Glamorgan Folklore: Portents, Remedies and Charms

Sandford's Well, Porthcawl

There were thousands of these, quite a few of them still obtaining credence even today. Here is a selection of those which were once universally believed in our part of Glamorgan.

Lightning would never strike a house as long as there was a fire burning in the hearth. As an additional precaution two sheathed knives were placed in a crossed position outside a window. Glass, steel and brass were considered dangerous in a storm because they attracted a strike. The best permanent remedy against such a calamity, however, was to grow stone-crop in the roof.

If a fire was slow in lighting the ‘devil was sitting on top the chimney’ and everyone had to guard against further mischief.

A family moving to a new house at the new moon would have an abundance of food and if you counted your money at that time you would never have an empty purse. It was considered dangerous, however, for a child to sleep with the moon’s rays on its face.

During an eclipse the water in wells had to be covered otherwise it would become contaminated.
On St. Andrew’s day spinsters were advised to go to bed without a nightdress. The saint would then show them a vision of their future husbands.

If you married in July you would live to sigh.

If a baby said ‘Dada’ first the next child would be a boy. If it said ‘Mama’ it would be a girl.

If a pregnant woman did too much gardening her child would lack a sense of smell. The baby should not be given a rattle as it would be late in talking as well.

To find out if a sick person would recover, nettles were placed underneath his pillow. If the nettles stayed green he would recover: if they withered the end was in sight.

If crickets suddenly deserted a house there would be a death in the family.

If you allowed tears to fall on the dead they would not rest.

A person using a sewing needle on Good Friday would be struck by lightning.

If two girls broke a chicken breast bone together the one obtaining the larger piece would be married first whereas the possessor of the smaller piece would have the first child.

If a woman accidentally burst her wedding gloves or split a garment she would be beaten by her husband.

Colour was regarded as important. Red, for example, was the colour of virtue and red flannel next to the skin was a cure for rheumatism. Red blinds and bedclothes were an efficacious antidote against small pox (y frech wen – the white pox.) Blue was a restful colour – good for nerves; yellow a remedy for hysterics.

There were two good cures for headaches: you could either strike your head three times with a stone in a thunderstorm, in which case you would have relief for a year; or hold your head under water for a few seconds and pour melted tallow into the water through a carding comb. If the water was then thrown on an elder tree and the tallow in the fire the headache would be cured.

A person suffering from hiccough would be cured by drinking out of a just over the handle.

Boils could be ‘drawn’ by pressing them with crossed knives.

Horseshoes placed under a pillow eased convulsions.

Wearing underclothes inside out kept away witches.

A woman suffering from ear ache would have relief if she wrapped a man’s breeches around her head
The cure for whooping cough was involved but effective. A lock of the victim’s hair had to be cut and a bread sandwich made of it. The sandwich was then given to a dog which, when he had eaten it, was pushed out of the house. With the dog went the whooping cough.

Epilepsy could be kept at bay by wearing an amulet made from a coffin handle.

There were many cures for warts, the most effective being as follows: a living snail with a black shell was rubbed on the wart and then pinned on a tree with a thorn. When the snail rotted the wart would be gone. Elderberry leaves plucked at midnight and burned would also drive warts away.

Sties could be cured by drawing a new bride’s wedding ring across them nine times; ringworm by seaweed poultices; rheumatism by carrying a potato in the pocket. For rickets you had to crawl under blackberry bushes: ruptures could be ameliorated by wriggling through a hollow tree.

A cold head and warm feet ensured a long life.

‘Cry before breakfast, laugh before supper’ (and vice versa).

‘Feed a cold, starve a fever.’

‘After dinner rest a while: after supper walk a mile’.

It was a custom at funerals for all who attended to place a coin on the coffin. Known as ‘Cymmorthau’ this pleased the dead; after the committal of the money was given to the poor.

Evan Bach of Porthcawl cheated Death, the reaper, by making a bargain with him that he would be good to his relations and generous to the poor. He kept this up and died at the age of ninety three.

By Alun Morgan 
Illustration by Margaret Wooding

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