Sunday, 27 October 2013

Some Irish Superstitions – Part 2

“Come out of your Celtic Twilight kids.”
- Suffocate, Noel Brazil

Much as I love the music and lyrics of Noel Brazil, particularly when sung by Christy Moore, I don't really want to come out of the Celtic Twilight.... at least not yet. There is something too compelling and fascinating about Irish superstitions - as long as you either take a magical view of them or don't take them too seriously.

More often than not, superstitions are seen as quaint, misguided and limiting beliefs cobbled together by our rather unintelligent ancestors who simply didn't know any better. Most people think they are rather stupid and without relevance to our modern world, but I'm not so sure. I don't hold a linear view of evolution.

N.B This blog follows on from my earlier posting on Irish superstitions gathered in the 1970s by my aunt. You can find the earlier post here:-

I hope you enjoy this additional cornucopia of Irish superstitions. Here goes:-

“When visiting a new home or entering a home for the first time in a New Year you should take a lump of coal, a loaf of bread and a container of salt.”

This is really just an example of sympathetic magic – suggestive that the home owner will never be cold, never hunger and will always experience a life full of savour. I've known a number of people from a range of ages in both city and country who have continued this old tradition into the 21st Century. While it’s a bit of fun for all involved, it also has a smidgeon of practicality to it. We all need toast to soak up the alcohol the morning after a heavy New Year's Eve party ...

“If a door to your house opens of itself, you must say “I command you to get out!” and clap your hands together three times.”

This ensures that any banshee who has entered  your house without permission will depart and leave you and your household alone. It is also a great way to get some quizzical looks from guests and family members. From a magical perspective, this can be seen as an assertion of control over a situation you are unsure of. The impact of a clap, a knock or a knell made with intent is a powerful thing. The number three could be seen as the Trinity or the Triple Goddess.

Now on to life's sharp things.

“If a pair of scissors or two knives fall on the floor between two people they will soon have an argument.”

One can't help but think of the symbolism exemplified in one of the more esoteric interpretations of the suit of Swords in this superstition. It may of course also signify the ensuing arguments - “that just missed my little toe you clumsy butterfingers” or “now look what you've done, there's a huge hole in the new oak flooring.”

On a similar theme:-

“If you ever give a present of scissors or a penknife, you should also give a coin alongside your gift.”

I've heard a range of views on this ranging from the coin being to pay for the first sharpening of said blade, to it being payment to keep the sharp bits well away from the giver! The argument also goes that this way you can avoid any potential conflict and bad feelings that may arise from “giving a friend a sharp thing” and all that signifies …. at least for the passing of one lunar month from the date the gift is given.

I once sat in Marshall's Coffee shop in central Belfast overhearing two young teenage girls ranting about one of their boyfriends who had allegedly kissed another girl at a party. She still loved him but wanted him to suffer. The wronged girl finally determined that she was going to “...f**king have it out with him and make the wee b**tard pay.” She went to the cafe counter, took two knives and carefully placed then on the table, one crossed on top of the other, and then stormed off out into the streets. I pity the poor fellow when she arrived and hoped the illicit kiss was worth it. I suspect there is an old superstition in her behaviour with the two crossed knives too but have never been able to find reference to it. There was certainly a primitive power in what she did.

“If you give a purse or a wallet as a gift you should always include a coin or note in it.”

The reason given to me for this is to ensure that the person receiving your present always remains cash wealthy.  Again, we are back to the sympathetic magic bit of the “Golden Bough” kind.

There are some great superstitions for the young romantically inclined to be found in Ireland too. Some of my favourites on this theme are as follows:

“If you wish to know the name of your future beloved, you should carefully pare an apple, ensuring the rind doesn't break. Then with your eyes tightly closed you must twirl the rind gently but purposefully three times in your right hand, dropping it to the floor. The rind will make the shape of the initial(s) of your beloved.”

“If you wish to know whether or not you are suited to your lover in the longer term, you should make an equation of your own name over the name of the lover. Then you should cross out the similar letters appearing in both names. When all the similar letters are crossed out, then those letters left should be asked, “She/he loves me, she/he loves me not?” until you have your answer.”

“If you want to know whether or not your lover really cares for you, you should carefully peel an orange, cutting it from the centre with your thumb nail. If the two ends subsequently join perfectly on completion, then they care deeply for you and will remain true.”

And, last but not least, one of my all time favourites:

“Leaving shoes on the surface of a table inside your house will bring you bad luck.”

I suspect the rationale behind this is that things should never be placed outside their day-to-day use or natural scheme of things. It is certainly not in the natural order for you to wear shoes upon a least that's what my mother always shouted at me. There are also a host of other superstitions along this “natural order” line. These include not putting up an umbrella inside your house, not wearing a hat indoors, never mending or sewing clothes while you or another are wearing them. I suspect this latter one was a precursor of modern day infection control measures. Dear knows where the shoes have been, and, if you are then going to then eat off the table.....yuck. As for that large needle.....ouch......Clearly, the Irish were years ahead of European Health and Safety legislation, or, maybe they knew something we don't.


“I have tried to keep an open mind, and it is not the ordinary things of life that could close it, but the strange things, the extraordinary things, the things that make one doubt if they be mad or sane.”

- Dracula by Bram Stoker

The Springtime of Dion Fortune

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