Rural Superstitions--That superstition exerts a powerful influence over the affairs of mankind may be ascertained by a residence in almost any rural community in the country. It cannot be said that only the ignorant and uncouth classes give credence to dark sayings. There are thousands of persons who do unacknowledged service to the mysterious and unknown, whose training and education have not succeeded in entirely destroying the effect of potencies and charms learned and believed in youth.
It is remarkable how generally superstitious sayings have spread over the country. No sections may claim to be above harboring such beliefs, or rather, practices; for it may not be claimed that all believe in the efficacy who practice and observe certain forms or take cognizance of defined circumstance. Nevertheless, there are, as a matter of fact, few persons who care to pass a pin lying on the ground if the point chances to be toward them. Almost invariably that pin will be picked up.
How many persons will confess to a weakness for seeing the new moon over their right shoulder unobscured by any bushy tree top? A greater number will deny belief in the efficacy who will at the same time confess that they would rather see the moon "right." This remarkable superstition prevails in all parts of the world. Its very universality almost compels belief in its potency.
If one would learn the popular superstitions of any community he must have been reared among the people, for if a stranger were to ask for a list of superstitions prevailing in any one place it is possible no person would recall or make a list of them. They crop out under suitable circumstances and as occasion calls for their observance.
Below are some of the common sayings in a community made up of descendants of Pennsylvania Dutch who settled in the Keystone State shortly after the colony was originated:
If in washing the dishes or in cleaning the table before a meal the cook drops a dishrag someone is coming hungry.
If the dishrag is dropped while washing the dishes after a meal "some slut is coming, if she's not already there."
The crowing of a rooster before the front door early in the morning foretells the visit of a stranger.
If a red bird flits about the yard and chirps merrily a young girl, gayly dressed and light hearted, may be expected soon.
The crowing of a rooster in the night is a sign of hasty news. Thus, many a rooster, by a single crow, has cast a gloom over an entire family.
The howling of a dog at night foretells some dire calamity, such as a tragic death.
The screaming of a screech owl three nights in succession in or about the front yard is a sign that someone in the house is in danger of death. To cause the owl to leave, stick the shovel in the fire.
The crowing of a chicken hen portends bad luck. It always results in the death of the hen without delay, for no good woman would allow a crowing hen to live longer than it takes to cut off its head.
In ironing a garment if the smoothing iron is dropped the owner of the garment will never live to wear it out.
Friday is an unlucky day. If a piece of work is begun on that day it will not prosper and possibly the one who begins it will not live to finish it. It is possibly true that not one woman out of every hundred can be found who would as willingly start a garment on Friday as on some other day.
If the individuals of a hunting party, in crossing a fence, go over the same section luck will be good, but if several sections be crossed the hunt will be a failure.
If in strolling two persons go on opposite sides of a tree, one or both of them will meet disappointment before the day is over.
Looking at a new moon for the first time through obstructions, as through a treetop, foretells misfortunes during that moon. To see it over the right shoulder and in a clear space brings good luck.
The rabbit always carries omens of ill fortune. If you meet him going from home you may look for trouble before you return; if going toward home there will be trouble in your family.
Ashes must not be taken from a fireplace in a sickroom. The deth of the patient will follow. Nor must the bed of a sick person be turned over. It is actually true that this last provision is believed and actually followed in numberless homes where wealth and culture abound.
Kraut is to be made in the dark of the moon if it is to be sour.
It is the height of folly to cut a child's fingernails before it is a year old, for then it will pilfer and steal. The nails must be broken and bitten off.
Potatoes and all roots must be planted in the dark of the moon, when it is decreasing or going down in size; likewise, crops that grow above ground must be planted in the light or increase of the moon.
Hogs must be butchered when the moon is increasing, otherwise the meat will shrivel up and fry away in cooking.
A family must never move except in the light, or increase of the moon. This will secure prosperity and increase of possesssions. They will grow as the moon grows. This is another superstition that is almost general practice in all classes of society. If a child is allowed to look in a mirror before it is a year old teething will be difficult. If a coffin containing a corpse be placed so that it is reflected in a mirror there will be another death in that family inside a year.
The tying of a small sack containing the forefeet of a ground mole assures a full set of pretty teeth. If in teething the child's gums are sore it may be cured with rubbing the gums with rabbit brains hot from the head. Both of these remedies are too commonly practiced to excite comment among the people who observe such things.
To remove a wart from the body steal a piece of bacon, rub the wart with it and then byury it under the eaves. Say nothing about this and the wart will sopon disappear. The writer removed a number of warts from his own hands when a boy by doing this.
A stray black cat in the backyard foretells good luck.
If a woman is making soap and a man stirs it, all will be well and the soap will be fine, but if a woman comes the soap will spoil in the making.
If you sing in bed you will cry the next day. If you sing before breakfast you will cry before night.
If you want a cat to stay at your house, rub its paw on the stove.
To keep a new dog, measure its tail with a cornstalk and bury the latter under the front step.
If you sleep with your feet toward the door you will soon be carried out a corpse.
If an infant is puny and does not grow satisfactory it must be meaured for the "undergrowth." A "pow-wow" doctor, usually a woman, will strip the child, measure a string the same color as its hair, say some "words," bury the string in a secret place and repeat the performance three times. The child will get well. There are dozens of children in a certain Dutch community that were measured in this way and are now pointed to as examples and proof of the effcacy of this method.
In setting out fruit trees a woman must hold the tree while a man sets it and tamps the dirt about its roots. This makes it a sure bearer. This also is practiced in numberless communities.
To kill a toad will cause the cow to give bloody milk.