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Elizabethan Era Superstitions

Elizabethan Era Superstitions – Some are Still Around Today

By Honey B Wackx

The Elizabethan Era superstitions were there from very earlier times. The Elizabethan era was a time associated with Queen Elizabeth I’s reign in 1558–1603. It is often considered to be the golden age in English history. During that time period was the height of the English Renaissance and the flowering of English poetry, music and literature. This was also the time during which Elizabethan theatre flourished, and William Shakespeare and many others composed plays that broke away from England’s past style of theatre.

The Elizabethan period being a very important part England’s history, marked the development of many scientific inventions and discoveries. However the increase popularity of science and technology also marked the increase of superstitious beliefs and customs having their origins from the Dark ages.

Superstitions were at its height during the Elizabethan era because of the unknown fear and terror of natural calamities and the supernatural. Chants and omens, spells and mystic readings were the various components of the Elizabethan period superstitions. People of that era had an immense and deep trust in magic and charms.

Witch and witchcrafts were the main cause of terror and superstition amongst the people. Women were the main to be blamed of being witches and practicing witchcrafts. The people had a blind faith in the supernatural powers of the witches and this led to the increased number of superstitions related to them.

Many events that had no explanations behind them were thought to be the work of the witches like the Bubonic plague, crop failure, floods, bad harvests, illnesses or even deaths. Witches were supposed to have an image of a crooked woman of an older age having pets like black cats, owls and blackbirds with them. In the Elizabethan era, about 247 women were allegedly sent under trial for the practice of witchcraft. The witches were believed to fly on brooms and they could brew potions on the cauldron. They generally lived alone.

Besides the belief in witches and witchcrafts, there were several other superstitions in the day to day lives of the Elizabethan people. They considered the eclipse to be a bad omen. The crossing of a black cat in your path was also regarded as a bad omen as black was always the color of magic and cats have always been associated with witches. The saying of ‘touch wood’ in order to be safe against an evil eye was the superstition developed in this era.

The seventh male child of the seventh son was considered as a person having supernatural powers. Pinning of bay leaves on the pillow by an unmarried girl on Valentine’s Day would make her dream of her future life partner. The spilling of pepper and salt was also known to be inauspicious during this period. Another reason for the rise of this superstition may be that the spices were quite expensive in the Elizabethan period.

The practice of saying ‘God bless you’ after a sneeze was also a common superstition developed in this period. They believed that while sneezing, the devil might enter the opened mouth of the person who sneezes. So these words were prompted in order to ward off the evil.

The popular superstition of walking below or under the ladders was developed in this period. It says that it is unlucky to walk under a ladder as it is always associated with executions and even sometimes with gallows. It was this Elizabethan period that Shakespeare had used many superstitions like spirits and witchcraft in his some of his popular plays.

The Elizabethan era was the epoch in English history of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign (1558–1603). The symbol of Britannia was first used in 1572 and often thereafter to mark the Elizabethan age as a renaissance that inspired national pride. This occurred through classical ideals, international expansion, and naval triumph over the hated Spanish enemy. This was the period often depicted as the golden age in English history by Historians. This Elizabethan era saw the flowering of poetry, music and literature. The era is most famous for theater, as William Shakespeare and many others composed plays that broke free of England’s past style of theater. It was an age of exploration and expansion abroad.


A Marriage Feast at Bermondsey. This painting illustrates a panorama of society in the reign of Elizabeth I of England, who may be the lady being escorted from the church at the right.

The Elizabethan Age is viewed so highly because of the periods before and after. It was a brief period of largely internal peace between the English Reformation and the battles between Protestants and Catholics and the battles between parliament and the monarchy that engulfed the seventeenth century. England was also well-off compared to the other nations of Europe. The Italian Renaissance had come to an end. France was embroiled in its own religious battles.

Here are a few questions about Elizabethan Era superstitions during that time period. These questions and answers are taken directly from Yahoo Answers. They are a few of the questions and answers sent in to Yahoo. Read them and see what other people are asking and answering.


Donald asks…

I need another idea for my Elizabethan project!Any help?

I’m doing a project on Elizabethan superstitions and mythology. I’m already doing a Microsoft Powerpoint but I need one more idea because just a power point is lame. I’ll take any ideas and award best answer!

Suzi Q answers:

Crime and Punishment

Thomas asks…

What are some beliefs and superstitions in the Elizabethan times?

I’m doing a project and I’d like to know what are some beliefs and superstitions in the Elizabethan times. I already went to this website so I don’t want anything that is on here

Can you help me? I’ll pick best answer!

Suzi Q answers:

Try some of these excerpts from the websites below:

New Elizabethan superstitions arose due to the fear of witchcraft and the persecution of witches. Women were those most often accused of being witches! There were 270 Elizabethan witch trials of 247 were women and only 23 were men! During the Elizabethan era people blamed unexplainable events as the work of witches – the Bubonic Plague, unexplained deaths or unpleasant illnesses, bad harvests or crop failures, the death of animals and unexplained fires. Those accused of witchcraft, or being a witch, were generally Old, Poor and Unprotected Single women, widows or ‘wise women’ (many kept pets for company – their ‘familiars’). The fear of witches and their supernatural abilities led to the following superstitions:
Superstition 1 – Witches were able to fly ( this explained how witches could move quickly across impossible distances. A broomstick was then added to the superstition as these became common household articles used by women) — more at link below

Here are a selection of superstitions which affected the daily lives of Elizabethans:

* Saying “God Bless You” following a sneeze – Elizabethans believed that the devil could enter your body when you opened your mouth to sneeze – the blessing warded off the Devil
* An eclipse was seen as an omen of evil
* It was unlucky for a black cat to cross your path ( Black is the color associated with evil magic and a cat was strongly associated with a witch’s familiar
* The ‘seventh son of a seventh son’ was believed to possess supernatural powers

Elizabethan Life – Wedding Dress
The bride did not wear a white wedding dress, this was a later tradition. Instead she would wear her best gown and kirtle. Elizabethan Wedding Clothes for men. Elizabethan Wedding Clothes for women. Upper Class and Lower class wedding clothes. Elizabethan Bride Lace.

Elizabethan Life Marriages and Weddings
Weddings in Elizabethan Life. Arranged Weddings and Marriages. The Dowry or Marriage Portion. The Elizabethan legal age to marry and the Age of Consent. The Church Wedding ceremony. The Elizabethan Wedding feast, the Wedding Reception & Food.

Elizabethan Age & The Spanish Armada
The attack by the Spanish Armada was one of the most important events in English History. On Sunday 7th August 1588 the fleet of the Spanish Armada lay in the English Channel, close to the cliffs of Calais. The Spanish fleet intended to mount the invasion and conquest of England by the Catholic King Philip II of Spain. The success of the Spanish Armada would mean that Queen Elizabeth, viewed as a Protestant heretic, would be deposed and the English people subjugated to Spanish rule and forcibly converted to Catholicism. The English were fighting for their lives, their freedom and their way of life. The following links cover the full story of the Spanish Armada of 1588. Read about the Spanish / English war, the English navy and men who determined the outcome of the War – the Spanish Duke of Medina Sidonia, King Philip II of Spain, Lord Charles Howard of Effingham, Lord Sheffield, Sir Richard Grenville, John Hawkins, Martin Frobisher and, of course, Francis Drake.

Amazing site to hold so very much info on so many different pages all connected to this main URL:

Not all pages below are connected to this one URL, either. Such as this statement:
During Elizabethan times a “kissing knot”, an ornament concocted of gaily-colored ribbons, leaves and rosemary, dangled above the bride and groom’s table during the wedding feast. From a site below concerning Superstitions.

Here is a site for Elizabethan Beliefs:
The Chain of Being was very important in the Elizabethan age and there was a strong hierachial notion of the world. People had strong beliefs that God was responsible for everything and all events, and all things in the universe were arranged in precise and special order of importance. A human’s position in the chain was determined by birth, and maintaining this order was extremely important. Consequently, the poor were rarely helped as it was believed that they deserved their place in life. Men were also far superior to women. Society also believed that kings and queens were chosen specifically by God and played important roles in the Great Chain of Being. If the order was disturbed in any way it was believed the order and balance of the universe would be upset and chaos would erupt.

Back to the other main site is this:

This ought to keep you busy for a while.

Good luck.


Jenny asks…

Why did the Elizabethans have superstitions?

Suzi Q answers:

The question is “perverted” as it is more reasonable to ask instead whether the Elizabethans had any reason to discard their superstitions.

All traditional societies are superstitious. In order for members of traditional communities to shake themselves of even minor superstitious beliefs and practices, they would need to experience drastic changes such as leaving one’s home village and move to a different community where their idiosyncratic values were challenged.

Elizabethans (Queen Elizabeth’s reign 1558–1603) had to wait roughly

1. 100 years to see the invention of Jethro Tull’s seed drill machine

2. 130 years to see the first commercially viable iron plough, Joseph Foljambe’s Rotherham plough

3. 180 years to see Andrew Meikle’s threshing machine

4. 130 years to see Charles Townshend’s importation from Flanders of the four field crop rotation system

5. More than 130 years to see the first scientific breeding efforts of Robert Bakewell and Thomas Coke who introduced selective breeding (mating together two animals with particularly desirable characteristics), and inbreeding (to stabilize certain qualities).

6. 230 year for the Enclosure Movement (peaked from 1760 to 1832) to complete the destruction of the medieval peasant community. Mostly due to the Enclosure movement, the peasantry was destroyed as significant source of resistance to industrialisation, and the landed upper classes developed commercial interests that made them pioneers in removing obstacles to the growth of capitalism. (Hilaire Belloc’s The Servile State.)

[unto here concern the British Agricultural Revolution and the Enclosure]

Only then could the British feed its population the greater agricultural produce and the industry its increasing, but redundant, population as dislocated labour force.

7. 160 years to see the invention of textile machinery such as Richard Arkwright’s water-frame cotton-spinning , James Hargreaves’s Spinning Jenny, and Samuel Crompton’s Spinning Mule for the cotton mills

8. 180 years to see steam power such as James Watt’s steam engine for pumping out mines and for powering machines in the semi-automated factories

9. 180 years to see iron founding using coke in all stages of iron smelting, replacing charcoal, esp. In the production of bar iron which depended on the use of potting and stamping (for which a patent expired in 1786) or puddling (patented by Henry Cort in 1783 and 1784)

10. 150 years to see John Smeaton’s rediscovery of concrete in 1756 (from hydraulic lime mortar)

11. 100 years for the systematic transfer of scientific knowledge to being in the form of published encyclopedia such as Harris’s Lexicon Technicum (1704) and Dr Abraham Rees’s Cyclopaedia (1802-1819) which contained an enormous amount of information about the science and technology of the first half of the Industrial Revolution

12. And 190 years to see the first periodical about manufacturing and technology.

Thus the British needed at least 100 years, at most 230, from the death of Queen Elizabeth I to see the first major impact of the industrial revolution on traditional society felt, at which point traditional beliefs, both wisdom and superstition, could be questioned through intermingling in the slums of industrializing cities composed of dislocated populations from disintegrating medieval communities.

Sandra asks…

Is there a difference between supernatural and superstitions (homework)?

I am doing this internet research about this topic: “Role of the Supernatural in the Elizabethan Era” most stuff that pops up in the internet are superstitions and I’ve been using that info but I’m just wondering if I am doing the research right…

This one is optional, please help me find sites that are related to that topic, TY in advance.

Suzi Q answers:

There is a huge difference between supernatural and superstitions.

Lets look at the definitions of both these words.

Supernatural – (of a manifestation or event) attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature

Superstitions – excessively credulous belief in and reverence for supernatural beings.
*Another definition: a widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief.

If someone is superstitious they might wear a certain shirt to an interview because that shirt gives them good luck.

Supernatural stuff is when God intervenes in your life and there is no actual explanation.


Lizzie asks…

did the superstition of a black cat crossing your path occur during the Elizabethan Era?

if you have any idea, answer please!!

Suzi Q answers:

There is a connection. During that era when witch hunting was so common, it was a popular belief that a witch and a black cat are two inseparable entities. So not only were the ones suspected of being a witch are executed but black cats as well. Until now, the notion that black cats bring evil and misfortune still remains. Which means that a black cat doesn’t have to cross someones path for it to cast a bad omen. The mere sight of one could sometimes also create the same thought.

Maria asks…

What were some mythological creatures Elizabethans believed in?

Any superstitions would be helpful too. I have too hand in any isu on Elizabethan witchcraft and superstitions tomorrow =S

Suzi Q answers:

If you mean during the reign of QE the 1st, they wouldn’t have believed much in mythological creatures as Christianity has been around for almost 1600 years. They tended to be more superstitious during the dark ages – round about the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. Some may still have believed in sea creatures such as sirens, mermaids, etc. I think there may also have been a type of 1/2 human, 1/2 horse that liked to grab people & take them underwater to live w/ them forever. Can’t remember the name of that creature, though. You just didn’t want to meet one! You could check out the Orkney Islands in Scotland to see what they believed in. Merfolk was a big one w/ the Orkney Islanders. There were also giants, etc. The Norse settled in Orkney and were absorbed into the population, so you’d find some gems there. I know the Orkney Islands are off topic a bit. The Welsh had their giants, witches, ghosts, big black dogs, etc. The Elizabethans would’ve been more superstitous than would have believed in mythological creatures, IMO. But some of the quainter areas like Wales, the Orkney Islands, the Shetland Islands, the Inner Hebrides, Outer Hebrides in Scotland would be a better bet to look into folklore. This may or may not have helped you – but I tried!



Helen asks…

Elizabethan astology?

I’m in ninth grade and have to do a Shakespeare research paper, and my topic is superstitions, astrology, and witchcraft in the Elizabethan Era. I can hardly find anything about astrology in this era, so does anyone know anything about this topic, or have any websites?

Suzi Q answers:

The Elizabethan era was the age of the Renaissance and new thinking and ideas. It was also the age of Nostradamus, Marsilio Ficino and Trithemius and the Renaissance fusion of Christianity, Hermetic Philosophy and its associated ‘sciences’ of magic, astrology and alchemy.

Dr John Dee was the greatest astrologer of the Elizabethan era, who worked with his associate Edward Kelley. The following definitions have been provided to understand the differences between all of these Elizabethan ‘sciences’.

Elizabethan Astrology – the Definition of Astrology, Astronomy, Alchemy and Magic
The definitions of Astrology, Astronomy, Alchemy and Magic are as follows:

Definition of Astrology – Astrology is defined as the study of the positions and aspects of celestial bodies in the belief that they have an influence on the course of natural earthly occurrences and human affairs and events

Definition of Magic – The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural. Magic includes the practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or control events in nature

The interest in Renaissance and Elizabethan Astrology
The Renaissance era, or the re-birth, saw the emergence of new ideas and a deep curiously in anything mystical.
Could men predict future events? Could the most provident day for a special event be predicted from deciphering a horoscope? ( The well educated and learned Queen Elizabeth obviously believed in horoscopes when January 15 1559 was chosen as the day of her coronation, from her horoscope cast by John Dee).
Could a base metal be converted, or transmuted into gold or silver as the Alchemists believed? Could an Elixir of Life be produced which cured all diseases? Could the use of magic forecast or control natural events? The rewards for any Astrologer who controlled any of these element would become, rich, famous and all powerful.

Elizabethan Astrology and Dr John Dee
Could the use of a Crystal ball and the art of ‘scrying’ be used as a technique for seeing supernatural images, for gaining secret knowledge or making predictions? John Dee and his associate Edward Kelley believed that this was so.
Edward Kelley acted as a Medium for John Dee providing a means of communicating with ‘Angels’. This ‘Angel Magic’ provided John Dee with Angelic or “Enochian” script. The brilliant Elizabethan scholar and Astrologer Dr. John Dee dedicated the later part of his life pursuing this secret knowledge.

Famous Elizabethan Astrologers
There were many famous Astrologers & Alchemists of the Renaissance and Elizabethan era:

1503 -1566 Nostradamus was in the patronage of Catherine de Medici

1463 – 1494 Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. His book the ‘900 Theses’ was described as “the great charter of Renaissance Magic”

1486 -1534 Natural Magician Cornelius Agrippa who wrote the Three Books of Occult Philosophy which corresponded to the three worlds of the elementary, celestial and intellectual realms

1538-1615 Giambattista della Porta ( aka John Baptist Porta ) wrote “Magia Naturalis” or Natural Magick in 1558

1546-1601 Tyro Brahe, astronomer and astrologer, stated that anyone who denies astrology is ignoring the ‘clear evidence’. He then proved the physical effect of the planets on the Earth. Tyro Brahe was the astronomer-royal of Denmark and had a laboratory built in order to study alchemy

1565-1630 Tommasso Campanella performs magical and astrological ceremonies for Pope Urban VII

1571-1630 Johannes Kepler, Johannes Kepler the Imperial Mathematician of Denmark, states that Astrology ‘derives from experience which can be denied only by people who have not examined it.’

1577-1640 Robert Burton, author of Anatomy of Melancholy, states stars ‘incline not compel’ exercise of free will. However, he accurately predicted his own

1602-1681 William Lilly, the best known astrologer of his day who predicted the Great Fire of London (1666) in 1652

1527-1608 John Dee

1555-1595 Edward Kelley

Elizabethan Astrology – The influence of Astronomy on William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and Sir Francis Bacon
The subjects of Elizabethan Astrology fascinated many prominent Elizabethans. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) makes over 100 references to Astrology. The subject is mentioned in every one of his plays and Astrology was often critical to the plots when the actions and events surrounding characters are said to be favored or hindered by the stars. The central character in ‘The Tempest’ is Prospero, whose character is said to be based upon John Dee.

Another famous Dramatist of the Elizabethan era was Ben Jonson who wrote the play entitled ‘The Alchemist’.

The foremost scholar Sir Francis Bacon, famous for his secret cryptology, was concerned with magic when it dealt with what was hidden, or ‘occult’. Some of the views of Sir Francis Bacon are illustrated in the following quote:

“The sciences which have had better intelligence and confederacy with the imagination of man than with his reason are three in number; astrology, natural magic and alchemy: of which sciences, nevertheless, the ends and pretenses are noble… The theory and the practice are full of error and vanity, which the professors themselves have sought to veil over and conceal by enigmatic writings.”

Questions powered by Yahoo! Answers

As you can see superstitions come in all sizes and during all time periods. A few hundred years from now (if the human race still exists) people in that time period will wonder why we are so superstitious here in the early 21st century. Do you think any of these Elizabethan Era superstitions will still be around at that time, and if so, would anyone be following them?

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