Folklore we shouldn’t forget

Or, our ancestors were perceptive and we shouldn’t forget the folklore that they have passed down to us.

I”m having a lovely discussion with a friend about Appalachian folklore. We both have Appalachian ancestry (for me, it’s my maternal side) and there is a whole slew of folk sayings and beliefs, weather omens, charms, ways to protect the home, protect the land, keep oneself safe that were passed down. I never thought about most of it before. These were just things tucked away in my memory, some of which I put into play in my regular life as a matter of course. Unless otherwise noted, these are Appalachian or PA Dutch (the places where my bio mom’s line is from).

I’ll give you an example. My grandmother used to keep Dannon yogurt cups of red vinegar around the house. I’d come across a cup sitting on a bookshelf, or on top of a cabinet. (That it was in Dannon yogurt cups was not important. I note it only because as a three or four year old, I drank one, thinking it was a weird kind of yogurt and got very sick). It wasn’t until I was an adult and many years into my own practice that I discovered this was a 19th century spiritualist’s trick to keep the home free form negative spirits. I realized my grandmother must have learned it from her aunt Catherine, who was known for being able to clear a home of anything malignant or foul and who was deeply ensconced in spiritualism.

I was eating out with a friend the other day and I put my keys not the table and she quietly put a napkin under them. I looked at her and she said, “it’s a Ukrainian folk custom. Putting keys directly on the table is bad luck.” ok. filed under things to remember. Keys have certain connotations in Norse practice. I won’t be putting them on the table again. I might not understand why these things came into being, but it costs nothing to be careful. Keys represent luck and wealth after all.

When walking with a friend avoid letting any post or pillar separate you. It can cut the friendship–to cure this, say to each other “Hello for a hundred years.” Similarly, if someone gives you a gift of a knife, give them coins in return or it can cut the friendship.

From my Jewish friend Hal: the first person to visit your home on New Year’s Day should, before entering, toss a handful of coins across the threshold so that your coming year will be filled with luck and wealth.

If you are traveling and just cannot find your way, and you’ve been going in circles and it almost seems like something perverse is misleading you: turn your clothes inside out. It makes you invisible to any fair folk who might be messing with you. (I’ve done this and it works).

From my Ukrainian friend again: pin safety pins on your clothes somewhere. It wards off evil. (probably functions in the same way the nails in a witch’s jar do to pierce and attack evil spirits).

Someone told me that dreaming of bees was a sign of good luck. I’ve never dreamed of bees though.

Red Sky at night: Sailor’s delight; Red sky in the morning: Sailors take warning. (No idea where I learned this).

If someone praises your baby, esp. your baby’s beauty, spit on the baby. It wards off the evil eye. (I don’t actually advocate spitting on children lol. Put an evil eye charm like a blue eye pendant or something on the kid and keep him or her away from outsiders to avoid the praising).

When drinking alcohol of any kind, pour a little bit on the ground in offering for the spirits (land, ancestors, wandering dead? doesn’t specify. It’s polite though so why not?).

Another Ukrainian one that we do in my house: put the broom bristle side up. Brings good luck/drives away bad luck

Here’s one that’s Appalachian and PA Dutch: throw salt over the left shoulder to ward off the devil (not sure WHEN you’re supposed to do this, but it’s a very popular one and salt does cleanse and protect).

If you walk between two poles that run electricity, you’ll get sick (Ukrainian).

*whew*! that’s all I can think of at the moment — I need to get going with studying–but, please please feel free to post your own folk sayings and customs here. I would love to know what practices have crept into your lineages that y’all know of or maybe even maintain.

About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on August 23, 2021, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. An item you tend to see in the Old South which consists of Georgia, Mississippi (where I grew up), Carolinas and Virginia, is called a Bottle Tree. It’s either a small waist high tree found in nature (nowadays they are made of metal wire) and have colored glass bottles stuck on the branches (I’ve seen one where small colored glass bottles hung like Christmas ornaments). It’s origin goes back to the days of Slavery. The belief was that evil spirits would become trapped in the bottles at Night and when the Morning sun hit the colored glass, the spirits would be destroyed.

    Here’s a website giving the history of Bottle Trees by Felder Rushing, a Mississippi man who has made gardening and gardening advice, his living for many years and is considered a State Treasure. http://www.felderrushing.net/BottleTreeImagess.htm

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    • ganglerisgrove

      YES! I meant to mention this but got distracted. I”m in the midst of constructing one. One can also hang cobalt blue bottles from one’s porch for protection. I’ve done the same with Holey stones (stones with a natural hole).

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    • GA here, and besides the bottle tree, you see a lot of porches painted “Haint Blue.” It’s a sky blue, came from the Gullah culture, and keeps evil spirits from entering your house (it confuses them).

      Sure wish I could remember all the little things my granny did/told about now. I can remember bits and pieces, but not enough to put it all together cohesively. Something about not sweeping/vacuuming under someone’s feet – I think it had to do with marriage, though (my memory is shit, but I think she said if you let someone sweep or vacuum under your feet you’d never get married/have a bad marriage).

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  2. Throw the salt over your left shoulder, if you spill it.

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  3. ganglerisgrove

    Also, signs that someone has sent a hex or curse against you: milk unexpectedly curdles (key here is unexpectedly), hair and thread tangles beyond the norm, things keep breaking to the point of nearly flying off the shelves, bread won’t rise…(when all this happens at once, I go to divination asap).

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    • The very things you mentioned are all typical of Daoine Sidhe mischief. There’s lots of protection charms for all sorts of household tasks/items in Irish & Scottish traditions. Giving them a placatory offering (such as cream) is a good idea, in addition to protection.

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      • ganglerisgrove

        We make monthly offerings to the fair folk as a matter of course — but yes, these are also signs of Daoine Sidhe mischief. When all that happens at once, I have a whole list I go down lol. the first time it happened all I could think was ‘holy shit. that old wive’s tale is true. Damn.”

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