Skip to main content

Strange New England Superstitions Part 1

By Thomas D'Agostino

This month I would like to share a few parts of our upcoming book, Litchfield County Ghosts, with you. One section I am particularly interested in is the strange and lesser known superstitions of our region. Many of these came from the old countries where the settlers migrated from while others were born here. The land and nature that surrounded it made for a fearful new world and many of these fears gave birth to the superstitions you are about to read. Who knows, maybe someone you know, or yourself, may at least once adhered to a few of these old relics.

Here are a few concerning black cats. It was once believed that if you possess a black cat you will be showered with good fortune as long as you have the cat in your home. If a bride should happen to hear a black cat sneeze on her wedding day, the marriage will be blessed with true happiness. Early New Englanders used to place a black cat in a cradle before it was to be used by the infant. It was believed that such an act repelled evil spirits from the baby until he outgrew the cradle. If the cat happened to sharpen its claws on a fence, the result would be downpours of rain all day coming from the direction the cat's tail was pointed in when it commenced its scratching.

The fear of witchery in New England was probably the most reverberated concern among the colonists. Cotton Mather, along with many other noted preachers of the time wrote extensively on the horrors of witchcraft and the blights witches were capable of. In the early colonies, anything that went wrong was blamed on witchcraft and with that, there had to be a "witch" behind it. Strict laws were enacted to prevent witches from harming the pious. These laws were punishable by death and many people were accused jailed and or executed for holding sessions with the dark one. Naturally, superstitions would become a way of dealing or preventing being bewitched.

The colonists found apple trees to be a reverent source of food and drink. Because of this, they felt that the trees and its fruit held magical powers. If a spell was placed on a person, that person would then go out on a cloudless night when the moon was full and throw a handful of apple seeds over their left should with their right hand. This was sure to counteract the spell that was placed upon them.

Many people carved faces in the apples and made dolls out of them for protection. They would hang them in their kitchen rendering evil spirits and witches powerless against them and their family as long as the people resided in the home.

Apple superstitions and customs were not limited to witches, other customs concerning marriage were common in the colonies. One superstition still lives on to this day but has lost its true meaning over the centuries, but the young women found it to be a way to tell their future husband. When the woman caught the apple in her teeth while bobbing, the next step was to place it under her pillow that night. During this time, it was believed she would dream of her future husband.

If the woman decided to eat the apple, she would do so while standing in front of a mirror at midnight on All Hallow's Eve. She would then see the apparition of the man she was to marry appear behind her in the mirror. If she should turn and try to get a glimpse of him, the apparition would vanish along with any chance of her ever marrying.

One more superstition that is still talked about today is a method once used to frighten evil spirits away. When walking any distance in the dark, the traveler would carry two sticks made of either ash, or oak, or both. They would then strike them sharply when passing any area where evil spirits were known to be lying in wait of their next victim. The spirits cannot stand the noise of those tow woods being clapped together and therefore have no choice but to vacate the area in haste, leaving the trekker to continue safely.