“You can stand under my umbrella, ella, ella…”

Following all that talk of rain, I felt umbrellas would be a good next step.  One of the many ways we try to avoid nature and also, in a positively English and polite way, to poke out peoples eyes.

So here’s a few things you probably didn’t know about umbrellas:

  • The word “umbrella” comes the Latin umbra, meaning shaded or shadow
  • A collapsible umbrella from the 1st century was found in the tomb of Wang Guang
  • The oldest written record of a collapsible umbrella dates back to n all written records, the oldest reference to a collapsible umbrella dates to the year 21 AD
  • The first lightweight folding umbrella in Europe was introduced in 1710 and worked in much the same way as they do today.
  • The 19th century was a very productive stage in umbrella innovation.
  • The uptake in umbrella use in the UK may have been a contributing factor towards the lengthening of the average life.
  • In 1978 a modified umbrella was used to inject Georgi Markov with a dose of ricin.
  • In 2005, in South Africa, Brian Hahn was beaten to death with an umbrella.
  • On a slightly cheerier note, National Umbrella Day is 10th February and is apparently celebrated around the world.
  • For a very very long time umbrellas were only used by women as men who used them were considered effeminate…

If these facts have er, whet your appetite, there is a very detailed history of the umbrella on Wikipedia if you want the full story.

Bad luck

One thing a lot of us have heard at some point is that having an umbrella up inside the house is bad luck, but why might this be so?

Well, first we need to consider the symbolism of the umbrella.  Most obviously it is used in weather forecasting as an icon for rain but it is also a symbol of the Pope, representing protection.  The related parasol is a symbol of Himalayan Buddhism representing sky, protection and learning.  So, there is a certain element of sacredness associated with the umbrella.

We also find that in ancient Egypt the umbrella was a symbol of goddess Nut’s protection.  Her body covered the entire sky and important people were shaded by parasols covered in peacock feathers.  It was said that the shadow from these parasols were sacred.  Because of this association, it was considered an insult to Nut to open an umbrella inside.

Sort of related to this is the idea that as umbrellas protect you against the storms of life, opening one in your home would be an insult to the guardian spirits of your house and would cause them to get very annoyed and leave you unprotected.

Similarly, one explanation is based on pixies, goblins and fairies enjoyment of living inside upturned objects.  This would mean if you opened your umbrella they would fall out and to do so in your house would result in chaos.  The key message coming through here is that you do not want to anger the pixies, goblins, fairies, guardian spirits or sky goddesses…

Apparently umbrellas used to often be used to cover the heads of catholic priests during last rites so were associated with death and it was said that opening one inside would invite death into the household.

There is also a practical aspect to discouraging the opening of umbrellas indoors.  In around the 18th century when they were coming into use in Britain, umbrellas were a bit bulky with slightly unpredictable mechanisms as well as steel ribs.  Opening one of these indoors, in a crowded room, could easily result in poking eyes out or knocking over than expensive vase that had been in the family for years.  Not good, and especially bad if you were a visitor to the house!

You should also keep umbrellas off the table or risk more bad luck coming your way…

Useful links

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