I grew up in a hard rock mining world, knew a lot of miners, and eventually worked underground myself. One memory I have is of a time in Alaska when one of my dad’s miners said that he wouldn’t work on Friday the 13th. The guy flat out refused. What happened? My dad didn’t make him go to work that day and didn’t dock him.
When working in a dangerous environment–one in which you only have the illusion of control, because there are so many things that can go wrong–superstitions give a person that much needed sense of control. Mining and danger go hand in hand, so miners had a lot of superstitions. As a woman working underground, I undermined one of the superstitions (undermined…get it?), with no ill results, but I understand why miners had/have their beliefs. They helped the guys get through the day.
Here are a handful of superstitions:
1)Having a woman underground, or even near a mine, was bad luck. This belief is thought to have arisen from the fact that the only time women came near a mine was when a disaster had struck and their loved ones were involved. Therefore women near a mine = potential disaster. A redheaded woman was particularly unlucky.
2) If the miner’s candle went out, he needed to think about leaving the mine. Candles went out in bad air, which is not detectable, but will kill you (thus the canary in the coal mine). If a candle went out three times, it meant there was trouble at home and, again, a miner needed to get out of the mine. Side note–I once had my headlamp fail me, and I can promise you that there is nothing darker than being underground. The darkness feels thick.
3) Do not whistle underground. Tommyknockers came to this country with the Cornish miners. These goblin-like creatures could help miners, warning them of danger by knocking, or hurt them, depending on how they were treated. Miners would leave a bit of their lunch for the tommyknockers, which in turn, caused the tommyknockers to watch out for them. However whistling at a tommyknocker was considered disrespectful and disaster would follow.
4) Whistling underground was also thought to trigger earth movements, which could cause the drift (tunnel with only one opening) to cave in. Side note–I was underground when the planets aligned in 1980. The miners were afraid that increased gravitational pull would cause earth movement. We got lucky. It didn’t.
4) Of course there were to be no black cats underground. A black cat underground meant someone would die.
5) There are a lot of personal superstitions involving clothing and not turning around backward shirts or inside out socks. Things that, again, helped a miner feel like he was in control.
Those are a few of the mining superstitions, but superstitions abound in all environments. Do you know of any interesting superstitions ? Curious minds want to know.