OLD BELIEFS THAT DIE HARD

(Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash)

Today, as scientific knowledge increases, many of the old superstitions have died away but even now, many of us hold core beliefs that are as irrational as any believed by “primitive man”. Some delusions are still clung to, such as a drowning man goes down three times, or milk is soured by thunder.

The following are examples of stories and beliefs that many of us still adhere to without foundation.

FRIGHT CURES HICCUPS

An English sportsman, John Mytton (1796-1834) nearly killed himself trying to cure his hiccups by setting fire to his nightshirt.  Whilst nobody knows if his hiccups stopped or not, there is no reason to support the idea that fright cured them. Nor does drinking out of the wrong side of a glass, or holding breath.  Jack O’Leary of California suffered hiccups for eight years and tried 60,000 suggested cures – none of which worked. He claimed finally to have been cured by a prayer to St Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Hiccups are spasms of the diaphragm and generally disappear of their own accord.  It is certainly safer to let an attack pass than risk the effects of a sudden fright which is responsible for killing far more people.

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SURVIVING EXECUTION BY HANGING

It was once commonly believed, although not supported by law, that if a man could be revived after hanging, he was free to go.  There were occasions when this was successful, although in the case of house breaker, Jack Sheppard, the crowds were so dense that all attempts at rescuing him failed. In 1885, John Lee had been found guilty of murdering his employer Emma Keyse by cutting her throat and setting fire to her house. Three attempts were made to hang him, all of which failed because the boards of the trapdoor had been warped by rain the previous night. His sentence was therefore commuted to life imprisonment and he was released 23 years later.  This was however, a humane gesture by the Home Secretary and not an established law of the land which stated a prisoner should be “hanged by the neck until dead”.  There were no provisos for a sporting chance if the equipment failed or if he could be revived.

CINDERELLA WORE GLASS SLIPPERS

Every child is told the story of Cinderella and her impractical footwear.  It was not, however, always the case.  In the original French version of the story, she wore pantoufles en vair – slippers of fur or white ermine.  These were used only by royalty and therefore fitting for her new-found status.  By the 14th century, the word “vair” had gone out of use, so when Charles Perrault rewrote the story in 1697, he mistook “vair” for “verre” or glass and so to us and the French, Cinderella’s slippers will always be made of glass. 

LIGHTNING NEVER STRIKES TWICE

Clearly untrue as lightning often strikes prominent buildings over and over again.  In its first decade, the Empire State building was struck 68 times and many British churches with their tall steeples have been hit repeatedly too over the years.  For this reason, tall buildings have lightning conductors which helps discharge into the air before strikes result in a discharge into the earth.

MEMORIES OF YOUR LIFE FLASH BEFORE YOU AT THE MOMENT OF DEATH

The action replay of your life in the moments before death is often used to great effect in film.  There are numerous cases, however, where people have been saved from the brink of death without experiencing this.  In most cases they were only concerned at finding a way out of their predicament or so terrified their minds went blank. 

It is difficult to credit that under those circumstances, the brain could select key events from your life and place them together so rapidly that a complete sequence is created in a matter of seconds.  The brain would also have to predict the future moment of death to decide when to start the lightning playback, which it is not equipped to do.

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IT IS RAINING CATS AND DOGS

Okay! Nobody believes that cats and dogs fall from the sky so where did this saying originate?  In Scandinavia, cats are associated with storms and wolves and dogs are associated with the wind.  Thus, raining cats and dogs is an imported expression meaning heavy rain and wind.

Shou Lao – God of Longevity

In our cafe, you will find an unusual but beautifully carved wooden statue depicting Shou Lao, the Taoist god of longevity. Legend holds that Shou Lao began as a star in the southern constellation Argo, and he is sometimes referred to as the Old Man of the South Pole.

He was originally a mortal but became the head of the celestial department which determines a person’s lifespan. He lives in a star known as ‘Shou xing’, or Canopus in the constellation Carina and is said to visit the earth once a year. Shou xing can only, rarely, be seen in the very low sky in the Northern hemisphere. For this reason, the Chinese believed that seeing the Shou xing will bring long life and good luck.

Usually represented as an old man, bald, with a high forehead and long white beard, and carrying a staff and the peach of immortality. His beard signifies old age and his staff symbolises dignity. The peach is particularly important to the Chinese who believe that the Queen Mother of the West had an orchard whose peaches took 3000 years to bloom. The fruit gave immortality to those who ate them.

In China, he is one of the three gods known collectively as ‘Fu-Lu-Shou san xing’ (the three stellar deities of happiness, wealth and longevity), the others being Fu xing (God of Happiness) and Lu xing (God of Wealth)

Before you leave, don’t forget to rub his head so that he can grant you long life too!

A Raven Like a Writing Desk

A distinctive black shape often seen in the updraughts of a misty mountain crag, their ‘gronking’ call is an evocative sound of Britain’s uplands. The raven is the largest member of the crow family and one of the world’s most intelligent and playful birds.

In the realm of myth, folklore and fable it is a bird of paradox. It was seen at times as a guardian. Unfortunately it also had a reputation as a bird of ill-omen. Its harsh call and its presence at scenes of death made people look upon it with fear. The old collective noun for a group of ravens is an ‘unkindness’. It’s a shame how humans have projected their own fears onto this fascinating and beautiful bird.

The Gaelic word for raven is fitheach. A number of Scottish place names contain the words ‘an Fhithich or ‘nam Fitheach’, meaning ‘of the ravens’.

This large crow appears with great frequency in Celtic lore. In Welsh mythology, the god Bran the Blessed was a guardian of the British Isles whose totem is a raven. Bran ordered his own decapitation, after which his head could still speak words of prophecy.

Legend claims that Bran’s head was buried beneath Tower Hill, by the Tower of London. The presence of ravens at the Tower reflects this legend. A prophecy says that if the ravens ever leave the tower, Britain will fall. In order to protect against this eventuality, their wings are clipped just in case! Bran is Welsh and Irish for raven.

Arthur, another legendary guardian of Britain, is also associated with ravens. In Cornwall it held that Arthur did not die, but was transformed by magic into this bird.

The Celts were no strangers to war and the presence of ravens on the battlefield would have been very familiar to them. The Irish goddess Morrighan had a number of different guises. In her aspect as goddess of war, warriors believed she was there on the battlefield in the form of a raven.

One Scottish legend tells of a hag called Cailleach. She took the form of a number of birds, including the raven, and feasted on men’s bodies. In Celtic folklore the raven is regarded as an ill omen and a sign of death.

Odin, the chief of the Norse gods, was accompanied by two ravens. Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory) would fly far and wide to bring news to Odin. One of Odin’s names, Hrafnagud, means the ‘Raven God’. Consequently, in Norse mythology the raven is viewed far more positively as a symbol of wisdom.

In the Old Testament, the raven is the first bird Noah sent to look for land, and the prophet Elijah is described as being provided with food by ravens whilst he was persecuted. To Christians, the birds are, therefore, seen as a symbol of God’s providence.

Our ancestors would certainly have noticed the keen intelligence of this bird which is on a par with dolphins and chimpanzees. Ravens had a relationship with wolves. The birds would follow wolves around taking advantage of their kills. There are instances where modern deer-stalkers report that ravens help them to locate deer. This is because the birds know that they will receive the guts after the deer is killed.

Today British ravens are usually spotted in upland regions because persecution has driven them out of they have just been driven out of other areas, although sightings indicate their range is expanding once again.

There is a lot of raven folklore in the British Isles. While some of this is somewhat sinister, the more we get to know this playful and intelligent bird, the more respect we might realise it deserves.

Chinese Marriage Beds

Ensuring a Happy and Prosperous Marriage

Chinese marriage beds are special pieces of furniture that have a lot of tradition woven into their history. The marriage bed linens must be new and are presented to the engaged couple by the groom’s family. The placement of the marriage bed usually occurs one or two weeks before the wedding on an auspicious date often chosen by a feng shui master.

After the bed is installed, no adult may sit or sleep on it alone before the wedding, because this might bring bad luck to the bridal couple. Male children are allowed to sit and play in the confines of the cavelike bed as a way to ensure the new couple will be fertile with male offspring. It is thought that sleeping alone on the new bed could cause death to either the bride or groom, so if the groom sleeps on the new bed before the wedding, he must do so with a companion — a young boy.

Wishes for good luck, happiness, fertility and other good fortune items such as tangerines and oranges (symbols of “gold”) are placed on the bed, along with a piece of charcoal wrapped in red paper with a double “happiness” symbol. Dried red dates or persimmons are also placed there to bless the union with sweetness.

The new bride and groom might also find magnolia leaves which symbolise a harmonious marriage or either dried lotus seeds or pomegranate leaves for abundance of offspring. Other items might be found, such as red-wrapped packets of money.

Choosing the right person to do the decoration is also important. The decorator is usually invited by the bride’s family and is considered a “blessed person”. That means he or she has a happy family, good health, and wealth. Choosing the wrong person to decorate the bed could cause the couple misfortune according to Chinese superstitions.  

Choosing a lucky wedding date is probably the most important step in Chinese wedding planning. It is believed that certain months should be avoided when choosing a wedding date.

Months to Avoid

In the lunar calendar, March, July, and September are considered unlucky months to have weddings, because there are The Qingming Festival, The Ghost Festival, and The Double Ninth Festival respectively. These festivals are related to death so these months are considered not suitable for weddings. 

Lucky Months to Get Married

In Chinese culture, people believe leap months are the best for weddings.  In Chinese, leap months are called “Runyue” meaning harvest and abundance. People believe that leap months are great for couples who want to have successful marriages and happy lives.

Leap months occur about every three years in order to sync with the solar calendar. 

The next two lucky months for weddings will happen in February 2023 and June 2025 (lunar calendar), which are March 22 – April 19, 2023, July 25 – August 22, 2025, in Gregorian Calendar.

When choosing your exact wedding date, you might want to choose lucky numbers and avoid unlucky numbers. Numbers have special implications or meanings in Chinese culture.

Lucky Numbers

For example, the number “2” means “double”, “double the joy” so it is usually considered a good number, and number “8” is the luckiest number because it is similar to the pronunciation of the word “prosper” in Chinese. Number 9 is also a very lucky number, especially for weddings.

The number “9” ‘s pronunciation is the same as the Chinese word “久“ which means “long-lasting”. That’s why some people prefer to have their weddings on the 9th, 19th or 29th to hope for an enduring marriage. 

Unlucky Numbers

In Chinese culture, there are also numbers that represent death like the number “4” and “7”.  Therefore, couples might want to avoid having weddings on the 4th, 14th, 24th, 7th, 17th, and 27th.

Chinese weddings, there are superstitions regarding different colors.

Essentially, no matter what themes you are going for, red is the most important color and symbol for a happy marriage. Red tablecloths, red “double happiness” signs, and red bedding for the couple are three common must-follow wedding traditions.

Besides red, some good luck colors such as purple, gold, and pink are great choices for your wedding decorations. 

Some taboo colors for Chinese weddings are white and black. White and black are usually reserved for funerals and events that are related to death and ghosts.

Toys of Yesteryear

Long before children immersed themselves in computer games and electronic gadgetry, it was the simpler things in life that kept them amused. Toys were handcrafted and beautifully constructed demonstrating the great skill of the maker. An example of this craftsmanship would be the “tumbling man”.

Created in 1800 to entertain the children of a wealthy household, his acrobatics were powered by liquid mercury. Two hundred and twenty-two years later, we no longer offer our children toys containing deadly poisonous substances but we do have on display an accurate replica of the tumbling man. His acrobatic manoeuvres still delight but using tiny weights to achieve the desired effect. The odd thing is that despite all the modern technology available to them, children are still fascinated by toys such as this.

Another contender in the popularity stakes would be “The Remote Control Driving Test”. This game requires a very steady hand and boundless patience. The lever controls a magnetic car which has to negotiate streets and obstacles. In order to pass the test, the car has to complete the course and park in the garage – no mean feat!

Many of the traditional toys encouraged children to use their imaginations far more than modern playthings. Shadow theatres, puppets, doll’s houses, toy forts filled this need, whilst sledges, hobby horses, balls, hoops and trikes encouraged outdoor exercise and socialising.

Some toys were unashamedly educational or used to train children in future necessary skills. The miniature sewing machine and lace making set are good examples.

The nursery room is filled with childhood treasures and colour all designed to stimulate and entertain young minds. Visitors of a certain age may find it quite nostalgic. Of course, on the back of the door hangs a mortarboard and two leather tawse; a reminder that corporal punishment was widely used in the past and misbehaviour invariably led to the strap being deployed.