Old Wives Tales & Witchcraft + How to Use Them Today
Did your grandmother ever tell you if your ears were ringing it meant someone was talking about you? How about when you spilled the salt and she threw it over her left shoulder? There’s a name for these seemingly-silly superstitions: Old Wives Tales. They can be found in many places in the U.S. including the Appalachians, the Ozarks, and in the Deep South. There’s much magick to be found in folklore and superstition. Here’s the witchcraft in Old Wives Tales…
Old Wives Tales: Household Chores and Daily Occurrences
If you drop your dishrag while doing the dishes, a dirty visitor will visit soon. When it falls in a wad, it will definitely be a woman. If it falls spread out, it will be a man. An itchy nose means poor or needy company is coming, but an itchy eye means your luck is about to change. Left eye – bad luck and the right eye – good luck. It also means company is coming if your broom falls over.
Salt and Pepper
Many of us have heard it’s bad luck to spill the salt at the table. People in the Ozarks throw a bit of the spilled salt over their left shoulder to “take the cuss off”. Some would say if the salt was spilled, it means a fight will break out among the family before the day’s end. Some of the older folks would say the only way to avoid this is to pour water over the spilled salt. Salt was a big portent for bad or good luck in Old Wives Tales. Salt is tied to old myths i.e. salt has been used to ward off evil since the Dark Ages and before. The salt caves in Germany are directly linked to the old gods and goddesses of Germanic tribes. Salt is also connected to the purifying energy of the sea.
Salt is a sacred substance in Old Wives Tales and witchcraft.
Bread Magick and Superstition
There’s a lot of Old Wives Tales about bread. Bread was the only thing mountainous people had to eat in times of famine and harsh weather. Burning the bread means different things depending on the time of day the bread is burnt. For example, if a woman burnt the bread before breakfast, it meant that her husband would be hungry all day (is this because the bread was burnt and he wouldn’t eat it?) Also, if you cut cornbread, this brings bad luck; always break the cornbread. My husband tells our daughter if she eats the crust it will make her eyes browner…this is similar to the Old Wives Tales about eating crusts of bread to make one’s hair curlier.
Moon Phase and Cooking/Chores
Women in the Ozarks observed the phases of the moon and their own moon cycles before making and fermenting different foods. NEVER make pickles while menstruating. If the moon was waning, never make cider or wine because it will spoil every time. Using the phases of the moon in household chores and cooking dates to ancient times. The same goes with gardening according to the moon phases. Witchcraft uses timing for nearly all rituals and spells – moon phase, season, planetary hours, day and time, etc.
Old Wives Tales say to never make pickles while menstruating!
Old Wives Tales: Pregnancy and Childbirth
Pregnancy and childbirth were a big deal for Mountain and Southern folk, as many women had multiple children back in the day. And because these people were poor and technology was far behind, women looked mostly to midwives to aid them in pregnancy and birth. These midwives were sometimes called granny-women.
Teas for Maternal Needs
Different teas were drank to produce abortion of a baby, if the women needed it. Cedar-berry tea was one; chamomile another. Different teas were also given to ease the pain of menstruation or to aid in returning the flow. These recipes were provided by granny-women or “yarb doctors” (folk doctors or herbal medicine men of sorts). A tea made of blackberry root was said to be used to make a labor and delivery move along faster.
Baby Gender Old Wives Tales and Divination
Guessing the sex of baby – there are Old Wives Tales that say to hold a necklace over the belly and let it swing one way or another, the way in which it swings tells the sex. Left for a boy, right for a girl. Sounds like divination or dowsing to me! The way in which a woman carries the baby tells the sex of the baby. If the woman carries in the hips and back, it will be a girl. If the woman carries all in the belly, it will be a boy. I have found this Old Wives Tale to actually be true in the case of my children and how I carried them.
Depending on what day of the week the child is born tells its characteristics, similar to zodiac and moon signs:
Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child has far to go
Thursday’s child is full of woe
Friday’s child is loving and giving
Saturday’s child must work for a living.
A child that is born on a Sabbath day is blithe and bonnie, rich and gay.
Omens and signs permeate our ancestors' beliefs.
Old Wives Tales About Bad Luck & Curses
Just as there are portents of good luck and health, there are also Old Wives Tales about curses and bad luck. If you break a mirror, you will have seven years of bad luck. In witchcraft, mirrors are sacred tools connected to the water element and the other realms. They can also be a portal for spirits. Don’t ever pick up a black button off the road – it’s believed to be cursed and will bring you bad luck. If you drop your comb, put your left foot over it to dispel bad luck. Breaking glass three times in one day is a sign you’ve been hexed.
Birds in the House
Birds are a huge omen in witchcraft and Old Wives Tales. If a bird is sitting on a windowsill or knocking on the window, it means death is sure to come to someone in the household. If a turtledove flies into the house, someone will die soon. Also, if an owl flies into the house…this is the worst of all. Though this is debated. A bird smacking into the window is another bad omen.
More Bad Luck
Saying anything backwards is considered to be evil in Old Wives Tales, particularly prayers like The Lord’s Prayer. It will bring on bad luck or curses, and has long been associated with witchcraft in the old world. Witch Trial documents and folklore demonstrate the concept of witches being initiated while saying the Lord’s Prayer backwards. One is never to walk under a ladder, as this will bring bad luck. Also, never open an umbrella inside of the house.
How to Use Old Wives Tales Today
While some Old Wives Tales seem ridiculous, others are actually based in old belief and folklore. Whether you choose to follow these superstitions today or discard them is up to you. Witches may benefit from adding Old Wives Tales to their repertoire of magick since many of our American (and other) ancestors believed and practiced these things. But don’t go too crazy with the Old Wives Tales…because there is literally an Old Wives Tale for everything! Choose which Old Wives Tales you’ll use wisely and research their origins.