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Animal Superstitions , Cattle

Serving as a source of livelihood for many cultures, it’s no wonder that cattle are at the center of a handful of superstitions. For example, Icelandic folktales state that when the first calf born during the winter is the color white, you should expect a harsh winter season. In this article, you will encounter cattle superstitions regarding death, bad luck, and other supernatural connections.

The Celts placed cattle on a pedestal and viewed the creature as one of the most important animals because of its gifts of food and clothing. They also used cattle as a way to establish wealth and prestige amongst the people. When it came to cattle, the people believed that the animals had close ties to their human owners and they promptly alerted their cattle when something occurred in the household or if an upcoming festival were to take place. Some communities believed that cattle needed to know about the death of their owner or the cows would feel something was wrong, become sick, and then die. In some parts of Europe, cows were believed to gain the ability to speak on Christmas Eve (midnight), but if a human should ever hear what they had to say , great misfortune would be in their future.  

In the cultural circles of the English, Welsh, and Irish folk tales included ‘fairy cows,’ which supplied an endless amount of milk until a greedy human took advantage of their generosity. The cow either died or lost her powers as a result. A Lancashire legend speaks of a cow that appeared during a famine to save the people with a never-ending supply of milk. However, one person attempted to exceed their fair share by using a sieve to milk the cow, causing her to die from exhaustion.

When a cow becomes sick, some cultures see the act as the handiwork of fairies, elves or witches. A handful of charms were created to keep magical attacks at bay. Hanging over the stalls of cattle, it wasn’t uncommon to find horseshoes or holed stones above the doors. During the 16th century, special candles were made. The wax would drip between the ears and horns of the cows with the leftover wax placed over the main door so that all cattle passed the wax.

If you attempt to make an offer to purchase cattle that wasn’t for sale, it is said that you will cause the animal bad health, which could lead to death. Have you ever heard of cattle as weather predictors?  If they stand close to one another in low ground and feed hard as a unit, it is said that rain is on its way. Cows standing on high ground are a sign that fair weather is in the cards.

Tradition saw cattle driven over the embers of the Beltane and Midsummer fires, in hopes of spreading protection from plagues and other diseases over the cows. Even as early as the 19th century, some farmers sacrificed a healthy cow or calf as a symbolic gesture to protect the rest of his cattle from plague.