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Strange Superstitions and Weird Wives Tales

Updated on April 14, 2011

Some old wives tales and superstitions predate literacy and are part of the great oral tradition that is passed down through generations. Such tales offered advice, predictions and warnings; possibly they gave people a sense of control and fostered the idea that we could alter fortunes and do something about the bad things that happen in the world. Occasionally they were true..but more often they were not.

Old wives tales occur in many different cultures and the first recorded reference was by Plato 2400 years ago. Wives tales are also mentioned in the BIble, though not as a positive influence:

"But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself [rather] unto godliness" ~1 Timothy 4:7 .

That advice doesn't seem to have been taken too seriously as wives tales proved remarkably resistant to being ignored for a very long time. It seems likely they were called 'wives tales' because they were passed down from mother to daughter and thus the information was trusted and passed on in turn. There are literally thousands of superstitions and wives sayings; some still very well known, others not so well known or known only in specific areas.



Weird Beliefs about Warts

Did you know that frogs and toads cause warts and potatoes cure them? If you have a wart rub a potato on it and bury it (the potato, not the wart) but be sure not to tell anywhere where it is, or it wont work!

It's not true of course but this is just one of a number weird beliefs about warts, some of which have their roots in pagan culture and others more recent. Here's a couple more weird wart cures:


  • Rub a penny on a wart and it will dissappear
  • Use white cotton thread to tie a knot for each wart. Bury it, and when the string rots, so too will your wart


Never Walk on a Crack

If you step on a crack, bad luck will come to you; or so the saying goes. There have been several sayings based around this superstition:


  • Step on a crack , break your mothers back
  • Step on a crack and you'll be abducted by bears
  • The number of cracks you step on will corrrespond to the number of dishes you'll break that day


Fruity

Fruit features heavily in superstitions; particularly when it comes to romance:


  • Think of a list of names of people you would consider marrying, then take an apple and twist the stem while reciting the names. Whoever's name you call out when the stem breaks is the one you will marry!
  • Eat some cherries and keep the pips. Count the pips while calling out the following - tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar-man, thief , doctor, lawyer, Indian Chief- when you reach the last pip, you'll know the occupation of your future husand
  • Cut an apple in half and count the seeds to find out how many children you will have.
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away


The Power of Colours

Some weird beliefs and superstitions involve colours, which are believed to have various powers:


  • Wear a blue bead to protect yourself against witches
  • If you pull out a white hair, ten more will grow in its place
  • If you are not getting married, never wear white to a wedding or you will bring bad luck to the bride
  • Wearing blue is bad luck for actors, though it's okay if it's worn with silver
  • In the theatre, a yellow clarinet in an orchestra will bring disaster


Plants and Charms

There are a great many superstitions and claims made about plants; as cures for ailments, potions for attracting love, good fortune or warding off bad luck:


  • Parsely should be picked and never cut and it should be grown from seed and not transplanted...and under no circumstances should you give it away or bad luck will fall upon you.
  • Sage will grow well in the garden of a woman who dominates her husband
  • To tell the time without a clock, blow the seeds off a dandelion as you count...one o'clock, two o'clock etc.
  • Hold a buttercup under your chin and if there's a yellow reflection on your skin, it means you like butter.
  • Sandalwood, ylang ylang, jasmine, and vanilla are very effective for attracting males
  • Garlic will ward off vampires


Photo from Wikipedia Commons
Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Death

Not surprisingly, death, being one of our deepest fears, features frequently in superstitions and wives tales. Just as well these are not true:


  • Hold your breath when you pass by a graveyard or you may breathe in the spirit of someone recently buried..
  • If a broken clock suddenly chimes in the house there will be a death in the family
  • Don't bury a woman in black or she will return to haunt the household
  • If a buried person was good, flowers will grow on the grave...if they were wicked, weeds will grow instead
  • A bird in the house is a sign of death
  • If you dream of a birth, someone in the family will die
  • If you dream that you are falling and fail to wake up before you hit the ground, you wil die in your sleep



Portrait of an Old Woman by Guido Reni
Portrait of an Old Woman by Guido Reni

Superstitions and Weird Beliefs Persist

Old wives tales and superstitions still exist of course in the modern world and new ones are being invented all the time; only now they tend to be called 'urban legends' rather than wives tales.

In fact the web makes it even easier for stories and myths to be passed around quickly to become 'truths' and like the old folk tales, often changes are made to the original premise as it passes through many keyboards.

For an urban myth to take off virally, it usually has to have some value or significance to the community -and just as the old wives tales did, urban myths give us a sense of shared 'knowing' wisdom.


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    • Ella Quirk profile image
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      Ella Quirk 6 years ago

      Thanks Jlava!

    • Jlava73 profile image

      Jennifer Vasconcelos 6 years ago from Cyberspace and My Own World

      Cool Article!

    • Ella Quirk profile image
      Author

      Ella Quirk 6 years ago

      carolp, I'm a bit superstitious sometimes myself. Thankyou for visiting.

    • carolp profile image

      Carolina 6 years ago from Switzerland

      I still believe in superstitions. I have them from my generations. Very interesting hub. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ella Quirk profile image
      Author

      Ella Quirk 6 years ago

      Thanks very much Vijay.

    • profile image

      Vijay 6 years ago

      Really commendable that you choose to write on such a different subject and yet you managed to highlight the facts in a short and simple way.

      Definitely worth a read!!

    • Ella Quirk profile image
      Author

      Ella Quirk 6 years ago

      Thanks stricktlydating.

    • stricktlydating profile image

      StricktlyDating 6 years ago from Australia

      A really interesting topic and great read!

    • Ella Quirk profile image
      Author

      Ella Quirk 6 years ago

      Peches, I doubt the potato treatment really works but I guess it wouldn't do any harm to try! Good luck.

    • Ella Quirk profile image
      Author

      Ella Quirk 6 years ago

      Thanks very much everyone, for the lovely comments.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Cool hub. So many of these I had forgotten about and there are many that I have not heard about.

      Up and awesome!

    • Kathryn Plasencia profile image

      Kathryn Plasencia 6 years ago from USA

      Vewy eenterestink! Er, umm, I enjoyed this one. Thanks. =P

    • tngolfplayer profile image

      tngolfplayer 6 years ago from Knoxville

      Excellent!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

      Hi, this was great, I loved it! I remember the potato and the wart one, never tried it though! lol and the buttercup one I remember doing when I was little, rated up really enjoyed reading it, cheers nell

    • Ella Quirk profile image
      Author

      Ella Quirk 6 years ago

      JJS, thanks so much for this.

      A yellow lighter? Hmmm. Yellow seems to be a superstitious color in general. The carnival is strange and mysterious world....and that story about your grandmother was amazing. It DOES make you wonder.

      You've inspired me to write a hub now, about carnivals.

    • profile image

      JJS 6 years ago

      If you want some really lively superstitions, study up on some of the ones from the circus or carnivals. You will never find peanuts for sale on a carnival midway, for example, nor will any carnie worth his salt carry a yellow lighter. I will leave it to you to find out why.

      Great site. I really enjoyed it. My mother (now 85 years old) was born on an Oklahoma Indian rez and the wives' tales etc. never stopped. Her mother announced to her children very matter of factly one morning as she sent them to school that their father would die within a few days. When questioned by my mother (then 16 years old) and her siblings, my grandmother answered that the owl outside the house the night before had called their father's name 3 times. Within the week, my grandfather was fatally injured in an oilfield accident. Makes you wonder if maybe there is something to these things.

    • Ella Quirk profile image
      Author

      Ella Quirk 6 years ago

      Thanks everyone, I really appreciate the comments.

    • profile image

      dalebenj 6 years ago

      Nicely put! The quality, images, originality, and the simplicity of this hub thought me a lot more in 3 mins of reading than I was in a 30 min lecture at school. Will definitely recommend this site. please keep 'em coming.

    • MysteryPlanet profile image

      MysteryPlanet 6 years ago

      Now this was an excellent hub that was actually interesting to read all the way through!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      So many of these are totally new to me! How fascinating. Great Hub! Now... I guess I'm off to go buy a seedless apple and cut it open XD