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Filtering by Tag: superstitions

New Years Superstitions...

Amanda Herman

Happy New Years!  In celebrating New Years, I'll be sharing all the good luck and bad omens that may befall you and your loved ones on this grand day of superstition. 

 

First up, bring something into your house before taking something out, as a symbol of your finances either coming in or going out for the rest of the year. 

Summer 1936. Children of sharecropper Frank Tengle at their Hale County, Alabama, cabin. 35mm nitrate negative by Walker Evans. (Shorpy.com)

 

 

According to Southern lore, there is direct correlation between ghosts, dogs, and midnight. Anyone born at the stroke of midnight can see ghosts with ease. All dogs can see ghosts as well. Ghosts are more easily seen at midnight. If you are really itching to see one yourself, the superstition goes that at the very stroke of midnight, look between a dogs ears and you will see a ghost standing behind him.

 

 

It’s bad luck to leave clothes drying on the line on New Year's Eve. It's the physical representation of unfinished business at the end of the year. If you wash clothes on this day, you are washing someone out of your life. 

 

 

For all those about to ring in the new year with numerous libations, it is bad luck to stumble after the clock strikes midnight. It is superstitiously a reflection of the rest of your year. You've been warned, ya drunkards. 

 

 

 Apparently, it's bad luck for your first visitor of the New Year to be a woman. 

 

 


Don’t sweep today! Just leave the mess on the floor. Sweeping on New Years is to sweep away your fortune. Also, cutting broom straw today is a death omen. Just leave it be.

A Little Pinch of Magic

Amanda Herman

Superstitions have such a cozy little corner reserved in my heart. I remember holding my breath every time my mother drove me through the Bankhead Tunnel as a child growing up in Mobile. I would panic, dare there be tourists slowing down in the skinny-laned enclosure, but I would stick to the mission I set out on: to make it to the end of the tunnel without taking a single breath, so that then, and only then, would my wish be granted. To be honest, I’m not actually sure if I ever made a single wish. Though, to be fair, I never made it to the end of the tunnel because my lovely sister, who is always my biggest cheerleader, would reach up from the back-back of the van and tickle me until a gasped a giggle. Oh, that sweet, supportive sibling camaraderie.

Photo of the old Toll Booth at the Bankhead Tunnel, no longer standing

Photo of the old Toll Booth at the Bankhead Tunnel, no longer standing

Holding my breath wasn’t nearly my most frequently administered superstition: 

I fought for the wishbone every holiday dinner. 

I still throw salt over my shoulder daily.

I cook black eye peas and greens for my family on new year’s day, just like my mom did when I was a kid. This one is hard to forget, since my sister hated all things that grew from the dirt, and my mother would actually put one pea on her plate and make her eat it.

“Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight.” Every single night of my childhood.

I always thought I would catch a cold when I went outside with wet hair, which created a lot of anxiety for a child with super thick hair that had twenty minutes to shower between volleyball practice that the late bell.

I picked up heads-up pennies, and either flipped over or kicked tails-up coins in the bushes, dare anyone come behind me and be paying less attention; I couldn’t carry a stranger’s bad luck on my conscious. 

My grandmother always told me, every time I fiddled with my ears, that someone must be talking about me. She was always so sure, too. Maybe it was her making the gossip, looking back on it. 

My friends and I would pick up our feet crossing railroad tracks and bridges in the car, which morphed into a gaggle of squealing middle school weeble wobbles in an incredibly confined space, with my ever so patient mother behind the wheel. I would apologize to her for this today, along with all the other annoying crud I pulled as a silly kid, but as my humble parents have so sweetly pointed out to me more than a few times this year, karma has such a wonderful sense of humor.

Weddings are superstitious gold, not just here in the south, but all around the world. “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” is a harbinger of luck for the union. A penny in the shoe is a superstitious action to bring wealth and stability to the couple. The bride wearing a veil supposedly keeps the groom from running off before the vows. Catching the bouquet leads to being the next to wed. We could be here for days analyzing the lore of wedding rituals. But you get the idea. 

Superstitions, seem to create patterns of control, of knowing. These beliefs hold that if you follow through with actions, however unrelated they may seem to your problem, you can predict your own outcome and control the future that was previously left to chance. Superstitions are tied to normal daily occurrences that may really mean nothing aside from the naturally intended, but everyone has heard of that friend’s cousin’s best friend’s careless action of stepping on a crack, and three days later, boom. Her mom’s in the hospital having spinal surgery. 

Some essays tie these superstitions with the uneducated, saying that people who have never been taught the science of the thing, or the cause and effect of normal happenings are doomed to put their own uneducated guesses as to what is really unfolding before them. I don’t believe that to be the case. In the nature of stories passed down through the generations, stories are skewed and morphed into the creature features we hear today (or get roped into forwarding to eleven people before the end of the day, lest we get a phone call from the beyond foreboding our death in three days’ time). 

Stories of superstition in the South are, many times, cryptic love children of African and European origins, deriving from ages when people had dear ties to the earth and the natural order of the human condition. Ghosts and Goosebumps, a wonderful book of Alabama stories and superstitions compiled by Jack and Olivia Solomon, describes superstitions as having three properties: “an underlying concept or belief, the language that conveys that belief, and the commission or omission of action or practice as required or dictated by the belief and the statement.” Beliefs can be false, and actions can be completely unrelated. Basically, it all sounds like nonsense, and sure, most of the time it is. For example, please don’t kill a snake and wrap its body around your foot if it bites you. Seek actual medical attention. But some superstitions do have some air of truth to them.

While I do not believe that if a pregnant woman touches a sage bush, it will die, sage is classified as a uterine stimulant by western medical studies, so ladies probably shouldn't risk it either way. 

 

Touching frogs doesn't really cause warts, as warts are a virus carried by humans, but some frogs do secrete a poison from their glands that acts as a skin irritant, so it’s close.

Animals predicting weather patterns has been a long-standing superstition across the globe. The funny thing is, dogs seek shelter in beautiful weather knowing a thunderstorm is coming. Elephants panic long before we feel an earthquake coming. Sharks swim to deeper water in the early wake of a hurricane. While this is due to their senses, changes in pressure, and more completely scientific explanations, if I was alive long before the technology was available to test these theories, it would have been in my best interest to listen to what my dog was trying to tell me.

Sliced onion would be placed in the room of a sick person to act as an absorbent to draw in the illness away from the person it was inflicting. Turns out, onions and garlic do have antibiotic effects on a person’s system, but only from the inside. For onions to ward off illness, you’ll have to eat them.

The idea of the placebo effect has proven itself a useful practice on the human psyche, and this is why I believe people will always hold superstition with such respect. The things we witness while driving around a southern town that are superstitious rituals to protect people and their neighbors from harm and misfortune always make that little porch swing inside my heart sway a little smoother: the blue bottle trees catching evil by the footpath, the mirrors placed near entryways to distract the devil from entering homes, seeing veteran gardeners all planting on the same day when the moon aligns with the almanac, frizzy haired hens roaming yards and scratching up hexes placed on neighbors, kids blowing dandelions and chasing dragonflies for luck, crossing fingers and throwing pennies in the well. 

With all of the harsh realities of today’s world, who is to argue with a little peace of mind? It eases my worries to be surrounded by folks that are working hard to protect others and keep loved ones safe in any way they know how. So next time you find yourself gazing at the vast open skies waiting for a star to fall, as they have been known to do in adding to the luck of this land, know that you are not alone. You are sharing this sight and sentiment with an entire planet of people, past and present, that felt it imperative to keep sacred a little pinch of magic.

Southern Halloween Superstitions

Amanda Herman

For Halloween, we here at The Serpents of Bienville decided to bring you guys some of the Halloween superstitions that we have heard from down here in the Southern Alabama Gulf Coast region.  We decided to put them together in a collection in this blog today, just incase you missed them on Halloween, hope you guys enjoy!

Halloween sightings of bats are actually a sign that ghosts are present. If a bat happens to get in your house on this night, superstition says it's a ghost that opened a window and let it in. If the bat proceeds to circle one room three times, a death omen has been placed on your head.

 

 

A woman put to rest wearing all black is known to return to haunt her family. On Halloween, seeing a spider means that you are actually seeing a family member that has returned to check in on you, no matter what color garment the person was buried in.

 

 

Superstitious Southern Homeowners are told by lore to walk backwards and counterclockwise around their home before the sun sets on All Hallows' Eve, to ward off evil spirits, keeping their possessions and poltergeists at bay until the next Halloween comes around.

 

 

Halloween, being the night that spirits roam free and wreak havoc, searching for souls to take back with them beyond this world, made people fearful for the safety of their own soul. To keep these evil spirits from recognizing people as having their souls intact, they would wear masks, disguising themselves as soulless creatures unworthy of their time.

 

 

Halloween Superstition warns us not to turn around to the sound of footsteps, it may be the dead following you. But if you keep bread in your pocket as an offering to the restless souls, they may let you keep your soul.

 

 

Southern superstition warns that in passing a cemetery around All Hallows' Eve, a wandering spirit could take it as an invitation to hitch a ride and follow you home. To prevent this, be sure to turn your pockets out so the ghost has nowhere to hide.

 

 

The jack-o-lantern is said by the Celts to be the representation of a man who tricked the devil, but the heavens didn't want him, so his soul was cursed to wander the world for all eternity. The only possession he carried was a lantern passed to him from hell. The first Jack-o-lantern was carved from a turnip. They are meant to line the streets and guide lost souls on their journey on All Hallows' eve.

 

If a polite southerner has company in their home and doesn't care for them to return, superstition says black pepper should be sprinkled on the floor as they leave, and swept out the door behind them. 

 

 

The superstition on mirrors being covered in a person's house after they die is so that their soul can have safe passage out of the house without getting trapped behind its own reflection. Old southerners believe this is the soul reason why the devil invented mirrors. A man accidentally trapped a savage soul in a mirror toiling in a cemetery.

 

 

Alabama superstition holds that if you pull a hair from a horse's tail, place it in a jar and cover it in urine. The hair will transform into a snake come morning.

 

 

Spanish Moss is fabled to be the gnarly hair of the meanest man that ever lived. The devil came for him one morning, but he bargained for more time by vowing to spread more of his nastiness. He asked the devil to warn him before he came back to claim his soul in eternity, but the evil man grew deaf and blind. The devil could never get his attention, so the man went on living. He wandered the streets, never feeling nourishment, for the fruits withered in his presence and water ran black from his hatred. The only thing that grew was the man's hair. It grew so long and knotted the tangles snagged on limbs he passed. One day the frail man could hold form no longer, and fell to dust. All that was left behind were the knots of moss that marked his dark path.