July 24, 2011

Omens from Maine

License plates from Maine call the state Vacationland or the Pine Tree State. It sounds so innocent and idyllic!

Anyone who has read a Stephen King novel knows there's a dark side to Maine, however. That dark side has probably been there since the area was first settled.

Horace Beck's book The Foklore of Maine lists some signs Mainers use to foretell death. Here are a few of them:

A beetle clicking on the hearth is a sign someone will die.

A howling dog? A sure sign of death.

If you see tallow building up around your candle, be leery because it's an omen of doom.

If a corpse is limp, it means another person will die soon.

A white horse at a funeral means another death is coming. (If you're at a funeral with a limp corpse and a white horse I guess you're really in big trouble!)

Don't let a partridge in your house because it is an omen of death. Was this ever a common situation, or is just it a local variation on the common belief that a bird in the house means someone will die? Although not mentioned by Beck, the gorbey and the whippoorwill are two other New England birds associated with mortality and the soul.

The belief about birds apparently even affected how the Mainers decorated their houses. According to Beck's book, wallpaper with birds on it brings bad luck. Just play it safe and use paint, I say!

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