Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 6/Omens respecting events
Are drawn from a variety of circumstances. Some of them are trivial enough; whilst others are both curious and interesting. Occasionally they contain words which have passed from our lexicons; but on examination they will be found to have been derived from the speech of our ancestors a thousand years ago. Thus, when a corpse is soft and pliant, it is said to be lennock; and is a sure sign that there will soon be another death in that family. The same misfortune is predicted when horses are restive at a funeral. If a dove fly into a house where any one is dead, or on the point of dying, the person at whose feet the bird falls will die next. Deaths, or accidents, always happen in threes; the coroner will have to hold three inquests in the town, or village, where one is rendered necessary. When the relatives of a person in ill health are troubled with "broken dreams," out of which they start in terror, it is considered that they are a sure indication that the patient will die. The same event is frequently predicted when bees forsake a hive, or crickets the hearth. Most of our peasantry retain a firm belief in the appearance of ghosts and apparitions. They even consider it possible for some persons, born at particular hours, to see their own spirits. When this is the case, it is considered certain that those persons will soon die. There are, however, certain evenings in the year, and particular hours of those evenings, when spirits are more frequently abroad. Twilight and midnight are favourable times, and so is daybreak during the winter season. Hence we are told that if a person sits in the church porch from eleven o'clock to one, on St Mark's Eve, he will see the spirits of those who are doomed to die during the next year pass by and enter the church. If his own spirit be amongst them it will turn round and look him in the face; and should he fall asleep in the porch he may assure himself that he will be one of the first victims.
The caution that we must avoid passing under a ladder, lest we should come to be hanged, has probably descended to us from early practice at Lancaster; but no conjecture can be hazarded as to the origin of the superstition which asserts that when an ass brays it betokens the death of a weaver or an Irishman. Undue levity is frequently checked by the remark, that "if you sing before breakfast, you will cry before supper." A flat hand, or a dimpled chin, is supposed to indicate an open liberal disposition; whilst crooked fingers and hooked nails betoken avarice and covetousness in the persons who are so unfortunate as to possess such peculiarities.
Should the sun shine through the fruit trees on Christmas-day, it is an indication that there will be a plentiful supply of fruit during the next season; the same is inferred as to grain, if, after dull weather, the sun bursts out upon the farmer as he is sowing his seed. In the rite of confirmation, those upon whom the bishop lays his right hand consider themselves most fortunate, since they are thereby insured of a prosperous career through life. The person who takes the last piece of bread from a plate during any meal is favoured with a double omen; for he or she will either be blessed with a handsome partner, or die unmarried. Good fortune is supposed to be indicated by specks on the nails; and they have different significations, according to the fingers on which they may make their appearance. The common adage says—
"Specks on the fingers,
Fortune oft lingers.
Specks on the thumbs,
Fortune surely comes."
Our marriageable females are not devoid of that curiosity which attaches to their sex. They are sometimes anxious to ascertain the intentions of their admirers, and various modes of prying into the future are resorted to in order to acquire the desired information. On such occasions popular opinion directs that if a lady desires to infer the name of her future husband she must peel an apple without breaking the rind, and hang the shred on a nail behind the door—the initials of the name of the first gentleman who enters the house after this has been done will be the same as those of the person she will marry. If she desires more special information she must stitch two nuts in the sleeve of her chemise, and give them the names of the two persons respecting whom she may entertain expectations; then the one of these who is the first to give her a kiss will be her future husband.
Burning apple pippins is a very common test, and is practised in almost every cottage. In this case we are directed to place two pippins on the mouth of a pair of tongs, so as to touch each other. The lady who is performing the experiment now gives her own name to the left-hand pippin, and that on the right must bear the name of the person whose intentions are being tested. The tongs must now be placed in a hollow portion of the fire, where the heat is most intense, and if both pippins fly off on the same side the parties will be married, if on opposite sides there will be no union; and if both burn together, without flying off, the gentleman will never propose to the lady who is placed beside him.