Appalachia Folklore

Some Common Folklore and Superstitions Held Among Mountain Folk

Today’s Guest Post was written by Ethelene Dyer Jones.

Weather folklore from appalachia


Some Common Folklore and Superstitions Held Among Mountain Folk written by Ethelene Dyer Jones

Are you superstitious?  Maybe most of us would say, “No!” Yet we grew up in an area where certain superstitious sayings were often repeated and believed by some people. Let’s take a look at some of them.

“A cat eating grass foretells rain.” Whether this is true or not, maybe we should try it out in this dry, hot weather, and see, if after our cat chews on grass, rains come.

“A dog howling at night is a portent of death.” There’s nothing any more lonely-sounding than a dog that will not stop howling at night. Maybe the dog senses something humans do not. Who knows? It would be worth seeing if someone dear to the family dies after a dog howls mournfully at night.

“Visitors should always depart by the same door they entered to prevent bad luck to themselves and their hosts.” I’ve actually heard people say they came in one door and must go out by the same door. You might be surprised how widely held this belief is.

“Milk or food stolen from a neighbor and fed to a child will cure whooping cough.” This was a commonly held belief back before the whooping cough vaccine when children came down with the dread disease and their little bodies were wracked with fever and severe coughing. Just to get the child to eat some “stolen” milk or food was considered a sure cure.

Away from home and homesick? There are two cures for it. One is to look up the chimney in the house where the homesick person is visiting or residing. Another is to sprinkle salt between the sheet and the mattress on the bed he/she is sleeping.

The first visitor on New Year’s Day to a home will determine whether the firstborn on that homestead for the year, person or animal, will be male or female, according to the sex of the visitor.

Is one of your children having trouble with a subject in school? An old belief is that if the textbook of the troublesome subject is placed under the student’s pillow at night, by morning he/she will know that subject. As a teacher, I can’t subscribe to this method of getting over difficulties in learning reading, mathematics or science. I’d recommend master the homework.

Some weather lore holds that the number of heavy fogs on August mornings determines the numbers of snows that will fall in the same area in the winter. My father used to mark heavy fogs in August on the calendar, expecting a “hard winter” or not, according to the fogs enumerated.

Back when children sometimes had seizures, whether from epilepsy or other malady, there was a common belief that “if a child has a fit, turn his shirt inside out and burn it.” This action was thought to be a sure cure for “fits”.

Here are some that related to death:

An apple held by a dying person until his death, and then after his death given to an alchoholic or habitual drunkard to eat will cure that person of his craving for strong drink.

If a person has a goiter on the neck, he/she should go where there has been a death, take the hand of the deceased, and rub the dead hand over the goiter. This is a sure cure for the malady. (Who wants to try that?)

Back in the days when witchcraft was more common, and some were suspected of being witches, there was a sure sign of whether the deceased was really a witch or not. If a witch, a frog would most certainly hop into the grave while it was being filled. I wonder, has anyone seen this happen?

Here are some more folklore cures:

For all you bald persons out there, have you tried this folklore remedy? For a cure of baldness, rub the scalp regularly with a divided onion cut cross-wise into hemispheres.

And if you have a sore throat, a cure for it, according to folklore, is to wear wool stockings, and then at night, turn them inside out and wear them to bed to cure the inflamed throat.

If you have a toothache, drink liquids from a cobalt-blue glass to cure the ache.

Avoid these bad luck signs, if you can: If a black cat crosses the road while you are traveling, it is a harbinger of bad luck. And don’t ever walk under a ladder leaned against the building. That action is sure to bring bad luck.

These are only a few of the folklore signs, remedies and superstitions that have been passed down to us from our Scots-Irish and Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors. Whether we believe in their efficacy or not, they are interesting to read and think about.


I hope you enjoyed Ethelene’s post as much as I did! I’ve heard most of the ones she mentioned-but not all of them. Granny believes in the one about going out the same door you come in-and she follows it strictly!

How about you-heard most of them?





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  • Reply
    Linda Slyder
    February 16, 2022 at 1:51 pm

    I never heard of a frog in a grave, here where i live in north central Pennsylvania,
    there was a grave dug the day before. When they went to bury the body, a rattlesnake
    had fallen in the hole overnight. Wonder what that means? they had to call the PA
    Game Commission, it was a big delay.

  • Reply
    Jim Taylor
    December 16, 2021 at 6:44 pm

    A bird in the house means there will be a death in the family
    Letting an infant see themselves in a mirror before 1st birthday is bad luck
    Tickling a baby’s feet will make him stutter.
    Don’t wash clothes on New Year’s Day. Whatever you do on New Year’s, you’ll do every day of the year.
    Don’t let a cat near the baby. It’ll take the baby’s breath.

    • Reply
      Karen Brooks
      January 11, 2022 at 11:49 pm

      Jim, I’ve heard all of these. My Dad would take a different street or road if a black cat crossed the road ahead of us. I’d tease him & ask “not superstitious are ya Dad?” His reply would be ” no need to try it”. That is certainly true!

      • Reply
        Jim Taylor
        January 24, 2022 at 8:01 am

        Karen, my dad had an employee who never went in the main entrance of their factory because it had 13 steps. He always went in a side door at the loading dock. As I recall, this went on for 30-40 years (until the man retired). There was also a co-worker who did the black cat thing – turn around and go a different route.
        The factory made cowboy boots.

  • Reply
    Jody Eubanks
    February 5, 2021 at 4:38 pm

    I’ve heard some of these from family. I see some were converted from “bad luck” to “bad manners”. I’m guessing because of how religious some in the family background were and luck was perceived to be a bit sacrilegious? Enjoy your posts! Thank you for sharing them!

  • Reply
    Anita Sexton
    October 26, 2019 at 5:16 pm

    If someone opens a knife that person must close it. Never ever close a knife you don’t open or , never leave one open for someone else to close. Depending other factors can cause serious harm.

  • Reply
    Ron Seals
    June 14, 2019 at 9:08 am

    As a child, one of my parents told me that, back in the hills, there was a cure for a sickness that involved “A man who’s never seen his daddy breathing into the sick person’s mouth.” Don’t remember the sickness this was supposed to cure. It may have been a baby ailment.

    • Reply
      Susan Adkins
      September 23, 2019 at 12:30 pm

      Had a friend ask me what was the meaning of a single drop of rain from a clear blue sky

      • Reply
        Wayne Holman
        April 9, 2020 at 11:52 pm

        I always heard it was the seventh of a seventh who never saw his alive and born with a veil over his face. My mother had a first cousin that matched this 100%. I met him a few times when I was younger. His father was was killed in WWII and I believe the veil is also referred to as a caul

    • Reply
      Crystal C Luyando.
      January 21, 2021 at 3:57 pm

      I love this.

    • Reply
      Jeffery in Alabama
      January 23, 2021 at 10:01 am

      Thrash mouth or sometimes known as Thrush is the ailment.

    • Reply
      March 15, 2022 at 5:15 am

      It was thrush in a baby’s mouth. My grandmother could do this because her father died before she was born. The 7th son of a 7th son or daughter can also do this.

  • Reply
    Sharon leib
    February 4, 2018 at 10:51 am

    Have you ever heard the saying. The first boy that comes along and says wax you will say stix. My grand parents raised me and this is what she used to tell me

    • Reply
      February 6, 2018 at 3:57 pm

      Sharon-no I never hear that one. Maybe someone else who did will chime in with a comment : )

      • Reply
        Don in Kansas
        August 2, 2020 at 12:55 am

        My old blind great uncle Frank, said when he was you they would feed mare’s milk To kids with whooping cough

  • Reply
    July 18, 2017 at 10:27 pm

    Pink sky at nite sailor delight. Pink sky in the morning sailor take warning. Also ring around the moon means rain. Number of stars in the ring means the number of days it will rain or the number of days before it starts can’t remember.

  • Reply
    Tammy Bandemier
    January 20, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    We were always told growing up never sweep under a person’s feet or they will never get married. Most of these sayings I’ve heard all my life, but then I grew up in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

  • Reply
    Chuck Howell
    June 16, 2016 at 10:07 pm

    Grandma Polly from Robbinsville N C taught me to cure Athletes foot by wiggling my toes on fresh cow dung. Tie a horsehair around a wart. It will fall off. Ear ache? One’s own Pee, bout a spoonful in the ear. Never take a garden tool in the house, bad luck. Break a mirror seven years bad luck. Spill salt, toss a pinch over the shoulder for luck. More I’m sure. Hard to remember.

  • Reply
    July 1, 2012 at 7:01 am

    I have heard quite a few of these, but not all of them.

  • Reply
    June 11, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    Angie-thank you for the comment! I have heard-if you drop a dish towel in the kitchen it means someone is coming to see you : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    June 11, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    RB-thank you for the comment! Ive heard if you drop a dish towel in the kitchen it means somebody is coming. And Ive always heard – spilling salt is bad luck-and to cancel out the bad luck you should throw salt over your shoulder : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    June 11, 2012 at 6:20 am

    Thank you Ethelene, for a great post! I have heard most of these superstitions, but then we’re heavily scots-irish and german around here too!

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    June 10, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    Here’s an interesting one that’s a sure thing: when you hear the katydids sing during the day it’s 6 weeks til the first frost!

  • Reply
    June 10, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Can never hear enough of this kind of thing. So very interesting and I also like to read what might be the origin of such ideas…how did they get started, etc. Fascinating.

  • Reply
    June 10, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    Heard some of them, not all.
    Have you heard any not listed here? For instance, when we were growing up, according to our maternal Grandmother if a piece of silverware was dropped on the floor, it meant a visitor was coming; for a knife dropped, it was a man, for a fork dropped, it was a woman, for a spoon dropped, it was a baby. Few wanted a spoon to fall. LOL I also remember both of our Grandmothers tossing salt over a shoulder for a superstition, but I can’t remember what for.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    June 10, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    Has anyone ever heard not to stand a broom upright? My mother still turns them upside down when she sees one- they just don’t stand well that way…

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 10, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Thanks Tipper and Ethelene, interesting suppositions here.
    Never been much on superstitions but have some interest in folk lore. Now I’m beginning to wonder what is the difference in folklore and superstition? And why would I value folklore and disbelieve superstition?

    • Reply
      Dona DiBernardo Silver
      February 17, 2021 at 2:17 pm

      Tipper and Ethelene
      this was such a great post. I have a few superstitions to add to the growing list.
      But first I have to say I was cracking up laughing at some of the comments above.
      Ed Ammons had me cracking up when he said “balding is a blessing, we need a cure for hairy”
      Or dogs get hair balls from eating cats!!!!
      And I agree with Kathryn Magendie,
      Please lord no goitered for me please!!!!
      Anyway here are a couple of superstitions that have been passed down through my family
      When the moon is full hold a silver coin up to it and ask it to bring you money!!!!
      Your wish will be granted.
      Another one has two meanings
      if you see a dove cooing you will hear of a death
      a dove around you is a visit from the spirit of one you love who has passed.

      Another says fallen tree on your property predicts death in the house
      Lastly when you dream of death it means there will be a birth
      So we ended on a happy note!!!!
      Thanks again for the terrific read Tipper
      My sister Miki has a goiter!!
      Should I bring her to a morgue
      Very gruesome
      I’ll call an endocrinologist.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    June 10, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Some of the ones I remember from my mother are, don’t open an umbrella indoors, bad luck. Don’t rock a rocking chair without someone in it, bad luck. A red bird outside your window three days in a row, death. I’m sure there’s ‘more but I can’t recall them. Great post!

  • Reply
    June 10, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Have you ever heard the superstition that if you drop something (dishtowel, fork or anything) in your kitchen, you’ll have company coming before the day ends?

  • Reply
    Joy Newer
    June 10, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    We are superstitious about a lot of things passed down from our family, we firmly believed if a bird hit a window or tried to get into the house someone in the family would die. PS. tell granny enjoying the CD. Grandmother Joy

  • Reply
    Mrs. K
    June 10, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Wonderful post – thanks, Ethelene! Love reading about superstitions and folklore.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 10, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Ethelene-Good stuff this morning. It reminded me of many superstitions I hadn’t heard in years.
    But, Baldness is a blessing. An evolutionary step up. We need a remedy for hairy.

  • Reply
    June 10, 2012 at 10:11 am

    I just thought of something! When
    I was about 10, one Sunday our
    Pastor and his wife came home with
    us for dinner. Mama was proud of
    her youngest son’s skills she taught me, so I got to catch a
    couple of Dominecker Pullets and
    wring their necks for dinner. Well
    the necks came off real easy but
    them boogers were just floppin’
    all over the place. Then mama said
    for me to turn my shoe sole side-
    ways and make an “X” and put the
    chickens on the “X”. And so with
    all the stuff I had on my pantsleg
    I wanted to cuss, but that would
    get my head peeled, and daddy’s
    hands were tough as shoeleather.
    But neither of those chickens
    moved or flopped anymore…Ken

  • Reply
    Karen Larsen
    June 10, 2012 at 9:38 am

    I love this post! I do believe in superstitions and some of these I had not heard of before. Thanks, Ethelene!!

  • Reply
    June 10, 2012 at 9:37 am

    I’m surprised I have not heard all the superstitions Etelene wrote about as my parents believed in all sorts of ‘sayings’. A local Meteorologist had us all counting the number of fogs last August. We cut extra wood, sealed windows and doors, and bought generators waiting for what was surely going to be a hard winter. It didn’t happen here in Kentucky! I enjoyed the post regardless of whether I believe them or not.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph.D.
    June 10, 2012 at 9:31 am

    WOW! Ethelene: You sure enlightened me with some new ‘beliefs’ from our past. But a few were very familiar to me! Thanks! Eva Nell
    p.s. Jim says my presentation yesterday up in Kentucky was GREAT! I questioned him as to whether he was serious or not. He assured me he was serious about the presentation. YOUR NOTES WERE VERY HELPFUL!!!

  • Reply
    X Spshell Ed
    June 10, 2012 at 9:25 am

    B.Ruth-Thairs them P words agin. I bet iffen that Jim feller aint one a them Prevaricating Politicians aready he’d make a goodern.

  • Reply
    Laurie Stone
    June 10, 2012 at 9:24 am

    I love this topic!
    Here are a couple that have stayed with me.
    If the wedding ring is dropped during the ceremony, who ever dropped it will be the first one to die.
    Death always happens in three’s.
    My family was really big on the death superstitions.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 10, 2012 at 9:12 am

    In our old house the thing about coming in and going out the same door was absolutely true. We came in and went out the kitchen door. The living room door, for a long time, opened to nothing. So if you went out there was a 4 or 5 foot drop to the ground. Now I’d call it bad luck if you didn’t know about it and maybe if you did.
    PS Daddy wasn’t stupid. He had it nailed shut.

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    June 10, 2012 at 8:49 am

    I really enjoyed this post. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    June 10, 2012 at 8:42 am

    If the sun shines while it is raining, it will rain again tomorrow.
    My grandfather helped me compile a list for school (45 years ago). I wish I still had his list.

  • Reply
    Stephen Ammons
    June 10, 2012 at 8:34 am

    I have never heard that wearing wool socks would cure a sore throat but can certainly understand how this would work’
    For us that can’t wear wool, our feet would be itching so bad we wouldn’t even notice the sore throat.
    Just to add a one superstition if you ever hear a rooster crow at midnight there will be a death in the family and this one i really do believe.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 10, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Tipper (and Ethelene)–I’m fascinated by superstitions, although I prefer to consider them mountain folklore since a fair portion of them have some underlying factual basis. Of all the many aspects of this subject, the one which interests me most is the folklore of weather. Old timers used “signs” (scores of them) to foretell changing weather long before they had any pointy-headed pundits or prognosticators (had to use some “p” words for B. Ruth!)to give forecasts.
    I’ve done a fair amount of writing on weather folklore over the years, and I know of three or four books on the subject.
    Thanks to Ms. Jones for this guest post.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    June 10, 2012 at 8:07 am

    I do so enjoy reading all the folk-lore from days past and unless it is absolutely unavoidable I never go out a different door than the one I came in—after all I am of Pa dutch and german people and many of what was written I grew up with so needless to say I sure did enjoy this post.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 10, 2012 at 8:07 am

    I thought cats and dogs ate grass to help them get rid of hairballs. Cats get hairballs from licking their fur. Dogs get them from eating cats! Shows how much I know!

  • Reply
    June 10, 2012 at 8:05 am

    I enjoyed Ethelene’s folklore of
    Appalachia, reminded me of some
    of my folks when I was a kid. One
    of the things that got my attention, and I’ve never heard,
    was a frog jumping on a grave being filled. Interesting stuff!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 10, 2012 at 8:02 am

    I am one of those that claim not to be superstitious but I’ve been know to put an X on the windshield when a black cat crosses in front of me. You know! Just in case! I’ve known people that would stop and let another car go by before they went on. So the X is mild Superstition. I not really too badly afflicted with it. I’m more worried about people with cell phones stuck in their ear than black cats. And that ain’t superstition!

  • Reply
    Gorges Smythe
    June 10, 2012 at 8:01 am

    If there’s a man up that ladder, I DEFINITELY wouldn’t walk under it. You never know when he might drop something on your head!

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    June 10, 2012 at 7:58 am

    I have heard the one about being sure to depart through the same door that you arrived through my whole life. And, if I am honest, I try to ALWAYS be sure and do this one! Why take chances? 😀

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    June 10, 2012 at 7:44 am

    Thanks, Tipper and Ethelene for this post.
    I knew some of them from our Ozark traditions.
    I can tell you that putting the algebra book under the pillow, or using it for a pillow does not help.
    I often fell asleep trying to ‘get’ that. LOL

  • Reply
    kathryn Magendie
    June 10, 2012 at 7:41 am

    I had not heard of some of these at all! And I hope I never have a goiter – lawd! *shudder* lawd! ;-D
    always a pleasure here . . .

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    June 10, 2012 at 7:36 am

    In and out by the same door is the only one I follow.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    June 10, 2012 at 7:22 am

    Heard many of them, but a surprising number were new to me.
    When I was a kid, Mrs. Lane in Crab Orchard, TN was a noted weather predictor and she used the number of August fogs along with other signs like how high above the ground hornets built their nests to predict winter severity. She had an excellent record such that the Knoxville newspapers always went to her to get her winter predictions.

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