Superstitions withstand test of time


The area between Tennessee and North Carolina is known as the Great Smoky Mountains. Although the 20th century had an impact on the mountain regions, the pioneer culture remained for a longer period than in some other sections.

During the late 1930s, the National Park Service made plans to preserve the old structures and allow several residents to remain on ancestral homesteads. The mountaineers retain many customs, traditions and superstitions from their forebears.

Several are quaint; others, well, judge for yourselves.

Most rural mountaineers and a few older folks had or have pet beliefs or superstitions.

Cats. For example, some believed that it was good luck to have a cat come to the house but to cause its demise was bad luck.

A cricket chirping on the hearth resulted in a family member passing away. Sneezing or an itchy nose before breakfast is a sign of visitors that day. The black cat crossing your path curse could be nullified by turning around, spitting twice and taking a few steps in that direction.

A horse shoe found in the road is bad luck unless a person tosses it over their left shoulder after spitting on it. Added good luck may be realized by making a wish before releasing the horse shoe.

Doves. A headache sufferer can lay down on the ground and roll three times toward the sound of a singing dove. Bleeding from a cut could be stopped and the pain relieved if the patient put an ax under their bed.

Putting a match in a person’s hair stopped a headache and the blood from a black cat’s tail cured the shingles.

According to the mountaineer women, a piece of lead attached to a string and worn around the neck halted a nose bleed, a narrow leather band around the wrist prevented cramps and a copper wire around the ankle cured rheumatiz.

Teething. To aid a child’s teething, place a hog’s tooth on a string and put it around the youngster’s neck. Many remember the old method of preventing rheumatic pains: Carry a buckeye or a shriveled potato in your pocket.

Warts were removed by several suggested methods such as stealing a washcloth, rubbing the wart often with it and then hiding the cloth where no one can find it.

A drop of blood from the wart on a grain of corn fed to a rooster was supposed to remove the wart or you could cut a notch for each wart in a peach tree and when the tree heals the wart will disappear.

Gardening. Superstition always played a large role in garden planting. Plant potatoes during the full moon. My Granddad Gillett and I followed this reasoning every year. Also, plant cucumber seed before dawn and when the bugs arise from the dust at daybreak they would ignore the seeds.

If a person milked a cow outside on the ground, it would dry up. If a calf was weaned during a full moon it would bawl all day.

Bad news. A rooster crowing could spell demise for someone unless a hen is butchered and eaten or buried immediately. A whippoorwill calling at midnight announced that someone would pass away.

There are many more tales of superstitions handed down for generations, however some are difficult to comprehend, such as spitting to avert evil. This is found in many areas of the world, but the origin cannot be definitely traced.

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