Wednesday, 18 April 2012

On superstition and urban myth

We have just passed Easter and it occurred to me how much the holiday period has changed over the years. I was in conversation with an elderly woman about how much Good Friday in particularly had been altered over the last 30 years. She remarked that her own Mother had been distressed by how irreligious it had become. It used to be regarded as the most sombre day in the Christian Calendar and a time not for frivolity. The Vicar of Leek in the 1950s George Youell complained of inappropriate films being shown. The long forgotten film " Private in Skirts" drew his ire.

It used to be a day that carried with it certain taboos; the most widespread was a ban on washing clothes. Disaster was supposed to befall anyone who washed or hung out clothes to dry. There are stories of washing being splattered with blood and family member would die, supposedly "washed away".

Given the nature of the day as the key Christian date for mourning, it is not surprising that there was a general feeling that no work should be done this day. In rural areas this prohibition most certainly applied to the planting of crops. Disturbing the soil was regarded as an impious act and nothing would grow if planted. One worker reported as unwilling to work on Good Friday was the blacksmith. Many would have anything to do with nails. There was a belief that the blacksmith’s wife carried the nails used in the crucification in her apron.
Are we becoming less superstitious with the decline in Faith?

The willingness of people to be credulous still exists as demonstrated by the power of the urban myth. I have certainly been told stories usually nasty there were claimed to be genuine. I came across a good example shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The story concerned a terrorist attack directed against a British city on a specific date. I heard it twice from two different people within days. The pull of myths remains strong even if the technology has changed.