Monday, January 14, 2008

How to Get Out of Bed Safely in the Morning

In older times, Appalachian people tried to safeguard their luck during the day with certain behaviors and beliefs. I suppose in the mountains life was uncertain enough; a person needed all the help they could get, and so superstitions helped them feel they had some control over their environment.

If you feel that your luck needs safeguarding, here are some ways to be sure you get out of bed and out of the house safely. I can't vouch for them, although I admit I am aware of most of them and might be caught from time to time stepping on a dropped comb or stopping to see what shoe I'm putting on first.

To polish or not to polish, that is the question. Only if they're off the feet!

I've added my interpretations of what might have originated these beliefs:

1. Always get out of bed on the right side of the bed (but from what perspective? while you are in the bed or standing at the foot?) Right side was always considered the side of good, left the side of the devil.

2. Put your right shoe on first. (same thing)

3. Don't sneeze while you put on your shoes! If you must sneeze, go back to bed and start all over again. Sneezing indicates illness, perhaps?

4. Don't polish your shoes while they're on your feet!

5. And if your stockings should fall down (heaven forbid), you'll end up an old maid. Four and five both indicate not taking proper care of your grooming, and who would want to marry a someone who didn't take care of her/himself?

6. Don't look under the bed either--you'll never marry if you do. I have no idea! perhaps indicates lack of trust?

7. If you put on a piece of clothing inside out, make a wish before you turn it and your wish will come true. I have no suggestions--do you?

8. If the hem of your skirt turns up, spit on it (eewww!) and make a wish--your wish will come true. Hmm...perhaps indicates a willingness to pay attention to appearances by making an effort to turn down the hem.

9. Don't cut your fingernails on Thursday, and

10. Never count the buttons on another person's clothes (why would you want to anyway?). Cutting fingernails on Thursday may indicate that you didn't do it last week, before church. Lazy or slovenly behavior, and lack of respect. Counting buttons--you'd have to stare to do that, and staring is rude.

11. It is bad luck to pass someone on the stairs. Again, this could be an indication of rudeness because you should have waited, and said "After you."

12. If you sing before breakfast, you'll cry before supper. Singing in some areas was considered sinful and playful. A serious, industrious person would be busy getting ready for the day's work.

13. If you drop a comb, step on the teeth with your right foot. The belief in the right side being, well, the right side.

14. If you count the teeth in your comb you'll have bad luck. Probably an indication of laziness. Who has time to count the teeth in their comb?

15. If you should feel inclined to leave a house by climbing out a window, you have to re-enter through the same window or you'll have bad luck. The only explanation I can think of for this one is that someone leaving through a window is probably up to no good. If your intentions were honorable, you'd had no problem coming back through the window.

There you have it! Fifteen ways to foolproof your luck before you leave the house.

Do you know other superstitions regarding luck? I'd love to hear them. I doubt that the Appalachian people were the only ones who used such charms to protect themselves against whatever dangers faced them in the rough world of the mountains.

Most of the above sayings are from Patrick Gainer's book Witches, Ghosts and Signs. Although out of print for several years, the book is being reissued by WV University Press. It's a trove of stories, lore, traditions, crafts and more.

Another long list of good-luck superstitions can be found at Old Superstitions online. Although these are not notated as to source, the list includes many that are familiar to me.

Google has the e-text of the Memoirs of the American Folklore Society available for download. This extensive list includes reference to the place from which the saying was collected, and includes several pages about luck, both good and bad.

So: get up on the right side of the bed, put on your right shoe first, spit on your upturned hem and put something on wrong side to, don't count the teeth in your comb or drop your comb, don't sing or pass someone on the stairs...what else was it?

I think I can do this...


Mary said...

My mother said to kiss that upturned hem before straightening it, and you would be getting a new dress.
Kathryn Windham did a set on superstitions in Jonesborough one year. One was that when passing salt, set the salt down for the other to pick up; handing it straight from hand to hand and you give them your luck. Another, eat the pie from the wide end to the point for good luck (I'm thinking that is to keep people from leaving part of the hard-made crust on the plate).
4. Don't polish your shoes while they're on your feet!
True, though macabre, example of a time when this rule would have saved a life. When I was selling insurance in the '70's, a young man getting ready for his wedding was electrocuted when he put his foot on a radiator to use an electric shoe buffer.

Anonymous said...

Not exactly luck--but my favorite older female realtive saying is "Might as well show a man your bare bottom as your bare feet" To which I as a teen I'm sure I at least thought--might as well!--Jane

Anonymous said...

Two more "luck" superstitions:

Always put a penny into a wallet or purse (handbag) before giving it as a present; to do otherwise means the recipient will be, or become, poor.

If you give a knife to someone as a present (loved your kids / dangerous things post, btw; I assume you know about Conn and Hal Iggulden's Dangerous Book for Boys, as well as Andrea Buchanan's and Miriam Peskowitz's Daring Book for Girls?), (s)he must give you a penny for it; in this way, the recipient has "bought" the knife from you and it won't sever your friendship.


Granny Sue said...

These are wonderful! Mary, I doubt they had radiators back in the time the saying was coined, but what an example! I don't think I've ever heard Kathryn's set on superstitions, except her ones for keeping away evil spririts. That one was great.

Jane, you were a more daring teen than I was (although, being a mother at 17, I obviously bared something...)

Tanuki, I have not heard of those books. I'll have to check at my library--sounds like my kind of book.

I had not heard those ones about putting a penny in a purse or "selling" a knife. I'd like to find other penny sayings; there seem to be many of them.

Barra the Bard said...

My mother faithfully followed the penny in regard to purses/wallets and giving scissors or a knife, and so do I.
A thought on it's being unlucky to pass someone on the stairs: perhaps, if the stairs were very narrow, steep, and/or winding, there is a danger in at least one person falling. Certainly when I was the littlest Cherub in my church's Cherub Choir, when we processed from where we put on our choir robes down a flight of dim, twisty steps (wide at one side, narrowing at the other), we were sternly forbidden to go in more than single file. Also, when my mother-in-law went on a tour of New Zealand and Australia, the first day they were in Melbourne at the hotel, she was going up the stairs when a Japanese tourist hurried down, knocking her down and breaking her ankle. She spent the rest of the trip in a bright pink cast and on crutches....--Barra

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