Superstitions of medieval England

Posted: August 1, 2013 in Historic Interest
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Many superstitions today are a result of regional moral panic, these origins date back to medieval times when there was much ignorance in society and widespread illiteracy. It was an era where people believed in witches, evil spirits, and demons. There was a great belief in magic and the supernatural. People were extremely superstitious during this time period. Today, people still look back to the time of fearful peasants and their superstitions. With the help of the Church, contrived symbols, and sacramental aids, they could overcome many daily problems.

For people who could read during this time, there was a list of what was known as “evil days” printed in almanacs. On these days, people would not travel because it was believed that if someone travelled on these days, they would never return or they would become ill.

There were three Mondays in the year when new ventures should never be started and these were the first Monday in April, the second Monday in August and the last Monday in December. The Christian Church attempted to eradicate the idea of evil days by dedicating each day of the year to one or more saints but up until the nineteenth century superstitions regarding these Mondays as being “evil” continued.

During the mid 15th century, an estimated 200,000 people throughout Europe were put to death for practicing witchcraft. Many were burned alive or hanged. People believed witches could fly on broomsticks, brew potions, cast spells, and make people sick. People also believed witches could change their form into animals. The most popular being the cat and the raven. It was also believed that witches were in league with bats. So therefore, it was said to be bad luck if you saw bats in flight and or heard their cries. It was also a belief that horses repelled witches, which is why they chose to ride brooms or pitchforks instead.

Once when bears used to roam ancient Britain, a notion emerged that if a child rode on the back of a bear he or she would be protected from whooping cough.

The idea of the ‘lucky horseshoe’ was brought about by the medieval belief that they ward off witches, and by placing a horseshoe over a door, any witch would be reluctant to enter. However, not just any horseshoe would do, it had to be an iron one that had come off the horse by natural means and not taken off by man. The horseshoe then had to be placed at a certain angle above the door and secured with iron nails. One way would be if it was pointing upward so that the curve was at the bottom to prevent the luck from spilling out.

The phrase “bless you” was believed to originate from medieval superstition. If someone opened their mouth when they sneezed, they were giving the Devil the opportunity to enter their body. Saying “bless you” to the person was believed to counteract this.

Often people would touch a man before they got executed for good luck. They also believed that the right hand of an executed prisoner had the power to heal.

The use of candles during the Medieval period were blessed on February 2nd, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, also known as Candlemas. Candles were used to ward off evil spirits and were lit at times of death. Slim, red candles were used during childbirth to protect against demons and other threatening spirits. Crosses made from wax blessed at Candlemas, were placed on farm equipment and on barns.

Church doorways, overlooked by gargoyles, were they a religious sacrament or were they there to ward off evil? During the medieval period it is true, some were intended for just that reason, but for the most part, they were simply an adornment to keep rain from running down the already cold, damp walls and corroding the masonry. To the illiterate masses the grotesque forms, saints and dragons became the superstitious amulet from which regional myths and false notions were formed.

The popular superstition that breaking a mirror can bring you seven years of bad luck came about when people believed that the image reflected in a mirror was a person’s actual soul. The soul becoming disconnected from the body was represented by the broken glass. To break the spell of misfortune, one must wait seven hours before picking up the broken pieces, and burying them outside in the moonlight. The seven hours wait being synonymous of the seven years bad luck.

The superstitions that were popular in medieval times are still popular among people today and many people still believe in them.

 

 

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  1. […] Superstitions of medieval England (hchroniclesblog.wordpress.com) […]

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