We have all heard them. If you step on a crevice, you will break your mother’s back. Smash a mirror and bring seven years of bad luck. Never open an umbrella in the house.
These are some of the most popular, but did you know that the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas are full of families who still believe in certain strange superstitions? Superstition, which can also be called magical thinking, is a term used to describe causal reasoning that looks for correlations between acts or expressions and certain events.
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, the first white man to chronicle the interior of the Ozarks, referred to the early settlers in his 1818 book as having “burdensome superstitions.” It cannot be proven whether these came from their ancestors or were assimilated beliefs from their close contact with the Osage and Cherokee.
Schoolcraft wrote: “Among all classes superstition prevails. Witchcraft and the belief in the sovereign virtue of certain metals, so prevalent in those periods in the history of the progress of the human mind that it reflects the disgrace upon our species, still have their defenders here. ” He wrote about a “hunter who was so convinced that his rifle had been bewitched so that he could not kill anything with it and therefore sold it on that account.” The hunter suspected that a malicious neighbor had put a spell on the rifle. Another hunter’s wife was convinced that her brass ring was a surefire remedy for the cramp, “which she was very concerned with before donning the ring, but since then she had not had the slightest return.”
Vance Randolph was a prolific researcher and writer who combed the Ozark Mountains in the early 1920s in search of superstitions, stories, and songs from the elders who were first-generation descendants of the early settlers. In his 1947 book titled Ozark Superstitions wrote: “The Hillman is reserved and sensitive beyond anything the average city dweller can imagine, but it is not simple. His mind runs in a tremendously complicated system of signs and omens and esoteric omens. He has little interest in the procedural mindset that moderns call science, and its ways of sorting data and evaluating evidence are very different from those currently preferred in the world beyond the hilltops. People of the Ozark Hills often they have been described as the most superstitious people in America. “
Most of the elders Randolph interviewed scoffed at the idea of being superstitious and then spoke up for a “gospel truth” a strange and savage belief that they personally cherished. Often these “gospel truths” conflicted between hill and valley, depending on the clan of people interviewed.
Moon signs are a great example. Every Ozark resident was sure to know when to plant spring potatoes to ensure the best harvest. March 17th was the tried and true date, unless you were one of the family who knew it was “absolutely okay” to plant by moonlight. Of course, other families scoffed at “those nonsensical superstitions” and planted each year in the dark of the moon.
The moon controlled many of the former colonist’s actions. Looking through tree branches to see the full moon was considered a way to “confuse” his brain. On the other hand, the moon could help foreshadow one’s future mate. If a girl heard a dove and saw the new moon at the same moment, she had to repeat this verse:
“Bright moon, clear moon,
Bright and fair
Lift your right foot
There will be a hair. “
Then she would remove her right shoe and naturally find hair like her future husband’s in it, Randolph wrote.
Physical characteristics had a lot to do with success, according to many of the early settlers. In both the Arkansas and the Missouri Ozarks, people repeat the saying “a man with a lot of hair on his legs is always a good pig farmer.”
Small ears are supposed to indicate a stingy personality. Green-eyed women did not fare very well in early Ozark culture if the following verse about a woman’s eye color gives any indication:
If a woman’s eyes are gray, listen carefully to what she has to say.
If a woman’s eyes are black, give her space and a lot of detour.
If a woman’s eyes are brown, never let yours fall.
If a woman’s eyes are green, hit her with a switch that is sharp.
If a woman’s eyes are blue, she will always be faithful to you.
The weather was a topic of great interest. A rainbow at night meant clear weather, but a rainbow in the morning indicated a storm within twenty-four hours. The hill people watched and listened to their animals and chickens to see if it was going to rain. “If a rooster crows when he lies down, he will get up with a wet head.”
A rain on Monday, according to some, meant that it would rain more or less every day that week. Others said that if it rained on Monday there would be two or more days of rain, but that Friday would be bright and fair. However, if the sun “sets clear” on Tuesday, it will surely rain before Friday. Many natives of the Ozarkers still believe that the rain during a funeral is a sign about the eternal destiny of the dead person. “Blessed are the dead on whom the rain falls,” the saying goes.
Certain household items and accessories had distributive properties. Eggs carried in a man’s hat would hatch roosters. If a pregnant mother wanted a baby girl, she could place a frying pan under her mattress. Of course, she could carefully check the side of her husband’s bed under which he may have hidden a razor, which was a sure sign that she was looking for a boy.
The numerous, complex, and often convoluted superstitions held by the native Ozarks are sometimes ridiculed by “outsiders,” but that has not dampened their enthusiasm for these long-held beliefs. In fact, a cardinal just lit up my mailbox. If I can sneak outside and yell, “The money’s coming” three times before it flies away, I’ll have money in the mail before the weekend.