Sayings and Superstitions from The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

These sayings are taken from Shenandoah VoicesFolklore, Legends, and Traditions of the Valley by late Shenandoah Valley historian and author John Heatwole.

Many early valley settlers were Scots-Irish, my ancestors among them.  People from the British Isles tended to be superstitious.  Also prevalent in the valley were Germans bringing the influence of the Pennsylvania-Dutch, another superstitious group.  To quote Michael Scott, boss from NBC’s hit show, The Office, “I’m not superstitious, just a little stitious.”


It’s bad luck to lay a hat on the bed.~

An itching nose means a visitor is coming. ~

A cardinal bumping against the window pane is an indication of an early death~ *To this I have to add ‘or an insanely jealous bird regarding his reflection as another male.’

Peel an apple all in one piece and throw the peel over your shoulder.  When you turn around and look at it lying on the ground, whatever letter it reminds you of will be the first letter of your future husband’s last name.~

It’s bad luck to bring a shovel into the house ‘because it is a grave tool.’ Some also think a hoe in the house bodes no good.~

“If your right eye itches, you will soon be displeased, and if your left eye itches, you will soon be pleased.  If your right foot itches, you’ll soon walk on strange or unfamiliar ground, and if your left foot itches, you’ll soon walk in the graveyard.”

“If you are out driving a wagon or buggy and a black cat crosses the road in front of you from right to left, it is a bad sign. If it crosses from the left to the right, there is no reason for concern.”

If you enter a house and leave it without sitting down it is bad luck.  Particularly if you leave by a different door than the one you entered.~

If a bird flies into your house there will soon be a death in the family~Within six months if a whippoorwill comes to your treetop and sings at night. ~

If a baby smiles in its sleep, the child is talking to the angels. ~ *My personal favorite.

Count the number of foggy mornings in August and that is how many winter snows there will be.~ I heard this one not long ago and suspect it may be true.  I’m also a believer in wooley bears predicting winter…

A new moon with the points up means dry weather, and a moon with the points down means rain will soon fall. ~

On Ash Wednesday people made pancakes or the chickens wouldn’t lay.~ *We still have pancake suppers in the valley on that day.

~Horse chestnuts carried in the pocket are thought to ward off rheumatism.~ Sassafras tea is good to thin the blood. ~ Broth made from the hind legs of mice is good for kidney ailments.~ *Not tried this one. ‘Swamp root’ tea is also recommended for kidney disorders.~ I’ll have to research exactly what swamp root is.
Before taking a new baby out for its first ride (this probably applied to a wagon or buggy) the ‘herb lady’ rubbed warm bear grease on one of the infant’s palms and the bottom of the opposite foot thus insuring that the baby was protected from the rigors of the journey.

A hog’s tooth carried in your right pocket will ward off toothache.~ *Maybe I should take up this one.~ Sage tea will keep a woman’s hair from turning gray prematurely.~

Treat measles with sheep manure that has been boiled, strained, and diluted with moonshine.~ *I assume with enough moonshine the patient didn’t notice the manure so much.

Freckles on the face can be washed away on the first of May. If they are washed in morning dew, they will be transferred to the hands which can be dried on another less visible part of the body like the arms or legs and left there permanently.  It’s recommended that this practice be repeated for three years in a row to work. ~

And I could go on, but this is enough for now.  Well, maybe one more.  “To get rid of warts, tie a knot in a string for each wart you have and bury it under rock.  When the string rots the wart will be gone. ~

Contributed by author Beth Trissel.  For more on my work please visit:

*Photographs of the valley by my talented husband.

6 responses to “Sayings and Superstitions from The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

  1. is that the house on 33?


  2. Yep, that’s the place. Kewl about your grandma.


  3. Beth
    Do you have this photo for sale? It would be a great gift for my husband.
    We are actually from the ‘Burg and I volunteered at HRS with Dennis.
    I have never seen signs of life at this place.


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