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

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Feet, Shoes and Superstition: The Love Shoe

Women in ancient societies rarely wore footwear and when they did it was the prerogative of the wealthy classes only. In Roman Society the female foot became a symbol of chastity and female shoes were feverishly worshiped by their lovers. According to Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso 43 BC - 18 AD) in his Ars Amandi, the female patricians of Rome confined their feet to tiny shoes in order to encourage amorous attention.

Emporer Lucius Vitellius (15 - 69 AD) was noted on campaigns for keeping a shoe of his mistress under his tunic which he kissed it frequently.

In China by the 11th century and later Spain during the Middle Ages, the foot became a metaphor for female genitalia and was ceremoniously worshiped as the Lotus foot in oriental society; and in occidental Spain, “Beso los pies” (I kiss your feet) became a polite phrase and mark of deep respect which was often used to end a letter. To this day, young señoritas throw their shoes at matadors to win their affection.

Choosing the right partner for marriage was always fraught with problems and people in the past wanted to the help of divination. Strange rituals and odd customs were commonly practiced by our ancestors. Spinsters in Norfolk (UK) wore a clover leaf and these lucky shoes would ensure the young maiden would marry the first single man she met. Hearing the first cuckoo of Spring was often met by girls removing their left shoe in the hope of finding a hair which would be the colour of the person they were destined to marry. A variation on the same theme was when a young woman saw a dove under the light of a new moon, she would recite

“Bright moon, clear moon, Bright and fair,
Lift up your right foot, They’ll be a hair.”

When she removed her shoe she found a hair the same colour as her future husband.

Nineteenth century girls had several rituals they could follow if they wanted to dream of their future lover. Walking backwards towards a pear tree before circling it nine times was thought to give them sweet dreams. Another was to place shoes, one across the other in the form of a "t" and lay them by their bed. Then recite the rhyme.

“I hope tonight my true love to see,
So I put my shoes in the form of a 'T'"

A variation of this was to place the heel of one shoe against instep of the other. To make this particular spell work, the girl had to stay silent for the duration of the night. There is an old recitation with instruction how the maiden can dream of her future husband.

"Point your shoes toward the street; tie your garters around your feet,
Put your stockings under your head, and you'll dream of the one
you're going to wed."

Other marriage divinations required a birthday girl to stand with the back to the door and throw her shoe over her head. The shoe was left overnight unseen then in the morning if the toe pointed to the door this predicted a marriage would take place before the end of the year.

Reviewed 2/09/2018

Friday, August 31, 2018

Feet, Shoes and Superstition : Stepping Out

Traveling in the Middle Ages carried with it many pearls and much store was placed on rituals to protect the vulnerable. An old Scottish tradition was to throw a shoe over the house before embarking on a journey. Wherever the toe pointed when the shoe landed determined the direction the journey would start. The custom’s serendipitous nature might have had a practical use by simply preventing pre-planned ambush as murderous robbery was common. When a shoe landed, sole uppermost this was thought to be a bad omen and alternative plans were made.

A common belief in the Middle Ages was human smell deterred evil workings. People rarely washed and smell of human odour was ever present on clothing and shoes. The practice of leaving an old shoe outside the front door of a dwelling before setting out on a journey was a common practice. A remnant of this custom is seen today in garden ornaments shaped as old boots, often used as flower pots.

Throwing shoes after someone setting out on a journey was thought to bring good luck and reference to this superstition appears in the literature of the 17th century onwards.

"For this thou shalt from all things seek,
Marrow of mirth and laughter,
And wheresoever thou move, good luck,
Shall throw her old shoe after."
Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809 - 1892)

The modern custom of tying old shoes to the bridal carriage or car may be a variation upon this good luck custom. In Transylvania the same gesture was thought to increase fertility. Throwing the shoe was taken to wish the couple a fulfilling life together with procreation being a very important part of that union.

In Latin, ‘conficere’ means to prepare which is a source of the word confetti. In Medieval Italy the custom was to throw sweetmeats (candy) at carnivals but by the 19th century the custom was freely practised in England at weddings and special occasions. Sweets were replaced by paper shapes in symbolic form and colour and shoes were included.

Suspicious travellers were always wary of morning travel with Monday considered a bad to travel. Once started on a journey the first person a traveller met was called the ‘first fit.’ The first fit was treated as an omen for the journey ahead. When the first fit was a red haired barefooted woman then disaster was sure to follow. Flat footed (or splay footed) people were especially bad luck and in Scotland they were called “the ill Fit “or jinxes. Travelers keen to continue with their journey tried to undo impending malice by observing rituals such as drawing blood from the first fit’s forehead which was done in the form of a cross. The alternative was to return home, cross the threshold with the right foot, eat and drink, then set out again.

The fear of flat feet was in part reinforced by a misinterpretation on the Scriptures. In Genesis 1:27, man was described as being created in the divine image of God, early Judo-Christians interpreted this as all men (not women) should be God like. Contemporary artists used idealized and stereotypical forms were used to depict the body beautiful. This was particularly inaccurate in the absence of human dissection. The clichéd Christian foot was well formed with high arch and straight toes. Any misshapenness came to represent all that was evil with a painful flat foot confirmation to the faithful of the presence of God’s wrath.

During the infamous European witch hunts (circa 1450 -1700) tens of thousands of people were executed on the flimsiest of evidence. At trial, confessions by torture, were generally accepted as proof of guilt. Peter Binsfeld wrote the influential treatise De confessionibus maleficorum et sagarum (Of the Confessions of Warlocks and Witches) and it became an authoritative reference on demonic signs which included physical disfigurement. Asymptomatic flat feet were viewed with particular suspicion and following public executions to avoid a peasant revolt based on remorse, authorities searched the bodies post mortem for signs of demonic possession. Post mortem flatfoot frequently confirmed the presence of evil.

Travellers carried talisman for luck and to ward off evil spirits. One quaint custom was to put a fern leaf in the shoes. Ferns had particular significance to early Christians because both the stem and root of the fern are marked with a ‘C.’ However, the special powers of the fern predate Christianity and a pagan belief was fern bloom accidentally dropped on the shoes of a traveller would give them individual knowledge of the speech of animals, birds, trees and bees. In the Northern Hemisphere, ferns blossomed deep in the forest around the Summer Solstice (June 22nd) but only the mature plants gave off golden seed and these were quite difficult to find. Woodman and those more familiar with a very hostile environment were more likely to find the plants so when a layperson happens upon it by chance this was considered a very special event which might only occur only once in a lifetime. When the shoes were removed the magical powers disappeared but if a fern was in the shoe this protected the owner from witches and forest goblins.

Other variations were to sprinkle salt or in the Southern States of the US, small red pepper pods in the shape of a cross were placed in the left shoe or boot for good luck, some authorities insisted before these spells could work the footwear had to be incinerated. Superstitions involving salt date back to Biblical times. It was a highly prized commodity and its presence was thought to keep the devil at bay.

In Mediterranean culture during antiquity walking with one shoe/sandal on and the other off had significant meaning. Men on a quest which involved hazardous enterprises started their journey with the right foot shod and the left, bare and this sartorial code came to represented ‘death or glory’ in Greek Mythology. The downfall of King Pelias was foretold by the presence of a man with one sandal (Jason). Not all cultures share the same beliefs and in North America walking with one boot only was thought to bring as many bad days as steps taken. Waking from sleep with one shoe on and the other off was a divination thought to bring bad luck for a year. Certainly the circumstances with which we might find ourselves waking with one shoe on and the other off might be when we are bent on a task too focused to notice hazardous elements, like unseen furniture. The resultant knock could easily be explained as bad luck. A fashion in the Middle Ages was for male courtiers to wear different coloured tights and corresponding shoes with the common belief wearing unmatched shoes was a sign of good luck.

Reviewed 1/09/2018