The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Superst. M



  1. Marriages take place at the time of new moon.

  2. If the suitor rides to the house where he goes a-wooing, he is careful not to take a mare, else there would be only daughters born of the marriage.

  3. When the bride is betrothed, a red string is tied round her body; and when the wedding is completed, she must so inflate herself as to break the string. A sure preventive of difficult confinements.

  4. In many places the young couple run out of church, hand in hand, at the top of their speed, to secure rapid progress in their business.

  5. When the bride is fetched, if she falls on the way, it betokens the early death of her first three or four children.

  6. If they see the suitor arrive on horseback, they hasten to undo his saddle-girth. This also tends to facilitate childbirth in the future wife.

  7. The bride must not come out by a gate through which a corpse has lately been carried out.

  8. When the bride is fetched in, she must wear no chains or bells, but be led in in solemn silence; else she will have restless noisy children.

  9. Directly the wedding is over, the strongest of the relations or guests lifts the bride and bridegroom aloft, thereby to heighten their married bliss. (2)

  10. As soon as the wedded pair have stept into their house, a watchman must stay a good while by the household fire, that no stranger may come near it, and contrive to secret sorcery to their hurt.

  11. The moment the bride enters, she is led through every part of the house, parlours, bedrooms, bathrooms, stables and gardens; and is bound, as she holds her husband's happiness dear, to drop ribbons or money into each part, even into the well and the fire.

  12. When she sits down, they set a male child in her lap, that she may have the power to bear men-children.

  13. In some parts they used, during the wedding feast, to stick two swords into the wall over where the bride and bridegroom sat; the one whose sword kept up the longest vibration, would live longest.

  14. At the meal they are wilfully wasteful of the beer, and spill it about, so that superfluity may house with the happy pair.

  15. Whichever of the pair first goes to sleep, dies first.

  16. Rain on the wedding-day means frequent weeping for the wife.

  17. At the marriage-feast they set two candles before bride and bridegroom; the one whose light goes out first of itself, is sure to die first.

  18. The bridegroom's attendant cuts a small piece off a whole loaf, butters it, and puts it in the bride's mouth. Her children will then have a small smooth mouth.

  19. In bringing the young wife into the husband's house, they pull down the fence on both sides of the entrance, that she may drive in swiftly without hindrance. Then her confinement will come off quickly and easily.

  20. Women with child are careful, in lighting a fire, not to throw the wood in against the branches, else they would have a difficult labour.

  21. A difficult labour is lightened by the husband striding over the wife.

  22. No pregnant woman will sit on a water-vessel, lest she have too many daughters, or the fruit be lost in the water.

  23. If two pregnant women sneeze together, they will have daughters; if their husbands sneeze, sons.

  24. In beginning a loaf, a pregnant woman cuts a very small slice first, that her children may have pretty little mouths.

  25. To change the bastels (bast-shoes) once a week in the middle of pregnancy, and to throw salt three times behind oneself shortly before confinement, will ease the labour.

  26. None shall step over the feet of a pregnant woman, lest her children get crooked misshapen feet.

  27. A newborn babe is not placed at once in the mother's arms, but first laid at her feet, that her left foot may touch its mouth; then it will not be rebellious.

  28. A newborn baby's bath-water is emptied on the most out-of-the-way spot, lest, if many tramples on it, the child be down-trodden and despised.

  29. The midwife with the baby shall, soon after the birth, take the uppermost seat at table; it will then be more highly esteemed.

  30. Never pass anything over the baby's head, or it won't grow; if such a thing happens, pull the hair on the top of its head upwards.

  31. What a baby first clutches at, shows what will be its favourite occupation.

  32. The first time a babe is laid in the cradle, they put a knife, a crosskey, and some red yarn beside it; these defend it from sorcery.

  33. One born on one of the last days of a week, will marry late or never.

  34. If a married woman has boys only, it is a sign of war; if girls only, of peace.

  35. When a priest visits a sick man, they watch the gait of his horse as he draws near. If the horse hangs its head, they despair of the patient's recovery. (3)

  36. A funeral must on no account cross a cornfield, even when it lies fallow.

  37. By a corpse they lay a brush, money, needles, and thread. Some brush the dead man's head, and lay the brush beside him, to bring him peace.

  38. Some drive a nail into the threshold every time a person dies in the house.

  39. The vehicle that has carried a corpse is not admitted within the gate at once, but left outside for a time; else more of the family would follow.

  40. The straw on which the sick man died, is all carried out and burnt: by footprints in the ashes they can tell if the next loss will be of man or beast.

  41. If one dies at new moon, he takes all the luck with him; if in Shrovetide, he is buried as plainly as possible.

  42. On All Souls day every family makes a feast for its departed members, and visits the churchyards. In some parts they set food for the deceased on the floor of a particular room. Late in the evening the master of the house went in with a pergel (a lighted brand split down its length), and invited the deceased by name to eat. After a time, when he thought the souls had made a hearty meal, he, while beating his pergel to pieces on the threshold, bade them go back to their places, and not trample the rye on their way. If there was a bad crop, it was ascribed to the souls having been entertained too scantily. (4)

  43. About the Judgment day the Esthonian has the notion that all the churches will then topple over towards the North. He cannot bear the thought of being buried in that part of the churchyard.

  44. Till the baby is baptized, it has a hymnbook laid under its head, and a fire kept up beside it, to ban the devil, and keep him from changing the child.

  45. During baptism they fix their eyes on the baby, to see if it holds its head up or lets it sink down. If up, it will have a long life; if down, a short.

  46. Sometimes, during the service, the father runs rapidly round the church, that the child may be gifted with fleetness of foot.

  47. If by bribing the sexton they can get the baptismal water, they dash it as high as they can up the wall. The child will then attain high honours.

  48. During baptism you must not talk, or the child will talk in its sleep.

  49. Don't have a baptism directly after a burial, or the child will follow the dead.

  50. Leave the chrisom baby's hands free; it will then be quick and industrious.

  51. During baptism a sponsor shall not look about him, or the child will see ghosts.

  52. Many tie rings to the swathings of a chrisom boy, to make him marry early.

  53. They do not like a child to be baptized on another child's birthday.

  54. In the chrisom child's clothes some insert, unobserved, money, bread, and garlic; then the first two will never fail him, and the last protects from sorcery.

  55. A chrisom child's sleeping shows it will not live long.

  56. When none but girls are brought to the font, they will go unmarried long, perhaps always.

  57. No sponsor eats flesh just before the christening, else the baby will have toothache.

  58. Parents who lose their first children call the next ones Adam and Eve, and they live (see Germ. 26).

  59. They will have no christening on a Friday; on Thursday it has more power.

  60. A child christened on a Friday grows up a rogue, and comes under the hangman's hands.

  61. Thunder comes of God chasing the devil, overtaking him, and dashing him down. During the storm they make doors and windows fast, lest the hunted devil take refuge in their house, and, as God is sure to catch him up, the house be thunderstruck.

  62. Some during a storm fasten two knives outside a window, to prevent being struck.

  63. Many, the first time they hear thunder in the year, take a stone, tap their forehead with it three times, and are free from headache for a year.

  64. Anything struck by lightning they muse over gravely, especially certain riven rocks; they think the devil, having taken refuge in or under them, was there surprised and slain.

  65. Many take the rainbow to be Thunder's sickle, with which he punishes malignant under-gods who try to injure men.

  66. Many believe in the power of man to raise wind, and to change its direction. For this purpose they would hang up a snake, or set up an axe, in the direction whence they wished for a wind, and try to allure it by whistling.

  67. A sudden noise on New year's night foretells the death of an inmate.

  68. They give wild beasts periphrastic names, and avoid their real ones, when they have to speak of them. The fox they call Hallkuhb (grey-coat), the bear Layfalgk (broad-foot).

  69. The first time they drive their cattle out in the year, they bury eggs under the threshold over which they must pass, whereby all discomfort is banned away from them. Once, when a cattle plague broke out, it was found that they buried one head of the herd under the stable door, as a sacrifice to Death, and to stay the murrain.

  70. If the cattle return from pasture, still chewing grass, there will be a hay-famine.

  71. They send the wolf to the rightabout by sprinkling salt on his track.

  72. A great howling of wolves at early morning foretells plague or famine.

  73. Formerly the Ehsts believed, when they heard a great howling of wolves, that they were crying to God for food, and he then threw them dumplings down from the clouds.

  74. If the wolf carries off a sheep or pig, they let something fall, of their clothes or of what they have in their pockets, believing that the wolf will then find his load too heavy, and drop his prey.

  75. Some wear the tip of a hen's wing about them, and think it promotes early rising.

  76. They do not like to name the hare often, they think it tempts him to come and damage their rye-grass.

  77. If a cock or hen walking in the yard trails a straw after it, there will soon be a corpse in the house, its sex depending on that of the fowl.

  78. You can enable a hen to lay eggs by beating her with an old broom.

  79. Some, the first time of driving out cattle, put an egg before the stable-door; the beast that treads on it is ripe for death, and they try to sell it.

  80. They gladly sell the first calves of young cows, where the mistress is her own mother's first child; such a calf cannot thrive.

  81. The yoke just taken off or about to be put on must not be laid on the bare ground, or it will chafe and wound the ox.

  82. A fire may be checked by throwing in a live black hen as a sacrifice.

  83. In clearing out the corn and flour bins, leave a little behind, or it will bring misfortune.

  84. No farmer is willing to give earth off his cornfields, he thinks it is parting with a good piece of his prosperity.

  85. Let no one step over your girdle; it brings on the itch.

  86. One is careful not to be beaten with dry twigs, it brings on consumption or leanness.

  87. In cutting a new loaf they throw some aside; from a full cup they let some drops fall on the ground. It is a sacrifice to the Invisible Spirit.

  88. Many a man looks glum if you try to find out the depth of his well, it would dry up if you did.

  89. One does not like giving all the money in his purse at once; if it can't be helped, let your spittle fall in the purse.

  90. They are anxious not to have clothes-props stolen: their loss runs them short of ash.

  91. The first time the cowherds drive home in the year, they are on arriving sprinkled with water; it is thought to be wholesome for the cattle.

  92. No shearing of sheep at seed-time, for then the wool does not grow again properly.

  93. Dung fallen off the cart is not to be picked up again: it breeds vermin.

  94. At flax-picking there is no talking, no question answered, no greeting returned; otherwise the flax does not answer well.

  95. If the first that dies in a farmer's new abode be a beast with hairy legs, a blessing rests on the house; if a bird with bare legs, the farmer mopes, dreading losses and poverty.

  96. At night when candles are lighted, the people sigh and cross themselves.

  97. Every time they kill anything, if only a fowl, they put a piece of it behind the cattle-shed as a sacrifice.

  98. On the accursed spot where a house was burnt down, they never build a new one; if, in laying the ground-beam, a single spark is kindled by a by-blow, it foretells a new fire, and they look out another place to build on.

  99. On the site where a cowhouse is to be built, they first lay rags and herbs; if black ants creep on to them, it is a good sign; if red ants, the place is pronounced unfit to build on.

  100. A whirlwind is the work of evil spirits: where you see dust gathering, you should throw stones or a knife into the heart of the whirl, and pursue it with cries.

  101. At a wedding the bride treads on the bridegroom's foot, that she may never be oppressed by him.

  102. Red streaks in the sky shew that the dragon is setting out; a dark hue in the clouds, that he comes home with booty. Shooting stars are little dragons.

  1. Etwas über die Ehsten (Leipz. 1788, pp. 55-89). Nos. 93-99 from Hupel's Topogr. nachr. von Lief- und Ehst-land (Riga 1777. 2, 134-145). [Back]

  2. RA. 433. [Back]

  3. Conf. Hupel's Topogr. Nachr. 2, 146. [Back]

  4. More fully in Thom. Hiärn 1, 49. [Back]

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