Origins

Warding Off Evil

Q.
What are some cross-cultural superstitions to scare off evil and where did they come from?

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A.
When my Jamaican Mum was about to enjoy a cocktail, she’d take a moment to fling a few drops up in the air: “For the good spirits!”  Old school Jamaicans know to toss a pinch of salt if you want to scare away bad duppies. Turn around three times at your front door to shake off any evil ghosts who might have followed you home.

Rituals to ward off wicked forces reach centuries back. A cross-cultural sampling:

Wedding Bouquets
Today, wedding bouquets are works of floral art to be clutched then hurled. In times of yore, bouquets were messy bundles of pungent spices, herbs and garlic. These smelly companions staved off the stench of infrequently bathed brides. The carefully chosen ingredients were also designed to repel bad spirits.

Ghastly Gargoyles
Historic landmarks and churches feature snarling, hungry gargoyles ready to pounce on any evil interlopers who dare to venture near.

A Better Lump Of Coal
Santa’s gifts of coal do not foretell good fortune. Some people, however, voluntarily lug around coal lumps to shield themselves from rotten influences. Then again, 19th Century robbers also crept around with pockets of coal to ensure a clean getaway.

First Comes Safety, Then Comes Kissing
If people catch themselves under the mistletoe today, they may gleefully pause or run like stink, depending on who is in the vicinity. Mistletoe was not always about kissing. Originally, it was hung in the doorway to repel forces of doom.

Drums And Clappers
From Africa to Asia, percussive banging has been used to chase away evil.

Busy Brooms
Many are still disciplined in keeping their front doorsteps swept clean in order to break the path of evil. A broom is stored near the door for quick access and symbolic protection.

Holiday Garlands
Round holiday time, you’ll see festive garlands hanging off doors, mantelpieces and hooks. Whether crafted of fennel, mugwort, burdock, garlic, jasmine or pine, garlands were originally strung across the door to fend off nasty creatures and protect the home.

Bits of Birch
People and cows wore birch twigs to scare away wicked witches. Rosemary and St. John’s wort were considered similarly protective.

Unfinished Renovations
No one is advocating half-finished DIY messes all about the house. Some believe, however, that you should leave one task not quite done so as to stop fiends from barging in to undo all of your hard work.

Cover Your Mouth
No, strangers don’t want to see your tonsils or remnants of the lunch you so savoured. But, our forebears didn’t hide their yawns to be polite. Hands quickly flew to gaping mouths to prevent evil spirits from rushing in.

Whistle and Snap
If you must whistle while you work, then you better snap your fingers at the same time. This snapping is said to scare off the goblins who might otherwise be summoned by your whistling call.

www.justcurious.ca

Header Photo: Pedro Lastra

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Signs To Keep Them Honest

Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton