Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Festival of the Dead: Trick or Treat ?

The celebration of the dead is found throughout the Celtic world and lasts from Halloween to New Year (Hogmanay). In the old Celtic calendar, New Year fell on the 1st November and was called Samhain. This was an unreal time, when one year turned into another. A twilight zone where spirits of the dead and those not yet born walked freely among the living. It was a time associated with spirits and monsters on the prowl. Many ancient superstitions surrounding Samhain were concerned with the darkness and the evil it was thought to harbour.

The celebration of the dead is found throughout the Celtic and Hispanic world and was traditonaly the time of plenty as the harvast was gathered and the stocks returned from the hills in preparation the severe winter ahead. This was a great time for kinship as the hill dwellers came to 'the gathering.'

Samhain was a time where the darkness of night was thought to prevail over the lightness of day. Lun the Sun God, was defeated by his darker side and became the Lord of Misrule. Good people needed the comfort of their own kind and protection from the evil forces of the dark. Much of the sacred symbolism of Samhain can be found in the customs of Halloween and Hogmanay. Kissing under the mistletoe is thought to be an ancient Druid (Celtic) tradition. Drinking of wassail (alcohol) is another Celtic tradition. The Vikings used to slaughter a boar at Yule time in honour of the god, Freyr.

A common practice among medievil Christians was during certain celebration days to temporarily reverse order. During “All Hallows Eve,” “All Soul’s Day,” and “All Saints Day” for example, the faithful dressed up as saints, angels and demons. Children and poor adults at Hallowmas, went from door to door in disguise (guising) begging for food (soul cake). As they went from house to house they entertained (or mummed) and to ignore them was thought to bring bad luck. Children were likely to play tricks on the less charitable.It has been suggested modern 'trick-or-treating,' evolved from impersonating spirits, or the souls of the dead. A long held belief is souling dressing like the spirits or souls, by itself protects the guiser from evil doing.


"Guising" has long been a Scottish and Irish tradition from the 16th century. The children are only supposed to receive treats if they perform a party trick for the households they go to. In North America, trick-or-treating has been a Halloween tradition since the late 1920s.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Feet, Shoes and Superstition : Skin and toenail superstitions

Superstitions associated with skin and toe nails include avoiding cutting nails on Holy Innocents Day (December 28th).

The moon was considered an important influence in nail and hair growth and if they were to grow strong, nails required to be cut when the moon was on the increase.

To the superstitious the day of the week was also important.

Cut your nails in Monday, cut them for news; (of success)
Cut them on Tuesday for a new pair of shoes;
Cut them on Wednesday, cut them for health;
Cut them for Thursday, cut them for wealth;
Cut them on Friday, a sweetheart to know; (also a good way to avoid neuralgia)
Cut them on Saturday, a journey to go;
Cut them on Sunday, you cut them for evil,
For all the next week you’ll be ruled by the Devil.

A fairly common belief was if you threw toe nail cuttings onto the floor or ground then you would be forced to pick them up when you die.

Picasso kept all hair and nail clippings dated and in a safe place for fear they should fall into the hands of a witch or warlock. Hair, skin and nails make powerful potions which were used against the owner. A popular habit was to burn toe nail pairings for good luck. Corn cutting was similarly ritualized and could only be cut successfully done after the moon is on the wane. Like many superstitious people,

An itching foot foretold a long journey from which the person would derive pleasure (or walk on strange/foreign ground). If it was the right sole, then the person was either going somewhere they would be welcomed; or would undertake a task and be successful in it. The opposite was true for the left sole. Itching feet could also mean a sign of sorrow and some believed it was the forecast of new shoes.

In the Middle Ages shoes needed to be broken in which might mean a sorry situation, also the idea of a new shoe may have related to a recent death in the family. Shoes were regularly bequeathed to relatives and friends.

To stub your toe or stumble means wherever you are going your presence will not be wanted. When you stub your toe, go back over the object and return sucking your thumb while holding the other hand behind your back. It is unlucky to step on a crack in the pavement. Cure rheumatism by keeping salt (or sulphur) in your shoes. When washing your hands and feet in the morning, always dry your hands first and you will never have rheumatism. Never step over another's feet when they are lying on the floor otherwise it is bad luck for both.

It is a good omen if you stumble with your right foot. Keep your fingers crossed after a stumble until you meet a person who passes without looking at you to avoid bad luck. It is also bad luck to catch the heels of someone walking in front with your toes. Tripping over a shoe is bad luck as is walking backwards out of a door.

'There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children she didn't know what to do'

Charles Perrault (1697)

In 17th century fairy tales, such as Tales of Mother Goose, there was implied associations between shoes and fertility but fairy tales are rarely factual instead serve as parodies and metaphors so it is difficult to place store by this. A common custom peculiar to the North of England however was when young women wanted to conceive they wore the shoes of other women who had just given birth with the hope fertility would carry through the shoes. This custom may explain why many virgin brides wore borrowed shoes to the marriage ceremony.

Reviewed 25/09/2018

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Feet, Shoes and Superstition : Shoes laces, wear marks, and odd socks

Shoelaces at first were viewed with suspicion, partly because as a shoe style, the Oxford shoe was a comparative late addition and worn by dandies. In the 17th and 18th century men wearing lacing Oxfords were considered effeminate and laces came to represent a moral decline. This may account for why a broken shoelace was thought to be bad luck.

Real macho men wore shoes with a rose, buckle or bow fastening and although ornate these were reasonable steadfast.

It took sometime before shoe laces caught on as a fashion. From the time of the Romans tripping was taboo and falling over loose laces was taken to represent a disastrous journey ahead. Later, after shoe laces became fashionable and were part of female footwear undone shoe laces took on a lighter meaning and was taken to mean a true love was thinking about them. Shoelaces which worked undone whilst walking confirmed a father’s love was greater than a mother’s. When the right shoe lace came undone then something good was being said about you and the opposite was true when the left shoe lace was undone.

Not only shoes but shoe-wear was thought to hold secrets of divination. It is well established that superstitious people believed wearing soles with holes in would foretell wealth. When shoes were worn under the toes this meant the person would spend money freely.

"If you wear your shoes out on the toe.
You will spend money as you go”

Toe walkers were more likely to wear their shoes frequently and in an area not easily repaired. Mean people were thought to wear their shoes on the medial side whilst extravagant types wore their shoes out on the lateral aspect. These may date back to the time when shoes were very expensive and cobbling was a cheap alternative.

Shoe makers and cobblers would gauge their clientele accordingly.

An old custom for luck was to leave stockings in shoes overnight. A hole in a sock or stocking indicated the arrival of a letter, whereas if a worm were to crawl into stockings this heralded a new pair was forth coming. Wearing stockings inside out was the sign of a present coming but this could also be associated with bad luck. To avoid this fate, you had to spit on the sock after removing it. Similarly, stockings on the wrong feet needed to be removed at noon and the heel spat on.

In Biblical times spitting in the face was an indignity and spitting in the face of evil (bad luck) was a form of breaking the spell. Later in the New Testament, Jesus used spitting to heal.

Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, "Do you see anything?"
Mark 8:23

In Greece it was common to spit to ward off evil spirits and in Scotland people still spit on the Heart of Midlothian, on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh for luck.

(Video Courtesy: PeterPiperPeppers Youtube Channel)

Actual spitting was later replaced with the sound "Ptew" and "Ptew, Ptew mi me matiasis", became a common saying to avoid the Evil Eye. Spitting in the hands is common to many sport related superstitions and is thought to bring luck.

Changing odd socks once on the feet foretold an accident, so superstitious people would keep the wardrobe malfunction. In times gone past when gentlemen made a gift of garters to a lady it was good luck to let them to put them on her leg. During World War II many pilots were reported to have worn lady’s nylon stockings around their neck for good luck.

Reviewed 5/09/2018

Monday, September 3, 2018

Feet, Shoes and Superstition : Occupational Superstitions

An age old Hellenic custom was to burn old shoes, like incense, for luck. In modern Greece, this is still done to prevent naughty goblins from invading the home during Christmas time. Shoes in the Middle Ages were bequeathed to relatives partly because they were costly items but also because they contained the spirit of the deceased. Old shoes were frequently left in the roofs of old houses (concealed shoes) to fend off evil spirits. Superstitious people today still wear old shoes on Friday 13th for good luck.

Despite the ancients practice of burying their loved ones with sandals, By the Middle Ages undertakers were generally reluctant to bury people with shoes on. This may relate to the old practice of grave robbing as many yokels considered shoes taken from a dead man's feet were especially lucky. Some people believed touching the large toe of the deceased would save them from dreaming or being haunted by the ghost or apparition of the deceased.

In Welsh mythology there is a wind of death called the Gwynt-Traed-y-Meirw or “wind blowing over the feet of the corpses," and when it is felt by close relatives of a dying member of the family, it foretells their demise. Undertakers were careful to lay the dead out with their faces to the east for fear the wind from the west would blow over the feet of the corpses and bring a contagious disease into the parish. It is impossible to date this superstition but would appear logical to plague ridden countries with no ability to understand the transmission of disease.

(Video Courtesy: BBC Comedy Greats Youtube Channel)

Actors are very serious about superstitions and take great solace from the sound of squeaking shoes. If their shoes squeak on their first stage entrance, then that is considered very good luck. When they take their shoes off after a performance they hope the shoes fall flat on their soles as this is taken as another good luck omen. Thespians will not allow shoes to be put on a chair in the dressing room because that is considered bad luck.

Back in civvy street, when shoes repeatedly squeak this is taken by all to mean they were not paid for; and are either borrowed or stolen. Miners and fishermen are also very superstitious. Both at the mercy of the elements, everything was done not to tempt fate, so store was placed on foreboding omens. Yorkshire fishermen refused to go to sea if a crew member carried their boots over their shoulders. Boots were always carried under the arm. Fishermen were also spooked if they saw a flat foot print in the sand. Miners would avoid going to the pit if they woke up to find one boot had fallen over during the night.

Every sport has its taboos including playing darts. In England, the popular pub game was fraught with ritual. Many players brought their left foot to the floor marking (or Oche) and for luck, swung it left to right before throwing.

A top class striker in soccer, as in any other similar sport, needs not only to score when the opportunity presents but also when there is only half a chance. Scoring from the slenderest opportunity places an exclusive band of goal scorers far above the average striker. Players are however, by nature, very superstitious and will go to extraordinary lengths to maintain their run of luck. A prevailing belief in the past was new boots needed to fit tightly and many well-known players wore them in the bath before allowing their new boots to dry on their feet.

Team mates are usually respectful of each other's rituals no matter how bazaar they may appear. Ritualistic behaviours usually start days before the game and many well-known players wear certain shoes and socks to the stadium. Some will even have a luck coin or other talisman in their shoe or carry a rabbit’s foot or lucky heather. Players will be careful to travel to the stadium observing all taboos as a means of not tempting fate. Many insist entering the changing rooms by walking through the boot room. The boot room is the epicentre of the club and traditionally where game strategy is worked out. Whether there is a belief that boots have ears and will magically influence the feet to perfect performance or the ambiance from the collected footwear in some way rubs off on the player is unclear. Even the greatest stars will personally polish their playing boots in preparation before a match. Sometimes alcohol (usually their favourite tipple) is dosed on the tips of their boots, for example, one boot is wiped with whisky and the other water.

The most intense time for ritualism is in the changing rooms. Washroom rituals are common but rigidly observed procedures are usually reserved to changing clothes. The manner the clothing is put on often becomes ritualistic. One of the most common superstitions is players not washing or changing their socks. This is frequently extended to not changing underwear. The ritual of putting on socks is common, with the left sock first before the right, or the right boot before the left are all well documented. Lacing boots can also become a ritual with players lacing and unlacing their boots multiple times before the game. Some players are known to put on socks and boots and nothing else well before the game. They sit quietly psyching themselves up to a peak performance. This might involve a nip of whisky or their favourite tipple to further concentrate their mind.

Desmond Morris reported the clothing of others could also become a focus to the superstitious. For example, some players needed to see their coach wearing socks of their lucky colour before they would take to the field. This extended to the shoes worn by the coach and the author described a ceremoniously fastened of the coach's shoe by one of the players as pre-match necessity before the team would leave the dressing rooms.

Bald players are sometimes used as lucky talisman and players will rub or kiss the shaved head of a teammate for good luck. Some players insist on eating just before taking to the field. The late Billy Bremner (former captain of Leeds United and Scotland) was well known for eating a plateful of baked beans just before every game. This was not entirely odd as the beans provided valuable protein and the tomatoes in the sauce prevented build-up of lactic acid in the player’s legs. Some players insist on being the last player out of the locker room when they are preparing for a match. Bobby Moore (West Ham and England captain) simply refused to come out of the locker room unless he was the last player to pull on his shorts before running out onto the pitch.

Even in the tunnel leading to the pitch players are ritualistic, some head or kick the ball a certain number of times or bounce it off the wall before running onto the field. Once on the pitch another set of ritual behaviour might take place. Many players touch the turf before crossing themselves, whilst others jump over the by-line. Players are seen sometimes taking their boots off and putting them back on again. Some even call for a new set of boots whilst others kiss their boots for luck. Players will roll the chewing gum they have been chewing into a ball and attempt to kick the ball and many strikers avoid shooting on goal during the pre-match warm-up. The absence of pockets in playing kits and restrictions on wearing jewellery on the field means much use is made of the boot to house lucky talisman or incorporate the names of their children on the boot (David Beckham)

In the case of the goal keepers their lucky paraphernalia are usually tossed into the back of the goal.

Boxers avoid new boots at a contest.

Gamblers are very superstitious and often wear their winning shoes to play or before they eat.

Reviewed 4/09/2018

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Feet, Shoes and Superstition : Dead men’s shoes

During antiquity it was a common practice to bury dignitaries with funeral footwear on so as to protect their loved ones on the final journey to the “Here After”. In China, between 206 BC and 420 AD, the emperor was presented with a pair of "Longevity Shoes" to wear into the afterlife. All his earthly shoes were burnt after his death and his funereal shoes were made of jade.

In the Middle Ages shoes were very expensive and it was the common practice to bequeath footwear to family members. The phrase "Following in your father's footsteps" was thought to reflect this custom as people believed shoes retained the personal traits of the owner and so walking in another person's shoes prolonged their success and good fortune.

By the 16th century, some medieval Christians gave their unwanted shoes to the poor in the belief they themselves might wear them after death. A common belief was in the afterlife there was a journey to be made over thorns and gorse, the shoes would be returned so they could complete the journey without scratch or scale.

Many fairy tales such as, Puss in boots involved the power of other's shoes which has became a common theme, including the more modern Billy Boots. “Dead men’s shoes” would be another reference to inheritance but probably highlighted the corollary.

Several foot and shoe superstitions relate to death. In days prior to funeral parlours, dead people were laid out in the house and dressed in their best clothing including their shoes. Often the dinner table was the only suitable flat surface in most homes and shoes on the table came to represent death. Shoes placed on a table were thought to be a bad omen which might portent a death in the family. By the same token resting shoes on the table may presage a quarrel in the house, or a thunder storm. In Bengal, a variation on this theme was leaving shoes lying on their uppers would end in a quarrel. When the body was eventually removed it was feet first and superstitious people still avoid pointing their feet (when sleeping), or store unworn shoes, directly facing outward toward a door. This is considered the death position in Chinese, Italian and other cultures.

It was considered unlucky to tie shoes together and hang them from a nail with the toes pointing towards the wall. This was usual in the event of death and the phrase ‘hang your boots up” as a euphemism for death, became common parlance. Shoes hanging from overhead wires today is aerial graffiti indicating the presence of a drug dealer in the near vacinity.

In the past it was a bad omen to see a beetle crawling from a shoe and this was thought by many believers to foretell a death in the family.

To the superstitious every abandoned shoe had a story to tell about its owner.

Storing shoes is couched with care and superstitious people never store footwear higher than their head nor keep them under the bed for fear of bringing bad luck. Slippers and shoes should never be put on the bed for the same reason.

According to traditional Feng Shui, no shoes or slippers should be left lying outside the main door of the house. The chi (energy) rides with the wind and collects all the smells from discarded footwear and carries them into the house causing sickness. People are particularly vulnerable in their bedroom which is the inner sanctum and where they recharge their chi when sleeping. The yin (quiet and peaceful) of the bedroom should outmatch the yen or presence of powerful chi if a peaceful is required. By the same token stored shoes in close proximity in the bedroom may hold the same taboo.

Leaving shoes in the shape of a cross (x) was unlucky and required another person to pick them up if bad luck to the owner was to be averted. The cross is a sacred sign and associated with evil as in crossroads i.e. the devil lurks at the crossroads where people are vulnerable and this may well be the origins of that superstition. Many people no new shoes should be worn at a funeral as this brings bad luck to the wearer. When someone was ill in the house and a howling dog awakened the household it was commonly believed this was bad luck and the only way to reverse bad fortune was to reach beneath the bed and turn over a shoe. This implies the shoes were left under the bed which many believe was bad luck anyway.

After vocal analysis of some Beatles songs at a US college it was claimed the voice of Paul McCartney had changed sufficiently to support the theory he was no longer the same person. Fallacious claims followed, Paul McCartney had died (Paul is Dead) in 1966 and had been replaced by a lookalike. Deliberate or otherwise the conspiracy theory was kept alive by assertions the Beatles had left clues about McCartney’s death and replacement on their albums. These were fervently denied from source but the PID conspiracy continued unabated. Abbey Road album was released in 1969 and the front clover showed all four Beatles crossing a zebra crossing away from Abbey Road Studios, To the conspiracy theorists, they appeared as if in a funeral procession. John wearing white and symbolizing the clergy, is leading the group. Ringo, dressed in black is a mourner or undertaker. George clad in denim working clothes is the gravedigger with a barefooted Paul, the corpse. In the famous picture taken by Iain Stewart Macmillan , McCartney has his eyes closed and is out of step with the other Beatles and leading with his right foot instead of with his left. Paul is also smoking a cigarette or “coffin nail“ and holding it in his right hand despite being left handed. Other clues abound.

Reviewed 3/09/20118

Further Reading
Billy's Boots
Paul is Dead
Puss in Boots