cocks


cocks
   A cock crowing at daybreak drives away *ghosts and evil spirits, and even Satan, as in the legend of the *Devil's Dyke. Henry *Bourne noted in his Antiquitates Vulgares (1725), chapter 6, that:
   It is a received tradition among the Vulgar, That at the Time of Cock-crowing, the Midnight Spirits forsake these lower Regions, and go to their proper Places Hence it is, that in Country-Places, where the way of Life requires more early Labour, they always go chearfully to Work at that Time; whereas if they are called abroad sooner, they are apt to imagine everything they see or hear, to be a wand-ring Ghost.
   Crowing at unusual times generally meant death or ill luck - except on *Christmas Eve, when cocks crow joyfully all night (Shakespeare, Hamlet, i. i). But a cock crowing at the door only meant that vistors would shortly arrive. Cocks on church spires guarded the building and the graveyard, and would crow on Doomsday to wake the dead (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 90-1; Radford, Radford and Hole, 1961: 108-9).
   It was thought that cocks might occasionally lay eggs, a belief based on the fact that old hens sometimes develop male plumage and behaviour, yet still lay small, sterile eggs; this was regarded as ill-omened, and the egg would be broken, for fear it hatched into a *cockatrice
   (Blakeborough, 1898: 149; Forbes, 1966: 1-22).
   A 'cockstride' was a country term for a tiny distance; it was used of the increase of daylight in early January, as in John Ray's A Collection of English Proverbs (1678): 'At twelf-day the days are lengthened a cock-stride.' In some legends about *laying ghosts the banished spirit is said to be creeping home at the rate of one cockstride per year.
   See also *cock-fighting.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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