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Appalachian Folk Beliefs
By Scott Nicholson

The people of the Appalachian Mountains have always been full of superstition, dreams, and creativity, and have come up with lots of different sayings and folk beliefs. Some seem silly, and some are based on acute observation, but most were born before science rushed in with an answer for almost everything. When these beliefs were created, people had only their senses to guide them. Besides, how can you disprove anything based on faith? Say it three times, it must be true.


H e a l i n g

  • If you scratch yourself with a nail, rub it in grease and throw it in the fire.
  • One cure for hiccups is to tickle the nose with a feather.
  • Eating parched corn or parched coffee will cure stomach ailments.
  • To get rid of warts, carve one notch in a stick for every wart you have. Bury or hide the stick, and the warts will go way.
  • To stop bleeding from a wound, apply chimney soot
  • Don't let birds gather your hair for nesting material: you will go crazy.
  • For toothache, rub a splinter around the gum until it draws blood; drive the splinter into a tree, and the toothache will go away.
  • Putting a handful of salt on your head will cure a headache.
  • If you eat snow before the third snowfall of the season, it will make you sick.
  • If you dream about crossing water, there will be an illness in the family.
  • To get rid of chills, tie a string around a persimmon tree.
  • If you sweep under the bed of a sick person, that person will die.
  • If your hand itches, it means someone will give you a present soon.
  • For snake bite, cut up the snake that bit you and press its flesh to the wound. This will draw out the poison.
  • Raw wet tobacco will draw the venom from an insect's sting.


L u c k

  • Eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day is good luck.
  • Always lend salt; if you give it away, you will have bad luck.
  • Tell a dream before breakfast and it won't come true.
  • It's bad luck to sew on Saturday unless you finish the job.
  • If you dream about muddy water, you will have bad luck.
  • It's bad luck to look in a mirror at midnight.
  • If a cricket chirps in your fireplace, you will have good luck.
  • It's bad luck to pass somebody on the stairs.
  • The third person to light a cigarette from the same match will have bad luck.
  • It's bad luck to put shoes back in the box before wearing them.
  • If you put on a shirt wrong-side-out, it's good luck. But you have to get someone else to turn it inside-out for you, or your luck will change.
  • It's bad luck to sneeze at the table.
  • If you wear an opal, it's bad luck, unless it's your birthstone.
  • If you sweep after the sun goes down, you will never be rich.
  • It's bad luck to watch a friend leaving if you continue watching until the person is out of sight.
  • If a black cat crosses your path, it's bad luck, unless the cat crosses from right to left.
  • It's bad luck to run backwards.


L o v e

  • Break a coin under the new moon and sew half of it in the clothes of the person you're after, and the person will fall in love with you.
  • If your lover is going out to cheat on you, sprinkle salt in the path, and the lover will turn around and come back.
  • If two people put spoons in a cup at the same time, they will be married.
  • If you dream about death, it's a sign that a wedding day is near.
  • Strike a match and hold it upside down. If it burns to the end, it means your mate loves you truly.
  • If you look in a mirror held over a spring, you will see the face of the person you will marry
  • If you swallow a chicken's heart, you will win the hand of the one you love.
  • Name a fishing hook after the person you love. If you catch a fish with the hook, it means the love is true.
  • You will marry as many people as the number of seeds that will stick to your forehead.
  • If you put a four-leaf clover in your shoe, you will marry the first person you meet.
  • If a girl takes the last piece of bread from a plate, she will be an old maid.
  • It's bad luck to bathe on your wedding day.
  • Wednesday is the best day to get married, except in May.
  • Sunshine on wedding day means a happy marriage.
  • If your lips itch, it means you want to be kissed.


D e a t h

  • If you rock an empty cradle, the baby will die.
  • If your ears are ringing, you are hearing the death bell and a friend will pass away.
  • If you cut your hair in March, you'll die that year.
  • It's bad luck for a new bride to meet a funeral procession.
  • A bird flying out of a house of sickness means the patient will die.
  • If a broken clock suddenly strikes, it's a sure sign of death.
  • If you see a shooting star, a friend will die.
  • If a dog howls at night, someone in the household will die soon.
  • If you suddenly shudder, it means a rabbit has run across your grave.
  • If somebody dies, stop the clock until the next day, or someone else in the house will die.
  • It's bad luck to point at a graveyard.
  • If rain falls into an open grave, that means the deceased is bound for hell.


S p i r i t s

  • To ward off spells, wear a rabbit's foot around your neck.
  • To make a death charm, shape a little wax figure and put the victim's hair in it, then put the figure in the fire. To break a spell, carry drinking water across a running stream.
  • A horseshoe hung over the door keeps witches and evil spirits away.
  • If you want to keep a witch out of your house, lay a broom across the doorstep.
  • To kill a witch, carve a heart in a tree; drive a nail in the tree, giving a tap every morning. On the ninth morning, drive the nail all the way in.
  • To keep away ghosts, put salt on the fire or carry the left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit.
  • A snakeskin bag with a toad's eye inside will ward off ghosts.


W e a t h e r

  • Red sky at sunrise means rain within twenty-four hours.
  • Dew on the grass means a dry day.
  • If it rains on Monday, it will rain all through the week.
  • If your nose itches, it's a sign of rain. When roosters crow at night, expect rain the next day.
  • If a frog croaks at twelve o'clock, it's a sign of rain..
  • If you see enough blue sky to patch a jacket, the rain is passing.
  • A red sky at night means windy weather.
  • A pinching crawdad will hold on until it hears thunder.
  • There will be a winter snow for every August fog.
  • Thunder in February means frost in May.
  • Lots of nuts and berries means the winter will be severe.

(Originally appeared in The Mountain Times)

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