- Numerous beliefs cluster round this most important piece of household furniture, but only those concerned with getting out of bed have been recorded before the mid-19th century, and by the documentary record, the others are all quite recent. The orientation of the bed is vital. A belief reported so far only from the 20th century cautions against sleeping with the foot of the bed towards the door, which is explained by the fact that coffins are carried out feet first. Placing a bed across, rather than in line with floorboards or ceiling beams was held to prevent sleep and, worse, to prolong the death of a dying person (N&Q 4s:8 (1871), 322). This is reported regularly from the mid-19th century and into the 1970s, although fitted carpets and plastered ceilings now disguise the orientation of the woodwork in the bedroom.Making the bed is also ruled by belief. The most-quoted superstition here is that it is unlucky to turn a mattress on a *Friday, or a Sunday (or both): 'Your mistress says that her bed last night was hard and full of lumps; I'm afraid you did not turn it yesterday.' 'Oh no, Ma'am! Yesterday was Friday: it would turn the luck' (N&Q 7s:4 (1887), 246). The predicted result varies from having fearful dreams, or losing your sweetheart, to illness and probable death. Again, this is only recorded from 1851 onwards, and would seem likely to have faded out as sprung mattresses became the norm. The latest version quoted by Opie and Tatem, from a Hampshire woman in 1983, maintains that 'if you change the sheets on Friday the devil has control of your dreams for a week'. Several other strictures apply, for example if you sit on the bed of a sick person, you will be the next occupant, and three people must not take part in making a bed.As already mentioned, getting out of bed correctly was important in earlier times: 'Howe happily rose I on my ryghte syde to day, or blessed me well . . . this happye or lucky day' (Palsgrave, Acolastus, 1540: 90, quoted by Opie and Tatem: 16), and there are numerous 17th-century literary references to the belief (see Lean). A further belief was that it is lucky to get out of bed backwards, provided it was not deliberate. The first known mention is in Congreve's Love for Love (1695) and again there are a number of literary references. Two more bed-related superstitions are included under *feathers and *washing.■ Opie and Tatem, 1989: 15-17; Lean, 1903: esp. ii. 20-3.
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.
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