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Suzette Ash


Man has learned very slowly and is still learning to understandthe world about him. For thousands of years, strange or mysterious eventstroubled or frightened him. He believed that these strange events werecaused by good or evil forces.

The settlers in the Red River Valley were no exception,as they came from Germany, France, Scotland, Sweden, etc., they based manyevents or experiences in their lives on superstitions. The word, superstition,means "that which stands above." or "survives." (1)

Many superstitious customs come from ancient times. Acommon source of superstition comes from a real or just made up resemblancebetween objects, persons, or events. For example, the apparent increasein the size of the moon from new moon to full moon, is believed to influencethe growth of plants. Such superstitions are called "sympathetic"magic. (2)

A lot of the settlers in the Red River Valley were strongbelievers about planting their potatoes by the moon. Besides potatoes,they would plant carrots and some of the other common vegetables by moonlight. By planting their crops at this time, they were to grow higher and faster.

Men observe the changes and the course of the sun, moon,stars, and planets. Their positions were sometimes believed to influencehuman life. But, as time went on, people by studying the heavens gainedknowledge that developed into a system of foretelling the future, whichwas known as "astrology." Astrology became a very complex formof superstition to the pioneers. They believed that any change in the skywas a sign of some sort from God. They were afraid of a change becauseof their lack of knowledge about the heavens. The careful study of theheavens later led into being the true study of "astronomy."

Magic is commonly used for working evil, casting a spell,or bewitching. This is a common practice of the followers who believe invoodoo magic. This area of evil magic can take into its account a widerange of sources. An example of this would be sticking pins into a dollto try to injure someone else.

The pioneers were great believers in magic. They wouldactually practice this belief of sticking pins in dolls to injure someoneelse.

Misfortunes were believed to be the result of evil influences. Objects or devices which are credited with power to protect someone againstthese harmful forces are called "charms." A charm can be anywhere from a formula to a metal, or stone. A lot of pioneers wore charmsout hunting to bring them good luck. They even tied some charms aroundtheir children's necks to ward off evil spirits. Charms are still verycommon today but are not as strongly emphasized.

The pioneers believed that a horseshoe would keep awayevil spirits and bring them good luck. They believed that when someonefound a horseshoe, they must return to their house at once, without speakingto anyone, and hang the horseshoe over the door prongs up to bring themgood luck. If the horseshoe was hung prongs down, the luck would run out. The horseshoe must be fastened with only three nails, each driven in bythree blows of the hammer. It is thought by some people that the beliefin the mystic power of three probably comes from the Trinity of God theFather, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The origin of most superstitionsis not known, but seem to have been started a long time ago.

Beside primitive people regarding a person's name as anintimate part of the person, so did the pioneers. They actually kept aperson's name a secret since another person might be able to bewitch himby using his name. They didn't believe in giving a child the name of aliving relative in some cases, for fear the relative would die.

Another belief that the early settlers believed in wasthe mention of misfortune or evil would bring misfortune on one. This formof belief was in the power of words. They tried not to worry about theircrops failing, because then through some evil force, their crops would beruined, either through drought, storms or disease by evil.

The pioneers thought magic words could be spoken to summonspirits or protect against danger. They believed that by using or speakingsome magic words they could give power to medicine or to ceremonies.

Men in all parts of the world believe in some kind of spirits. The pioneers believed that the evil spirits were the ones that caused andspread diseases. They did have ways, however, of getting rid of these spirits. This was by reciting charms, and magic words or wearing charms.

Pioneers believed and let dreams play an important partin their lives. They believed that a dream was an experience in which thesoul of the sleeper left the body. They believed because of this, one shouldnot wake the sleeper suddenly for his soul might not find its way back tothe body. In another belief, it is the superstition that the spirit ofan ancestor returns in a new born child so the child in named after theancestor whose returned soul is suppose to be in him.

The tendency to believe in superstitions or to have strongsuperstitious beliefs is strong among people with little or no education. That is not saying, however, that educated people aren't superstitiousabout some things but he may not believe as strongly in them.

Superstitions can very easily influence people's conduct. For example, hotel rooms, cabins, hospitals, and city buildings sometimesskip the number thirteen, because so many believe it is an unlucky number. Some feel Friday the thirteenth is especially unlucky and pay special attentionof what events they partake in for that day.

The pioneers took their superstitions much more seriouslyfor they believed that certain truths were revealed. For example, if aperson developed a blister on his tongue, it was a sure sign that he hadtold a lie. Or, if a person's ears burned for no apparent reason, it wasbelieved someone was talking about him. If a person got cold shivers, thismeant someone was walking over the place where his grave would be. Steppingon a crack was to bring bad luck. Receiving a gift of a knife meant thefriendship of those two people would be cut. The pioneers also believedif a person dropped a knife, this meant they would be receiving companyfrom the direction the knife was pointed in.

Besides the pioneers believing in superstitions, thereare still a lot of common superstitions that people today believe in. Forexample, breaking a mirror will bring seven years bad luck. It is unluckyto walk under a ladder, postpone a wedding, open an umbrella indoors, orhold a young baby up to a mirror so it can see itself. It is unlucky fora person to turn back from a journey, stub their toe, wear clothes insideout, to wear a peacock feather, meet a black cat or funeral procession,or even to leave a house through a window. It is believed to be unluckyto sit on a table, put your shoes on the table, or spill salt.

The pioneers believed that some superstitions would bringthem good luck instead of bad. For instance, to look at the new moon overtheir left shoulder was very lucky. Wishing on a falling star, which isstill practiced for fun today. Bubbles in a person's coffee and an itchypalm meant finding wealth.

Besides believing in good and bad superstitions, therewere some superstitions practiced that were less innocent. These were thesuperstitions in which fortune tellers and palmists claimed to be able topredict or read the future, read character or communicate with the dead. One method of trying to read the future was by the use of cards. "Thelines in the palm of the hand are suppose to indicate personal characteristics,abilities, or fate. This method of divining is called palmistry."(3)

The pioneers believed strongly in predicting the futureby the use of tea leaves. They also believed in crystal gazing, astrology,taking omens from dreams and necromancy (spirit communication).

We all tend to believe in some form of superstitions, somemore than others, either for fun or because we are afraid not to. WilsonD. Wallis stated "many logical persons cling to superstitious beliefsbecause they hope that influences lie outside their normal life and destiny."(4)


(1) "Superstition," World Book Encyclopedia,Volume 18, page 796

(2) Ibid

(3) "Superstition," World Book Encyclopedia,volume 18, page 797

(4) Wilson D. Wallis, "Superstition," World BookEncyclopedia, Volume 18, page 797




Ash, Ann, Humboldt, MN, Interview, January 5, 1974

Ash, Vera, St. Vincent, MN, Interview, December 25, 1973

Botko, Clara, Warren, MN, Interview, December 25, 1973

World Book Encyclopedia, "Superstition," Volume18, pages 794 - 797

ZE=+1>Botko, Clara, Warren, MN, Interview, December 25, 1973

World Book Encyclopedia, "Superstition," Volume18, pages 794 - 797