Inspirational Stories of Love, Faith & Family Set in 19th Century America

Category: Fairy Tales and Folk Lore

A Good Old-Fashioned Shivaree

Today I’m excited to host my friend, and fellow author, Cynthia Roemer, on Romancing History. You can learn more about Cynthia’s new release, Under Prairie Skies, below. Leave a comment below to be entered into a drawing for a FREE Kindle copy of Under Prairie Skies.


A Good Old-Fashioned Shivaree

I’m willing to bet not many of you have heard of a Shivaree. It’s an almost forgotten bit of wedding history. Nowadays, we celebrate marriages with banquets, toasts, honeymoons, and photo shoots. But there was a time, friends and neighbors gathered to give the happy couple a send-off they wouldn’t soon forget, one that included a surprise visit in the dead of night and lots of noise!

Shivarees were a rather raucous and fun-loving way of celebrating a newly married couple’s nuptials. It could take place days, weeks, or months following the actual wedding. The element of surprise was key.

Though more prevalent in the 1800’s, my parents told me stories of shivarees that took place in their growing up years extending into the mid-1900s. According to them, the Shivaree began with a late-night wake-up call of banging pans and noise-makers, include a serenade of songs such as Let Me Call You Sweetheart, and ended with the sharing of snacks and desserts, often provided by the newly married couple.

Shivarees of the nineteenth century were much bolder and at times down right ornery. I didn’t realize just how ornery until I did some research for a scene in my novel, Under Prairie Skies. Set in 1855, the scene has my main characters, Chad and Charlotte, and a host of others, traveling by the light of the moon to the unsuspecting couple’s home.

There, the bride and groom are awakened by rifle fire and banging pans. The barefoot groom is then blindfolded and spirited away in his nightshirt into the timber and left to fend for himself until daybreak. All the while, his poor, bewildered bride is wailing and calling his name. Not the best way to wish a new couple a joyous marriage! I won’t share any spoilers by telling how the scene evolves, but during it, Chad’s actions further endear him to Charlotte.

Though I’ve not participated in or even known anyone to be shivareed, my husband attended one for his cousin when he was a boy. So, when we married, my husband had me more than a little nervous we would end up with his extended family outside our bedroom window some dark night banging pans and serenading us.

My fears never came to fruition, but all that first summer, I did a lot of baking and learned to be a very light sleeper.


About the Book

~ Beyond shattered dreams lies a realm of possibilities ~

Illinois prairie ~1855

Unsettled by the news that her estranged cousin and uncle are returning home after a year away, Charlotte Stanton goes to ready their cabin and finds a handsome stranger has taken up residence. Convinced he’s a squatter, she throws him off the property before learning his full identity. Little does she know, their paths were destined to cross again.

Quiet and ruggedly handsome, Chad Avery’s uncanny ability to see through Charlotte’s feisty exterior and expose her inner weaknesses both infuriates and intrigues her. When a tragic accident incites her family to move east, Charlotte stays behind in hopes of becoming better acquainted with the elusive cattleman. Yet Chad’s unwillingness to divulge his hidden past, along with his vow not to love again, threatens to keep them apart forever.

Under Prairie Skies is available at  Amazon  Barnes & Noble and  Book Bub


Meet the Author

Cynthia Roemer is an award-winning inspirational author with a heart for scattering seeds of hope into the lives of readers. Raised in the cornfields of rural Illinois, Cynthia enjoys spinning tales set in the backdrop of the 1800s prairie. Her Prairie Sky Series consists of Amazon Best-Seller Under This Same Sky, Under Prairie Skies, and Under Moonlit Skies, due to release September 10, 2019. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and writes from her family farm in central Illinois where she resides with her husband of twenty-five years and two college-aged sons.

Visit Cynthia online on her website, or connect with her on  Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or sign up for her author newsletter.


Giveaway

THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. Congratulations to Paual Shreckhise the winner of the Kindle copy of Under Prairie Skies! Thanks to all who entered our giveaway!

To be entered into a drawing for a FREE Kindle copy of Under Prairie Skies, comment below and let us know if you’ve ever heard of a shivaree or some other unusual custom to celebrate a wedding or betrothal.

Storytellers Extraordinaire

National Tell a Fairy Tale was February 26th. In order to commemorate this auspicious day, I thought maybe remembering the lives of some of the most well-known storytellers of all time would be in order–The Brothers Grimm.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in an 1843 drawing by their younger brother Ludwig Emil Grimm.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm began their careers studying law. Privately their fascination with the myths and legends surrounding local folklore led them to begin researching these tales in earnest.

Here’s 4 interesting facts you may not know about the the Grimm brothers:

 

The Grimm Brothers didn’t write any of the fairy tales associated with them.

Although stories like Snow White and Rapunzel have become synonymous with their name,  none of the tales included in their first anthology, Nursery and Household Tales, was written by either Jacob or Wilhelm Grimm. Most of the stories existed long before the brothers were born in the mid-1780s. The tales were actually a collection of rich oral traditions passed from generation to generation. When the brothers discovered there was not one written collection of the stories, the began a quest to interview friends and relatives to capture the folklore before they became extinct and took great care to preserve the tales as they were told by peasants and villagers.

Cover of the 1819 edition of Nursery and Household Tales illustrated by Ludwig Emil Grimm.

Their collection of stories were not originally intended for children.

The original 1812 edition of Nursery and Household Tales contained sex, violence, and extensive footnotes regarding the variances in the folklore from region to region. And it contained no illustrations. The original version of Cinderella had the evil stepsisters cutting off their toes and heels in an effort to squeeze their appendage into the infamous glass slipper. Not to be out done, the first edition of Rapunzel had the girl with child following a casual affair with the prince.

The Grimm Brothers were a publishing success story.

By Wilhelm’s death in 1859, what we now know as Grimm’s Fairy Tales was in its 7th edition and the anthology had grown to include 211 stories. The collection now featured intricate drawings as well. Today Grimm’s Fairy Tales is available in over 100 languages and have been adapted for stage and screen by Walt Disney and Lotte Reineger.

Illustration of “Pied Piper of Hamelin” from the Grimm’s collection of German legends. Illustration by Kate Greenaway

The Grimm Brothers wrote more than Fairy Tales

Following the success of Nursery and Household Tales, the brothers also published two volumes of German folk legends which include stories such as The Pied Piper of Hamelin. In addition they wrote several books on mythology, linguistics and medieval history. In their later years, the brothers took a teaching position at Gottingen University as professors of Germanic studies and began a massive project to write a dictionary of the German language. They both died before the enormous undertaking was complete having only reached the letter F and the word frucht, meaning fruit.

Fairy Tales continue to capture the imagination of the public around the world and with the growing popularity of movies like Into the Woods and television shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time it’s as clear as Cinderella’s glass slipper that even grown-ups love a good fairy tale.

Share your favorite fairy tale in the comments below.

Who Put the Blarney in the Blarney Stone?

Its that time of year again. Time to be wearin’ the green and celebrating your Irish ancestry–even if you’re Dutch, Italian, German or something else altogether different. If you can tell a colorful tale or talk your way out of a jam, then today my friend, you may be as full o’ blarney as any true Irishman.

 

The Blarney Stone is a single block of bluestone, the same material as the megaliths of Stonehenge. The iconic stone is set in a wall of Blarney Castle Tower, constructed in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, king of Munster, on the site of a demolished 13th century castle.

Image result for images of blarney stone

Some people believe the Blarney Stone is half of the original Stone of Scone, or Stone of Destiny, upon which the first King of Scots was seated during his coronation in 847. It is said that part of this stone was presented to Cormac McCarthy by Robert the Bruce in 1314.  It was his gift to the Irish for supporting the Scots in the Battle of Bannockburn.

 

True to it’s name, however, the Blarney Stone is surrounded by tall tales and myths. Some stories are steeped in the history and culture of ages long gone. Others sound like, well… pure blarney. Hard to imagine?  We are, after all, talking about the Blarney Stone and a country where stories grow as plentiful as clover in the lush green fields.  Among some of the more colorful tales, we learn that the Stone was used by Jacob for his pillow and was brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah; that David hid behind the Stone while running from King Saul; it is the very rock Moses struck with his staff to supply the Israelites with water as they fled slavery in Egypt. Well, why not?

Another variation claims the stone was acquired during the Crusades and brought to Ireland during the middle ages. However, in 2014, geologists from the University of Glasgow shed some light on the Blarney Stone’s heritage when they concluded that the famous rock isn’t from Scotland but instead is made of 330-million-year-old limestone local to the south of Ireland.

The word “blarney,” meaning skillful flattery or nonsense, supposedly came into use following an incident involving the head of the McCarthy family and Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled England and Ireland from 1558 to 1603. The queen sent the earl of Leicester to seize Blarney Castle but the talkative McCarthy managed to keep stalling him. The queen grew exasperated by the earl’s reports about the lack of progress in the matter and uttered something to the effect of  “it’s just more blarney.”

Image result for images of blarney stone

Paraskevidekatriaphobia and Other Silly Superstitions

Paraskevidekatriaphobia, or fear of Friday the 13th, is suffered by approximately 17 million people according to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in North Carolina. Paraskevidekatriaphobia is derived from the Greek word paraskeví, Friday, and dekatria, thirteen.

As far as superstitions go, the fear of Friday the 13th seems fairly new, dating back to the late 1800s. Friday has long been considered an unlucky day (according to Christian tradition, Jesus died on a Friday), and 13 has a long history as an unlucky number. Not only people but businesses suffer from this fear, especially the airlines who suffer significant financial losses from unpurchased seats on Friday the 13th. Paraskevidekatriaphobia is evident in high-rise buildings, hotels, and hospitals that skip the 13th floor and many airports do not have gates numbered 13. In many parts of the world, having 13 people at the dinner table is considered bad luck.

No one knows for sure how the two myths combined to make Friday the 13th the unluckiest of all days. One theory suggests the fear can be traced back to Friday, October 13th, 1307. King Philip IV of France requested the Knights Templar assist him in paying off some of his growing debt accrued through war with England. After the group refused the king, Philip turned to his friend, Pope Clement V, who shared Philip’s trepidation of the growing  influence of the Templars’. This resulted in a declaration that all Templars in France be arrested on Friday, Oct. 13, 1307. Subsequently, the king and the Vatican claimed ownership of all the Templars’ land and money. Although the Templars did receive trials, their fate was already decided. Every member of the group was found guilty of heresy, along with other crimes, and were sentenced to death.

So, is Friday the 13th actually unlucky? Statistical studies have shown no correlation between things like increased accidents or injuries and Friday the 13th. But here are a few historical incidents that might leave you questioning those researchers.

  • Buckingham Palace was hit by five German bombs on Friday, September 13, 1940, with both King Geroge VI and Princess Elizabeth in residence. One member of the royal staff died and the palace chapel was destroyed.
  • On November 13, 1970, a huge South Asian storm killed an estimated 300,000 people in Chittagong, Bangladesh, and create floods that killed as many as 1 million in the Ganges delta.
  • A Chilean plane crashed in the Andes mountains on Friday, October 13, 1972. It took rescuers two months to find the wreckage and the 16 survivors who had been forced to eat dead passengers in order to stay alive.
  • On January 13, 1989, the “Friday the 13th virus” infected hundreds of IBM computers across Great Britain, wiping out program files and causing considerable anxiety at a time when large-scale computer viruses were a relatively new threat.
  • The Costa Concordia cruise ship ran aground on Friday, January 13, 2012, off the western coast of Italy killing 30 people.
  • Isil carried out seven coordinated terror attacks in Paris killing 130 people on the evening of Friday, November 13, 2015.

Take  heart if you suffer from Paraskevidekatriaphobia–there cannot be more than three Friday the 13ths in any given calendar year. The longest one can go without seeing a Friday the 13th is fourteen months. But Friday the 13th isn’t the only superstition with strange origins. Here are a few other common unfounded fears with strange and/or unknown beginnings.

Here, Kitty Kitty

Black cats weren’t always the basis of superstitions, feared, or even considered bad luck.  In early Egypt cats, including black ones, were held in high esteem. To kill one was considered a capital crime. It wasn’t until  the middle-ages in Europe that black cats were associated with witches. This folklore seems to be traced to a 1560s tale of a father and son in Lincolnshire traveling one moonless night when a black cat crossed their path and dove into a crawl space. Legend says they threw rocks at the furry feline until the helpless, injured creature scurried out into the home of a suspected witch. The next day, the father and son came across the same woman and noticed she was limping and bruised. Believing it to be more than a coincidence, rumor spread that the witch could turn into a black cat at night.

Why Shouldn’t I Walk Under that Ladder?

Many theories exist about the unluckiness of walking under a ladder. One explanation regarding ladders and bad luck has its roots in Christianity. Christians believe in the Holy Trinity — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. This belief made the number three sacred in early times, and along with it, the triangle. A ladder leaning up against a wall forms the shape of a triangle, and walking through it was considered “breaking” the Trinity, a crime seen as blasphemous as well as potentially attracting the devil.

Others believe that a ladder is reminiscent of a gallows. Ladders were used to allow the person being hanged to climb high enough to get to the rope. Definitely not very lucky.

If you do walk under a ladder, can you reverse your ill fortune. Richard Webster, author of the book “The Encyclopedia of Superstitions,” lists several remedies you can try:

  • Make a wish while you’re walking under the ladder.
  • Walk backwards through the ladder again
  • Say “bread and butter” as you walk under the ladder. (I’m not sure about this one. We always used that expression when two people walking together split up to go around an obstacle like a fire hydrant or oncoming pedestrians, etc.)
  • Cross your fingers and keep them crossed until you see a dog.

Another age-old remedy is to spit on your shoe, but don’t look at your shoe until the spit has dried. Or, spit three times between the rungs of the ladder.

It seems easier just to avoid the ladder altogether.

Photo by Carmen Ward Villota

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Centuries-old lore holds fast to the idea that a mirror is not only a projection of one’s appearance, but one’s soul. Breaking a mirror also breaks the soul into pieces. The soul, now severely damaged, isn’t able to fully protect its owner from bad luck.

Long before mirrors existed, reflective surfaces were considered magical and were credited with the ability to look into the future. In ancient mythology we can often find the gods and goddesses, as well as mere mortals, looking into still water to catch a glimpse of their fate. Reflective surfaces like shiny metals and mirrors were also used to receive messages from the gods. The power of reflective surfaces to captivate and deceive are also featured strongly in such stories as Narcissus and Snow White.

It was the Romans who tagged the broken mirror as a sign of seven years bad luck. The length of the prescribed misfortune came from the ancient Roman belief that it took seven years for life to renew itself. According to Roman lore, the misfortunate who accidentally break a mirror, must take all the pieces of the mirror and bury them in the moonlight, or take all pieces and throw them into running water, or pound the broken mirror into tiny pieces so that none of them can reflect anything ever again.

Other Common Mirror Superstitions:

  • To see your reflection in a mirror is to see your own soul, which is why, according to myth, a vampire, who is without a soul, has no reflection.
  • If a couple first catch sight of each other in a mirror, they will have a happy marriage.
  • If a mirror falls and breaks by itself, someone in the house will soon die.
  • Any mirrors in a room where someone has recently died, must be covered so that the dead person’s soul does not get trapped behind the glass. Folklore has it that the Devil invented mirrors for this very purpose.
  • It is bad luck to see your face in a mirror when sitting by candlelight.

Pass the Salt, Please

In ancient times, salt was a precious commodity. Because of its difficulty to procure and its high cost, salt became a form of currency. In fact, the word “salary” originates from sal, the Latin word for salt, possibly because Roman soldiers received salt as part of their compensation. Spilling something as highly prized as salt was bad form and a big waste, which grew into a warning that this carelessness would bring one bad luck.

Another theory to the origin of this superstition is Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “The Last Supper.” In the detail of the painting, you can see some spilled salt near Judas Iscariot’s elbow, which he presumably knocked over. According to the Bible, Judas later betrayed Jesus, so spilling salt became associated with dishonesty and treachery which would naturally bring bad fortune and bad luck.

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

As superstitions tend to do, the spilled salt superstition grew and evolved over centuries, with different cultures assigning different meanings. If you spill salt, here are some of the things that might happen:

  • A big fight and the end of a friendship.
  • Bad luck for the person toward which the salt was spilled.
  • The devil is invited in to perform evil deeds.

But don’t worry, you can undo that curse by simply taking a pinch of the spilled salt and throwing it over your left shoulder. According to legend, the devil stands behind your left shoulder, waiting for an opportunity to perform evil deeds as mentioned above. If you toss some of the errant salt over your shoulder, it will go into the devil’s eyes, blinding him and rendering him powerless.

Photo credit EXPLORED~ | by valstar2011

Step on a Crack and Break Your Mother’s Back

Evidence of this superstition dates back to the Middle Ages. Cracks were not something to trifle with because danger lurked in these empty spaces. Fissures in sidewalks, floors and soil, as well as in walls, signaled gaps in the boundaries between the earthly realm and the spiritual realm where evil spirits lurked. Stepping on a crack might free that evil entity to cause mischief or break apart one’s family.

Some superstitions are so ingrained in modern English-speaking societies that everyone, from lay people to scientists, succumb to them or, at the very least, feel slightly uneasy about not doing so.

How about you? Are you superstitious or skeptical?

 

 

Will the Real Cinderella Please Stand Up?

Cinderella and her fairy God mother

Cinderella and her fairy God mother

In honor of National Tell A Fairy Tale Day (no, I didn’t make that up), I wanted to spend some time chatting about one of my favorite fairy tales, Cinderella. Penned by Charles Perrault in 1729 and popularized by Walt Disney in the 1950 animated film, the very name brings to mind images of the rag-clad cinder-girl transforming into a beautiful young woman fit for a prince.

Did you know that this timeless tale of love and destiny finds its origin outside western culture? Although there are no pumpkin carriages or fairy god-mothers, see how similar these ancient versions are to the beloved classic we know as Cinderella.

Rhodopis' Golden Sandals

Rhodopis’ Golden Sandals

One of the first known versions of the Cinderella story appeared in ancient Egypt. The beautiful Rhodopis was captured in Thrace and sold into slavery. Her blonde hair and fair complexion made her unique and highly prized among the dark-featured Egyptians. After purchasing her with a bag of gold dust, Charaxos gave her a lavish pair of golden sandals as a symbol of her high place in his home. One day an eagle swooped down and stole one of her golden shoes, carrying it all the way to Memphis where it landed in the lap of the Pharaoh. Believing this was a sign from the gods, Pharaoh sent his trusted advisers throughout Egypt to find the woman who had the matching shoe and bring her to Memphis so he could marry her.

The Tale of Yeh Xian (Yeh-Shen),  the Chinese Cinderella, was penned more than a 1000 years before the first Western version of the fairy tale. Yeh Xian was the daughter of a Chinese King. When her mother died, her father remarried and had a daughter with his second wife. Yeh Xian’s stepmother disliked her because she was kinder and prettier than her own daughter.

Yeh-Shen

When Yeh Xian’s father died, she was forced to work in the kitchen by her stepmother. The lonely orphan’s only friend was an unusual fish with golden eyes. She fed the fish and it grew to an enormous size. When her stepmother discovered the fish, she killed it and served it for supper. Distraught at the loss of her only friend, Yeh Xian is visited by an elderly man who advises her to save the bones and seek their help if she was in trouble.

As the time of the Spring Festival drew near, Yeh Xian’s step mother and step sister plan to attend the celebration but she is required to stay home. When Yeh Xian seeks help from the fish bones, her worn, raggedy work dress is magically transformed into a beautiful green silk cloak. Jade jewels adorn her neck and luxurious golden slippers embellish her dainty feet.

Exquisite Chinese Slippers

Exquisite Chinese Slippers

Now properly attired, Yeh Xian makes an appearance at the festival and captures the attention of many admirers. Fearing she has been spotted by her stepmother, Yeh Xian flees the celebration leaving one of her shoes behind. The slipper ends up in the hands of a merchant who offers it to the king to win his favor. Intrigued by the elegant footwear, the king sets out to find its owner. When Yeh Xian tries on the slipper, her appearance alters once again. The king is immediately smitten and proposes.

silk-road-mapWhat accounts for the similarities in stories recorded thousands of years apart in vastly different cultures? Historians believe that the oral traditions of many cultures were shared among traveling merchants along ancient trade routes like the famed Silk Road. Once introduced into a new society, these stories were adapted to reflect the traditions and morays of the storyteller’s culture.

In some cultures, a well-told story could be traded for goods, free a man from prison or win the hand of lovely maiden. Although I wouldn’t expect any of those results, what fairy tale will you share today?

 

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