Elizabethan superstitions reflect the fears and beliefs of British citizens in the 1500s and early 1600s. The era is distinguished by a long period of peace, as well as a stable and successful overall population. Exploration, art, literature and expansion brought new ideas both interesting and scary to the common person. These superstitions blend pagan traditions and international folk tales with seemingly supernatural explanations of events.
Good And Bad Luck
Elizabethan era citizens believed that certain actions would invite good or bad luck, just as other actions could ward off bad luck. Someone was bound to have bad luck if they walked under a ladder (associated with the gallows), kept a peacock feather (the “evil-eye” pattern), stirred a pot counter clockwise (it would spoil food), put shoes on the table (invited death) or spilled salt (it was expensive and wasteful). To keep bad luck away and invite good luck to dwell, people could knock on wood (trees were strong and natural) or carry charms made of silver or iron.
Love And Marriage
Elizabethan England fully embraced the concept of romantic love, and traditions surrounding courtship and marriage emerged. It was considered good luck for a bachelor to wear a sprig of basil on his collar when seeking a bride. An array of superstitions grew around marriage, such as the bride putting on the right shoe first for luck or avoiding marriage on Friday the 13th.
Witchcraft And The Devil
People in the Elizabethan era were deeply religious and felt a real fear of the devil and witchcraft. Because there were no scientific explanations for events such as sick animals or bad luck, they blamed witches. Elizabethan witches were believed to cast spells and to keep certain magical animals, such as cats (especially black ones), bats and frogs. The color black was linked to evil, as were the numbers 7 and 13. The devil was thought to roam freely, and saying “Bless you” when someone sneezed was thought to keep the devil from entering their body.