To bring together odd beliefs for the possible amusement of the curious is not the object of a research in the field of folk superstitions such as we have attempted. The end sought is not humor or satire; our hope is rather that such value as is present will be serious. The study of superstitious survivals throws light on what the working of the human mind was in the early stages of its evolution. Eccentric and illogical beliefs of today were accepted principles of life centuries ago. A collection of superstitions, in so far as it has scholarly value, is a partial record of what men have thought and believed. It is, therefore, our hope that this collection may be in a real, though perhaps small, sense, a contribution both to history and to psychology. In Kentucky and elsewhere, the folk superstitions are gradually passing away; many of them are already irrecoverably lost. For purposes of permanent record, it would seem worth while to preserve in print all that can be saved from loss.
In the collection of the materials for this volume, we have received assistance from many people. For example, teachers and students of eight or ten colleges and sixty or seventy high schools, grade schools, and district schools have made contributions, small or great. Many other men and women, white and colored, in the mountains and in the lowlands of the State, have sent us items. It is impossible to mention all to whom we wish to offer our grateful acknowledgments. Those who have sent us the largest number of usable folk superstitions are Miss Louise Kelly, of Lebanon, Reverend and Mrs. Lucien Waggener and Mr. C. M. Fackler, of Danville, Mr. Josiah H. Combs, of Hindman, Rev. G. S. Watson, of Booneville, Miss Stella Nolan, of Harlan County, Mr. Joseph Hart, of Buckhorn, Professors L. L. Dantzler, of the University of Kentucky, B. N. Daniel, of Georgetown College, C. C. Freeman, of Transylvania College, John F. Smith, of Berea College, Thos. A. Hendricks, of Hamilton College for Women, Miss Mary Shaw, of Kentucky College for Women, Miss Ada G. Croft, of Cumberland College, Miss Mattye Reid, of the Western Kentucky Normal School, Dean Kirke Smith, of Lincoln Institute (colored), and Professors W. O. Hopper, of the Mt. Sterling High School, M. E. Ligon, of the Lexington High School, G. W. Colvin, of the Springfield High School, J. T. Norris, of the Augusta High School, J. H. Addams, of the Franklin High School, J. W. Welch, of the Henderson High School, J. H. Risley, of the Owensboro High School, and J. S. Cotter, of the Coleridge Taylor School (colored), of Louisville. We wish to express our very great gratitude to Professor George Lyman Kittredge for advice and encouragement in the production of this collection.
Superstitious beliefs are more persistent and more widespread than most people would suspect. We have all been fully aware that they swayed the minds of people in earlier centuries. We know, also, that they are sprinkled through our earlier literature; for example, the folk superstitions of Shakespeare fill a volume of generous size,1 and instances are no less common in the writings of his contemporaries and are perhaps even more common in the works of Chaucer. Their potent presence, however, in the minds of people of our own time may reasonably cause surprise. In 1907,2 Mr. Fletcher B. Dresslar, of the University of California, asked almost nine hundred normal-school students of the University to write down superstitions that they knew and to indicate frankly their belief or disbelief in them. As a result, 7,176 slips were handed in, each containing a superstition. Of these, 3,951 were accompanied with expressions of disbelief, 2,132 of partial belief, and 1,093 of full belief. Thus 44.9 per cent of the superstitions that were noted were shown to command complete or partial credence. The ones mentioned by the largest number of those engaged in the research were the superstitions associated with Friday, the number thirteen, the dropping of a knife, a fork, or a spoon, the picking up of a pin, the first sight of the new moon, the breaking of a mirror, the presenting of a knife to a friend, the potency of the horseshoe, the burning of the ear, the passing of two companions on the opposite sides of a post, the howl of a dog, the presence of a bird in the house, the opening of an umbrella in the house, and the turning back after one has started anywhere. Mr. Bruce, from whose article the results just quoted were taken, gives also the results of a canvass of believers in superstition among the professors, instructors, and assistants of Harvard University. This investigation showed that only 26.6 per cent of the Harvard teachers questioned could say that they believed that they were entirely free from superstition. A large number of the 73.4 per cent who confessed belief denied at first that they were in any degree superstitious, but under close questioning, they showed that they were not entirely innocent. Professor Edwin M. Fogel, whose volume of superstitions3 contains the largest collection hitherto published in America, has listed 2,083 separate superstitions that are current among Pennsylvania Germans. The authors of the present volume have found almost 4,000 superstitions in Kentucky. As Pennsylvania Germans and Kentuckians are in general probably much more conservative than the average of Americans, inherited beliefs doubtless persist with exceptional strength among them; yet superstitions, it may safely be said, have disappeared entirely from no community in our country. - The origin of all superstition may probably be traced to the desire of mankind to propitiate fate, to avert evil, and to dispel the mystery of life and of the universe. Primitive man, in his fear of evils that he did not understand, sought to avoid disaster by any means that he could find. In his ignorance of logic, he often accepted a coincidence as a cause. Francis Bacon well says:4
1.T. F. Thistleton-Dyer: "Folk-lore of Shakespeare." London, 1884. 8vo. 515 pages.
2 Quoted by H. Addington Bruce in an article entitled "Our Superstitions," in The Outlook, 1911, vol. 98, pp. 999-1006.
3 Edwin Miller Fogel: "Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans," 1915.