Piseoga / Superstitions

A piseog (pron. pish-OGUE) is a kind of superstition, a certain ritual that must be performed in order to ward off the evil eye. I knew for some time that they existed, but had never paid very much attention to them; they were old-fashioned, twee, and irrational. But I recently started to research them, and found that they are (of course) far richer than I had supposed: there is a piseog to cover almost any event or circumstance of one’s life, gestures one performs during pregnancy, in the home, at the table, when travelling, during harvest, at a wake, and so on and so forth.

They are rooted quite firmly in paganism and in myth, but at some point in their evolution they had to make room for Jesus, and so, in their way, they do what many Irish traditions do – they walk a very balanced line between sacrilege and piety. What is common to all of these superstitions is that they are never enacted in the hope that something good might happen, but rather always in the hope that something terrible doesn’t. Fear is the beginning and the end.

I wrote a series of 5 short poems, each based on a different piseog. Here is one of them.

3 – From the Dead
(You’ll never keep the devil at bay / If you take to the water on Whitsunday.)

There is now more life than death.
You saw the magpie, spat, and lived.
You took a horseshoe from the blacksmith.

You’ve kept the midwife’s rags well hid.
There is now more life than death.
You’ve circled more bonfires than your father did.

You realised the hawthorne’s worth
And never bathed during Whitsundtide.
There is now more life than death.

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