In this spooky time of year let’s have a look at some superstitions that were believed during the Medieval and Tudor times…
During the Medieval and Tudor age people believed in witches and the powers they held. It was often believed that a witch was a woman who had slept with the devil. Women were liable to being labelled as a witch as they were seen as weaker and far more susceptible to the devil and his tricks. Women also held fewer rights than men in society and found it hard to defend themselves against allegations. Witches could make potions and perform spells that would put curses upon people or cause disasters to happen, such as poor crops, illness or the loss of a child. Some people even thought that a witch could perform a spell upon a man to make him fall in love with a woman! It was believed that witches could fly on broomsticks and even turn into animals such as a cat or a raven. In 1542 Henry VIII passed the first Witchcraft Act against sorcery, witches and enchantments. The act stated that it was forbidden to:
“… use devise practise or exercise, or cause to be devysed practised or exercised, any Invovacons or cojuracons of Sprites witchecraftes enchauntementes or sorceries to thentent to fynde money or treasure or to waste consume or destroy any persone in his bodie membres, or to pvoke [provoke] any persone to unlawfull love, or for any other unlawfull intente or purpose … or for dispite of Cryste, or for lucre of money, dygge up or pull downe any Crosse or Crosses or by such Invovacons or cojuracons of Sprites witchecraftes enchauntementes or sorceries or any of them take upon them to tell or declare where goodes stollen or lost shall become.” (Gibson, 2003, p.2)
If a person was convicted of the crime of witchcraft their belongings were forfeited and they were sentenced to death – usually hanging. It was believed that horseshoes could ward off witches.
(Image from Wikipedia)
Cats were often associated with witches, being kept by them, or even that a witch could turn into a cat. Black was also seen as the colour of evil. Some believed that if a black cat that walked across their path it would mean something bad would happen to them.
Many people of the Medieval and Tudor periods believed in ghosts. It was often thought that ghosts were souls that had not gone to heaven and still haunted the earth. It was commonly believed that these souls belonged to people who committed suicide as suicide was believed to be a sin against God. If a person committed suicide their body was often buried in a crossroad so that their soul could not find their way back and they were pinned to the ground with a steak to keep the soul in place.
Many people believed that horseshoes were lucky. The first reason for this was because they were made of iron, a metal that could ward off evil spirits. The second reason was that it was believed St Dunstan was working as a blacksmith when the devil entered his shop. He pretended not to know it was the devil and collected horseshoes and then nailed them to the devil. This caused the devil great pain and St Dunstan would only remove the horseshoes if the devil promised not to enter a home with a horseshoe on the door. Therefore people would keep an iron horseshoe in their home to protect against the devil.
During the Medieval times spilling salt was seen as bad luck. Salt was a precious commodity, it was used in cooking and for medicine and spilling salt was seen as a waste. In addition to this in the painting of the Last Supper by da Vinci, Judus can be seen spilling salt and therefore it was believed that if salt was spilt something bad would happen. People would collect the spilled salt and throw it over their shoulder as a means to ward off evil spirits.
Had a sneeze? Make sure someone says “God Bless You” or the devil might enter your body! It was believed by some that a sneeze opened up the body to the devil or evil spirits and so saying God Bless You would protect you from evil entering your body.
It was believed that candles, specifically the flame of the candle, would ward off evil spirits. Often when a person was dying or a child was being born candles were lit so that evil spirits could not get to the soul of the dying person or the newborn child.
Elizabethan Witchcraft and Witches, viewed 6 October 2018, <http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/elizabethan-witchcraft-and-witches.htm>.
Gibson, Marion, Witchcraft and Society in England and America 1550-1750, (London: Continuum, 2003).
Lamb, Victoria, Tudor Superstitions: The ‘Witching Time of Night’, viewed 6 October 2018, < https://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2012/10/tudor-superstitions-witching-time-of.html>.
Malandra, Ocean, Ten Facts on the Elizabethan Times, viewed 6 October 2018, <https://classroom.synonym.com/ten-facts-on-the-elizabethan-times-12082233.html>.
Schoppert, Stephanie, Centuries of Fear: 6 Superstitions from the Middle Ages, viewed 6 October 2018, <https://historycollection.co/centuries-fear-superstitions-middle-ages/>.
Superstitions of Medieval England, viewed 8 October 2018, <https://hchroniclesblog.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/superstitions-of-medieval-england/>.