Given our refusal to let go of our dead—because we know they aren’t really—it’s only natural that Southerners would be attuned to the spiritual world. Not in a spooky, Ouija board kind of way, but in an “I just feel like Memaw’s looking down on us and smiling” kind of way.
And given our agrarian roots, we are also attuned to prophetic meteorological phenomena, aka signs in the sky. For example, if it thunders in February, it’ll get cold enough to frost in April. Mare’s tails and a buttermilk sky are signs of coming rain. (Mare’s tails: Long, streaky clouds that look like they belong on a horse. Buttermilk sky: Coddled clouds covering the sky.) A ring around the moon is another sign of rain.
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Some of our church ladies who "don't go along with that paranormal nonsense" believe in “witching.” Small towns often have a senior matriarch who can witch a wart off your hand. And then there’s the old folkway of witching a well: Before you drill for water, a witcher carries a forked branch from a particular type of tree, holding it like a wishbone as he walks your property. When he steps onto a spot with water below ground, that upward-pointing tip of the wishbone will be mysteriously drawn downward.
We have to admit, Mama'n'em can go way beyond predicting the weather and keeping Memaw close in memory. Southern superstitons abound—like painting your porch ceiling blue (“haint blue” is the exact shade, but we're not sure that's on the Sherwin Williams color wheel). It's supposed to ward off evil spirits, with the possible side effect of helping prevent insects from building nests there. And there's a whole litany of New Year's superstitions. They're practically a subgenre.
Some of us believe most all Southern superstitions. Some of us don’t believe any of them. But all of us love repeating them and passing them down, probably because each one is a mini story—a downhome haiku, if you will.
Once again, we have called on our trusty Facebook brain trust to see how many they could name. Tell us what we missed—and which ones reach beyond the South:
There’s a Lot Riding on New Year’s
Don’t wash clothes on New Year’s Day, or you’ll be washing away a member of your family.
Don’t clean house on New Year’s Day because you’ll wash away all your good luck for the year.
Your first guest on New Year’s should be a dark-haired man, for good luck.
On New Year’s Day, eat black-eyed peas and greens to make sure you’ll have luck and money in the coming year.
Take down every last Christmas decoration before New Year’s Day, or you’ll have bad luck the whole year.
Those Pesky Evil Spirits
Don’t rock an empty rocking chair, or you’ll invite spirits.
A bottle tree in your front yard will capture evil spirits so that they can’t get into the house.
A child’s dirty handprint on the wall of your home protects it from haints.
Something’s Going On
If your ears are burning (or itching), somebody’s talking about you.
If your nose itches, company’s coming.
The Grim Reaper Approacheth
A bird in the house foretells death.
Never plant a cedar tree; when it grows tall enough to shade your grave, you’ll die.
Bad Luck Is Waiting to Pounce
Never walk under a ladder. Bad luck.
Never open an umbrella indoors. Bad luck.
If a black cat crosses your path, you should turn around, go back to where you came from, and start your journey over. Otherwise, you’ll have bad luck.
Never spill salt. Bad luck. (But you can counteract it by tossing salt over your left shoulder.)
Break a mirror, and you’ll have seven years of bad luck.
Don’t put a hat on the bed. Doing so brings—you guessed it—bad luck.
And In Closing . . .
If it rains on your wedding day, you’ll cry many tears during your marriage.
Don’t step on a sidewalk crack, or you’ll break your mother’s back. (And whoo-ee, Mama’n’em would NOT be happy with you!)
Yep, we know all about bad luck. Here are some more things Southerners know:
Now you're prepared. Should you bump into any northern transplants who "just don't get all the fuss about the SEC," you can shake your head and say, "It's a Southern thing—bless your heart."