Superstitions from Europe

translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1998-2011


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  1. Whoever harms or kills a cat shall meet with great misfortune. (68)

  2. It is not good to kill spiders. (76)

  3. If a stork builds its nest on your roof or chimney, you will live long and be wealthy. (108)

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Cures, Charms, and Curses


  1. Should it rain in the morning, then the afternoon will have better weather if old women clear their throats. (826)

  2. Rainwater found on tombstones will remove freckles. (1025)

  3. Hairs that have been combed out must be burned, for if a bird carries them to its nest, one will get headaches; if a starling carries them to its nest, one will go blind with cataracts. (1027)

  4. If it rains in sunshine, then poison will fall from the sky. (1030)

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Holidays and Holy Days


  1. If a girl does not finish her spinning on Saturday, then the leftover flax or tow will not become good yarn and will never bleach. (130)

  2. Clothing sewn with thread spun on Christmas Eve repels insects and vermin. (333)

  3. A shirt, sewn with thread that was spun during the twelve days of Christmas, is good for many things. (419)

  4. Those who spin on Saturday night, will not rest in their graves. (680)

  5. If one leaves Saturday's yarn Saturday on the the spinning wheel all day on Sunday then it will turn into a hopeless snarl. (891)

  6. No wood may be chopped during the "evil crescent" (the increasing moon). Firewood felled during the new moon goes out quickly. Wood cut during a decreasing moon burns better. (973)

  7. Should a girl not spin her distaff clean by Sunday, then that thread can never be bleached white. (1005)

  8. If you bathe in cold water on the first day of Easter, you will have good health for the rest of the year. (1014)

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  1. Do not answer a witch's question, or else she can take something from you. (59)

  2. Old women often cut out a foot-long piece of sod that their enemy has just walked over, and hang it in the chimney. Then their enemy will waste away. (524)

  3. He who carries the tooth of a harrow found on the street will always recognize a witch. (539. Compare 636)

  4. Whoever carries a harrow tooth found on a Sunday will see witches in the church with pails on their heads, but must leave the church before the 5 o'clock bells ring, or they will tear him apart. (636)

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Male and Female


  1. It is not good if one goes out in the morning and encounters an old woman. (58. Compare 380)

  2. Hens that crow like roosters are a sign of misfortune. (83)

  3. If, while riding a horse overland, a man should come upon a woman spinning, then that is a very bad sign; he should turn around and take another way. (135)

  4. When maids burn tinder, they must use pieces from men's shirts; the tinder will not catch fire if women's clothes are used. (152)

  5. If you walk under a chicken roost, and a hen lets loose on you, it will bring you bad luck, if a rooster, good luck. (230)

  6. He who walks between two old women early in the morning shall have only bad luck the rest of the day. (380. Compare 58)

  7. To meet old women first thing in the morning means bad luck; young people, good luck. (791)

  8. Many men would rather let themselves be beaten to death, than to walk between two old women. (938)

  9. If an old woman greets you early in the morning, you must answer back, "The same to you!" (976)

  10. It is unlucky to meet an old woman while going to an important event, but lucky to meet a young girl. (1015)

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  1. If a man comes across a virgin or a priest early in the morning, it means bad luck; a whore, good luck. (177)

  2. Whores' children are happier than those of married people. (221)

  3. He, whose first godchild belongs to a whore, shall marry well. (304)

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Courtship and Marriage


  1. Unmarried women who desire husbands should, on the night before Saint Andrew's day, naked, call on this saint, and their loved ones will appear to them in their sleep. (100)

  2. If a girl wishes to know what kind of hair her loved one has, on Christmas Eve she should reach backwards out the door, and she shall hold the hair in her hand. (102)

  3. To learn if she shall marry within the next year, a virgin should knock on the chicken coop on Christmas Eve or at midnight. If a rooster cackles she will, if a hen cackles she won't. (105. Compare 230)

  4. To discover if her lover will be upright or crooked, a girl must stand against a cord or a stack of wood on Christmas Eve and pull a log out backwards; her lover will be like the log. (109)

  5. Christmas Eve between 11 and 12 o'clock all single girls wake up. To learn whether or not they will marry in the next year, they take off all their clothes, stick their heads into the kitchen kettle and watch the bubbling water. (506)

  6. If the groom buckles the bride's left shoe on their wedding day, she will take control of the marriage. (715)

  7. Girls should pay attention to where the dogs bark on Saint Andrew's Eve. Her groom will come from this area. (964)

  8. When the bride takes her clothes off, she must give one of her stockings to a bridesmaid, who will then throw it onto the gathered wedding guests. On whomever the stocking lands, he or she shall be the next to marry. (1106)

  9. At the end of the wedding celebration, the bride and groom are to sit down on the marriage bed, fully dressed, except for their shoes and stockings. One of the bridesmaids takes off the groom's stocking, sits down on the floor with her back against the bed and throws it with her left hand over her right shoulder, aiming for the face of the groom. All the bridesmaids then repeat this, and the ones who succeed will soon be married. The the bride's stocking is then removed by the young men and thrown in the same fashion, thereby determining which of them will be next. (1107)


  1. If a young woman goes into the barn at midnight on Hallowe'en and turns the corn riddles (sieves) round, three times, she will see her future husband when she comes out. (M'Gonigle)

  2. On the eve of St. Valentine's Day it is an old custom to pin bay leaves to your pillow, one at each corner and one in the middle. You will then dream of your future lover, or the man you are to marry. (Rudkin)

  3. The bride cake is composed of many rich and aromatic ingredients, and crowned with an icing made of white sugar and bitter almonds, emblematical of the fluctuations of pleasure and pain which are incidental to the marriage state.

    On this day the important ceremony of passing small portions of bride cake through the wedding ring is ritually performed. The just execution of this idolatrous ceremony is attended to with the most scrupulous exactness.

    The bride holds the ring between the forefinger and thumb of her right hand, through which the groom passes each portion of the cake nine times, previously cut by other individuals of the party into disposable pieces for the purpose. These he delivers in succession to the bridesmaids, who seal them up carefully, each in an envelope of fair writing-paper.

    As amulets of inestimable value, they are distributed amongst the friends of the bride, who seldom neglect to make a trial of their virtues. Various are the methods of augury to which they are applied, one only of which shall be mentioned here.

    If the fair idolatress deposit one of these amulets in the foot of her left stocking, when she goes to bed, and place lit under her pillow, she will dream of the person who is destined by fate to be her partner for life. (Gutch and Peacock)

  4. If on midsummer-eve a young woman takes off the shift which she was been wearing, and, having washed it, turns its wrong side out, and hangs it in silence over the back of a chair, near the fire, she will see, about midnight, her future husband, who deliberately turns the garment.

  5. If a young lady will, on midsummer-eve, walk backwards into the garden and gather a rose, she has the means of knowing who is to be her husband. The rose must be cautiously sewn up in a paper bag, and put aside in a dark drawer, there to remain until Christmas-day.

    On the morning of the Nativity the bag must be carefully opened in silence, and the rose placed by the lady in her bosom. Thus she must wear it to church. Some young man will either ask for the rose, or take it from her without asking. That young man is destined to become eventually the lady's husband.

  6. At eve last midsummer no sleep I sought,
    But to the field a bag of hemp-seed brought;
    I scatter'd round the seed on every side,
    And three times in a trembling accent cried, --
    "This hemp-seed with my virgin hands I sow,
    Who shall my true love be, the crop shall mow."
    I straight look'd back, and, if my eyes speak truth,
    With his keen scythe behind me came the youth.
    (Gay's Pastorals)
    The practice of sowing hemp-seed on midsummer-eve is not especially a Cornish superstition, yet it was at one time a favorite practice with young women to try the experiment. Many a strange story have I been told as to the result of the sowing, and many a trick could I tell of, which has been played off by young men who had become acquainted with the secret intention of some maidens. I believe there is but little difference in the rude rhyme used on the occasion, --
    Hemp-seed I sow,
    Hemp-seed I hoe,
    (the action of sowing the seed and of hoeing it in, must be deliberately gone through); --
    And he
    Who will my true love be
    Come after me and mow.
    A phantom of the true lover will now appear, and of course the maid or maidens retire in wild affright.

  7. If a young unmarried woman stands at midnight on midsummer-eve in the porch of the parish church, she will see, passing by in procession, every one who will die in the parish during the year. This is so serious an affair that it is not, I believe, often tried. I have, however, heard of young women who have made the experiment. But every one of the stories relates that, coming last in the procession, they have seen shadows of themselves; that from that day forward they have pined, and ere midsummer has again come round, that they have been laid to rest in the village graveyard. (Hunt)

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Husband and Wife


  1. If a stranger looks into the parlor on a Monday morning, he will cause the husband to beat his wife. (79)

  2. If a woman or a girl loses her garter on the street, then her husband or suitor has been unfaithful. (124)

  3. When a woman's neck or throat itches, then she will soon go to a baptism; if her head itches it means she will be beaten. (141)

  4. If a dog runs between a woman's legs, her husband will beat her. (206)

  5. For as long as the food continues to boil or simmer on the table, the cook will be beaten by her husband. (323)

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Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Postnatal Care


  1. If a woman walks over a garden bed or a field within six weeks of having given birth, then nothing will grow on it in the next few years, or everything will perish. (35)

  2. A pregnant woman should never crawl under a coach pole, otherwise she will go over her (expected) time. (179)

  3. If a pregnant woman walks over a grave, her child will die. (293)

  4. If pregnant women go to the place where cloth is being bleached, they will have pale children. (455)

  5. If a woman sticks pins or needles into curtains during the first six weeks after childbirth, her child will have bad teeth. (458)

  6. If a pregnant woman ties a rope instead of a belt around herself, her child will be hanged. (459)

  7. If a pregnant woman walks behind or crosses the path of a poor sinner who is to be put to death, her child will later die the same death. (465)

  8. Women may never be left alone during the first six weeks following childbirth, for the devil then has more power over them. (509)

  9. During the first six weeks following childbirth, mothers may not go to sleep until someone has come to watch the child. If mothers are overcome by sleep, changelings are often laid in the cradle. To prevent this one should lay a pair of men's pants over the cradle. (510)

  10. Neither fire, salt nor bread may be given away from the house of a woman during the first six weeks following childbirth. (538)

  11. A pregnant woman after doing the wash should immediately turn over the tub she used, and she will have an easy delivery. (561)

  12. The first medicine which a woman receives following childbirth should be taken from her husband's spoon; taken thus it will be more effective. (672)

  13. A woman in labor should put on her husband's slippers. (673)

  14. One may not pierce the bread of a pregnant woman with a knife or fork, or else the child's eyes will be poked out. (702)

  15. If he ties her garters, she will give birth easily. (716)

  16. A woman recovering from childbirth may not look out of the window for six weeks, or else every wagon that passes will take a bit of luck with it. (782)

  17. If a woman walks without shoes during the six weeks following childbirth, then her child will take a dangerous fall when it is learning to walk. (797)

  18. A woman may not enter a stranger's house for six weeks following the birth of her child. If she does so, she should first buy something in another village, or she will bring misfortune into the house. (844)

  19. A woman may not draw water from any well for six weeks following the birth of her child, or the well will dry up for seven years. (845)

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Child Care


  1. Anyone who carries a basket into the room of a woman recovering from childbirth must break a splinter from it, and place it in the cradle, otherwise he will carry away the mother's or child's peace and quiet. (1)

  2. A newborn child should not be first laid to the left side, or it will grow up to be clumsy. (137)

  3. A small child will not grow properly if you call it a little worm or a dummy. (289)

  4. It is not good to hit an animal with the same whip that one used to discipline a child. (377)

  5. When you see a child's first tooth, immediately slap his face, and he will teethe easier. (751)

  6. If a woman nurses her baby while sitting on the boundary stone at a fork in the road, it will never get toothaches. (1008)

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  1. Men should not stay in the house when women are filling beds with feathers, otherwise the feathers will poke through the ticking. (17)

  2. It is not good to sew or patch something while still wearing it. (42)

  3. Those who work in the woods will never be rich. (46)

  4. If you get up from a spinning wheel without loosening the string, then an elf will come and spin on it. You cannot see it, but you can hear the spool turning by itself. (993)

  5. If you go to bed without clearing the table, the youngest in the house cannot sleep. (1004)

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Child Labor


  1. A shirt woven from thread spun by a girl under seven years of age will bring its wearer good luck. (115)

  2. A shirt, spun by a girl between five and seven years of age, protects against magic. (656)

  3. Whoever wears a shirt spun by a five year old girl, and appears before court, will receive justice in all proceedings. (708)

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Aging and Death


  1. If a deathly ill person cannot die, then one should move the table out of its place, or turn over a shingle on the roof. (439)

  2. If a sick man wishes to die, then one should open all the windows, fill any object in the house which is empty and turn it over, so that the soul is free to leave and cannot stay anywhere. One should also take the vinegar away, so that it does not sit around; hang the bird cage somewhere else, tie the cattle up differently, and move the beehives. (664)

  3. If a deceased man's clothes are not soon washed, he cannot rest. (681)

  4. If someone has trouble dying, then one may lift up just three tiles on the roof. (721)

  5. The moment that someone dies, the crops in the storehouse should be shoveled and the wine in the cellar shaken, otherwise the grain, when planted, will not grow, and the wine will go sour. (898)

  6. If one has difficulty dying, then he should be lain in the corridor, and he shall have an easy death. (1053)


  1. Excessive Grief for the Dead. An old woman still living (1854) in Piersebridge, who mourned with inordinate grief for a length of time the loss of a favorite daughter, asserts that she was visited by the spirit of her departed child, and earnestly exhorted not to disturb her peaceful repose by unnecessary lamentations and repinings at the will of God; and from that time she never grieved more. Events of this kind were common a century ago.

  2. The vulgar superstition which is common to all people of a Germanic origin, of the corpse of a murdered person bleeding on being touched by the murderer is still maintained.

  3. Touching the Dead. Doubtless this custom is of corresponding quality with one previously noted on touching the body of a murdered person, and is equally to prove (though without the resting suspicion) that you are entirely guiltless of the death of the deceased, not in act alone, but also in prayer. (Denham)

  4. The wounds of a murdered person will bleed afresh, on the body being touched, ever so lightly, in any part, by the murderer. (Grose)

  5. Lady Anne, speaking to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who has murdered her husband King Henry VI (William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of King Richard III, act 1, scene 2):
    O, gentlemen, see, see! dead Henry's wounds
    Open their congeal'd mouths and bleed afresh.
    Blush, blush, thou lump of foul deformity;
    For 'tis thy presence that exhales this blood
    From cold and empty veins, where no blood swells;
    Thy deed, inhuman and unnatural,
    Provokes this deluge most unnatural.

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Revised July 15, 2011.