Appalachian Vocabulary Test 43
Appalachia Through My Eyes - Bees

Some Common Folklore and Superstitions Held Among Mountain Folk

Today's Guest Post was written by Ethelene Dyer Jones.


Some Common Folklore and Superstitions Held Among Mountain Folk written by Ethelene Dyer Jones

Are you superstitious?  Maybe most of us would say, “No!” Yet we grew up in an area where certain superstitious sayings were often repeated and believed by some people. Let’s take a look at some of them.

“A cat eating grass foretells rain.” Whether this is true or not, maybe we should try it out in this dry, hot weather, and see, if after our cat chews on grass, rains come.

“A dog howling at night is a portent of death.” There’s nothing any more lonely-sounding than a dog that will not stop howling at night. Maybe the dog senses something humans do not. Who knows? It would be worth seeing if someone dear to the family dies after a dog howls mournfully at night.

“Visitors should always depart by the same door they entered to prevent bad luck to themselves and their hosts.” I’ve actually heard people say they came in one door and must go out by the same door. You might be surprised how widely held this belief is.

“Milk or food stolen from a neighbor and fed to a child will cure whooping cough.” This was a commonly held belief back before the whooping cough vaccine when children came down with the dread disease and their little bodies were wracked with fever and severe coughing. Just to get the child to eat some “stolen” milk or food was considered a sure cure.

Away from home and homesick? There are two cures for it. One is to look up the chimney in the house where the homesick person is visiting or residing. Another is to sprinkle salt between the sheet and the mattress on the bed he/she is sleeping.

The first visitor on New Year’s Day to a home will determine whether the firstborn on that homestead for the year, person or animal, will be male or female, according to the sex of the visitor.

Is one of your children having trouble with a subject in school? An old belief is that if the textbook of the troublesome subject is placed under the student’s pillow at night, by morning he/she will know that subject. As a teacher, I can’t subscribe to this method of getting over difficulties in learning reading, mathematics or science. I’d recommend master the homework.

Some weather lore holds that the number of heavy fogs on August mornings determines the numbers of snows that will fall in the same area in the winter. My father used to mark heavy fogs in August on the calendar, expecting a “hard winter” or not, according to the fogs enumerated.

Back when children sometimes had seizures, whether from epilepsy or other malady, there was a common belief that “if a child has a fit, turn his shirt inside out and burn it.” This action was thought to be a sure cure for “fits”.

Here are some that related to death:

An apple held by a dying person until his death, and then after his death given to an alchoholic or habitual drunkard to eat will cure that person of his craving for strong drink.

If a person has a goiter on the neck, he/she should go where there has been a death, take the hand of the deceased, and rub the dead hand over the goiter. This is a sure cure for the malady. (Who wants to try that?)

Back in the days when witchcraft was more common, and some were suspected of being witches, there was a sure sign of whether the deceased was really a witch or not. If a witch, a frog would most certainly hop into the grave while it was being filled. I wonder, has anyone seen this happen?

Here are some more folklore cures:

For all you bald persons out there, have you tried this folklore remedy? For a cure of baldness, rub the scalp regularly with a divided onion cut cross-wise into hemispheres.

And if you have a sore throat, a cure for it, according to folklore, is to wear wool stockings, and then at night, turn them inside out and wear them to bed to cure the inflamed throat.

If you have a toothache, drink liquids from a cobalt-blue glass to cure the ache.

Avoid these bad luck signs, if you can: If a black cat crosses the road while you are traveling, it is a harbinger of bad luck. And don’t ever walk under a ladder leaned against the building. That action is sure to bring bad luck.

These are only a few of the folklore signs, remedies and superstitions that have been passed down to us from our Scots-Irish and Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors. Whether we believe in their efficacy or not, they are interesting to read and think about.


I hope you enjoyed Ethelene's post as much as I did! I've heard most of the ones she mentioned-but not all of them. Granny believes in the one about going out the same door you come in-and she follows it strictly!

How about you-heard most of them?


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I have heard quite a few of these, but not all of them.

Angie-thank you for the comment! I have heard-if you drop a dish towel in the kitchen it means someone is coming to see you : )


Blind Pig The Acorn

Celebrating and Preserving the

Culture of Appalachia

RB-thank you for the comment! Ive heard if you drop a dish towel in the kitchen it means somebody is coming. And Ive always heard - spilling salt is bad luck-and to cancel out the bad luck you should throw salt over your shoulder : )


Blind Pig The Acorn

Celebrating and Preserving the

Culture of Appalachia

Thank you Ethelene, for a great post! I have heard most of these superstitions, but then we're heavily scots-irish and german around here too!

Here's an interesting one that's a sure thing: when you hear the katydids sing during the day it's 6 weeks til the first frost!

Can never hear enough of this kind of thing. So very interesting and I also like to read what might be the origin of such did they get started, etc. Fascinating.

Heard some of them, not all.

Have you heard any not listed here? For instance, when we were growing up, according to our maternal Grandmother if a piece of silverware was dropped on the floor, it meant a visitor was coming; for a knife dropped, it was a man, for a fork dropped, it was a woman, for a spoon dropped, it was a baby. Few wanted a spoon to fall. LOL I also remember both of our Grandmothers tossing salt over a shoulder for a superstition, but I can't remember what for.

God bless.


Has anyone ever heard not to stand a broom upright? My mother still turns them upside down when she sees one- they just don't stand well that way...

Thanks Tipper and Ethelene, interesting suppositions here.
Never been much on superstitions but have some interest in folk lore. Now I'm beginning to wonder what is the difference in folklore and superstition? And why would I value folklore and disbelieve superstition?

Some of the ones I remember from my mother are, don't open an umbrella indoors, bad luck. Don't rock a rocking chair without someone in it, bad luck. A red bird outside your window three days in a row, death. I'm sure there's 'more but I can't recall them. Great post!

Have you ever heard the superstition that if you drop something (dishtowel, fork or anything) in your kitchen, you'll have company coming before the day ends?

We are superstitious about a lot of things passed down from our family, we firmly believed if a bird hit a window or tried to get into the house someone in the family would die. PS. tell granny enjoying the CD. Grandmother Joy

Wonderful post - thanks, Ethelene! Love reading about superstitions and folklore.

Ethelene-Good stuff this morning. It reminded me of many superstitions I hadn't heard in years.
But, Baldness is a blessing. An evolutionary step up. We need a remedy for hairy.

I just thought of something! When
I was about 10, one Sunday our
Pastor and his wife came home with
us for dinner. Mama was proud of
her youngest son's skills she taught me, so I got to catch a
couple of Dominecker Pullets and
wring their necks for dinner. Well
the necks came off real easy but
them boogers were just floppin'
all over the place. Then mama said
for me to turn my shoe sole side-
ways and make an "X" and put the
chickens on the "X". And so with
all the stuff I had on my pantsleg
I wanted to cuss, but that would
get my head peeled, and daddy's
hands were tough as shoeleather.
But neither of those chickens
moved or flopped anymore...Ken

I love this post! I do believe in superstitions and some of these I had not heard of before. Thanks, Ethelene!!

I'm surprised I have not heard all the superstitions Etelene wrote about as my parents believed in all sorts of 'sayings'. A local Meteorologist had us all counting the number of fogs last August. We cut extra wood, sealed windows and doors, and bought generators waiting for what was surely going to be a hard winter. It didn't happen here in Kentucky! I enjoyed the post regardless of whether I believe them or not.

WOW! Ethelene: You sure enlightened me with some new 'beliefs' from our past. But a few were very familiar to me! Thanks! Eva Nell

p.s. Jim says my presentation yesterday up in Kentucky was GREAT! I questioned him as to whether he was serious or not. He assured me he was serious about the presentation. YOUR NOTES WERE VERY HELPFUL!!!

B.Ruth-Thairs them P words agin. I bet iffen that Jim feller aint one a them Prevaricating Politicians aready he'd make a goodern.

I love this topic!
Here are a couple that have stayed with me.

If the wedding ring is dropped during the ceremony, who ever dropped it will be the first one to die.

Death always happens in three's.

My family was really big on the death superstitions.

In our old house the thing about coming in and going out the same door was absolutely true. We came in and went out the kitchen door. The living room door, for a long time, opened to nothing. So if you went out there was a 4 or 5 foot drop to the ground. Now I'd call it bad luck if you didn't know about it and maybe if you did.

PS Daddy wasn't stupid. He had it nailed shut.

I really enjoyed this post. Thanks for sharing.

If the sun shines while it is raining, it will rain again tomorrow.
My grandfather helped me compile a list for school (45 years ago). I wish I still had his list.

I have never heard that wearing wool socks would cure a sore throat but can certainly understand how this would work'
For us that can't wear wool, our feet would be itching so bad we wouldn't even notice the sore throat.
Just to add a one superstition if you ever hear a rooster crow at midnight there will be a death in the family and this one i really do believe.

Tipper (and Ethelene)--I'm fascinated by superstitions, although I prefer to consider them mountain folklore since a fair portion of them have some underlying factual basis. Of all the many aspects of this subject, the one which interests me most is the folklore of weather. Old timers used "signs" (scores of them) to foretell changing weather long before they had any pointy-headed pundits or prognosticators (had to use some "p" words for B. Ruth!)to give forecasts.
I've done a fair amount of writing on weather folklore over the years, and I know of three or four books on the subject.
Thanks to Ms. Jones for this guest post.

Jim Casada

I do so enjoy reading all the folk-lore from days past and unless it is absolutely unavoidable I never go out a different door than the one I came in---after all I am of Pa dutch and german people and many of what was written I grew up with so needless to say I sure did enjoy this post.

I thought cats and dogs ate grass to help them get rid of hairballs. Cats get hairballs from licking their fur. Dogs get them from eating cats! Shows how much I know!

I enjoyed Ethelene's folklore of
Appalachia, reminded me of some
of my folks when I was a kid. One
of the things that got my attention, and I've never heard,
was a frog jumping on a grave being filled. Interesting stuff!

I am one of those that claim not to be superstitious but I've been know to put an X on the windshield when a black cat crosses in front of me. You know! Just in case! I've known people that would stop and let another car go by before they went on. So the X is mild Superstition. I not really too badly afflicted with it. I'm more worried about people with cell phones stuck in their ear than black cats. And that ain't superstition!

If there's a man up that ladder, I DEFINITELY wouldn't walk under it. You never know when he might drop something on your head!

I have heard the one about being sure to depart through the same door that you arrived through my whole life. And, if I am honest, I try to ALWAYS be sure and do this one! Why take chances? :D

Thanks, Tipper and Ethelene for this post.
I knew some of them from our Ozark traditions.
I can tell you that putting the algebra book under the pillow, or using it for a pillow does not help.
I often fell asleep trying to 'get' that. LOL

I had not heard of some of these at all! And I hope I never have a goiter - lawd! *shudder* lawd! ;-D

always a pleasure here . . .

In and out by the same door is the only one I follow.

Heard many of them, but a surprising number were new to me.

When I was a kid, Mrs. Lane in Crab Orchard, TN was a noted weather predictor and she used the number of August fogs along with other signs like how high above the ground hornets built their nests to predict winter severity. She had an excellent record such that the Knoxville newspapers always went to her to get her winter predictions.

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