Groundhogs Day

Groundhog Day is a holiday celebrated on February 2 in the United States and Canada. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day then spring will come early. If it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the winter weather will continue for six more weeks.

Modern customs of the holiday involve celebrations where early morning festivals are held to watch the groundhog emerging from its burrow. In southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodges celebrate the holiday with fersommlinge, social events in which food is served, speeches are made, and one or more g’spiel (plays or skits) are performed for entertainment. The Pennsylvania German dialect is the only language spoken at the event, and those who speak English pay a penalty, usually in the form of a nickel, dime or quarter, per word spoken.

The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. And stars the famous Punxsutawney Phil. During the ceremony, which begins well before the winter sunrise, Phil emerges from his temporary home on Gobbler’s Knob. Phil is considered to be the world’s most famous prognosticating rodent. During the rest of the year, Phil lives in the town library with his “wife” Phyllis. A select group, called the Inner Circle, takes care of Phil year-round and also plans the annual ceremony. Members of the Inner Circle can be recognized by their top hats and tuxedos. As of 2011, Phil has two co-handlers, Ben Hughes and John Griffiths.

The celebration, which began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, has its origins in ancient European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear is the prognosticator as opposed to a groundhog.It also bears similarities to the Pagan festival of Imbolc, the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 1 and also involves weather prognostication and to St. Swithun‘s Day in July.

In western countries in the Northern Hemisphere the official first day of spring is almost seven weeks (46–48 days) after Groundhog Day, on March 20 or March 21. The custom could have been a folk embodiment of the confusion created by the collision of two calendar systems. Some ancient traditions marked the change of season at cross-quarter days such as Imbolc when daylight first makes significant progress against the night. Other traditions held that spring did not begin until the length of daylight overtook night at the Vernal Equinox. So an arbiter, the proundhog/hedgehog, was incorporated as a yearly custom to settle the two traditions. Sometimes spring begins at Imbolc, and sometimes winter lasts 6 more weeks until the equinox.



Chicago’s Anti-Superstition Society

Before you go worrying about Friday the 13th, see what a great excuse for a party it is!

On December 13, 1940 — a Friday, no less — LIFE magazine attended a gathering spread across 13 tables in Room 13 of the Merchants & Manufacturers Club of Chicago. (Yes, each table sat 13 people). The result? The odd and endearing article, “Life Goes to a Friday-the-13th Party,” published a few weeks later in the magazine. Now, in light of January 2012s very own Friday the 13th, resurrects that feature, and celebrates some old-school businessmen unafraid to step on a crack.

Check out the great vintage photos here -via Metafilter (Image credit: William C. Shrout/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Via: Neatorama

A Curious Custom of Superstitions

Throughout the centuries, the early superstitions that brought solace to the fear-stricken primitive mind have spawned thousands upon thousands of magic practices and beliefs—all with the goal of warding off danger, of placating angry deities, or of summoning good fortune. Since humankind’s earliest awareness of the final destiny of the grave that awaits us all, people have feared death and have imagined omens, or warnings, in the simplest things, such as the appearance of a black cat, broken mirrors, the spilling of salt, the number 13 or walking under a ladder.

In a broad sense, superstitions are a kind of white magic in that people will believe that their observing or practicing of the personal ritual will bring them good luck, prevent illness, and or ward off evil. And many superstitions offer procedures for overcoming the negative acts threatened by these omens, such as casting a pinch of salt over the shoulder or whispering a blessing after a sneeze.

Out of these early forms of magic and superstition grew many curious customs that remain to this day. For example, in time of illness the medicine man applied his lips to the part that issued pain and “sucked out the evil spirit.” Mothers around the world still kiss the bruised finger or knee of their crying children to “kiss it and make it well.” Many people still “knock on wood” to guard against their words or thoughts having been misunderstood by eavesdropping spirits who might wish to punish them by bringing bad luck upon them. Some believe that the howling of a dog during the full moon predicts the death of its owner. To place three chairs in a row accidentally means a death in the family. If a sick person is changed from one room to another it is a sure sign that he will die. One who counts the number of automobiles in a funeral procession will die within the year. An open umbrella, held over the head indoors, indicates approaching death.

Scores of superstitions such as these still exist among people everywhere. Centuries ago, human beings entered into a superstitious bondage from which they have never wholly escaped. Many men and women today, in spite of the wonders of contemporary technology, still feel a great sense of helplessness as they attempt to chart their individual fates in a hostile environment. In many instances, the terrors of the modern world surpass the horrors that lurked in the shadows in that time long ago when primitive humans first dared to venture out of their caves. Even the most sophisticated of today’s men and women may still knock on wood and carry a rabbit’s foot in their pockets for luck.

Niels Bohr
(1885–1962), the Danish Nobel Prize-winning physicist, kept a horseshoe nailed over the door to his laboratory. When someone once asked him if he really believed the old superstition about horseshoes bringing good luck, he replied that he didn’t believe in it, but he had been told that it worked whether one believed in it or not.

David Phillips, lead author of an extensive study of the effect of superstitions on the lives of those who believe in them, has stated that superstitions of any kind can raise stress and anxiety levels. The scientists who conducted the study, which was published in March 2002, concluded that it is as if superstitions are hard-wired into the human brain, for they affect all people, regardless of educational level or ethnicity.

Via: UnexplainedStuff

The Salem Witch Trials

The Salem Witch Trials were a fearful and disastrous time in American history. Families were torn apart. The once friendly communities were now full of rumors and distrust, suspicion, and dislike. Anyone could be declared a witch, even innocent widows or children who were different in some manner or disliked by a Puritan. The punishments for witches were often horrifying and included hanging, water drowning, burning, and pressing the “witches.” The Trials began in 1692 and ended in 1693. During the trials, nineteen people were hung and 150 imprisoned for perceived witchcraft.

In 1689 a minister, Samuel Parris, moved to Salem village with his family and 2 slaves, Tituba and Indian John. In January of 1692, Parris’ daughter, Elizabeth Parris, Jr., known as Betty, falls ill. It is Betty’s illness which begins the “witch hunt” and subsequent Salem Witch Trials.

Witchcraft trials had been going on for several centuries throughout Europe, with the approval and support of the Church. Countless thousands of men and women had been tortured and executed for alleged witchcraft and devil worship. The Puritans were a very strict and serious minded religious group, that did not condone, singing,dancing or recreational non-work related activities. Such activity was considered idleness and labeled as being the influence of the devil.

Some of the factors leading to acusations in the Salem Witch Trials, included petty jealousies, greed, feuds, and property disputes. Several of the accused witches were well-off and if convicted of witchcraft, their property was forfeited. Other reasons included their failure to attend church regularly, and perceived opposition to the minister, Samuel Parris, as well as any odd or uncustomary behaviors.

January 1692, “Betty” becomes ill, the Reverend Samuel Parris consults with the town doctor, William Griggs. The doctor can find nothing wrong with the girl, and under some pressure from the minister, blames the girl’s illness on witchcraft. As the town was already anxious, due to livestock deaths and a smallpox outbreak, both of which were perceived as sure signs of the devil’s presence in their community. This misdiagnosis began and would fuel the witch hunt hysteria in Salem for almost five months.

The minister’s daughter, Betty, and several of her friends began calling out the names of people in the village, who were said to be bewitching them. Soon the town jail was filled with 150 people from Salem and surrounding villages, all accused of witchcraft.

The trials began in June 1692 and were presided over by Chief Justice William Stoughton. The first to go to trial and be hanged was Bridget Bishop. Thirteen women and four men, would follow her to the gallows over the summer. An additional man Giles Corey was pressed, or crushed to death with heavy stones, as he steadfastly refused to plead guilty to the witchcraft charges against him. As well there was one dog, who was thought to be a transformed witch, who was also hanged.

In October of 1692, the trials suddenly ended, when the court was dismissed by the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, William Phipps, who ruled that so-called “spectral evidence” was not allowable. The accused still in custody were scheduled to be released and those found guilty or waiting on “death row” were also pardoned and released.

In the following years, apologies were issued, but the wounds to the Village of Salem ran deep. The Witch Trials became an example of what fear, superstition, and petty jealousies can do to a tight knit society. Many of the accused and convicted continued to languish in jail after the trials ended, because they could not afford the money required for their release. Since their property was seized and would not be returned to them. Most of those convicted and then released ended up poor and destitute.

There were food shortages in Salem, as the many of the fields had been neglected due to the turmoil of the trials. The Reverend Parris and his family were forced to move away from Salem by April 1696, due to community pressure. His son Noyes died insane. The Puritan Religion began to fade-out and lose influence as a direct result of the Witch Trials. Colonial society began to question the outdated and superstitious beliefs of the Puritans. Following these infamous proceedings, there was never another witch trial or execution in the American colonies.

Via: Squidoo