Tag Archives: folklore

Peacocks and Opals: Fashion Trumps Superstition: 1917


Margaret Mason

Superstitious Susie is a creature of the past

Now sensible Suzanna doesn’t even look aghast

When she walks beneath a ladder, opals cause her no alarm

And she even breaks a mirror with no thought of future harm.

New York, Dec. 28. Fashion certainly is all powerful since it can even overcome superstition and down it without a struggle.

Poor but sensible relations who couldn’t afford to be superstitious have reveled for years in opal rings, scarf pins, brooches, earrings and even necklaces cast off shudderingly by temperamental and hysterical daughters and sons of the rich who were just sure opals brought bad luck, dire calamity and everything else dreadful and devastating. But poor relations will revel no longer.

Just now Madame la Mode is pleased to cast anything but black glances on black opals and in consequence their erstwhile supposedly evil blight is quite ignored by fickle and fashionable females and the flashing hues of the black opals scintillate on their swan like throats some of them are more like pouter pigeons on their heaving and offtimes ample bosoms, on their lily and taper digits and dangle from their shell-like aural appendages. Smugly content in the consciousness that they are smartly jeweled, they wear the opals without a shudder and as yet the list of casualties attendant upon such a desperate act has been slight.

Peacock a Jinx.

Just why the blight of superstition should ever have rested on the gorgeous feathers of the peacock, that favored fowl of Juno and long the very trademark of vanity, is a deep dark peacock blue mystery. This season sees the ban on peacock feathers lifted however, as the fan of peacock feathers is unfurled. These fetching feather fans either mounted on jeweled and hand carved ivory handles or of the open and shut variety with tortoise shell or ivory sticks are the very acme of feather fan fashions for the fair.

Peacock feathers also wave triumphant from jeweled evening hair bandeaus or from the smart street turbans of metallic brocade and replicas of the entire bird gleam in wicked iridescence form the fascinating surfaces of the ubiquitous beaded bags.

In the face of such fickle shifting from superstition at fashions call, it would be foolish to still cling to other superstitions equally as innocuous. Why not banish the whole musty, medieval lot since Madame La Mode has bravely blazed the trail.

Most of the up-to-date maids and matrons have indeed adopted this logic for their own and ladders are now passed under dauntlessly by opaled and peacocky ladies. They turn back home to get something they have forgotten and leave again by the same door. They begin a new piece of knitting on Friday or Saturday without a qualm and even start journeying on a fateful Friday. The thirteenth of the month has become a prime favorite as a wedding or an entertaining date and milady now cracks or breaks her vanity mirror with as little compunction as she does a masculine heart.

May Turn out Bad.

If that side of her profile happens to be the best Miss 1917 looks over her perfect left shoulder at the new moon with airy nonchalance even though the resultant good luck of landing her escort sometimes turn out to be bad luck.

So you see when Fashion turns against superstition, superstition might just as well get out of the fashionable picture without any to-do or fuss about it.

There’s just only one little weeny superstition that still continues to get by with it. That’s the one of picking up pins. No matter how tight her corsets or skirts no woman will fail to live up to the couplet.

“See a pin and pick it up

All the day you’ll have good luck.

See a pin and let it lay

Then you luck will fly away.”

Especially if it be a black headed pin because of course you can’t buy them any more during these war times. So there we are again back to the same old reason that you can’t get away from no matter what you start out to write about. Even this measly little picking up pins superstition that still sticks in spite of fashion’s ban is directly traceable to the great all-blamable reason: “on account of the war.”

Evening News [San Jose, CA] 28 December 1917: p. 8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Friday the Thirteenth seems the perfect time to address the question of fashionable superstitions. Opals were once believed to be dreadfully unlucky, except to those persons fortunate enough to be born with them as their birthstone. Mrs Daffodil has written before about a very unlucky royal opal and about lucky charms for Friday the Thirteenth.

Peacock feathers, despite their picturesque appeal to the Arts & Crafts movement and to Lady Curzon, who incorporated them in her Durbar dress, have often been considered a hoodoo by homemakers and theatrical people. Folklorists say that this is because they resemble the “evil eye.” Some also suggest that the call of the peacock resembles the ill-omened shriek of the banshee.


Superstitious playgoers will learn with horror that peacocks’ feathers are to form the basis of costumes in the long-delayed production of M. Rostand’s “Chanticleer.”  Few English actors would be bold enough to wear these ill-omened feathers. In 1890 a procession of gods and goddesses was shown on the stage at Drury Lane, and, although Juno appeared with her peacock at the first rehearsal before the play was produced the company persuaded the author to cut the bird out of the cast in order to avoid the bad luck which it would certainly bring. On the opening night of the present Prince of Wales’s Theater several people were taken ill, and this was attributed by many to the fact that the stalls were ornamented with a design of peacock’s feathers. The manager went to the expense of recovering the whole of the stalls with a less unlucky pattern. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 8 January 1910: p. 15

Mrs Daffodil has been unable to ascertain how peacock feathers suddenly became bad luck, for, as this next article says, one moment the feathers were in fashion; the next, anathema. Perhaps the peacocks, such a prominent feature of aristocratic landscapes, had an effective lobbyist working on their behalf.

Ominous Peacock Plumes.

You remember, do you not, how all of the ladies used to admire peacock feathers? Every boudoir contained a bunch of them; every parlor was made richer by their gorgeous tints. They were even used now and then as a border to a frieze, and they were fastened on screens, painted on plaques, pinned on curtains, and embroidered on chairs. But now, go where you will, you will see no peacock feathers. They have been banished from hall and bower. Why? Because it has been decided that they bring bad luck. Even fashion couldn’t stand against that. They had to go. The news spread rapidly, and every lady, sitting down to reckon up the beginning of her bad luck, concluded that it was when she bought her peacock feathers. The ladies of the Woodruff hotel held a meeting and decided to banish these ominous plumes. So they all went. All along the avenues the ladies followed their example. The servants caught the infection and refused to stay in a house where the exquisite but fateful feathers were kept. So the comfort and peace of mind of the vainest of birds is restored, for he will be molested no more. Chicago Tribune. Hyde Park Herald [Chicago, IL] 2 December 1887: p. 7

One gentleman set out to prove the folly of this superstition, but alas….

A year or two ago, Daniel Hodnot of Long Branch, brother-in-law of the late Daniel Liddy, brought home from Europe a screen made of Peacock feathers. He told his wife of the prevailing superstition and said they would disprove the commonly received notion. She said the superstition did not disturb her. Since then Mr. Hodnot’s house has several times marvelously escaped destruction by fire; a valuable dog of his died without apparent cause; burglars have entered the place and stolen valuables, and both Mr. Liddy and Mr. Hodnot have died. Finally there was a lawsuit to contest Mr. Liddy’s will. In the neighborhood of Long Branch Peacock feathers are now no more popular than before the test was made.  Ornithologist and Oölogist, Volumes 17-18, 1892


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



Strange Flower Superstitions in Many Lands

lucky violets

Strange Flower Superstitions in Many Lands,

By Edwin Tarrisse

Superstitions with respect to flowers are worldwide. The bride carries a bouquet of white roses, all unconscious of the fact that somewhere on the earth are people possessed of the notion that to smell white roses is “bad for the brain.” Nor recks she, as she sees the same bouquet torn apart by her girl friends in the grand scramble for it, that to pull a flower to pieces—as is inevitable under the circumstances—is a sure sign that you will die of consumption. Had she worn no veil it would have been bad luck to show any flowers at all in the hair. Tuberoses the bride must not wear, as they portend mourning; in Scotland bluebells are barred, as bringing on insanity. Again, happy is the bride who sees white flowers first on her wedding morn; if they be red, look out for sorrow and care.

A lucky marriage may, however, be guaranteed by putting some flowers on the beehives and “telling the bees.”

Certain of the most curious superstitions as to flowers have to do with the seemingly innocent matter of bringing them into the house.  If one keeps a scarlet geranium in the house all the year round some one will surely die in that household, they say. Evidently this fear is not current in some of the seacoast towns, because there it is a common custom to maintain scarlet geraniums indoors all summer, as the winds are not conducive to bedding out of doors. Nor would the Mohammedan theory that the scarlet geranium is really a swallow converted into a flower by touching Mahomet’s robe be accepted. In Scotland bringing a flowering hawthorn into the house foretells a death in the family. In northern Germany it is the cornflower, which used to be the Kaiser’s own bloom, that is barred from the house, lest the bread mold.

In England Devonshire folk hold that it means death to bring into the house a single daffodil, when this flower first appears in the spring. There must be a bunch of them, and the cowslip is similarly hedge in by superstition. A hydrangea in the house “brings trouble,” and snow-drops are “unlucky,” while wild flowers generally prevent the first brood of chickens from hatching. If one wishes a plant indoors to show a large and profuse bloom he must place in the flower-pot some fresh earth from the grave of an infant baptized within twelve months. No yellow bloom should be brought in to the house in May. The house with bergamot near it is never free from sickness. A plant of heliotrope in church will keep in their places any untrue wives in the congregation.

Beware of being “overfond” of flowers: you will never marry. Beware also of picking the red field lily; it will give you freckles. Thistles, although highly decorative, must not be gathered, since the act foretells ‘folly, approaching dispute.” In general, however, it is good luck to gather flowers. To pick roses is a happy omen, and as for violets, complete success in all undertakings follows. Yarrow is a flower that will enable a girl to see her true love, but she must pluck it from the grave of a young man. If she finds saffron instead on the grave, that is a good omen for some one; if there are three yellow lilies the man has been unjustly executed. In England there is a superstition that if a bride and groom eat periwinkle leaves together they will love each other. Should he, after marriage, prove recalcitrant, here is a way to win him back: Take a piece of the root of a wallflower and a partridge’s heart, roll them into a ball and make the man eat it. If you want to learn whether you lover loves you, crush some bleeding heart. If the juice be red, he does; if it be white, he does not.

Witches, of course, must be excluded from the house. The Chinese bring this about—or think they do, which amounts to the same thing—by suspending bunches of herbs and magic plants over the door. In England hawthorn used to be hung over the entrance to a house in May to ward off witches. On May Day the witches, as well as the fairies, are in the gorse, so choose some other time for burning it. If you don’t believe there are any witches there are Dutch folk who will tell you to carry a four-leaf clover on Christmas Eve and let your own eyes convince you.

It is good luck to eat the first mayflower you see in the spring. If it is a crocus, let is alone; in Austria they say it draws away one’s strength. Nor must you dig up a cuckoo flower and tempt luck by moving a wild daisy into the garden. In Egypt the anemone is one of the lucky flowers of spring; wrap the first one in red cloth and, if not disturbed, it will cure disease. On the French coast it is useless to try to catch fish unless the waters are first strewn with flowers by the fishermen’s wives and daughters. In Devonshire they regard it as unlucky to plant a bed of lilies in the course of twelve months. The Turk sees misfortune in so slight a thing as the fall of a rose petal and will sometimes guard against such dropping by carefully picking the flowers before they fall apart. In Samoa the head of a corpse is wreathed in flowers to aid the soul to gain admission into paradise.

Augusta [GA] Chronicle 7 March 1920: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Given these many and varied prohibitions, it is a wonder that anyone manages even a single herbaceous border. One more superstition about lilacs:


Is the Lilac, For She Who Wears It Will Never Wed

“She who wears the lilac will never wear the wedding ring,” runs the old proverb, and although the scent of the flower is sweet and its tints are fresh and universally becoming it is contraband among the village maidens in England.

A single boutonniere of lilac has been held responsible for solitary spinsterhood. For the same reason mothers with marriageable daughters never allow a jug of the sweet smelling blossoms inside the house. It may stand on the outside window sill, but “there’s no love luck about the house” when there are lilacs in it. To give one’s sweetheart a spring of the flower is the death blow to the most secure of engagements. White lilacs are even more fatal to love affairs than the colored ones; they are, in fact, as ominous as an opal ring. Love, however, laughs at artificial flowers, and only the real tree grown one can come between the lover and his lass.

Stony-hearted bachelors sometimes sport a lilac boutonniere as a charm against feminine blandishments. Londoners do not share the superstition, and use the flower freely for decoration, regardless of the unlucky attributes.

Cincinnati Enquirer 1 August 1900: p. 6

Queen Adelaide, consort of King William IV, was apparently unafraid of lilacs, although, to be fair, she was already married when she commissioned her famous Honiton lace dress whose flower patterns, included lilacs, spelt out her name.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.