The Folklore and Superstitions of the Old English Countryside

There are, it has to be said, a lot of ‘old wives’ tales from the countryside of old England. Some, not surprisingly, might do you more harm than good. Others are just plain mad. For example, if you had toothache in medieval England, it was believed that carrying the skull of a dead hedgehog around your neck, would cure it.

One particularly popular remedy for symptoms of the common cold, which when you read the ingredients will come as no surprise, involves an infusion of blackberries, cinnamon, honey, and.. a bottle of brandy. Apparently, you should drink it hot whilst in bed at night and when you wake up again, probably at the crack of noon, if you don’t feel better, then you do it again.

Throughout the centuries in the English countryside, the cycle of Births, Marriages and Deaths, were always accompanied with either dire warnings of doom, or harbingers of good fortune. Usually depending when the particular event took place or was scheduled.

For the woman whose apron slipped from her middle to the floor, it was taken as a sure sign of pregnancy. If not now, then, well, sometime in the future. Should a woman actually be pregnant snake coming inside home, then she is well advised to look only upon beautiful things. The reasoning, which holds some sense to it, is that if the Mother is contented, then so will be the baby.

Childbirth, always a hazardous affair in olde Englande was eased by the following recipe: Take egg yolks and mix with wholemeal flour, hempseed, dandelion root, milk, and.. Gin. Apparently the traumatised Fathers found this soothing. At least, one supposes the gin had something to do with it.

If a child was born on a Sunday then it would be thought to have supernatural powers. It would never, fortunately, be drowned or hanged. If when the baby is first born you would naturally wish to ward off evil spirits then the method chosen was to brush a rabbit’s foot over his or her face. If it was a boy, then just to be on the safe side, you rolled him naked in the snow to make him strong.

As the baby grew, and should it seem always hungry, then the old remedy was to stuff the brains of a newly slaughtered Hare into his mouth. I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t attract attention to myself anymore after that either.

When choosing a prospective wife, old farmers would determine their suitability by getting them to lift the iron lid of a chest in church, one-handed. If they achieved this feat of strength, it was decreed that they could work hard in the yard and would be a good asset. What on earth these muscle women looked like was a secondary issue.

When fixing a date for the wedding it was thought unlucky to marry on a Friday with Wednesday the best of all. If it was snowing it was lucky and if it was sunny, everyone would be happy. Presumably the opposite were true if it rained hard.

Other tales and folklore concern Death. A dog that howls three times in the night outside a house where someone is sick, would apparently be taken as a bad omen, and should the invalid hear this mournful howling, he might just as well cash in his chips, because, as far as everyone else was concerned, he was a goner. Perhaps, like voodoo, if the witch doctor curses you, and you really believe him, you’ll just turn your face to the wall and give up the fight. A less spooky belief held that what you slept on, determined your fate. Apparently, you cannot die easy on a bed of wild bird feathers. No surprise there then. Best not make such a thing in the first place to be on the safe side should you get a bug and things take a downward turn.

At funerals, the tenor bell was rung or tolled a various number of times dependent on the sex or age of the poor soul. Often if it was a person of note, presumably wealthy, the bells were muffled. There is a popular belief supported with reason that the ‘tolls’ or ‘tellers’ were rung nine times for a man. Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a book entitled ‘The Nine Tailors’; an excellent murder mystery in an old English village and I commend it to you as her most popular.

Well, we English have some strange and mystic traditions and beliefs. Where I live, in the countryside across a meadow from an ancient Church, there are those who still use some of them.

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