Friday, October 28, 2011

Folklife Friday: Omens

I think people were more superstitious when I was younger. Some folks I knew recognized and greatly respected omens.

We all knew that a black cat crossing the road in front of us could only mean bad luck. Of course, that bad luck could be easily negated by simply making the sign of the cross.

A dog starting to howl for no reason could put fear in the hearts of the strongest, for it could only be explained by the presence of the death angel, coming to get someone close by. Nowadays, when my dog starts howling, I know in about two seconds I will hear the sirens from the fire department over the hill.

Omens were widespread, but some particular ones were confined to small communities or family units. My Grandma Gean seemingly recognized an omen in every sneeze, itch, or change in weather.

One very common omen was seeing a ball of fire, or light, just before a tragic event. Some say it looked like a ball of intense light, others are convinced they could actually see moving flames. One family reported seeing a fireball just days before their house burned to the ground.

There are possible explanations for some of these. If the person was in the woods at night, it was probably Foxfixe, bioluminescence created by fungi on rotting timber. If a thunderstorm was going on at the time, it might have been St. Elmo's fire, a weather phenomenon produced when atmospheric conditions are just right; think electrical fields and grounded objects.

But, sometimes, they were seen on clear days outside the woods.

One summer when my husband was a child, the whole neighborhood was entertained by a series of balloon-sized lights that appeared every night. They appeared near a small spring and traveled, in a row, about fifty yards until they disappeared. The lights appeared for several weeks, and the crowd, including my father-in-law, gathered to watch them nightly until the lights stopped showing up. Hub didn't not see them personally, because his mom decided it was not something small children should be exposed to. There was a lot of speculation, but no agreement on the source or logic of the lights.

The Williams' ran the community store when I was about ten years old. They lost their adult son tragically in an automobile accident. A few days after the funeral, mama sent me and my lil ole sister to the store to get something. We were apprehensive about going; having seen death close up made Mrs. Williams somehow different and a little scary to us. We had found our item and were waiting for the receipt when Mrs. Williams broke down, sobbing on the counter. She told us that a week before her son's death, they had been awakened during the night by the sound of an automobile horn blaring in the driveway. When they got up to see what was happening, there was no car, nothing, in the driveway except moonlight. Mrs. Williams, a sober, Godly woman not given to hallucinations, was convinced that the sound was a warning, or omen, of their son's death. My lil ole sister and I had chill bumps and probably made record time getting out of there and walking home. There have been many things that I have forgotten in the subsequent years, but this incident is as clear to me as if it happened yesterday instead of about fifty years ago.

If you can explain these things, please use the comment section to share with us!