Irish Superstitions

From An Illustrated History of Ireland by Margaret Anne Cusack

« start... Chapter X. ...continued

« Irish Keening | Contents | Index | Holy Wells »

The fasting of the creditor on the debtor is still practised in India, and will be noticed in connexion with the Brehon Laws. There is, however, a class of customs which have obtained the generic term of superstitions, which may not quite be omitted, and which are, for many reasons, difficult to estimate rightly. In treating of this subject, we encounter, primâ facie, the difficulty of giving a definition of superstition. The Irish are supposed to be preeminently a superstitious people. Those who make this an accusation, understand by superstition the belief in anything supernatural; and they consider as equally superstitious, veneration of a relic, belief in a miracle, a story of a banshee, or a legend of Finn Mac Cumhaill. Probably, if the Celts did not venerate relics, and believe in the possibility of miracles, we should hear far less of their superstitions.

Superstition of the grossest kind is prevalent among the lower orders in every part of England, and yet the nation prides itself on its rejection of this weakness. But according to another acceptation of the term, only such heathen customs as refer to the worship of false gods, are superstitions. These customs remain, unfortunately, in many countries, but in some they have been Christianized. Those who use the term superstition generically, still call the custom superstitious, from a latent and, perhaps, in some cases, unconscious impression that there is no supernatural. Such persons commence with denying all miraculous interventions except those which are recorded in holy Scripture; and unhappily, in some cases, end by denying the miracles of Scripture.

To salute a person who sneezed with some form of benediction, was a pagan custom. It is said to have originated through an opinion of the danger attending it; and the exclamation used was: "Jupiter help me!" In Ireland, the pagan custom still remains, but it has been Christianized, and "God bless you!" is substituted for the pagan form. Yet we have known persons who considered the use of this aspiration superstitious, and are pleased to assert that the Irish use the exclamation as a protection against evil spirits, meaning thereby fairies. When a motive is persistently attributed which does not exist, argument is useless.

Devotion to certain places, pilgrimages, even fasting and other bodily macerations, were pagan customs. These, also, have been Christianized. Buildings once consecrated to the worship of pagan gods, are now used as Christian temples: what should we think of the person who should assert that because pagan gods were once adored in these churches, therefore the worship now offered in them was offered to pagan deities? The temples, like the customs, are Christianized.

« Irish Keening | Contents | Index | Holy Wells »


Library Ireland Facebook