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So Very Superstitious

Posted on: 13th February 2015 By: Adam Ditchburn

Are you superstitious? Today is Friday 13th, the first of three in 2015. This date has been associated with superstition and spookiness for decades. 

In 2012 we ran a project called ‘So Very Superstitious’. It was all about local people, and visitors to St Albans Museums sharing superstitions, myths and legends they knew of. All kinds of things were shared, superstitions around umbrellas, wedding dresses, cats and more. Some of the superstitions were international and others were very local.

As today is Friday 13th we thought we would post the Top Three superstitions shared during this project. The three s below come directly from public contributions…

1. Wormenheart the Dragon

This legend was brought up several times during the project, though no-one really knew very much about it. The most common story was that an Abbot used the ruins of Verulamium to rebuild the abbey. While work was taking place the lair of Wormenheart, a dragon was destroyed. There were a number of other stories about Wormenheart but all were different and the only common thread was that he lived beneath the abbey.

2. Greeting and Counting Magpies

There are a great number of superstitions connected to birds, particularly Corvidae (such as crows, ravens, magpies). This is one of the most common superstitions throughout the world and was the second most discussed during our project. Participants shared that they always greeted a magpie with “Good Day Mr Magpie” or similar and that they also counted the magpies they saw in one place and used this rhyme:

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told

3. The Whispering Tree

The most popular superstition shared was St Albans specific. Although accounts differ, it is all connected to a cedar tree in Sumpter Yard, beside the abbey. It was planted by a relative of Princess Diana in the early 19th Century. Its branches hang over the footpath and you don’t have much choice whether or not you walk under it. When you do walk under it the superstition says that you must not talk, you have to be silent. The consequences for talking were different depending on who was sharing the superstition but it was usually something around not finding your way home. The most interesting thing about this superstition was that it was common across generations, the oldest person to share it was 94 and the youngest was 14

How About You?

After the 2012 project we created the So Very Superstitious archive; a document which contains all of the superstitions and stories that were shared. If you’d like to add any of your own, feel free to comment on this blog. 


This morning BBC News posted an interesting article about the origins of Friday 13th Click Here to read 


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