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Old Wives' Tales and Superstitions About Body Parts

Andy enjoys writing about obscure and esoteric topics, particularly those that deal with the occult.

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This is a compilation of superstitions and old wives' tales about body parts and the body. These superstitions come from various sources and countries. From hair to feet, this article will explore the potential meanings of each body part—and from there we will go on to consider several superstitions regarding clothing and accessories.

Common Superstitions About the Body

Here are the common superstitions we'll be covering in this article:

  1. Hair
  2. Eyes, Ears, Nose, and Lips
  3. Itching on the Body
  4. The Hands, Fingers, Fingernails, Palms, and Feet
  5. Twitching on the Body
  6. Moles and Dimples
  7. Sneezing, Coughing, Hiccups, Yawning, Shivers, and Laughing
  8. Body Jewelry
  9. Gloves and Buttons
  10. Underwear
  11. Handkerchiefs, Hats, Shoes, and New Clothes
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Superstitions About Hair

The 'crowning glory' is one of the most indestructible parts of the body. Hair has played a large role in folklore and myth for a long time. Naturally, many superstitions have popped up regarding hair.

  • Sudden loss of hair: unlucky, forecasting a decline in health, loss of property or failure in business, or the death of a closely related child.
  • Red hair: associated with fiery-tempered people (e.g., Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth I).
  • Black and dark brown hair: indicates strength.
  • Fair hair: implies timidity.
  • Hair that grows low on the forehead and back above the temples (on a man): he will have a long life.
  • A woman's hair that grows in a low point on her forehead ('widow's peak'): she will outlive her husband.
  • If a woman suddenly develops curls on her forehead: her man does not have long to live.
  • Lank hair: a cunning nature.
  • Curly hair: good-natured, full of fun.
  • Long hair: strength (e.g., Samson) and luck.

It is said to be unlucky to have your hair cut when the moon is waning as this will cause it to fall out and lose its beauty. Cutting your own hair will tempt fate. To determine your future, set fire to some strands of your hair. Make sure you cut the strands off first before doing this! If they burn brightly, you are in for a long life. If they splutter and smolder, it is said to be a death omen. Never pull out gray hairs, for one will be replaced by ten.

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Superstitions About the Eyes, Ears, Nose, and Lips

Eyes are the windows to the soul, and the colour leads to differing beliefs. That said, did you know that your ears, nose, and lips have hidden meanings as well? We'll explore each of these body parts below, and discover their secrets.

The Eyes

  • Dark blue eyes: delicate and refined souls.
  • Light blue or grey eyes: strong and healthy ones.
  • Green eyes: hardy souls.
  • Hazel eyes: vigorous, deep-thinking folk.
  • Itching eyes: if the right eye tickles, it's lucky, and vice versa.

The Ears

Ears feature prominently in superstition (i.e. 'My ears are burning, someone is talking about me').

  • Small ears: denote a delicate character and thick ears a person of a sensual/coarse nature.
  • Thin, angular ears: a bad temper.
  • Long or prominent ears: a person with musical inclinations. The larger the earlobes, the greater the intellect.

The Nose

The nose is said to indicate the character of a man.

  • Prominent noses: intelligence and determination.
  • Thin noses: jealousy and uncertainty.
  • Receding noses: bad temper and obstinacy.
  • Tip-tilted noses: bright and lively characters.

There is said to be a connection between the size of a person's nose and their sexual organs.

  • A tickling nose (Britain): a fight or an important communication.
  • A tickling nose (America): a kiss.
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The Lips

Itch or tingle when someone is about to kiss you. If you bite your tongue while you are eating then you have recently told a lie.

  • A large gap between the teeth: lucky in life.
  • Large teeth: physical strength.
  • Small, regular teeth: careful and methodical in your habits.

It is not good for a child to be born with any teeth showing. Never eat anything when a funeral bell is tolling or a toothache will follow.

Superstitions About Itching

Body PartSuperstition

Eyes

A sign of good luck

Lips

Someone is about to kiss you

Right palm

You will recieve money

Left palm

You will lose money

Foot

You will go on a journey to somehere new

Ears

Someone is talking about you

Nose

You will get in a fight with someone soon

Breast

Somone you used to love wants to come back into your life

Superstitions of the Hands, Fingers, Fingernails, Palms, and Feet

From the time of Edward the Confessor, kings of England are said to have had the power to 'heal by touch'. Conversely, the hand of an executed criminal, cut from his body while still on the gallows, was said to have healing powers as well as providing its owners with the ability to commit crime and robbery without fear of detection by stupefying all those who saw it.

The Hands

The hands are a symbol of power and an instrument of healing, justice, and blessing. The right hand is lucky and the left is unlucky, because the Devil is supposed to have sat on the left-hand side of God before being cast out of heaven.

  • Large, thick hands: strength of character.
  • Small, slender hands: weak and timid character.
  • Long hands: ingenious nature.
  • Short ones: careless and foolish nature.
  • Hard hands: rudeness.
  • Soft hands: wit.
  • Hairy hands: a person who likes luxury.
  • A damp hand: an amorous disposition; while 'a cold hand means a warm heart'.

The Palms

If the palm of your right hand itches you will receive money. If the left palm itches, you will lose some ('left, lose; right, receive'). Two people should never wash their hands together in the same water—this will lead to a quarrel between them.

The Fingers

  • Crossed fingers: (imitating the sign of the cross) wards off bad luck.
  • Long fingers: artistic.
  • Short, thick fingers: intemperate and silly.
  • A crooked little finger: omen of wealth.
  • The first finger: (the 'poison finger') should never be used to administer medicines.
  • The third finger: (the 'wedding' finger) is said to be linked directly to the heart.

The Fingernails

  • Yellow specks on nails: death.
  • Black specks on nails: ill-luck.
  • White specks on nails: good fortune to come.

It is unlucky to cut fingernails on a Friday or Sunday. If a woman cuts the nails of her right hand with her left hand she will have the upper hand in marriage. (This I personally find funny. How else are you supposed to cut the nails of the right hand?)

The Feet

While not having quite as many superstitions tied to them, feet also have their own important symbolic meanings.

An itching foot: a journey to somewhere new.

Flat feet: bad temper; do not enter a building left foot first, to avoid bad luck.

Superstitions About Twitching

Body PartSupersition

Right eyelid

Good fortune

Left eyelid

Bad omen

Right thumb

You are going to be successful

Left thumb

Hindrances and problems will befall you

Right elbow

Someone totally unknown will come into your life and benefit you

Left elbow

You are overthinking something

Head

Success in any venture you are entering

Right eyebrow

You will get good news

Left eyebrow

You will get bad news

Nose

Success in an academic field

Lips

Good fortune in matters of love and romance

Chin

Bad news in matters of romance and love

Neck

You will be overcome with fear

Chest

Success and fame are coming your way

Stomach

You will soon make monetary gains

Right shoulder

Happiness and opulence is coming your way

Left shoulder

Your progress will be stopped by someone

Right ear

Good information is coming soon

Left ear

Bad news awaits you in the near future

 

 

Superstitions About Moles and Dimples

  • Moles or dimples on the left-hand side of the body: unlucky
  • On the right: lucky
  • On the face (especially chin or neck): wealth
  • On the chest and stomach: strength
  • A mole on the nose: great lechery
  • A mole on a woman's thigh: unfaithful, and a great spendthrift;
  • A mole on a woman's breast: a woman with a mole on her breast will be irresistible
  • A hairy chest: masculinity

A wart is said to be the mark of the Devil and is unlucky. Warts could also be cured by rubbing a frog across them.

Superstitions About Sneezing, Coughing, Hiccups, Yawning, Shivers, and Laughing

Coughing and sneezing, according to some, could mean more than just allergies or contracting a cold. Many traditions associate these bodily functions and reactions to more than just common illnesses. Below are examples of some of these superstitions.

Sneezing

A sneeze is sometimes known as 'a little death' (in places where it is believed the soul momentarily leaves the body with the sneeze). We still use the expression 'Bless you' (short for 'God Bless You'). This stems from the times when a sneeze could mean the plague.

  • Sneeze 'once for a wish, twice for a kiss, three for a letter, four for something better'.
  • In Scotland, a newborn child is said to remain under 'the fairy spells' until it has sneezed for the first time.
  • It was also believed that an idiot could not sneeze. This is why a child's first sneeze was important.
  • In America, if you sneeze when talking you are telling the truth.
  • In Germany, three sneezes before breakfast means you will receive a present during the day
  • In Japan, any sneeze is an indication that someone, somewhere, is saying nice things about you. It is very lucky to sneeze at exactly the same time as someone else you are with.

Coughing

  • Meant the unexpected entry of a devil into a person who had been telling lies.
  • The Devil is entering anyone who is carrying out misdemeanours of some kind.

Hiccups

  • Are caused by someone who dislikes you complaining to someone else.
  • The only way to stop them is to guess the name of the person maligning you.

Yawning

  • Can lead to evil spirits entering the body, unless you cover your mouth with your hand.
  • It is a sign that death is calling to you.
  • American Indians believe you must snap your second finger and thumb to ward off death.

Shivers

  • Means that someone is walking over your (eventual) grave.

Laughing

  • If you laugh before breakfast, it will end in tears before supper.
  • To laugh excessively shows that the person is possessed and that their days are numbered.

Superstitions About Body Jewelry

Body jewelry was thought to prevent evil spirits from entering the body by one of the five orifices. Wearing earrings and painting the lips were talismans to keep devils away.

  • Emeralds: unlucky because they were used in the East for the eyes of religious figures and consequently became the target of robbers.
  • Opals: unlucky; although 13th century alchemist Albertus Magnus maintained that an opal wrapped in bay leaves made its wearer invisible.
  • Pearls: once believed them to be unlucky; in medieval times they were thought to be 'solidified tears'.
  • Diamonds: the best of all good luck bringers, possessing the power to drive off witches and prevent the wearer from ever going insane.

Superstitions About Gloves and Buttons

It is unlucky to drop your glove and pick it up yourself; if someone else does it, good fortune will follow for both of you.

  • Inside out: it is lucky to put on an item of clothing inside out; although, you must not change it until the time you would normally take it off, for the luck to hold. William of Normandy inadvertently put on his shirt of mail back to front just before the Battle of Hastings, when his courtiers pointed out his mistake and said it was a bad omen. Quick-thinking William assured them it was not, and that it was, in fact, a sign that he was about to be changed from a duke into a king.
  • Button up: it has always been unlucky to hook or button up any item of clothing wrongly (start all over again if you do); just as you should never put your left arm, leg or foot into anything first.

Superstitions About Underwear

Clothes are part of the 'body magic'. Many fans try to touch their idols or grab a portion of their clothes, and items once worn by superstars fetch a high price at auction. It is unlucky to wear the clothes of a dead person; for, as the body of the deceased decays, so will the clothes.

Bra or Panties

  • If a girl's bra or panties should suddenly slip down, this is a sign that someone who loves her is thinking of her.
  • If two or more holes should appear in any of these items, then tradition says the owner can expect a gift very shortly.
  • Any girl wearing suspenders, who finds that her stocking slips from the clasp three times, can take it she is in for an unlucky day.
  • If stockings on the washing line curl around each other, it is an omen that the owner may expect great happiness before long.

Garters

  • Garters have always been regarded as lucky, and many a girl has slept with one under her pillow on a Midsummer's eve in the hope of dreaming of her future husband (a suspender belt can also do the trick, apparently).
  • Any young girl anxious for a husband should get a garter worn recently by a married woman and put it on her own leg.
  • In Wales, a girl who puts valerian in her underwear will prove irresistible to men.
  • It used to be very lucky for brides to be married wearing no underwear under their wedding gowns.

Well into the nineteenth century, a new husband became liable for any debts previously incurred by his bride but, if the girl went to the altar wearing no more than her dress, any creditors would take pity on such an obviously poor young soul and not wish to compound the problems in her new life by pressing their bills. Such ceremonies were known as 'smock weddings'.

Superstitions About Hankerchiefs, Hats, Shoes, and New Clothes

Tying a knot in a handkerchief to remember something signifies a very ancient belief that the knot was a charm against evil. Any demon nearby will be so intrigued by the shape that all thoughts of interfering with you will go from its head.

Hats

  • Putting your hat on back to front will result in a bad day. In America, a woman who puts on a man's hat is giving a sign that she wants to be kissed.

Shoes

  • Shoes are lucky (hence the custom of tying an old boot to the back of the car of a couple who have just got married).
  • A shoe on the table is symbolic of a hanging.
  • Shoes left crossed on the floor or put on the wrong feet brings bad luck.
  • Walking anywhere with one shoe on could lead to the death of one of your parents.
  • A shoelace which comes undone as you set off on a venture is unlucky.
  • If you tie someone else's shoelaces up you should make a wish, because is brings good luck.

New Clothes

  • Always slip a small coin into the right-hand pocket of a new suit or dress to avoid being hard up when you wear that item of clothing.
  • It is lucky to wear a new item of clothing on Easter Day, as everything old and dirty should be renewed at the festival of Eastertide.