Old Superstition: Telling Bad Dreams Before Breakfast

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Photo courtesy of Lee, Russell, photographer. United States, 1937. Sept. Photograph.
Photo courtesy of Lee, Russell, photographer. United States, 1937. Sept. Photograph.

Whether it was Joseph’s dreams in the latter chapters of the Book of Genesis or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I have a dream speech” in August 1963, dreams have been central to the human experience and story.

They are peculiar, largely unexplainable and shrouded in great mystery; thus, it should come as no surprise that our dreams — even to this day — have been clothed in great superstition.

The residents of Appalachia are no exception to these superstitions and many of our grandparents were convinced that the ancient beliefs and omens concerning the brain’s activity after sleep were to be believed at all costs.

According to multiple sources, it was a commonly held belief in yesteryear that one should not tell their dreams prior to eating breakfast.  As the saying went, telling good dreams prior to breakfast would forever prohibit the dream from being made a reality, while sharing one’s nightmare prior to eating the first meal of the day would invite such evil into one’s life.

Grey Catsidhe, a blogger of Druid studies, writes, “Growing up, my mother taught my sister and I several small folk traditions, sometimes thinly veiled in Catholicism, but sometimes not… of the various ideas she passed on to me, I was taught that one shouldn’t discuss one’s dreams prior to breakfast or else nightmares may come to pass and good dreams will not.  Every so often, I try to track this belief’s origin down because it intrigues and delights me all at once… I’ve seen some reference Appalachia and others Turkey!  If people in Appalachia have held this belief, there’s a strong possibility it came from Scotland too.  So who knows!”

Surprisingly very little academic study has been published on the subject of the Appalachian superstition concerning dreams; however, scores of Appalachian children recall the days of hearing mountain grannies and grandfathers warn of describing dreams prior to breakfast.

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