Bouncing The Historic Ball
Superstitions and a sinister history surround the ball. They were shared by ancient man, Britain and Europe, even affecting modern sports - golf, tennis and soccer.
Balls are as normal in modern society as breakfast and cars. Their uses are so obvious or so it seems. Balls have not always been pleasurable toys for children and adults. Many strange and barbaric rituals started the ball on its path to a thing of sport and play. Even today many superstitious traditions dominate even the most well-known games.
Balls have been around for as long as mankind. Its true origins are not known. However ancient cultures worldwide have used the ball for children's entertainment and other barbaric rituals. The Mayans for example used a ball in a game of war to determine the fate of their opponent. The winners either became slaves or were killed in gruesome rituals including human sacrifices. The ball itself was probably made of an animal's stomach and filled with grass. In other ancient tribal cultures the ball was also used in a game of victory over an opposing tribe. Usually the losing leader's head was kicked around.
Many Ancient British pagan cultures used the ball, usually an animal's stomach filled with grass, to determine the future. This time honored superstition was used by children. Sometimes the balls were made of the flower cowslips and used to determine who they would marry. They would chant the names of their prospective candidates. Also young girls would use the ball to determine the number of children they would bear, saying:
Tell to me,
How many bairns am I to hae?
Ane to leeve, and ane to dee,
And ane to sit on the nurse's knee.'
Even in modern day Scotland and Northern England, young girls will chant this rhyme before playing a game of catch. Then the game will begin and the number of catches will indicate the number of children they will have. In other parts some girls will throw a ball against a wall or tree and determine, by the number of bounces how old they will be before they find their mate. Alternately another superstition states that an odd number of catches prophesizes that the girl will never marry and an even number means she will.
In Medieval Europe and Britain balls were made of cowslips. Girls would toss the ball backwards and forwards and chant the names of their prospective husbands. Every time the ball fell the name that was chanted became the most likely candidate. They would also chant:
Tell me true,
Who shall I be married to?'
Even today pagan superstitions dominate modern sports. It is likely that these superstitions arose from ancient times when men went to war and relied on the ball's alleged prophetic powers to determine their fate. Ironically even today it is considered bad luck to hold three balls in the same hand while serving in tennis. Similarly bad luck will fall upon any golfer who carries a new ball still in its original wrapping. Even soccer players are haunted by these ancient superstitions. Watch any soccer match and it can be clearly seen that players will touch the ball or bounce it an even number of times before starting the game.
It is very unlikely that the superstitions surrounding the ball will lose their effect. Even 21st century man feels as vulnerable as his ancient ancestors when it comes to the unknown. It is the resulting apprehension and sometimes fear surrounding the unknown that keeps such superstitious traditions alive.