Saturday, May 20, 2017

Feet, Shoes and Superstition : Getting married - Stockings, garters and avoiding the Evil Eye

In the North of England, an old custom at the end of the wedding ceremony was for male guests to rush at the bride to the alter and remove her a chivalrous garter, a symbol of her purity. In the panic this usually meant the bride was knocked over and trampled on. Gradually manufacturers made garters easier to detach and finally to avoid threat of injury, brides tossed their garters towards the groom’s men at the end of the ceremony. This custom may also relate to flinging the stocking.

In the past it was common practice in many countries for the wedding couple to be escorted to their wedding chamber by their family and guests. In many cultures the mutual divesting of intimate apparel such as stockings was considered to represent the couple’s sexual commitment to each. This was celebrated by the bride throwing (or flinging) the stockings in the direction of the expectant crowd. This may be the origin of throwing a posy to the brides-maids. Catching the garter (males) and posie (females) is generally taken as a sign of who will be married next.

In pagan times (pre-Christian) people relied on ritual and lucky talisman to bring good fortune. The coming of modern religions like Christianity saw massive inclusion of pagan ritual into new religious ceremonies which was a deliberate attempt by the Church to encourage people to become part of the new religion. The amalgam of the secular (worldly) and religious beliefs is now almost impossible to separate. Bridal wear of today does however, contain remnants of ritual and superstitions although most people are unaware of their meaning. The more common amulets (ornaments) and traditional accents of the bride’s ensemble are known to represent merriment, virginity and abundance. Traditionally brides wore a chivalrous garter (for safety), an heirloom (usually a brooch) meaning innocence, and silver buckles on her shoes (for prosperity). These were lucky talisman to ward off the Evil Eye.

Read more
Getting married: “Something old, something new”
Getting Married: Shoes and Wedding Superstitions

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Feet, Shoes and Superstition : Spookie Tales: Footprints and concealed shoes

Practitioners of Black Magic manipulate the course of nature by controlling supernatural forces through ritual and spell. The intent to do harm to others is enhanced by sympathetic magic which treats an image such as sticking pins into a doll; contiguous magic deals with things the intended victim has touched. Clothing, hair, toe nails and especially footprints are considered valuable prizes.

Many cultures are sensitive to the power of the footprint and consider it as an imprint of the sole. Those who control the footprint control the sole. Spooky is it not? The foot is the only part of the human body to be in contact with Mother Earth, and as such, is considered to have many mystical associations.

Woman of the American Indian tribe, Zuni, keep the soil of their husbands' footprint where they sleep believing this will dampen their spouses ardour thus ensuring their fidelity. Others take the earth footprint and hide it in an attempt to protect their men folk from harm.

A common practice in the Middle Ages was to leave an old shoe in the roofs and fireplaces of houses during building work, as a primitive form of protection against evil spirits. The shoes were traditionally believed to take on the essence of the wearer.

No less than the Masonic Order uses reference to an old shoe as part of its symbolism to depict the Mother Lodge (and it is a female shoe).

Footwear also appears prominently in many marriage rituals. In the Middle Ages, for instance, grooms kept their feet on their brides shoes to assure a lifetime of compatible and productive physical union. This reference remains with us today, with the car of the bride and groom traditionally decorated with old shoes and tin cans. The shoes were a guarantee of a happy (and fertile) life, with the noise of cans to fend off ill-wishers and evil doers. French brides still keep their wedding shoes as a good luck charm.

We have all heard the nursery rhyme.

"Something old, something new,
Something borrowed, something blue,"

but many people are not aware the traditional rhyme finishes with the line

"and a lucky sixpence in her shoe."

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Feet, Shoes and Superstition : Fending off the Evil Eye

The Evil eye is found in nearly every culture with the earliest reference found in the cuneiform script of Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians, around 3000 BC.

The ancient Egyptians used eye shadow and lipstick to prevent the evil eye from entering their eyes or mouths. Both the Old and New Testaments mention the evil eye. Superstitions surrounding the evil eye strongly persist in Mediterranean countries. The deliberate use of the evil eye was thought to produce misfortune such as illness, poverty, injury, loss of love, or even death. The power of the evil eye was so greatly feared in the Middle Ages, witches had to walk backwards toward their judges.

Almost anything could cause the notion someone possessed an evil eye. Observed looking at children or livestock prior to illness or death was definite confirmation to the superstitious. Strangers were viewed with great suspicion and anyone with unusual characteristics such as eye colour or physical disfigurement like flat feet were in danger of being classified as evil eyed. Some babies were thought to be born with the evil eye corrupting everything they looked at. These children were referred to as demonically possessed.

The evil eye was likely to strike in good and fortunate times. Many of the family's riches were deliberately hidden from children just in case they gave them the evil eye. Likewise, success was never bragged about. Animals thought to be under a spell were referred to as "blinked".

The community sought help from their wise elders in matters of the evil eye, and amulets were commonly used in antiquity as protection.

In Roman times the phallus was used as protection from the evil eye. Today Italian men still hold their genitals as protection from evil or any misfortune. Another name for Priapus was Fascinus and some referred to the evil eye as fascination.

Spitting is thought to be a powerful aversion to the evil eye. Frogs and horns were common shapes used by witches. Horse brasses on the harness were thought to protect from the evil eye as was tying ribbons on children's underwear. Garlic and the shamrock have also been used as a protection and many gardeners plant jack beans around their gardens to the same effect. Hindus believe barley can help and represented a symbol of thunderbolts of Indra.

Other cures against the evil eye included reciting incantations usually passed down from mother to daughter within the family. Suspicious Italians put a few drops of olive oil in a bowl of water (occasionally salted) The oil would either scatter into blobs or sink to the bottom. The final formation is interpreted to determine the source of the attack. Once complete more oil is added to the water while reciting the incantations and making the sign of the cross on the victim's forehead. If this fails a powerful sorceress is sought for a more effective cure.

In the New Year, many cultures believed the first foot to cross the threshold brought the house good fortune for the coming year. "First footing" is an ancient custom and tradition demands the first person to pass the threshold must be a sonsy (trustworthy), a stranger of dark complexion and full head of hair, carry a lucky talisman. It was considered very unlucky to have a first fit who was a person with fair complexion. Suspicious people refuse to leave their home until they were first footed. 'First footing’ were used to ward off the Evil Eye.

Reviewed 31/01/2016

Friday, May 12, 2017

Feet, Shoes and Superstition: Origins of which shoe to put on

There is no surviving artefacts or descriptions of Jewish shoes from the period of the early Bible (Nahshon 2008 p2). However footwear does hold an important significance to early Israelites. According to the Scriptures, God gave man a ‘coat of skins’ to wear.

"...Unto Adam and also unto his wife did the Lord God make clothes of skin and clothe them..." (Genesis 21:3). Once the Hebrews acquired the art of tanning they used thick hide for sandals. The Biblical sandal was either leather or wooden footboards held to the foot with finer leather thongs Nahshon (2008).

The lyric in the Song of Songs (circa 900 BCE ) confirms sandals were worn by the high born.

"How beautiful your sandaled feet, O prince's daughter! Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of a craftsman's hands.” (Song of Songs 7:1).

One of the earliest known depictions appears on the Assyrian Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III (circa 841 BCE) and depicts Jehu (son of Omri) bringing a tribute the Assyrian king. Jehu is prostrating himself in homage and is depicted wearing up-turned pointed shoes. These were fashionable with Assyrian royal families and may not be representative of ordinary shoes worn by Jews.

By the 8th century BCE concerns were expressed by elders as to the irreverence of decorated elevated sandals worn by young women. (Isaiah 3 16-20).

Later during the period of captivation in Egypt, Jewish slaves were taught the craft of Egyptian sandal making and took the trade with them. The fleeing slaves wore sandals (Ex 12:11).

"This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight. It is the Passover of the LORD.”

According to the Holy Scriptures Moses wore shoes when he approached the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:5).

"Remove your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground."

This was repeated again, at the confirmation of Joshua as the new Moses.

'And the captain of the LORD's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot: for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.'
Josh 5:15

Possibly the first shoe miracle to be described was in Deuteronomy 29:15

“During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet.”
Hence forth footwear and bare feet took on major symbolic significance in the Jewish religion. These are seen in the Torah , (Laws of Moses) and the Shulchan Aruch, (Code of Jewish law) which was written in the 16th century. Every day event were to be seen as something to worship the glory of God including putting on sandals.

The Jewish laws prescribed the order in which you put them on. The right went on first followed by the left. (Shulchan Aruch/Orach Chaim 2:4). The left shoe was to be tied first and the whole process reversed when taking the shoes off (Shulchan Aruch/Orach Chaim 2:5). It is thought this custom was based on the belief the right side was more important than the left and subsequently the right foot should not remain uncovered while the left was covered. Shoes were tied from the left because knotted teffilin was worn on the left arm. This refers to the children of Israel being out of Egypt as an act of God. When walking outdoors, Jews were required to cover the entire body including their feet (Shulchan Aruch/Orach Chaim 2:6).

By the end of the first century CE shoes were considered an item of sensuousness, comfort, luxury and pleasure.

Rabbi Akiva (ca.50–ca.135 CE) instructed his son Joshua not to go barefoot.

In the Talmud (200CE – 500 CE) (Shabbat 129a) it declared "A person should sell the roof beams of his house to buy shoes for his feet, " which if taken literally would again underline the importance of footwear in the Holy Land. Scholars and those well versed in Jewish Law (Talmid Chacham) were never to go out wearing shabby or worn out shoes. Much later the Kabbalists considered the body as "the shoe of the soul," to protect it during its journey in the physical world.

According to Nahshon (2008) the primordial connection of the naked or semi naked foot to the land became an important element of Israel’s Zionist pioneer culture. Walking barefoot symbolically intimated one of three states: the lack of social status, an act of humility, or reference to the Divine. A common punishment or judgment was being forced to go without shoes.

'At the same time spake the LORD by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.'
Is 20:2

Captives went barefoot and their footwear was often taken as a trophy.
'And the men which were expressed by name rose up, and took the captives, and with the spoil clothed all that were naked among them, and arrayed them, and shod them.'
2 Chron 28:15

The Jewish custom of not wearing shoes was also taken as a show of remorse, penance or mourning (Book of Isaiah 20:2). In Talmudic times both the pall bearers and the mourners went barefoot. When David was in mourning he went barefooted.

'And David went up by the ascent of mount Olivet, and went as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot'
2 Sam 15:30

Jewish Law determined wearing leather shoes was not permitted during the period of the seven days of mourning (shiva,). For practical reason when shoes were allowed the custom was to place a little earth or pebble in the shoes to remind the wearer that they are in mourning. Jews are buried in a shroud covering the feet and the corpse is never dressed in leather shoes.

In the laws of halitzah when a married man died childless and leaving an unmarried brother, the brother was obligated to marry his widowed sister-in-law. This was called a levirate marriage and was primarily to continue the family linage.Deuteronomy (25:5-9); and Book of Ruth 3:4. If the brother in law refuses to marry the widow a ceremony involving the halitzah shoe was undertaken. The shoe worn on the right foot of the male was made from the skin of a kosher animal. It was like a moccasin made of two pieces and sown together with leather threads with long ties. The widow places her left hand on the brother in laws calf, then undoes the laces with her right hand before removing the shoe from his foot. She then throws it to the ground, and spits on the ground in front of him. The beth din (rabbinical court of Judaism) then recites the formula releasing all obligations. Here the shoe is a symbol of transaction and reference is made in Biblical times to shoes and sandals being used to seal bargains.

Human beings intrinsically used their bodies (or parts there of) as physical measurement of the known universe and so it would see perfectly logical to extend this to describe all human endeavours. The idea our ancestors described the universe with reference to the human body would give credence to the argument when describing faith there would be a head of a religious order; and feet, or the foundation of followers. This would translate into concrete iconoclasts as found in talisman of faith e.g. Statue of Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro. The absence of sophisticated transport in Biblical Times required walking as the primary means to spread the Gospel. By implication this would necessitate healthy feet and encourage protection of them. No surprise, perhaps to find reference to feet and sandals became closely associated with evangelism within in the New Testament.

Nahshon E 2008 Jews and shoes Berg Oxford.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Feet, Shoes and Superstition : Miniature Shoes: A prized gift

Giving miniature shoes is an age old custom. In antiquity funereal jars were made in the shape of boots and were kept as keep-sakes in memory of the dearly departed.

By the late 18th century in England, Prince Frederick Augustus (Duke of York) got engaged to Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherina (1767-1820). Frederica was no raving beauty and had rotting teeth but the lady had dainty feet which captivated the Prince who wanted her to have special bridal shoes. The royal shoe maker was consulted and six new pairs of tiny shoes were promptly made.

At the time newspapers were unable to comment upon the beauty of the royal person so instead heaped praised upon the charm of her "neatness" and petite shoes. However, as a result of the media interest copies of her purple leather shoes (13.97 centimeters long), sold in their hundreds and miniature replicas became a must to have. Miniature shoes were made of silver and porcelain and many were used as pin cushions.

The popularity of all things oriental saw miniature porcelain lotus shoes as keep sake in many European houses. The gift of a miniature shoe was generally well-meaning and the sign of real friendship.

After George du Maurier (1834 – 1896) published the novel Trilby (1894) it had enormous success. The story involved an Irish girl who goes to Paris during the Belle Époque. There she falls under the control of Svengali (evil hypnotist). One of Trilby’s eccentricities was to flash her bare feet in public. At the time this was considered as rude as baring bear bosoms or flashing a bare bottom. The popularity of Trilby (novel and play) became international and caused public riots wherever the play was performed (because of the barefoot flashing). This caused the fashion for foot and shoe shaped objects such as snuff containers and hip flasks to become a gentleman’s must have accessory.

By this time the miniature shoes had taken on a more risqué meaning. Miniature tight laced ladies’ boots or even a full leg were popular hip flasks and snuff boxes. Foot shaped sausages and ice creams became a real novelty which attracted much attention among those familiar with the book and play. It is reasonable to assume the same population were familiar with Freud’s Castration Theory.

The tradition of giving a shoe to mark the completion of a business deal dates to Biblical times and supplies the origin to the custom of the bride’s father passing a shoe of his daughter to the groom. This marks the exchange of fiscal responsibility. In the past brides were considered property. Today the custom is still followed more usually in the form of a miniature shoe . As gifts these are good luck charms.


Finally, there is a superstition to not give shoes to friends at Christmas time. The belief is the friend would walk away from you. The origins are unknown but in less enlightened times it was understood whatever station you were born into was your destiny and helping people rise above this was not the right thing to do. The belief may have come from the wealthy classes who lived in abject fear of being overtaken by the lower classes.

Reviewed 29/01/2016

Feet, Shoes and Superstition : Concealed shoes

Hiding artifacts like shoes in certain parts of buildings is thought by many to ward off evil spirits. Some speculate the tradition comes from a very old custom of killing someone then placing their body in the foundation to ensure the building holds together. A common belief is because old shoes keep the shape of the wearer's foot, they trapped the spirit of the deceased and so were strategically hidden near openings where spirits could most easily gain access and lurk with menacing intention e.g. doors, windows, chimneys etc. This practice was widespread in Europe with more than a thousand concealment shoes, some dating back to the fourteenth century, reported in Western Europe alone.

Many of the concealed items found have been children's shoes, or clothes. Experts believe these were chosen because the power and innocence of the young were thought hold over evil. The common belief was the personalized items acted as a defiant, and permanent, reminder to the spiritual world, of the primacy of human beings. Shoes are not the only personal items found hidden in old buildings and these include: coins, spoons, pots, goblets, food, knives, toys, gloves, and pipes.

Concealed shoes are typically well worn and often found as single shoes, very rarely in pairs. More left shoes have been found than right and no one is sure of the significance although, some believe it may be the heart side which is important. More female shoes have been found. No contemporary reference in diaries etc., has ever been found to where the shoes are concealed and many believe to communicate this information would in the minds of the occupants reduce the power of the item and risk the Evil Eye. Others feel contemporary writers did not describe it since superstition ran counter to prevailing religious beliefs and the Puritans punishment of witchcraft and magic was well-known. Some speculate the tradition of hiding shoes was a male preoccupation and kept secret almost out of fear that talking about it would reduce its effectiveness. Shoes finds in older buildings were not restricted to the UK and are regularly reported across Europe, North America and Australia.

In Snowdonia Wales, building contractors working on the external walls of a 400-year-old cottage in Nant Gwynant, recently discovered nearly 100 single shoes hidden beneath the fireplace of a chimney stack. The house was built during the 17th century and is one of the oldest buildings remaining in Nant Gwynant. Experts believe the find could form “the largest collection of concealed footwear ever discovered in the UK. There are over 1,000 recorded concealed shoes which have been found in the UK and the earliest dates back to the 14th century. A collection of 100 concealed shoes is kept at the Northampton Museum where an index is kept to record all UK finds.

In North America concealed shoes have been reported in New England, but there have also been finds of buried shoes as far south as Virginia and far west as Missouri. A treasure trove of old shoes was found hidden in the house walls of two buildings in Wayland, Massachusetts. A rare of a baby's shoe was reported when an 18th century house was being demolished. The ankle high white shoe was discovered in a wall with some small wooden toys and ears of corn. Since 1750 the house had undergone many additions and experts remain unclear whether the shoes were hidden at the time the original house was built or in a later renovation. Others finds include a toddler's shoe built into the wall near a downstairs fireplace in another house . Hidden with it was an old sleigh bell.

Hidden in the walls of a Gettysburg dormitory was a man’s boot made from calfskin leather and estimated to be 160 years old. The boot had a square toe and thin sole. The boot was cut neatly in half, and determined to be deliberate and made before the hand-sewn boot was concealed within the wall. Other similar finds have been discovered elsewhere but scholars are unable to explain why these boots were cut in half. Crews working to convert the 180-year-old Schmucker Hall, a former dormitory at the Lutheran Theological Seminary , into an interpretive museum found the cut shoe which was one of four with the oldest dated to the 1830s. Workers also discovered letters to Civil War soldiers and glass sarsaparilla bottles.

Ian Evans is an Australian historian and collects examples of concealed shoes from across the Big Brown land. Evans has reported over 130 sites across Australia, from bridges and houses, to prisons where shoes and other clothing have been concealed and believes many more items, possibly thousands, remain hidden in the country's older settlements.

In the south east pylon of the Sydney Harbor Bridge someone left a child’s shoe in an access tunnel, not far from the Opera House. Evans believes this was concealed by a builder or stonemason in order to protect the structure from evil forces. In the 1923 when the Bridge was build young children did not work on the project and the shoe was new and of high quality, suggesting it was planted there deliberately.

One other remarkable example in Australia was found at an isolated 19th century country house in Western Creek, Tasmania. At first the owner found a single shoe in an attic space and dismissed it, thinking it may have been a rat or possum that dragged it into its lair. Then when he found a further 20 shoes hidden in other hard-to-get-at locations behind walls, up chimneys, and in attic spaces he realized this was more than coincidence.

The Northampton Museum keep a concealed shoe index and are keen to add to the index. The Museum requires the following information:

Address of building
Date of the building if known and date of any alterations / building work
What the building was / is such as a private house, pub, farm etc.
Where it was found within the building
Note if anything else was found with it
Description of the footwear
Date of the footwear
Images of the footwear in situ

Further Reading
Cameron E., Swann J., Volken M., and Pitt F. 1998 Hidden shoes and concealed beliefs Archaeologoical Leather Group Newsletter 7 February 1998, 2-6.
Dinah Eastop Deliberately Concealed Garments Project Making sense of garment concealment
Dixon-Smith D 1990 Concealed Shoes Archaeological Leather Group Newsletter Spring No6 pp2-4.
Kennedy D 2012 Concealed shoes: Australian settlers and an old superstition BBC News Magazine
Mackay A 1991 Northampton Museums Concealed Shoe Index Archaeologoical Leather Group Newsletter 7.
Swann, J. 1969. Shoes concealed in buildings. Northampton County Borough Museums and Art Gallery Journal, 6, December 1969, 8-21.
Swann J 1996 Shoes concealed in buildings Costume, Number 30, pp. 56-69(14)
Ralph Merrifield, The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic , B.T. Batsford Ltd., London, 1987

Reviewed 28/01/2016