People of Elizabethan England were not immune to superstitions, or sympathetic magic. Such superstition dates back to pre-Christian England and the Bronze Age Celtic tribes who believed in the power of magic, according to Richard Foss, author of "Superstitions of the Elizabethan Era." Elizabethans believed in spirits of good and evil, good luck and bad luck and responded to their world based on these beliefs as all people in all times have done and continue to do.
The Devil's Entrance
People in Western contemporary cultures recognise saying, "God bless you" when someone sneezes as a polite response. The seemingly innocuous blessing has deep roots running through the Elizabethan Era. According to Foss, when an Elizabethan told a sneezing person, "God bless you," she was performing a spiritual protection. Elizabethans believed when a person opened his mouth to sneeze, the devil could use that as an opening to enter into the person and possess her. Saying "God bless you" protected the vulnerable sneezer from demonic possession.
One of the most troubling Elizabethan devil superstitions involved the belief in witches. According to the Cyber Witchcraft website, Elizabethans believed black witches gained their dark power from the devil. When hard times, such as plague, poor crops and illness, struck, people blamed witches. Superstition led to accusations of witchcraft against women who were mainly unmarried, old and/or poor, according to the website Elizabethan Era.
People in the Elizabethan Era avoided certain actions, as they believed them to be openings to evil and bad luck. An encounter with any cat was considered unlucky, according to the Elizabethan Era website, while items like iron, salt, fire and silver were said to bring good luck. Eclipses were also seen as an evil omen. Elizabethans used chants and relied on their belief in the mystical properties of animals, herbs and metals to protect them from evil. Like ancient Celtic queens, Queen Elizabeth herself believed mystical arts, such as astrology, magic and alchemy, provided insight into and protection from the dark influences of the devil.