OUR FATHERS often
mistook co-incidences for premonitions and made unwarranted
generalization through what logicians call an "undistributed middle
term." A flock of geese walking along a street in single file was
regarded as a sign of death in a house they happened to pass. These
water-loving birds would probably be making for a brook or pond with
the gander acting as leader and the various members of his family
falling into line according to some law of precedence in the
procession best known to themselves.
Other forebodings of
evil of the same sort were based on the ticking of a small insect
called a wood-louse, and the "winding sheet," on the tallow candle,
formed by the overflow of melted tallow which had accumulated around
the wick and cooled in crinkles as it ran down. Thirteen at table,
fearful omen of evil, made one shudder. The spilling of salt was
nearly as woeful.
the fetishes of Central Africa, imply the idea of an indwelling
deity or supernatural power in some natural object, by which one may
be guarded against evil, as witchcraft, disease or accident, or may
become positively enriched by some blessing. The object in which
this power is supposed to reside may be an amulet worn as an
ornament or it may be a bit of bone or wood, a stone or a gem, and
its use may be connected with an incantation or formula of words.
The following are examples of charms once common and which may still
be used in some places:
A horse-shoe placed
over the door to prevent the entrance of witches on churning day.
Warts rubbed with a candle were supposed to disappear when the
candle was burned. Cut as many notches in a piece of red-pith elder
as you have warts; rub the warts with the stick; throw away the
stick and forget about the warts. Some day you look for them, and
behold they are gone! To guard against rheumatism carry in your
pocket a horse-chestnut, or a haddock bone.
Weather signs were
many and mysterious,—and, in truth, some of them now and then
fulfilled themselves with marvellous accuracy. The moon—or the man
who makes his home in this nocturnal luminary—seemed to be regarded
as the chief controlling agent in these matters. Regardless of the
fact that the moon in its waxing and waning is changing equally
every day, the periods marked in the almanac were the precise dates
for changes in the weather. Corn, cucumbers and other crops liable
to be destroyed by late frosts must be planted at such time as not
to expose their tender shoots at the time of a full moon that might
happen late in May or early in June. It may be here noted that this
supposed law of the full moon regarding frosts still persists,
although no one seems to have verified it by actual written records.
Other old time rules
of action based on the power of the moon seem to be forgotten. Peas
and some other crops to ensure a full yield were sown during the
waxing period of this satellite—that is between new and full moon.
Beef cattle and fattened hogs required to be butchered at this
period, otherwise the meat, would "shrink in the pot"— there would
be less of it when cooked. These old-time faiths have largely gone
out of fashion in our degenerate age. It may be observed, too, that
Belcher's Almanac, adopting the infidelity of the times, records
historic facts in place of prognostications on the weather.