My Great-Great Grandma was Superstitious ~ Tales from the Dark Side

I thought I would spend this month leading up to Halloween telling stories of things that happened in not only my childhood, but in the lives of my Ancestors that helped form most of my mothers superstition beliefs or were a result of her beliefs, the ones she tried to pass down to my sister and me. I hope you will enjoy them and even get a laugh or two out of them.

My 2 times Great Grandma, Elizabeth Marsh was born December 31, 1841, in Chillicothe Missouri. Elizabeth was a religious woman, attending Church every Sunday and reading her Bible daily. She loved reading all the accounts in the Old Testament, and she would tell not only her children but the other children in the surrounding areas the stories that she found there. Her favorite one was about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We all know the account of how God created man, then from Adams rib He created woman. He set the two of them in this perfect Garden and told them they could eat from any tree in the garden except from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. This Garden was perfect and they wanted for nothing. One day Satan took the shape of a serpent (snake) and tempted Eve with the fruit from the one forbidden tree. Satan told her that she could eat from fruit, and she would not die but instead she would become like God and have great knowledge. She then ate from the fruit, and she did not die. She then took the fruit to Adam and told him to eat from it also, and he did. When God found out what they had done, he banished them from the Garden. Elizabeth came to believe that Satan inhabited ALL snakes, and she was afraid of them. She seldom ventured far from home on foot for fear of encountering one.

Elizabeth passed her fear of snakes down to her children and they in turn passed it down to their children and so on. My mom was raised in Missouri, and she knew about all the types of snakes that lived there and where they were most likely to live. She avoided any place where she thought a snake might be. When we moved to Arizona, my mom found herself with a new dilemma. She did not know any of the species of snakes that dwelt in the Desert, and she had no idea where they may hide. I remember once when we had relatives visiting us we took them on a cookout and hike in the Saguaro National Forest. Just so you know this is not a typical Forest with tall trees, it is filled with hundred-year-old Saguaro cacti. Some of these cacti grow to be 40-60 feet tall and can have up to 25 “arms” on it. While we were hiking up a hill, surrounded by beautiful cactus and Desert plants my mom decided to kick over a rock. Nestled beneath this rock was a very small snake, all coiled up trying to sleep. My mom took off running the opposite direction and didn’t stop until she got to our car. She then got inside and locked the doors. When we all finally reached the car it took a while before my Dad could convince her to come out. When she did she would only sit on the hood of the car! She tried to talk my Dad and my Uncle to go find the snake and kill it, but all they did was laugh.

We lived in a housing community just outside the Tucson City limits and the development was surrounded on 3 sides by Desert. A few years after this experience, early on a summer morning, I was taking a basket full of laundry out to hang on the clothes line. When I opened our back door and stepped outside I saw that there was a pretty large snake crawling along the wall of the house. I dropped the basket and jumped back inside, slamming the door. When my mom found out about the snake, she was hysterical. She started yelling that Satan was in that snake, and we had to kill it. I was 6 years old at the time and my sister was 10 so we were not going to be much help in the “snake killing” department. My Dad was at work, as was every other man in our neighborhood. So my mom devised a plan. I was to wait by the back door and wait for her to whistle. She was going to go out the front door, go into the shed and get a hoe and sneak up on the snake from behind.I was to open the back door and jump out and scream to get the snakes’ attention so that Satan would not see her coming at him. So it began…one…two…three…whistle…jump out…scream…my mom began hitting the snake with the hoe. She was crying and hitting and crying and hitting, and she didn’t stop until there was only a few recognizable pieces of the snake left. She then dropped the hoe, marched inside, crawled in bed and stayed there. When my Dad got home, and he saw what was left of the snake he just shook his head, told us to get in the car, and we went to Mc Donalds for dinner. My mom finally emerged from her bedroom two days later and by then the snake parts had been disposed of. She had another “episode” when she found out the snake had been a rattlesnake, but she got over it much quicker. From that day on until we sold the house and moved, which was 5 years, my mom never went out the back door again. Up until she died at the age of 80 years old she would remind us every chance she got that “Satan was in all snakes and it was our duty to kill them.”

BTW: I have never killed a snake in my life and in fact, I bought my Grandsons an Albino Corn snake for a pet!

Here are some more Superstitions that my mother had:

If you drop a fork you will be having company

Lift your feet up when driving over railroad tracks for good luck

If the bottom of your right foot itches, you are going to take a trip or walk in a new place

Do you or anyone in your family have a Superstition? I would love to hear about them.

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

A “Long Line” of Superstitions #52 Ancestors

superstitionsGrowing up my mother had a superstition for everything. First of all, she was a Triskaidekaphobe. What is that you ask? It is the fear of the number 13. She would not do business with any store where their address had a number 13 in it. She made my dad redo the trellis he built for our patio because it had 13 slats. But mostly she didn’t like me because I was born on the 13th. Her life was controlled by superstitions. We couldn’t tell our Friday night dreams on a Saturday because it would come true. She killed my pet parakeet that my dad gave me for my birthday because a bird in the house brings death. If someone gave us a plant we could never say thank you as that will cause the plant to die.

I always wondered why she was like this. Then I met my Grandpa when I about 10 Food plateyears old. He too had lots of superstitions. If you leave by the back door you have to come back in the same way. If you got up from a rocking chair and it continued to rock it would bring evil to the house. One of the strangest things he did was while eating. He had to have all the food on separate plates because food touching on a plate would make you sick and die. My poor Grandma had lots of dishes to clean.

Over the years I had many of my Smith family tell me stories of our superstitious ancestors. My 2x Great Grandpa James McGowan was Superstitious about his fishing, believing it was very unlucky for someone to ask a man on his way to go fishing where he was going. Any time this happened to him he would turn back because he knew the question was an evil spell.

spilled saltMy Great Grandma Asenath Walt believed that at night demons/ghosts would creep around her home and try to gain access. She kept a large container of salt by both the front and back doors for when visitors came. Upon answering the door she would take a scoop of salt and place it across the doorway. If the person was not a “demon/ghost” they could cross over the salt with no problem. The salt would have kept out any non-human who wanted to enter. I guess she never thought that a “demon/ghost” would probably not come knocking on her door, they would just come in!

My 2x Great Grandmother Elizabeth Marsh believed that Satan inhabited ALL snakes and she was afraid of them. She seldom ventured far from home on foot for fear of encountering one. If she did have to go somewhere she always carried a gun to shot them with.

From my research I found superstitions going back several generations. No wonder I adhered to so many of these growing up. 

Do you have any superstitions in your family?


I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.