The otherworldly superstitions that occurred both at home and at work for Anthony are the main area of research for this theme. With it being such an old memoir, there are many beliefs and rituals that have been compelling to read about. Anthony introduces a superstitious ritual whilst speaking about his childhood. Bizarrely enough, this ritual occurs when his mother is trying to churn butter for a group of local women:
there was an aged woman came with 2 jugs, one for old milk and the other for butter milk. My mother and 2 of my sisters had started at 4 Oclock in the morning, but they was still chirning. So the old woman set her jugs down and came away.” (34)
It appears that this was quite a hard task and with it came a lot of pressure for his mother to please the community. Anthony remembers his father telling him that, “You have to set Brother Anthony home directly. Mother cannot get no butter.” Farther said, “Go Lad, and god be with thee.” (34)
It was believed that you had to have a certain amount of good luck to be successful. When he arrived, his mother was in tears and there was now a bigger group of about, “10 or 12 women waiting for butter and milk.” (34) Whilst Anthony was turning the butter, he quoted, “Depart from mee, o all ye that work inequety, and let the poore of our Lord Jesus Christ rein, in the name of the fauther sun and Holy Goast.” (34) After saying this, the job was successful and the butter had turned out right, this was seen as a miracle by everyone involved. This shows that religion and superstitions were used as an explanation for a lack of understanding of scientific processes. After this, Anthony was seen as a good luck charm for the churning of butter, this may be because the locals thought he had a strong religious synergy with God and that helped him succeed in these rituals.
This moment was an example of the common English duty of “persuading butter.” (35) There was another rhyme which was very common during this process and it is very likely that a similar one was used in Anthony’s area:
“Come, butter, come,
Come, butter, come,
Peter stands at the gate,
Waiting for a buttered cake,
Come, butter, come.” (35)
These rituals and charms tended to be associated with Roman Catholic tradition and P.E.H Hair suggests they may have been viewed “some awe by the Protestant peasantry because of their mysterious gestures and wonder working objects.” (35) Catholics believed much more in the possibility of magic and that tasks could be tackled by quoting an enchantment of some sort. C. Riley Augé quotes that:
Christian cosmology espouses a tripartite cosmos divided into two supernatural realms (heaven and hell) and one mortal world sandwiched between.” (Augé, 2014, 169)
The “Come butter come” charm falls under this description. The multiple of three used was also quoted three times (Augé, 169) to conjure up a magical holy power to act as the catalyst of succeeding in a task that would now require scientific methods. The repetition of three is also found within Anthony’s method of churning butter, he reminisces that he, “turned 3 times from me and the second time felt the butter, and turning 3 times back, it was heard by all present to flap – flap – flap on the Brickers.” (36) Although the premise of churning butter seems quite dull, it really is fascinating to explore the routine and the importance of these rituals, and also the habits that came with it. When Anthony was successful, Squire Russell euphorically claimed, “Good God, what a miracle!” (36) To these old communities, little miracles like this were an everyday opportunity for them to keep their faith and make them feel closer to God. The detail in their rituals show an abundance of care in the method too. These specificities, such as the repetition of triplets, represent a time where routine was a key way to add meaning to things that they once may have not understood.
In the next part of this thematic post, I will delve into a scarier side of superstitions – the belief in ghosts. I will explore why Anthony and others claimed they saw spirits on numerous occasions and the impact it had on their lives.
Errington, Anthony. Coals And Rails: the autobiography of Anthony Errington, a Tyneside colliery waggonway-wright. 1776 – c. 1825. Written between 1823 and about 1830. 1:231.
Augé, C. Riley. “Embedded Implication of Cultural Worldviews in the Use and Pattern of Magical Material Culture.” Historical Archaeology, vol. 48, no. 3, 2014, pp. 166–178.
‘Butter-making – home churns and utensils’: http://www.oldandinteresting.com/history-butter-churns.aspx
‘Antique Country Primitive Wooden Butter Churn 19th Century’: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/536702480569282462/