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A Dictionary of Omens and Superstitions by…

A Dictionary of Omens and Superstitions (1978)

by Philippa Waring

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198293,843 (3.2)None
Do you avoid anything connected with the number thirteen? Think it lucky when a black cat crosses your path? Or unlucky to see the new moon through glass?Belief in superstitions links us with a time when everyday events and objects had magical significance. A treasure trove of fascinating information, Philippa Waring's A Dictionary of Omens and Superstitions reveals the secrets of hundreds of ancient traditions.Do you know:What it means if a cat sits and washes itself in your doorway?Why women should have their hair cut only when the moon is waxing?Why Yorkshire people throw caterpillars over their shoulders?What it means if you mistakenly recognise a perfect stranger as someone you know?Why Thursdays are the unluckiest days in Germany and December 28th is ill-fated throughout Europe?And why it is universally believed to be unlucky to walk under ladders?Philippa Waring explores intriguing mysteries and rituals, tracing the origins of our superstitions and explaining their rich symbolism. Engagingly and entertainingly written, the wide-ranging entries list customs and portents from all over the world, throughout the ages.Whether you wish to settle a question that has been nagging at the back of your mind, or increase your good fortune and ward off bad luck, this is the most complete reference guide available to omens and superstitions.The definitive dictionary of omens and superstitions, this has been a popular resource for over 40 years. Containing over 500 entries the 'Dictionary of Omens and Superstitions' traces the origins of superstitions from all over the world, discusses the rich symbolic context in which they survive and suggesting how they are a guide to help us exploit good luck and avoid bad luck. Folk beliefs affect every aspect of our lives and link us to a distant magical past when chance happenings and natural phenomena could be portents. However, the modern world has forgotten the meanings of many of these portents, though the superstitions persist and this engagingly written book is a guide to their continuing significance. 'A Dictionary of Omens and Superstitions' reveals the secrets held within hundreds of years of tradition and custom. Do you know: what it means when a cat sits and washes itself in your doorway, why women should have their hair cut when the moon is waxing, why Thursdays are regarded as the unluckiest day in Germany and why it is universally believed that walking under ladders is unlucky?… (more)



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For once this book has nothing to do with a GoodReads giveaway. It is merely a random book picked up from the ether. It's worth noting that I started this one with the intent of reading it straight through. This is fairly unusual for a reference book but since I have recently instituted a policy of reading three books at a time it made some amount of sense. One book in the current reading pile, according to the new scheme, should be easily consumable in tiny interruptable bits. This was that book.

As a book to be read straight through this is fairly unacceptable. It's redundant, unentertaining and pretty poorly organized. To this my diligent reader may say, simply, "duh, it's a dictionary" but it goes beyond that. When I was a child I read the dictionary and it's not all that terrible. There is, at least, a sense of variety. Waring's definitions all have an infuriating sameness to them that makes one grit ones teeth and turn the page with increasing hopeful vigor as time goes on.

However, as a reference work it has its shortcomings as well. Since I've read through the first third of the book in its entirety I can tell you that it is, at times, inappropriately self-referential. If one is going to be using a book by randomly hopping into the middle bits looking up superstitions related to the word "badger" then phrases like "as stated earlier" and "as we said before" are rather nonsensical. It seems clear the book was written in some sort of order which doesn't match up well with the order of use. There is also a problem with organization in that some entries are not sufficiently self-referential. Terms which are typically considered synonymous bear strikingly different information and do NOT refer to each other in any way. So the results of any reference depend at least in part on luck and choosing the exact right word. Lastly, the book is terribly dated. Despite its publication date in 1997, most of the entries appear to date from the 70s.

In summary, this book is going on my shelf for later reference but I'll remember the lack of organization and work a bit harder at using it when its use is required. Not the best dictionary ever but better than nothing. ( )
1 vote slavenrm | Apr 10, 2013 |
The entry on the EMU states that the EMU is a New Zealand bird. I do believe this is wrong as no EMU, to my knowledge, has ever swam unaided across the Tasman from Australia to NZ. Of course the author could be referring to a Kiwi. ( )
  hollowman | Apr 7, 2008 |
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Dr Johnson, that most inquisitive and urbane of men, tells us in an entry in one of his journals that he was quite sure that something unlucky would happen to him unless he touched every wooden post as he waled along a particular road.
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Originally published in 1978, this dictionary traces the probable origins of superstitions from all over the world, discussing the symbolic context in which they still survive and suggesting how they can help exploit good luck and avoid the bad.
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