Background: “I grew up in Lithuania, and in Lithuania, you have Poles and Lithuanians who are Catholic, Russians who are Russian Orthodox, and Jews. We were a Jewish family, and I was always told that Jews do not have superstitions. But all my friends were either Polish or Russians, and they had superstitions, and eventually, I felt like, ‘well, it’s safer to believe in it.’”
Superstition about Fixing Clothes: “If something was torn on me and needed to be fixed fast, my mom would take a thread and sew, let’s say a button or something like that. I would be given a little piece of the thread to keep in my mouth, in order not to sew my brain out. If you don’t suck on the thread, then your brain can get sewn onto the garment and you would be stupid.”
Q. Do you know where this came from?
A. That came from my mother, and she came from Belarus, so it must come from Belarus.
Analysis: It is fascinating to compare my informant’s account with a description of this same superstition that Alan Dundes gives in International Folkloristics: “Or take the Jewish superstition that claims it is very bad luck to repair a garment while that garment is being worn by an individual. Once one realizes that the only time a garment is sewn on a person is when a body is being prepared for burial, one can understand the custom. In other words, repairing a garment—for example, by sewing on a button—is enacting a funeral ritual . . . In such instances the person wearing the garment being repaired must chew on bread or thread to counteract the potential danger” (Dundes 115).
When I shared this passage with my informant, she said that his logic makes sense to her, although she had never heard his explanation before; she had always thought the warning about one’s brains being sewn to be silly, but had never been told any better reasons for the tradition. Perhaps, this is because in more recent societies, people are far enough removed from the practices surrounding death that they no longer carry the associations responsible for this superstition. Meanwhile, although my informant comes from a Jewish family, she knows nothing about this superstition being Jewish, only that she learned it from her mother. She also never heard that bread—as opposed to thread—can counteract the potential danger.
“The Principles of Sympathetic Magic.” International Folkloristics. Alan Dundes, ed. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999. Print.