Current Superstitions - Collected from the Oral Tradition of English Speaking Folk
Author: Various
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Transcriber's Note: A number of typographical errors and inconsistencies found in the original book have been maintained in this version. A complete list is found at the end of the text.






Four hundred and fifty copies printed, of which this is No. ——


All rights reserved.

The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A. Electrotyped and Printed by H.O. Houghton and Company.


In the "Popular Science Monthly" for July, 1886, there was printed a somewhat miscellaneous assortment of customs and superstitions under the title: Animal and Plant Lore of Children. This article was in the main composed of reminiscences of my own childhood spent in Northern Ohio, though two or three friends of New England rearing contributed personal recollections. Seldom is a line cast which brings ashore such an abundant catch as did my initial folk-lore paper. A footnote had, by the advice of a friend, been appended asking readers to send similar lore to the writer. About seventy answers were received, from all sorts of localities, ranging from Halifax to New Orleans. These numerous letters convinced me that there was even then, before the foundation of the national Society, a somewhat general interest in folk-lore,—not a scientific interest, but a fondness for the subject-matter itself. Many who do not care for folk-lore as a subject of research are pleased to have recalled to them the fancies, beliefs, and customs of childhood and early youth. A single proverb, superstition, riddle, or tradition may, by association of ideas, act like a magic mirror in bringing back hundreds of long-forgotten people, pastimes, and occupations. And whatever makes one young, if only for an hour, will ever fascinate. The greater number of those who kindly responded to the request for additional notes to my animal and plant lore were naturally those of somewhat literary or scientific tastes and pursuits. Many letters were from teachers, many others from physicians, a few from professional scientists, the rest from men and women of various callings, who had been pleased by suggestions that aroused memories of the credulous and unreflecting period in their own lives. The abundant material thus brought in, which consisted of folk-lore items of the most varied kind, was read gratefully and with pleasant surprise.

The items were assorted and catalogued after some provisional fashion of my own. Succeeding papers issued in the "Popular Science Monthly" brought in further accessions. I gradually formed the habit of asking, as opportunity offered, any one and every one for folk-lore. Nurses abound in such knowledge. Domestic help, whether housekeepers, seamstresses, or servants, whether American or foreign, all by patient questioning were induced to give of their full store.

The folk-lorist who chances to have a pet superstition or two of his own that he never fails to observe, has an open-sesame to beliefs of this sort held by any one with whom he comes in contact. The fact that I have (I blush to confess it) a preference for putting on my right shoe before the left has, I dare say, been the providential means of bringing to me hundreds of bits of folk-lore. Many times has the exposure of this weakness instantly opened up an opportunity for asking questions about kindred customs and superstitions. I once asked an Irish peasant girl from County Roscommon if she could tell me any stories about fairies. "Do ye give in to fairies then, ma'am?" she joyously asked, adding, "A good many folks don't give in to them" (believe in them, i.e., the fairies). Apparently she was heartily glad to meet some one who spoke her own language. From that hour she was ever ready to tell me tales or recall old sayings and beliefs about the doings and powers of the "good people" of old Ireland.

A stewardess, properly approached, can communicate a deal of lore in her leisure hours during a three or four days' ocean trip. Oftentimes a caller has by chance let drop a morsel that was quickly picked up and preserved.

The large amount of botanical and zooelogical mythology that has gradually accumulated in my hands is reserved for separate treatment. Now and then some individual item of the sort appears in the following pages, but only for some special reason. A considerable proportion of my general folk-lore was orally collected from persons of foreign birth. There were among these more Irish than of any other one nationality, but Scotch and English were somewhat fully represented, and Scandinavians (including one Icelander), Italians, a Syrian, a Parsee, and several Japanese contributed to the collection.

It has been a puzzling question to decide just where to draw the line in separating foreign from what we may call current American folk-lore. The traditions and superstitions that a mother as a child or girl heard in a foreign land, she tells her children born here, and the lore becomes, as it were, naturalized, though sometimes but little modified from the form in which it was current where the mother originally heard it. Whether to include any folk-lore collected from oral narrators or from correspondents, even if it had been very recently brought hither, was the question. At length it has been decided to print only items taken down from the narration of persons born in America, though frequent parallels and numberless variants have been obtained from persons now resident here, though reared in other countries.

It would be a most interesting task to collate the material embraced in the present collection with the few published lists of American superstitions, customs, and beliefs, and with the many dialect and other stories, the books of travel, local histories, and similar sources of information in regard to our own folk-lore. Equally valuable would be the endeavor to trace the genesis of the most important of the superstitions here set down. But the limits of the present publication make any such attempt wholly out of the question, and the brief notes which are appended refer to but a few of the matters which invite comment and discussion.

Some few repetitions have been almost unavoidable, since not infrequently a superstition might consistently be classified under more than one head; besides, it is not unusual to find that varied significations are attributed to the same act, accident, or coincidence. When localities are wanting it is sometimes because the narrator could not tell where he had become familiar with the items communicated; again, a chance correspondent failed to note the locality. In putting on paper these popular beliefs and notions, the abbreviated, often rather elliptical, vernacular in which they are passed about from mouth to mouth has to a great extent been followed.

It is impossible here to name the legion of individuals from whom the subject-matter of the various chapters of this volume has been gathered. But thanks are especially due to the following persons, who have contributed largely to the contents of the book:—

Charles Aldrich, Webster City, Iowa. Miss Ellen Beauchamp, Baldwinsville, N.Y. John G. Bourke, Capt. 3d Cavalry U.S.A., Ft. Ethan Allen, Vt. Miss M.A. Caller, A.C.F. College, Tuskeegee, Ala. John S. Caulkins, M.D., Thornville, Mich. Miss Ellen Chase, Brookline, Mass. Miss Ruth R. Cronyn, Bernardston, Mass. Uriah A. Greene, Flint, Mich. Professor George M. Harmon, Tufts College, Mass. W.J. McGee, U.S. Geol. Survey, Washington, D.C. Hector McInnes, Halifax, N.S. John B. Nichols, Washington, D.C. John G. Owens,[viii-1] Lewisburg, Pa. Prof. Frederick Reed, Talladega, Ala. Mrs. Amanda M. Thrush, Plymouth, O. Miss Helen S. Thurston, Providence, R.I. Rev. A.C. Waghorne, New Harbor, N.F. Miss Susan Hayes Ward, "The Independent," New York, N.Y. Miss Ellen L. Wickes, Chestertown, Md.

Above all am I indebted to Mr. Newell, whose generous cooeperation and advice have been invaluable to one working under peculiar hindrances.


[viii-1] Deceased.


CHAP. PAGE INTRODUCTION 1 I. BABYHOOD 21 Baptism.—Physiognomy.—Introduction to the World.—First Actions.—Various. II. CHILDHOOD 26 Asseveration.—Challenge.—Fortune.—Friendship.— Mythology.—Punishment.—Sport.—Various. III. PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS 32 Beauty.—Dimple.—Ears.—Eyes and Eyebrows.— Finger-nails.—Foot.—Forehead.—Hair.—Hand.—Moles.— Nose.—Teeth. IV. PROJECTS 38 Apples.—Apple-seeds.—Babies.—Bed.—Bible.—Birds.— Buttons.—Four-leaved Clover.—Counting.—Daisy Petals.— Doorway.—Eggs.—Fingers.—Garments.—Letters of the Alphabet.—Midnight.—Plants.—Ring.—Stars.—Tea-leaves.— Walking Abroad.—Water.—Various. V. HALLOWEEN AND OTHER FESTIVALS 55 VI. LOVE AND MARRIAGE 59 Engagement.—Attire of the Bride.—Lucky Days.—The Marriage Ceremony.—Courting and Wedding Signs. VII. WISHES 67 VIII. DREAMS 70 Animals.—Colors.—Dead Persons.—Earth.—Eggs.—Fire and Smoke.—Human Beings.—Meteorological Phenomena.—Money and Metals.—Teeth.—Water.—Weddings and Funerals.— Miscellaneous IX. LUCK 79 Cards.—Days.—Dressing.—Horseshoes.—Pins.—Salt.— Sweeping.—Turning Back.—Miscellaneous. X. MONEY 87 XI. VISITORS 89 XII. CURES 94 Amulets.—Charm.—Water.—Miscellaneous. XIII. WARTS 101 Causes.—Cures. XIV. WEATHER 106 Cold.—Days and Times.—Fair or Foul.—Moon.—Rain.—Wind and Storm. XV. MOON 117 Divination.—Fortune.—Moonlight.—Wax and Wane. XVI. SUN 123 Domestic and Mechanical Operations.—Cures. XVII. DEATH OMENS 125 XVIII. MORTUARY CUSTOMS 131 XIX. MISCELLANEOUS 134 Actions.—Bodily Affections.—Apparel.—Customs.—Days.— Domestic Life.—Various. NOTES 151



The record contained in the present volume forms the first considerable printed collection made in America of superstitions belonging to English-speaking folk. Numerous as are the items here presented, only a part of the matter is included, the collector having preferred to reserve for separate presentation superstitions connected with animal and plant lore, material which would require a space about equal to that here occupied. Again, the present gathering by no means pretends to completeness; while certain departments may be adequately represented, other sections exhibit scarce more than a gleaning. The collection, therefore, will be looked on as a first essay, subject to revision and enlargement.

The designations of locality will suffice to show the width of the area from which information has been obtained, as well as the degree of similarity which appears in the folk-lore of different regions belonging to this wide territory. Here and there may be observed items showing a measure of originality; a new superstition may have arisen, or an ancient one been modified, according to the fancy of an individual, in consequence of defective memory, or in virtue of misapprehension. But on the whole such peculiarities make no figure, nor does recent immigration play any important part. Almost the entire body of this tradition belongs to the English stock; it is the English population which, together with the language, has imposed on other elements of American life its polity, society, ethics, and tradition.

This relation is not an isolated phenomenon; on the contrary, it is entirely in the line of experience. Language is the most important factor which determines usage and influences character; this result is effected through the literature, oral or written, with which, in virtue of the possession of a particular speech, any given people is brought into contact. In this process race goes for little. Borrowing the tongue of a superior race, a subject population receives also the songs, tales, habits, inclinations which go with the speech; human nature, in all times essentially imitative, copies qualities which are united with presumed superiority; to this process not even racial hostility is a bar; assimilation and transmission go on in spite of hatred directed against the persons who are the object of the imitation; such a process may be observed in the recent history of Ireland.

Reception of new ideas, however, though promoted by the possession of a common language constituting a means of exchange, is not limited by its absence; on the contrary, in all historical time among contiguous races takes place a transference of ideas which dislike and even warfare do not prevent. Here the law seems to be that the lower culture has relatively little effect on the higher with which it is in contact, while the superior civilization speedily influences an inferior one. Nor is the effect confined to the higher classes of any given society; beginning with these, the new knowledge descends through all ranks, and everywhere carries its transforming influence. What is true of written literature in a less degree is true of oral; songs and tales, rites and customs, beliefs and superstitions, diffuse themselves from the civilization which happens to be in fashion, with a rapidity greater or less according to the interworking of a multitude of modifying forces. In the other direction, from the lower culture to the higher, exchange is slow, albeit likely to be promoted, in certain cases, by peculiar conditions, such as the deliberate literary choice which seeks opportunity for archaistic representation, or the respect which an advanced race may have for the magical ability of a simple tribe, believed to be nearer to nature, and therefore more likely to remain in communion with natural forces.

But these exceptional effects are of small relative moment; the general principle, continually at work, in the main controls the result. In regard to the themes of stories especially, the many tongues and dialects of Western Europe offer scarcely more variation than will be often found to exist among the versions of the same tale which may be discovered in a single canton. The spirit of the language, already mentioned as constituting the element of nationality, taking possession of this common stock of knowledge, moulds its precise form and sentiment in accordance with its own character; it is in details, rather than in outlines, that racial differences are found to exist; this principle applies in a considerable degree in the field of folk-tales, even between cultures so opposite as those of Western Europe and Western Africa.

In the case of superstitions, the diffusive process, though less rapid or effectual than in tales, is nevertheless continually active; in Europe, at least, a similar identity will probably be discovered. But in this category the problem of separating what is general, because human, from that which is common, because diffused, always a complicated task, will be found more difficult than in literary matter, and without the aid of extensive collection insoluble. It is possible to fall back on the consideration that, after all, such resolution matters not very much, since in any case the survival of the belief indicates its humanity, and for the purpose of the study of human nature borrowed superstitions may be cited as confidently as if original in the soil to which they have emigrated, and where they have indissolubly intertwined themselves with thought and habit.

Again, it is to be considered that while differences of speech impede, but do not prevent integration, changes of condition may have an immediate effect in producing differentiation. Protestantism, by banishing complicated usages connected with sacred days, has caused English folk-lore to vary from Continental; so far this contrast seems a result of the alterations of the last three hundred years, rather than of more remote inconsistency.

If these remarks are in any degree valid, it follows that from the presence or absence of any particular item of belief in this or that English-speaking district no conclusion is to be drawn; the deficiency must be supposed to proceed from absence of record, and seldom to depend on the structure of the population. To this general doctrine, as usual with such propositions, may be observed minor exceptions. Whatever doubts may be cast on the operation of the principle as applicable to England, there can be no doubt that it is valid in the United States and Canada.

It is not, however, intended to assert that the contributions of the entire region covered in this collection are identical in character. On the contrary, it will be seen that the record made in certain districts, as for example in Newfoundland and among the Mountain Whites of the Alleghanies, presents superstition as more primitive and active than in the eastern United States. But this vitality is only to be regarded as the persistence of a stock once proper to English-speaking folk, and by no means as indicating a diversity of origins.

The chief value of a collection such as the present consists in the light it may be made to cast on the history of mental processes; in other words, on its psychologic import.

To appreciate this value, it is needful to understand the quality in which superstition really consists. This distinguishing characteristic is obscured by the definitions of English dictionaries, which describe superstition as a disease, depending on an excess of religious sentiment, which disposes the person so affected to unreasonable credulity. In the same spirit, it has been the wont of divines to characterize superstition and unbelief as opposite poles, between which lies the golden mean of discreet faith. But this view is inadequate and erroneous.

The manner of conception mentioned has been borrowed from Latin and Greek writers of the Roman republic and of the Imperial period. In primitive Roman usage, superstitio and religio were synonyms; both, perhaps, etymologically considered, expressed no more than that habit of careful consideration with which a prudent man will measure the events which encounter him, and determine his conduct with a view to consequences. Superstitio may have indicated only the overstanding of the phenomenon, the pause necessary for its deliberate inspection. By Cicero a distinction was made; the word was now employed to designate a state of mind under the influence of supernatural terrors. In the Greek tongue a similar conception was expressed by the word deisidaimonia, or fear of daemons, a term in bad odor as associated with practices of Oriental temple worship representing primitive conceptions, and therefore odious to later and more enlightened Hellenic thought. Established as a synonym of the Greek noun, superstitio received all the meaning which Plutarch elaborated as to the former; the idea of that excellent heathen, that true piety is the mean between atheism and credulity, has given a sense to the word superstition, and become a commonplace of Christian hortatory literature.

It is, however, sufficiently obvious that the signification mentioned does not have application to the omens recorded in the present volume, the majority of which have no direct connection with spiritual beings, while it will also be allowed that these do not lie without the field ordinarily covered by the word superstition. For our purposes, therefore, it is necessary to enlarge this definition. This may be done by emphasizing the first component part of the word, and introducing into it the notion of what has been left over, or of survival, made familiar by the genius of Edward B. Tylor. In these lingering notions we have opinions respecting relations of cause and effect which have resulted as a necessary consequence from past intellectual conditions. A superstition, accordingly, I should define as a belief respecting causal sequence, depending on reasoning proper to an outgrown culture. According to this view, with adequate information it would be possible to trace the mental process in virtue of which arise such expectations of futurity, and to discover the methods of their gradual modification and eventual supersession by generalizations founded on experience more accurate and extensive. Yet it is not to be assumed that in each and every case such elucidation will be possible. In all human conduct there is an element which cannot be designated otherwise than as accidental; this uncertainty appears to be greater, the reaction against the natural conditions less definite, the more primitive is the life. It is impossible to forecast in what manner a savage may be impressed by an event of which he can note only external conditions, or how his action may respond to the impression. One may guess what opinion an augur would form concerning the appearance of a single eagle or raven; but it would be labor lost to attempt to conjecture the manner in which the imagination of the observer would explain a flight of these birds, or what complicated rules augural art might evolve to guide the interpretation.

This accidental quality, and the arbitrariness with which phenomena are judged to be ominous, will be visible in the numerous "signs" here recorded. At first sight, it may be thought that extreme folly is their salient quality. Yet if we take a wide view the case is reversed; we are surprised, not at the unintelligibility of popular belief, but at its simplicity, and at the frequency with which we can discern the natural process of unsystematic conjecture. Such judgments are not to be treated with derision, as subjects of ridicule, but to be seriously examined, as revealing the natural procedure of intelligence limited to a superficial view of phenomena.

This consideration leads to an important remark. The term survival expresses a truth, but only a part of the truth. Usages, habits, opinions, which are classed as superstition, exhibit something more than the unintelligent and unconscious persistence of habit. Folk-lore survives, and popular practices continue, only so long as endures a method of thinking corresponding to that in which these had their origin. Individual customs may be preserved simply as a matter of thoughtless habit; yet in general it is essential that these usages should be related to conscious intellectual life; so soon as they cease to be so explicable, they begin to pass into oblivion.

The chapters of this collection, therefore, will emphasize the doctrine that the essential elements of human nature continue to exist, however opposite may be the actions in which its operations are manifested. In examining many of the maxims of conduct here set forth, we are able to understand the motives in which they had their being; we perceive that the inclination has not disappeared, however checked by mediation through complex experience, and however counteracted by the weight of later maxims. The examiner finds that he himself shares the mental state of the superstitious person; if not, he can easily make an effort of imagination which will enable him to comprehend its evident reasonableness. Thus, while superstitions are properly designated as survivals, it will in many cases be found that they represent a survival of ratiocination as well as of action.

In some striking examples, also, it happens that the modern notion indicates the continuance of conceptions more ancient than a mass of connected ideas which have wholly perished. The former endure, because, being simple in their nature, they represent a human impulse, an impulse which animated the prehistoric ancestor as well as the modern descendant. When this tendency ceases to operate, the plant suddenly withers. So it is that an elimination of these beliefs, which formed the science of remote antiquity, has taken place in our own century, which has worked a change greater than fifty preceding generations, because it has been able to introduce generalizations with which ancient notions and habits are perceived no longer to coincide.

As illustrations of the psychologic value of the material, it may be permitted to offer brief comments on the several sections.

In the usages of mothers and nurses, it is interesting to observe with what persistence survives the conception that the initial action of the series determines the character of events sequent in order. It is still a universal practice to consecrate every baby by a rite not ecclesiastical. The infant, on his first journey, must be taken to a height symbolic of his future fortune, an elevation believed to secure the prosperity of his whole subsequent career. It would be of interest to learn what analogies the practice has among races in a primitive condition of culture. The babe of the Pueblo of Sia, when on the fourth day (four being a sacred number) for the first time he is taken from the dark chamber, is ritually presented to his father the Sun; similarly, in a superstition of the present series (I know not how generally observed) Sunday is said to be the day on which the infant is first to be carried into the sunshine. It is likely that such continuing customs represent feeble echoes of pre-Christian dedicatory ceremonies, which in the first instance were themselves founded on a corresponding habit of thought; according to an opposite, yet connected system of notions, we find Protestant Christianity still preserving a memento of the world-old and universal belief in a crowd of malicious spirits, prepared at every moment to take up their residence in the convenient shelter of the human frame, as a hermit crab watches for a suitable shell in which to make his home. It must be owned that the volume of observances connected with infancy, here presented, is very inadequate; it is certain that a nurse of a century ago would have been familiar with a vastly more extensive array of duties and cautions. As we go back in time and culture, action becomes more restricted. Where the effects of any line of conduct are unknown, adherence to precedent is all-important; every part of the life must be administered according to a complicated system of rules, while common prudence is considered as inseparable from religious obligation.

The following section presents us with interesting material, in the exhibition of ideas and customs which are maintained by children themselves, and which they learn from one another rather than from their elders. It is true that these are of necessity the reflection of the conceptions and practice of older persons; but, according to the law of their nature, it is found that children often exhibit a peculiar conservatism, in virtue of which habits of thought still exercise control, which among men and women have been outgrown. This is illustrated in popular games and songs which children have orally preserved; and the same is true of their superstitions. Women, especially, who may peruse this collection will be surprised to find how many of the items here recorded will seem familiar, and at the same time to have received credence; in the case of a particularly clear-minded person, free from any disposition toward credulity, nearly a hundred of these superstitions were remembered. The ideas in question, perhaps at no time more than half believed, have frequently altogether faded into oblivion.

Attention should be paid, also, to the imaginative power of the youthful mind, and the manner in which beliefs are visualized, and appear as realities of perception. To illustrate this principle have been included a few examples belonging rather to individual than to general opinion. The little girl who without any direct instruction imagines that the light of the heaven gleams through the orifices we call stars, who sees celestial beings in meteor form winging their way across the skies, or who is surrounded by the benevolent spirits which her discriminating education, banishing the terrors of the supernatural world, has permitted to exist for her comprehension, illustrates that readiness of fancy and control of vision by expectation which belongs to humanity in the reverse degree of the reflective habit. Herein childish conceptions and vivacity of feeling represent the human faculty which education may control but cannot obliterate.

Beliefs relating to the influence of physiognomy present us with a very limited anthology of popular ideas, which in elaborate developments have been expanded into pseudo-sciences, and fill whole libraries of learned misinformation. These notions may be divided into two classes. On the one hand appear indications founded on natural analogies, as when we still speak of close-fistedness. On the other side, many of these associations are arbitrary, as when the study of spots on the nails is supposed to give means for determining future fortune. Such conclusions depend partly on the correct opinion that in the cradle lies the future man, with all elements of his complex nature, and partly on external marks, the interpretation of which is purely arbitrary.

The chapter on "Projects" presents the reader with a class of usages, sufficiently foolish when considered in themselves, but none the less demanding attention, as exhibiting, in full energy, the survival, at the end of the nineteenth century, of the practice of divination. It is true that these attempts to forecast the future are commonly made in a sportive manner and only with partial belief, being now for the most part reduced to social sports. They belong also almost exclusively to the female sex, who by way of amusement still keep up rites which are to determine the future partner in life. Yet that these observances were formerly performed with sober forethought may be seen by the superstitious character with which in retired districts they are still invested; it is likely that in this limited field we have the final echoes of ceremonies employed to determine action and to supply means for the estimation of every species of good or evil fortune. Among these customs a considerable part may be of relatively recent origin, but a number are undoubtedly ancient.

Particularly remarkable is the word by which in the English folk-lore of America, at least, these practices seem to have been popularly entitled. Dictionaries give no aid in explaining the signification of the word "project," here used in the sense of a ceremony of divination. I cannot offer any explanation as to the probable antiquity of the term; neither middle-Latin nor Romance languages seem to offer parallels. One might guess that if all were known, the use might be found to proceed from the special language of mediaeval magic or astrology (perhaps mirror-divination).

With practices of this sort has been connected an incident of colonial history. During the accusations brought against alleged witches of Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, the chief agents were a group of "children" belonging to a particular neighborhood of that town. It has been asserted that these young persons, previous to the outbreak of the excitement, formed a "circle" of girls in the habit of meeting for the purpose of performing "magical tricks" (to use a phrase employed by Cotton Mather), and that it was experience so acquired that fitted them for the part afterwards played in the trials. This statement has been repeated by so many recent writers as to become a commonplace of accepted history; it would seem, however, that the representation depends on the invention of a modern essayist, who transferred to the colonial period ideas derived from his acquaintance with the phenomena of contemporary spiritualistic seances, and that the habit of "trying projects," no doubt universal in colonial times, had nothing to do with the delusion in question. (See note, p. 153.)

Ancient popular divination would, as a matter of course, have taken a ritual character, and been associated especially with particular seasons. It is therefore more than an accident, that many of these harmless observations seem especially connected with Halloween. The Day of All Saints, of which name our English title is a translation, precedes that of All Souls; for the institution and significance of both the church has its explanation. Yet this account is not the correct one: these feasts descend, not from any Christian ecclesiastical ordination, but from an ancient festival of the dead; they represent the survival of a celebration which probably consisted in the bestowing on the departed, after the ingathering of the harvest, his share of the fruits of the ground, conveyed by direct material administration. That at such a period spirits of the dead should be supposed to walk the earth, would be a matter of course; in early time these would be conceived as returning in order to behold and join the sacred dances of the tribe. Accordingly, there seem to be indications showing an original association of some of these usages with the lower world; such may be the significance of the backward movement, or the inversion of garments, occasionally recommended. In order to put one's self in connection with the world of darkness, it is essential to reverse the procedure which is proper for the realm of light. This principle, appearing in mediaeval magic, could also be illustrated from savage custom. It can hardly be doubted that the limitation of such forecasts to the field of choosing partners for life is but a survival of an older practice, in which divinations of fortune in other directions also were sought; on the day sacred to the dead, it may be that the latter, as having power and knowledge, were invoked to act as illuminators. The stress laid on dreams appears to imply a practice of evoking spirits, whether of the deceased or of the living.

In the division entitled "Love and Marriage" we are dealing not with ceremonies, but "signs;" in the former case a voluntary action is implied in the consulter of fate; in the latter, the subject is passive. The word "signs" is a popular term for omens of any kind; in this case we cannot be in error in seeking a Latin derivation, signum being classically used in this sense. Here, again, the prognostics in question are respected only by women, and at the present time, with but a light admixture of genuine credulity, unless among people of secluded districts, retaining old-world notions. Foolish as are these ideas of sequence, they indicate a habit of association anciently prevalent, which in early times had the most serious consequences.

The gathering of expectations relating to "Wishes" shows that the name and idea of folk-lore must not be limited to primitive beliefs, or to the ideas of uneducated persons. The assumption that an occurrence, neither unusual nor characterized by any correspondent quality, may promote the fulfilment of a contemporaneous desire, illustrates the arbitrary nature of a considerable part of this lore. Nevertheless, it cannot be doubted that many of these beliefs, if they could be followed back to their origins, would be found to exhibit some process of consistent though erroneous reasoning, as exhibited in the case of wishes made with reference to the state of the moon, hereafter to be mentioned. It is also to be observed that prayer to the evening star forms a feature of the usages in question.

Of dreams we are presented with a series in some degree representing their function in surviving belief. The comparison of these with dream books, still sold and used, and with a more extensive collection of superstitions, retained in this and other continents, would no doubt offer curious results. At present attention may be called only to one remarkable trait, namely: the interpretation of dreams by contraries. This practice I conceive to be altogether modern, and to have resulted from the extension of scientific culture, which has lead to the discredit of more direct explanations. So far as I am aware, dreams in literature, ancient or mediaeval, are always presumed symbolically to represent the future, and to be capable of straightforward interpretation.

The usages of folk-medicine form a wide subject, which would occupy many volumes such as the present; a mere bibliography of the literature could not be included in the number of pages here allowed. The gleaning, also, is in this case very imperfect; the greater number of such "Cures" would fall in that part of the subject here omitted, relating to the function of animals and plants. In this field, conceptions formerly operative have not yet disappeared; "the doctrine of signatures," that is to say, the rule that the healing object is indicated by its resemblance to the organ affected, has scarcely passed into oblivion, while popular systems of treatment are still based on rules not essentially different. In addition to this guiding idea, an exorcistic method has survived; in our folk-lore is retained the removal of the trouble in virtue of its transfer to another place or person. Especially in the significant case of warts, such rule of early medicine operates with full force. Here, as in other instances, the obscure influence of suggestion plays a complicated part; belief in the efficacy of any system of treatment appears sufficient to promote its effect. These charms are perhaps sometimes effective, even although no conscious attention is paid to the process; but to enter on this field would be foreign to the present discussion. It is sufficient to point out that in popular belief the preservation of the theory goes hand in hand with the survival of the practice.

Weather proverbs form an extensive body of popular observations, here only partially recorded. From the psychologic point of view, the principal interest attaches to the mental causes of these prognostics. Collectors have generally assumed that in this field experience is at the basis of a great part of the alleged knowledge. It may be so with a few of the simpler signs; yet, even in respect to these, great diversity is visible. In general, I should myself attach small importance to this consideration. Remarkable in man regarded as an intellectual being is the variation to be observed in the effect of experience. In certain relations of daily life the savage is as quick to learn, and as accurate in his judgment, as civilized man; mention need only be made of his skill in the hunt, and his intimacy with the forest. But under complicated conditions, whenever this action falls outside of daily habit, he appears incapable of profiting by observation; on the contrary, it is usually imagination which dictates presumed experience. The latter rarely corrects a superstition; as already remarked, discovery of error in the application of inherited theory is applied only to increase the complexity of the formula. Not until the existence of a means of record, and the formation of a body of observations capable of methodical arrangement, is an erroneous belief superseded, when the true causes of the events become manifest; of this principle ideas respecting the weather constitute good illustrations.

Students of this collection will be surprised by the number and vitality of formulas and beliefs relative to the moon. It is probable that the majority of the readers of the male sex will have no other associations with the newly born moon than that poetic sentiment which delights in the vision of the faint sickle silver through the twilight; if they possess any further association with the planet, it is likely to be no more than a vague dread of the effect of its radiance falling on a sleeper. Women, on the contrary, will remember that the moon should be first seen not "full face," but "over the the[TN-1] right shoulder;" they will be aware that with such vision may be united a wish, to which jesting fancy assigns a probability of accomplishment. But these, also, will be surprised by the discovery that lunar divination is maintained with profound seriousness, and that the honor paid to the orb is nothing else than a continued worship, still connected with material blessings expected from its bounty.

This record reveals the central principle and natural cause of moon worship, by making clear the effect still ascribed to the variation of the luminary. It is the night which is especially the season of primitive worship; from times long antecedent to written history, as well among the lowest savages as among tribes possessing the beginnings of civilization, changes of the starry heavens have been the object of devout contemplation and of reverent study. To the watcher it is the rapid growth of the lunar crescent that is the most distinctive feature of differences between the nights, an alteration which could not but be supposed to exercise control over human and animal life. According to natural processes of thought, it was inevitable that during the time when it so rapidly increases, and becomes dominant in the sky, the principle of growth should appear to prevail; and on the other hand, that the time of lunar diminution should be the season of decay. Hence the conclusion, probably prevalent in all times and countries, that designs and undertakings which expect increase should belong to the new moon, and that only operations which aim at the annihilation of existence should be carried on during the waning quarter. In Hellenic antiquity, the dark of the moon is mentioned as the suitable time for magical operations; for such, no doubt, as were concerned with a forwarding of life. Our collection exhibits the full survival of the usage and theory. It is the new moon to which is dedicated the money that under its expanding influence will be sure to multiply; it is at such time that the seed is to be put into the ground. On the contrary, the abolishment of pests and diminution of objects in which shrinkage is desired may be obtained by connecting these with the waning sphere.

Lunar change has had an important connection with ancient myth as well as with primitive ritual. For the reason indicated, the crescent was assigned as an emblem to goddesses of growth. This ornament passed from Cybele and Diana to Mary; as on the vault of St. Mark's the Virgin wears the starry robe of the earlier goddess, so on garden walls of Venice she stands crowned with the crescent, in the same manner as the divinities whom she has superseded. In this connection is especially to be considered the habit of personification implied in our English rhymes. Of late, the doctrine which perceives in myth a symbolic expression of the forces of nature has fallen into comparative discredit, a contempt explicable in view of the unscientific manner in which "sun-myths" have been exploited; our English sayings, therefore, are to be received as a welcome demonstration that one must not proceed too far in his attitude of doubt. If the popular mind, to-day, and in a country particularly accessible to the influences of modern culture, worships the personified moon, it may be considered as certain that antiquity did the like. Mythology is woven out of so many strands that goddesses like Artemis and Diana may have been much more than lunar personifications; but I think it can scarce be doubted that in a measure such they were.

There is to be noted a most important characteristic of modern superstition, namely, that the original usage, and also the primitive theory, has sometimes continued the longest, because founded on the broadest and most human foundation. The modern survival exhibits those fundamental conceptions out of which grew the complicated rites and elaborate mythologies of ancient religions. In this manner, as from a height of observation, we are able to look back beyond recorded history, and to trace the principles of historic development. So may be elucidated problems which neither metaphysical speculation nor historical research has proved adequate to expound. Comparative study of folk-lore has placed in our hands a key which ingenious theorists, proceeding with that imperfect knowledge of antiquity which can be gathered from books, have lacked, and for the want of which they have wandered in hopeless error.

In modern folk-belief the influence of the sun is less directly apparent. The custom of saluting the rising orb, with which the day was once begun, or of ascending high places where the benediction of the luminary could be obtained, and the direct reverence to solar rays belonging to all primitive life, survives only in the vague symbolism which, until very lately, has caused churches to be built on hills. But a single essential feature of sun-worship still survives, not only among ignorant and isolated peasants, but in the households and among the matrons of educated English-speaking folk. To this significant relic, so far as I know, Mrs. Bergen has been the first to direct attention. That the sun moves in a particular course must have been one of the first observations which primitive man made in regard to the movements of celestial bodies. His cardinal rule being to perform everything decently and in order, it followed that the precedent set in heaven was to be imitated on earth. In any operation for which success must be sought, progress must be sun-wise; the reverse order could be suitable only for operations of destructive magic, tending to undo natural sequences. Nevertheless, even primitive man has a passion for originality, a desire to obtain peculiarly intimate relations with nature, which may be to the advantage of his own people; probably from this consideration certain American tribes have reversed the ceremonial order, so far at least as to make their processional movements in the opposite direction; but our modern customs or household life show, among the ancestors of English folk, that the sun-wise circuit entered not only into the religious life, but also mingled with and directed the most ordinary actions. Little does the modern housewife, who in beating the egg instinctively stirs her spoon in one direction,—a form of movement usually recommended by no conscious association of ideas,—imagine that in the method of her action she is bearing testimony to the deepest ethical and ceremonial conceptions of remote ancestors; yet there can be no doubt that such is the case. Here also prevails the remarkable principle to which attention has already been directed. The mythology of the ancient worship has perished, but the notion which inspired the ritual practice has survived; sun-worship is thus shown to have been characteristic of our forefathers, as indeed, in all probability, it was an original feature of primitive human life. In this case, also, could we go back a little way in time, we should probably find a conception of the sun as a personal being united with usages arising from contemplation of this path.

It is always found that especial conservatism attaches to customs and ideas associated with death; the disinclination to exercise independent thought on a subject so serious leaves the field open for the continuance of ancestral notions and practices. It is therefore natural that the volume of superstition associated with the end of life should only be paralleled by that connected with the marriage relation. A vast number of actions and experiences still pass as the "signs" of approaching departure. As in omens generally, the prevailing principle is usually the effect of association of ideas; the shock to the nerves consequent on the imagination of the occurrence is, in the popular fancy, inseparable from belief in its reality. Hence the general tendency to insist on euphemistic speech, the required abstinence from unpleasant suggestions, the favete linguis of the Roman. In this body of deeds to be avoided, ancient and modern notions are interwoven. One must not pass under a ladder, for a ladder is used in modern executions; one must not carry a spade through the house, for with a spade is dug a grave. More in accordance with fundamentally human ideas, the delicate rose of fall presages the untimely waning of a youthful life. As with all superstition, the sign is not merely the prediction of an event; it is felt that as the avoidance of the omen would be to escape its consequence, so the careless action, in becoming the presage of calamity, is likewise its cause. Here appear natural antinomies of human thought: on the one hand, the sense of the inevitableness of the designated fate; on the other hand, the consciousness of ability by altering conditions to change conclusions. Thus the thoughts and actions of primitive man are inspired by the same contending intellectual forces which in later time appear under the guise of warring philosophies.

Still more remarkable are the remains of world-old usage, wherein may be remarked tendencies which have formerly been expressed in elaborate rituals. In customs relating to death, a controlling feature is that sense of individual possession which has been prevalent from a time antecedent to the rudimentary beginnings of civilization. To early man, doubt is but a change of state; the head of the household, in his place, be it the tumulus erected for his shelter, be it the distant land to which his spirit has been transported, holds the same rights and is entitled to the same privileges which on earth he enjoyed. His wives, his slaves, his steeds, his arms, are his own,[TN-2] property, which none dare meddle with, inasmuch as the departed, now more than heretofore, has the power to enforce his title. In a measure, therefore, these possessions must accompany him on his voyage, and remain with him in his new abode. But this deprivation is too great: in the natural course of things, the living cannot waive so much and continue to live. A part is given for the whole; substitution takes the place of direct offering. The dead is no more to be received among the living, bringing with him, as he does, a claim on other lives; by many methods, by concealment, placation, substitution, ritual exile, he must be banned to the place where only on occasions he may be sought and consulted. One of these methods of avoidance is the habit of making the return of the funeral procession so intricate that the spirit may be deceived in its attempt to retrace the route; it is perhaps a consequence of this manner of thought that even now, in retired districts, it is held unwise for the mourners to return on the same path by which they proceeded.

These usages change their character, inasmuch as the original intent of ceremonial actions being forgotten, acts intended to secure more practical ends are performed in order to correspond to supposed obligations of decency. Such is the case with the arrangement of the chamber of death, with the stoppage of the clock, of which traces are found in customary usage; so it is with the inversion of garments, of which also in our lore traces seem to linger. Different, perhaps, is the idea underlying the covering of the mirror; indications show that the practice was once extended to all objects in the room, which formerly seems to have been draped with white cloth. The object appears to have been to protect domestic objects from the contamination caused by contact with the dead, which would protect them from subsequent employment by the living, who otherwise could not with safety associate themselves with the other world, just as even at the present time it is not held lucky to wear the garments of the departed. In the same manner the Mosaic law commanded the Israelite to cover, at the time of death, the vessels used in his tent. It has been remarked that white, and not black, is the proper color for such drapery. The association of white with the dead, as the hue of mourning, is ancient; it appears to me that the idea of ritual purity, expressed by the color, is at the bottom of the custom. In Hellenic times white continued to be the hue most closely associated with the dead, albeit black, as the sign of melancholy, was also introduced. The character of funeral rites, from Western Europe to Japan, exhibits a similarity which, in my judgment, is to be explained only on the supposition of very early and long continued historical contact,—a contact otherwise demonstrable.

On the other hand, a world-old custom, which may be set down as human and universal, dictated, and among all nomadic peoples continues to dictate, the abandonment of any habitation in which a death has occurred. The obvious motive is expressed in a surviving superstition that a second decease is likely to follow a first. Death, naturally impersonated and identified with the spirit of the departed, will return to the place where he has once made himself at home, and in which he has proprietary rights. This idea constitutes a superstition which stands directly in the way of progress; thus the Navajo refuses to build a house, which at the first mortality among his family it would be necessary to desert. The cause of the general custom is to be sought, not in any sanitary principle, but in the associations explained, acting with superstitious force. In the course of time and with the advance of culture such desertion is no longer possible, and some means must be found by which the requirement shall be evaded; the desired escape is effected by such alterations as shall vary the character of the mansion and indicate it as a new place of abode, not subject to the perils of the home invaded by death.

The remarks which have been offered are presented only by way of suggestions which could be indefinitely extended. To construct a commentary on the body of beliefs presented in this volume would be an enticing but a laborious task; such notes, also, would far exceed in volume the compass of this work. Besides, as originally remarked, the present collection contains but a part of the volume of surviving superstitions. For these reasons, it will be possible to proceed no farther.

In commending this collection to the attention of psychologists, and to the continuing industry of students of folk-lore, I need only express my hope that it may be sufficient to make clear how far-reaching are the studies for which folk-lore supplies material. The history of religion, the theory of mythologies, cannot afford to overlook modern popular beliefs, in which ancient conceptions appear as still effective. In the same way, archaeology, regarded only as the investigation of monuments and literatures, and dissociated from the observation of continuing human life, is devoid of inspiration and vitality. These studies, when accompanied with disregard of the existing world, and indifference to the fortunes and relations of humanity as a whole, remain not only incomplete, but positively misleading, and devoid of their best claim on respect and attention. It is to be hoped that this interesting collection, made under so many difficulties, will have a useful effect in helping to emphasize this truth, and to render obvious the possible uses of traditional information.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS., Dec. 24, 1895.




1. The bairn that is born on fair Sunday Is bonny and loving, and blithe and gay. Monday's bairn is fair in the face, Tuesday's bairn is full of grace, Wednesday's bairn is loving and giving, Thursday's bairn works hard for a living, Friday's bairn is a child of woe, Saturday's bairn has far to go. Massachusetts.

2. Monday's child is fair of face, Tuesday's child is full of grace, Wednesday's child is sour and sad, Thursday's child is merry and glad, Friday's child is loving and giving, Saturday's child must work for a living; But the child that is born on the Sabbath day Is blithe and bonny, good and gay. Baldwinsville, N.Y.

(Some put it, Sunday's child shall never know want.)

3. He who is born on New Year's morn Will have his own way as sure as you're born.

4. He who is born on an Easter morn Shall never know want, or care, or harm.

5. A child born on a saint's day must bear the saint's name. It is unlucky to take away the day from it. Catholic superstition.

6. Thursday has one lucky hour, just before sunrise, for birth.


7. If a child cries during baptism, it is the devil going out of it. Niagara Falls, Ont.

8. It is lucky for the child to cry at baptism, but unlucky for the godmother to wear mourning.

9. If twins are brought to baptism at the same time, christen the boy first, or else he will have no beard, and the girl will be beggared.


10. An open hand in a baby is a sign of a generous disposition, but a habit of closing the fingers indicates avarice, or, as we say, closefistedness. Cambridge, Mass.

11. If a child "favors its father," it is good luck for it. It will get on well in the world. Salem, Mass.

12. A baby that has two crowns will live in two continents or kingdoms. Massachusetts.

13. A double crown on the head means that the owner will "break bread in two kingdoms." Northern Ohio.

14. "Two crowns will never be satisfied." This is a sign of a very changeable disposition. Chestertown, Md.

15. A baby born with a veil over its face has good luck. General.

16. A child born with a veil over its face will never be drowned. Many sailors are known to wear the caul, with which they were born, about the person as a charm against death by drowning. Sailor's superstition.


17. Take the baby first into the sunlight on Sunday. Put it into short clothes and make all changes on that day.

18. To make a child rise in the world, carry it upstairs (or to the attic) first. Mifflintown, Pa.

19. The baby must go upstairs before it goes downstairs, or it will never rise in the world. Massachusetts.

20. To be a bright baby, it must go up before it is carried down, and it must be bumped to the attic roof for luck. New England.

21. A young baby was taken up a short step-ladder by its nurse before being for the first time carried downstairs lest it should die before it was a year old. Holyoke, Mass.

22. A child will have a nature and disposition similar to that of the person who first takes him out of doors. Georgia.

23. The first time a baby is taken out of its room, it must be taken up, or it will not go to heaven. If the door of the room steps down, then the person carrying the baby must step up on a chair or book with the baby in her arms. North Carolina.

24. Let the baby have or touch the thing he starts after on taking the first step, and he will always get what he wishes. If it be the moon, then let him touch something light, on which its light shines.

25. When taking the child into your arms for the first time, make a good wish for him; if you give him his full name and he opens his eyes and looks at you (answers to his name), it is good luck.

26. To be a bright baby, it must fall out of the crib before it is eleven months old. Brookline, Mass.

27. If a baby does not fall out of bed, it will be a fool. Eastern Massachusetts.

28. A child's tumbling out of bed is a sign he will never be a fool. Maine.

29. To drink water out of a bucket which is being carried on a child's head stops its growth. Virginia.

30. To step over a young child stops its growing. Virginia.

31. About 1860 the Alabama negresses believed that if any one stepped on their pickaninnies it would dwarf them.

32. Pass a baby through a window and it will never grow. South Carolina.

33. Do not go for the first time into the room where the infant is without removing the veil and gloves.

34. If the "cradle cap" of a baby be combed with a (fine?) tooth comb, the child will be blind. Labrador.

35. A baby should not look into a glass before it is a year old; if it does it will die. Deer Isle, Me.

36. Hold a baby to a looking-glass, he will die before he completes his first year. Massachusetts.

37. If you let a child look into a looking-glass before it is a year old, it will cut its teeth hard. Baltimore, Md. (negro), and Virginia.

38. It is bad luck not to weigh the baby before it is dressed. When it is first dressed put the clothes on over the feet instead of the head for good luck.

39. The common nurse has an objection to weighing a new-born baby.

40. Always give a baby salt before it tastes aught else. The child will not choke, and in general it is a good thing to do. Mansfield, O.


41. If a child cries at birth and lifts up one hand, he is born to command.

42. If the baby smiles in its sleep, it is talking with angels.

43. If a baby yawns, the sign of the cross should be made over it that the evil spirit may not enter. Niagara Falls, Ont.

44. While tying on a baby's cap repeat,—

Look up there and see a fly, Look down there and see it die.

Its chin will follow the direction indicated, and the tying is hastened. Brookline, Mass.


45. First a daughter, then a son, The world is well begun. First a son, then a daughter, Trouble follows after. Maine and Massachusetts.

46. First a son, then a daughter, You've begun just as you oughter. Brookline, Mass.

47. Rock a cradle empty, Babies will be plenty. Peabody, Mass.

48. Rock the cradle empty, Have children a plenty, Rock the chair empty, Have sickness a plenty. Nashua, N.H.

49. To rock the cradle when the baby is not in it will kill it. New York.

50. If the empty cradle be rocked, the baby will have the colic. New York and Ohio.

51. The first time a baby is taken visiting, if it is laid on a married couple's bed there will be a baby for that couple. Salem, Mass.

52. The mother who gives away all the clothes of her dead baby will eventually be comforted by the coming of another child.

53. However many children a woman may have, the last will be of the same gender as the first, and they will look alike. Maine and Massachusetts.

54. One article of an unborn infant's wardrobe must be left unmade or unbought or the child is liable not to live. Salem, Mass.

55. A baby's nails must not be cut with scissors before it is a year old; it will make it steal. North Carolina.

56. To cut a baby's finger-nails deforms it; if the baby is a month old, to do this will cause the child to have fits. Georgia.

57. To allow a child to look into a mirror before it is a month old will cause it trouble in teething. Georgia.

58. Tickling a baby causes stuttering. Georgia.

59. If an infant be measured, it will die before its growing time is over. Georgia.




60. A child to whom is told any story which he considers remarkable will usually reply by an expression of skepticism, such as: "Really and truly?" "Honestly?" "Earnest, now?" or, "You are fooling." The first speaker answers by some formula or asseveration, as, "Honor bright" (New England); "Deed, deed, and double deed" (Pennsylvania); "True as I live," or, "Hope I'll die if it isn't so," or simply, "Hope I'll die." General in the United States.

61. A formula of asseveration in Maryland and Pennsylvania is, "I cross my heart," accompanied by the sign of the cross.

62. A sign resembling that of the cross is made on the chin or throat. "You won't tell?" "No." "Well, cross your throat." Cambridge, Mass.

63. When a child wishes to make an asseveration, he wets his finger on his mouth and signs a cross on his throat. Salem, Mass.

64. In asseveration, the proper method is to use the words, "Hope to die if I don't," the speaker drawing the forefinger across the throat from ear to ear. Biddeford, Me.

65. Asseveration in Maine and Massachusetts is often made by the following formula. First boy: "Honor bright?" Second boy: "Hope to die." First boy: "Cut your throat?" Second boy draws finger across throat. This is the strongest possible form of oath that can be taken by a boy.

66. Little girls, without any idea of the meaning, employ the following formula of asseveration:—

Certain, true, Black and blue.

A variant of the first line: "Certain and true." Massachusetts.

67. A form fuller than the preceding:—

Certain, true, Black and blue, Lay me down and cut me in two.

68. A boy who desires to tell an extravagant story without being guilty of a lie would point with his thumb over his left shoulder. If he should succeed in accomplishing this without the observation of the boy to whom he is talking, so much the better. Biddeford, Me.

69. "In my school-days, if a boy crossed his fingers, elbows, and legs, though the act might not be noticed by the companion accosted, no blame was attached to the falsehood." New York city.

70. The addition of the words "in a horn" justify a falsehood. In the childhood of the informant, it was not considered honorable to express the words in such manner that they could not be heard by the child with whom conversation was carried on. Cambridge, Mass.

71. In making a false statement, it was proper to say "over the left." This was often uttered in such manner that the person addressed should not perceive the qualification. Or, the statement would be made, and after it had been taken in and believed, the words "over the left" would be added. Ohio and Cambridge, Mass.

72. A formula for making a false statement: "As true as I lie here," said, as one fools, gives free scope to white lies. Roxbury, Mass.

73. An imprecation of children against disloyalty:—

Tell tale tit, Your tongue shall be slit, And every dog in our town It shall have a bit. Ohio.


To "stump" another boy to do a thing is considered as putting a certain obligation on him to perform the action indicated. The phrase is sometimes used, although the person giving the "stump" may not himself be able to accomplish the feat.

74. We used to "dare" or "stump" one another to eat green "chuckcherries." Brookline, Mass.

75. Daring or "stumping" is or has been common among children generally. Sometimes it is to jump a certain distance; sometimes to skate out on thin ice; again, to touch something very hot. Once in Ohio several lads were collected together about a spring. One of them drew a pail of fresh water and by chance brought up a small live fish. One of the boys "stumped" his companions to eat the fish alive, without dressing or cooking. The boys took the "stump," one quickly cut up the unfortunate little animal and each boy swallowed a bit. Often the dare is to eat some very untoothsome morsel.


76. Put a mark upon a paper for every bow you get, and when you have one hundred bury the paper and wish. When the paper is decayed you will find your wish in its place. Cambridge and Bedford, Mass.

77. Children collect two or three hundred names of persons, asking each to give a bow with the name. This bow is expressed after the name on a sheet of paper on which the latter is written by this sign [Symbol: H with slanted cross-bar]. After all are collected the paper is secretly buried face downward, and then dug up after two or three months, when money is sometimes found under it. North Cambridge, Mass.

78. At Christmas or New Year's children, on first meeting, call out "My Christmas-gift," or "New Year's-gift," and the one who calls first is to receive a gift from the other. Mansfield, O.


79. If two persons, while walking, divide so as to pass an obstruction one on one side and one on the other, they will quarrel. Children avert this catastrophe by exclaiming, "bread and butter," which is a counter charm. On the other hand, if they say "pepper and salt," the quarrel is made doubly certain. So universal is the practice that many grown people of the best social class (women) still involuntarily avoid such separation, and even use the childish words. In country towns, when girls are walking with young men, if the latter pass on the other side of the tree it is considered as rude, and as a token of indifference; in such a case one girl will cast a meaning look on her companion as much as to say, "he does not care for you." To use the local phrase, it would be said, So-and-so is "mad" with —— (naming the girl). Massachusetts.

80. In passing a tree in the middle of the sidewalk, children used to pass it on one side going one way and on the other side going the other way for luck. Billerica, Mass.


81. The stars are angels' eyes. Westminster, Mass.

82. The stars are holes made in the sky, so that the light of heaven shines through. "I remember, as a child, that this idea was suggested to me on seeing the effect of holes in the lamp shade. I think, however, that I rather liked to suppose it true and firmly believed in the explanation." Cambridge, Mass.

83. "As a child, I constantly looked into lilies and tulips in the expectation of finding fairies lying within them." Mansfield, O.

84. "I remember that as a child, while walking with a companion, she cried: 'Why, a fairy lighted on my hand!' The child believed that this had been the case." Cambridge, Mass.

85. The children used to fearfully look in the well, and on seeing the reflected face in the bottom, would cry out, "Face in the well, pull me down in the well," and would then run away quickly. Bruynswick, N.Y.

86. At the age of six or seven years, a child, while going to a spring to draw water, saw a little creature with wings fly from one star to another, leaving behind an arc of light. She cried to her aunt: "Oh, aunt, I saw a little gold-boy!" Her aunt, somewhat shocked, rebuked the child, who insisted on the literal truth of her vision. Mansfield, O.

87. Stick your thumb through a knothole and say:—

Old Gran'f'ther Graybeard, without tooths or tongue, If you'll give me a little finger I'll give you a thumb. Thumb'll go away and little finger'll come.

88. Go to the woodpile and say, "Johnnie with your fingers, and Willie with your toes," and something (suthin) will come out of the woodpile and tear off all your clothes (close). Gilsum, N.H.


89. An "eyewinker" placed in the palm of the hand will cause the ferule to break when the teacher strikes the palm with it. Portsmouth, N.H.

90. Pine tar or pitch in the hand will prevent the blows of the ferule from causing pain. (Portsmouth, N.H., sixty years ago.)

Believed by most schoolboys there at that time.


91. At croquet, if your ball was about to be sent flying, the safeguard was to draw an imaginary X with your mallet, saying, "Criss cross." It made your enemy's foot slip, and many a girl would get "mad" and not play, if you did it often. Brookline, Mass.

92. Children believe it is unlucky to step on the cracks in the flagstones, which are believed to contain poison. It is a game to walk a long distance on such stones without setting foot on the interstices. Cambridge, Mass.

93. When children are tired of swinging, or think it is time for the swinger to give way to another, the phrase is "let the old cat die." After this has been said, it is unlucky to quicken the motion of the swing again. General.


94. When a child loses a tooth, if the tongue is not put into the cavity a gold tooth will come in place of it. New York and Northern Ohio.

95. The ideas of children about the significance of color are mixed. Thus in croquet no child (in a town near Boston) would take the red ball, because it was supposed to mean hate. Blue is the favorite color.

96. Red and yellow, catch a fellow. Brookline, Mass. Pink and blue, he'll catch you. Deerfield, Mass. Pink and blue, he'll be true. Deerfield, Mass. Black and white, hold him tight. Pennsylvania.

97. An old superstition which still survives among children is, that if they crawl over an older person and do not crawl back they will never grow again. Haverhill, Mass.

98. "We used always as children to get X's scored with a pin on our new 'village gaiters.' We were told it was to make them safe and take the slipperiness off." Brookline, Mass.

99. Children say that the one who takes the first bite of an apple that is to be passed about for eating will fail in his or her lesson. Chelsea, Mass.

100. Boys believe that they can prevent the stitch in the side which is liable to be induced by running, by means of holding a pebble under the tongue. "I believe I could run all day, and not get tired, if I could hold a pebble under my tongue," said one. Cambridge, Mass.




101. If a person is very handsome, it is a sign that he will have one of the infectious diseases of childhood (measles, whooping cough, etc.) more than once. Massachusetts.


102. Dimple in chin. Devil within. Chestertown, Md.

103. A dimple in the chin is lucky. Some say "it shows you're no fool."

104. A dimple is the mark left by the angel's finger in turning up the face to kiss it when asleep. Pennsylvania.


105. Small ears indicate that a person is stingy. Large ones show that he is generous. General.

106. Large ears are a mark of a liar. Small ears show that one is truthful. Boston, Mass.

107. Long, slim ears are a sign that you will steal. Chestertown, Md.

108. If the protuberance behind the ear is large, it indicates generosity. Massachusetts.


109. Hazel eyes betoken a good disposition. Boston, Mass.

110. If your eyebrows meet, you will be rich. Somerville and Bedford, Mass.

111. A well-known children's rhyme runs:—

Blue-eye beauty, do your mammy's duty! Black eye, pick a pie, Run around and tell a lie! Gray-eye greedy gut Eat all the world up! General in the United States.

112. If the eyebrows meet, one is ill-tempered. General in the United States.

113. If the eyebrows are far apart, you will live away from home; if near together, you will live near home, or at home. Massachusetts.

114. Heavy eyebrows are a sign of long life. Lawrence, Mass.


115. Always keep your nails clean and you will be rich. Peabody, Mass.

116. A white spot in the nail, when it comes, means a present. You get the present when it grows to the end and is cut. Boston, Mass.

117. White spots on the nails of the left hand denote the number of lies one has told. Maine and Central Illinois.

118. Count on finger-nail spots:—

Friends, Foes, Money, Beaux.

Begin with the first nail spotted, and the noun falling to the last nail thus marked gives the sign. Deerfield, Mass.

119. Another formula:—

(First finger) a friend, (Second finger) a foe, (Third finger) a gift, (Fourth finger) a beau, (Fifth finger) a journey to go. Mansfield, O.

An almost identical variant is found in Prince Edward Island.


120. If your instep is high enough to have water flow under it, you are of good descent. Brookline, Mass.

121. A mole on the sole of the left foot means trouble and hardships during life. Boston, Mass.


122. If there is a blue vein in the child's forehead extending down upon the nose, it is one of the surest signs of early death. Maine and Massachusetts.

123. Vertical wrinkles in the brow show the number of husbands one will have. Horizontal ones show the number of children. Northern Ohio.


124. Coarse hair indicates good nature; fine hair quick temper. Northern Ohio.

125. Red hair indicates a "spit-fire." Massachusetts and Chestertown, Md.

126. Beware of that man, Be he friend or brother, Whose hair is one color And moustache another. Portland, Me.

127. The color of the hair growing on the neck indicates the color of the hair of one's future husband.

128. A single white hair means genius; it must not be pulled out.

129. If you pull out a white hair, two will come in its place. Somewhat general in the United States.

130. Hair growing upon the upper lip of a woman means riches. Boston, Mass.

131. The point formed by the hair growing on the forehead is called "A widow's peak." Eastern Massachusetts.

132. When a woman's hair parts where it should not, it is a sure sign she will be a widow. Springfield, Mass.

133. Draw a single hair from the head strongly between the thumb and finger-nail. If it curls up, you are proud. St. John, N.B., and Prince Edward Island.

The same result indicates that you are cross. Cape Breton.

134. Hairy arms mean wealth. Northern Ohio.

135. Hairy arms mean strength. General in the United States.

136. Scrape the finger-nail and the thumb-nail along a hair, and if, by the third time, it curls up, the owner is high-tempered. Boston, Mass.

137. Put some of your hair in the fire. If it burns slowly you will have a long life. If quickly, a short one. Chestertown, Md.


138. A straight line in the palm of the hand is an omen of early death. Massachusetts.

139. The letter formed by the veins on the inside of the wrist is the initial of the name of the future husband or wife. St. John, N.B.

140. A person with an initial in his hand will be very fortunate in selecting a companion for life. Alabama.

141. In clasping your own hand, you put uppermost either your right or your left thumb. If the former, you are to rule; vice versa, you yield. Brookline, Mass.

142. If the thumb sticks up in the closed fist, you are either capable or honest, probably the latter, as thieves are said to double theirs in. New England.

143. If you cannot make your thumb and one finger meet around your wrist, you are a glutton. Province of Quebec.

144. If you cannot touch the tips of your little finger and first finger together behind the two middle fingers, on both hands, then you will not marry the man you want to marry. Province of Quebec.

145. Clasp your fingers, and if the right thumb lap over the left you were born in the daytime. If the left overlap, you were born at night.

146. The number of folds on your wrist as you bend your hand shows the number of thirties you are to live. Massachusetts.

147. If the ends of the fingers are capable of being bent far back, it indicates a thief.


148. A mole on the eyebrow denotes that one will be hanged. On the ear it denotes that he will be drowned. Chestertown, Md.

149. Mole above breath Means wealth.

150. Moles on the neck, Money by the peck. Prince Edward Island and Northern Ohio.

151. A mole on the neck indicates that its owner will be hanged. Boston, Mass.

152. A mole on the side of the neck means a death by hanging. Central Maine.

153. A mole on the arm indicates riches. Boston, Mass.

154. Mole on your arm, Live on a farm. Alabama.

155. A mole on the arm means that you will fight many battles, and will be very successful in them. Prince Edward Island.


156. A vein across the nose is an omen of short life. General in the United States.


157. A broad space between the teeth indicates a liar. Biddeford, Me.

158. Broad front teeth mean that one is generous. Biddeford, Me.

159. A space between the two front upper incisors signifies wealth. Mansfield, O.

160. If the front teeth are wide apart, it means one can't keep a secret. If overlapping, one is close-mouthed. Boston, Mass.

161. Do not trust people with pointed teeth. Chestertown, Md.

162. If you have a space between your teeth, it is a sign that you will die of consumption. Baltimore, Md.

163. A lump (enlarged papilla) on the tongue is a sign one has told a lie. Mansfield, O.



Love divinations or love charms, I have found, are popularly known as "projects" in parts of New England and on Mt. Desert. On Prince Edward Island and in various parts of the Canadian provinces the practice of such divinations is usually spoken of as "trying tricks." If a number of young people are together, one will say, "Let's try tricks." In the Middle and Western United States the usual colloquial expression for these love divinations is "trying fortunes." One girl will say to another at some appropriate time, "Let's try our fortunes."


164. Eat an apple at midnight before the glass, saying,—

Whoever my true love may be, Come and eat this apple with me,

holding the lamp in the hand. The true love will appear. Winn, Me.

165. Throw a whole apple-paring on the floor, after swinging it three times around your head. It will form your true love's initial letter. General in the United States.


166. When eating an apple, snap it with the fingers and name it for a person of the opposite sex. Count the fully developed seeds (all of the others are kisses), and the last one must correspond to the following formula:—

One's my love, Two's my love, Three's my heart's desire. Four I'll take and never forsake, Five I'll cast in the fire. Six he loves, Seven she loves, Eight they both love, Nine he comes, Ten he tarries, Eleven he goes, Twelve he marries. Thirteen honor, Fourteen riches, All the rest are little witches. Baldwinsville, N.Y.

Some change the latter lines of this formula into

Thirteen they quarrel, Fourteen they part, Fifteen they die with a broken heart.

167. Similar rhymes commonly repeated in northern Ohio, after naming an apple and counting the seeds, are,—

One I love, Two I love, Three I love, I say. Four I love with all my heart, And five I cast away. Six he loves, Seven she loves, Eight they both love. Nine he comes, Ten he tarries, Eleven he courts, And twelve he marries. Prince Edward Island and Mansfield, O.

168. Lay in the hand four apple-seeds and have some one name them, then pick them up, saying,—

This one I love all others above, And this one I greatly admire, And this one I'll take and never forsake. And this one I'll cast in the fire. St. John, N.B.

169. A love divination by way of apple-seeds, much practiced when a number of young people were spending the evening together, or perhaps by grown-up boys and girls in district schools as they ate their noon-day lunch about the stove, was as follows:—

Two seeds were named, one for a girl and one for a young man, and placed on a hot stove or in front of an open fire. The augury, concerning the future relations of the young people was derived from the behavior of the two seeds. If as they heated they jumped away from one another, the two persons would become estranged or their friendship die; if the seeds moved nearer together, marriage was implied; if the one named for the girl moved towards the other, it signified that the young woman was fonder of the young man than he was of her, and so on. Northern Ohio.

170. "A common project in my girlhood was to place an apple-seed on each of the four fingers of the right hand, that is, on the knuckles, first moistening them with spittle. A companion then 'named' them, and the fingers were worked so as to move slightly. The seed that stayed on the longest indicated the name of your future husband." Stratham, N.H.

171. Name apple-seeds and place on the lids of the closed eyes. Wink and the first to fall off shows the name of your future husband. Winn, Me., New York, and Pennsylvania.

172. To name apple-seeds, put one on each temple, get some one to name them, and the one that sticks the longest will be the true one.

173. Name apple pips, put them on the grate, saying,—

If you love me, live and fly; If you do not, lie and die.


174. Kiss the baby when nine days old, and the first gentleman you kiss afterward will be your future husband. New England.


175. Go upstairs backward, into a chamber backward, and into bed backward. Drink some salt and water, and if you dream of some one bringing you drink it will be your future husband. Maine and Salem, Mass.

176. The first time two girls sleep together let them tie two of their big toes together with woollen yarn, and the one with the shortest piece of broken string left attached in the morning will be married first. Northern Ohio.

177. If two girls on sleeping together for the first time tie their waists together with string or thread, and the thread gets broken in the night, the first man who puts his arm round the waist of either will have the first name of the man whom that girl will marry, whether that man is the one or not. Province of Quebec.

178. After getting ready for bed in silence, take a ball of string and wind about the wrist, repeating,—

I wind, I wind, This night to find, Who my true love's to be; The color of his eyes, The color of his hair, And the night he'll be married to me. Chestertown, Md.

179. Name the bed-posts for four different men. The one you dream about you will marry. General.

180. The first time you sleep in a room name the corners each with a different (man's) name. The first corner you face on waking indicates whom you will marry. (New England.) The same thing is done with the bed-posts in Ohio.

181. Put four names of boys on four slips of paper and take one blank slip. Intermingle them, and then without looking at them put one under each leg of the bed and one under the pillow. The name of the last will be that of your future husband. Franklin, Mass.

182. Rub the four bed-posts with a lemon and carry the lemon in the pocket the next day, and the first man you speak to you will marry. New Hampshire.


183. Read the third verse of the third chapter of Hosea, Joel, and Amos for three Sundays in succession, and the first gentleman you walk with you will marry. Nashua, N.H.

184. Put the end of a key in the Bible, on the verse of Solomon's Song reading, "I am my beloved's and he is mine;" close the book and bind it round with string or garter, each girl supporting the key with the first finger of the right hand. One of them repeats a verse to each letter as the other girl names it, beginning the alphabet, till it turns at the initial of the future husband or lover. General in the United States.

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