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Wednesday, 22 June 2022

University of 3rd AgeResolutions and Superstitions

Speaker: Chris Helme


The guest speaker at u3a Todmorden's June monthly meeting was Chris Helme, who presented 'Resolutions and Superstitions'

His talk encompassed many aspects, starting with chimney sweeps attending weddings, which goes back to the time of William the Conquerer, whose life was saved by a dirty scruffy man, who he subsequently invited to his daughter's wedding.

New Year is marked around the world in some, to us, peculiar ways. In South Africa, old furniture is thrown out of houses on New Year's Eve to signify making a new start, in Denmark people might go to a friend's house and throw plates at the door, in Turkey people wear red shorts to celebrate and, in the Netherlands, giant fireworks mark the occasion. While New Year in Spain is marked by eating twelve grapes, Norwegians celebrate with rice pudding.

Chris then spoke about St. Valentine's Day. Actually named Valentius , the original St. Valentine is thought to have been a Christian theologian in the First Century AD, and he was expecting to be appointed Bishop of Rome, but when someone else got the job, he took a form of revenge. At this time, Roman soldiers were not allowed to marry, but Valentius defied Caesar by conducting their marriage ceremonies in secret. But this was discovered, and he went on trial. While in prison, he cured the blindness of one of his visitors, who was the daughter of one of the prosecuting officials. She was so grateful that she wrote him a letter with the words 'Be my Valentine'. Valentius was beatified as Saint Valentine three centuries later. He was unconnected with ideas of love and romance until the Middle Ages, in stories by Geoffrey Chaucer.

A word perhaps not familiar to all of the audience- Triskaidekaphobia, better known as fear of Friday the 13th, is a recognised health condition. This is more to do with the number thirteen than with it falling on a Friday. Christ's crucifixion is sometimes said to have taken place on Friday the 13th, and there were thirteen people at the last supper. Builders and developers of housing estates and other forms of accommodation often substitute a door, or room, number as 12a, as many people would be reluctant to live at number thirteen. Every pack of playing cards has suits of thirteen and, in Tarot cards number thirteen is the card of death.

Some of us may walk round a ladder rather than under it. Chris told us that, apart from a pot of paint or worse dropping on our heads, the triangle it forms is the issue – with a belief that the triangle contains evil spirits that might be disturbed. Within the home, there are other superstitions to contend with. Leaving a table with a white cloth overnight could signify a need for a shroud for one of its occupants in the near future and cutting the ends off a loaf of bread could result in the devil flying out.

Animals feature in a number of superstitions and customs, for example it was once suggested that allowing, or causing, a child to ride on the back of a bear would help them avoid whooping cough, the ravens at the Tower of London are to ensure that the towers don't fall down, and the screech of bats flying round is said to indicate there is a witch nearby. A sparrow getting inside your house was said to foretell a death within the home unless the sparrow itself was killed. Following, or believing this superstition could prove expensive as it includes those stuck down your chimney!

After questions from the audience, and a vote of thanks, this absorbing and eclectic talk from Chris was concluded.

The next Todmorden U3A Monthly Members Meeting will be on Thursday 16th June 2022 at 1.45 p.m. open to all fully paid-up members at the Central Methodist Hall, Todmorden, when David Skillen will give a talk entitled, Can you hear me Mother? - The Art of the Monologue.

Not yet a member? You can attend one talk free by requesting an invitation to this zoom event. We're always delighted to welcome new members. Contact details: website at www.u3atod.org.uk or email at info@u3atod.org.uk.

Many thanks to Colin Sanson for this report


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