A Superstitious Heritage

If you are Irish, or of Irish heritage, and superstitious you come by it honestly. The listings of charms, cures, spells and beliefs in Lady Wilde’s book cause me to wonder how our Irish ancestors got through the day. Throwing holy water on everything in sight, sewing salt or superstitioniron into the hems of baby garments, passing hot coals over livestock, throwing a hot coal of fire after a fisherman to bring him good luck, avoiding red haired people especially first thing in the morning because there is no other course of action but to return home and call it a day, not putting out a light while people are eating supper, not crossing the path of a ploughing horse, and more. The lists are endless, all proscribing ways to bring good fortune or avoid misfortune. Good luck, bad luck. Both can happen and you just never know when, as summed up in the following statement also in Lady Wilde’s book.

There is one hour in every day when whatever you wish will be granted, but no one knows what that hour is. It is all a chance if we come on it. There is also one hour in the day when ghost-seers can see spirits – but only one – at no other time have they the power, yet they never know the hour, the coming of it is a mystery.

All of this does tend to characterize the Irish as superstitious victims of fate. Yet this spiritual disempowerment didn’t take hold completely, as we shall see in the stories of healers like Biddy Early, perhaps the most famous wise woman/witch in Irish history – who, by the way, had red hair.