Thursday, October 30, 2008
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.
Paul is Dead
Puss in Boots