Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Discovering an Ancient Superstitious Practice

Child's Well Worn Concealed Shoe

Demons, ghosts, fairies, spirits, and witches have been part of the world’s history from the earliest of times. Spells, chants, charms, potions, and particular customs have been used by the superstitious to ward off evil spirits and protect them and their loved ones from demonic activities. Some took to using special customs to call up help from friendly spirits to bestow fertility or increase the family’s prosperity.  

At a recent event at Hayes, Sandy Riojas told about a little farmhouse located in Oak Harbor, Ohio that her husband and she own. Built in 1910, the house is now occupied by their daughter. Recently, while her husband was replacing an outside door, a child’s shoe (pictured nearby) fell down. It seems rather unusual at the time. But while sharing this occurrence with a friend, she learned that sometimes people placed old shoes above doorways to bring good luck.

Upon further research, Sandy learned that there is an actual name for this practice. It is called “concealed shoes.” She shared her research with us. Shoes have been found hidden away since the 1300s in buildings throughout Europe and around the world, including the U.S. They have been found in chimneys, around doorways and windows, under floorboards, above ceilings, and in roofs. They have been discovered in country houses, homes, schools, hospitals, palaces, pubs, a Baptist church, a monastery, and even Charlie Chaplin’s old movie studio! More than a thousand concealed shoes have been found in Western Europe alone!

The Northampton Museum in England has created a concealed shoe index, reaching nearly 2,000 entries. Here is a little of what they have learned. Most shoes were placed at the time of construction. Generally only one shoe is concealed. Folklorists theorize that by concealing a single shoe, demons would not steal it.  Almost all shoes discovered are worn. Perhaps people could not afford to use new shoes?  Most were made of leather, but wooden clogs and rubber galoshes have been uncovered. There are more left shoes than right. Many of the shoes belonged to children. 

According to a Wikipedia article, there has always been a connection between shoes and fertility. We have all heard the nursery rhyme “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” (who had so many children she didn’t know what to do.)  And many of us recall seeing old shoes trailing from the bumpers of newlyweds’ cars. The Northampton Museum thinks that the significance of shoes rests in the fact that they are the only item that takes on the shape of the wearer.  The museum also notes that a side benefit to their “condealed shoes” collection is that they have learned what common people wore hundreds of years ago.