Superstitions Regarding Crime, by Cora Linn Daniels 1908
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If you look hard at a murderer, he will turn his eyes away and get pale.
If a person has been murdered, the funeral torches will blow toward the murderer.
If the murderer buries the implements with which he did the deed, he will not be caught.
Nothing will grow on the place where a murder was committed.
To witness a murder is to see unexpectedly an old friend.
If a murderer takes off the shoes of his victim, it is a sign that the murderer will soon be captured.
If a man has been murdered, bury him face down, and the murderer cannot leave the place.
The shoes of a man who has been hanged are very lucky.
Insects creeping from a murdered man's funeral indicate the direction in which will the murderer be found.
If the rope breaks when a person is being hanged, it is a sign that the person is innocent.
The superstitious say that dogs and some kinds of cats can detect a murderer years after the crime was committed, by the odor of the blood-stains on their hands.
If you bury a murdered person across the world, the murderer will linger around until he is caught.
Detectives believe that the guilty person will always return to the scene of the murder within forty-eight hours.
If one passes a murdered body, even without knowing it or seeing it, one will be stricken with fear.
In Ireland, they bury the murdered man's boots, so that he will haunt the locality.
The Welsh believe if a criminal is hanged, his spirit, let loose, will trouble them.
When a hanged man is cut down, his spirit will come back, unless you give him a box on the ear.
If a criminal is hung, it is considered unlucky, for his soul is let loose to annoy the living.
To laugh in a prison, brings ill luck.
A person released from prison before his term expires, is said to be pretty sure to come back to it sooner or later.
It is good luck to be accused of any crime or error of which you are wholly innocent.
It is considered an unlucky omen in China to take a corpse out of a prison through the door, and it is therefore taken out through an aperture made in the wall at the back of the building.
Tremot, a hero of German myths, protected all robbers and wicked men. He wore a mask, but was also invisible.
The "water of jealousy" was a beverage which the Jews used to assert no adulteress could drink without bursting.
It is unlucky to report a theft or give any information concerning it. (Scotch.)
In Iceland, it is believed that when an innocent person is put to death, ash trees immediately spring up on their graves.
When the Osage Indians are going to steal horses from an enemy, they paint their faces with charcoal, so as not to be caught.
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Whoever commits a crime that is not found out in his lifetime, walks after death with his head under his arm.
To discover a thief, balance an axe on an upright stick. The sharp edge will turn toward the guilty one.
Chastise neither man nor beast with a peeled stick, for whatever is beaten with it will dry up.
The rogue who wears a snake's head sewed in his hat will never suffer long imprisonment.
Pliny says that those who are made to die of hunger in prison never survive the seventh day.
If anyone steals an egg, he will keep on stealing until he dies. (Jamaica.)
Give one suspected of being a thief some consecrated cheese; if he is guilty, he cannot swallow it.
If you hang a Bible on a key and it turns toward any person, it is a sign that he is a thief. (Japan.)
To trace a thief, pray over bread and make each one of the company eat a little bit. The thief cannot swallow it.
To kill an ironworker in Germany, whether accidentally or purposely, brings much more bad luck than the penalty.
The Persians believe that if they are robbed in the daytime, evil spirits did it, and will not look for the thief.
In Biblical times, it was unlucky to kill a burglar, even if you caught him in the act, if it was before daylight or sunrise, but lucky after sunrise.
Executioners say they can always tell when a criminal is about to be delivered to them, as the sword will move on the wall of its own accord.
A man stole a Bible from the church at Anglesea and placed it on his shoulder; to punish his audacity he was turned into stone, and there he stands and must remain until the last trump sounds.
Among the Cossacks of Ukraine in Russia, there once lived a gigantic robber called "The Nightingale," who whistled so charmingly that, as he sat under an oak tree, travelers swooned as they passed by, so that he easily robbed them.
In Kamchatka, when something was stolen and the thief could not be found, nerves and sinews were thrown into the fire that, as they shrank and wriggled with the heat, the like should happen to the body of the thief.
In Eastern countries, the greatest degradation that could be put upon an erring man or woman would be to have a betel nut placed in his or her mouth which was taken from the mouth of some low caste person.
If a murderer whistles on a willow whistle, it will tell the story by screeching. (Bohemia.)
If a murderess begins to spin, her wheel creaks. (Bohemia.)
At the Council of Tours, which took place in 813, it was generally believed that a person who drank the chrism, or the holy water, could never be convicted of crime.
If malefactors on the rack pin a paper on their backs with Psalms 10th and 15th written on it, they can stand the torture, and will not be forced to confess.
A fish with a ring in it will allow itself to be caught, as it has sympathy for the human being accused of stealing the ring, and is willing thus to prove his innocence.
When the Ethiopians wanted to pronounce a death sentence upon a person, they carried him to a table on which was painted an owl, and then expected him to commit suicide.
If a man will walk seven times around the grave of the man he has murdered, all his sins will be forgiven him. But it is a very dangerous thing to do, and he seldom gets around more than six times before he drops dead.
In Mexico, it is believed that the murderer who has slain his victim with sword or dagger, will escape, if the body falls on its side or back; but if the body falls face downward, then the murderer surely will be captured.
King James, in his "Demonology," says: "In a secret murder, if the dead carcass be at any time thereafter handled by the murderer, it will gush out of blood as if the blood were crying to heaven for revenge on the assassin."
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At Hertford (England) assizes, the deposition was taken as to a certain suspected murderess being required to touch the corpse, when the murdered woman thrust out her ring-finger three times and dropped blood on the grass, thus fastening the proof of guilt upon the suspected woman.
Touch a brandice-iron baking-pan with the third finger, saying: "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost—speak!" A cock will crow when the guilty person touches it.
To recover stolen property, you have only to go to one of the Obimen or -women (a kind of negro sorcerers), and for a consideration they will, at 12 o'clock midnight, strip themselves naked, dance backwards on cross-roads, and then reveal the name of the thief.
In Nevis, the murderer is safe from being haunted by the ghost of his victim if he will go to his grave, dig down to his body, and drive a stake through it, thus adding insult to injury.
If someone steals from you in rainy weather, or comes in the mud so that you can get his footprint, cut out his footprint in the clay and hang it in the chimney corner, and the thief will waste away with the footprint.
Whenever a wilful murder has been committed, a cross is immediately planted on the very spot, to keep off the devil, who delights in dwelling near such places.
Some African natives use the following charm to detect a thief: The suspected person is made to fast twelve hours, then to swallow a gallon of an infusion made of sassafras bark. If it produces nausea, and he ejects any food that was in the stomach, he is innocent; but if, instead, it acts as a purgative, he is guilty.
Some of the old monks taught that the punishment in the future world for the murder of a king was to be crowned with a red hot iron crown, that "should burn mightily forever." This teaching may have suggested the actual doing, for the Earl of Athol, who was executed for the murder of James I. of Scotland, was, before his death, crowned with hot iron.
If a man commits murder in Tunguragua, none of the natives will defile their hands by killing him. He is supposed to be haunted by the spirit of his victim until he goes mad and kills himself; but as a matter of fact, the priests catch and strangle him unknown to the community.
The story of the Robber's Grave in Montgomery churchyard is familiar: how a certain man was executed for robbery, and, protesting his innocence, declared that the grass would never grow on his grave, a prediction which, from some inexplicable cause, appears to have been verified. There, to this day, is the strip of sterile ground amid the grass. But there is a superstition attaching to the spot which may not be so well known. It is believed in the neighborhood of Montgomery that anyone who attempts to obliterate this "sign of innocence" will pay the penalty with his life; and strange to say, only a short time ago one of those curious coincidences occurred which lend strength to the superstition. A traveler for artificial manures, visiting the spot, with a supply of seed and the aid of his own manure endeavored to make the grass grow. A few weeks afterwards he met with his death on the railway, in one of the counties on the border!
In the parish of Llanasa, Wales, are a couple of cottages, thatched and aged, called Yr-ardd-ddu. They are on the way leading to Pen-y-Glasdir and Pen-y-ffordd, and tradition has transmitted to our days the story of a foul murder of two children, who were, for the purpose of hiding their bodies, buried in the garden and covered over with thyme, and although the shocking event is said to have occurred many years ago, and at present, and for many years long gone by, there is and has been no thyme in the cottage gardens there, still occasionally persons passing there smell thyme very strongly. If a person goes there simply for the purpose of smelling the thyme, he is disappointed, but others, casually passing the spot, are almost sure to smell this herb. It need hardly be added that ever after the murder a Bwgan (spirit) frequented the spot.
The body of a person who has been murdered cannot be buried in daylight, say the old Manxmen. In old times, a murdered body was always buried at the stroke of twelve, midnight, by torchlight, and without religious ceremonies.
To see if a person was guilty or innocent of a crime, the "ordeal by fire" was sanctioned by centuries of observance. The accused carried a red hot iron nine yards from the heating furnace. His hands were then bound with linen cloths, sealed with the signet of the church. On the third day the cloths were removed, and if there was no trace of the burn, he was declared innocent; but if the faintest sear could be seen, he was declared guilty and punished.
Longfellow told this story to Charles Dickens. He dined with Professor John White Webster within a year after the murder of Dr. George Parkman, one of a party of ten or more. As they sat at their wine, Webster suddenly ordered the lights turned out and a bowl of some burning material to be placed on the table, that the guests might see how ghostly it made them look. As each man stared at the rest in the weird light, all were horror-stricken to see Webster, with a rope around his neck, holding it up over the bowl, with his head jerked to one side and his tongue lolling out, representing a man being hanged. Prof. Webster was shortly afterwards convicted of the murder of Dr. Parkman, and hanged on the 30th of August, 1850.
In Madagascar exist several curious ordeals for the detection of crime. The chief of these is the celebrated tangena poison ordeal, in which they have an implicit belief as a test of guilt or innocence, and by which thousands of innocent persons have perished.
Quite recently, it is said, a young lady was traveling in an omnibus. In her purse she had all her portable wealth, three-pence in coppers. Near her sat an ill-looking man, dirty, wearing a large, shiny ring, which she supposed to be paste.
When she alighted from the omnibus her purse was gone, her pocket was picked; and she, with confusion of face, had to go on credit for her journey. Arrived at home, she searched her pocket afresh, and therein was the seedy man's shiny ring.
It proved to be an excellent large diamond, but advertisement did not discover the owner. He had stolen three-pence and a purse, and had lost a small fortune, probably dishonestly acquired, in the process.
If a Swede is robbed, he goes to a so-called "trollman" or "cunning man," who engages to strike out the eye of the thief. The trollman cuts a human figure on a young tree, and then drives some sharp instrument into the eye of the figure. It was also a practice to shoot at the suspected person's picture or at that of an enemy, with an arrow or bullet, by which pain or sores are, it is believed, inflicted on the corresponding member of the person represented.
Murderers and thieves used formerly a very old enchantment. They ransacked a grave and secured the hand of an unborn child. This was hung on the door of the house which they desired to rob, and instantly all the inmates would be thrown into a profound slumber from which nothing could wake them. The thieves could therefore pursue their wicked business undisturbed. On leaving the place, they would take the hand away, when the enchantment would be broken.
Ibycus, a Greek lyric poet, who lived about 540 B.C, was murdered by robbers on his way to the Corinthian games. In his dying moments, he observed cranes flying over his head, whom he implored to be his avengers. Soon afterwards, when the people of Corinth were assembled in the theater, some cranes flew past in the air, when one of the murderers, who happened to be present, exclaimed involuntarily: "Behold the witnesses of the death of Ibycus!" They were overheard, arrested, tried, convicted and executed.
The "hand of glory" is a foreign piece of superstition common in France, Germany, and Spain, and is used by burglars and assassins. It is the hand of a hanged man, holding a candle made of the fat of a hanged man, virgin wax, and sesame of Lapland. It stupifies those to whom it is presented, and renders them motionless, so that they cannot stir any more than as if they were dead.
The following is found in an old volume called "Wits, Fits, and Fancies." A gentlewoman from jealousy murdered her lover most secretly, and was attending a masque most carefully disguised, when her lover met her (or his ghost) and spoke to her. "Sir," she said, "you mistake me; how know you me?" "All too well," replied the gentleman, "for the moment I saw you my wounds began to bleed afresh. Of hereof you only are guilty!" Astounded and conscience stricken, she gave herself up to justice.
In Scotland, it is believed that by certain ceremonies a murdered corpse can be made to "reverse the death-thraw" and denounce the murderer, and an old song goes:
"Twas in the middle of the night,
The cock began to crow,
And in the middle of the night
The corpse began to thraw."
In the old churchyard of the monastery at Saints Island, in Ireland, there is an ancient black flagstone which is called "The revealer of Truth." Anyone suspected of sin or crime is brought there from the country around; if the accused swears falsely, the stone has the power to set a mark upon him and his race for seven generations; but if no mark appears, he is innocent.
To ascertain whether a person is guilty of a crime in Brahmanic India, the accused is made to drink three handfuls of water in which a sacred image has been dipped; if he is innocent, nothing happens; but if he is guilty, sickness and misfortune will happen to him within three weeks.
A sign of the guilt of an accused person in Borneo is found in this manner: The two parties are represented by two shellfish on a plate, which are irritated by pouring on some lime juice. These fish have been named for the guilty parties, and the one that moves first is the one who has committed the crime. Also, a suspended hatchet would turn to the guilty.
In Russia, to recover stolen goods, the person from whom anything has been stolen goes to the church, takes a nail, hammers it into the wall, and prays to God that the thief be made to call out the owner's name until he had restored the stolen goods, offering an atonement to God for his crime. If he does cry out the owner's name and promises to pay or restore the goods, and offer a sacrifice to God as an atonement, the owner then goes with him to the church, pulls the nail out of the wall, tells the thief that he is free from the curse of the nail, takes him by his shirt-collar-button, unbuttons it, and sets him free.
It is a general custom in India that a person suspected of a crime is made to chew dry rice in the presence of the officials of the law. It may seem strange, but such is the fear that it influences the saliva and there is no secretion of spittle in the mouth wherewith to eat the rice. The culprit often confessed without trying. If the person is innocent, he is believed to have the proper amount of saliva to be able to chew the rice.
Ate was the Greek goddess of infatuation and reckless crime. She entrapped Zeus into a rash oath at the birth of Heracles and was hurled from Olympus, the home of the gods, to earth, where she continues to work mischief, walking over our heads without ever touching the ground.
In ancient times, guilt or innocence was ascertained by the accused holding a red hot iron in his hand. If it burned him, he was guilty. If God prevented it from doing him serious harm, he was innocent.
Sometimes the accused was made to thrust the arm into boiling water. If in three days no mark was visible, he was acquitted.
Another favorite method was to have the accused and the accuser fight it out. God was supposed to aid the right. The modern duel is a relic of this form of trial.
The poets tells us that when Hercules descended into hell, Charon, the ferryman who rowed the dead across the river Styx, was terrified at his appearance, and immediately took him into his boat, for which Pluto bound him in chains for a whole year.
Burglars of Izamo (Japan) have a simple method of obtaining their desires. He hunts about for a tarai, a sort of tub, and performing a nameless operation in the corner of the garden, he covers the spot with the tub. This throws all the inmates of the house into profound slumber, so that he may do as he pleases, and carry away what he likes.
In Abyssinia, when a theft has been committed, the report is made to the "thief-catcher," who sends to his servant, who is kept for the purpose, a certain dose of black meal compounded with milk. After this he has to smoke a certain amount of tobacco. The servant is by this thrown into a state of frenzy, in which, crawling on his hands and knees, followed by his master, he goes from house to house, smelling out the thief. At last, he enters a house and goes to sleep on the master's bed. This shows that the owner is the thief. He is arrested and has to pay for the property stolen.
The American Indians have what they call taboos, prohibitory or punishing charms and practices. These are also to be found in Australia, and the following remarkable ones are described by George
Turner. If a man wished that a sea pike might run into the body of the person who attempted to steal, say, his bread-fruits, he would plait some cocoanut leaflets in the form of a sea pike and suspend it from one or more of the trees that he wished to protect. The white shark taboo was another object of terror to a thief. This was done by painting a cocoanut leaf in the form of a shark, adding the fins, etc., and this they suspended from a tree. It was tantamount to an expressed imprecation that the thief might be devoured by the white shark the next time he went to fish. The death taboo was made by pouring a little oil into a small calabash and burying it under a tree. The spot was marked by a hill of sand. Others of like significance were current.
Spilling the blood of a lamb on the back steps will keep all burglars away.
On the Pacific coast, charms are hung up to keep thieves out of plantations. Such a charm are a few cocoanut leaves plaited into the form of a shark; if a thief should disregard it, he will be eaten by a real shark.
If a heliotrope is wrapped in a bay leaf with a wolf's tooth, and placed under a man's pillow, it will show him where stolen goods are hidden.
If butter is stolen and you live in a thatched house, cut away some of the thatch from over the door, cast it into the fire, and the butter will be restored.
When you have been robbed, drive an accidentally found horseshoe nail into the place where the fire always is, and you will have your own again.
In Transylvania, if a man who has been robbed will select a black hen and feed himself and the hen on mouldy bread for nine consecutive days, he will get back his goods.
From an old book in German, used in his conjuring and curing by an old man named Zittle, once famous throughout the country for his successes, we give the following:
How one may compel a thief or thieves to restore stolen property:
"O thief or thieves, lay down what thou hast stolen and go away, in Satan's name, in whose name thou hast stolen my property."
How to proceed when thieves have stolen a horse:
Take the pitchfork and stick it where the horse stood. Call the horse by name and say: "I trample thee, I stick thee, I bite thee. Thou shalt come back and thou shalt turn the thief's hand quickly, even as the wind, or the fish that swim in the water, or the birds that fly in the woods, or else thou shalt lie low under the sod. Come quick and be swift."
To detect a thief, spin a cocoanut like a teetotum in presence of those suspected; the one at whom the monkey-face looks when it falls, is the culprit. (Polynesian.)
A sure way of finding out a thief is to stick a sharp pair of scissors into the side of a wooden sifter. Let two persons place the tips of the forefingers of the right hand under the rounds of the scissors and balance the sifter in the air. Then repeat solemnly:
"Here's to Peter and here's to Paul,
Bless the Lord he knows us all,
If any body in this house stole, (here
mention the article) Turn about, sifter and show us all!"
Repeat the invocation, naming each one separately, and when the right one is reached the sifter will wheel around. This was once considered an infallible test.
To discover a thief, a sieve was suspended by the Greeks on a pair of shears, and after certain mystic words the sieve would move, when the correct name was pronounced.
A woman came to a judge of Nova Scotia and complained that someone had stolen her blankets, which she had put out to dry. She wished him to turn the key on the Bible to discover the thief. He refused, assuring her that he had no such power, but as she continued to urge him, he asked if she had a good crowing cock. She said "No, but my neighbor has." "Get an iron pot, and place the crower under it," he answered. She then caused all the men in the neighborhood to assemble at her house in the evening. The understanding was that each should touch the pot, and when the guilty one touched it, the cock would crow. One man protested that this was a silly and useless proceeding. The others boldly touched the pot, but when this man approached he managed not to touch it. Then the judge commanded the men to hold up their hands, and all had crock marks on them but this man, who thus gave himself away. He at first denied his guilt, but on being threatened to be sent to jail, he gave up the plunder.