Many times in discussion of modern Paganism, it’s easy for us to overlook a valuable source of information – the past. Some of our not-so-distant ancestors practiced various forms of folk magic, and we can learn a lot from those old remedies, charms, and stories. In fact, in many parts of the world, what is often dismissed as superstition is in fact a perfectly valid system of folklore-based practical magic. Today, let’s look at some of the most popular types of folk magic. We’ll talk about animal legend and folklore, omens, simple protection rituals, and more.
What is an Omen?
For many practitioners of various magical traditions, there is a tendency to look for and find symbolism in everything, particularly in aspects of nature. Often, these symbols are interpreted as omens.
What is an omen? Depends on who you ask, but in general, an omen is viewed as a sign from the natural world that delivers a message of some sort. Typically this message is seen as an indicator of coming good or evil events. It’s not quite the same as divination, which is when someone deliberately attempts to foretell what’s coming.
In many cultures, animals can indicate significant events to come. This may be based on numbers of animals, behavioral patterns, or other indicators.
While a lot of people are afraid of snakes, it’s important to remember that in many cultures, serpent mythology is strongly tied to the cycle of life, death and rebirth. Did you know that in the Ozarks, there is a connection between snakes and babies? Or that in Scotland, a snake emerging from its hole signified the beginning of Spring?
Frogs and toads feature prominently in magical folklore in many societies. These amphibious critters are known for a variety of magical properties, from their ability to help predict the weather, to curing warts to bringing good luck. Let’s look at some of the best known superstitions, omens and folklore surrounding frogs and toads.
Spring equinox is a time for fertility and sowing seeds, and so nature’s fertility goes a little crazy. The rabbit — for good reason — is often associated with fertility magic and sexual energy. Spring is a great time to focus on some of that rambctious energy — let’s look at how rabbit symbolism can be incorporated into magical workings. More »
Birds have featured prominently in augury and divination for centuries. Not only are birds important, but specific types of birds represent different aspects of magical prediction.
The crow and raven appear in folklore going back to early times. Sometimes, they’re seen as harbingers of doom, but more often than not, they are messengers — what are they trying to tell us?
Owls appear in legends and myths going back to the ancient Greeks, who knew the wise old owl was the symbol of their goddess Athena. However, owls are often associated with prophecy and bad tidings. Read about some of the ways different cultures viewed owls in folklore and magic. More »
In many magical traditions, weather magic is a popular focus of workings. The term “weather magic” can be used to mean anything from divination and forecasting to actual control of the weather itself. When you consider that many of today’s folk magic customs are rooted in our agricultural past, it makes sense that an ability to foretell or change weather patterns might be considered a valuable skill.
Some people believe that cloud formations can be omens in and of themselves. Have you ever looked at a cloud and seen something that gave you a sign? Called aeromancy, the use of clouds for divination is a popular form of augury. Rain clouds can symbolize darkness and gloomy feelings, but on a sunny spring day, they can be positive symbols of cleansing. More »
Other Natural Omens
Omens and signs can be found in all aspects of nature. Take the time to look around you and search for patterns – often these patterns will make themselves known to you if you just pay attention.
Trees are often considered magical and mystical anyway, so it’s no surprise that they sometimes send us messages. If an oak tree drops an acorn on you, it’s said to be good luck – the acorn is a symbol of strength and power.
Some people believe that butterflies are harbingers of guests to come. A dark color butterfly indicates a visitor related to your job or career, but a brightly colored one means a visitor having to do with your love life is on the way.
Many parts of the world are rich in their own unique traditions – and that includes the interpretation of omens. In Appalachia, for instance, many omens are rooted in household superstitions.
- If you spill salt, throw some of it over your left shoulder. This will keep the Devil away – because he stands on your left side.
- Don’t light three cigarettes from the same match – it’s bad luck for the third person (this omen may have originated with the “three on a match” superstition of World War I).
- If the squirrels start gathering nuts early, it means winter is going to be harsh.
- Everyone knows a broken mirror can bring seven years bad luck – but if you touch one of the shards to a tombstone, or throw the pieces in a fire and then bury them, you can lift the curse immediately.
- Spilling milk on the floor will make your cows dry up.
- New brooms should only be used to sweep dirt out a house after they’ve been used to sweep something good into it.
This article was written by Patti Wigington on About.com.