As a handbag tragic, I spend a lot of time thinking about bags – which to wear, which to buy, how to look after them, hottest bags right now… that sort of thing. No doubt you’re much the same if you’re even mildly bag obsessed.
What we don’t think about, or read about as often, are the beliefs, superstitions and history around handbags. But as with any passion or obsession, it’s nice to go beyond the obvious and explore some fringe ideas and thoughts. So I thought I’d bring you some that I find truly fascinating, hope you do too.
It was actually a friend of mine who lives in Indonesia that got me thinking about broader cultural and historical ideas associated with bags. She told me a while back that where she lives, being a Hindu country, it’s seen as very bad luck to place your bag on the floor. It actually goes against Hindu culture to put anything of value at all on the ground. So when in cafes and restaurants, if waiters see bags on the floor they make a b-line for them and always graciously pick them up and place them on a chair or hook – anywhere but on the floor.
In many cultures it's seen as bad luck to put your bag on the floor, so be sure to always hang them or place them on chairs.
This is very much in line with the Feng Sui philosophy of: “a purse on the floor is money out the door”. The idea is that often you have money, credit cards and cheque books (maybe not so much these days) in your bag. So by placing your bag on the floor you’re showing disregard for your money and wealth; and disrespect for the order of things. And let’s face it, who wants to put their bag on the ground anyway, think of how filthy your bag will get, not to mention the damage it can do.
Interestingly too, if you’re sloppy with your bag or wallet (i.e. allowing it to become damaged, overstuffed etc.); the thinking is you’re probably also sloppy with your money. So my tip is, never place your bag on the floor – not when you’re out and not when you’re home. And tidy your bag out each day – if you’re bag is full of litter, receipts and other paraphernalia, you’re probably unconsciously wasting money.
This ‘sloppiness’ tends to filter in many aspects of your life – a disorganised bag could mean there are many areas of your life that might benefit from a bit of a tidy up. So a good place to start is to try cleaning out your purse on a regular basis and update all old information – credit cards, loyalty cards, pictures and so on. Also, hide a $50 or $100 note somewhere in your wallet so you’ll never be broke (another superstition I like).
And on the theme of bags and money superstitions; here’s another cute one that I’ve come across. If you give a wallet or handbag as a gift, always tuck some money into it; this will ensure the person who receives it will be prosperous – nice (if only it were that easy).
If you give a wallet or bag as a gift, tuck some money into it; and always make sure you always hide a note in your own wallet: the belief is if you do so you'll never be broke.
THE REST IS HISTORY.
Now to take a look at one of my other passions, Ancient History, and where the handbag fits in here. Have a look at this fascinating Assyrian carving from Nimrud, 883 – 859 B.C. Check out the handbag.
Assyrian relief carving from Nimrud, 883 - 859 B.C.
In fact, the depiction of what appears to be a handbag appears on a number of ancient carvings around the world, and right back as far as 11,000 B.C. This depiction of a handbag is one of the more mysterious symbols found in ancient carvings. The shape appears in depictions made by the Sumerians of Iraq, in the ruins of ancient Turkish temples, in decorations of the Maori of New Zealand, and in crafts made by the Olmecs of Central America. Handbags can be seen in the art of disparate cultures from around the world and throughout time, with the first known instance of a handbag appearing at the end of the Ice Age. What is this mysterious symbol that can be found throughout the ancient world?
These handbag images look very similar to a modern day handbag or purse. Sometimes they appear alone, and other times they’re in the hand of a god, person or mythical being. Some believe it was symbolic of the cosmos: the semi-circular strap representing the sky; and the square base representing the earth. Not hard for a bagaholic to believe - our bags are our universe too at times!
Ancient carving featuring handbag-like image.
Other historians believe that when used in Assyrian art the purse holds magic dust; or when depicted in Olmec art it’s thought that it contains herbs for getting high. This suggests that the handbag may have been a standard of measurement discovered by early cultures. Either way; handbags have been highly practical and valued for thousands upon thousands of years now; and the fascination and love of them is likely to continue for thousands more years to come.
Olmec Monument 19, from La Venta, Tabasco, shows a man holding the handbag in his hand.
Essentially, ever since people have had something precious to carry around with them; handbags have been essential to fashion history. The very first mention of them in written literature comes from the 14th century. At this time, bags were attached to ‘girdles’ which were fastened to the waist. The richer the person, the fancier the bag was. They were decorated with embroidery and jewels. Not that dissimilar to our modern day handbags. Practical and essential of course; but likewise a great way to make a statement about who we are, what we represent and how we like to live our lives.
14th Century girdle bags. The example on the right was found in the Netherlands and is thought to date back to 1425-1525 (Photo: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen).
Just make sure you always treat your ‘statement’ with love and respect – keep them clean, well organised, off the ground and given the love and attention they deserve. Because regardless of whether you believe these superstitions and myths or not; you want to make sure you take care of your gorgeous bags; many of which you may have spent a pretty penny on.
Do you have any interesting superstitions or bag history you’d like to share? If so, please comment below, we’d love to hear from you.