Housewives’ tales – some of them really do make sense
Most of us grew up hearing our fair share of old wives’ tales – especially when it came to the home and housework. Always stir cake mix in the same direction or the cake will be tough is one I learnt at my mother’s knee while Nanna swore that cabbage had to be planted on St Patrick’s Day. Many of them may sound ridiculous, but if you give it some thought, there are some pretty sensible messages hidden in there too.
- Scatter Solomon’s seal on the floor to banish serpents and venomous creatures from the room. If you haven’t hard of it before, Solomon’s Seal is a herb that has been used as a healing tea or centuries. However, only the root and young shoots can be used, the rest of the adult plant, particularly the berries, are poisonous. So I guess if you scatter Solomon’s Seal on the floor and a curious snake has a lick, then it could be done for. The down side is you’d probably poison any curious little humans as well.
- To protect your house from lightning, gather hazel tree branches on Palm Sunday and keep them in water. I have no idea in what universe this would work, but it probably springs from the ancient belief that hazel trees have magical properties.
- Add caraway seeds to chicken feed to keep poultry from wandering. Feed the seeds to homing pigeons to help them find their way back. Caraway seeds are yummy, so what self-respecting chook or pigeon would wander off when there’s such a tasty treat on offer.
- Stuff fennel in your keyhole or hang it over your door to protect against witches. Hanging fennel over the door would seem to indicate you’re a crazy person, so witches (and everyone else) would probably give your place a wide berth. HOWEVER, plant fennel by the kennel (one my sister was told) makes complete sense as the smell repels fleas.
- Never carry a hoe into the house. If you do so by mistake, carry it out again, walking backward to avoid bad luck. Angry women sick of their dopey husband’s bringing dirty farming tools into the house probably made this one up in a vain attempt to keep things clean. Walking backward makes sense if there’s an angry woman with a dirty floor after you.
- Never walk under a ladder, which is Satan’s territory. A ladder will very likely fall on you if you walk under it. Enough said.
- Never give a knife as a housewarming present, or your new neighbor will become an enemy. More to the point, if they DO become your enemy you don’t want them armed and dangerous.
- Never pound a nail after sundown, or you will wake the tree gods. These days you’ll wake the neighbours, who’ll probably be just s cranky as the tree gods.
- An empty hornets’ nest, hung high, will bring good luck to a house. Makes sense. You wouldn’t want to hang a full hornets’ nest near the house, would you?
- Paint your front porch blue to ward off ghosts. This superstition, which originated in Southern plantation homes, tells us that “haints,” or ghosts, can’t cross water. Painting the porch “haint blue” would confuse ghosts into thinking the porch was made of water, so they wouldn’t enter the home.
- Never open an umbrella inside. Doing so would be an insult to the sun god, as umbrellas are commonly used for protection against the sun. (It’s also a guaranteed way to break something.)
- Never put shoes on a dresser or table. Bad luck will ensue, according to a Jewish superstition. Need I point out that the bad luck will come from the illness caused by putting germs from your shoes in the same place you put your food.
- A clean pot should be kept in an empty oven to ensure there will always be at least a little food to cook in it. My grandfather did this until the day her died.
- When making the bed, don’t interrupt your work or you will spend a restless night in it. Mostly because you’re thinking about all the jobs that didn’t get done.
- Stabbing needles through yarn balls will bring bad luck to anyone who wears something made from that yarn. Probably because the jumper will unravel due to the frayed wool.
- If a new bride should quietly take her mother’s dishcloth, she will never be homesick. That’s because she’ll have a memento of her mum to look at every time she doe the washing up!