Never Say “Pig” on a Boat – Appalachia’s Superstitions and Old Wives’ Tales

Memories have a way of invading the mind, conjured from some small movement, an event, the lilt in a voice, a child’s laughter, or, sometimes, nothing at all. A few weeks ago, I came home after a hasty, masked, social-distancing trip to the grocery store. Like always, I entered with the groceries through the back door. Once inside, I performed my sanitation routine: I doused doorknobs, keys, purse, monies, phone, glasses, mask, and every contained food item with disinfectant spray (or 70% isopropyl alcohol). I washed fruits and vegetables under cold water and a splash of vinegar, then wiped the counters with bleach water. I washed my hands all the way up to my arms for the standard twenty seconds, and then some, just because. Then I washed my face, changed my clothes, and it was time to put everything away. Whew.

After all that, I sought a little calmness. So, I poured myself a glass of wine and headed to the front door. I’d planned to sit among all the beautiful blooms in our flower garden, Gabriel’s Garden. I reached for the doorknob, then hesitated – full stop and motionless. In a matter of seconds, I recalled the time I was a teenager visiting my grandparents. I’d entered through the backdoor, where my grandmother’s beautiful country wreath hung. When it was time for me to leave, I rose to exit out the front door. My grandfather pulled on my arm and said,

“You cain’t do that.”

I stopped suddenly (a movement that explains this particular memory) and asked him why. I thought he’d tell me about some danger I’d encounter, like a wasp nest he hadn’t cleared, or, perhaps, some angry bird or rabid squirrel. He just smiled and said,

“It’s just a superstition. Bad luck to go out a different door than you come in.”

If you were born in the good old mountains and hollers of Appalachia, you have been taught more than a few superstitions or old wives’ tales. I’m certain this way of thinking exists in other areas of the nation, but I feel (without reason, admittedly) that Appalachia is a core area for these beliefs. Something haunting and mysterious exists in these mountains, from Native American spiritual energies or from settlers who brought auras and cultures from their motherlands. Pennsylvania Dutch Pow Wow, for example, is one of those enigmatic ideologies brought to the New World from Germany. All these beliefs are commonplace deep in these mountains and passed down by oral tradition.

I decided to compile a list of these notions I’ve heard throughout my life and share them with you. I have undoubtedly forgotten some. For the most part, these beliefs are universally Appalachian. Yet, some differ from state to state, region to region, or, family to family. Given that, this list might call some to your mind. Share them with us in the comments section if you’d like.

**Just as a disclaimer, these notions are not advice – medical or otherwise. 


Death As Victor in Yet Another Dance of Death – Sixth plate from Afred Rethel – Old Book Illustrations
  1. If you take a shower on the first few days of menstruation, you’ll cramp to death.
  2. Don’t rock an empty rocking chair. It’s a harbinger of death.
  3. A bird that flies in the house is an omen of death.
  4. If a rooster crows at a burial, the one who’s buried is a sinner.
  5. If you come upon a black dog out of nowhere or if a black dog crosses your path, it foretells death.
  6. Birds singing at night portends death.
  7. If you put shoes on the bed, it heralds death for someone close to you.
  8. Change an animal’s name and it will die.
  9. If you shudder for no reason, someone’s walking on your grave.
  10. When a person dies in a home, open a door for his/her spirit to pass.
  11. If you touch a dead person, you won’t dream of him/her.
  12. If you don’t look upon a dead family member (or another person who’s close to you), you won’t believe the person died and you’ll go insane.
  13. Stop a clock in a room when a person dies. Otherwise, you’ll have bad luck.
  14. Avoid walking atop graves as a sign of respect. Otherwise, spirits might get angry and you’ll have bad luck.
  15. It’s bad luck to put a hat on the bed. Death will soon come.
  16. If a picture falls off the wall for no reason, someone will die (or the house is haunted).
  17. If you plant a coniferous tree (pine, cedar, etc.), you’ll die once it reaches your height.
  18. The redbud tree is the tree from which Judas hanged himself. So, it’s called the “Judas Tree.”
  19. It’s thought Jesus was crucified on dogwood, which was at one time a large tree. Its blooms are symbolic, representing the cross, thorns, and nails.
  20. Coal miners are doomed if a woman works in or steps into a coal mine. Expect catastrophe.
  21. Death comes in threes.
  22. Animals can see ghosts.
  23. An owl’s hoot signifies death.
  24. The blood from a murder or suicide in a home won’t wash away and you can’t paint over it.
  25. Coins on a veteran’s headstone (not so much a superstition but a message of respect):
    Penny:  someone visited the grave.
    Nickel:  the visitor was in boot camp with the veteran.
    Dime:  the visitor served alongside the veteran.
    Quarter:  the visitor was there at the veteran’s passing.



Slander by George Wooliscroft Rhead – Old Book Illustrations
  1. Always go out the same door you entered, otherwise you’ll have bad luck.
  2. If blackbirds build a nest on your house it’s a bad omen.
  3. If a black cat crosses your path you’ll have bad luck.
  4. If you spill salt, it’s bad luck. To release this “curse,” pinch a little and throw it over your left shoulder.
  5. No salt in the house is bad luck.
  6. If you walk underneath a ladder, it’s bad luck.
  7. Never take an old broom to a new house. Old energy and dirt will follow.
  8. Don’t cut your nails or hair on Sunday. It’s bad luck.
  9. Stop a clock in a room when a person dies. Otherwise, you’ll have bad luck.
  10. Salt placed in four corners and all window sills of the house will keep out evil.
  11. It’s bad luck to sweep dirt out your door.
  12. Opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck.
  13. Wearing a hat indoors is bad luck.
  14. A red moon signifies war.
  15. Birds hitting a window is bad luck. Expect a message.
  16. Killing a cricket (especially in the house) is bad luck.
  17. It’s bad luck to kill a dragonfly.
  18. It’s bad luck to kill a ladybug.
  19. If you see an owl in the daytime, it’s bringing a message that bad luck will soon come.
  20. Never wear the color of an opposing sports team in a season. Your team will incur many losses.
  21. Never take a pig on a boat. It’s bad luck because it was believed pigs can’t swim.
  22. For the same reason, never say “pig” on a boat.



A Christmas Fantasy by Charles Dana Gibson – Old Book Illustrations
  1. Dream of a snake, you have an enemy.
  2. Dream of killing a snake, you’ve either conquered or befriended an enemy.
  3. Dream of a baby, someone you know will die.
  4. Dream of losing a tooth (pulled or fallen out) portends death.
  5. Never tell a dream before breakfast or it will come true.
  6. If you sleep on your left side (near the heart), you’ll have nightmares.
  7. If you eat before bed, you’ll have bad dreams.
  8. If you dream the same dream three times, it will come true.
  9. If you dream you’re falling and you hit the ground, you’ll die in your sleep.



Snow Coated Village at Night by Gustave Brion – Old Book Illustrations
  1. If cows lie down, rain will come.
  2. If birds fly low, rain will come.
  3. Animals with heavy fur growth in autumn indicates a bad winter.
  4. If wooly worms are plentiful, it’ll be a bad winter.
  5. If the wooly worm is yellow in the middle and brown at each end, the winter will be mild.
  6. A rooster crowing at night is a sign of rain coming.
  7. When trees’ leaves turn backward, rain will soon come.
  8. A full moon makes people act wild and mean.
  9. Don’t leave the house during a full moon. You’ll encounter danger.
  10. If your arthritis “acts up,” it’ll soon rain.
  11. If squirrels gather nuts early, expect a bad winter.
  12. If squirrels build nests low in the trees, expect a bad winter.
  13. If clouds are low and fog lingers, rain will come.



Threw the Door Wide Open by Amedee Forestier – Old Book Illustrations
  1. If you drop a utensil (fork, spoon, knife), you’ll have a visitor.
  2. If a broom falls, you’ll have a visitor.
  3. If you drop a dish rag, you’ll have company. If you think of someone while shaking it, that person will come.
  4. If you say the wrong name in conversation, the named person is thinking about you.
  5. Garden spiders write messages on their webs.
  6. If your nose itches, someone’s coming.



Recapitulation, Myography, Neurography, Angeography by J. Bisbee – Old Book Illustrations
  1. If your left palm itches, you’ll receive money.
  2. If your right palm itches, you’ll lose money.
  3. If your ears burn, somebody’s gossiping about you.
  4. A sore on the tongue is a sign you’ve lied. (My mom used to call these “lie bumps.”)
  5. Step on a crack . . .
  6. If your nose itches, someone’s coming.
  7. The devil favors left-handed people.
  8. If shingles meet, you’ll die.
  9. If your second toe is longer than your big toe, you will rule your partner.
  10. If a child keeps sucking his/her thumb, he or she will have an overbite.
  11. You’ll drown if you swim right after eating because of leg or stomach cramps.
  12. Don’t cross your eyes, they’ll get stuck and stay that way.
  13. Don’t make faces, your expression will get stuck and stay that way.
  14. If you cut or shave your hair, it’ll grow back thicker.
  15. A woman has more ribs than a man. (Think Adam and Eve.)
  16. A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s mouth.
  17. Every time you pop or crack your knuckles, they grow.
  18. Cold hands, warm heart; hot hands, cold heart.



The Midwife by Andres Campillo – Old Book Illustrations
  1. When a newborn smiles, angels are guarding him or her.
  2. If a baby is born with a “veil,” he or she will have the gift of prophecy.
  3. Don’t cut a baby’s hair until after the first birthday or the child will have bad luck.
  4. If a pregnant woman is scared by something, the baby will have a birthmark shaped by what scared her.
  5. A cat will take away a baby’s breath and kill the infant.
  6. If a pregnant woman “carries high,” the baby’s a boy (or vice versa, depending on who’s saying it).
  7. If a pregnant woman “carries low,” the baby’s a girl (or vice versa, depending on who’s saying it).
  8. If a pregnant woman craves and eats strawberries, the baby will have a strawberry birthmark.



Lucky Star by J. J. Grandville – Old Book Illustrations
  1. Make a wish on the first star you see. Tell no one and it’ll come true.
  2. Make a wish on a shooting star. Tell no one and it’ll come true.
  3. A redbird (Cardinal) visiting means happiness or good luck.
  4. Finding a four-leaf clover mean’s you’ll have good luck.
  5. Carrying a rabbit’s foot gives you good luck.
  6. When an eyelash falls out, pinch it lightly between your thumb and forefinger, then make a wish and blow. If it sticks, the wish will come true.
  7. Always leave a little money in an old purse before you give it away. It gives you good luck.
  8. The seventh daughter of the seventh daughter or the seventh son of the seventh son will be a healer, fortune teller, preacher, or prophet.
  9. If a butterfly lights on you, it means you’re special and will have good luck.
  10. A cricket in the house brings good luck.
  11. If a grasshopper spits on you, it’s good luck.
  12. A spider’s web in the doorway is good luck.
  13. A rock with a hole in it brings good luck.
  14. Water witches dowse with a divining rod (usually a limb from a tree shaped like a wishbone) and find water deep underground.
  15. Throwing rice at a wedding gives the couple good luck.
  16. If a prisoner survives an execution (hanging, electrocution, etc.), he/she is innocent.
  17. “Find a penny, pick it up.
    All day long, you’ll have good luck.”
    (If it’s facing heads.)
  1. Knock on wood to guard against bad luck.
  2. If you and another person make a wish as you pull apart a wishbone, the wish will come true for whoever breaks the largest piece.
  3. Blow on dice for luck.
  4. Rubbing the head of a person with red hair is good luck.
  5. If a bird poops on you, it’s good luck.



Ointment of the Zodiac from Weiditz, Hans, the Younger – From
  1. If you recite this verse, it stops bleeding:

“And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.”

Ezekiel 16:6 – King James Version (KJV)

  1. A spider web binds a cut.
  2. Ashes stop a bleeding cut.
  3. If you put chewed tobacco (chewing or regular tobacco) on an insect bite or bee sting, it draws out the poison and stops hurting.
  4. Urine in the ear cures ear infections.
  5. Blowing smoke in the ear cures an earache.
  6. To cure a headache, apply brown paper soaked in vinegar to the head.
  7. To relieve migraines, cut your hair because it’s too heavy for your head.
  8. Kiss a boo-boo and make it better.
  9. To cure a sore or wound, let a dog lick it.
  10. To cure thrush, take a child to a person who’s never seen his/her father. That person will blow breath in the child’s face three times for three days and the thrush will disappear.
  11. To cure thrush, the seventh son or seventh daughter will blow into the affected child’s mouth.
  12. If a bird finds some of your cut hair and makes a nest, it’ll cause you to have a headache (or death, depending on who tells it).
  13. If you make fun of a sick person, you’ll get sick.
  14. If you go outside with wet hair, you’ll get sick.
  15. Brown eggs are better and more nutritious than white eggs.
  16. Don’t touch a frog – it causes warts.
  17. If you go outside in winter without a coat, you’ll get sick.
  18. If you hold in a sneeze, it’ll cause your brains to bleed.



The Bride into the Hall by Herbert Cole – Old Book Illustrations
  1. If you sweep underneath a single person’s feet, he or she will never marry.
  2. If you recite the alphabet with each twist of an attached apple stem, whatever letter twists off is the first letter of the last name of the person you’ll marry.
  3. Rain at a wedding indicates good luck.
  4. If a woman peels an apple in one piece, then tosses the peeling behind her, the letter shape it takes is the initial of her future husband.
  5. It’s bad luck to see the bride before the wedding (on the wedding day).



He Was Feeding the Cat by Unknown – Old Book Illustrations
  1. Smoke follows beauty.
  2. Lavender only grows for strong women.
  3. Put a spoon in your mouth while chopping onions to prevent crying.


**Featured Image:  by DimaDim_art at Pixabay


  1. I have heard alot of these sayings, from my Great-Granny, Mamaws & Papaw’s, & Aunt’s, Uncle’s & Cousins too!! I love love love Appalachia & am proud to be from this Neck of tha Woods!
    Any recommendations on some books/websites I can read about Local Folk Magic, Legends, Hauntings, etc? Much appreciated y’all!!

    1. Author

      Hello Gary. Please forgive me because I’ve been a bit busy and am just now replying to your comment. I have compiled some information here for you. I don’t know if these will help, but they may provide a catalyst for you. Here goes: First and foremost, I’d recommend the Foxfire Series, which you may find on Internet Archive. Around 12 books are in the series. Links for Book One and Book Two. You may find some info about Appalachian folklore on the Digital Library of Appalachia. Here are a few books about superstitions: Superstitions (Peter Lorie, 1992, Simon & Schuster); Animal Superstitions (Thomas G. Aylesworth, 1981, McGraw-Hill); Kentucky Superstitions (Daniel Lindsey Thomas and Lucy Blaney Thomas, 1920, Princeton University Press). An account is needed for most books on the Internet Archive. The account is free. I hope this helps!

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