Weird and wonderful superstitions.

Even though you may not think of yourself as superstitious, the chances are that you will have told someone you will keep your fingers crossed for them, or you may have used the phrase ‘touch wood’ or ‘knock on wood’.

Most superstitions go so far back in human history it is difficult to be certain of their origins. Touching or knocking on wood is said to originate from the times when people believed that spirits inhabited trees and knocking on the bark of a tree was said to invoke the help of the spirits living there. Crossing your fingers to invoke good luck is thought to originate in early Christianity and the sign of the cross.

Though a few superstitions, like these, are still in common usage, most have fallen by the wayside including some of the more bizarre listed below.

Ass-riddling; A superstitious custom practiced in the north of England upon the eve of St.Mark, when ashes are sifted or riddled on the hearth. It is believed that if any of the family shall die within the following year, the shoe of the fated individual will leave an impression on the ashes.

Divination by apple-pips; To ascertain whether her pretended lovers really loved her or not, the maiden takes an apple-pip, and naming one of her followers, puts the pip into the fire; if it cracks in bursting from the heat, it is a proof of love. If it is consumed without noise, there is no real regard in that person towards her. (Davy’s M.S.)

Divination by flowers;

The campion flower was also called Batchelor’s Buttons after the ancient custom amongst country fellows to carry the flowers of this plant in their pockets, to divine whether they would succeed with their sweethearts. Hence arose the phrase ‘to wear batchelor’s buttons’ meant to be unmarried.

Divination by Bible;

One old superstition was to use a bible and key for the purposes of divination, and is described in the Athenian Oracle, as follows;

A Bible having a key fastened in the middle, and being held between the two forefingers of two persons, will turn round after some words said; as, if one desires to find out a thief, a certain verse taken out of a psalm is to be repeated, and those who are suspected nominated, and if they are guilty, the book and key will turn, else not. At the turn of the twentieth century, this was still practiced in Lancashire by young women who wanted to divine who their future husbands would be.

Blessing-the-fire-out is described thus in Moor’s Suffolk M.S;

“An operation performed generally, I believe always, by a female. She wets her forefinger with spittle, and moves it in a circular slow manner over and round the part that may have been scalded or burnt, at the same time muttering inaudibly a suitable incantation or blessing, in the mysteries of which I am not initiated. This I have often seen done, and have, indeed, not unfrequently experienced the benefits, be they what they may, of the process.”

Blind-days referred to the first three days of March which were formerly considered so unlucky that no farmer would sow seed at this time.

The following was a charm against sciatica, then known as bone-shave;

The patient must lie on his back on the bank of a river or brook of water, with a straight staff by his side, between him and the water, and must have the foregoing words repeated over him.

Bone-shave right,

Bone-shave straight,

As the water runs by the stave,

Good for the bone-shave.

In Wales, a corpse-candle was a not uncommon sight. This dancing light, seen hovering close to someone’s home at night, would portend that a person was about to die there. Corpse-candles get a special mention in Anywhere the Wind Blows.

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow      The Calling of the Raven updated book cover      Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water:

The Calling of the Raven:

Anywhere the Wind Blows:

You can also follow the author:








Could this be the greatest Indie achievement of all time?

Indie authors have been around for longer than you may think…


Dr Joseph Wright, born at Thackley, near Bradford, on October 31st 1855, was known in his time as the outstanding authority on dialect. Realising that dialects were fast disappearing, he created The English Dialect Dictionary which ran to six immense volumes. Publishers, however, shied away from it and Joseph decided to self-publish from his Oxford home and achieved instant success. The volumes contained over 5,000 pages, recorded approximately 100,000 words and some 500,000 quotations. The total cost of production was estimated at £25,000. He was already respected as one of the greatest philologists of his time and occupied the Corpus Christi Chair at Oxford, but when he died on February 27th, 1930, it was for his dictionary he wanted to be remembered.

Joseph’s life was remarkable in many ways. This brilliant scholar began his life in the workhouse. His father, Dufton Wright, was the son of a wealthy farmer, but Dufton was a ne’er-do-well who worked as a wool-weaver, then as a quarryman, and upped and left his wife and children to the care of the parish.

At the age of six, Joseph was working as a donkey-boy. At the age of seven, he was a bobbin-doffer at the Soltaire Mills of Sir Titus Salt. For the first fourteen years of his life, Joseph lived in a one-room hovel with his mother and siblings – when not in the workhouse. He had no education until the age of ten, when he went to the Saltaire factory school for half-timers. There, he learned the alphabet, some arithmetic, and part of the scriptures.

When his time as a half-time student ended, he began to educate himself and at the age of eighteen he set up an evening school in his mother’s cottage while working by day at the mills.

In 1876, he spent the money he had saved to travel to Germany where he studied for eleven weeks, and returned to Bradford as a junior teacher. In 1878, he matriculated from London University.

How did I discover the rags-to-riches story of Dr Joseph Wright? I bought a couple of antique books entitled The Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English, in two volumes, published 1904, compiled by a Thomas Wright. Within the age-spotted pages, many of which were still uncut, I found a newspaper cutting, dated 29th October 1955, which was written to coincide with the centenary weekend being celebrated 100 years after Dr Joseph Wright’s birth.

Further to reading the newspaper article about Joseph, I have found more about him on Wikepedia. He was an important influence on J. R. R. Tolkien, and in the course of editing the Dictionary he corresponded regularly with my literary hero, Thomas Hardy. Virginia Woolf said of him in her diary, “The triumph of learning is that it leaves something done solidly for ever. Everybody knows now about dialect, owing to his dixery.”

In 1896, Wright married Elizabeth Mary Lea (1863–1958), with whom he co-authored his Old and Middle English Grammars. She also wrote the book, Rustic Speech and Folklore (Oxford University Press 1913), in which she makes reference to their various walking and cycle trips into the Yorkshire Dales, as well as various articles and essays.The couple had two children, both of whom died in childhood. (Source; Wikepedia)

The dictionaries I have are chock full of all manner of weird and wonderful words and phrases no longer in usage, or words of which the meanings have radically changed over time.

To kick things off, here are a few words chosen from the dictionary for your delectation;

The delightful phrase, ALAS-A-DAY, was an exclamation of pity.

I recall AJAX being a toilet cleaner some years ago but its association goes back a long way. Sir John Harrington, 1596, published a celebrated tract called “The Metamorphosis of Ajax” which referred to his invention which was the improvement of the ‘jakes’ or privy into a ‘water-closet’. The book was considered an offence to delicacy for which Queen Elizabeth kept him for some time in disgrace.

ABRODIETICALL, adj.  described “A daintie feeder or delicate person (taken from Minsheu’s Guide of Tongues, 1627).

AFTERMATH once referred to the second crop of grass.

AGATEWARDS, adv. To go agatewards with someone was to accompany him part of his way home, which was considered the last duty of hospitality towards a guest.

An AGINATOUR was a hawker of small wares. This word occurs in Cockeram’s English Dictionairie, 1639.

To AMUSE once had a very different meaning in some dialects, and referred to the action of flinging dust or snuff into the eyes of the person intended to be robbed.

An ANATHEMATISM was a curse.

Further reading about Dr Joseph Wright’s life and works can be found here;

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy; historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow     The Calling of the Raven updated book cover     Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

You can read about the books or purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water:

The Calling of the Raven:

Anywhere the Wind Blows:

You can also follow the author: