Black cats and evil eyes : a book of old-fashioned superstitions / Chloe Rhodes - Details - Trove
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Daniel Boone Regional Library. Search Search Search Browse menu. Sign in. Feedback Recent updates Help. Recent updates. Black Cats and Evil Eyes. Description Details This collection investigates the origins of our most intriguing old-fashioned superstitions, many of which we still find ourselves abiding by today. Languages English. In the rest of the world the open end is usually down, mirroring the shape of the sacred womb.
Whichever way a horseshoe is hung, more luck can be gleaned by keeping it in place with seven screws. This tradition comes from a nursery rhyme that we commonly recite as 'See a penny, pick it up; all day long you'll have good luck. In fact the original rhyme featured pins, not pennies: 'See a pin and pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck.
See a pin and let it lie, you'll feel want before you die. It is one of many ancient sayings to promote the notion that it's worth taking trouble over small things. People who used the rhyme in the s would also have been fearful of leaving a pin on the ground because of their associations with witchcraft.
Pins were thought to have been used to bind a spell in place or to fix a desire — for good or ill, to an object that represented the person on whom the spell was being cast. If you didn't pick up the pin, a witch might find it instead and use it in a spell against you. Pins were also used in hexes, which could be performed to reverse the effects of damaging spells, often held responsible for the misunderstood medical ailments that afflicted citizens of the seventeenth century. Urinary infections, for example, were frequently 'treated' by placing pins representative of the patient's pain into a glass 'witch bottle' along with a sample of their urine.
The mixture would be boiled to transfer the pain from the victim of the spell back to the witch. The bottle would then be buried or bricked up into the walls of the person's home to defend them against future curses. The superstition had more mundane foundations too as pins were an essential tool for needlework, which was a necessity rather than a hobby in the seventeenth-century home. The switch from pin to penny seems to have occurred in early nineteenth-century America and may have simply been a linguistic slip, although the appearance of the words 'In God We Trust' on American pennies is believed in some quarters to have transformed a castaway coin into a token of luck from the Good Lord for those who believe in him.
This superstition is one of the most widely adhered to of the modern age and one of many that have been appropriated over time by the Church. While many of the beliefs we might call superstitions today have their roots in the practice of religion, the Church itself holds that superstition is sinful, marking a deviation from worship of one God and giving credence to the occult.
The practice of walking around ladders, however, is deemed not to warrant the label of superstition since it is done in the interests of preserving something the Bible itself calls sacred. A ladder placed on level ground and leaning against a wall forms a triangular shape and the triangle was sacred because it represented the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Walking through the centre of a triangle was akin to breaking the Holy Trinity and violating God, which was blasphemous and therefore sinful. In fact, the triangle has been symbolic of life since ancient Egyptian times and disrupting a sacrosanct symbol was seen by the earliest civilizations as tempting fate. Even in our secular age it seems like an unnecessary risk to walk under a ladder from which a pot of paint or scaffolder who's lost his balance might easily fall. There is an alternative source for this superstition however — the medieval gallows. Until the late s the 'short drop' method was used for hangings, which meant that prisoners were hanged from a cart or simply made to step off a ladder with the hangman's noose around their neck, which usually resulted in death by strangulation.
Later, when new drop gallows were introduced, which caused a quicker death by breaking the prisoner's neck, ladders were propped against them so that prisoners could climb the scaffold ready for the drop. These were used again by the executioner when the bodies were collected. It was widely believed that the souls of those who'd been executed loitered under the ladder since their crimes made them unfit for heaven so it was inviting misfortune of the most grisly kind to walk underneath one and mingle with them.
Until relatively recently, salt was one of the most precious commodities known to man. The location of salt mines determined where cities would flourish, salt routes paved the way for later trade routes and, before refrigeration, curing with salt was the primary method by which food could be preserved, so lives depended on it. Without mechanized techniques for mining rock salt or the means by which to evaporate enough salt water to extract sufficient quantities of sea salt, it was expensive and hard to come by.
All of this meant that it was unlucky in the most straightforward of ways to spill salt. As with so many superstitions that still influence our behaviour today, fear of the forces of evil shaped our responses to what might otherwise have been regarded as simple misfortune. Salt was used in Greek and Roman religious ceremonies and is still used to make holy water in the Catholic Church so spilling it was seen as an act of the Devil. This notion is thought by some to have been cemented by the overturning of the salt cellar by Judas Iscariot during the Last Supper, as depicted in Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece.
In medieval times it was believed that the Devil waited behind your left shoulder for any opportunity to pounce, which gave rise to the tradition of throwing a pinch of salt over your left shoulder immediately after you spilled it to strike him in the face and prevent him from making further trouble.
In Norway it was believed that the more salt spilled the greater the misfortune would be as more tears would have to be shed in order to dissolve all the grains.
In the Turkic states, ancient folklore held that a white angel lived at the right shoulder of every person and a black angel lived at the left shoulder; a pinch of the spilled salt in the eye of the black angel could prevent him from ruining future plans. Belief in the power of the evil eye dates back to the earliest civilizations and references to it can be found aplenty in the writings of ancient Greek and Roman poets and philosophers including Aristophanes, Plutarch and Pliny the Elder. Put simply, it refers to the belief that those who possess the evil eye sometimes described as a jealous spirit can put a curse on others, usually unintentionally, by gazing at them enviously.
The evil eye is usually developed in a person by their coveting of the good fortune of another.
Black Cats and Evil Eyes
Biblical references also exist; Proverbs reads 'Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meat. The effects of the curse vary slightly between cultures but the late American Professor of Folklore and Evil Eye expert Alan Dundes wrote that while belief in its powers spread through the Middle East, Africa and Europe — especially the Mediterranean region with many variations in the methods used to avert it — the feared effects of being given the evil eye tended to be similar: diseases related to dehydration, such as vomiting, wasting or shrivelling, sometimes resulting in death.
Young children are believed to be at greatest risk of the evil eye, perhaps since their beauty and innocence is most likely to attract envious glances.
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