Friday, April 28, 2113

So what is this page for?

My name is Eirinn Norrie and I am a student at SUNY New Paltz in New York. I am enrolled in a course about objects, and this is a part of my final project. I've always been drawn to superstitions. Even if I don't believe in them myself, I find it fascinating to read about what other people believe.

 I would like to gather superstitions from around the world because if superstitions are not passed on, they die out. We should try to record them because they reveal so much about a culture from a certain time period. My family is from Scotland, so I've been researching into old Scottish superstitions. I've learned so much about Scottish culture just through this research. For example, when somebody moves into a new house, it brings them good luck if you bring him/her teaspoons as a housewarming gift. This seems so random--- of all objects, why teaspoons? Some superstitions like this are even more interesting, because we most likely will never know what made them become superstitions.

I would love to hear your superstitions about objects. I have four tabs on the top of my page where I am organizing my superstitions based on location. I will be posting superstitions about objects from many different cultures. It would be awesome if you could help preserve superstitions about objects by commenting on my posts. Feel free to post about the superstitions I post, or to comment about any other superstition that you have heard or grew up with.

Thanks! -Eirinn

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Old Scottish Superstitions.. Are they Alive Today?

            We like to believe that we are original people who come up with new and unique ideas. We think that we invent so many ideas, traditions, and customs; however, people have walked the earth for over fifty thousand years, therefore many of these have been around for a very, very long time. Most of the time, we are just recycling or morphing traditions from a different culture or time period into the culture we have today. Because our life span is so short, we often fail to realize the origin of traditions we take part in each and every day. It also never really occurs to us to think about the superstitions or traditions we uphold— we do them without question because they are the “norm.” Many of these traditions in our cultures grow out of superstitions— some that are still practiced today, and others that are dead or beginning to become a thing of the past.
            According to the Oxford English Dictionary, superstition is “a widely held but irrational belief in supernatural influences, especially as leading to good or bad luck, or a practice based on such a belief.” People follow superstitions for their own individual reasons, perhaps because it is what they have learned from the previous generation, and therefore is “right,” or maybe because it gives the person a way of explaining events or actions that are otherwise unexplainable. For as long as humans have been able to record aspects of their culture, superstition has been prevalent and accepted among the people of Scotland. Class has not affected superstition in Scotland. For centuries, the rich and the poor have believed in the same superstitions. Some superstitions in Scotland are specific to a region, while others stretch from the border of England all the way up to the coast of Caithness and the islands in the north. The Scottish might believe in superstitions because of the mysterious Scottish landscape. The ocean waves crash eerily against the shore, the glens fill with mist, and the lochs lay still and murky— adding to the magical yet creepy feel of the land. It is easy to believe in “powers” that can affect lives.
            Scottish superstitions about objects are still very prominent today. They have spread and morphed and snuck their way into other cultures and changed as the people have changed. Even though people today do not necessarily believe in these superstitions, they are still practiced out of tradition. Traditions that we have today can be traced back to superstitions in Scotland, some of which go back thousands of years. These object superstitions have influenced modern Scottish culture and nestled their way into customs and traditions in other places around the world as well. There are also many aspects of culture today that are similar to old superstitions.
            It is important to preserve superstitions about objects because they reveal so much about the people of a specific culture. From reading and hearing about superstitions from Scotland, you can get a much better sense of the people than when you read about them in history text books. Superstitions, because many are unexplainable, are also much more interesting!

            Beltane, or Bealltainn, was an ancient Gaelic festival held on the first of May to celebrate the coming of summer. It was believed that during this time, it was easier for spirits to cross into our world.  Huge bonfires were lit, and people would sit around the fire and eat cake that was specifically made for the festival. Torches were lit around towns and farms. These rituals were supposed to bring a good crop season. Today, Beltane is still celebrated. Since 1988, a Beltane Fire Festival has been held in Edinburgh which draws thousands of people and involves hundreds of interactions with objects. Huge bonfires are lit, cakes are eaten, instruments are played, and goods are sold by vendors. “Up Helly Aa” is the Shetland celebration of Beltane, which has been celebrated every year since 1880, with the exception of during the years of World War I, World War II, and 1901 because of the death of Queen Victoria. Each year, over 1,000 torches are lit for Up Helly Aa.  Beltane isn’t just celebrated in Scotland. The festivity has spread worldwide— there is even a Beltane festival held each year at the Center for Symbolic Studies in New Paltz. This celebration draws out over one thousand people each year!
            Samhtheine, or samhain, which translates to “the fire of peace,” was a druidical festival held on October 31st, halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. It was believed that during this night, just like during Beltane, the veil between different worlds was thinner and it was easier for ghosts to cross into our world. Sprites, fairies, witches and other creatures enjoyed playing tricks on this night. In order to keep their farms protected from mischief, farmers would surround the borders of their farms with lit torches. Today in America, Halloween is celebrated and children dress up in costumes— many of them dressed like the magical creatures that are supposed to play tricks during this night. Americans also hang lights outside their homes for Halloween, which is quite similar to the torches put out by the farmers long, long ago.

            It is normal for superstitions to be about common household objects, since these objects were easily available to the people of Scotland. When handing scissors to somebody else, you must hand them holding the blade yourself, otherwise you may cut the friendship between you and the person that you are handing the scissors to. If you drop a pair of scissors, it is bad luck to pick them up yourself— you must have somebody else pick them up for you. If you receive a gift that is sharp, such as scissors, you must give the person who gave you the gift a silver coin in return. This is because it is believed that the sharp, gifted object could sever the friendship between the two people. The coin functions almost like you are “paying” for a part of your gift, and therefore it will not cut your friendship. Today in many countries, children in school learn to pass scissors to each other by holding the blade, so that the other person can grab the handle of the scissors and not get hurt. This could be simply for safety, but it could have stemmed out of Scottish superstition about severing a friendship. In addition, many superstitions were about safety (such as it is bad luck to sleep with your head under a beam). This may have been because superstitions encouraged children to listen more willingly than when they were simply told not to do something. Even if scissors are only passed this way for safety today, it still follows the Scottish superstition. And who knows, maybe if this superstition was introduced to America, children would be more careful when handling scissors? Giving a silver coin in return for receiving a sharp gift is still practiced in certain regions in Scotland today. If somebody does give a coin in return today, it is usually a pleasant surprise for the receiver because many people forget about this superstition.

            Handseling, as defined by the Scottish National Dictionary, is “'A gift bestowed to commemorate an inaugural occasion, event or season, e.g. the beginning of the year, the first visit to a friend's new home or the commencement of a new undertaking, the wearing of new clothes, etc., with the idea of bringing good luck to the recipient”. When a baby is born, family and friends put a piece of silver in the baby’s hands the first time they see him or her. It is thought that doing this will allow the baby to be fortunate and never go without money in his or her lifetime. How the baby receives these coins placed in his or her hand is very important. If the baby grabs the coin tight, he or she will be stingy with money. If he or she lets go of the coin quickly, he or she will love spending money. It is often very enjoyable for the family to joke about how their child will be with his or her money as they watch the handselling. The practice was extremely common in the 1950s, and was practiced for hundreds of years before that. Proof of this lies in Robert Burn’s There was a Lad, which makes reference to hanselling after birth with the line “Twas then a blast o' Janwar' win' / Blew hansel in on Robin”. Burns lived from 1759-1796, so the superstition was around during that time.  Today, it is a typically a fifty pence piece that is placed in the child’s hand. In Margaret Bennett’s book Scottish Customs from the Cradle to the Grave, she records hanselling events taking place in Lilliesleaf in 1990 and in Dundee in 1992. The two women whose babies had been hanselled commented on how it was still quite a common tradition in Scotland to bring the baby fortune in the future. Hanselling can be related to children receiving pocket money, which was usually given in coins. For many years, children receive money from their parents to keep them from having no money, just like how handselling happens so that the baby will never be without money. Up until recently, pocket money was given to children in coins because this was what was available. Now, our money is shifting away from coins and changing into either paper bills or an electronic card. Although handselling is still common today, it may die out in the future simply because silver coins may not be around.
First Footing on Hogmanay
            First-footing is another type of handseling. In the New Year, Scottish people “first-foot” one another, which means to be the first into somebody else’s home. The first-footer must bring a gift into the home to bring good fortune for the coming year. It is even luckier if the person bringing the gift has dark hair instead of fair hair. This most likely developed because of the fair-haired Vikings invasion of Scotland in the 8th century (therefore, a fair-haired person would bring you bad luck in a first-footing). When first-footing, if you gift a lump of coal, the home will be warm for the whole year. First-footing still happens today in Scotland, with common gifts being whiskey, shortbread, and chocolate. Many people in countries around the world also bring gifts to each other’s houses when they first see each other in the New Year, although it does not always have a specific name and it is not necessarily to bring good luck. In Scotland, first-footing is still very common and although most people don’t fully believe in the superstition, it is still done because it is entertaining!

            Today, we are very familiar with the tooth fairy who leaves us money under our pillows in exchange for our teeth. Usually, the tooth is put in a small container hidden under the pillow. This highly resembles an old Scottish superstition about lost teeth that is supposed to bring a child good luck and strong teeth. The first tooth that a child lost was to be carefully rolled up in a sheet of paper lined with salt and hidden in a hole made by a mouse. This specific superstition is not carried out today, but there is no doubt that it inspired some of the specifics about the tooth fairy!
            A superstitious ritual was also performed for teething babies. A “teething bannock” was made— in silence— from oatmeal, butter, and cream. When it cooled and hardened, the teething child would play with it until it broke. A small piece of the bannock was then placed in the child’s mouth, along with the mouths of everyone else in the room. It was believed that teething pain would disappear almost instantly. Although this is no longer made today, cultures all over the world use teething rings to soothe a child’s gums when he or she is teething. These teething rings serve the same function as the bannock.

            In Scottish superstition, it is terrible to open an umbrella inside someone’s home because this will bring bad luck to the family who lives there. This may have come from when umbrellas were used as parasols for protection from the sun. Opening an umbrella inside may have been seen as insulting to the sun, which was considered to be like a god by the Druids in Scotland thousands of years ago. This also may have come from Roman superstition, from when the Roman Empire invaded England, since the Romans also held this superstition about umbrellas. Although the Romans only conquered as far north as Hadrian ’s Wall, their culture could have travelled much further north, and therefore impacted various regions in Scotland. This superstition is very much alive today, probably because we’re constantly using umbrellas! It is a common superstition all over the English speaking world. In America, it is generally said that opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck; however, most of the time it is not specified who the bad luck will fall upon. In Scottish superstition, it only falls upon the people who live in the home where the umbrella was opened, even if the umbrella is opened by someone outside the family.

            A howdie, an archaic Scottish term for a “handy woman”, is a midwife and the person who looks out for the soon-to-be mother. She makes sure that certain rituals concerning superstition and pregnancy are carried out. Before the baby is born, the howdie unties all knots in the mother’s clothing and unlocks all the doors and windows in the house to ensure the birth has no complications. She turns over all the mirrors in the house so that the baby’s soul will not be captured by evil spirits and gives the mother a Rowan berry herb concoction. The Rowan berries are from the sacred Rowan tree, and are therefore believed to provide protection against mischievous fairies and the Evil Eye. After the baby is born, the howdie pours whiskey into the baby’s mouth to protect the baby from these two predators. In addition to this, every woman who is present during the birth must take three spoonfuls of oatmeal in order to bring the baby strength and good luck. These superstitions were carried out until the mid-1900s. Today, women who are close to the soon-to-be mother often help to care for the mother when she is having a hard time. Herbal and homemade medicines are still quite common today. These good friends who support the mother and baby are much like howdies because they provide support to the mother and the baby.

            Fairies in Scottish superstition love to play tricks. It is believed that they will often try to swap a newborn human baby with a fairy baby (called a “Changeling”). Until a baby gets baptized, it is at risk of being stolen by the mischievous fairies. Therefore, a baby’s cradle should be made from rowan or oak and be put together with iron nails. These materials provide protection to the vulnerable child. Although we have other materials such as plastic, many baby cradles are still made out of wood, or have a wood-like appearance. This could be preferred by parents because it may have been what they had as children; therefore, they may be following the superstition without even realizing it. Cradles for a baby were often borrowed instead of bought new (for protection for the baby and good luck). This is not an uncommon practice in Scotland today. There are very different superstitions about rocking an empty cradle. One Scottish rhyme goes, “If you rock the cradle empty, then you will have babies plenty.” However, others believed that rocking an empty cradle was a terrible thing to do and could lead to the death of the child. Another superstition says that if you rock an empty cradle it will bring you another baby. A superstition like this could be completely different between two adjacent towns. Many of these superstitions regarding objects for babies were still quite popular in Scotland as recently as fifteen years ago. People in certain regions of Scotland today are still wary of rocking an empty cradle.

The Wedding Day
            Wedding traditions involving object superstition have survived better than all other object superstitions. This may be because wedding days are all about following traditions. White heather is rare in Scotland and very lucky— it is said that it only grows atop the final resting place of fairies. Because it is so lucky, men would have a sprig of this flower in their buttonhole and women would have it squeezed into their bouquets. This is still done today, and now that the American prom tradition has made its way into British culture, it is not uncommon for girls to have a sprig of white heather glued into their corsages.
            Horseshoes have been considered lucky for hundreds of years. It was seen as lucky for a horseshoe to be involved in the wedding in some way. Horseshoes were carried open side up so that good luck could be caught. It was also common for a horseshoe to be sewn into the hem of the bride’s dress. Today in Scotland, it is expected that a bride will receive silver-covered cardboard horseshoes from small children when she leaves the church. This tradition has made its way into American tradition as well, especially in Western themed weddings.
            In Weddings today, bridesmaids usually wear the same colored dresses. This stems out of a Scottish superstition in which the bridesmaids were dressed up fancily. They were supposed to look as nice as the bride. This was supposed to confuse the fairies and evil spirits, and therefore the bridesmaids acted as decoys, protecting the bride from anything bad happening to her on her wedding day.
            For a long time it has said to bring good luck to the marriage if the bride puts a silver coin in her shoe during the wedding procession. The saying went, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in her shoe.” Today, the rhyme has made its way into many cultures, but without the ending words about the silver coin. In England and Scotland, brides still make sure to have a silver coin in their shoes. The tradition has taken hold in Sweden as well, where a bride has a gold coin in her right shoe and a silver coin in her left shoe for good luck.

            These are just a few of the Scottish superstitions related to objects that have survived in some way. Finding out about old superstitions is fascinating because it reveals the mindset of the people of the time and helps us to better understand their way of life. Superstitions are such a huge part of history— and life today. They are often frequently overlooked or deemed unimportant because they are not based on fact. However, I believe that object superstition is crucial to learn because we can then see where certain aspects of our culture came from. Halloween, for example, would be a better experience for children if they knew that it had grown out of many superstitions. The celebration seems more important if you know its history.
            Object superstitions are so intriguing. Even if you don’t believe in them, they are fun to read, because some of them sound so ridiculous to us. Superstitions create a unique interaction with objects. A silver coin is no longer just a coin— through superstition, a silver coin becomes a way of obtaining good luck. Our perceptions of the world and objects around us can change drastically due to superstitions. Scottish superstitions about objects are certainly alive today and provide us with a unique perspective on the world, which is why they must continue to be recorded. 
Works Cited
Bennett, M. Scottish Customs from the Cradle to the Grave. Edinburgh: Polygon 1992.
Bogle, Lara. "Scots Mark New Year With Fiery Ancient Rites." National Geographic. National    Geographic Society, 31 Dec. 2002. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.             <>.
"Customs and Superstitions.” Clan Henderson Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2013.             <>.
Hubbert, Gunilla. Personal interview. 19 April 2013.
Lane, James. "The Importance of Pocket Money." The Huffington Post. N.p., 27 June 2012.          Web. 18 Apr. 2013. < importance-of-pocket-_b_1624582.html>.Scottish National Dictionary
Lynch, M. The Concise History of Scots. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2001.
MacLean, J. P. An Epitome of the Superstitions of the Highlanders of Scotland, Together with a     Selection of Books Pertaining to the Subject,. Franklin, OH: n.p., 1917. Print.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Very Strange Superstition....

This Asian superstition comes from a Chinese person who grew up in Malaysia:

Pregnant women should not sit on the edge of a bed and sew because this will cause the backside of the baby to be sealed shut!

How strange!! Can you think of any extremely bizarre superstitions from your own culture?? I'd love to hear them!

American Snow Day Superstitions!

Hey all! Even though it's turning into summer, I have snow on my mind...
 I'm not sure if this is only an American thing to do, but we have superstitions to get snowdays! Some superstitions that supposedly will bring snowdays are:

-Dance with a penny
-Turn your pajamas inside out
-Put a spoon under your pillow

Is this only done in America?
Does anybody know any other snowday superstitions?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Know any European Superstitions?

Comment European superstitions here!! I can't wait to hear them!

 I'm studying in the Czech Republic in the fall and this is an interesting superstition from Czech culture:

It is good luck for a bride to break a plate on her wedding day. The groom should then sweep it up, and all of the guests get a fragment of the smashed plate, and the new bride and groom keep a piece for themselves as well.