Cumbrian superstitions

The Cumbrian superstitions in this post may not be unique to Cumberland and Westmorland, but they were claimed as such by writers in Victorian times.

“I’m not superstitious, but…”

Friday the 13th still makes many people nervous. As does spilling salt, or breaking a mirror. While many take steps to avoid walking under a ladder, crossing a black cat, having 13 to dinner, or treading on cracks in the pavement.

And if we tempt fate, we touch wood to avert trouble. While saying ‘bless you’ to anyone who sneezes.

Some superstitions are less universal than lucky horsehoes or ‘lucky’ rabbits’ feet (not so lucky for the rabbits).

Here are some Cumbrian superstitions:

Caldbeck folklore (as recorded in 1900):

  • If you throw a beetle over your shoulder, it will be a fine day tomorrow.*
  • to cure a sore throat, tie a LEFT leg stocking round it at bedtime.
  • if you’re out of doors and see the sunrise or the new moon, you must turn your coat if you’re a man, or rattle your apron if you’re a woman
  • never throw anything outside the door before sunrise
  • moths are a sign of either death or letters, and it’s unlucky to kill them

*As with chopping the feet off rabbits, PLEASE don’t try this at home.

Mess up your clean floor

Another Westmorland superstition still present in 1899 was said (at the time) to be of Scandinavian origin.

When our Sally has scrubbed the (stone) kitchen floor she finishes by taking a piece of chalk and marking it over with mysterious hieroglyphics.

‘Sally’ does it because he mother did it and her grandmother… back to a superstition to keep away evil spirits.

Sadly, there’s no record of what these mysterious hieroglyphics looked like.

Play your cards right

In Embleton, villagers apparently used to play a card game called ‘lant’, for small stakes, on Saturday evenings and into Sunday. One family who did just that discovered that the ‘good-looking gentleman’ who had joined them at 9pm and won every hand before leaving at midnight was the Devil himself.

After that, Embleton folk were careful to stop their card games running into the Sabbath.

Wood you believer it?

Rowan trees feature in Celtic mythology – one I’m thinking of dates from the 10th century. Perhaps it is due to Cumbria’s (ancient) British past that in1899, it was recorded in the Penrith Observer:

The rowan tree branch used to be placed above doorways to keep away evil influences.

And in the Lake Country, the stick used for stirring the cream to counteract the bewitching of the churn is still frequently made of rowan or mountain ash wood.

The rowan tree in the photo is in the Great Langdale valley.