Mountain State University Student Writings

English 101 Spring 2003

Judy A. Teaford



Note:  Interesting and informative asides often occur in my classes. My Spring 2003, English Composition 101 course centered around Dreams and Dream Interpretations. As the class considered the theories of Freud, Jung, symbolism, etc., in the analysis of their personal dreams, one student offered a grandparent's belief--something she had repeatedly heard growing up in Appalachia--regarding the meaning of death in a dream. The discussion evolved into a more detailed discussion of Appalachian (mostly West Virginian) superstitions and beliefs. 




Collecting Folk Superstitions/Beliefs:

  • Most students can remember at least one superstition told to them by a relative or close friend. Encourage students to interview elders in their family and community for additional superstitions, along with stories relative to the superstitions. (While superstitions is the correct terminology for use in an assignment of this nature, students may get better results using the term beliefs. The connotations of the word superstitions might offend some people and keep them from providing information.) Informal interviews--those conducted without formal documentation such as MLA or APA--are an excellent way to prepare student for future research papers.

  • Students should be encouraged to provide as much documentation as possible on themselves and their sources. This informal documentation will help prepare the student for more formal documentation--MLA, APA, etc.--used in research papers.

Writing and Publishing:

  • If you have a web page, this may well be the incentive you need to get some of your students to write their information up in a more formal manner. (This was just enough incentive for some of my students! Remind them that being published looks very good on a resume.) You might decide to offer extra credit or use the assignment as replacement for a journal entry or another equally weighted assignment. You may simply require the assignment. 

  • Ask students to prepare their information by listing or by composing their information into mini stories. (Both listing and mini stories were completed by my students.) Listing will help students learn organizational skills; mini stories will help students learn, in a simple manner, narrative skills.

  • Have students provide informal personal and source documentation either before or at the end of their writing. (My students provided the information at the beginning of their writing, very informally.  See below.) 

Class Discussion:

  • A discussion of the similarities and differences remembered or collected by students provides insight into the beliefs and culture of older Appalachians. 

  • Noticing which superstitions are still believed in and practiced by students also offers insight into the influence elders have on younger people while indirectly commenting on the culture of younger Appalachians.

Following are superstitions remembered or collected and submitted by my Spring 2003, English Composition 101 students. (Minor editing has been done for clarity.) While some of the superstitions remembered or collected by the students are considered simply amusing, some of the superstitions are still believed in and practiced by the students. 





Kelli Brown

April 13, 2003


Personal Information:

My grandmother was born in West Virginia on February 3, 1941. She was raised in Huntington, WV, had her children here, and raised her family here. My grandmother has 13 brothers and sisters. And her family mined coal. My grandmother was the third child.


My grandfather and his family lived near Procterville, Ohio, and were very good friends of my grandmother's family. My grandfather was born September 1, 1938. My grandfather and his family were farmers, and they raised horses.


My grandparents married and moved to St.Augustine, FL, before I was ever born. I would say they moved to FL around 1980. They moved to Gainesville, FL, where they now reside.


My grandmother still has her mother, sisters, and brothers who live in Huntington, WV. She comes up here (WV) often to visit them.


My birthday is June 27, 1984. I was born in Huntington, WV, then moved to FL when I was 3, with my mother and father. When I was 17, I moved back to WV.


* * *


I was a little stuck on some of the superstitions, so I gave my grandmother a phone call, and boy was she happy to help...she loaded me up.  


* * *


Watch the leaves on the trees ... if they turn up it is a sign of rain. My grandmother says that if you're outside setting on the porch and you see the leaves on the trees turn up it is a sign of rain ... get your umbrella; its gonna pour.


If a bird flies in your house, someone in the family will pass away. I do remember as a child my grandmother always saying ... if a bird flies in, someone will fly to Heaven with him. My grandmother keeps elderly people in her home. One day a bird flew inside her house and would not come down from the hanging plant ... about a week later the old man she kept  died.


Plant potatoes by the dark of the moonlight. My grandfather use to be a big farmer and planter. He would always say that the best time to plant potatoes is by the dark of the moonlight ... the potatoes grow underground, and if you plant them when it is daylight they will be scared of the dark of the underground, and they will not grow. It must be true ... his potatoes always grew.


Dancing in the rain will bring riches and fame. My grandmother, always the superstitious one of the family, would always let us dance in the rain as kids ... she would say, "Dancing in the rain will bring riches and fame." She thought that if a rich man saw you dancing in the rain, he would feel sorry for you and take you home to live in riches and fame..... I don't really think this is that true ... I'm not living in riches and fame, and as kids we would always dance in the rain.


If you jump over a broom or sweep in front of a man, then that means you want to "jump the broom" and get married to him. My grandmother was always the only one in our house as a child that would sweep the floor ... she would say, "If you jump over a broom or sweep in front of a man, then that means you want to "jump the broom" and get married to him. He would call it 'jumping the broom'" ... she didn't want any of her kids getting married.


Don't go into the cucumbers if you're on your period. I have heard this one from many, many old farmers. I do remember my grandfather always saying, "Don't go into the cucumbers if you're on your period. The cucumbers will not pickle right and they will stink to high Heaven if you do." I don't know if they will; I've never been allowed in the cucumbers.


If you hear a woman whistle, it means she's gonna go have sex. My grandmother was a strong believer that a woman should not whistle; it meant she was gonna go have sex ... she would always say, "Child, quit that whistling." (I guess it was O.K. for a man though : )


Dreams: If a single woman sleeps with a piece of wedding cake under her pillow, she will dream of her future husband. If we ever went to a wedding, my grandmother would always say, "Steal a piece of cake because if a single woman sleeps with a piece of wedding cake under her pillow, she will dream of her future husband." 


Sign of Death: The spouse who goes to sleep first on the wedding day will be the first to die.


If a bee enters your home, it's a sign that you will soon have a visitor. If you kill the bee, you will have bad luck, or the visitor will be unpleasant.



Cindy Hall 

March 15, 2003


Personal Information: 

Both of my parents were born and raised in the Besoco, Princewick, and Coal City areas of West Virginia during the 1940s. They graduated from Stoco High School, which is no longer in existence, in the 1960s.  I was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1968.  Our family moved back to West Virginia in 1972. My father then died in a coal mining explosion in December of that same year.  My mother remarried.  My step-father grew up in Fayette County, West Virginia and graduated from Mount Hope High School in the 1960s.  The following information was passed on to them from their parents and siblings.


A Woman's Menstrual Cycle and Gardening: As a teenager growing up, my parents wouldn't allow females in the garden, near the cucumbers or tomatoes when it was time for their menstrual cycle. They believed that if you would get near these vegetables, during this time, that you would cause them to spoil, and ruin the entire crop.


It was OK, though, to get near the cabbage, walk around it even, because it would help it grow. 


When it was time for canning season, you couldn't be near these vegetables either. Even though they were picked and off the vine, in your kitchen you were forbidden to mess with them if you were canning them.


One year my mother was making sweet pickles that took 21 days to can. They had to set in a churn for 21 days, and you completed various steps during this time to make them turn out just right. When day 21 came around, and it was time to can them, it was "her time." My stepfather and I had to complete the process and can these pickles. I thought this was funny then, and being thirty-something now, I think it is even funnier. I must admit, I am not a gardener, but I really don't think the vegetables know if you are menstruating or not.


Sign of Death: Another old "wives tale" would be that when a portrait falls off the wall, it is a sign of death. When a bird flies into your house, it is also a sign of death. When I was a teenager, a family portrait fell from our wall and needless to say, my mother was very upset. Everyone in the portrait is still alive and well today.



Agnes Keatley

March 5, 2003


Personal Information:

Grandfather Looney was Mr. A.O. Looney, and he lived way up a dirt road in Sweet Charleybeat, Virginia or West Virginia. I do not know which. I have looked and cannot find an area with this spelling in either state. It was way on the other side of White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia, and we left the main roads and traveled a good while on winding, dirt roads. I am not sure of the spelling, but we always said that it was spelled and pronounced as though we were saying "Sweet Charley Beat."


My Mother married my Dad in 1935, and Grandfather Looney, her first husband's father, would have been in his late 70's, early 80's I'm sure, at that time.


Having been born in 1936, when I say, "When I was young," I'm speaking of probably early to mid forties.


I remember, when I was young, going to my Grandfather Looney's farm. He was not my grandfather, but was the grandfather of my half brother and sisters - my mother's first husband's father. I had no grandfather, and so Grandfather Looney was my grandfather!


* * *


A Woman's Menstrual Cycle and Gardening: We girls were not allowed in his garden. He just would not have us in his garden. If we were to go to the garden, for any reason, we had to be specifically escorted by him, and then only very scarce and only in certain places were we allowed to walk. NEVER could we be turned lose to go into his garden. NEVER! It was the spoken rule, if unwritten.


We came to understand that the reason for this hard and fast rule was that during the menstrual times of the month we were more than likely to rot the plants, should we walk through the garden. This was particularly true of the cucumbers. This was common knowledge and an understood rule.


On one occasion, my sister, Betty, opened a very large vat of Grandmother Looney's pickles, reached her hand down into the brine, and proceeded to help herself. As a direct result of this, the entire crock of pickles spoiled horribly and had to be destroyed!


Now, whether or not Betty spoiled the pickles is a question I cannot answer! Perhaps the container had to stay sealed for so many days, or some other such necessity for making pickles. All I know is, growing up in my family, it was a well known fact that "Betty spoiled the pickles!"



Phoebe Neff

April 2003


Personal Information:

Phoebe Neff, born September 13, 1976, lived down Rt. 61 up a hollow called White Oak.

Mother: Thelma Louise Phillips (Maiden), born January 10, 1951, Fork Road, seven-tenths of a mile on a dirt road. 

Granny: Katherine Virginia Wolf (Maiden) Phillips, born November 19, 1928?, Cherokee, same as myself and my mother.


* * *


A Woman's Menstrual Cycle and Gardening: My granny use to tell me, when I was around seven or eight, that if a woman was "sick" she could not go in the garden around the cucumbers. I didn't really understand until I actually became "sick," and she jumped on me for going near her garden. My cousin, who also has a garden across from granny's, lost all of her cucumbers because she went into the garden "sick."


My granny also told me that when kittens are playful in the fall that bad weather is coming.  I was about five or six when she told me this. Sign of Death: She also told me that if you hear a knock on your door, and no one is there, it is a death knock. Someone is dying. 


My mom told me, when I was ten years old, that if you sweep under someone's feet, and they are not married, then they will never marry. But if you do sweep under someone's feet and then sweep back under them, they will be married.


My granny said that if a bird flies into your window, it's bad luck. Sign of Death: However, if a bird flies into your house and hits your window then someone is sick and dying. I was around six when granny told me that one. She also told me that death comes in threes. So if one person dies in your family, then two more will follow before the year is finished. So far, that has always been true. Most all these superstitions have come true, or at least close.


Granny also said that if you spill salt, you will have a quarrel. If you break a mirror, you will have seven years of bad luck. If your left hand itches, you will receive money. If your right hand itches, you will shake hands with a stranger. If your right eye itches, you are going to cry. If your left eye itches, you will be pleased. If your right foot itches, you will walk on strange ground. If your left foot itches, you will get a new pair of shoes.


Granny use to tell me to throw a pinch of salt over my shoulder to keep the devil away. If the hem of your dress is turned up, kiss it and you will get a new one. If you make a wish on a falling star, it will come true. 


My mom told me that if you get married in blue, you will always be true. If you marry in yellow, you have a fine fellow. If you marry in black, you will never go back. Mom says that if you get an extra fork then there's going to be a wedding. If you get an extra spoon, someone is coming hungry. If your ears ring, someone is talking bad about you. If the left side of your nose itches, a man is coming to visit. If the right side of your nose itches, a woman is coming to visit. If both sides of your nose itch, you will have a houseful of company.


Granny use to tell us not to swim in the dog days of summer because it would take longer for our cuts to heal. That happened to me when I was seven, and it took about a month and a half to heal the cut on my leg. 


My granny passed away back in 1991, but my mom tells me some of the superstitions my granny told to her. I have a cousin who had asthma when she was little, and I remember my granny taking her to a tree and cutting a notch in the tree. When my cousin grew past the notch in the tree, she never was bothered with asthma again.


Dreams: If you dream of muddy water, someone is ill. If you dream of a wedding then there will be a separation. Dreams/Sign of Death: If you dream of birth, there will be a death. If you dream of a death, there will be a birth. My mom told me these since I was little, and her mom told them to her. Dream: If you dream of a snake or other animals, you have enemies. 


If you get a blister on your tongue, granny use to say that you wouldn't have it if you didn't lie so much. My granny would complain about her legs hurting, and she would say that it was going to rain.  




Della Persinger

March 6, 2003


Personal Information:

I am 34 years old.  These were told to me by my parents. My mom is 53 and is of Irish and English decent. She was brought up in Gauley Bridge. My dad is now deceased. He is of Native American decent. The came from Hinton, WV, and were brought up in Kaymor Number 1 in Fayette County. Some of these I do believe in and some I don't believe in.


* * *


Don't walk under a ladder; walk around it because it's bad luck. 


Don't split a pole. If you're walking with someone, go the same direction they go. If you split the pole, it's bad luck.


On New Year's Day a man must enter the house first. If a woman enters first it's bad luck. 


When the leaves turn over, it means it's going to rain.


If a black cat crossed your path while driving, you should put an X on your window or throw out a piece of white paper. 


If a wooly worm is light brown, it's going to be an easy winter. If a wooly worm is a dark brown, it's going to be a hard winter. 


If the bees build their nest in the ground, it's going to be a hard winter. 


If your right eye itches, you are going to cry. If your left eye itches, you are going to be pleased. 

If your right hand itches, you are going to get money. If your left hand itches, you are going to get a letter. If your feet itch, it means you are going to get a new pair of shoes or walk on strange ground. 


Sign of Death: If a bird flies into your home, it's a sign of a death. If you hear ringing in your ears, it means you are going to hear of a death. 


Don't step on a crack or you will break your momma's back. 


If someone hands you an open knife, never close it; let him or her close it or it's bad luck.


Never give a knife as a present without receiving a penny or some kind of money. 


Never give an empty wallet; it is bad luck.





Mitzie Slezak

April 14, 2003


Personal Information:

My age is 31. These two tales my mother told me. She is 58 and lives in Oak Hill, WV. I heard these on April 14, 2003. She heard these as a young girl.


* * *


If your nose itches, you'll have company to your house.


If you drop a dish towel, somebody will come hungry.


* * *


Personal Information:

My cousin Debbie told me these. She is 46 and from Oak Hill, WV. I heard these on April 14, 2003. Most of these she heard from her mother, who has passed away.


* * *


If you're driving down the road, and a black cat crosses in front of you, mark and X on your windshield or you'll have bad luck.


If your walking down a sidewalk and step on a crack, you'll break your mother's back.


If two people make a bed, they will fight all day.


If you spill salt, sprinkle salt in your right hand and throw it over your left shoulder or you will have bad luck.


If your right eye twitches, you'll have bad luck.


Dream: If you dream of snakes, you'll have an enemy.


If you walk by a house with sickness or death, you must spit or you'll have bad luck.


If you grow a sweet potato plant in your home and the vine touches the floor, bad luck will enter throughout the floor.




Mandy Stewart

April 2003


Personal Information:

All of these superstitions that I have heard, while growing up around them in Pettus, WV, came from my grandparents, Cecil and Eloise Browning.  They are both deceased.


* * *


It is bad luck to walk under a ladder. 


If you break a mirror, it will bring you seven years bad luck. 


If a black cat runs across your path, it will bring you bad luck. 


Friday the 13th is a day of bad luck. 


If you spill salt, you will need to throw a pinch of the salt over your back to keep from having bad luck.


Never open an umbrella indoors. It brings bad luck.


Hanging a horseshoe over a doorway brings good luck. 


Carry a rabbit's foot for good luck. 


Dreams: If you dream of muddy water, it is a bad dream. If you dream of fish, you will hear that someone is pregnant. Dreams/Sign of Death: If you dream of a birth, it means you will hear of a death. If you dream of a death, you will hear of a birth.





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This Page Created: 06/01/2003

Late Update:  04/02/2005 09:53:30 PM