Tudor Superstitions

A typical Tudor house today.

Many superstitions during the Tudor period dated back to traditions and beliefs from much earlier times.  The superstitions were also steeped in the belief in old magic and the mystical properties of animals and herbs.

People blamed unexplainable events as the work of witches – the Bubonic Plague, unexplained deaths or unpleasant illnesses, bad harvests or crop failures, the death of animals and unexplained fires.

Some Tudor superstitions we still do today:

  • Saying “God Bless You” following a sneeze – the Tudors believed that the devil could enter your body when you opened your mouth to sneeze – the blessing warded off the devil
  • It was unlucky for a black cat to cross your path – a black cat was strongly associated with witchcraft
  • Touch wood to guard against bad luck – it was believed that a tree possessed magical powers
  • Not to walk under ladders – considered bad luck as ladders are associated with the gallows and executions
  • Shoes on a table – if you put shoes on a table it was very bad luck – inviting an imminent death
  • Spilling Salt, seen as bad luck – the most common contemporary belief requires you to toss a pinch of the spilt salt over your left shoulder, into the face of the devil who lurks there

When the sun went down, people retired to their houses, not just because of very little work could be done due to a lack of light, but because Tudor people thought spirits and witches appeared after dark.

They did various things to protect evil spirits getting into their houses at night, like leaving dead cats in the chimneys of the house, which would warn off an evil spirit coming down the chimney.  Making witch marks on floorboards or in basements to stop spirits coming up from under the house (witches marks were found in 2016 in the cellar of Shakespeare’s house in Stratford). They would also bury bottles filled with urine and pins at the entrances to the house, thinking that it would stop an evil spirit getting into the house.

An x-ray of a witches bottle, showing pins and urine.

They also didn’t fill safe during the night, the very dreams that disturbed you were the product of the ‘night – mare’, an evil spirit entering your head, and the things that you saw on waking, or heard in the night, really were right there with you.

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