Very (Silly) Superstitious

appalachian-superstition

While dating a fella from Eastern Kentucky, Louisville writer and editor Lisa Hornung discovered some of Appalachia’s more eccentric superstitions. She tells us all about them in the below guest post, which was originally published on one of my favorite sites The HillVille.

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“Step on a crack and you’ll break your mother’s back,” friends used to say when I was a kid. Whenever I thought about it, I made a conscious effort to not step on cracks, lest my poor mother meet with such a terrible fate.

One day while walking to the bus stop, it occurred to me that I’ve often failed in my vigilance to avoid sidewalk cracks, and my mom was walking around just fine with no residual effects. And why aren’t there more mothers lying around with broken backs? This city is lousy with cracked sidewalks!

That’s when I decided that superstitions were dumb. Why can’t I open an umbrella indoors? How else is it supposed to dry out? I can’t cut up a photo for fear of bad luck? What about cropping in Photoshop; does that not count? The world is already chock full of rules that one has to abide without complicating things with silliness.

My boyfriend, Lance, grew up in Irvine, Ky., a town whose slogan is “Where the Bluegrass kisses the mountains.” “You can hear it all night,” he joked. Since I’m from Louisville, Ky., a city known to the rest of the state as “Indiana,” we often have a few cultural differences.

Recently, my boyfriend and I had a discussion about superstitions and how seriously they are taken in the Appalachian region. We found several mountain superstitions online, and we had a good laugh – as well as a different view of each other.

Since I come from a city-dwelling family without any country cousins that I know of, I’ve never heard of  many  of these rules. My mom would laugh when I told her things I’d heard and say, “Oh, that’s just an old wives’ tale.” Like the time my grandmother told me I shouldn’t wash my hair when in my “cycle.” But when I had a baby who shared my home with a cat, my mother fully believed that the feline would take away the baby’s breath.

Here are a few Lance and I found online.

Death comes in threes. This is a widespread notion. I don’t believe it, but every time two people die, someone says, “THEY COME IN THREES!” While I’ll admit it does seem that way at times, it’s just not true. Do funeral homes shut down after three deaths?  I’m sure you could divide the number of deaths in the world by three and get close to a whole number. If not, well, just wait.

If you tell your nightmare before breakfast, it will come true. Now, seriously people, my nightmares consist of some really freaky stuff that could never happen in real life, so I’m not too worried about stuffing a biscuit my mouth before telling someone how a cat took away my breath in my dreams.

Pets will not go into a room where there are ghosts. Well, duh. Would you?

Never plant any crop while the sign is in the privates. What does that even mean? What sign? What privates? According to naturealmanac.com, some people garden by the zodiac, though I don’t know what “privates” have to do with it.

There are many crop-planting superstitions, and frankly, I don’t know how they find the time to plant with all those rules. I can hardly find the time to mow my lawn.

A cricket in the house brings good luck. In my experience, a cricket in the house brings sleepless nights.

It’s bad luck to walk under a ladder. No, generally it’s just dangerous – for you and the person on said ladder.

To get rid of warts, steal someone’s dishcloth and bury it, the warts will disappear. Maybe, but the person from whom you stole it might be pretty angry. Or maybe just glad you didn’t return it and give them your HPV.

To make it rain, kill a snake and turn it belly up. Poor snakes all over Appalachia must be dying this year.

To stop bleeding, say a specific verse in the Bible. According to the website “Mountain Superstitions,” the verse is Ezekiel 16:6“Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, ‘Live!’” Well, that’s nice, but the way you stop bleeding is to put pressure on the wound, and if absolutely necessary, make a tourniquet. I learned that in Girl Scouts!

If I’m bleeding profusely, say your Bible verse once, then get on with the pressure while calling an ambulance. If I die because you spent precious time repeating what Ezekiel said, I will haunt you so hard!

A knife placed under the bed during childbirth will ease the pain of labor. Maybe. It couldn’t hurt to try, I guess. But I’ll stick with an epidural, thank you.

If you drop a biscuit while taking them from the oven, you will have unwelcome company. Also, unwelcome dirt on your biscuit.

Look someone in the eye when you take your first sip of beer after a toast or you’ll have 10 years of bad sex. This is actually a German one taught to me by my German friends, and I intend to follow it because, by God, bad sex is something you don’t  mess with!

There are, of course, many more, but I don’t have the time or space to make light of every belief. And except for the one about bleeding, they don’t really hurt anyone to try it out — they just create more work and things to worry about in this hectic life.

So, you guys continue worrying about bad luck. I’ll just keep drinking beer.

LisaLisa Hornung is a writer, editor, news junkie and AP Style stickler living in Louisville, Ky. She’s also known to teach, root for the Georgia Bulldogs and ref soccer games.

11 Comments

  • Roberta in Kentucky

    This article certainly resonates with me. I, too, was born and raised in the hills of eastern Kentucky, and I am all too familiar with all the superstitions the writer speaks about…plus so many more. In fact, I have even considered writing a book about Appalachian superstitions. And while I don’t really believe any of the superstitions, I still find myself thinking about them so often. For example, I still find myself drawn to the window when I see a bright red cardinal sitting on a limb or perched on a power line….and I stand to watch to see if it flies upward when it flies away….a sign of good luck. So while I tell myself that I don’t believe in superstitions….deep in my heart, I still hope that many of them might be true. After all, who doesn’t need a little bit of good luck?

  • Sandra ferguson

    I, for one, am quite thankful that those sidewalk cracks did not cause my back to be broken!! Really enjoyed this article. Would be interesting to hear superstitions from other areas in the south and across the country. Now there’s a book in the making!

  • kiki

    Great piece that made me smile ! I sort of collect them in my mind, as well. I should get a notebook and write them down. I also like the colloquialisms. I remember using the phrase “tighter than Dick’s hatband” when chatting with a friend from out west. She burst out laughing as if I were speaking gibberish. I thought to myself, “You wouldn’t understand. It’s an Appalachian thang.”

  • Lisa Hornung

    Thanks, y’all for the feedback! I had a coworker who used to say, “Tighter than a gnat’s ass stretched over a rain barrel!”

  • Lacey S.

    I can attest that Ezekiel 16:6 works on severe nosebleeds, as long as you actually believe it. If not, stuff a tampon up there. I worked with a doctor who actually did that once.

  • Lacey S.

    Appalachian death superstitions and customs are REALLY interesting.

  • Roberta in Kentucky

    I agree about the death superstitions and customs being very compelling in Appalachia. And there seemed to be a disproportionate share of them related to that morbid subject too. One in particular that I recall was when a bird would fly against the window….my Mother would always immediately start expecting a death in our neighborhood….it was like a shadow cast over us until something more eventful happened…..like dropping our dishcloth while drying the supper dishes. Then we would just expect that company was coming…..so much more comforting that those nearsighted birds that always seem to fly against our window.

  • Uncle

    Mark your Grandma Perdue always planted potatos on Good Friday; regardless of the weather.

    And I’m sure you could get a great response out of all the death superstitions.

  • Granny Sue

    I collect and am fascinated by the old sayings and superstitions, and have written about them on my blog at times. There are weather superstitions, death superstitions, food, planting, dream, courting, marriage, money, and so many others that I don’t think I will ever hear them all. Lots of them regarding New Year’s Day, how to have (or lose) luck, how to catch (or not) a mate… And yet while I can agree that many of them seem silly, I for one choose not to take any chances. So I toss salt over my left shoulder if I spill it, rub my itching hand on oak to get money, pick up pennies for the same reason, don’t tell my bad dreams before breakfast, and avoid black cats. I’m an educated woman, educated enough to believe that all such beliefs were rooted in something strong enough to carry the tradition forward. Besides, it keeps life interesting and a little dangerous. Now, check your hem and make sure it’s not turned up or you’ll never catch a man. And don’t take the last biscuit on the plate either.

  • Al

    These are great. Saw an episode of Andy Griffith about superstitions once, it was very funny. One I recall is that if my ears are burning, someone is talking about me. Another is, he is tighter than the bark on a tree

  • Sandy

    My sister-in-law would never, ever, ever do laundry on New Year’s Day, because if you do, someone whose clothes you washed will no longer be with us next year. I’m well-educated and hate to think I’m superstitious, but this one really gives me the creeps. It might not be a coincidence that my laundry just happens to always be done on Dec. 31. ;) Also, I’ve heard that whatever you find yourself doing on Jan. 1, that’s what you’ll do the whole year.

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