Superstitions; and the reason why

It is amazing how many old superstitions are still believed in. In Ireland there are people who really believe they are in trouble if they break a mirror,seven years bad luck. Somehow I feel that if that were true there isn't a family in the country but would be in hard luck for their life-time. Then there are groups of people who are far more superstitious about certain things than others.

For instance a baby born with Caul (membrane enclosed foetus) portion of this sometimes found on a child's head is a good omen. A child born with a Caul will never be drowned. Sometimes sailors will try to buy a Caul from a family who have one, to bring to sea with them. A girl about to be married should wear ; something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.

These are the stages of life she may have to go through when married. The something blue is because the Blessed Virgin wore a blue cloak just before Christ was born.

Cats are animals which are regarded as something special, they have good and bad signs. Since the days of ancient Egypt the Egyptians thought of them as sacred, largely because they helped to keep down the rats that ate their grain. There was also another reason why they were thought so much of, men believed that they became cats when they died. Some believed that when cats reached the age of ten it could talk. In Europe black cats were linked with witches but others believe that if you are going on a journey and a black cat crosses your path it will bring you luck.

While we are writing about Egypt let us deal with wedding rings. The wedding ring was first worn in ancient Egypt as a symbol that a marriage contract had been made. The wearing of wedding rings soon spread to Rome where the rings were made of iron. In Christian times the ring became a symbol of a religious agreement and gold became the metal normally used. The ring was worn on the third finger of the left hand because people believed that there was an especially sensitive nerve or vein running from that finger directly to the heart. In some countries the ring is worn on the right hand. We will stay with weddings for the moment and find out the reason for a few more of the customs attached to the ceremony. One of the modern customs at a wedding is the throwing of confetti over the happy couple as they came out of the church. This represents the ancient custom of throwing the ears of corn over the woman. Corn symbolised the fertility of the earth and this was to help the bride have children.

Again we move to another country for a custom, but this custom is also used in Ireland often. In Britain white heather is always lucky and if the bride wears a sprig of white heather on her dress she will have a happy and lucky marriage. The reason for this is the fact that white was once a sacred colour in pagan times.

There is also another reason given for white. It is believed that white heather is the only heather free of the bloodstains of the Picts. Before we leave marriage and love let us switch countries again and go this time to south-eastern Europe and Greek mythology.

We all know the narcissus as a lovely flower, but it is more than that, it is also a name that's given to someone who spends a long time in front of the mirror or imagines they are God's gift to man-kind. The original narcissus was a character in greek mythology. One day he was looking at his reflection in a pool of water. Thinking that it was another person who would not come out and meet him he dived into the pool and drowned. Don't spend too long before the mirror,you might just get ideas.
Apart from the superstitions associated with births and deaths there are many superstitions concerning cures for various ills and injuries.

Perhaps the ones about the many cures for hiccoughs are most interesting. Hiccoughs happen when the muscles in the chest and throat suddenly tighten. This can be caused by eating or drinking too fast. Sometimes an attack of hiccoughs can last for several hours, but usually an attack will only last a few minutes. Although hiccoughs would properly disappear if nothing is done about them, everyone has their favourite way of getting rid of them. Cures include a sudden shock, drinking water backwards out of the wrong side of the cup, holding your breath and trying to sneeze, or dropping a cold key against your chest or down the back of your neck.

Hiccoughs are also believed to be caused by someone who has spoken your name. You had to say the name of everyone you knew until you got the right person and only then would the hiccoughs stop! Hiccoughs are however no laughing matter. If the attack goes on for any length of time they can lead to oxygen starvation and can be fatal.

A way of keeping children from catching cold in days long gone was to sew them up in their clothes to keep them warm through the winter. This was once firmly believed by country people.Washing of any kind was sure to bring about illness. Even up to the 1900's people padded their children's clothes with papers during the winter to keep them warm. The clothes remain on night and day for months on end. There are hundreds of superstitions and cures to be found in the country.

Strange customs at wakes, births and funerals, or perhaps the sound of the banshee as she keens near the house lived in by one of the families that she follows, or the three knocks in the middle of the night that tell you that a friend has died, or going home at night on Halloween when all the souls are at large. Yes those were the stories that were told around the fire in the houses in days gone by,and sure that's what most of them were, stories.

Courtesy of Willie White and the Carlow Nationalist