Witches and Fairies

Ingratitude is worse than witchcraft.

Never talk of witches on a Friday.

Friday is the witches’ sabbath.

Witches are most apt to confess on a Friday.

Fairies comb goats’ beards every Friday.

To hug one as the devil hugs a witch.

A favourite cry of the fairies, waters locked! waters locked!!

Wednesday is the fairies’ sabbath.

A witch is afraid of her own blood.

A witch cannot weep.

To be fairy struck (paralysis).

A hairy man’s a geary man, but a hairy wife’s a witch.

You’re like a witch, you say your prayers backwards.

You’re half a witch (cunning).

Turn your cloaks for fairy folks are in old oaks.

May Kittens

Kittens born in May are even still proverbially spoken of and looked upon as bad mousers. I only within the present year heard a female say that “she wad nivver mair keep a May kitten as lang as she lived, for they were just good for naught at all!” [They are unlucky to keep; and besides, they suck the breath of very young infants: Long Benton, Newcastle.}

DT 1859



A merry Christmas, a happy new year and a jovial Handsel Monday.

A black Christmas makes a fat churchyard.

If the ice bears a goose before Christmas, it will not bear a duck afterwards.

Big as a Christmas pig.

It’s good crying Yule on another mans stool.

A windy Christmas is the sign of a good new year.

Ghosts never appear on Christmas eve.

Busy as an English oven at Christmas.

A kiss at Christmas and an egg at Easter.

A light Christmas, a heavy sheaf.

She simpers like a frummetty kettle at Christmas.

He’s a fool that marries at Yule, for when the bairn’s to bear, the corn’s to shear.

If Christmas day on a Monday fall, a troublous winter we shall have all.




When parsley is sown it goes nine times to the devil before it comes up.

Only the wicked can grow parsley.

If a loaf of bread is cut at both ends the devil will fly over the house.

It is said that when a woman whistles, the devil rattles his chains.

It is unlucky to meet a red haired woman in the morning.

To keep the cramp away, carry a potato in your pocket.

It is lucky to carry a tip of dried tongue in your pocket.

If you lay a new born child on its left side it will always be awkward

If a child is put upon a bear’s back at a bear baiting he will be cured of the whooping cough.

It is lucky for your first child to be a girl.

If you sit on a table you want to be married.

If you dream of losing your teeth you will lose your best friend.

If you point nine times at the moon you will not go to heaven.

Crooked money brings good luck.

If you throw the gills of a fish over your house they will become a silver spoon.

Let a spoon fall and a fool will come to see you.

It is unlucky to turn a spoon over in your mouth.

It is unlucky for the clock to stand opposite the fire.

It is unlucky to mend your clothes whilst wearing them

It is unlucky to count your teeth.

Never buy black pins unless you are in mourning. 

Taken from – Household Tales with other traditional remains. S Addy. 1895

Plant Lore


The fruit of the blackberry bramble is vulgarly known in this district by the name of bumble kyte, from its being supposed to cause flatulency when eaten in too great a quantity. No knowledgeable boy will eat these berries after Michaelmas Day, because the arch-fiend is believed to ride along the hedges on the eve of that great festival and pollute everything that grows in them, except the sloes, by touching them with his club foot. The same notion prevails further north, where the bramble-berries are called lady’s garter berries.

bramble print


It was formerly supposed thought “fern seed” was obtainable only at the exact hour of midnight, on the eve of the day on which Saint John the Baptist was born ; and people believed that if they gathered it at that particular time, it would endow them with the power of walking invisible. The right way to obtain it was to hold a plate under the plant, and let the seed fall into it of its own accord, for if was shaken off by the hand it lost its virtue. This belief was founded on the doctrine of signatures, according to which certain herbs were held to be specific remedies for particular diseases, because they bore upon them some impress of the symptoms accompanying them. Thus the liver wort was supposed to be a sovereign remedy against the heat and inflammation of the liver, because it was shaped like that organ ; the lungwort, from its spotted leaves, was a popular remedy for diseased lungs ; the pilewort, on account of the small knobs on the roots, was administered in cases of hemorrhoids ; The seed of the fern, being on the back of the plant, and so small as to escape the sight of ordinary observers, was assumed to have the property of rendering those who tasted it, or carried it about their persons, invisible for the time.

The mercy of God… maketh… Herbes for the use of men, and hath… given them particular Signatures, whereby a man may read… the use of them.

William Cole (1626-62)


Country people plant the house-leek or sen-green, locally termed “full ” or ” fullen,” on the thatched roofs of their cottages, in order to preserve them from thunder and lightning, which, it is said, will never strike this evergreen herb.

house leek


The common purple clover {Trifolium pratense) is very good for cattle, but very noisome to witches. In the days when there was at least one noted witch in every hamlet, the leaf was commonly worn as a potent charm, being regarded as an obvious emblem of the Blessed Trinity. The belief in its magic virtue is not extinct even yet.



One saying is —

If your whipstick’s made of rowan

You may ride your nag through any town.

Another —

Woe to the lad

Without a rowan tree gad.

The latter has fallen into disuse since tlie old fashioned twelve-oxen plough was laid aside. When that cumbersome affair was at work, making those enormous S-shaped ridges of which are still seen the traces left in some outlying old grass fields, a gadman to take charge of the team was as necessary as a ploughman to take hold of the stilts, and his iron pointed instrument was made of a young mountain ash or rowan tree, which kept the witches away from making the cattle “camsteery.”


Fishing Lore

Ebb Tide

At Staithes, there was a ban on borrowing salt, and never borrowing anything at all in the morning before noon.

A westerly wind, and a flood tide,

Is more than flesh and blood can bide

Wool must never be wound after 6pm, anyone doing so would be winding a man overboard.

First rains of May brings salmon away

To guard against drowning, men wore ear rings, yet curiously it was considered bad luck to try and save a drowning man.

If the north west bright, as big as a sheet,

No sails will take to hard to neet.

A good catch might be encouraged by fixing cowrie shells to the nets.

At Runswick, any stray cats were killed as the boats were returning.

Cod’ll grow no fatter till it gets a sup of May watter.

At Whitby, there was once a custom of burning the first fish caught.

No boat should put to sea on a Friday as it was considered was the Devil’s Day

If the sun sets bright on a Thursday night, there’ll be a north wind before Saturday night.

The Fishermen of Staithes did not like a new moon on a Saturday as it was regarded as a sign of bad weather for the coming month.