Canon Diggens ArchiveSUPERSTITIONS.
Climate and scenery have always affected the credulity of different nations. It has been said that "ignorance is the parent of superstition" but this could not have been chargeable to the enlightened Greeks and Romans or to the great astronomers of Egypt, or the Wise men of the East - who, one and all, firmly believed in the Supernatural and the existence of the Goddess of Fortune.
Our own insular superstitions have come down to us from Druidical days. A century or two ago, there was not a village in Britain without its ghost; a common without its fairy circle; or a graveyard without its disembodied spirit. Such beliefs naturally have ceased to exist in crowded cities, but in isolated spots they still partially linger though not to a great extent.
Superstition is not quite dead yet in St. Keverne. Fishermen carefully refrain from whistling when at sea. This doubtless originated from the ancient belief that the whistling will call up spirits of the air. A hare's foot thrown by anyone into a boat is said to bring ill-luck to those going out in it.
According to Devon peasants pixies are the souls of infants who died before they were baptized.
Noises heard underground were supposed to be the imprisoned spirits of the Jews who crucified Christ.
Years ago it was believed that a cure for the evil eye was to go to Holy Communion and keep a piece of the consecrated bread, carrying it about with you.
A young and anxious wife was dreadfully alarmed at some infantile complaint, from which her first-born seemed to be suffering. The nurse girl said that her mother could quickly cure it. The good woman, who was hurriedly sent for, pronounced the emphatic opinion that the child had been ill-wished. Forthwith she proceeded to divest the babe of its clothes, and then, solemnly, with a muttered incantation, turned the little one three times head over heels. The child at once recovered and is alive and well to this day. The remedy was obviously simple. The woman just unscrewed the evil spell.
One day the writer had occasion to call at a cottage, and found there a girl who was suffering from a cold of long standing, of which she could not get rid. He advised her that evening to put her feet in hot mustard and water, to take a dish of hot gruel, and then to jump into To bed, and to remain there the next day.
Later on when he made another call he was astonished to be greeted by the remark "your charm worked". "How so?" he asked. Thereupon he was told that his directions had been followed with the result that the troublesome cold had disappeared.
The girl's father, who was present then related his own happy experience, He had been told that an old woman "over to Mawgan" could charm away his complaint, and had been over to consult her. She did not inform him in what her charm consisted, but told him he must have faith. "But" he added dolefully, "sometimes I can, and sometimes I can't". Perhaps because of his insufficient command of the needful amount of faith the charm did not work.
A conversation followed about other charms, and an amusing incident was related concerning a woman who was afflicted with a terrible toothache. While a neighbour was condoling with her, a man came by and enquired what was the matter. "I've got a terrible toothache" moaned the woman. "Oh, I can cure that" said Johnnie. "I wish to goodness you would" said the woman, "To do it" said Johnnie, "I must go into the middle of the field, but be careful" he added impressively "what you say". Well, off Johnnie trudged into the adjoining meadow. After he had disappeared the woman remarked to her neighbour "I don't believe in Johnnie's old whiddles (wiles)". Upon the return of the charmer, what was the woman's astonishment, when he greeted her with the remark "Look here, if you don't believe in Johnnie's old whiddles he can't help you". Of course every atom of unbelief fled in face of this astounding proof of Johnnie's occult power, and the toothache fled at the same time.
Mr. Edwin Rule's father had a field at Laddenvean, in which he kept a cow. The cow was taken ill, and the farrier was sent for. (There were no regular vets. at that time). This was a conscientious man who thoroughly believed in the evil eye. As he could not discern the cause of the cow's ailment, he suggested that it had been ill-wished, and that an old woman in Helston, who was noted as a wise woman would help him.
He, Mr. Rule, was somewhat incredulous but nevertheless he went to the woman, who told him that his cow on his return would be found standing up and quietly feeding (she had not been able to stand for days). Strange to say he found the cow as the wise woman prophecied.
The wise woman died about 1854. About the time of her death there were torrential rains, which the ordinary conduits were quite insufficient to carry off. Valleys were flooded, and traffic suspended, which phenomena were of course all attributed to the death of the wise woman,
CHARM FOR FIRE.
There came two angels from the Earth. One carried fire, the other carried frost.
!Out fire, in frost, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost'.
To be read over, three times.
FOR NETTLE STING.
Rub with dock leaves and say:
"Out nettle, in dock. Our Lady shall have a new smock".
When blackbirds hover over a house where illness is, they are said in Cornwall to be harbingers of death.
When the wind is in the East on Candlemas Day,
There it will stick till the Second of May.
When the wind is in the North
The skilful fisher goes not forth.
When the wind is in the South
It blows the bait in the fishes' mouth
When the wind is in the West
Then 'tis at its very best.
If Christmas Day on a Sunday fall
A troublesome Winter we shall have all,
It is supposed in Cornwall that if Club-Moss is properly gathered, it will be good against all diseases of the eyes
Sailors have said "A North Wind is a broom for the Channel".
Among the interesting remarks made by Caesar in his Commentaries on the Manners and Customs of the early inhabitants of Britain is the curious piece of information that they thought it unlawful to use for food either the Hare, the common Fowl, or the Goose, though they kept these animals for their pleasure,
The probable motive of this alleged abstinence Caesar and other authors inform us was on account of these birds being consecrated to their religion, It is highly probable that the Ancient Britons offered these animals in sacrifice to their Gods, for the bones of hares, and fowls, are mentioned by Dr. Stukeley as forming part of the contents of sepulchral barrows opened under his direction near Stonehenge, and they have been observed in similar situations by other investigators.
Polwhele, in his history of Cornwall 1803 Vol 1. page 39 says, "The Cornish, particularly those of the West of Cornwall, are unwilling to eat of the hare, whether from any transmitted regard to this animal or not, I have not discovered".
A solitary magpie in the path is deemed very unlucky.
The spider's sudden appearance in a house is a sign of coming rain, and to kill a spider is considered an omen of misfortune.
The power of ill-wishing is still believed in by the St. Keverne people. An invalid in the parish was pointed out to the writer as being the victim of an ill wish when she was nine years old, in consequence of which it was said that she never grew any more.
The origin of this superstition doubtless originated in patriarchal times.
The office of ill-wishing generally formed part of the duties of the Druid. When two people entered into a compact the Druid was present to utter imprecations on him who should break the agreement. How profoundly dreaded was the "ill wish" may be judged by the case recorded in the "Colloquy of the Ancients" where it is said that Ainnalack, son of the King of Leinster, died of sheer fright when threatened by the bard. A curse once launched could not be recalled. If wrongfully pronounced then it rested and fell on the head of him who had pronounced it.
We must not be too shocked at this cursing as practised by the Celtic Saints. It was a legal right accorded to them, hedged about with certain restrictions. It was a means provided by law, and custom, to enable the weak who could not redress their wrongs by force of arms, to protect themselves against the mighty, and to recover valuables taken from them by violence.
It is a well known fact that John Wesley was a firm believer in supernatural agencies. He compiled a book of ghost stories that was lent to the Rev. Hawker when he was 10 years old, by a kind but ignorant woman. "The reading of which" says Hawker, "caused me many sleepless nights".
ST KEVERNES CURSE. Blight page 39 - 4.
Among other interpretations of the word "Meneage" was Meanake = the deaf stone, the reason given for this rendering being that though there are several mineral lodes or veins in the district, they are deaf, or barren. What greater punishment could, be inflicted on Cornishmen than depriving their native soil of the precious ore which gives employment to some and fortunes to others? This did Saint Keverne for the irreligion of the inhabitants and for their disrespect, he pronounced a curse against them, and caused the mineral veins to be unproductive.
Hence the proverb: "No metal will run within the sound of St Keverne Bells".