Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Some Advice for the Haunted Season

Now that we've been out rousing the spirits with stories, trick-or-treat, jack-o-lanterns and such, you might be wondering how to get things settled down again. In mountain folklore there are quite a few superstitions on the topic. For example:
  • sprinkle a ring of salt around your home. It was believed that spirits would not cross salt.
  • paint the window and door frames of your house blue. Might clash with your green siding, but spirits apparently will not cross a blue threshold.
  • hang a mirror outside your door. Spirits must be vain because they must stop and look at themselves in a mirror, and they forget why they came (must have short memories too). A slightly different belief is that mirrors must be covered after a death in the family to prevent the person's spirit from returning through the mirror, thought to be portal to the other side. Some interesting ghost stories involving mirrors are found on the blog Your Ghost Stories.
  • Put screen wire over all your doors and windows. Spirits seem to be obsessive-compulsive because they have to count every single tiny hole in the screen. By the time they've counted all the holes, day is breaking and they must return to whence they came.
  • hang blue bottles on a bush in your yard. As explained to me, the custom springs from a belief that spirits would be attracted to the bottles and get trapped inside. I found a detailed and interesting history of the custom at a blog called Travis Graphics. This beautiful blog is a place I'll visit again.
  • Hang rosemary, tied with red ribbon, outside your door. A twist on this is to put the tied rosemary into a seashell--apparently that can capture a spirit inside the shell!
  • Lastly, storyteller Kathryn Windham of Alabama advises her listeners to turn their shoes in opposite directions under the bed at night. This confuses the spirits, she says, because they can't tell if you're coming or going! (Kathryn is a great teller of ghost stories as well as hilarious personal stories, and at 89 is still going strong.)
If you all these instructions, you should feel fairly safe from any ill-intended spirit visits. Of course, by the time you've done all this, it will be daylight anyway and the need for protection will be gone!
For some interesting superstitions, read Haints, Witches and Boogers, Tales from Upper East Tennessee, or Witches, Ghosts and Signs by Patrick Gainer; or the new work by Jerry Milnes, Signs, cures, and witchery : German Appalachian Folklore.

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