On Friday Shane Wm. Edwards sent me a link about something from the Northhampton Museum– it all about something called concealed shoes.
I was hooked lock stock and barrel right way. Have you ever found old shoes hidden in odd locations in your house? If so, your discovery may be evidence of a mysterious worldwide superstitious practice. Shoes were favoured because they retain their human shape after being taken off. Not only have they have been found in cottages and farms, but also noted historical homes and churches indicating that superstitious beliefs weren’t limited to any particular demographic. So they used folk magic to comfort themselves. Ritual concealment of these objects gave emigrants and exiles a sense of control at a time when their grip on the world seemed fragile.
During the restoration of our devastating fire in 1995 the house had to be gutted and when our fireplace was removed we found 8 individual shoes inside a large void behind the chimney mass. Since we had already deemed the former owners as “thrifty” because nothing was found in the walls– this was a shocker. We threw the mangled blackened shoes out thinking they were used for insulation, but now that I know what they are, I wish we had kept them.
Virtual Museum of Canada–Concealed shoe–The Bata Shoe Museum–XIXth Century
Evidence shows that shoes have been concealed in homes dating from the Middle Ages, and theories are warding off evil to bestowing overall good luck. Some even consider the possibility of the hidden shoes as a fertility charm. But, most found shoes are mostly focused on superstitions to repel evil spirits. Shoes are most often found near areas leading into the house; most often chimneys, but also doors and windows. The shoes are well worn, being the only garment to take the shape or “essence” of the wearer, giving evidence to the idea that perhaps the practice was meant to trick evil spirits entering the house to notice the shoes and not the inhabitants of the house.
As for fertility–modern day practices included attaching shoes to wedding cars, throwing a shoe after a bride, and an odd practice called “smickling”. Smickling was the practice of childless women trying on the shoes of a woman who had just given birth in order to enhance their own fertility. Another curious association between shoes and fertility is ascribed to the nursery rhyme: “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe…”
I guess the whole “step into my shoes” is an understatement, and these shoes seem to be ‘the last great secret of our old houses’.
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