Several years ago, I frantically cried during transit at Frankfurt airport after having lost a ring in the flight from India. My innocent 8-year-old joined in unison and seemed as miserable. I had grown up hearing that losing gold is a bad omen. Later, a much older cousin advised that I needn’t worry because it was just one of those old wives’ tales. He said that had it been a truth, he and his family would have been in the streets long ago. His wife had the habit of losing gold jewelry all the time. As always, my better half logically reasoned out. He explained that the very concept of bad luck being associated with loss of gold originated from the fact that it is an expensive metal and that one needs to be extremely careful. So it was the value of gold, he said, that led to the birth of the belief.
My loyalty towards my gender sometimes makes me take exception to the phrase “old wives’ tale”. The superstitions and exaggerated, unverified theories are said to be passed down from older women to younger generations down the ages. I would like to question if women alone are capable of talking baseless stuff. Can’t it be men too? I am sure members of my fraternity will support me on this claim. Now be it an old wife’s tale or an old husband’s tale, certain stories circulate in the air all the time, and we wonder whether they are fact or fiction!
Old wives’ tales comprise an entertaining segment of pregnancy, especially when it comes to gender prediction. It is sheer coincidence that sometimes the predictions are accurate, but they are not backed by any scientific explanation. “Sympathy weight” is a term light-heartedly used to refer to a state when the husband walks hand in hand with his pregnant wife with the extra pounds. It is said that when the father-to-be puts on weight, it is a sign that a baby girl is on the way. Also if the expectant mother has sweet cravings, it means she’s carrying a girl. I had a massive sweet tooth during the entire time I was pregnant, and my husband cooperated with me by increasing his number on the weighing scale. Well, I delivered a baby boy and not a baby girl!
“Dress appropriately, you will catch the cold!” is a common warning from mommies to their kids. It is believed that cold weather leads to a cold. The link, however, is indirect as medical experts say. When one’s core body temperature gets too low, one might catch hypothermia which will lower the immunity and eventually result in a cold. But bad weather does not necessarily result in a cold. Canadians and Alaskans living above the Arctic circle for almost the entire year do not have more winter colds than those living in warmer climates. On the contrary, a study by the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine concluded that cold weather may stimulate the immune system.
Spilling salt is supposed to be an evil omen. This superstition has been widespread, and the reason behind it is that salt has had an important place in many cultures. A well-known story springs from Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of “The Last Supper” where Judas knocks against a salt vessel spreading it all over the table. Later it is Judas who betrays Jesus Christ, so the act of spilling salt came to be associated with treachery and dishonesty, which bring in bad luck for the victim. There could be different interpretations across religions. For instance, salt is an auspicious substance in Hinduism and used for many religious ceremonies, so it is natural that the idea has evolved among Hindus that one should be careful not to spill salt. The origin of this superstition may have also come from the fact that in ancient times, salt was an expensive commodity, and the waste of something precious through an act of spilling would obviously be frowned upon!
At times, there’s a grain of truth in some of these old wives’ tales as far-fetched as they may sound. A notion runs that cows lying down on the grass predict rain. This could be related to the fact that sensing the increasing air moisture, cows lie down to preserve a dry patch of grass. Also, the cow’s stomach is believed to be very sensitive to changes in atmospheric pressure that result in the environment prior to rainfall. So they lie down to ease their stomachs, and this act signals rainfall. Cows may lie down for many other reasons, and though not hundred percent of the time, the age-old belief sometimes turns out to be true!
There are people who think that wisdom is passed along from one generation to the next through these old wives’ tales. But more often then not, they are mere exaggerations or stories that are totally false. It also happens that based on certain events that have occurred, people extrapolate, and as the tale passes from one mouth to another, it takes on a different version and emerges as a clever saying or piece of advice. There are, of course, exceptions to the general rule, and sometimes we do find nuggets of truth in some of these tales. But this is nothing else but sheer coincidence.
We have the defenders who blindly believe in superstitions and never question their authenticity. On the other hand, we have that camp of people who look for logic and explanation in everything they hear. But in spite of the fact that civilization has marched forward and we have witnessed scientific progress and the surge of human intelligence, the tales of the old wives have passed around and will never cease to circulate in the world of mankind.