Wednesday, 16 September 2009

A very English piece of folklore . . .

I thought I would share the following extract from a recent car boot find, West Country Folklore:


"There was, it seems, a somewhat unpleasant superstition, long standing in south Devon that advised people of the necessity to kill the first butterfly they saw if they wished to avoid ill-fortune settling on their shoulders throughout the coming year. On 14th May 1825, Woolmer's Exeter and Plymouth Gazette contained an item that referred to the custom.

A gentleman and his daughter, walking to church, were overtaken by a young man running at speed. |They stepped aside, not wishing to impede his progress if he was running after someone, and watched his frantic pursuit, though they couldn't identify his quarry. The man and maid continued on their way and soon afterwards caught up with an elderly gentleman of their acquaintance. They realised that the young man in a hurry was this man's son. "He came past in such a rush," the girl explained to the old man, "that we failed to recognise who it was." The three of them continued on their way and walked together towards the church as the old man explained that his son had been chasing the first butterfly they had seen, to make sure that he killed it. The men came to a halt when the girl stopped and let go of her father's hand.

"Why would he want to kill a butterfly?" she asked.

"So that we will avoid the misfortunes that will befall us if he fails to do so," the old gentleman replied as he moved on again.

Taking his daughter by the hand the man led her onwards towards the church where, at its gates, they found the young man proudly displaying a dead butterfly and saying to all who passed by, "I caught 'en at last." The girl averted her face as she passed by the trophy while her father made some comment to the young man regarding the unpleasant superstition.

Ah, zir," came the reply, "but oi knows the consequences of ignorin' it. Wan year I didn't kill the first bug'fly I zeed, and didn' I 'ave wundrous bad luck for the whole year!"


  1. Thank goodness people no longer think that way!

  2. Doesn't that reasoning just boggle the mind! I wonder if superstitions derived like that old game of Gossip--coincidence embroidered upon and repeated and people willing to be frightened?

  3. What price ignorance? I can remember reading something once about two old dears (think maiden aunts) who were pouring boiling water on butterflies in the garden, bemoaning the fact that they were so beautiful but they had to die, as clothes moths ruined your woollies . . .

  4. I'm so glad this superstition is no longer with us! I once sat with P and watched a butterfly escape it's cocoon and as it shivered in the sun, the colour slowly came into it's wings. It was amazing :)


  5. I've seen that to Yarrow, where the blood pumps into its wings and they gradually unfurl. Magic.