In Greek folklore, people have a fear of sleeping under a FIG tree. On the island of Chios they say that the shadows of both fig and hazel are "heavy", so it is not good to sleep under either of them (Argenti & Rose). Another aspect of this mistrust of a fig tree comes from the belief in the south of France that John the Baptist was beheaded under one. That is why the branches break off so easily, particularly on St John's Day, when anyone who climbs the tree risks a dangerous fall. Similarly in Sicily, the mistrust lies in the belief that Judas hanged himself on one.
WALNUT trees are unlucky in some areas, the Abruzzi, in Italy, for instance. Anyone who plants one will have a short life (Canziani), or, as in Portugal, he would die when the tree attains his own girth (Gallop). Perhaps it is one of the cases of the man's life going into a tree which is very long-living.
PINE trees were looked on as unlucky in the Channel Isles. Guernsey belief had it that whoever planted a row of them ran the risk of losing the property, or letting it pass from the rightful heir to a younger branch of the family. There was also a belief there that if you fell asleep under one you would never wake up (Garis). HAWTHORN, too, was unlucky, in spite of its being a sacred tree and of offering its protection against witches. It is particularly unlucky to bring indoors, perhaps because of the belief that Jesus was crowned with these thorns. It "brought illness, etc.," with it, according to Devonshire belief, and in Somerset it may cause death in the house into which the blossom is brought (Elworthy). Cheshire children are forbidden to bring it in, the belief being that their mother will die if they did (Hole. 1937).
Coffin out, in fact (Igglesden).
ELM, too, was long regarded as a thoroughly treacherous tree, hostile to human beings (O Suilleabhain):
Man and waiteth (Wilkinson. 1978).
Kipling knew all about the belief, and wrote in A tree song:
Elmen she hateth mankind and waiteth Till every gust be laid
To drop a limb on the head of him That anyway trusts the shade.
That is probably the nub of this belief. Elms can often, without any warning or signs of decay, shed a limb and cause injury or death. "He will wait for me under the elm" is a French proverb, meaning he will not be there, perhaps because it would be such a stupid place to wait (Wilkinson. 1978).
BLACKTHORN is a thoroughly unlucky plant. Even its early blooming brings talk of a "blackthorn winter" (see WEATHER LORE), and the more sloes there are in autumn, the worse the winter to come. The flowers are extremely unlucky to bring indoors, as are most white flowers, but more fuss seems to be made about blackthorn than anything else. It is just as bad to wear it as a buttonhole. Sussex people looked on it as a death token (Latham); in Suffolk, too, they used to say that it would foretell the death of some member of the family (Gurdon). And in Somerset, it would mean you would hear of a death (Tongue. 1965). Of course, all this might possibly amount to preventive superstition - Vickery pointed out that a scratch from the fierce thorns could very well cause blood poisoning. Against this is a Lincolnshire belief that it is not quite a death token - at Alford, in that county, the belief was that a blackthorn flower indoors would result in the relatively lesser misfortune of a broken arm or leg (Gutch & Peacock).
ELDER, with many protective and anti-witch virtues, is still an unlucky tree, with an evil character. The very fact that witches were fond of lurking under it made it dangerous to tamper with after dark (Dyer). And do not sleep under one - the leaves were said to give out a toxic scent which if inhaled may send the sleeper into a coma and even death (Baker. 1977). Mending cradles with elder wood was just as dangerous, for a Cheshire belief was that it would give the witches power to rock it from afar so violently that the baby would be injured (Hole. 1937). Again, a child laid in an elder-wood cradle would be pinched black and blue by the fairies (Graves); or the fairies may steal the child (Grigson); or the Elder-mother may strangle it (Farrer). In Ireland, elder wood was never used in boat-building (O Suilleabhain) nor, so it was said in South Wales, should a building of any kind be built on the spot where an elder had stood (Trevelyan). It is credited with having a harmful influence on plants growing near it (Rohde). The flowers were never allowed in the rooms of Fenland houses, because they were supposed to attract snakes (Porter), and from the same general area there is a record of the belief that a wound suffered by contact with the tree, say by driving a sharp stick accidentally into the hand, would inevitably prove fatal. It was quite a common belief that beating boys with an elder stick would stunt their growth (O Suilleabhain). Burning elder wood, particularly green elder (Forby), was almost universally forbidden in England, for "it brings the devil into the house" (Graves). "They dursn't burn 'em if you gave them away - they don't want the devil down their chimbley" (Heanley). Or, as in Lincolnshire, "the devil is in elder wood" (Rudkin). There are many other examples. JUDAS TREE (Cercis siliquastrum) is a similarly unlucky tree. It is the symbol of betrayal, for Judas hanged himself on one of them. It should be avoided, especially when in flower (M Baker. 1977), many people are reluctant to cut it, particularly after dark, and it is a favourite haunt of witches (Dyer. 1889). In the southern states of America, PERSIMMON is also an unlucky wood to burn in the house. Like SASSAFRAS, it pops and crackles a lot while burning, and perhaps that is the reason for the belief. Throw a piece of it in a man's fireplace, and he will soon move away. So runs a belief that was current in all the southern states of America (Puckett). HONEYSUCKLE is another plant with an ambivalent reputation. It is a witch plant, and at the same time an anti-witch protection, and that might explain its reputation as an unlucky plant. From Scotland to Dorset there are records of a general belief that to bring it indoors is very unlucky; in Dorset they say it brings sickness into the house with it, and in west Wales it was believed that it would give you a sore throat (Vickery. 1985). It was never brought into a Fenland house where there were young girls; it was thought to give them erotic dreams, especially if it were put into their bedrooms. If any of it was brought in, then it was said that a wedding would shortly follow (Porter) - hardly surprising, if the girls' minds were concentrated in that direction. MYRTLE is another of these ambivalent plants. It is lucky to have one, so long as one is visibly proud of it. But on the other hand, the shrub is connected with death, which makes it unlucky, particularly in America, where it is rarely seen outside cemeteries. Never let it grow around the house, or there will be sickness and trouble there as long as it is growing (H M Hyatt). TUBEROSE is another unlucky flower in American belief, possibly because of its waxy appearance, like death. Others think they emit the odour of death, still others that if you shut yourself in a room with tuberoses, the scent will kill you (H M Hyatt). CUCKOO-PINT is equally unlucky to have indoors, for it gave TB to anyone who went near it (Porter. 1969). The real reason may have been forgotten, but this kind of superstition is usually directed against the females of the house, and it would not be TB that they got. A Dorset belief is quite explicit - young girls were told never to touch a cuckoo-pint; if they did, they would become pregnant (Vickery. 1985), a belief quite in keeping with the plant's sexual display.
MEADOWSWEET is equally unlucky in Welsh superstition. If someone fell asleep in a room where many of these flowers were put, death was inevitable. It was even dangerous for anyone to fall asleep in a field where there was a lot of it growing. This sounds as if it were an extension of the fear of bringing any white flower - hawthorn, lilac, etc., indoors, to which PEAR blossom must be added. That too would cause a death in the family (Vickery. 1995). PRIMROSES were not always entirely welcome when brought indoors - it all depended on how many were gathered. Two or three brought into a poultry keeper's house in early spring, before the chicks were hatched, meant bad luck to the sittings, but it would be alright if there were thirteen or more flowers, or "no less than a handful". In Devonshire they said that the number of primroses brought in would agree with the number of chickens reared, and the same was said in Norfolk (Friend. 1883), for thirteen is the number traditional to a clutch of eggs placed under a hen. There was a similar belief in France - if you threw the first primroses you found before the goslings, it would kill them, and if you took them indoors, the goslings would die before being hatched (Sebillot). It was even unlucky to include primroses (and hazel catkins) in the posy carried to church on Easter Sunday. Violets had to be put in too, to compensate for the primroses (Tongue. 1965). But it was probably a lot more serious than it seems, at least in some areas, those in which primroses were looked on as a death token, just as snowdrops are. One explanation from Sussex is that it was used to strew on graves, and to dress up corpses in the coffin (Latham). Certainly, quarrels have been recorded as arising from this belief, and it could lead to charges of ill-wishing. Anyone giving a child, say, one or two primroses, would leave himself wide open to such a charge (W Jones. 1880). Another spring flower that is unlucky for poultry keepers is the DAFFODIL, though there is a certain ambiguity about its luck. Granted, the first daffodil is a lucky one. Welsh belief had it that if you find the first daffodil you will have more gold than silver that year (Trevelyan). But one has to be careful about the direction in which the trumpets are pointing. See Herrick, Hesperides:
When a Daffodil I see
Hanging down her head t'wards me,
Guess what I may what I must be;
First, I shall decline my head;
Secondly, I shall be dead;
Lastly, safely buried.
In other words, if you see a daffodil with its head bending down towards you, it is a sign that you are about to die (Addy. 1895). As with primroses, one has to be careful with daffodils when there is poultry about. There is an old Manx superstition that it is bad luck to a poultry keeper if two or three of the flowers are brought into the house in early spring, before the goslings are hatched (the Manx name for the daffodil shows the connection - it translates to Goose-leek). One finds this superstition in Devonshire, too, while a Cornish belief was that if a goose saw a daffodil before hatching its goslings, it would kill them when they did hatch (Courtney). A Dorset compromise suggests that you must always take care that the first daffodils brought indoors each season should be a large bunch, for otherwise something would be sure to go wrong with the poultry (Udal). Judging from the primrose belief, you should always take in quite a large bunch - two or three are fatal; the ideal is probably thirteen or more. On the other hand, in parts of Warwickshire, daffodils are thoroughly unlucky flowers, never to be taken indoors.
In some parts, particularly Italy, CHRYSANTHEMUMS are seriously unlucky flowers. They are funeral flowers there, and so are associated with the dead (hence a connection with All Souls Day, too). They say that if you give chrysanthemums to anyone, it is the equivalent of saying I wish you were dead (Vickery. 1985). Obviously, then, it is not a flower to have indoors, for it would bring very bad luck with it (Vickery. 1995). ARUM LILY is another funeral flower, and so thoroughly unlucky. That too should not be taken indoors (Deane & Shaw), and never be brought into a hospital (Vickery. 1985). WATER ARUM, too, is a thoroughly unlucky plant to have in the house (Bergen. 1899). BOX is an unlucky tree in one sense - its association with death and funerals. A sprig of box in flower brought indoors meant that death would soon cross the threshold (Dorset) (Udal). But in spite of this connection, it is generally a plant that brings good luck. Sawn WILLOW was unlucky in the house; if the timber was admitted at all, it would have to be shaped with an adze (Whitlock. 1982).
HEATHER, at least according to tradition in Wales, is unlucky to bring indoors. It brings misfortune with it, even death (Trevelyan). Perhaps that was because the young tops were a fairy food, but that is a Lowland Scots tradition (Aitken). It is very unlucky to take GORSE into the house, just as unlucky as hawthorn or lilac, for "to carry furze flowers in the house -carrying death for one of the family" (Opie & Tatem), and there are other similar sayings of the "gorse in, coffin out" variety. Giving the flowers to someone is also unlucky, but without such dire results. But the act would be bound to provoke a quarrel between the two people involved, in a short time (Vickery. 1995). BROOM, too, especially in its role as a domestic implement, can sometimes be very unlucky:
If you sweep the house with blossomed broom in
You're sure to sweep the head of the house away.
It is still believed to be an unlucky flower to bring indoors (Widdowson), as, for instance, in the Isle of Man (Gill. 1932), or in Sussex, where they say "it sweeps someone out of the house" (Vickery. 1985). RED POPPIES are equally unlucky to bring indoors, or even touch. Irish women had a dread of touching them (Grigson. 1955), but it is likely that proscriptions were designed to stop children picking them, i.e., getting into the growing corn and causing possible damage. They were told that if they picked poppies they would wet the bed, or it would provoke a thunderstorm, or give themselves a headache, etc., Even GOLDEN ROD has been seen as unlucky, certainly not to be taken indoors (Vickery. 1995). The same applies to WOOD ANEMONES; picking them would provoke a thunderstorm (it was actually called Thunderbolt in Staffordshire (Vickery. 1995)). BLUEBELLS are equally unlucky to bring indoors (Devonshire Association. Transactions. vol 65; 1933). Devonshire superstition has it that it is unlucky to plant out a bed of LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY, as the person to do so will be sure to die within the year (Notes and Queries; 1850). It belongs to the group of white flowers, like snowdrop and white lilac, that will cause death if brought into the house - and lily-of-the-valley is always unlucky for girls. It is the girl child who will die if they are brought inside (Tongue. 1965). The Sussex folk tale called the Basket of Lilies starts: "There was a woman who loved Lilies-of-the-valley. She'd be always looking for them ore sending her little daughter to find a bunch to bring home, so of course the little girl sickened and died, as everyone knew she would ..." (Tongue. 1970).
SOUTHERNWOOD, at least according to a Devonshire belief, is an unlucky plant to have in the garden. It was said that when a woman was ill, a neighbour came to see her and found a lot of this plant in her garden. She pulled it all up, and the patient recovered (Devonshire Association. Report and Transactions. vol 103). Eating CELERY will bring bad luck, at least according to Kentucky belief (Thomas & Thomas).
Most evergreen trees are funerary emblems, and at the same time symbols of immortality. That is so with HOLM OAK, but in the Greek islands it is an unlucky tree, because it was of its wood, so the story goes, that the Cross was made. A miraculous foreknowledge of the Crucifixion had spread among the forest trees, which agreed (almost) unanimously not to allow their wood to serve. When the foresters came, they either turned the edge of their axes, or bent away from the stroke. Only the Ilex consented, and passively submitted to being felled. So now the woodcutters will not soil their axes with its bark, and not desecrate their hearths by burning it (Rodd). YEW, of course, is the ultimate unlucky tree. It is the "funeral yew". In Shakespeare's words, it is the "dismal yew" - slips of it "slivered in the moon's eclipse" were among the ingredients in the witches' cauldron. Derbyshire farmers will not cut yew trees down, and they reckon it is unlucky to burn, too (Addy), and of course it is poisonous.
SILVER WATTLE (Acacia dealbata) may be the Australian national emblem, but that does not stop it from being thoroughly unlucky to bring indoors, even sometimes to plant in a garden. There are a few instances in England, too, of its being unlucky to bring indoors, even being described in one record as " a forewarning of disaster".
MOTHER-OF-THOUSANDS (Saxifraga sarmentosa) is an unlucky plant, apparently on the basis of its attributed names, such as: Creeping, Wandering, or Roving Sailor. It was said that an accident to the plant would ensure a mishap to any relative who was a sailor (Folklore. vol 37; 1926 365-6). But, of course, these names are actually given as a description of the plant's method of reproduction, by sending out runners from the parent plant. French herbalists used to say that looking at the flowers of the MEDITERRANEAN ALOE (Aloe vera) is unlucky (Boland. 1977). RED CAMPION (or WHITE CAMPION) are other examples of a flower unlucky to pick. It has the name Mother-die in Cumbria (Grigson. 1955), always an indication of an injunction against picking it. It is a fairy flower, too, another reason why it should never be picked, and in Wales it is Blodyn Neidi, snake flower, another sanction, for if you pick it you will be attacked by snakes (Vickery. 1985). Another Welsh name is Blodyn Taranan, thunder flower. Thunder and lightning will be the result if you gather them. The reason for these sanctions is that campions often grew in the corn, and if children were allowed to search for them, they could very well damage the crops in doing so. HERB ROBERT is another of these flowers that are unlucky to pick. It is called Snake Flower in Somerset, and there are other "snake" names for it. If you pick it, snakes would come from the stems (Vickery. 1985). But more significantly, the name 'Death-come-quickly' is recorded from Cumbria, for this is one of the flowers that, if picked by children, would result in the death of one of the parents. So with GERMANDER SPEEDWELL, a normally cheerful little plant. But it has its sinister side, as names like 'Tear-your-mother's-eyes-out' will testify. If you pick it, your mother will die during the year (Dyer. 1889), or it will result in a thunderstorm, etc., Even QUAKING GRASS has to be included here, for it is unlucky to the man who picks it or wears it, and it is also bad luck to bring it into the house. If it is laid in a baby's cradle, the child will be rickety (Tynan & Maitland). SPINDLE TREE was called Death-alder in Buckinghamshire (Grigson. 1955), and as such is reckoned unlucky to bring in the house, and, of course, the berries are mildly poisonous.
SNOWDROPS are another example of white flowers unlucky to bring indoors (like PRIVET in flower). Some say the bad luck applies only to cut snowdrops, and not to those grown in pots indoors (Vickery. 1985). Others, in Wales, say the sanction applies only to snowdrops taken indoors on St Valentine's Day (L Davies). The result of such rash actions were equally variable, ranging from the death of someone living in the house to the cows' milk being watery and affecting the colour of the butter (Burne. 1883). In Somerset, the belief was that the girl child in the house would die within the year (Tongue. 1968). There was a similar superstition regarding lilies of the valley and white lilac, beliefs that are very widespread. Taking snowdrops into a hospital is even more unlucky. If they were given to a patient it was often taken to be a sentence of death. Nurses would sometimes put a few ivy leaves with them to lessen the omen (Tongue. 1967). It is said that the association of snowdrops with death (they used to be called Death's Flower in Somerset) results from the flower's resemblance to a shroud (Vickery. 1985). "It looked for all the world like a corpse in its shroud" was how one of Charlotte Latham's informants put it. Another reason given to her was that "it always kept itself close to the earth, seeming to belong more to the dead than to the living". Again, we hear that the reason is that they are so often found growing in old graveyards (Vickery. 1985).
The West Indian tree called MAMEY (Mammea americana) must be mentioned here, not that the tree is itself unlucky, but in Jamaica it was reckoned unlucky (even fatal) to plant the seed (Folk-lore. vol 15; 1904p 94, in a series of papers called Folklore of the negroes of Jamaica). GROUND NUTS are unlucky, too. If you dream of them, it is a sign that you will be poor (H M Hyatt). And African Americans in the southern states of the USA say it is unlucky to eat peanuts when you are going to play a game of any sort, and the hulls scattered about the door mean that you will go to jail (Puckett). In Madagascar, they are taboo to pregnant women, as they will cause a miscarriage. They say that nuts lying on the ground remind people of souls that lay their eggs on the ground, and that is the reason for the taboo (Ruud).
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