Folklore connects us with the wisdom of centuries past.
Modern science has ‘proved’ that old-fashioned weather lore is pretty accurate ~ for England anyhow, and what Gentleman really cares about any place but England? We shouldn’t call them old wives’ tales because much true ancient lore comes from sailors, soldiers, and farmers. Weather lore is often very accurate. And while older people often give good advice, the wisdom of ages past, seniors don’t much like taking advice from the young.
Advice in old age is foolish; for what can be more absurd than to increase our provisions for the road the nearer we approach to our journey’s end. ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Going back beyond Roman Times, our oral history is full of rhymes, anecdotes, adages, warnings, and axioms. They wouldn’t have lasted this long if there wasn’t a lot of truth in them.
- Red sky at night, sailors delight. This appears in the Bible, where it relates to shepherds. It means that if the sky is red at sunset, then tomorrow will be a fine day ~ and this is mostly accurate. In fact this saying is utterly reliable when the weather comes in mostly from the west, as happens in Great Britain.
- Mackerel sky and mares tails make tall ships carry low sails. If there are high clouds that look like the scales of a fish, (altocumulus), and / or streaky clouds like a horse’s tail, (cirrus), then we are due for a storm with high winds within the day ~ allegedly. As it goes, this is always true. A prudent skipper will be ready to shorten sail if he sees a mackerel sky.
- St. Swithun’s Day. If it rains on St. Swithun’s day then it will rain for the next 40 days and nights. This lore, and the poem that goes with it can be traced back to the 14th Century, but probably goes as far back as the 9th Century in Southern England. It’s mostly not true ~ we never get 40 days and nights of consistent weather in England. However, St Swithun’s Day, (or St. Swithin’s Day), is on July 15th, and you can guarantee that if it does rain on that day England will have a wash-out of a summer. As a matter of fact, it rained all day here on St. Swithun’s day this year, and the weather has been very wet ever since then.
- It’s too cold for snow. In England this saying is true. It can be too cold for it to snow. Actually the whole saying is a misconception, it should really be ‘it’s too dry to snow’. Very cold air is always dry air, because only warmer air will carry water vapour, and you need water vapour in the air to have snow. It almost never snows in bitterly cold Antarctica.
- A ring around the moon means rain or snow is coming soon. This is very true, and also applies to predicting the arrival of a hurricane. The ring around the moon, (less frequently a ring around the sun), is due to ice crystals forming in cirrus clouds in the high atmosphere. If you remember cirrus clouds are also the mare’s tails that predict storms.
- A stitch in time saves nine. This saying goes at least as far back as the 18th century in England, and it’s completely true, relevant today, and utterly applicable to our lives. What is means is that if you sort out a small problem now, it will save you from it growing into a much bigger problem in the future. It is exactly analogous to that other saying One year’s seeds is seven years weeds, which appears in Shakespeare’s Richard II. Ignore a small problem and it will soon grow into a great big problem. Ignore acorns and before you know where you are you will be up to your armpits in oak trees.
- There will be the devil to pay. Meaning that if we do something very bad there will be terrible consequences later. This is always true. This saying has nothing whatsoever to do with Satan ~ like many English epigrams it has maritime origins. ‘The Devil’ was the longest seam on a planked wooden ship, and ‘Paying’ means caulking. If you’ve ever done it you’ll know that caulking a seam on a boat is a heartless task, involving thick string-like stuff, tar, a special caulking chisel, a hammer, and a lot of time.
A hell of a lot of English folklore goes back at least as far as the Roman occupation of Britain; for example ‘If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need’. This saying is supposedly from Marcus Tullius Cicero, who died in 43 BC.
The snag with using folklore for your weather forecasts is that you don’t get to see the cute weather girls on TV. Seems a guy can’t have everything.
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