7 Cold Weather Superstitions From History People Actually Used To Believe
Cold weather can bring out the superstitious side of everybody. Black cats crossing your path somehow seem much more dramatic in a wintry setting. However, while there's a lot of winter folklore still present in our everyday culture — think about Groundhog Day, for one major (and majorly weird) example — there's also a lot that's fallen by the wayside. If you're ever feeling nostalgic for days gone by, remember you could have been living in a century where you were believed to "leak" more as temperatures got colder because of your gender. No, seriously — this was a real thing.)
Even though it seems kind of random in our era of central heating, superstitions around cold weather actually make sense from a historical perspective. Winter was until recently a pretty dangerous season; with low food supplies and risky weather, people have turned to a lot of different methods to predict winter's progress and understand its ways. These days, meteorology gives us insights that folk knowledge couldn't — though many folk beliefs about winter and animal behavior are rooted in grains of truth, like the idea that squirrels burying many acorns means a harsh winter ahead. Other folk beliefs, though, are best left in the past. Unless you really like looking at blood-stained snow.
1. Winter Severity Can Be Predicted By Killing A Goose
A folk belief about winter's severity that comes from the Ozarks and is recorded in folklore documents revolves around geese. Not live geese — dead geese, and their bones. According to Vance Rudolph's compendium of Ozark folk beliefs, killing a goose in the fall and examining its breastbone gives clues about the winter to come. "If the bone is thin and more or less transparent, the weather will be mild; if the bone is thick, the weather will be severe," he noted. Much grislier than the weather report.
2. Blooms In Winter Mean Death
Back before we could have blooms flown in from exotic locations all year round, the idea of blossoming flowers in winter was viewed with suspicion. The Encyclopedia of Superstition records that flowers that normally bloom in the summer were viewed as bad omens when they bloomed in winter, particularly geraniums (no idea why). Trees didn't get off scot-free either; according to the Encyclopedia, in Wales, belief held that "should the trees in an entire district break into unseasonable bloom, there will be a hard winter with much sickness and death." These days, late-blooming flowers and trees are more likely a product of climate change, which, in the long run, might not be far off from the superstition's warning.
3. Throwing First Snow Over Your Head Guarantees Health
A 1903 record of superstitions and folklore from around the U.S. and Europe notes an amazing and thoroughly unscientific superstition about snow. "Take a shovelful of the first snow and throw it over your head, and you will not be cold all winter," the record says. Apparently having snow fall on your head from a pine tree is also meant to be good luck. Unless you don't like having pneumonia.
4. Women Are "Leakier" In Colder Weather
This belief dates back to the early modern period, and wasn't so much a superstition as a firm part of medical thought. Women, it was believed, were innately "colder" and moister than men, and also tended to "leak." Dr. John Fletcher, writing in 1613, explained that women produce more urine and other liquids in colder weather, because of "lack of sufficient heat to attenuate and concoct the grosser parts in winter." So, there's that.
5. Serious Weather Calamities Are Caused By Witches
The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft In Early Medieval Europe explains that, the appearance of the "Little Ice Age" in Europe was caused by witches. "In the northern Alpine regions and in many parts of Central Europe, witches were blamed for meteorological disasters (hail, storms, frost, prolonged rains, drought," the researchers explain. As with other historical witch hunts, women who were accused of being witches were not able to defend themselves against this thinking, and were tragically imprisoned or killed.
6. It's Good Luck To See Blood On Snow
This superstition comes from the 1903 compendium that offers no further comment re: what the luck is good for. "To see blood-stains in the snow, is good luck," the record notes. Just good luck. That's it. However, you shouldn't try to clean it up. "Do not obliterate them. If they have been partially obliterated, it is bad luck to see them."
7. Fat Pigs Bring Bad Weather
There are a lot of superstitions about animals predicting winter weather; many of them are logical, like the belief that cats who put their tails towards the fire indicate cold weather is coming. (Obviously.) However, other bits of folklore about weather make a bit less sense. The Guardian records that old English folklore carries some wisdom about pigs: "expect cold weather if hogs are fatter than usual."
Pigs were traditionally killed to provide food for the winter in rural communities, and that involved superstition too: according to a record of Kentucky folklore, pigs whose spleens are at the front when they're killed guarantee that the winter weather is going to get worse.
If you're dreading the coming cold weather, know that there is a rich history of people hating winter — and inventing some seriously creative ways to wrap their minds around it.