Martok
April 4, 2011

Sheep
Photo by Sue Weaver
In most European folklore (besides British) black sheep are bad luck.

Mom has been collecting trivia about sheep to go in the book she’s writing. She said I could share some with you. Isn’t this fun!

  • According to werewolf lore, dining on the flesh of wolf-killed sheep transforms humans into werewolves.

  • In western European folklore, if the first lamb of the season was first seen facing the viewer, that was a good omen; away, the reverse. If the first birth was twins, so much the better (unless one or both were black).
  • In some parts of Europe, meeting a flock of sheep while on a journey is said to portend good luck.
  • According to Icelandic folklore, if the earth remained buried in snow all winter, the new season’s lambs would be white. Open winters spawned colored lambs, and patchy snow cover meant spotted ones.
  • Teamsters once clipped strips of wool to their dray horses’ collars to avert the dreaded evil eye.
  • In Iceland, anyone who walks three times around a sleeping sheep will have his fondest wish come true.
  • In British folklore, black sheep were said to bring good fortune, whereas the opposite was true in most other European countries.
  • Throughout the Celtic lands, stories were once told of wee sheep (sometimes with red ears) raised by the fairy Sidhe that rose up out of the earth and vanished into the sky when frightened. There were also Celtic fairies like the Phynnodderee, a Manx hobgoblin, that helped drive sheep home when a storm was brewing; Yan-an-Od, a kind old shepherd spirit in Brittany, who tended and guarded flocks of sheep; drunken Irish Clurichauns that stole and rode sheep and sheepdogs to exhaustion in the dark of the night; and Scottish Boobries, wicked water birds that preyed on cattle and sheep.
  • Shepherds in Europe and the United Kingdom were often buried with a tuft of wool in their hands, sometimes signifying their devotion to their charges and sometimes to show they were shepherds, thus excusing occasional lapses in church attendance because they couldn’t leave their flocks during lambing.
  • Icelandic shepherds once believed that if sheep gnashed their teeth during the autumn gathering, the winter would be long and hard. Gnashing teeth in the summer portended a gathering storm.
  • The Dineh people (some people call them Navajos), whose word for sheep, dibeh, means “that by which we live,” say Changing Woman, daughter of First Boy and First Girl, created sheep out of white mist, white shell, turquoise, abalone shell and jet.
  • In olden days, sheepy body parts were used in country remedies. Healers treated children with whopping cough by allowing sheep to breathe upon them. Applying sheep lungs to pneumonia suffers’ feet was thought a cure. Ashes from burned sheep bones were used to heal cuts. People suffering from adder bite were cloaked in freshly slaughtered sheep’s hides. In Iceland, ram urine blended with honey was thought to cure dropsy, and people dabbed ash from burned ram mutton on their facial eczema.
  • In Outer Mongolia, a favorite hangover remedy to this day is pickled sheep’s eyes in tomato juice. Icelandic shepherds hoping to chase hangovers fried up a batch of sheep lungs to down on an empty stomach.

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