A plethora of mountain superstitions

Charlotte Nolan Comments On

October 2, 2013

Here in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky, we have a plethora of superstitions concerning health, accidents, weather and a host of other things. Of course one of the most common is the belief that carrying a rabbit’s foot in one’s pocket will bring good luck.

Also, a horseshoe hung over the front door brings good luck to the family, provided it is nailed with the prongs pointed upward to keep the good luck from falling out. It’s considered lucky to find a straight pin with its point toward you or to find a four-leaf clover.

On the other hand, if a black cat crosses one’s path, it portends bad luck in the near future.

Most of the superstitions which are known to so many of us here were brought to these shores by our immigrant ancestors. Many had to do with death. For instance, the howl of a dog at night or the crowing of a rooster on the roost at night were such forebodings of death.

To dream of losing a tooth meant a friend would meet with the grim reaper soon.

Families, as well as whole communities, shared the belief that death often occurred in threes and I have noticed that particular phenomenon to be true.

Here is one with which I was unfamiliar. It has to do with a habit of the copperhead snake. I admit that snakes of any kind give me the willies. It is believed by many that if one kills a copperhead by any means and returns to the same spot in nine days, he will find the mate lingering nearby. Then, it can be killed.

There are many superstitions concerning celestial events. Of course, we are all familiar with “Star Light, Star Bright, First star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.”

Wishing on a star seems to be a universal belief. When one notices a falling star, if he makes a wish at that moment, it will come true in the near future.

In my own family, my grandmother, Mrs. H.F. “Mama” Whitehead, believed fervently that if her nose itched, it was a sign that company was coming. She also believed that guests were on the way if she accidentally dropped her dishrag while bustling around the kitchen. If they did so unexpectedly, she had stashed food enough to feed an army.

A host of superstitions and beliefs had to do with the weather. When cats run and play, bad weather is ahead. When chickens run for shelter in the morning rain, the rain will stop soon, but if they tighten up their feathers and stay out, it will rain the rest of the day. If rain starts before seven, it will stop before eleven.

When smoke from the chimney goes to the ground, it will rain or snow soon. Dew on the grass at night means fair weather is in sight. For every frost in August there will be as many snows the following winter. If hornets build their nests low and near the ground, a cold and bad winter will follow. If the skins on onions are thin, a mild winter will follow.

One superstition which fascinates me is that which has to do with the white spots on a person’s fingernails. Quite simply, every spot is supposed to represent an untruth one has spoken.

A few other common superstitions include:

  • If you blow all the petals off of a dandelion with one puff, you can marry anyone you want;
  • If a bird flies into the house, something bad will happen to a member of that family;
  • Don’t boil cow’s milk because it might cause the cow to go dry;
  • If you rise before sunrise and find a spider web across the front door, don’t go out the door until after sunrise.

This superstition strikes me as being spooky. If you plant an evergreen tree, be sure to keep it pruned because the belief is if you don’t, when it gets big enough to shade your grave, you will die.