Rats have always been surrounded by folklore, says CALLUM CAMPBELL. Here are 10 rat superstitions for you to gnaw on!
Rats are riveting creatures, intelligent and cunning, however, they do get a bad rat (sorry, rap) due to their connotations and associations with disease, dirt and filth. Perhaps these facts will give you a new point of view, or reinforce your existing opinions. Whatever the case, enjoy these superstitions and pieces of lore about the kings of the sewers.
Rats predicted death: In Celtic mythology, rats were said to be able to predict death in many cases. For example, if a ship was going to wreck, all rats would make a mass exodus, the same goes for houses if a death was going to occur. Bizarrely seeing a rat in a sieve would also mean death, specifically one of a family member away at sea.
Rats were also good omens: Not all rats bode bad news, however, for an omen states that if you see a cat and a rat crossing a room without the cat being aware of the rat’s presence, then tidy the house as your lover will visit you soon.
Write a note to the mouse: Many Celtic countries, as well as Greece, follow the tradition of writing “a note to the mouse”. This was supposed to discourage rats and other vermin from pillaging food and taking roost in your home.
Myomancy is rat divination: There is an entire section of divination devoted to studying the behaviour of rats and rodents called Myomancy. It looks at how the rats appear to be feeling, eg. angry, calm, and draws conclusions from that and their actions, eg. chewing on curtains (which signals death in the house), and the noises they make.
Hail the Rat Queen: In the Victorian era, many of the poor folk made a living by scampering through the sewers and gleaming coins, jewellery and all manner of items that entered the drains. This undertaking was called toshing and many toshers spoke of a mythical being that lived in the sewers called the Queen Rat. She appeared as a beautiful woman that bestowed her good grace upon the toshers she found in the sewers.
This meant they would find more valuable items with regularity and none of the rats would bother them. She did this by biting them on the neck. If these chosen men were to reveal the source of their luck they would be stripped of their previous gifts and be more susceptible to drowning and other dangers.
Beware the Rat King: There is the Rat Queen and then there are Rat Kings and there are differences that go beyond gender here. Rat Kings are gruesome artefacts of nature, caused by overcrowding and large masses of faeces, saliva and other bodily fluids. They are described as a group of rats all joined together at the tails by faeces and the other substances mentioned above. It is unknown if these are hoaxes, however, there is no strong likelihood in either direction so these grotesque abominations could exist beneath your feet.
And beware rats nibbling on the curtains: As well as leaving a house, rats nibbling on the curtain drapes is a sign of death in the house, however, if there are rats about a house I wouldn’t bet that the inhabitants are free of disease.
Poem to banish rats: One Scots poem that goes “Rats and mice, Leave this poor person’s home, Go on away over to the mill, And there you’ll all get your fill” is said, if recited, to banish all vermin and rats from a house.
Rats are also tooth fairies: Across the world there exists a custom that if you take a child’s lost tooth and throw it away with a note requesting a stronger one, the rats will be responsible for delivering a new tooth.
White rats are good luck: A white rat crossing your path is regarded as an omen of success and great luck for you so remember these furry sewer crawlers aren’t always auguries of death and despair.
Read our review of Rats by James Herbert!