Southern WV’s Natural FolkloreMarch 27, 2014
Wive’s tales, superstitions and folklore in the Appalachian region tend to center around the natural environment.
As spring sets in and the landscape comes alive, here’s a look at some of the natural folklore from Southern WV:
Dragonfly Landings- Supposedly, it’s good luck when dragonflies land on you. Near the rivers in Southern WV, you’ll often see Mayflies, which look similar, but a real dragonfly is less common. (Whitewater rafters, keep on the lookout!)
Turtle Bites- Snapping turtles’ beak-like mouths should give you pause enough, but if you need more reason to avoid them, the old wives tale is that if they bite you, they’ll hold on until thunder strikes. But truthfully, they’re not overly aggressive, and if they do hang on,they’ll let go after a while, especially if you put them in water to escape.
Dandelion wishes- Although they’re a weed and often undesired, dandelions are associated with happiness and luck. If you blow the white seeds of a dandelion and make a wish, it’s said to come true.
Dogwood trees’ burden- Tales say the reason the dogwood is so skinny is that it was used to build the cross that Jesus was crucified on. So the tree refused to grow big enough to be used that way again. Before it flowers, it sprouts a 4-leaf cross pattern, with an ideated red notch on each leaf. It’s said to be a reminder of the crucifixion.
Crickets’ song- Nuisance? Nonsense! Crickets in the house chime chirps of good luck.
Mother Birds & Scent-People widely believe that if you ind a baby bird, you shouldn’t ouch it because your scent will scare away its mother, who will then abandon it.
Lucky Acorns- Stuff your pocket with acorns to warn spirits to stay away. (A variation of the same superstition of carrying a buckeye in your pocket, which is a common saying in WV’s neighboring Ohio.)
Dangling Opossums- Old tales that said opossums hang from trees by their tails are rooted in some truth— babies will sometimes be seen using their prehensile tail to dangle for a few seconds. But adults are far too heavy. They mostly use their tails to grab things.
RSVP via Bee- As if bees weren’t busy enough making honey, early Appalachians also believed they gave notice for visitors. One buzzing about inside your home supposedly signaled that company was soon to follow.
Finding clovers- The rare 4-leaf variation of the common 3-leafed clover is a universal sign of good luck. But this is perhaps only because of how rare they are: you have a 10,000 to 1 chance of spotting one. But if you’re lucky enough to snag one, press it in a book to preserve its luck!
Luck of the ladybugs- If you see one, it’s good luck! But to kill one is bad luck.
Onions Cure All- Onions, especially the particularly pungent ramp, had a variety of folk uses. They supposedly kept away Catawba rhododendron and bad luck to carry, but if you ate them, too, it was good luck. They were called “plant penicillin” and said to cure many illnesses, such as a sore throat (the cure for with was to burn the onion and inhale.)
What’s your favorite natural superstition or tale from Southern WV?