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Cultural Beliefs

While most Black settlers in rural Alberta were devoutly Christian, many had non-religious beliefs about ways to avoid bad luck and predict the future. Most of these beliefs were passed down in story form from parents to children, and they stemmed from the beliefs of their ancestors in Africa.

Bad luck, it was believed, was often inadvertently incited by certain behavioural tendencies. Fortunately, bad luck could be mitigated by completing a series of reversible actions. Accidentally spilling salt onto the floor was considered unlucky, although throwing salt over one’s left shoulder would reverse the bad luck. Getting hit with a broom was not only painful, but it was also extremely unlucky. The remedy was to turn the broom sideways and to then spit on it. It was considered bad luck to welcome a man into the house before midday. Lending a pair of scissors or a knife to a friend could tarnish the relationship forever unless a copper penny was placed on top of the item during the exchange.Finally, if someone untrustworthy came to visit, shaking salt on the steps could ward off any preconceived negative feelings. Certain settlers believed that storms were literally the wrath of God. To appease God during a storm, all forms of work had to stop immediately so that settlers could focus instead on reading the Bible. During a storm, it was imperative to avoid any metal conductors, such as forks or knives, as they were imbued with the spirit of the Devil.

Evidently, many seemingly random actions or situations could incur bad luck; however, there were also certain actions that delivered good luck. Finding a four-leaf clover was lucky, as was seeing a rainbow. It was commonly believed that wishing on a falling star would make all wishes come true. Wishes could also be granted by rubbing one’s hand on his or her stomach. Full moons were also considered lucky, particularly when the question “Do you see the full moon?” was asked.

Other beliefs commonly held by Black settlers in Alberta related to predicting events in the future. For instance, accidentally dropping a knife inferred that a man would soon visit, while dropping a fork meant that a woman would visit. Finding loose threads on articles of clothing meant one was about to receive a letter. Interestingly, the length of the thread had a direct correlation with the length of the letter. Itchy skin could mean several different things. Itchy hands promised money; itchy feet meant that travel was in the near future; and an itchy nose indicated a future visitor. Some settlers believed they could predict the gender of a baby before it was born by holding a threaded needle over a pregnant woman. If the needle went back and forth, the superstition stipulated that the mother was carrying a girl, but if the needle spun around, the baby would be a boy.

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††††††††††† For more on Black settlement in Alberta, visit Peelís Prairie Provinces.

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