The Frank C. Brown Collection of NC Folklore, Volume VII: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina, pt. 2

The Frank C. Brown Collection of NC Folklore, Volume VII: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina, pt. 2

by Newman Ivey White, Frank C. Brown

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Frank C. Brown organized the North Carolina Folklore Society in 1913. Both Dr. Brown and the Society collected stores from individuals—Brown through his classes at Duke University and through his summer expeditions in the North Carolina mountains, and the Society by interviewing its members—and also levied on the previous collections made by

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Frank C. Brown organized the North Carolina Folklore Society in 1913. Both Dr. Brown and the Society collected stores from individuals—Brown through his classes at Duke University and through his summer expeditions in the North Carolina mountains, and the Society by interviewing its members—and also levied on the previous collections made by friends and members of the Society. The result was a large mass of texts and notes assembled over a period of nearly forty years and covering every aspect of local tradition.

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ISBN: 978-0-8223-0259-9

Chapter One


Infants, Children

Stars, Prenatal Influences, Drowning

4874 Every time a star falls, it is the sign of a baby's death. Anonymous. Cf. HDA VIII, 471; Nos. 5143 ff., below.

4875 If a bird lights upon a pregnant woman, her child will die. Rebecca Willis (Texas).

4876 Many people believe that the cord may become twisted about a baby's neck and strangle it.

Green Collection. Fear of entangling the umbilical cord around the unborn child's neck and strangling it is expressed in various ways. North Carolina: Newsweek, Aug. 10, 1953, p. 72 (mother should not hang up curtains) - Kentucky: Fowler, No. 5 (reaching above her head) - Georgia: Steiner, No. 91 (carrying water bucket on head) - Alabama: Browne, No. 15 (sleeping with arms over head); No. 16 (raising arms over head) - Nova Scotia: Creighton, 16, No. 20 (crawling under fence) - Pennsylvania: Fogel, No. 1881 (passing under washline [German]) - Illinois: Hyatt, No. 2409 (washline); No. 2410 (crawling under fence orthrough hole in the fence); No. 2411 (stooping): So. 2412 (reaching above head); No. 2413 (sleeping with arms stretched over head).-HDA VII, 1424; IX, 97; Schrijnen 1, 247 f.; Gallop, Portugal, 85.

4877 For the mother to drink much water before the baby is born may drown it.

Green Collection.

4878 The first time a child is ever carried out in the open air, you must not cross water with him. If you do, he will be drowned before reaching maturity.

Alex Tugman, Todd, Ashe County. Cf. HDA 11, 1685 (die before two years, but not by drowning).

Naming, Physical Activity, Cure of Child

4879 If several children in a family die, the next one should be named "Clay." It is sure to live.

Green Collection. Cf. HDA VI, 965 (call him Erdmann, lit., 'earth man'); Nos. 159, 161, above.

4880 Never measure the length of a baby under a year. It will be measured for its coffin before the year is over.

Green Collection. General: Knortz, 9 - South: Puckett, 339 (Negro) - Georgia: Bergen, Current, No. 59; Moore, 305 (Negro) - New England: Black, Folk-Medicine, 181 (measure the child for its coffin) - Illinois: Hyatt, No. 2781 (it will not live to reach its second year) - Texas: Turner, 161 (measure its coffin).-HDA IV, 603; Schrijnen I 250.

4881 Do not cut the child's hair before he is eight months old, or he will die.

Mildred Peterson, Bladen county; Zilpah Frisbie, Marion, McDowell county; and Miss Mamie Mansfield, Durham county. Kentucky: Thomas, No. 58 (a year old).-HDA I, 109.

4882 If a person cuts a baby's hair before it is one year old, it is a sign the baby will not live another year.

Miss Mamie Mansfield, Durham county. "I know of a case in West Durham." Cf. No. 4881, above.-Cf. HDA IV, 1320.

4883 If children shed their teeth before they are seven, they will die before they are eleven.

Anonymous. Cf. Nova Scotia: Fauset, No. 352 (before six months).

4884 If a child falls off the bed before he is a year old, he will never be raised.

Green Collection. Cf. Tennessee: Rogers, 38 f. (to fall off the bed before the child was eleven months old indicated it would die before it was a year old).

4885 If a baby doesn't fall off a bed before it is a year old, it will not live to be grown.

Anonymous. Kentucky: Thomas, No 74 - Tennessee: Farr, Children, No. 76 - Illinois: Smith II, 67, No. 2 - California: Dresslar, 26 (it will die young)

4886 If one steps across a child, it will die unless the person steps back.

Miss Mamie Mansfield, Durham county. Tennessee: Farr, Children, No. 75 (die within the year) - Indiana: Halpert, Death, 218, No. 19 (within year). Cf. No. 182, above.

4587 It is bad luck to "push" a bright child, for if the child is precocious, there is danger that it will die.

Miss Fannie Vann, Clinton, Sampson county, and an anonymous informant. In none of the following references is mention made of "pushing" the precocious child. Cf. Kentucky: Thomas, No. 72 (a child prematurely wise will not live long) - Ontario: Wintemberg, German II, 93 (German); idem, Waterloo, 10 - Pennsylvania: Fogel, 166 (precocious children will not live long [German]); idem, Proverbs, No. 749 (you are too smart; you won't live long [German]) - Illinois: Hyatt, No. 2743 (will not reach maturity) - Washington: Tacoma, 23. The related proverbial notion, "The good die young," is widely known throughout the United States. Cf. No. 218, above.-HDA IV, 1312 (a child that thrives too well during the first year "wächst dem Himmel zu," i.e., grows toward heaven); McCartney, 126; Shakespeare: Richard III, III, 1, 79 ("So wise so young, they say, do never live long").

Animals and Plants

4888 A cat should not be left in the room with a sleeping baby, for it might suck the baby's breath and kill it.

Green Collection, and anonymous informant, and three other informants from Durham and Vance counties. General: Bergen, Animal, No. 928 - South: Puckett, 470 (Negro) - South Carolina: Bryant I , 288, No. 4 - Maryland: Whitney-Bullock, No. 1964 - Kentucky: Thomas, No. 3310 - Ontario: Wintemberg, Waterloo, 6 (will strangle the infant by lying across its chest) - New England: Johnson, What They Say, 152 f. (long discussion) - Pennsylvania: Brinton, 181; Hoffman II, 27 (German); Sener, 242 (steals the baby's breath and causes its early death) - Ozarks: Randolph, 205. Cf. No. 267, above.-HDA IV, 1320; Gregor, 123; Lean 11, 113.

4889 Transplanting parsley will cause the death of one's children.

Rebecca Willis (Texas). In only the Williamson reference are children specifically mentioned. South: Puckett, 429 (family [Negro]) - Louisiana: Roberts, No. 1137 (family); Williamson, No. 32 (one's children [Negro]) - Pennsylvania: Fogel, No. 969 (family [German]); Hoffman I, 130 (German).-HDA VI, 1528.


4890 If an empty cradle is rocked, the baby will die.

Rebecca Willis (Texas). South: Puckett, 339 (Negro) - Louisiana: Williamson, No. 17 (Negro) - Florida: Hauptmann, 26 (Spanish) - New York: Bergen, Current, No. 49 - Pennsylvania: Fogel, No. 525 (will not live long [German]) - Pennsylvania: Phillips, 160, No, 13 - Illinois: Hyatt, No. 2741 - Ozarks: Randolph, 309 (for the cradle to rock without any visible reason; not mentioned whether the cradle is occupied) - California: Dresslar, 26. Cf. Nos. 201 f., above.-Radford, 25, 91 (Holland also), 204; HDA VII, 1080; Schrijnen 1, 250.

4891 Never let a baby sleep in a dead baby's cradle.

Helen Fraser Smith.

4892 The child who looks in a mirror very young will die.

Mildred Peterson, Bladen county. Nova Scotia: Creighton, 16, No. 23 - Ontario: Wintemberg, German II, 89 (will not become very old [German]) - Illinois: Wheeler, 63 f. (will not live long) - Ozarks: Randolph, 207 (will not reach maturity) - New Mexico: Espinosa, 415, No. 6 (Spanish). Cf. Nos. 255, 671, above.-HDA IX (Suppl.), 566.

4893 Hold a baby to a looking glass, and he will die before he completes his first year.

Lucille Massey, Durham county, an anonymous informant, and four other informants from central counties. All of the items cited here involve either the child's seeing itself in a mirror before the first year, and dying, or seeing itself and dying before it is a year old. Unless otherwise specified, and thus differing from the text of the present item, the child itself initiates the action. General: Chamberlain, Superstitions, 145 - Kentucky: Thomas, No. 63; No. 65 (if you show a baby itself ... before it is six months old, etc.); Price, 37 - Tennessee: Farr, Children, No. 77 - Mississippi: Hudson, 149, No. 4 (if a baby is shown a mirror, etc.) - Nova Scotia: Fauset, No. 355 - Ontario: Wintemberg, Waterloo, 10 - New England: Johnson, What They Say, 112 - Maine: Bergen, Current, No. 35 - Massachusetts, Bergen, Current, No. 36 (hold a baby to a looking glass, etc.) - New York: Gardner, No. 288 - Indiana: Halpert, Death, 218, No. 18 - Illinois: Allison, No. 436; Hyatt, No. 2832 (show a baby its reflection, etc.); Norlin, 211, No. 49 (before three months); Smith II, 66, No. 1 - Iowa: Stout. No. 23; No. 35 (looks at self before six months, die within year) - Nebraska: Cannell, 23. No. 38; Ericson, 150, No. 6 - California: Dresslar, 26, 54; also on same page (54): "... before their ears are pierced, they will die soon") - Washington: Tacoma, 18-Radford 25, 174.

4894 If a baby is allowed to look in a mirror before it is one year old, it will die before it is seven.

An anonymous informant, and Pearl Forbes (Tennessee). Cf. Kentucky: Thomas, No. 64 (die before two years) - Ozarks: Randolph, 309 (same) - Texas: Turner. 161 (die before three years).-Cf. HDA IX (Suppl.), 566.

4895 Do not let a baby look in a mirror before it is two years old. If so, it will die before it is ten years old.

Edna Arrowhead, Buladean, Mitchell County, and an anonymous informant.

Burial of Children

4896 Southern Negroes believe implicitly in burying children with the face down.

Helen Fraser Smith. North Carolina: Brewster, Customs, 256; cf. also pp 224 f. For a discussion of this custom, African and American Negro, see Puckett, pp. 100, 107.


4897 If you turn over the bedtick before the baby is nine days old, the mother will die.

Edith Walker, Watauga county. Cf. South: Richardson, 247 (you must not turn over the quilts or pillows in the bed where the child was born, for a whole month, or the mother will take a cold from which she will never recover [Negro]) - Ozarks: Randolph, 204 (bedding should not he changed for nine days, but death is not mentioned as following the breaking of the tabu). Cf. No. 67, above-Hovorka-Kronfeld 11, 597; Harland-Wilkinson, 261.

4898 The mother or child will die if the bed is swept under within nine days.

Green Collection. Cf. Alabama: Browne, No. 63 (don't sweep under a new mother's bed; she will never arise if you do) - Tennessee: Rogers, 39 (both mother and child; no time limit mentioned for sweeping) - Ozarks: Randolph, 201 (mother; no time limit).

4899 If a mother eats fish before the baby is a month old, death will follow.

Mrs. Norman Herring, Tomahawk, Sampson county.

4900 If a glass is broken in the room, the mother will die at childbirth.

Green Collection. Cf. HDA 111, 853.



4901 The big "M" in the lines of the palm is taken by fortune tellers to indicate death.

Mrs. Nilla Lancaster, Goldsboro, Wayne county. Cf. HDA 11, 52.

4902 It is said a person born in November seldom dies a natural death.

Green Collection. Cf. Maryland: Whitney-Bullock. So. 2300 (Whitsunday or the day thereafter) - Pennsylvania: Starr, 322 (boy born January 1).

4903 Deaths do not come singly. If one member of a family dies, a second death in the same family will come within a year. Death, having found his way to a certain household, is more likely to arrive a second time.

Elizabeth Sutton, Durham, and others. North Carolina: Hoke, 115 - Kentucky: Thomas, No. 728 - Massachusetts: Bergen, Current, No. 1220 - California: Dresslar, 122 (if one member of a family dies, another will soon follow, or else two more in the neighborhood will die), ibid. (two in the same neighborhood) - Washington: Tacoma, 30. More prevalent, in a ratio of at least four to one in published examples, is the notion of death's occurring in three's.-HDA VI, 768; Lean 11, 572 (quoting Longfellow's The Golden Legend VI).

4904 Suicides never come singly. One is always followed by another.

Mrs. Luchans. New England: JAFL VII (1894), 219.

4905 If thirteen people meet together, the first one to leave will die within a year.

Green Collection. Cf. No. 5074, below.

4906 To change the name of a person will cause his death.

Lucille Massey, Durham county. Kentucky: Thomas, No. 3906 - Illinois: Hyatt, No. 10652 (changing Christian name) - Texas: Hendricks, No. 131 - California: Dresslar, 26 (baby's name).

4907 If anyone calls your name, and you answer, or go to see, and find no one has called you, you are going to die. The spirit of your dead father or mother, or some other deceased relative has called you. So, if you are called, do not answer.

Mrs. Luchans. "Forerunners" of death of this kind are numerous, and references are therefore limited to items involving the calling of one's name in some supernatural or mysterious way. South: Puckett, 118 (Negro), 463 (someone calling you three times in your sleep [Negro]) - Kentucky: Thomas, No. 3896 (it brings death to answer a mysterious voice [Negro]) - Nova Scotia: Creighton, 25, No. 7 (narrative details) - New York: NYFQ VI (1950), 167 (details) - Indiana: Halpert, Death, 212 - Illinois: Hyatt, Nos. 9751-9756 (intimate narratives), No. 9757 (do not answer, etc.), No. 9758 (if you think someone called and you answer, then discover your mistake, it is a token of your death).-Henderson, 45; Radford, 100.

4908 The person whose name is called last by a dying person will be the next to go.

Clara Hearne, Roanoke Rapids, Halifax county.

4909 If anyone follows you and walks in your tracks, you will die.

Anonymous. Cf. Illinois: Hyatt, No. 10178 (a member of your family will die if you walk on the cracks of lines in a sidewalk) - Ozarks: Randolph, 60 (unwise to step in anyone's tracks in the snow or mud, with resulting headaches or blindness). The utilization of the dirt from one's footsteps or tracks is well known, of course, in conjury of all kinds.

Death Bell, Singing, Noises

4910 Ringing in the ears is the tolling of the death bell.

Louise Lucas, White Oak, Bladen county, and the Green Collection ("When my mother died, a neighbor said next day: 'I knowed they's something happening somewhere. The death bells rung in my head all the whole evening. I told Alfred,'" etc.). General: Knortz, 40 - Maryland: Whitney-Bullock, No. 780 - West Virginia: Sanders, 20 - Tennessee: Guerin, 56; Hatcher, 152; McGlasson, 23, No. 9; Redfield, No. 304 - Louisiana: Roberts, No. 193 (death in the family) - Alabama: Browne, No. 3137 - Prince Edward Island: Bergen, Current, No. 1215 - New England: Bergen et al., 18, No. 34 - New York: Gardner, No. 198 (heard in the afternoon or night) - Ohio: Bergen, Current, No. 1214 (actual account); JAFL 11 (1889), 72 (A funeral is near,/For the death bell is tolling e'en now in mine ear [part of a long folk doggerel]) - Indiana: Busse, 26, No. 36 - Illinois: Hyatt, No. 9909.-Napier, 57 (deid bells); HDA VIII, 1000.

4911 If you hear a buzzing ring in your ear, you will soon hear of death.

Elsie Doxey, Currituck county. Only the second Illinois item (Norlin) specifies a "buzzing ring." Unless otherwise noted, reference is to ringing in the ears. General: Bergen, Current, No. 1213 - South: Duncan, 235, No. 2 - Georgia: Figh, Arp, 173 - Alabama: Browne, No. 3138 (left ear: woman); No. 3139 (right: man) - Nova Scotia: Fauset, No. 203 (right ear : woman); No. 204 (left: man) - Massachusetts: Bergen et al., 17, No. 34 - Pennsylvania: Shoemaker, 19 - Indiana: Halpert, Death, 211; 212 (if your ear rings in tolling fashion, you will die) - Illinois: Hyatt, No. 9911 (a rumbling noise in the left ear); Norlin, 203, No. 13 - New Mexico: Espinosa, 416, No. 30 (people fear death and cross themselves, saying, "Anda la muerta cerca" [Spanish]) - California: Dresslar, 103 (left ear) - Washington: Tacoma, 19.-HDA VI, 1215; VIII, 1000.


Excerpted from The Frank C. Brown Collection of NORTH CAROLINA FOLKLORE VOLUME SEVEN Copyright © 1964 by THE DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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