Thursday, October 30, 2008
Dead men’s shoes
The ancient Egyptians inhaled the fumes from their burning sandals as a cure for headaches. This might not have been such a strange custom since their footwear was made from materials containing natural salicylates. No one is quite sure why the left side should be associated with bad luck but during the Middle Ages shoes were very expensive and it was 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 hence the phrase was thought to imply prolonging the success and good fortune of the predecessor to the successor. “Dead men’s shoes” would be another reference to inheritance probably highlights the corollary. Several foot and shoe superstitions relate to death. In days prior to funeral parlors, dead people were laid out in the house and dressed in their best clothing including shoes. Often the dinner table was the only suitable flat surface and shoes on the table came to represent death. Shoes placed on a table were thought as a bad omen with either a quarrel in the house, or a thunder storm the likely outcome. 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 will avoid pointing their feet (when sleeping) or store unworn shoes directly facing outward toward a door. This was 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 too was a sign the owner was dead and the phrase ‘hang your boots up” may be a euphemism for death. 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. It maybe to the superstitious every abandoned shoe had a story to tell about its owner. Separation might infer violence and infestation confirm a final insult. Storing shoes is couched with care and superstitious people never store footwear higher than their head nor keep them under the bed for both bring 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. We are particularly vulnerable in the bedroom which is the inner sanctum and where we recharge our chi when sleeping. The yin (quiet and peaceful) of the bedroom should outmatch the yen or presence of powerful chi if we want to sleep peacefully. By the same token stored shoes in close proximity may have held 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. During antiquity it was a common practice to bury dignitaries with their funeral footwear so as to protect their loved ones on the final journey to the “Here after”.