Literary and Debating Society – “Superstitions” – Interesting Lecture

February 1912

Mexborough and Swinton Times February 10, 1912


Interesting Lecture at Conisbrough Literary and Debating Society

thee usual fortnightly meeting of this society took place on Monday last in the Church Hall. The Reverend W.A.Strawbridge was in the chair.

A paper was to have been given by Mr W Smith on “The genius of Scott,” but ill health unfortunately compelled him to postpone it for a fortnight, and his place was taken by Mr Allport, with a paper on “Superstitions.”

Mr Allport said that superstition was now generally regarded as a thing of the past – at any rate, as far as this enlightened country was concerned, and he thought that a brief review of some of the more peculiar belief that from time to time gain credence might prove interesting. Brewer described superstition as “that religion which survives him to religion is dead – that fear and awe and worship paid to a religious impression which survives in the mine when two notions of the deity are no longer exist.”

But he did not think that even quite hit the mark, for some of the most religious people were most superstitious. Would it not be better to call it a supplementary religion? Superstition took many forms – luck, ghosts, witchcraft, charms, omens, dreams et cetera been some of the most common. Look, good and bad, and innumerable varieties.

To do anything on a Friday were said to be very unlucky. It was said, “Monday for health, Tuesday for wealth, Wednesday best day of all, Thursday for crosses, Friday four losses, Saturday no luck at all.” But he had not succeeded in tracing a reason, unless it was that it was best, in whatever we did, to begin in good time.

“Well begun is half done” was a very true saying, most of us know. The belief in ghosts, spectres, apparitions etc was also very general, and he was strongly of the opinion that all might be put down to one of three causes – optical illusions, action with mischief on the part of those still living, and fancy.

He related a human story relating to a Conisborough man named Billy Hallam, whom it was said no one could ever frighten. Some of his friends thought, “Surely if he saw a ghost he would be frighted.” Accordingly, knowing that he would be passing through the churchyard late one night, it was arranged to try his nerve. In due course, towards midnight, Hallam went tramping through the churchyard, when suddenly from behind a tombstone a tall figure, all in white, arose, and asked in most sepulchral tones, “Where’s my grave?” But the man wasn’t superstitious, and instead of running for his life, or trembling, he held out, “Ah’ll gie thee grave if tha’s not off.” So saying, Hallam raised the stick and gave the ghostly every blow on the head. The ghost did not wait for another, but fled with Hallam after him, all over the churchyard, yelling, “Ah’ll gie thee grave.” At last the ghost jumped over a wall to get out of his pursuers way. After that no one attempted to frighten Billy Hallam again.

Witches have many devotees. The witch of Endor was the first on record. To become a witch, you were supposed to sign an agreement with the Evil One, and write it in your own blood. You must live in a small tumbledown cottage near a ward, keep a black, a spinning wheel, and a supply broomstick on which to write.

Charms for various purposes of very numerous. The ancient Romans believed in nails driven into the walls of houses as a safeguard against plague have always been considered very useful in warding off the evil spirits. But he feared that there were the vicar would not be pleased if anyone accused him of ringing the church bells with that object. Still, that was originally, and for countless generations the main reasons for bells in churches. We still have the passing bell, or soul bell, which was formerly wrung as one soul was passing from this world to the next in order to keep off the evil spirits which were waiting to waylay it on the journey. The bigger and louder the bell the better, for the enemy had to keep further off, and give the poor soul a longer stop. The bell also served as a hint to good Christians to offer a prayer for their neighbour who was at the point of death.

The evil eye is a superstition which is prevailed from the very earliest times down to the present day. The glance of some people’s eyes is enough to seriously injure, if not completely annihilate whoever it fallen – especially the first thing in the morning. The old Greeks and Romans, and the ancient Egyptians were firm believers in this. It was mentioned by virgin, and in modern time Pope Pius IX, was credited with having an evil eye. Among the Spaniards especially the belief is still very strong, and if we have even now the survival of it in the saying, “If a look could kill.” In the song of “Dog Days,” written within my memory, occurs a passage, “Oh for the proud maiden to look on me coldly, freezing my soul with the glance of her eye.”

The “Kings evil” was quite different thing. It was an old name for scrofula, and it used to be supposed that the King could cure it by a touch. The earliest record of it in this country was Edward the Confessor, and the last Queen Anne. Doctor Johnson was one of the last persons touched; but whether it did him any good he did not know. On Easter Sunday, 1686, Louis XIV, Francis touch 1600 persons for this complaint, using the words, “Le Roi te touche Dieu te guerit” (the King touches, but God cures you). If the process did not benefit the people immensely, no doubt many thought it did. The origin is probably Christ laying His hands on people and healing them.

In the discussion which followed, the Reverend W.A. Strawbridge spoke of having been quite uneasy because several times recently they had been 13 at early Communion.

The Reverend CP Mellor gave a very singular account of a clergyman he had none been saved from highway robbery with violence through the would-be robber, who had carefully laid his plans, seeing a companion with him and fearing attack two people, whereas the clergyman was quite unaware of anyone being within call much less walking with him.

Mr Knowles gave a quite remarkable instance of clairvoyance or mystery admonition. A gentleman living in Bradford was suddenly seized with the conviction that something had gone wrong with his son, who was in Glasgow, and no amount of reasoning or scoffing prevented his going off by the next train to see for himself. On arrival in Glasgow he found his son was dead, having contracted a violent form of blood poisoning.

Mr Troughton mentioned the case of a young woman who went to him for some “Dragon’s blood,” which she was going to put in her young man tea in order to make him love her.

A vote of thanks brought the meeting to a close, and in acknowledging it Mr Allport remarked that he had not forgotten his pet ambition (which had advocated last winter) of a pageant for Conisborough, the proceeds to be devoted to church restoration, or any other scheme that might be decided on. Considering that Conan’s Berg (as it used to be called) was once the scene of a decisive victory of Christianity over paganism (A.D. 489), he thought it would be very appropriate for the church to benefit by representation of past events in local history.

Next Monday the Society holds a social evening and coffee suffer in the church hall, when a very enjoyable time as expected; and on Monday, February 19, Mr Smith hoped to give his paper on son Walter Scott