Some years ago the idea occurred to us that there was need for a work containing as complete a collection as 'possible of British superstitions presented in encyclopædic form, giving easy and quick reference to the reader.
There were, and are, in existence many excellent books on Folklore which review customs and superstitions of our people, but none containing in one volume a comprehensive catalogue. Moreover, all have a laborious indexing system necessitating voluminous notes and research.
We accordingly began collecting and authenticating all the super. stitions we could trace. The task occupied more than four years, and is brought to a conclusion with the presentation of this volume, containing more than two thousand superstitions of Britain ranging over the past six hundred years, and extending down to the present day.
Individual classification has been carried out, and the title headings enable the reader to obtain within a few minutes the list of beliefs attached to any one subject--and, where it is possible to present it, the origin, or possible origin, of the belief.
Care has been taken to distinguish between superstition and custom. Except in one or two instances, where the line of demarcation is barely distinguishable, customs, have been omitted as lacking any spiritual origin. The "maypole" is an exception since, though more of a custom than a superstition, its origin, in all probability, lies in the ancient worship of the Tree Spirits by our people.
Early in our examination of beliefs prevalent in Britain, and of superstitions as a whole, we were confronted with a succession of coincidences in the form of exactly similar spiritual remedies for disease in these islands and in countries which, at the time, were uncivilized judged by Western standards. Deeper research was undertaken; as a result several hundred examples of this correlated belief are given in this volume.
They raise a topic of peculiar and fascinating interest--whether, indeed, there are such things as "British" superstitions, or whether, on the contrary, those superstitions are world-wide, inherent in all peoples off the world in exactly identical forms of fear, of avoidance, and of remedial measures?
Take, as an example, childbirth. To ensure easy labour for a woman it was the custom in North-west Argyllshire, Scotland, to open every lock in the house. Regard this in the light of the Roman custom of presenting women in labour with a key as a charm for easy delivery. The Argyllshire custom could be stretched into a corruption of the Roman key by reason of the occupation of these islands by the Romans, and . . .