Book Notes: Supernatural Superstitions

Each week, I walk many blocks to the used bookstore to explore its supernatural and horror section. It’s one of those book stores where shelves are filled and the floor is covered with stacks of books. You can usually find me sitting on the floor, turning the pages of some new find.

Now that I have my own room for my reading and writing, I have the space to build a substantial supernatural library. And, nothing could make me happier. I have always taken notes when reading, because I don’t want to forget what I’ve read. I also like something to reference when I return to a topic. This is why I’ve always kept a commonplace book. In fact, the first post of this blog was book notes from Herbert Thurston’s Ghost and Poltergeists.  

Today’s notes are from a recent find, David Pickering’s Dictionary of Superstitions. This book contains superstitions about food, body parts, weather…really, a variety of subject areas. Below are notes I took the interesting supernatural entries. Enjoy!

Fariy (p. 100): “Great care should be taken to avoid dark green ‘fairy rings’ in the grass, which mark the place where the fairies have held a circular dance at midnight (the rings are actually made by a fungus). It is said that these may even indicate the whereabouts of a fairy village. It is throught very dangerous to sleep in one of these rings or even to stop into one after nightfall – especially on the even of May Day or Halloween – and livestock are also reputed to keep their distance from these phenomena.”

Ghost (p. 116): “Measures that may be taken against encountering ghosts include, according to Scottish tradition, wearing a cross of rowan wood fastened with red thread and concealed in the lining of one’s coat.”

Gremlin (p. 122): “The only way to foil the activities of gremlins, apparently, is to lay an empty bottle nearby – the mischievous creatures will crawl inside and stay there.”

Hallowee’en (p. 125-6):

  • “Hallowe’en is generally considered a time where extra care should be given not to linger in churchyards or do anything that might offend the fairies or other malicious spirits.”
  • “It is also risky to look at one’s own shadow in the moonlight and the most inadvisable to go on a hunting expedition on Hallowe’en, as one may accidently wound a wandering spirit.”
  • “Children born on Hallowe’en will, however, enjoy lifelong protection against evil spirits and will also be endowed with the gift of second sight.”
  • “In rural areas farmers may circle their fields with lighted torches in the belief that doing so will safeguard the following year’s harvest, or else drive their livestock between branches of rowan to keep them safe from evil influences.”
  • “According to Welsh tradition, anyone going to a crossroads on Hallowe’en and listening carefully to the wind may learn what the next year has in store and, when the church clock strikes midnight, will hear a list of the names of those who are to die in the locality over the next twelve months.”
  • “Several of the most widely known Hallowe’en divination rituals relate to apples. Superstition suggests that, if a girl stands before a mirror while eating an apple and combing her hair at midnight on Hallowe’en, her future husband’s image will be reflected  in the glass over her left shoulder. A variant dictates that she must cut the apple into nine pieces, each of which must be struck on the point of the knife and held over the left shoulder. Moreover, if she peels an apple in one long piece, and then tosses the peel over the left shoulder or into a bowl of water, she will be able to read the first initial of her futures partner’s name in the shape assumed by the discarded peel. Alternatively the peel is hung on a nail by the front door and the initials of the first man to enter will be the same as those of the unknown lover.”

Nightmare (p. 189):

  • “Superstition maintains that nightmares are sent by the devil and his minions to trouble the dreams of sleepers. Such demons steal into bedrooms in the dead of night, often taking the form of spectral horses (hence ‘nightmare’).”
  • Remedies for nightmares
    • “These include pinning one’s socks in the shape of a cross to the end of the bed or else placing a knife or some other metal object nearby, on the grounds that the latent magic of the iron or steel will see off malevolent spirits.”
    • “Carefully placing one’s shoes under the bed so that the toes point outwards is also said to be effective.”
    • “Other precautions include sleeping with the hands crossed on the breast and fixing little straw crosses to the four corners of the bed.”
    • “Any lingering ill effects resulting from nightmares may be dismissed by spitting three times on waking up.

More notes form this book to come!

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