Hi all, we’re back with another pick of our Session’s Highlights! This month, we have been looking at superstitions of traditional crafts and rural jobs, in what we have called our Crafts Month Special – and it is extra special as we have also been featuring museum objects related to our themes on our Blog! Yesterday (20/08/22), our topic was Jewellery, Blacksmithing and Mining – and alongside it, we wrote about a lucky amulet called “Cowan’s Taed Stane” – picked in collaboration with the Folklore Museums Network, and which you can read about here.
Having three themes rolled into one, we decided to pick three Highlights for you today – one for each topic, starting with Jewellery and a belief shared by Elsa, about what has been dubbed the “vena amoris”. This expression is Latin for “Vein of Love”, as it was once believed that the ring finger of the left hand was connected straight to the heart by one of our veins. However, the saying has since been debunked by modern science, thanks to developments in biological knowledge that found that the vena amoris does not really exist. It is also unclear where the lore of rings worn on this finger came from. Some legends claim that it can be found as early as Ancient Egypt, where jewellery had a close connection with the gods and the divine. Others, that it was actually the Ancient Greeks who first came up with the concept of the ring finger. And as old, lost and unverifiable lore often does, it is also said that the Romans later adopted this tradition – a belief that seemed to have cemented in the late 17th century, when English writer Henry Swinburne described the vena amoris in his Treatise of Spousals or Matrimonial Contracts (which you can read for free here). Swinburne wrote:
“There is a Vein of Blood which passeth from that fourth Finger unto the Heart, called Vena Amoris, Love’s Vein. And so, the wearing of the Ring on that Finger signifieth that the love should not be vain or feigned, but that as they did give their hands to each other, for likewise they should give their hearts also, whereunto that Vein is extended.”
Elsa also shared a superstition that it is really unlucky to wear someone else’s wedding ring – especially if they went through a divorce, lest the bad luck of love befalls you! Though some tall tales claim that this is all just a ruse by jewellers to get you to buy more rings! What do you think?
We move on to our second Highlight with Blacksmithing. Capable of transforming plain “rocks” into tools, it is no wonder that blacksmiths were once thought of as some of the most magical professionals of old. So magical in fact, that the earliest known Indo-European folk tale is said to be about a blacksmith forging a deal with the Devil to gain supernatural talents in exchange for his soul. With plenty of regional variations and retellings, the gist of it is that later – after the cunning smith tricks the Devil into not taking his end of the bargain – the smith is able to secure the Dark Lord with the power of iron. In the event, the Devil is understandably very displeased, which is probably why so many superstitions claim that it continued to pester blacksmiths forever – leading the artisans to come up with various rituals to keep Old Nick away from the forge! One such ritual was this one, shared by TWhatley, to make sure to cross your tools after the smithy’s fire is put out for the day. For more on the lore of blacksmiths and the Devil, check out this article on Folklore Thursday, here – and for iron and how it is believed to affect other devilish creatures, how about this one here?
Our last Highlight is then, of course, related to Mining – with a tale shared by Haunted History BC, who said that miners once held a superstition that it was better to skip your last day on the job, as disasters were prone to befall them on their last shift. The belief seems to have been observed as late as 1946, when it was laid out for discussion in the fifth volume of the California Folklore Quarterly journal. According to the article author, Wayland D. Hand, this fear was so widespread that “miner’s wives often prevail[ed] upon their husbands not to work their last shift, claiming that “an Italian shaftman who was quitting his job […] was struck down by a falling boulder.” Furthermore, “injuries, as well as deaths, in the popular mind are likewise more likely to occur on the final shift.” If you have access to Jstor, the article is available to read here. So, now you know. If you hate your job and need to come up with a reason not to show up on your last day or to finish your two week’s notice, the answer is: miners’ superstition. If you can spin that yarn…
That is all for today! I hope you enjoyed this selection and stick with us for the last Saturday of our Crafts Month Special for stories of
TAILORS, SPINNERS & WEAVERS
… as well as another Folklore object, chosen by Dr Peter Hewitt from the Folklore Museums Network! As always, whether you’re old, new or just passing through, your presence is very much appreciated and I am glad to see you stop by. See you next Saturday!
Your lucky cat pal,
– Superstition Sam 🐾