Saying "God Bless You" following a sneeze - Elizabethans believed that the devil could enter your body when you opened your mouth to sneeze - the blessing warded off the Devil
An eclipse was seen as an omen of evil
It was unlucky for a black cat to cross your path (Black is the color associated with evil magic and a cat was strongly associated with a witch)
The seventh son of a seventh son was believed to possess supernatural powers
It was unlucky to keep the feather of a peacock ( the eye-shape on the feathers of peacocks were seen as the 'Evil-eye')
Pin bay leaves to your pillow on the Eve of St. Valentine, one at each corner and one in the middle and you will then dream of your future husband
Touch wood to guard against bad luck. This Celtic superstition dates back to the Dark Ages when it was believed that a tree possessed magical powers
Not to walk under ladders - considered bad luck as ladders are associated with the gallows and executions
Shoes on a table - If you put shoes on a table it was very bad luck - inviting an imminent death
Spilling salt or pepper - seen as bad luck - the cost of these spices were extremely expensive during the Elizabethan era
Stirring a pot counterclockwise (widdershins) would bring bad luck to those who ate the contents and spoil the contents
During times of plague, they burned scented firewood in the streets or carried flowers in their pockets to ward off disease (Ring around the Rosie)
Meaning of "Ring Around the Rosie"
The first sign of plague was a rash that spread across one's cheeks (or rosies)
A pocketful of posies was the superstition that carrying posies would fight off the plague, as the doctors thought the disease was airborne. Now we know that the disease was from the fleas who received it from the rats, which the fleas would bite, infecting them with the virus.
Where do these superstitions originate from?
Sympathetic magic goes back to the pre-Christian era, every "group" brought different beliefs in magic. Over the centuries these different magical ideas mixed with Christianity to create some customs that are still practiced today.
“Dancing around a burning log was customary at the Saxon midwinter festival of Yule: the Yule log was incorporated into the Christmas tradition and continues today”
The Roman tradition of giving eggs in spring and the Saxon spring celebration called Eostre (a celebration of the Germanic goddess) combined for the Christian Easter, celebrated by giving decorated eggs.”
“You don't like the number thirteen? Neither did the Vikings, who considered twelve the luckiest number, and to whom we owe our habit of counting things by dozens. Thirteen was an inconvenient number, and over time acquired a reputation of evil that was reflected in such customs as tying a hangman's noose with thirteen loops. About the only positive association with this number is the baker's dozen. This originally came from bakers tossing in an extra roll when a customer bought a dozen, both as a gift and to make up for any that were underweight.”
The Celtic lore about plants became the traditions of herbal healing… Herb women also provided floral and vegetable remedies that were guaranteed to reveal a vision of a future husband, or to reawaken the love of a bored spouse. Modern science has found these prescriptions to be less effective, though their use continues to this day.
Witchcraft and Superstitions
“Fear of the supernatural and forces of nature or God resulted in the belief of superstitions during the Elizabethan era.”
Superstitions were caused by the fear of witchcraft
Witches were thought to be old, poor, single women. There were 270 witch trials during the time period, 247 of which were for women; only 23 were for men
Witches were able to fly (travel distances, broomsticks were a common household item)
A witch was often conveyed as a hag (single women had no men to defend them)
Associated with living alone (house in the wood)
They are known to keep animals (an evil spirit in animal form was used to perform evil deeds/ spells)
Witches brew magic potions over a cauldron (wise women had knowledge of herbal medicine)
Good Luck vs Bad Luck
“Good luck flowed from other sources: iron, silver, fire, salt, and running water were thought to be pure and purifying, and many good luck charms involve these elements. Other charms are more mysterious in origin: for instance, it was good luck to touch a man about to be hanged, just as it was lucky to spit into a fire or to be breathed on by a cow.”
Bad luck could follow from any superstitions above. By not following the "guidelines," one thought they could be harmed or even die.
Who believed in these superstitions?
Not only peasants believed in these superstitions. Queen Elizabeth herself was thought to have believed in superstitions.
Dr. John Dee informed her about these traditions that went back to before his time. Nothing was said about these meetings, however, meaning that anything was possible.
Foss, Richard. “The Elizabethan Era (1558-1603).” A Short History of Early Modern England, 2011, pp. 115–148., doi:10.1002/9781444395006.ch5.
Alchin, Linda. “Elizabethan Superstitions.” Elizabethan Superstitions, www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/elizabethan-superstitions.htm. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017.
“Elizabethan Era England Life.” Elizabethan England Life, www.elizabethanenglandlife.com/elizabethan-england-superstitions.html. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017.
“Superstitions of the Elizabethan Era.” Graziatripodi, 22 Jan. 2012, graziatripodi.wordpress.com/superstitions-of-the-elizabethan-era/. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017.