a third. On one occasion the mistress of a household in
Suffolk was not a little horrified at seeing one of her servants take
up a coarse earthenware basin and deliberately throw it down upon
the brick floor. "What did you do that for?" she not unnaturally
inquired. "Because, ma'am, I'd broke two things," answered the
servant, "so I thout the third better be this here," pointing to the
remains of the least valuable piece of pottery in the establishment,
which had been sacrificed to glut the vengeance of the offended
ceramic deities. A correspondent of Chambers' "Book of Days,"
alluding to another piece of superstition of this kind, tells us
that he once had a servant who was very much given to breaking glass
and crockery. Plates and wine-glasses used to slip out of her hands
as if they had been soaped; even spoons came jingling to the ground
in rapid succession. "Let her buy something," said the cook, "and
that will change the luck." "Decidedly," said the mistress, "it will
be as well that she feel the inconvenience herself." "Oh, I didn't
mean that, ma'am!" was the reply; "I meant that it would change the
luck." A few days after this conversation, on being asked whether she
had broken anything more, she answered, "No, sir, I haven't broken
nothing since I bout the 'tater dish." Unluckily, however, this was
too good to last; the breaking soon re-commenced, and the servant was
obliged to go.

A superstitious dread still attaches in household matters to
Friday as being an unlucky day, and many will not even so much as
turn a bed for fear of some misfortune befalling them. Thus, in
Northamptonshire, we are told the housewife allows the bed to remain
unturned; and a Sussex saying admonishes persons "never to begin
a piece of work on Friday, or they will never finish it." We may
note here that one tradition assigns a very early origin to the
unfortunate reputation of Friday, affirming that it was on this day
that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. It is considered very
unlucky to change servants on this day of the week, and many try to
avoid, if possible, doing so.

That bright and ever-cheerful companion of our homes in winter time,
the fire, has given rise to a host of omens and portents, many
of which at times create no small consternation when the events
supposed to be prognosticated are not of a very lucky character. A
hollow cinder, for example, thrown out of the fire by a jet of gas
from burning coals is looked upon as a coffin if it be long, but as
a money-box if it be round. Some, too, exclaim on seeing the fire
suddenly blaze up that a stranger is near; whereas in the Midland
counties if the fire burn brightly after it has been stirred, this
is considered a sign that the absent lover, wife, or husband, as the
case may be, is in good spirits. A very popular charm for reviving a
fire when it has burnt down is to set the poker across the hearth,
with the fore-part leaning against the top bar of the grate. The
poker and top bar thus combined form a _cross_, and so defeat the
malice of the witches and demons who preside over smoky chimneys. One
notion is that the poker when in this position creates a draught, but
the real meaning of this harmless superstition is, perhaps, the one
that we have just given. Various items of weather-lore, also, have
been derived from the way fires burn, an enumeration of which we find
in Willsford's "Nature's Secrets":--"When our common fires do burn
with a pale flame, they presage foul weather. If the fire do make a
buzzing noise, it is a sign of tempests near at hand. When the fire
sparkleth very much, it is a sign of rain. If the ashes on the hearth
do clodder together of themselves, it is a sign of rain. When pots
are newly taken off the fire, if they sparkle, the soot upon them
being incensed, it is a sign of rain. When the fire scorcheth and
burneth more vehemently than it useth to do, it is a sign of frosty
weather; but if the living coals do shine brighter than commonly at
other times, expect then rain. If wood, or any other fuel, do crackle
and wind break forth more than ordinary, it is an evident sign of
some tempestuous weather near at hand; the much and sudden falling
of soot presages rain." Once more, there is a curious notion that
if a person sit musing and intently looking into the fire, it is a
sign that a badly-disposed person is either fascinating him for evil,
or throwing an evil spell over him. When this is the case, in order
to break the spell, some one without speaking or attracting notice
should take the tongs and turn the centre piece of coal in the grate
right over, at the same time repeating certain words. While speaking
of fires, we may note that there is a belief among the Yorkshire
peasants that it is unlucky to allow a light to be taken out of their
houses on Christmas Day--a superstition which prevails in Lancashire
with regard to New Year's Day. A few years ago a man was summoned at
Bradford on a charge of wilful damage by breaking a pane of glass
in a cottage window. Having entered for the purpose of lighting his
candle, the woman of the house strongly remonstrated, but offered him
instead a few matches. The man then created a disturbance, and on the
husband trying to eject him he broke the window.

Omens, too, from candles are very numerous. Thus, we may note
that in some of the Northern counties a bright spark in the candle
predicts the arrival of a letter, and if it drops on the first shake,
it is an indication that the letter has already been posted. To snuff
out a candle accidentally is a sign of matrimony, and a curious mode
of divination is still practised by means of a pin and a candle.
The anxious lover, while the candle is burning, takes a pin and
cautiously sticks it through the wax, taking care that it pierces the
wick, repeating meanwhile the following rhyme:--

    "It's not this candle alone I stick,
    But A. B.'s heart I mean to prick;
    Whether he be asleep or awake,
    I'd have him come to me and speak."

She then patiently watches, for if the pin remains in the wick after
the candle has burnt below the place in which it was inserted, then
the loved one will be sure to appear; but should the pin drop out, it
is a sign that he is faithless.

There are, however, a host of other superstitions relating to
home-life, some of which we can only briefly describe, scattered
as they are here and there over the United Kingdom, and varying in
different localities. Thus, according to a well-known superstition,
if a person suddenly shivers, it is a sign that some one is
walking over his future grave, a notion which is not limited to
any particular county, extending as far north as Scotland. It
is fortunate, however, that all persons are not subject to this
sensation, otherwise the inhabitants of those districts or parishes
whose burial-grounds are much frequented would, as an old antiquarian
writer has observed, "live in one continued fit of shaking." Some,
too, deem it unlucky to turn back after they have once started on
some errand, or to be recalled and told of something previously
forgotten. This superstition extends beyond our own country, and
is found on the Continent, as for example in Sweden, where it is
considered unadvisable not only to turn round when one is going on
business, lest it should turn out ill, but even so much as to look
back. At the present day, too, in the Midland counties, children
are frequently cautioned by their parents not to walk backwards
when going on some errand, it being regarded as a sure sign that
misfortune will befall them if they disobey this injunction. Akin to
this superstition, there are several others of a similar kind, among
which we may include the supposed ill-luck of walking under a ladder;
and North-country people have a dislike to meeting a left-handed
person on a Tuesday morning, although on other days it is considered
fortunate to do so. Referring to the many other items of folk-lore
associated with our daily life, we must not omit those relating to
money. Thus, it is generally acknowledged to be a bad omen to find
it; and to insure health and prosperity, one should always turn a
piece of money in one's pocket on first seeing the new moon, and
on hearing the cuckoo in spring. There is, too, the common custom
of the lower orders to spit on money for "luck's sake," a practice
which is not only found in foreign countries, but may be traced back
to ancient times. Misson, in his "Travels in England," describes
this piece of superstition as it prevailed in this country in former
years:--"A woman that goes much to market told me t'other day that
the butcher-women of London, those that sell fowls, butter, eggs,
etc., and in general most tradespeople, have a peculiar esteem for
what they call a _handsel_, that is to say, the first money they
receive in the morning they kiss it, spit upon it, and put it in a
pocket by itself." Many, too, as a charm against poverty, carry a
piece of money, with a hole in it, or one that is bent, in allusion
to which Gay says:--

                "This silver ring beside,
    Three silver pennies, and a nine-pence bent,
    A token kind to Brunkinet is sent."

Others, again, dislike "counting their gains," a superstition which,
it has been suggested, may have some connection with David's sin in
numbering the people of Israel and Judah. Hence some regard with
feelings of strong antipathy our own decennial census, and it is only
the compulsion of the law which induces them to comply with this
national means of ascertaining the state of the population. Among
minor superstitions, it is said that smoke and dust always follow the
fairest; and if without any neglect, but even with care, articles of
steel, such as keys, knives, &c., continually become rusty, it is
a sign that some kind-hearted person is laying up money for one's

When, too, as often by coincidence happens, two persons in
conversation are on the point of telling each other the same thing,
it is an indication that some lie will before long be told about
them; others think that if the two immediately join hands and wish
silently, their desires cannot fail to come to pass. Some again,
have a strong objection either to being weighed or to having their
likeness taken, the latter superstition being mentioned by Mr.
Napier as prevalent in some parts of Scotland. Once more, there is a
belief among the Sussex peasantry that bottles which have contained
medicine should never be sold, or else they will soon be required
to be filled again for some one in the house. These are some of the
quaint superstitions with which even the trivial occurrences of home
life are surrounded, and although, according to one view, many of
these have little or no foundation for their existence beyond their
traditionary history, yet it is a remarkable fact that they should
have preserved their characteristic traits in spite of the long
course of years through which they have travelled down to us from the



    Bible and Key--Dipping--Sieve and Shears--Crowing
    of the Cock--Spatulamancia--Palmistry and

The practice of divination, or foretelling future events, has existed
amongst most nations in all ages; and, although not so popular as
in days gone by, yet it still retains its hold on the popular mind.
Many of the methods for diving into futurity are extremely curious,
and instances of them occasionally find their way into the papers.
In a previous chapter we have already shown how numerous are the
divinations practised in love affairs, and what an importance is
attached to them by the maiden bent on ascertaining her lot in the
marriage state. There are, however, many other ends to which this
species of superstition is employed, one being the detection of
guilt. Thus, a common method is by the "Bible and the Key," which
is resorted to more or less by the humbler classes from one end of
the United Kingdom to the other, the mode of procedure being as
follows:--The key is placed on a certain chapter, and the Sacred
Volume closed and fastened tightly. The Bible and the key are then
suspended to a nail, the accused person's name is repeated three
times by one of those present, while another recites these words:--

    "If it turns to thee thou art the thief,
          And we all are free."

This incantation being concluded, should the key be found to have
turned, it is unanimously agreed that the accused is the guilty one.
Not very long ago, a lady residing at Ludlow having lost a sheet
made use of this test. Armed with a copy of the Sacred Book, she
perambulated the neighbourhood, placing the key in the volume near
several houses. At last, on arriving before a certain door, it was
alleged that the key with much alacrity began, of its own accord, to
turn; whereupon the owner of the lost sheet uttered the suspected
person's name as loudly as she could; after which, it is said, the
Bible turned completely round and fell on the ground. Again, a year
or two ago, at Southampton, a boy working on a collier was charged
with theft, the only evidence against him being such as was afforded
by the ordeal of the Bible and key. It seems that the mate and some
others swung a Bible attached to a key with a piece of yarn, the
key being placed on the first chapter of Ruth. While the Bible was
turning, the names of several persons suspected were called over, but
on mention of the prisoner's the book fell on the ground. The bench,
of course, discharged the prisoner.

Closely akin to this method of divination is the well-known mediæval
diversion known as the _Sortes Virgilianæ_, which consisted in
opening a volume of Virgil's works, and forecasting the future from
some word or passage selected at random. The Sacred Book is now the
modern substitute, and there is no doubt but that the superstition is
thousands of years older than even the Virgil of the Augustan age.
This custom, practised in many parts of England on New Year's Day,
is called "Dipping." A Bible is laid on the table at breakfast-time,
and those who wish to consult it open its pages at random; it being
supposed that the events of the ensuing year will be in some way
foreshown by the contents of the chapter contained in the two open
pages. Sometimes the anxious inquirer will take the Bible to bed
with him on New Year's Eve, and on awaking after twelve o'clock,
open it in the dark, mark a verse with his thumb, turn down a corner
of the page, and replace the book under the pillow. That verse is
said to be a prophecy of the good or bad luck that will befall him
during the coming year. This as a mode of divination is extensively
practised. Another form of this superstition consists in foretelling
the events in a man's life from the last chapter of the Book of
Proverbs, the thirty-one verses of this chapter being supposed to
have a mystical reference to the corresponding days of the month.
Thus, it is predicted of persons born on the 14th that they will
get their "food from afar." A correspondent of _Notes and Queries_,
writing from a Northamptonshire village, tells us that "this is so
fully believed in by some that a boy has actually been apprenticed to
a _linen_-draper, for no other reason than because he was born on the
24th of the month; whilst those born on the 13th would be sent to a
_woollen_-draper. The twenty-fourth verse speaks of 'fine linen,' and
the thirteenth of 'wool.'"

Another means of discovering a guilty person is by the "Sieve and
Shears," one of those divinatory instruments upon which such implicit
reliance has been placed by superstitious folk from time out of mind,
described as it is in the "Hudibras" as

    "Th' oracle of sieve and shears,
    That turns as certain as the spheres."

The sieve is held hanging by a thread, or else by the points of a
pair of shears stuck into its rim, it being supposed to turn, or
swing, or fall at the mention of a thief's name, and give similar
signs for other purposes. This ancient rite was formerly known as
the "Trick of the Sieve and Scissors," and was generally practised
among the Greeks for ascertaining crime. We find an allusion to it in

    "To Agrio, too, I made the same demand;
    A cunning woman she, I cross'd her hand:
    She turn'd the sieve and shears, and told me true,
    That I should love, but not be lov'd by you."

Among other modes of divination practised for the same purpose,
there is one by the crowing of the cock. Thus, a farmer in Cornwall
having been robbed of some property, invited all his neighbours into
his cottage, and when they were assembled he placed a cock under
the "brandice" (an iron vessel formerly much used by the peasantry
in baking), he then asked each one to touch the brandice with the
third finger, and say, "In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy
Ghost, speak." Every one did as they were directed, and yet no sound
came from beneath the brandice. The last person was a woman who
occasionally laboured for the farmer in his field. She hung back,
hoping to pass unobserved amidst the crowd. The neighbours, however,
would not permit her to do so, and no sooner had she touched the
brandice than, before she could even utter the prescribed words,
the cock crew. Thereupon she fainted on the spot, and on recovering
confessed her guilt.

In the North of England there was formerly a curious process of
divination in the case of a person bewitched:--A black hen was
stolen, the heart taken out, stuck full of pins, and roasted at
midnight. It was then supposed that the "double" of the witch would
come and nearly pull the door down. If, however, the "double" was not
seen, any one of the neighbours who had passed a remarkably bad night
was fixed upon.

Referring in the next place to what may be considered the principal
object of divination, a knowledge of futurity, we find various
mystic arts in use to gain this purpose. Foremost among these may be
reckoned "Spatulamancia," "reading the speal-bone," or "divination
by the blade-bone," an art which is of very ancient origin. It is,
we are told by Mr. Tylor, especially found in Tartary, whence it may
have spread into all other countries where we hear of it. The mode of
procedure is as follows:--The shoulder-blade is put on the fire till
it cracks in various directions, and then a long split lengthwise
is reckoned as "the way of life," while cross-cracks on the right
and left stand for different kinds of good and evil fortune, and so
on. In Ireland, Camden speaks of looking through the blade-bone of a
sheep, to discover a black spot which foretells a death; and Drayton
in his "Polyolbion" thus describes it:--

    "By th' shoulder of a ram from off the right side par'd,
    Which usually they boile, the spade-bone being bar'd,
    Which when the wizard takes, and gazing thereupon
    Things long to come foreshows, as things done long agone."

This species of divination was in days gone by much practised in
Scotland, and a good account of the Highland custom of thus divining
is given by Mr. Thoms in the "Folk-Lore Record" (i. 177), from a
manuscript account by Mr. Donald McPherson, a bookseller of Chelsea,
a Highlander born, and who was well acquainted with the superstitions
of his countrymen:--"Before the shoulder-blade is inspected, the
whole of the flesh must be stripped clean off, without the use of
any metal, either by a bone or a hard wooden knife, or by the teeth.
Most of the discoveries are made by inspecting the spots that may be
observed in the semi-transparent part of the blade; but very great
proficients penetrate into futurity though the opaque parts also.
Nothing can be known that may happen beyond the circle of the ensuing
year. The discoveries made have relation only to the person for whom
the sacrifice is offered."

Chiromancy, or palmistry, as a means of unravelling hidden things,
still finds favour not only with gipsy fortune-tellers, but even
with those who profess to belong to the intelligent classes of
society. This branch of fortune-telling flourished in ancient
Greece and Italy, as we are informed it still does in India, where
to say, "It is written on the palms of my hands," is the ordinary
way of expressing what is looked upon as inevitable. The professors
of this art formerly attributed to it a Divine origin, quoting
as their authority the following verse from the Book of Job: "He
sealeth up the hand of every man, that all men may know his work;"
or as the Vulgate renders the passage: "Qui in manu omnium hominum
signa posuit"--"Who has placed signs in the hand of all men"--which
certainly gives it a more chiromantical meaning. Thus chiromancy, or
palmistry, traces the future from an examination of the "lines" of
the palm of the hand, each of which has its own peculiar character
and name, as for instance the line of long life, of married life, of
fortune, and so on. However childish this system may be, it still
has its numerous votaries, and can often be seen in full force at
our provincial fairs. Referring to its popularity in this country in
former years, we find it severely censured by various writers. Thus
one author of the year 1612 speaks of "vain and frivolous devices
of which sort we have an infinite number, also used amongst us, as
namely in palmistry, where men's fortunes are told by looking on the
palms of the hand."

A superstition akin to palmistry is onymancy, or divination by the
finger-nails, which is still a widespread object of belief. Sir
Thomas Browne, in his "Vulgar Errors," describing it, admits that
conjectures "of prevalent humours may be gathered from the spots on
the nails," but rejects the sundry prognostications usually derived
from them, such as "that spots on the tops of the nails signify
things past, in the middle things present, and at the bottom events
to come; that white specks presage our felicity, blue ones our
misfortunes; that those in the nail of the thumb have significations
of honour, of the fore-finger riches." As practised at the present
day, this mode of divination differs in various counties. Thus, in
Sussex, we are told by Mrs. Latham that the fortune-tellers commence
with the thumb, and say "A gift," judging of its probable size by
that of the mark. They then touch the fore-finger, and add "A
friend;" and should they find a spot upon the nail of the middle
finger, they gravely affirm it denotes the existence of an enemy
somewhere. It is the presence or absence of such a mark on the third
finger that proves one's future good or ill success in love; whereas
one on the little finger is a warning that the person will soon have
to undergo a journey.

Again, some profess to be able to tell events by the face, or
"look-divination"--a species of physiognomy which was formerly
much believed in by all classes of society, and may still be met
with in country villages. Indeed, there is scarcely a mark on the
face which has not been supposed to betoken something or other;
and in a book of "Palmistry and Physiognomy," translated by Fabian
Withers, 1656, are recorded sundry modes of divination from "upright
eyebrows, brows hanging over, narrow foreheads, faces plain and
flat, lean faces, sad faces, sharp noses, ape-like noses, thick
nostrils," &c. However foolish these may appear, yet there will
always be simple-minded persons ready to make themselves miserable
by believing that the future events of their life--either for weal
or woe--are indelibly written on their face. Equally illogical and
fanciful is that pseudo-science, astrology, whereby the affairs of
men, it is said, can be read from the motions of the heavenly bodies.
A proof of the extensive belief at the present day in this mode of
divination may be gathered from the piles of "Zadkiel's Almanacks"
which regularly appear in the fashionable booksellers' windows
about Christmas-time. That educated people, who must be aware how
names of stars and constellations have been arbitrarily given by
astronomers, should still find in these materials for calculating
human events, is a curious case of superstitious survival. Very many,
for instance, are firmly convinced that a child born under the "Crab"
will not do well in life, and that another born under the "Waterman"
is likely to meet with a watery death, and so forth. This science,
as is well known, is of very old institution, and originated in a
great measure in the primitive ages of the world, when animating
intelligences were supposed to reside in the celestial bodies. As
these mythical conceptions, however, have long ago passed away under
the influence of civilisation, one would scarcely expect to find in
our enlightened nineteenth century so great a number of intellectual
persons putting faith in such a system of delusion. In this respect,
happily, we are not worse than our Continental neighbours; for there
are many districts in Germany where the child's horoscope is still
regularly kept with the baptismal certificate in the family chest.
In days gone by, this kind of divination was very widely credited
in this country, and by most of our old writers is most unsparingly
condemned. Thus Shakespeare, in _King Lear_ (Act i., sc. 2), has
ridiculed it in a masterly way, when he represents Edmund as saying:
"This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick
in fortune--often the surfeit of our own behaviour--we make guilty
of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars, as if we were
villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves,
thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars,
and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence." Sir
Thomas Browne goes so far as to attribute divination by astrology
to Satan, remarking how he "makes the ignorant ascribe natural
effects to supernatural causes; and thus deludes them with this
form of error." And another old writer sensibly adds that, although
astrologers undertake "to tell all people most obscure and hidden
secrets abroad, they at the same time know not what happens in their
own houses and in their own chambers." In spite, however, of the
frequent denunciations of this popular form of superstition, it
appears that they had little effect, for James I. was notorious for
his credulity about such delusions; and both Charles I. and Cromwell
are said to have consulted astrologers.

A further form of divination still much practised is by a pack of
cards, most of these being supposed to have a symbolical meaning;
the king of hearts, for example, denoting a true-loving swain, and
the king of diamonds indicating great wealth. The following quaint
lines, extracted from an old chap-book quoted in Brand's "Popular
Antiquities," describe this mode of fortune-telling as it was
formerly consulted by our credulous countrymen:--

    "This noble king of diamond shows,
    Thou long shalt live where pleasure flows;
    But when a woman draws the king,
    Great melancholy songs she'll sing.

    He that draws the ace of hearts,
    Shall surely be a man of parts;
    And she that draws it, I profess,
    Will have the gift of idleness."

Indeed, scarcely a month passes without several persons being
punished for extorting money from silly people, on the pretence of
revealing to them by card-divination their future condition in life.
Among the gipsies this is the favourite form of fortune-telling; and
its omens are eagerly received by anxious aspirants after matrimony,
who are ever desirous to know whether their husbands are to be tall
or short, dark or fair, rich or poor, and so on. Mrs. Latham tells us
of a certain woman who was reported to be skilful in such matters,
and was in the habit of confidently foretelling with a pack of cards
her fellow-servants' coming lot in matrimony. The mode of procedure
was as follows:--The cards were dealt round by the diviner, with much
mystical calculation, and the fortunate maiden who found the ace of
diamonds in her heap was to marry a rich man. The one, however, who
was unlucky enough to have the knave of clubs or spades was destined
to have nothing but poverty and misery in her wedded state. Again,
the presence of the king of diamonds or of hearts in hand was a sign
that the possessor's partner for life would be a fair man, while
the king of clubs or spades gave warning that he would be dark. To
find in one's heap either the knave of hearts or of diamonds was
most ominous, as it revealed an unknown enemy. Again, divination
by casting lot has not yet fallen into disuse. According to some
this means of deciding doubtful matters is of God's appointment, and
therefore cannot fail, the following text being quoted as a proof:
"The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is
of the Lord" (Proverbs xvi. 33). In Lancashire, when boys do not
wish to divide anything they decide "who must take all" by drawing
"short cuts." A number of straws, pieces of twine, &c., of different
lengths, are held by one not interested, so that an equal portion
of each is alone visible; each boy draws one, and he who gets the
longest is entitled to the prize.

A new-laid egg affords another means of diving into futurity. The
person anxious to be enlightened about his future perforates with a
pin the small end of an egg, and lets three drops of the white fall
into a basin of water, which soon diffuse themselves on the surface
into a variety of fantastic shapes. From these the fortune-teller
will predict the fortune of the credulous one, the character of his
future wife, and a variety of particulars concerning his domestic
happiness. A similar practice is kept up in Denmark, where young
women melt lead on New Year's Eve, and after pouring it into water,
observe on the following morning what form it has assumed. If it
resembles a pair of scissors, they will inevitably marry tailors; if
a hammer, their husbands will be smiths, and so on.

Divination by a staff was formerly a common practice in Scotland.
When a person wished to go on a pleasure excursion into the country,
and was unsettled in his mind as to which way to go, he resorted
to this form of consulting fate. Taking a stick, he would poise it
perpendicularly, and then leave it to fall of itself; and he would
select the direction towards which it pointed while it lay on the
ground. It has been suggested by some of our Biblical scholars that
it is to this sort of divination that the prophet Hosea referred
when he said "Their staff declareth unto them;" but this is mere

Among other common modes of divination may be mentioned that by
tea-stalks. If two appear on the surface of a cup of tea, they
should be placed on the back of the left hand, and struck with the
back of the right. If they remain unmoved on the left, or adhere
to the right, then it is an omen that the absent loved one will
remain faithful. Tea-stalks are also said to foretell visitors,
indicating the person to be visited by floating to the side of the
individual. We might easily extend our list of popular divinations,
but space forbids our doing so; and those already enumerated in the
preceding pages have perhaps given a sufficient idea of the devices
which have been resorted to, from time to time, by our superstitious
country-folk for gaining an insight into futurity.



    Charm-remedies--For Ague--Bleeding of the
    Nose--Burns--Cramp--Epilepsy--Fits--Gout--Headache, &c.

At the present day, in spite of the "march of intellect," there is
still a widespread belief in the prevention and cure of the common
ailments of life by certain remedies, which take the form of charms
and amulets, or are preserved in those countless quaint recipes
which, from time immemorial, have been handed down from parent to
child. Indeed, thousands of our population place far greater faith
in their domestic treatment of disease than in the skill of medical
science, one of the chief requirements being that the patient should
submit to the treatment recommended for his recovery with a full and
earnest belief that a cure will be effected. Hence, however eccentric
the remedy for some complaint may be, we occasionally find not only
the ignorant but even educated classes scrupulously obeying the
directions enjoined on them, although these are often by no means
easy of accomplishment. Therefore, as most of the ordinary ailments
of every-day life have what are popularly termed in folk-medicine
their "charm-remedies," we shall give a brief account of some of
these remedies in the present chapter, arranging the diseases they
are supposed to cure in alphabetical order.

_Ague._--No complaint, perhaps, has offered more opportunities for
the employment of charms than this one, owing in a great measure to
an old superstition that it is not amenable to medical treatment.
Thus, innumerable remedies have been suggested for its cure, many
of which embody the strangest superstitious fancies. According to a
popular notion, fright is a good cure, and by way of illustration
we may quote the case of a gentleman, afflicted by this disease in
an aggravated form, who entertained a great fear of rats. On one
occasion he was accidentally confined in a room with one of these
unwelcome visitors, and the intruder jumped upon him. The intensity
of his alarm is said to have driven out the ague, and to have
completely cured him. An amusing anecdote is also told of a poor
woman who had suffered from this unenviable complaint for a long
time. Her husband having heard of persons being cured by fright, one
day came to her with a very long face, and informed her that her
favourite pig was dead. Her first impulse was to rush to the scene of
the catastrophe, where she found to her great relief that piggy was
alive and well. The fright, however, had done its work, and from that
day forth she never had a touch of ague, although she resided in the
same locality. A Sussex remedy prescribes "seven sage leaves to be
eaten by the patient fasting seven mornings running;" and in Suffolk
the patient is advised to take a handful of salt, and to bury it in
the ground, the idea being that as the salt dissolves so he will lose
his ague. A Devonshire piece of folk-lore tells us that a person
suffering from ague may easily give it to his neighbour by burying
under his threshold a bag containing the parings of a dead man's
nails, and some of the hairs of his head. Some people wear a leaf of
tansy in their shoes, and others consider pills made of a spider's
web equally efficacious, one pill being taken before breakfast for
three successive mornings.

_Bleeding of the Nose._--A key, on account of the coldness of the
metal of which it is composed, is often placed on the person's back;
and hence the term "key-cold" has become proverbial, an allusion to
which we find in _King Richard III._ (Act i., sc. 2), where Lady
Anne, speaking of the corpse of King Henry VI., exclaims:--

    "Poor key-cold figure of a holy king."

A Norfolk remedy consists in wearing a skein of scarlet silk round
the neck, tied with nine knots in the front. If the patient is a
male, the silk should be put on and the knots tied by a female, and
_vice versâ_. In some places a toad is killed by transfixing it with
some sharp-pointed instrument, after which it is enclosed in a little
bag and suspended round the neck.

_Burn or Scald._--According to a deep-rooted notion among our rural
population, the most efficacious cure for a scald or burn is to be
found in certain word-charms, mostly of a religious character. One
example runs as follows:--

    "There came two angels from the north,
    One was Fire, and one was Frost.
    Out Fire: in Frost,
    In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."

Many of our peasantry, instead of consulting a doctor in the case of
a severe burn, often resort to some old woman supposed to possess the
gift of healing. A person of this description formerly resided in a
village in Suffolk. When consulted she prepared a kind of ointment,
which she placed on the part affected, and after making the sign of
the cross, repeated the following formula three times:--

    "There were two angels came from the north,
    One brought fire, the other brought frost;
    Come out fire, go in frost,
    Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."

This, as the reader will see, is in substance the same as the one
quoted above, and is a fair sample of those used in other localities.

_Cramp._--Of the many charms resorted to for the cure of this painful
disorder, a common one consists in wearing about the person the
patella or knee-cap of a sheep or lamb, which is known in some places
as the "cramp-bone." This is worn as near the skin as possible, and
at night is laid under the pillow. In many counties finger-rings made
from the screws or handles of coffins are still considered excellent
preservatives, and in Lancashire it is prevented by either placing
the shoes at bed-time with the toes just peeping from beneath the
coverlet, or by carrying brimstone about with one during the day.
Some, again, wear a tortoise-shell ring, while others have equal
faith in tying the garter round the left leg below the knee. In days
gone by a celebrated cure for this complaint was the "cramp-ring,"
allusions to which we find in many of our old authors. Its supposed
virtue was conferred by solemn consecration on Good Friday.

_Epilepsy._--The remedies for this terrible disorder are extremely
curious, and in most cases vary in different localities. One,
however, very popular charm is a ring made from a piece of silver
money collected at the offertory. A correspondent of Chambers's "Book
of Days" tells us that when he was a boy a person "came to his father
(a clergyman) and asked for a 'sacramental shilling,' _i.e._, one
out of the alms collected at the Holy Communion, to be made into a
ring and worn as a cure for epilepsy." In the North of England "a
sacramental piece," as it is usually called, is the sovereign remedy
for this complaint. Thirty pence are to be begged of thirty poor
widows. They are then to be carried to the church minister, for which
he is to give the applicant a half-crown piece from the communion
alms. After being "walked with nine times up and down the church
aisle," the piece is then to have a hole drilled in it, and to be
hung round the neck by a ribbon. It has been suggested that these
widows' pence may have some reference to the widow's mite which was
so estimable in the eyes of Christ. According to one notion, persons
afflicted with epileptic fits are supposed to be bewitched, and the
following extraordinary remedy is sometimes resorted to for their
cure. A quart bottle is filled with pins, and placed in front of
the fire until the pins are red-hot. As soon as this takes place it
is supposed they will prick the heart of the witch, who to avoid
the pain caused by the red-hot pins will release her victim from
the suffering she has imposed upon him. This mode of disenchantment
seems to have been of common occurrence; and sometimes, when old
houses are under repair, bottles full of pins are found secreted in
out-of-the-way places. Another remedy is for the patient to creep,
head foremost, down three pair of stairs, three times a day, for
three successive days. Sir Thomas Brown, too, discourses of the
virtues of mistletoe in this complaint; and Sir John Colbach, writing
in the year 1720, strongly recommends it as a medicine, adding that
this beautiful plant must have been designed by the Almighty "for
further and more noble purposes than barely to feed thrushes, or to
be hung up superstitiously in houses to drive away evil spirits."

_Erysipelas._--This distemper has been popularly called "St.
Anthony's Fire," from the legend that it was miraculously checked
by that saint when raging in many parts of Europe in the eleventh
century. An amulet formerly worn to ward it off was made of the elder
on which the sun had never shone. "If," says an old writer, "the
piece between the two knots be hung about the patient's neck, it is
much commended. Some cut it in little pieces, and sew it in a knot in
a piece of a man's shirt." A remedy in use among the lower orders,
and extending as far as the Highlands, is to cut off one half of
the ear of a cat, and to let the blood drop on the part affected--a
practice which is evidently a survival of the primitive notion that a
living sacrifice appeased the wrath of God.

_Fits._--Numerous indeed have been the charms invented for those
suffering from this malady, and in many cases they are "marvellously
mystical withal." Thus that little animal the mole has been in
request, as the following mystic prescription will show. A gentleman
residing in 1865, on the border ground of Norfolk and Suffolk, was
one day asked by a neighbour to catch a live mole, as "her darter's
little gal was subject to fits, and she had been told that if she got
a live mole, cut the tip of his nose off, and let nine drops bleed on
to a lump of sugar, and gave that to the child, 'twas a sartin cure."
Here again we have the same notion of a sacrifice, one which, it may
be noticed, underlies many of the charms of this kind. A Devonshire
remedy is to go into a church at midnight and to walk three times
round the Communion table, while many single women wear a silver
ring on the wedding-ring finger, made out of sixpences which have
been begged from six young bachelors.

_Gout._--The periodical attacks of this disease have from the
earliest times been subjected to the influence of charms,
blackberries being considered by the Greeks a good specific. Culpeper
has bequeathed to us a curious remedy. He says, "Take an owl, pull
off her feathers, and pull out her guts; salt her well for a week,
then put her into a pot, and stop it close, and put her into an oven,
that so she may be brought into a mummy, which, being beat into
powder and mixed with boar's grease, is an excellent remedy for gout,
anointing the grieved place by the fire." The germander speedwell
has been esteemed highly efficacious, and the Emperor Charles V. is
reported to have derived benefit from it.

_Headache._--Cures to alleviate this tiresome pain are numberless.
Mrs. Latham mentions what is considered by the Sussex peasantry a
sure way of avoiding it in the spring, a piece of superstition we
have already noticed: "No hair, either cut or combed from the head,
must be thrown carelessly away, lest some bird should find it and
carry it off, in which case the person's head would ache during all
the time that the bird was busy working the spoil into its nest. 'I
knew how it would be,' exclaimed a servant, 'when I saw that bird fly
away with a bit of my hair that blew out of the window this morning
when I was dressing; I knew I should have a clapping headache,
and so I have.'" In some counties the common corn-poppy is called
"headache," from the cephalalgic tendency of the scent.

_Hydrophobia._--From the most remote period no disease, perhaps,
has possessed such a curious history, or been invested with so
many superstitions as hydrophobia, and the countless remedies
suggested for its cure form an important chapter in folk-medicine.
In tracing back its history, we find that it was not only regarded
by our ancestors with the same horror as now-a-days, but that every
conceivable device was resorted to for removing its fatal effects.
Thus, Pliny relates the case of a Roman soldier who was cured by the
dog-rose, a remedy said to have been revealed to the man's mother
in a dream. Among sundry other remedies he enumerates the hair of a
man's head, goose-grease, fuller's earth, colewort, fish-brine, &c.,
as applications to the wounds. The favourite cure of Dioscorides was
hellebore, and Galen's principal one was the river-crab. Sucking
the wound seems also to have been considered efficacious. Passing
on to modern times, the extraordinary remedies still employed are a
convincing proof of the extent to which superstition occasionally
reaches. The list, indeed, is not an inviting one, consisting amongst
other things of the liver of a male goat, the tail of a shrew-mouse,
the brain and comb of a cock, the worm under the tongue of a mad
dog, horse-dung, pounded ants, and cuckoo soup. It may seem, too,
incredible to us that less than a century ago the suffocation of
the wretched victim was not unfrequently resorted to, and instances
of this barbarous practice may be found in the periodical literature
of bygone years. Thus, in _The Dublin Chronicle_ (28th October,
1798), the following circumstances are recorded:--"A fine boy, aged
fourteen, was bitten by a lady's lap-dog near Dublin. In about two
hours the youth was seized with convulsive fits, and shortly after
with hydrophobia; and, notwithstanding every assistance, his friends
were obliged to smother him between two feather beds." In the year
1712, four persons were tried at York Assizes for smothering a boy,
who had been bitten by a mad dog, on a similar plea as that uttered
by Othello:--

    "I that am cruel am yet merciful:
    I would not have thee linger in thy pain."

As recently as the year 1867 this mode of death was put into
execution in the town of Greenfield, Michigan. A little girl having
been seized with hydrophobia, a consultation was held by the
physicians, and as soon as it had been decided by them that she could
not recover, her parents put an end to her sufferings by smothering
her to death. The folk-lore of this disease is most extensive, and as
our space is limited we cannot do better than recommend our readers
to consult Mr. Dolan's capital volume on "Rabies, or Hydrophobia,"
which contains an excellent description of the antiquity and history
of this cruel complaint, and of superstitions which surround it.

_Hysteria._--This disorder, which assumes so many deceptive forms,
was formerly known as "the mother," or "hysterica passio," an
allusion to which occurs in _King Lear_ (Act ii., sc. 4), where
Shakespeare represents the king as saying,

    "O, how this mother swells up toward my heart!
    _Hysterica passio!_ down, thou climbing sorrow,
    Thy element's below!"

Some of the charms used for its cure are much the same as those
employed in cases of epilepsy, a favourite one being the wearing of a
ring made of a certain number of silver pieces obtained from persons
of the opposite sex.

_Jaundice._--Many of the remedies recommended for this complaint are
not of a very agreeable kind, as, for instance, the following one
mentioned by a correspondent of _Notes and Queries_, first, as having
been resorted to in a Dorsetshire parish, where the patient was
ordered to eat nine lice on a piece of bread and butter. One popular
charm in days gone by, and certainly not of a very refined character,
was known as the cure by transplantation, and consisted in burying in
a dunghill an odd number of cakes made of ashes and other ingredients.

_Lameness._--Sleeping on stones, on a particular night, is an old
method of curing lameness practised in Cornwall.

_Lumbago._--In Dundee it is customary to wear round the loins as a
cure for lumbago a hank of yarn which has been charmed by a wise
woman, and girls may be seen with single threads of the same round
the head as an infallible specific for tic-douloureux.

_Measles._--In the quarterly return of the marriages, births, and
deaths registered in the provinces, &c., in Ireland, published in
October, 1878, we find the following extraordinary cure for measles,
administered with what results will be seen:--"Sixty-three cases
of measles appear on the medical relief register for past quarter,
but this does not represent a third of those affected, the medical
officers being only called in when the usual amount of local nostrums
had been tried without effect. Every case seen suffered from violent
diarrhoea, caused by the administration of a noxious compound called
_crooke_. This consists of a mixture of porter, sulphur, and the
excrement of the sheep collected in the fields. Every unfortunate
child that showed any symptom of measles was compelled to drink large
quantities of this mixture. All ordinary remedies failed to stop the
diarrhoea thus produced, in many cases the children nearly dying from
exhaustion." Repulsive as this piece of folk-medicine is, yet it
is only one of a most extensive class of the same kind, many being
most revolting. It is difficult to conceive how either ignorance
or superstition could tolerate any practice of so senseless and
indelicate a nature.

_Paralysis._--One of the popular charms for this disease is the same
as that used in the case of epilepsy, namely, a silver ring made from
money solicited from a certain number of persons. Cowslips, too,
have been esteemed highly efficacious, and have on this account been
termed "Herbæ Paralysis" by medical writers. For the same reason they
are called "Palsyworts" in many country places.

_Rheumatism._--Professors of the healing art have advised the
sufferer to carry about in his pocket the right fore-foot of a
female hare, while others consider a potato equally efficacious. A
Cornish cure is to crawl under a bramble which has formed a second
root in the ground, or to drink water in which a thunder-stone has
been boiled. There is, also, a strong belief that a _galvanic ring_,
as it is called, worn on the finger will serve as an excellent
preservative. "A large number of persons," says Mr. Glyde in his
"Norfolk Garland," "may be seen with a clumsy-looking silver ring,
which has a piece of copper let into the inside, and this, though in
constant contact throughout, is supposed (aided by the moisture of
the hand) to keep up a gentle but continual galvanic current, and so
alleviate rheumatism." A Sussex remedy is to place the bellows in
the sufferer's chair that he may lean against them, and so have his
rheumatism charmed away.

_Spasms._--The belief in the curative powers of the form of the cross
still holds its sway in the popular mind, and in the case of spasms,
or that painful state of the feet in which they are said "to sleep,"
it is used under an impression that it allays the pain.

_Small-pox._--The curative properties attributed to some colours is
illustrated by the treatment formerly employed in cases of small-pox.
Thus, red bed-coverings were thought to bring the pustules to the
surface of the body, and the patient was recommended to look at red
substances. Purple dye, pomegranate seeds, or other red ingredients
were dissolved in his drink, with the idea that as red is the colour
of the blood, so disorders of the blood system should be treated by
red. The renowned English physician, John of Gaddesden, introduced
the practice into this country, and tried its efficacy on one of the
sons of King Edward I., adding to his report, "et est bona cura."
Fried mice are considered in some counties a good specific for this
complaint, it being thought necessary by some that they should be
fried alive.

_Sprain._--Many of the charms practised in an accident of this kind
are of a semi-religious character, and of a not very reverent form.
Thus, to cure a sprain, a thread called the "wresting-thread" is
tied round the injured part, after which the following formula is

    "Our Saviour rade,
    His fore-foot slade,
      Our Saviour lighted down;
    Sinew to sinew--joint to joint,
    Blood to blood, and bone to bone,
      Mend thou in God's name."

This incantation, which, it has been suggested, may have originated
in some legend of Christ's life, is frequently mentioned in the witch
trials of the early part of the seventeenth century.

_Sty._--To prevent or cure this disorder, known in some places as
"west," it is customary on the first sight of the new moon to seize
a black cat by the tail, and after pulling from it one hair, to rub
the tip nine times over the pustule. As this charm, however, is
often attended with sundry severe scratches, a gold ring has been
substituted, and is said to be equally beneficial. This superstition
is alluded to by Beaumont and Fletcher, in the _Mad Lovers_ (Act v.,
sc. 4):--

        "----I have a sty here, Chilax.
    _Chil._ I have no gold to cure it, not a penny."

Earrings are considered a good remedy for sore eyes; and in districts
where the teasle is grown for use in the manufacture of broadcloth, a
preservative against them is found in the water which collects in the
hollow cups of that plant. Pure rain-water is reported to be another
infallible remedy. This must be carefully collected in a clean open
vessel during the month of June, and if preserved in a bottle will,
it is said, remain pure for any length of time.

_Thrush._--There is a popular notion that a person must have this
complaint once in his life, either at his birth or death. Norfolk
nurses prefer to see it in babies, on the plea that it is healthy,
and makes them feed more freely; but if it appears in a sick adult
person he is generally given over as past recovery. Some of the
remedies for this disease are curious, as, for instance, a Cornish
one, which recommends the child to be taken fasting on three
consecutive mornings, "to have its mouth blown into" by a posthumous
child. In Devonshire the parent is advised to take three rushes from
any running stream, and to pass them separately through the mouth of
the infant. Afterwards the rushes should be thrown into the stream
again, and as the current bears them away, so will the thrush, it
is said, depart from the child. Should this prove ineffectual, the
parent is recommended to capture the nearest duck that can be found,
and to place its beak, wide open, within the mouth of the sufferer.
As the child inhales the cold breath of the duck, the disease, we are
told, will gradually disappear. A further charm consists in reading
the eighth Psalm over the child's head three times every day on three
days in the week for three successive weeks.

_Toothache._--This common ailment, which produces so much discomfort,
unfortunately rarely meets with a degree of sympathy proportionate
to the agony it occasions, but has nevertheless been honoured with
an extensive folk-lore; and the quaint remedies that superstitious
fancy has suggested for its cure would occupy a small volume if
treated with anything like fulness. Selecting some of the best known,
we may mention one which, in point of efficacy, is considered by many
as unsurpassed, namely, a tooth taken from the mouth of a corpse,
and worn round the neck as an amulet. Occasionally a double-nut is
carried in the pocket for the same purpose. There is a belief, too,
that the possession of a Bible or a Prayer Book, with the following
legend written in it, is an effectual charm:--"All glory, all glory,
all glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was walking in the Garden
of Gethsemane, He saw Peter weeping. He called him unto Him, and
said, 'Peter, why weepest thou?' Peter answered and said, 'Lord,
I am grievously tormented with pain--the pain of my tooth.' Our
Lord answered and said, 'If thou wilt believe in Me, and My words
abide with thee, thou shalt never feel any more pain in thy tooth.'
Peter said, 'Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.' In the
name, &c., God grant M. N. ease from the pain in his tooth." These
charm formulas, which constitute an important element in folk-lore
literature, are still extensively used in this country to arrest or
cure some bodily disease; and they are interesting as being in most
cases modified forms of those used by our Anglo-Saxon ancestors.

_Typhus Fever._--Even for so dangerous a disease as typhus fever,
our peasantry do not hesitate to practise their own remedies. One
consists in applying the skirt of a sheep to the soles of the feet,
and keeping it there for several hours, under a notion that this will
draw away the fever from the head. Some years ago a clergyman in
Norfolk, whilst visiting a poor man suffering from this complaint,
found that his wife had placed the spleen of a cow on the soles of
his feet, having been assured that it was an efficacious remedy.
There is another story that the rector of a Norfolk parish was
solicited for the loan of the church plate to lay on the stomach of
a child, which was much swelled from some mesenteric disease, this
being held to be an excellent remedy in such cases.

_Warts._--These have been regarded as prognostications of good or
bad luck according to their position on the body, those on the
right hand foreboding riches, whereas one on the face is believed
to indicate troubles of various kinds. It would be difficult to
enumerate the many methods that have been adopted to charm or drive
them away, most persons disliking these ugly little excrescences, and
willingly resorting to any means, however eccentric, to lose them.
As in the case of so many other charms, most of those used also for
this complaint are of the nature of a sacrifice, the warts being
transferred to a substitute. Thus, the person is recommended to count
his warts, to wrap in a piece of paper a pebble for each, and then
to throw the parcel away, in the hope that its unfortunate finder
will get them. Another remedy is to open the warts to the quick, and
to rub them with the juice of a sour apple, which should afterwards
be buried, and as it decomposes the warts will die away. Some rub
the wart with eels' blood, and others believe in the efficacy of the
ashen tree. After picking each wart with a pin, they stick it into
the bark, and repeat this rhyme:--

    "Ashen tree, ashen tree,
    Pray buy these warts of me."

An Irish servant's formula is to pass his hand over the warts, making
the sign of the cross, at the same time bidding them, in God's name,
depart and trouble him no more. He then gives some one a slip of
paper, on which is written "Jesus Christ, that died upon the cross,
put my warts away," to drop by the roadside. It is thought that as it
perishes, so, too, will the warts vanish. Another plan is to steal
a piece of raw meat, rub the warts with it, and throw it away, a
charm mentioned by Southey in "The Doctor." Other remedies are the
juice of ants, spiders' webs, pigs' blood, while tying a horse-hair
round each wart is considered efficacious. Another method is to blow
on the warts nine times when the moon is full; and in some places
boys take a new pin, cross the warts with it nine times, and cast it
over the left shoulder. These, then, are some of the principal cures
for warts, most of them, as we have already said, belonging to the
category of vicarious charms, which have at all times been one of
the favourite resources of poor mortals in their difficulties--such
charms being sacrifices made on the principle so widely adopted--_Qui
facit per alium facit per se_.

_Wen._--The same notion of vicariousness enters into the cures
recommended for wens, one of the most efficacious being the touch
of a dead man's hand. And Grose informs us how, in days gone by,
children were brought by their nurses to be stroked with the
hands of dead criminals, even whilst they were hanging on the
gallows. In Northamptonshire numbers of sufferers were in the
habit of congregating round the gallows, in order to receive "the
dead-stroke," the notion being that as the hand of the man mouldered
away, so the wen would by degrees decrease. In Gloucestershire an
ornamental necklace made of plaited hair from a horse's tail is
thought to be a good remedy.

_Whooping-Cough._--This common enemy of childhood has,
from time immemorial, afforded ample opportunity to the
superstitiously-inclined to devise sundry charms for its cure, of
which the following are a few:--Passing the patient three times under
the belly and three times over the back of a donkey; or let the
parent of the afflicted child catch a spider, and hold it over the
head of the child, repeating three times:--

    "Spider, as you waste away,
    Whooping-cough no longer stay."

The spider must then be hung up in a bag over the mantlepiece, and
when it has dried up the cough will have disappeared. There is a
notion in Cheshire that this complaint can be cured by holding a toad
or frog for a few moments with its head within the child's mouth,
whereas in Norfolk the patient is advised either to drink some milk
which a ferret has lapped, or to allow himself to be dragged three
times round a gooseberry bush or bramble, and then three times again
after three days' interval. In Sussex the excrescence often found
on the briar-rose, and known as the "Robin Redbreast's Cushion," is
worn as an amulet; and in Suffolk, if several children in a family
are taken ill, some of the hair of the oldest child is cut into small
pieces, put into some milk, and the mixture given to its brothers and
sisters to drink. Some, again, procure hair from the dark cross on
the back of a donkey, and having placed it in a bag, hang it round
the child's neck. A Scotch remedy is to place a piece of red flannel
round the patient's neck; the virtue residing, says Mr. Napier,
not in the flannel but in the red colour, red having been a colour
symbolical of triumph and victory over all enemies.

As may be seen, therefore, from the extensive use of charm-remedies
in household medicine, the physician's province has been assailed
by the widespread belief in such imaginary remedies. Indeed, those
who believe in the prevention and cure of disease by supernatural
means are far more numerous than one would imagine, having their
representatives even among the higher classes. However much we may
ridicule the superstitious notions of our rural peasantry, or speak
with compassion of the African negro who carries about him some
amulet as a preservative against disease or as a safeguard against
any danger that may befall him, yet we must admit that there is in
England also a disposition to retain, with more or less veneration,
those old-world notions which in the time of our forefathers
constituted, as it were, so many articles of faith.



    Horse-shoes--Precautions against Witchcraft--The
    Charmer--Second Sight--Ghosts--Dreams--Nightmare.

The belief in witchcraft, which in years gone by was so extensively
entertained, has not yet died out, and in many of our country
villages it is regarded as one of those secret dangers to which every
home is more or less exposed. Hence we find various devices still
resorted to for the purpose of counteracting the supposed hurtful
influences of this baneful power, instances of which we subjoin.
Thus, according to a common idea, one of the best preservatives is a
horse-shoe nailed to the threshold. The reason of this is said to
be that Mars, the god of war, and the war-horse, was thought to be
an enemy to Saturn, who, according to a mediæval idea, was the liege
lord of witches. Thus, iron instruments of any kind have been said
to keep witches at bay, a superstition which has been traced back
to the time of the Romans, who drove nails into the walls of their
houses as an antidote against the plague. Mr. Napier says that he has
seen the horse-shoe in large beer-shops in London, and was present
in the parlour of one of these when an animated discussion arose as
to whether it was most effective to have the shoe nailed behind the
door or upon the first step of the door. Both positions had their
advocates, and instances of extraordinary luck were recounted as
having attended them.

In Lancashire, where there are, perhaps, more superstitions connected
with this subject than in any other county of England, we find
numerous traditions relating to the evil actions of the so-called
witches in former years, many of which have become household stories
among the peasants. At the present day the good housewife puts a hot
iron into the cream during the process of churning to expel the witch
from the churn; and dough in preparation for the baker is protected
by being marked with the figure of a cross. In some places a "lucky
stone"--a stone with a hole through it--is worn as an amulet, and
crossed straws and knives laid on the floor are held in high repute.
A belief, too, which was once very prevalent, and even still lingers
on, was that the power of evil ceased as soon as blood was drawn
from the witch. An instance of this superstition occurred some
years ago in a Cornish village, when a man was summoned before the
bench of magistrates and fined for having assaulted the plaintiff
and scratched her with a pin. Not many years ago a young girl in
delicate health living in a village near Exeter was thought to have
been bewitched by an old woman of that place, and, according to the
general opinion, the only chance of curing her was an application of
the witch's blood. Consequently the girl's friends laid wait one day
for the poor old woman, and scratching her with a nail till the blood
flowed, collected the blood. This they carried home, and smeared
the girl with it in the hope that it would insure recovery. Curious
to say, she finally got well, an event which, it is needless to
add, was attributed to this charm. It is still thought by many that
witchcraft, like hydrophobia, is contagious, and that the person, if
only slightly scratched by a witch, rapidly becomes one. The faculty
of witchcraft is also said to be hereditary, and in some places
families are pointed out as possessing this peculiarity. Again,
witches are supposed to have the power of changing their shape and
resuming it again at will, a notion which was very popular in past
years, the cat's and the toad's being the forms they were thought to
assume. Hence the appearance of a toad on the doorstep is taken as
a certain sign that the house is under evil influence, and the poor
reptile is often subjected to some cruel death. Cats, also, were
formerly exposed to rough usage, one method being to enclose them
with a quantity of soot in wooden bottles suspended on a line. The
person who succeeded in beating out the bottom of the bottle as he
run under it and yet escaping the contents was the hero of the sport,
a practice to which Shakespeare alludes in _Much Ado about Nothing_,
where Benedick says:--

    "Hang me in a bottle like a cat and shoot at me."

It is only natural, too, that in _Macbeth_, Shakespeare, in his
description of the witches, should have associated them with the cat,
their recognised agent.

Another important character whose supernatural powers are still
credited is the "charmer." She is generally an elderly woman of
good reputation, and supposed to be gifted with extraordinary
powers, by means of which she performs wonderful feats of skill. By
her incantations and mysterious ceremonies she stops blood, cures
all manner of diseases, and is, in short, regarded as almost a
miracle-worker. At the same time, however, it must not be imagined
that she exercises her power gratuitously, as oftentimes her charges
are very high, and it is only by patient saving that the poor can
accumulate enough to satisfy her exorbitant demands. This kind of
superstition has been already incidentally alluded to in the chapter
on "Common Ailments;" and it is one that still holds its ground in
our country districts. These supposed charmers, however, do not
always make a trade of their art; for, on the contrary, it is
supposed by some of them that any offer of pecuniary remuneration
would break the spell, and render the charm of no avail.

Again, there is still an extensive belief in "second sight," certain
persons being thought to possess the faculty of peeping into
futurity, and revealing future events to their fellow-creatures. Many
of the Highlanders lay claim to this power, which was called by the
ancient Gaels "shadow-sight."

    "Nor less availed his optic sleight,
    And Scottish gift of second-sight."

Sometimes, says Mr. Napier, the person fell into a trance, "in
which state he saw visions; at other times the visions were seen
without the trance condition. Should the seer see in a vision a
certain person dressed in a shroud, this betokened that the death
of that person would surely take place within a year. Should such a
vision be seen in the morning, the person seen would die before that
evening; should such a vision be seen in the afternoon, the person
seen would die before next night; but if the vision were seen late
in the evening, there was no particular time of death intimated,
further than that it would take place within the year. Again, if the
shroud did not cover the whole body, the fulfilment of the vision
was at a great distance. If the vision were that of a man with a
woman standing at his left hand, then that woman would be that man's
wife, although they may both at the time of the vision be married
to others." The case is related of a man living near Blackpool who
foretold death and evil events from his visions. Men of superior
ability were credulous enough to visit him, and to give implicit
faith to his marvellous stories.

A species of superstition that may be said to reign supreme in almost
every home is the belief in ghosts, there being few households that
do not contain those who believe in ghostly visitants. In this
respect, therefore, we are not superior to our less instructed
forefathers whose experiences have been transmitted to us in many of
those weird and thrilling stories which are to be found recorded in
many of our old county histories. Indeed, there is scarcely a village
in England that does not boast of the proud distinction of having its
haunted house or spot. Hence as nightfall approaches with its sombre
hues of darkness, few persons can be found bold enough to visit such
mysterious localities, for--

    "Grey superstition's whisper dread,
    Debars the spot to vulgar tread."

Although many of these grotesque stories which have been from time
to time associated with certain old houses are simply legendary
and destitute of any truth, yet it cannot be denied that while
occasionally causing fear even to the strong-minded they have acted
most injuriously upon the credulous and superstitious. According to
an old fancy, ghosts of every description vanish at cock-crow, in
allusion to which Shakespeare makes the ghost of Hamlet's father
vanish at this season:--

    "It faded on the crowing of the cock."

One night, however, in the year has been said to be entirely free
from spiritual manifestations of every kind--namely Christmas Eve--an
idea to which Marcellus refers, who, speaking of the ghost, says:--

    "Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
    Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
    The bird of dawning singeth all night long,
    And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
    The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
    No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
    So hallow'd and so gracious is the time."

But on other days of the year, every noise at night, however trivial,
which cannot be satisfactorily explained by inquisitive minds, is
thought by the superstitious to indicate that spirits are walking
abroad; such illogical persons forgetting how in the stillness of
the night sounds, which at other times would pass unnoticed, attract
attention, and thus assume an exaggerated importance. In this way the
whistling of the wind, the creaking of the floor, and a host of other
natural noises have in the deceptive hours of midnight terrified
their nervous victim, and filled the overwrought fancy with the most
alarming delusions.

An amusing volume might be written showing how most of the ghost
stories connected with so-called haunted houses have arisen. Thus, as
Mrs. Latham points out in her "West Sussex Superstitions," there is
very little doubt but that the ghosts formerly seen wandering in blue
flames, near lonely houses on the coast, "were of an illicit class
of spirits, raised by the smugglers in order to alarm and drive all
others but their accomplices from their haunts." On one occasion, for
instance, the unearthly noises heard night after night in a house at
Rottingdean caused such alarm among the servants, that they all gave
warning, when one night the noises ceased, and soon afterwards a gang
of smugglers who had fallen into the hands of the police confessed
to having made a secret passage from the beach close by the house,
and said that, wishing to induce the occupiers to abandon it, they
had been in the habit of rolling at the dead of night tub after tub
of spirits up the passage, and so caused it to be reported that the
place was haunted.

Ghosts are said to be especially fond of walking abroad on certain
nights, the chief of these being St. Mark's Eve, Midsummer Eve, and
Hallowe'en. Hence various methods have been resorted to for the
purpose of invoking them with a view of gaining an insight into
futurity, love-sick maidens, as we have said, seizing these golden
opportunities for gaining information about their absent lovers.
It must not be supposed, too, that apparitions are confined to the
spirits of the departed, as throughout the country there are the most
eccentric traditions of headless animals having been seen at sundry
times rushing madly about at night-time.

Leaving, however, the subject of ghosts, we find in the next place
an extensive folk-lore associated with dreams. We have already
incidentally alluded to the many divinations practised for the sake
of acquiring information by means of them on certain subjects, but
we may further note that dreams are by some supposed occasionally
to intimate not only future events, but things which are actually
happening at a distance. Hence a "Dictionary of Dreams" has been
framed whereby the inquirer, if he be credulously disposed, can learn
the meaning and signification of any particular dream which he may
recollect. Thus, it is said that to dream of death denotes happiness
and long life, but to dream of gathering a nosegay is unlucky,
signifying that our best and fairest hopes shall wither away like
flowers in a nosegay. Dreaming about balls, dances, &c., indicates
coming good fortune; and thus we are told that those--

    "Who dream of being at a ball
      No cause have they for fear;
    For soon will they united be
      To those they hold most dear."

To give one further illustration, to dream that one is walking in
a garden, and that the trees are bare and fruitless, is a very bad
omen, being said to indicate that one's friends will either become
poor or forsake one. If the garden, on the other hand, should be in
bloom, it is a propitious sign. Portents of approaching death are
said to be received through dreams; and we will quote an example of
this from Mr. Henderson, which happened, it is affirmed, some years
ago in the family of an Irish bishop:--"A little boy came down-stairs
one morning, saying, 'Oh, mamma, I have had such a nice dream.
Somebody gave me such a pretty box, and I am sure it was for me, for
there was my name on it. Look, it was just like this;' and, taking up
a slate and pencil, the child drew the shape of a coffin. The parents
gazed at one another in alarm, not lessened by the gambols of the
child, who frolicked about in high health and spirits. The father
was obliged to go out that morning, but he begged the mother to keep
the child in her sight through the day. She did so, till, while she
was dressing to go out in her carriage, the little boy slipped away
to the stables, where he begged the coachman to take him by his side
while he drove to the house door, a thing he had often done before.
On this occasion, however, the horses were restive, the driver lost
control over them, and the child was flung off and killed on the
spot." Shylock, it may be remembered, in the _Merchant of Venice_,
referring to his dream, says:--

    "There is some ill a-brewing towards my rest,
    For I did dream of money-bags to-night."

Many curious charms are still practised to ward off that unpleasant
sensation popularly known as nightmare, which both in this and other
countries has given rise to a variety of superstitions. According
to one old notion, this disagreeable feeling was produced by some
fairy, under a disguised form, visiting the person, and worrying
him while asleep by certain mischievous pranks. Thus, in Germany,
the nightmare is said to appear at times in the shape of a mouse, a
weasel, or a toad, and occasionally, too, in the form of a cat. One
German story relates how a joiner was, night by night, much plagued
with the nightmare, when he at last saw it steal into his room
about midnight in the form of a cat. Having at once stopped up the
hole through which the cat had entered, he lost no time in seizing
the animal and nailing it by one paw to the ground. Next morning,
however, much to his horror and surprise, he discovered a handsome
young lady with a nail driven through her hand. He accordingly
married her, but one day he uncovered the hole which he had stopped
up, whereupon she instantly escaped through it in the shape of a cat,
and never returned. There are numerous stories of a similar kind, in
most cases the sequel being the same. Among the charms still in use
as a preservative against nightmare may be mentioned a stone with a
natural hole in it hung over the sleeper, or a knife laid under the
foot of the bedstead, both being considered of equal efficacy. In
Lancashire the peasantry believe that nightmare appears in the form
of a dog, and they try to counteract its influence by placing their
shoes under the bed with the toe upwards, on retiring to rest. Not
very long ago, too, at the West Riding Court at Bradford, in a case
of a husband and wife who had quarrelled, the woman stated that the
reason why she kept a coal-rake in her bedroom was that she suffered
from nightmare, and had been informed that the rake would keep it
away. The best charm after all, however, for this common disorder is
to be careful that one's digestive organs are not upset by incautious
suppers eaten just before retiring to rest.

It only remains for us, in conclusion, to add once more that the
preceding pages are not intended to be by any means exhaustive,
our object having been to give a brief and general survey of that
extensive folk-lore which has, in the course of years, woven itself
around the affairs of home-life. However much this may be ridiculed
on the plea of its being the outcome of credulous belief, yet it
constitutes an important element in our social life, which the
historian in years to come will doubtless use when he studies the
character of the English people in this and bygone centuries.


    Abgarus, Letter of Christ to, 7

    Ague, Charms against, 149

    Apes, Leading, 43

    Apple-peel as a love-test, 30

    Apple-tree blooming twice, a sign of Death, 52

    Apron, Superstitions about, 84

    Articles of Dress, 81

    "Arval" and "Arval Bread," 64

    Aryan Myths and Legends, 16

    Astrology, Divination by, 144

    Auguries gathered from Shoes, 89

    Baby and Kitten, 8

    Banns, Superstitions about putting up, 43

    Baptism, how rendered propitious in Scotland, 19

    ---- Effect of, on Children, 18

    Barring out, 27

    ---- Addison's conduct at, 27

    Beards, Dyeing of, 76

    Bed, Folk-lore about, 118

    ---- Position of, 119

    Bellows, Superstition about, 120, 160

    Bent piece of money, 133

    Best man's prize, 46

    Bible and Key, 135

    Birds, Presages of Death by, 51

    Birth and Infancy, Folk-lore relating to, 2

    "Bishopping," good for rheumatism, 21

    Bishop's Left Hand, Superstition respecting, 20

    Biting the Glove, 95

    "Black Ox" in Scotland, 51

    Blade-bone, Divination by, 139

    Bleeding of the Nose, 68, 150

    ---- as a sign of love, 68

    Blue Vein across Nose, 69

    Brake or Fern, Divination by, 31

    Bread, Superstitions about, 107

    Breaking Egg-shells, 108

    Bride and Looking-glass, 113

    ---- Sun shining on, 40

    Brides of Elizabethan Dramas, 39

    Bride's Stockings, 86

    Broom left in Room after Sweeping, 126

    Burial of Dead among Greeks, 63

    "Burial without the Sanctuary," 62

    Burn or Scald, 151

    Burning Hair, Omens from, 74

    ---- tail of Coat, &c., 84

    Butter-dock, Scattering Seeds of, 35

    Cæna feralis of Romans, 64

    Candle in Ghost's Hand, 54

    Candles, Omens from, 130

    Carbuncle in Ring, 96

    Cards, Divination by, 144

    Carrying the Dead with the Sun, 61

    Casting Lot, Divination by, 146

    Cat, Sneezing of, 123

    Cats and Toads, Form of, assumed by Witches, 177

    ---- Sucking Child's Breath, 13

    Caul, Superstition about, 3, 4

    ---- Hood's Ballad about, 3

    ---- Price paid for, 4

    Chairs, Superstitions about, 111, 118

    Changelings, Superstitions about, 4

    ---- Luther's remarks on, 4

    Character of Book, 180

    Charm-remedies, 148

    Charmer, her power, 172

    Charms against changing Children, 5

    ---- to detect Changelings, 5

    ---- against stumbling, 124

    Cheeks, Itching of, 77

    Cheese given by Bride, 42

    Child Dying unchristened, 18

    Childhood's Folk-lore, 16

    "Chime Hours," Birth at, 2

    Chiromancy, or Palmistry, 140

    Christmas Eve, Divinations on, 34

    Christ's College, Cambridge, Fellowships at, 103

    Churchyard Lore, 61

    Cinderella, a Nature-myth, 17

    "Clock-falling," 117

    ---- striking thirteen, 54

    ---- losing stroke, 55

    Clothes of the Dead, 83

    Cock-crowing at Night, 52

    "Connoisseur," Love-tests in, 29

    Corn in Marriage Ceremony, 44

    "Corpse-candles" in Wales, 54

    Counting one's Gains, 133

    Covering Looking-glass at Death, 113

    Cramp, Charms against, 151

    "Creeling" the Bridegroom in Scotland, 48

    Crockery, Breaking of, 127

    Cross on Dough, 170

    Crowing Hen, 125

    ---- of a Cock, 138

    Crying at Baptism, 19

    ---- Anecdote regarding, 20

    ---- at Wedding, 40

    Cuckoo's Notes, 32

    ---- First Note heard in Bed, Ominous of Illness or Death, 52

    "Cunning Man," 121

    Curious Marriage Customs, 47

    Cutting the Nails, 80

    Dactylomancy, or Divination by Rings, 98

    Dandelion, Divination by, 31

    Days of Week, Sneezing on, 123

    Dead Children cannot rest if Mothers fret for them, 15

    ---- Hand, Rubbing with, 78

    ---- Anecdotes respecting, 78

    ---- Man's Hand at Bryn Hall, Lancashire, 79

    Death and Burial, Superstition respecting, 48

    ---- Announced by the Dying, 55

    ---- Bell in Scotland, 67

    ---- Anecdote of Hogg about, 67

    Dee, Dr., and Magic Mirror, 114

    Destiny of Children, how augured in Scotland, 19

    Diamond, potent against Poison, 97

    "Dipping," in Bible, 136

    Divination among Children, 26

    ---- by Pins, 100

    ---- of Sex of unborn Infant, 3

    Dog, Howling of, at Death, how caused, 50

    Doorstep, Lifting Bride over, 42

    Drawing Blood from Witch, 171

    Dreams, What denoted by, 177

    Dutch Parson and Will-o'-the-Wisp, 18

    "Dying Hard," 58

    Ears, Tingling of, 66

    Easter Day, New Clothes on, 82

    Ecclesiastical Dignity and Gloves, Association of, 94

    Eggs, Divination by, 146

    ---- Superstitions about, 108

    Elder Sister Dancing in Hog's trough at younger Sister's Marriage, 43

    Emerald, and Purity of Thought, 97

    Epilepsy, Remedies for, 152

    Erysipelas, Amulets against, 153

    Evil Eye, 6

    ---- in "Satires of Persius," 6

    ---- Lancashire belief about, 6

    Exeter Lammas Fair, 94

    Eye, Omens relating to, 70

    "Eye-biting" in Ireland, 7

    Eye-brows, Meeting of, 70

    Eyes, Itching of, 70

    Face, or Look-divination, 142

    Fair, Opening of, announced by hanging out Glove, 94

    Fairy-tales, What embodied in, 16

    Feet, Folk-lore about, 80

    ---- Itching of, 80

    "Fetch-lights," 54

    Finger-nails, Superstitions about, 10

    ---- in Germany, 10

    ---- in Northumberland, 11

    ---- in Scotland, 11

    Fire, Omens and Portents of, 129

    First Teeth, Precautions taken when they come out, 10

    ---- Tooth in Upper Jaw, 8

    Fits, Charms against, 154

    Flat Feet and Bad Temper, 80

    Flinging the Stocking, 85

    Foot going to Sleep, 81

    Fretting Baby, 12

    Friday, an Unlucky Day, 128

    ---- Good for Love-omens, 35

    ---- Inauspicious for Marrying, 38

    ---- Lucky for Marrying in Scotland, 39

    Funeral Feasts, 64

    ---- Meeting of, by Bride or Bridegroom, 40

    ---- Meeting a, 65

    ---- of Unmarried Girl, Custom at, 64

    Furniture Omens, 111

    Garters, Superstitions about, 86

    ---- Tying Knots in, 30

    Gathering Rose on Midsummer Eve, 30

    Getting out of Bed the wrong way, 119

    Ghosts, Belief in, 174

    ---- do not appear on Christmas Eve, 175

    ---- Favourite Days for appearance of, 176

    ---- seen by Animals, 50

    Gloucester, Duke of, Born with Teeth, 9

    Glove, Use of, at Fairs, 95

    Glove-money, 93

    Gloves, Superstitions about, 92

    Going in at one Door and out at another at Marriage, 41

    "Going up" at Birth, 8

    Gout, Charms against, 155

    "Grave Scab," 14

    ---- Remedy for, 14

    Graves, Position of, 63

    Green Yarrow, 31

    Grounds at bottom of Tea-cup, 110

    Hair, Superstitions respecting, 72

    ---- Omens from Growth of, 74

    ---- Sudden Loss of, 74

    Hallowe'en, Divination on, 34

    Hands, Emblematic of Character, 77

    ---- Itching of, 77

    Headache, Cures for, 155

    Headless Animals, 176

    Helping to Salt, 104

    Hen cackling at Wedding, 42

    Hollow Cinder a Coffin, 129

    Home-life, Superstitions relating to, 131

    Horoscope in Germany, 143

    Horse-shoes as Amulets, 169

    Hot Iron in Cream, 170

    Household Superstitions, 120

    Howling of a Dog at Night indicative of Death, 49

    Human Body, Superstitions about, 65

    Hydrophobia, Cures for, 156

    Hysteria, Remedies for, 158

    Idiots cannot sneeze, 123

    Invalid asking for Pigeons, 52

    Itching of the Nose, 68

    "Jack-a-Dandy," 25

    Jackdaw, Omen of Death, 52

    Jacob's Prophecies, 57

    Jaundice, Remedies for, 158

    Jewish Customs respecting Shoes, 90

    June popular for marrying, 37

    Keepsake Rings, Colours in, 93

    Knife, Folk-lore relating to, 105

    ----, Giving away, unlucky, 106

    ----, Finding, unlucky, 106

    Lady-bird, Divination by, 31

    Lameness, Cure for, 158

    Last Day of Year, Marrying on, in Scotland, 39

    Leap-year, Birth in, 3

    Lending Knife to cut Cake, 26

    Long Life, how to secure, 12

    Looking-glass, Fancies about, 112

    Love and Courtship, 28

    Love-tests, 28

    ----, whence derived, 29

    "Luck of Edenhall," 116

    "Lucky Stone" as Amulet, 170

    Lucky Stones, 7

    Lumbago, Cure for, 159

    Magicians and Looking-glasses, 114

    Magpie using Hair, 74

    Maiden Assize, Gloves at, 93

    Making "the Deazil," 61

    "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John," 21

    May Marriages unlucky, 36

    Measles, Cure for, 159

    Medicated Rings, 97

    Medicine Bottles, selling, 134

    Melted Lead, Divination by, 146

    Midsummer Eve, Practices on, 33

    Misfortune not to die in one's Bed, 53

    Moist and dry Hands, 78

    Moles, Omens drawn from, 66

    Money and the New Moon, 132

    Nails, Signification of, 77

    Necklace of Peony Beads, 10

    New Clothes, Superstitions relating to, 82

    ---- Moon in Looking-glass, 113

    Nicking Schoolmaster's Cane, 26

    Nightmare, Charms against, 178

    ----, Curious Stories about, 179

    North Side of Church, Burial in, 63

    Nose, Omens relating to, 68

    "Nose out of Joint," and "Paying through Nose," 69

    Number Thirteen, Superstitions about, 100, 101

    "Nutcrack-night," 34

    Nuts and Apples, Divination by, 31

    Odd Numbers, Antipathy to, in School Games, 25

    Omens associated with Rings, 97

    ---- of approaching Death, 49

    Onymancy, or Divination by the Finger-nails, 141

    Opal Ring, unlucky to wear, 97

    Open Grave at Wedding, 41

    "Over-looking," Superstitions about, 71

    Overturning Chair, 111

    Ovid on June Marriages, 38

    Ox or Cow breaking into Garden, Omen of Death, 51

    ----, Anecdote respecting, 51

    Palmistry, or Divination by the Hands, 78

    Paralysis, Charms for, 160

    "Parson's Penny" in Wales, 62

    Picking Broom in Bloom unlucky, 52

    ----, Anecdote respecting, 53

    Pigeons' Feathers in Bed, 58

    ---- Heart, Divination by, 34

    Pin in Candle, 131

    Pins, Superstitions about, 98

    ---- in Witchcraft and Sorcery, 99

    ----, Robbing Bride of, 41

    Plants and Petticoats, 85

    ---- in Love-charms, 30

    ----, Omens of Death derived from, 52

    Poker across Bars of Grate, 129

    Popular Divinations, 134

    Pork, eating Marrow of, 109

    Position of Grave, 63

    Prayers of Poor in Lincolnshire, 22

    ----, Origin of, 23

    ---- Taught by poor People to their Children, 21

    Prevalence of Superstitions, 122

    Prophesying before Death, 57

    Puritans and Wedding-ring, 46

    Rain, Rhymes about, 24

    Rainbow, crossing out, 24

    "Rattley-bags," 25

    Rebuilding House fatal, 54

    Red Hair and Beard, 75

    Reversing Articles of Dress, 83

    Rheumatism and Shoes, 90

    ----, Charms against, 160

    Rhymes used by Children, 23

    Rings, Legendary Lore of, 95

    ---- as Talismans, 96

    ---- of dead Friend, 84

    Rocking empty Cradle, 9

    Rubbing Shoulders with Bride or Bridegroom, 41

    Rural Bridegroom and Gloves, 95

    St. Valentine's Day, 32

    ----, Divination on, in Devonshire, 33

    Salt on Breast of Corpse, 60

    Salt-spilling, Superstitions about, 103

    Seasons admitting or prohibiting Matrimony, 38

    Second Sight, 173

    Selling Eggs after dark, 108

    "Shaping" of Wedding Dress for Divination, 46

    Shift, Divination by, 30

    Shivering as a portent, 131

    Shoeing-horn and Shakespeare, 91

    Shoe-throwing, 87

    ---- at Weddings, 46

    Shoes, Rhymes on, 90

    ----, Superstitions about, 87

    Shortbread at Wedding, 45

    Sieve and Shears, 137

    "Sin-eaters" in Scotland, 60

    Sitting above and below the Salt, 105

    ---- cross-legged, 80

    Sleeping on Bones, 8

    Small-pox, Remedies for, 161

    Smith, Mr. G., the Assyriologist, and Dr. Delitzsch, 55

    Snail, Divination by, 32

    Snails, Rhymes about, 25

    Sneezing and Sneezers, 122

    Snow, Rhymes about, 24

    _Sortes Virgilianæ_, 136

    Sowing Hempseed, 29

    "Spade-money" in Wales, 62

    Spark in Candle, 130

    Spasms, Cure for, 160

    Spatulamancia, 139

    Specks on the Nails, 79

    Speedwell and Snowdrop, 53

    Spider, Superstitions about, 126

    Spitting on Money, 132

    Sprains, Charms for, 161

    Staff, Divination by, 146

    Standing in another's Shoes, 91

    ---- on end, of Hair, 73

    Stillborn Children, Graves of, 15

    Stockings, Superstitions about, 85

    Stolen Kisses and Gloves, 93

    Stopping House Clock at Death, 117

    Stumbling Up-stairs, 123

    ---- on Threshold, 124

    ---- at Grave, 124

    Sty, Prevention and Cure of, 162

    Sudden whitening of Hair, 73

    Sunday good Day to marry, 38

    ---- Lucky for Birth, 2

    Superstitions about Marriage, 42

    ----, value of, 1

    ----, in what interesting, 1

    ----, whence sprung, 1

    Sussex Superstition about Children born on Sunday, 2

    Sweeping, Superstitions about, 126

    Symbolism of shoes, 88

    Table Superstitions, 100

    Tea-leaves, Divination by, 109

    Tea-stalks, Divination by, 147

    Teeth, Superstitions respecting, 72

    Thirteen at Table, 101, 102

    Three Magpies sign of a Wedding, 32

    Thrush, Charm against, 163

    Toothache, Charms against, 163

    Touching Corpse among Poor, 60

    Turning Back after starting, 132

    Turquoise in Ring, 96

    Typhus Fever, Remedies for, 165

    "Unchristened Ground," 14

    "Universal Fortune-teller," 2

    Unmarried Person between Man and Wife, 111

    Venetian Glass, Breaking of, by poisoned Draught, 116

    Virgin Mary at Birth of John the Baptist, 8

    Warts, Charms against, 165, 166

    Watching dead Body, 61

    Water used at Baptism, 20

    Weakly Infants, how treated in Cornwall, 12

    Wearing Looking-glasses, 115

    Weather, Charms to influence, 23

    Weather-lore from Fires, 129

    Wedding-cake, 44

    Wedding-ring, Divination by, 45

    ---- placed in Wedding-cake, 45

    ---- hired in Ireland, 47

    ----, Notions about, 47

    Wens, Cures for, 167

    Whistling Woman, 125

    White Gloves and Death of the Unmarried, 94

    Whitsuntide, new Clothes on, 82

    Whooping-cough, Cures for, 167

    Will-o'-the-Wisp, Omen of Death, 53

    William I. at Hastings, 83

    Wine, &c., drank at Funerals, 64

    "Wise Woman," 121

    "Wishing-bone" of Fowl, 109

    Witch taking form of Cat, 14

    Witchcraft, Divination in, 138

    ---- Precautions against, 169

    Worthing, case of Dog howling at, 49

    "Wrong Side of Church," 62

    Yellow Hair and Beard, 75

    Yew, at Christmas, 53

    Young, Lieutenant, Announcement of Brother's Death to, 56

    Zadkiel's Almanack, 142


       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Note:

_Underscores_ surround italicized text.

Obvious typographical errors were repaired. Valid archaic spellings
were retained.

The entry for "INDEX," at the bottom of the Contents page, did not
appear in the original. It has been added for the convenience of the

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