Sunday, November 27, 2011

Are These Customs Jewish or Appalachian?

by Janet Crain

I would preface my comments below with this statement;

I love and respect Jewish people everywhere. I have absolutely no animosity toward them, but rather I sympathize with everything they have been through. I'm sure some did come tothe New World and hide their heritage. But not in the droves suggested by certain writers. And nothing in any historical nor DNA evidence indicates they contributed any genes to the Melungeon population.

Several so called "proofs" of Jewish practices have been offered up on the Internet and in certain books.

One of the examples offered as proof is refuted by this information;

"having the Star of David inscribed on gravestones."

If the Crpyto-Jew's ancestors truly left as long ago as purported, there was no "Jewish only association" with the Magen David (Star of David) at that time for them to unconsciously remember and perpetuate for 600 hundred years. This was an ancient symbol that has only become strongly associated with Jews in the last hundred years. It is probably deeply rooted in our collective ancient human memories.

Posted on the Rootsweb Melungeon list 25 Sep 2007

Hi Listers,

There are 2 articles in the just published issue of Appalachian Quarterly (available from the Wise County, VA, Historical Society) which you might find of interest. The first is called "Burial Practices in Souther Appalachia";
It is based on a thesis by Donna Stansbury. Accompanying it is an editorial on Appalachian burial practices by Rhonda Robertson. Both cite several rituals that are likely Jewish in origin (and are currently practiced by some Jews).

Among these are:

1. Burying the body within one day of death, facing the east.

2. Waving a candle over the body and placing three handfuls of salt in a wooden bowl on the deceased's chest.

3. Stopping all clocks at the time of death

4. Covering all mirrors at the time of death

5. Placing silver coins over the eyes of the deceased.

1. This is so simple I won't even offer a source. Common sense tells us that in a time before embalming and the availability of metal coffins, the dead were buried as soon as possible. And, yes, a Christian would want to be facing East.

2. Again common sense tells us that candles are burned to reduce bad odors. Flowers were placed nearby if in season for the same reason. Salt and earth either separate or mixed placed in a dish on the body is an ancient practice probably going back to paganism.

3. & 4. Stopping all clocks at the time of death:

Covered mirrors

"The Victorians had a lot of superstitions associated with death. When there was a corpse in the house you had to cover all the mirrors," she said. "And if a mirror in your house was to fall and break by itself, it meant that someone in the home would die soon. When someone died in the house and there was a clock in the room, you had to stop the clock at the death hour or the family of the household would have bad luck. When the body was taken from the house, it had to be carried out feet first because if it was carried out head first,
it could look back and beckon others to follow it into death."

(According to Albion's Seed these practices predated Victorian time.)

5.Placing silver coins over the eyes of the deceased:

In Roman times coins were placed in the eyes or mouths of the dead so that the person could pay Charon, the ferryman, to row them across the river Stix. It is easy to see how that custom entered British sensibilities as Rome ruled Britain for over 400 years. Many soldiers retired there with a villa and an English wife. The custom had plenty of time to spread throughout Europe and beyond, extending into every place the Romans occupied.

There are several other Appalachian practices that some have contended are Jewish. These beliefs have spread all over the Internet. I will list those that come to mind.

Endogamy or cousin marrying. This is certainly a way to keep a line pure and protect land and money from
dissipating to outsiders. That is why so many groups the world over have employed this practice. It is certainly not confined to Jewish people.

Marrying at home or at a close relative's house instead of in a Church. This is a common practice among many people, especially settlers in frontier areas where the nearest church may be very far away. A traveling minister might find himself performing a dozen weddings of young lovers anxious to tie the knot while an official was available.

Abstaining from eating meat not properly bled out. This is forbidden in the New Testament.

I am sure I have missed a few things, but I will close with this one;

Sweeping the corners of a room toward the center. This is one that puzzles me. Who would sweep from the middle of the room toward the corners? That would accomplish nothing and just be moving dirt around. LOL

Remember Melungeons were first found in a Christian Church; Stony Creek Baptist church. Some people have even tried to say the Primitive Baptist Church was a cover for Crypto (hidden) Jewish people. This is also said about the Quakers and possibly others. Free Masonry is likewise implicated. None of this makes any sense and reflects these writers'  lack of familiarity with the subject. .

Additional reading:

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Anonymous said...

These customs are often associated with Jews. I can say with complete certainty that a fair amount of Eastern Kentucky was settled by Sephardi Jews. The Bowen, Rose, and Davis families started arriving in the 1600s from Wales/England and the Netherlands The degree in which they held on to their customs varies from family member to family member. But many Roses continue their Jewish customs to this very day.

To a small group of us there is no mystery whatsoever about the customs you find in the Appalachian Mountains.

We were a country settled, from day one, by people England had labeled vagrants and gypsies.

If more people would look into the types of families that were BANISHED here, all "mysteries" would be solved.

Look at the Sephardi, the Moors, and the "gypsies."


History Chasers said...

You are overlooking the fact that these customs were practiced extensively in Victorian England. Why would Jewish custom have taken over so completely there? Actually they originated in the British Kingdom and not from Jews. The Jewish people may have picked up some common practices. Read Albion's Way. Everything mentioned is found in Britian first then the Colonies and later United States. The practices have their roots in Anglo-Saxon and other Pagan superstitions and beliefs.

Stephen said...

A plate of salt and earth, placed upon the chest is a very well documented Scottish burial rite that is performed even to this day in Scotland. Considering the Scottish origins of many people in Appalachia, this is without question a connection