Etiquette & superstition: hoarding fire

I’ve written about the etiquette & superstition surrounding a couple of fire topics before, but it’s a big topic. Today let’s talk about the good kind of fire. It’s kind of difficult to remember when many of my fellow Angelenos are facing work commutes that look straight from Dante’s Inferno, but sometimes we want fire. Sometimes we want fire so much we don’t want to share it.

ETIQUETTE: If you find yourself in a group of people warming themselves around a campfire or near a lit fireplace, do not get in between another person and the fire. If you came to the fire late and are cold, and there is absolutely no way to get a little of that hot hot fire on you without blocking someone else, ask your companions to widen the circle.

SUPERSTITION: If you have a fire burning in your hearth, don’t let anyone take any of it (not even a bit of coal or a candle lit from it) out of the house, particularly on Christmas, New Year’s Day or May Day. If you do, your children will get sick, your livestock will die, and whoever took that bit of fire will come back in the summer and take all your butter.

Fire Good poster by Amy Martin; available here from the Echo Park Time Travel Mart

Etiquette & superstition: fire


A recent etiquette & superstition post of mine was slightly misquoted on another site, implying that I pulled a quote from a Vogue book of behavior recommending the imprisonment of cats on aquatic vessels. As I have no wish to attract the ire of Conde Nast Publications, allow me to point out that the cat-in-a-cupboard tip was the superstition portion of my post, and the etiquette tip was paraphrased from the Vogue book, not a direct quote. If I use a direct quote, I will always use quotation marks.

And lo, here is a direct quote for today’s etiquette tip, from Mark Twain‘s notes for a book on manners. As this tip is courtesy of the great Mark Twain, today’s entry may be historic for this site in that the etiquette tip is far superior to the accompanying bit of superstition. It’s merely an excerpt of his recommended protocol; for the full text, please visit The Gentlemen’s Page:

ETIQUETTE: “Form of Tender of Rescue from Strange Young Gentleman to Strange Young Lady at a Fire: ‘Although through the fiat of a cruel fate, I have been debarred the gracious privilege of your acquaintance, permit me, Miss [here insert name if known], the inestimable honor of offering you the aid of a true and loyal arm against the fiery doom which now o’ershadows you with its crimson wing’ [this form to be memorized, and practiced in private].

“Should she accept, the young gentleman would offer his arm–bowing, and observing ‘Permit me’–and so escort her to the fire escape and deposit her in it (being careful, if she have no clothes but her night dress, not to seem to notice the irregularity). No form of leave-taking is permissible, further than a formal bow, accompanied by a barely perceptible smile of deferential gratitude for the favor which the young lady has accorded–this smile to be completed at the moment the fire escape starts to slide down, then the features to be recomposed instantly.”

SUPERSTITION: Blue flames in a hearth fire indicate the presence of ghosts, specifically the corracha cagalt. These spirits portend bad weather approaching.

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