and the reason why
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
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