Water and old wives’ tales

December 11, 2020

We all know that water is essential for a healthy, fulfilled life. In fact, going without water for as little as three days can be fatal. So it’s strange to think that such an obvious life-giving resource could ever have superstitions attached to it. But it did.

Many years ago in Wales, it was believed that splashing water around when washing clothes would cause a wife to be cursed with a drunken husband. (Sounds like an excuse on the husband’s part to us!)

An English superstition hinged on the belief that water would protect your house from night-time nasties like ghouls and demons. If you threw water out of your home during the night, so said the old wives’ tale, you weakened this protective force and left yourself open to a run of bad luck. You’d also be in for some less-than-good luck (apparently), if you spilt water when you were carrying it back home from the brook or spring – though it’s unclear if this was founded on the same belief in malevolent spirits.

A Yorkshire tradition involved pouring hot water on the doorstep of a church after a newlywed bride and groom left. This would ‘keep the threshold warm’ for another wedding – the idea being that before the water evaporated, the seeds would be planted for the next village wedding.

There were also many home remedies involving water, which is understandable given its essential role in health and wellbeing. For example, it was believed that those who suffered from sore hands in winter could solve the problem by going out and grabbing a bowl of the first snow to fall. Letting this melt and then bathing your hands in it would stop the soreness for the entirety of the colder months, or so the suspicion said.

Similarly, water collected from the first rainfall in June was said to cure skin complaints (and, oddly, get rid of freckles). Off course, we know that these remedies are nonsense now. So don’t try them at home!