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Psychology | Friday the 13th

Next week it’s Friday the 13th which according to legend is unlucky. Maybe they should make it an international holiday and then everyone can have the day off and stay in bed. The origin of this superstition comes from religion, something to do with  the disciples of Jesus. Religion give us all kinds of superstitions.

I photographed a pub at the weekend, just because it looks unusual and a bit spooky. It used to be a large house, but was converted into a pub. When they were doing the conversion, they found a severed arm and hand, said to the the ‘hand of glory’.  This was what was said about it:

During the course of building work at the White Hart Inn at Caldmore Green in the 1870s, a severed human hand and arm was discovered concealed in an attic chimney. With it was found a seventeenth century sword, which was subsequently lost. No-one could explain how the arm came to be hidden in the chimney. It was popularly believed that it was an example of a ‘hand of glory’. According to legend a hand of glory is a hand cut from the body of a hanged man and then pickled or dried to preserve it. The hand could be used to hold a special candle, traditionally made from the fat of a hanged man, virgin wax and Lapland sesame. Anyone who saw the candle burning would fall into a deep sleep, making the hand of glory a useful tool for burglars. It was believed that the flame of the candle could not be blown out by an ordinary person, and that milk was the only liquid which could extinguish it. A hand of glory was also said to protect its owner from evil spirits, and reveal the whereabouts of buried treasure.

It’s a great story and adds to the reputation of the Inn, but it was rubbish of course. The ‘hand’ is now in a museum and in more modern times has been examined by a pathologist. It seems it was a medical specimen, probably owned by doctor who once stayed at the Inn. Maybe he left it behind and someone thought it would be a good idea to brick it up in a chimney for the benefit of future generations. Who knows? I don’t think I’ll get one to ward of evil spirits or help me in my new career as a burglar…

Beliefs can come about because of anything credible that is said. Writers use metaphors and exaggeration to make their work more interesting. While I was researching that pub, I found some evidence that famous people had stayed there and so did some research. I found some information about one famous or perhaps notorious writer while I was doing my research. I won’t identify the writer, I don’t want to start more speculation; which tends to lead to these superstitions. I did wonder about this writer, though because I might be related. I shall never know for sure, because writers and historians try to make their work interesting and so romanticise history. We strive to inform, educate and amuse; but we also try to entertain!

We are all superstitious to some extent.  If you were launching a new ship, would you name it ‘Titanic’? It might be tempting fate! Would the most ardent atheist be tempted to pray when  faced with almost certain death. We will believe just about anything when we become desperate.

What do you think? Will you be buying a lottery ticket on Friday the 13th? Please share your thoughts in the comments box. You can also follow me on Twitter for updates. Finally, if you’ve been thinking about Friday the 13th and think this blog post is just coincidence. No it’s not!

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