The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 1/Greek Folk-lore


By Mrs. M. A. Walker.

DURING the many years in which I have been living in contact with the unlettered classes of this country, I have found frequent amusement in gleaning such items of their folk-lore as came in my path. Some of these are very quaint, as the following examples, collected chiefly from Greek sources, will show.

Tuesday is considered a most unfortunate day on which to begin any kind of work: from the cutting out of a dress, to the sailing of a ship, all must go wrong: the dress will not fit; the sweetmeats will ferment; the house will be weak in its foundations; the ship will most certainly be wrecked! One hour out of the twenty-four is so especially baneful that a child beginning life at that time is sure to grow up vicious and unmanageable; no one, however, knows exactly which is the fatal period, and all Tuesday-born children may enjoy the benefit of the doubt, until their perversity betrays the malignant influence that overshadowed their birth.

If you wish to dismiss a visitor without incurring the painful necessity of hinting that the visit is unwelcome, let some one quietly slip a pinch of salt into his galoshes, left outside the door, and immediately the unconscious guest resolves to depart: you may then with safety entreat him to prolong the pleasure of his society; nothing can withstand the subtle power that compels him to leave.

In many countries the howling of a dog is taken as the sign of death in the neighbourhood; here, nothing is easier than to avert the omen; again, it is only a little salt that is required: put it in the toe of a slipper, which you turn gently over: and you may rest in peace.

A slipper is a strangely useful article; there should always be one at hand for emergencies. Terribly bad luck will befall a family if one of its members is allowed, unchecked, to grind the teeth when asleep; quickly stride the mouth of the offender with a slipper—three times—and the family misfortunes are avoided.

The mysterious influences that hover round our beds are moved to evil by other grievances besides the gnashing of teeth: a black handkerchief on the head of a sleeper is an abomination: woe to the woman who may have thoughtlessly so bound up her brows, her good destiny peeping in at the door and seeing the sombre head-dress will cast off all interest in the sleeping sinner, and with the gesture "Nà! Nà!" take flight for evermore.

There is great danger in giving and taking incautiously. During twelve days before Christmas carefully avoid giving any thing to any one or harm will come of it, and at all times and seasons remember never to give either salt or ashes: let people take what they need of those homely substances, but if you give them your house will inevitably be burned down.

Never take a piece of soap from a friend's hand; let the giver lay it down, and you may take it up with safety, and thus avoid the bitter quarrel which would surely follow the neglect of this trifling precaution.

To spill either oil or spirits is most unfortunate; but if wine is spilt by a genuine accident you may fairly rejoice in the happy prognostic.

If salt is spilt unintentionally, it is sufficient to scatter a little pepper upon it to arrest the evil consequences which would otherwise follow.

A half-open door may occasion serious misfortunes. If the door of the house is standing open when a corpse is carried past it must be shut in haste, or the uneasy spirit that has so lately left its earthly tenement will glide in to take up its abode where it is not desired. On the door-step of the house from which the poor body has been so hastily removed, a vase or bottle of wine must be thrown down and broken, that it may not, at least, seek to re-enter its lost home.

If the door of a cupboard is left partially open, a visitor may happen to glance unconsciously at the worldly goods stored up within, but the most disastrous results will follow the innocent glance, as the property will gradually but surely slip out of the possession of that family by the fatal power of the "evil eye."

A person who sits down to rest upon a box filled with clothing may, quite unwittingly, hinder the happy marriage of the young girl whose belongings are packed up there: adverse influences will certainly prevent the old woman, whose business it is to negociate marriages, from coming to that family to seek for a bride.

Again, any one who sits on the ground in the way of those passing in and out of the room occasions much needless trouble, for the unthinking person who may have hurriedly stepped across the obstruction must—in spite of haste—instantly return to step over a second time, and so unwind the spell; otherwise the one stepped over will, ere long, shrivel up and perish.

You may be tired or reflective, or perhaps in a defiant mood, nevertheless carefully abstain from standing with the arms crossed; to do so is to tie up all good fortune in your destiny.

Be sure to buy vinegar before the sun is down; if sold afterwards it will become musty, but it is not easy to procure it at that time as the bakals are aware of this necessary precaution.

The first money taken by a dealer in the morning should be rubbed all over the face, to ensure a good amount of custom for the rest of the day.

A child falls and cuts his head on a rough stone: is it the first care of the mother to wash and bind up the wound? that is an after consideration: she must first find the exact spot where the accident occurred, and, turning her head away, pour on it, over her shoulder, a libation of wine or sugared water, then go quickly away without looking round: by this wise measure all bad consequences will be avoided, and the hurt can be looked to at leisure.

The careful Eastern housewife enjoys the guidance of many rules of which others are deprived by ignorance and want of faith. She is especially attentive to the phenomena that affect the boughata, or great wash of the household linen, carefully taking out the pieces of half-burnt wood from beneath the copper when all is finished, and placing them aside to die out gradually: if, from a fatal idea of economy, she is rash enough to extinguish them in water, the house and family will infallibly decay from that time.

A fine display of cleanly-washed and snowy linen is a cheering sight after all the labour bestowed, but beware of the false friend who, coming in, treacherously admires it. "How beautifully the bougatha has succeeded! how spotless! how white! "Can anything be more cruel? Soon afterwards the unfortunate washerwoman feels a sharp pain in her finger; she has been struck by the "evil eye," and there is but one remedy: to cut off some part of the neighbour's dress, some frayed tatter of her well-worn jacket, burn it in the candle, and apply it to the aching finger.

Cooks have a responsibility connected with the three-legged iron trivets on which they set their saucepans over the charcoal stove: when no longer wanted, they must be careful not to leave them standing, but to place them with the feet horizontally—otherwise any relation likely to pay the family a visit will be prevented from coming.

When a pair of scissors is left gaping on a table it is said that the Archangel Michael's mouth is open, ready to take the soul of some one member of the family.

There is a simple and easy method of overcoming the malignity of the "evil eye," the remedy is valuable in proportion to the injury inflicted by the unconscious glance. Take three fine cloves, stick them solemnly on a pin, burn them a moment in the flame of the candle and wave them about in the air. If one of the cloves bursts, the effect is attained, if not, take another three and recommence—the bad influences must be indeed tenacious (or the spice-box mutually damp) that can prevent the desired explosion of the clove, always provided the trial be made with the needful patience and with unwavering faith in its efficacy.

A person invited to two marriages taking place on the same day must only accept one of the invitations; to attend both weddings would bring misfortune on the second couple.

Do not be too eager to compliment a mother on the birth of an infant, but remain at least half an-hour in the house before entering her room, lest rejoicing should turn to lamentation.

Such and similar superstitions, of which the number is infinite, trivial as they seem in themselves, possess a certain interest, some in their evident derivation from sources of the highest antiquity, others, in their connection with like beliefs amongst the peasantry throughout Europe; everywhere modified and shaped by local circumstances, but all springing from the same dread of unknown and mysterious influences, of which the most potent and the most universally feared is the power of the "evil eye."