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10 Superstitions about Werewolves, Witches, and Other Wicked Things

Updated on July 8, 2013

Before they were quarantined in the fantasy and horror genre, supernatural entities like witches and werewolves were seen as a genuine threat to the villagers of Europe. Supposed werewolves and witches were even put on trial, which shows how society sanctioned their existence. Many of these fears were formed while trying to reconcile Christianity and pagan beliefs. Creatures like the wolf that had once been esteemed for its ferocity now became feared for it and associated with the devil.

Women who claimed to see the future had been oracles in Greek society. This was an integral part of their religion and a respected occupation. In Christian society women who claimed to see the future were condemned as witches. Instead of god, they were said to be inspired by the devil.

Here is a list that describes more of these superstitions in detail.

1. The Hour of the Wolf

Moonlight, Wolf, Frederic Remington (c. 1909)
Moonlight, Wolf, Frederic Remington (c. 1909)

The hour of the wolf occurs between 3 and 5 in the morning. Anyone who's a nightowl has probably noticed that the silence seems deeper during this hour and has perhaps even had the eerie feeling that they're not alone despite the silence. It's called the Hour of the Wolf because it's when a wolf supposedly lurks outside the door of your home. Like the witching hour which occurs at midnight, spirits are said to abound during this time.

2. The Witching Hour

Hamlet's Vision, Pedro Américo (1893)
Hamlet's Vision, Pedro Américo (1893)

The witching hour occurs at midnight and is when ghosts and other spirits are most likely to appear and when black magic is the most effective. This superstition appears in Shakespeare's play Hamlet and in Washington Irving's short story Sleepy Hollow. While Christian church services typically take place during the day, shamans and witch doctors utilize the night to perform their rituals that often involve contacting the spirit world.

3. The Troll Cross

A troll cross is a Swedish amulet made of iron that is worn to ward off black magic and trolls. Trolls originate from Scandinavian folklore where they can also appear as human instead of the grotesque forms depicted in the modern fantasy genre. Trolls supposedly turn to stone in the sunlight so some Scandinavian landmarks are said to be former trolls. The troll cross takes the shape of the odal rune which represents the sound of the letter "O."

4. The Witch Ball

A witch ball looks sort of like a Christmas ornament and is also made of glass. In England it was suspended near a window like a dream catcher in order to ward off witch's spells and other malevolent things. Its reflective quality was said to make evil go the other way. This superstitious practice was common in the 18th century. In the 19th century witch balls were adopted in America and the modern garden gazing ball derives from the witch ball.

5. Werewolves

Werewolf, Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1512)
Werewolf, Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1512)

Werewolves supposedly terrorized medieval villages in Europe and later isolated colonial settlements in America. In Switzerland, people of accused of being werewolves were put on trial just like witches during the witch-hunting craze and witches were sometimes said to ride wolves. Unlike the mostly innocent witches, some of those accused of being werewolves may have actually been serial killers. While Pre-Christian and Pagan warriors wore wolf pelts as a symbol of ferocity and to channel the spirit of the wolf, in Christian Europe the wolf became associated with the devil. While the werewolf is a European phenomenon, other cultures of the world that aren't familiar with wolves have creatures like weretigers, werehyenas, and werejaguars.

Photo by Andrey Grevtsov (2007)
Photo by Andrey Grevtsov (2007)

6. Wishing Wells

Wishing wells are part of Scandinavian, Celtic, and Germanic folklore. It was believed that some type of spirit dwelt in the well and that if you threw coins into the well and as an offering and made a wish that the spirit would grant your wish. Sometimes European wells have statues carved in the image of the spirit that lives in the well. In Nordic mythology, Odin, who is sort of the Zeus or Jupiter of Norse mythology, threw his right eye into the Well of Wisdom in order to gain the ability to see the future and become wise. The modern practice of throwing pennies into fountains and making a wish derives from these superstitions. The practice is actually quite macabre if you compare it to Odin's story.

Alexander Sharp (1908)
Alexander Sharp (1908)

7. Toads and Frogs

While superstitions about frogs and toads have faded from the contemporary world, they used to be considered in a similar way to the black cat. Seeing one meant something bad was going to happen, and touching one could give you warts. It's also bad luck if one enters your home. Witches kept toads as familiars and used them to make potions. Like the wolf, toads were also associated with the devil.

8. The Witch Window

This peculiar window looks more like something you would see on a carnival fun house than a family's home. A witch window is a diagonally oriented window set into a gable. This crooked window is exclusive to American architecture and is mostly found in Vermont. Also known as the coffin window, the purpose of this window is to keep witches from flying into the house because supposedly witches can't fly sideways on their broomsticks. The window also has a practical purpose because it allows a larger window in a narrow area.

The Argiope spider also takes the shape of Saint Andrew's Cross.  (Surprisingly many spider superstitions say that spiders signify good luck.)
The Argiope spider also takes the shape of Saint Andrew's Cross. (Surprisingly many spider superstitions say that spiders signify good luck.)

9. The Witch Post

The witch post takes the form of Saint Andrew's Cross which is in the shape of an X. It is hung above a fireplace to prevent witches from coming through the chimney. In addition to the witch ball and the witch post, planting rosemary outside of the house was also supposed to deter witches. With witch balls, witch windows, witch posts, and rosemary, the superstitious could ensure that a witch didn't enter their home through any opening.

10. Candles

Photo by L.C.Nøttaasen (2009)
Photo by L.C.Nøttaasen (2009)

In nautical lore, it is believed that a mariner dies every time someone blows out a candle. Instead you should put it out with your fingers or a candle snuffer. The only time it's ok to blow out a candle is when someone has already died. There is a also a defunct Halloween tradition for which people would carry a candle between the hours of eleven and midnight. If it stayed lit the whole time, the person would not be affected by witchcraft for the following year. If it went out, something bad would happen to the person.


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