Folklore is the cornerstone of human culture and in a way, reflects the lives, worries and psychology of those that are part of it. Even today folklore is part of our culture, so ingrained that it impacts our very psyche. It impacts the way we act and the way we think but for most not realising the influence.
How so? Well I’m sure most have touched wood as a way of trying to ensure nothing untoward happens to something wanted. One theory is this stems from belief that dryads or wood elves live in the trees, the touching or ‘knocking’ on wood was a way to appease these spirits.
What is folklore?
Folklore is the traditions and beliefs, customs, stories, superstitions, myths and legends of a particular culture, usually handed down orally over generations.
Therein lays the challenge of identifying the whys behind some of the customs and traditions we use today; they are obscured within the retelling mostly because they are learned at an early age when the why is not asked.
Over the months to follow we’ll look at some of the most well-known superstitions, customs and beliefs within the UK and if you feel like investigating any and want us to publish feel free to send us an email with your discoveries and findings.
For now, I’m going to look at the tradition of crossing fingers for luck. I’m sure most of us have done this at some point or another when wishing for something, or even when telling a white lie when young! So here goes.
There are apparently two main theories historians have come up with as to the origins of this practice.
The first theory relates to the pre-Christian European practice of crossing index fingers with another person wishing for something. It was believed that good spirits resided in the intersection of a cross and by making a cross with another whist making a wish incarnated the good spirits within the crossed fingers thereby ensuring that the spirit was present at the time. This however required two people and there is no further evidence of how it became a solo act, although there is speculation that it was a result of enterprise driven by necessity when alone could has sparked the realisation that a second person was not needed. Most likely by and individual initially crossing left and right hand index fingers then at some point realisation that a cross could be made on one had dawned.
The second theory is the practice derives from recognition hand gestures used by early Christians at a time when Christianity was outlawed by Rome. The crossed fingers were one of a few gestures or symbols made, which also included the sign of a fish (Icthys), again these signs usually involved two people.
There is a third theory, which given the situation of those involved adds credence to the claim, that the popularity of the practice stemmed from solders in the 100 Years War. Solders were said to cross their fingers prior to fighting to bring them closer to God. It can also be assumed that the crossing of the fingers at this time went with a prayer for deliverance from harm, further associating the practice with a wish.
In any case there is no certainty at the moment and if any of you can shed further light with more evidence supporting any of the above or with a completely new theory please email us and we’ll continue the debate.