Sheep were once central to the British community life before cattle and horses, and therefore much of the folklore was associated with the seasonal calendar. In Celtic times the counting of sheep had a special language, and perhaps this explains why to help people drop off to sleep, counting them was often practised. Evidence exists of two versions, from Cumberland and Sussex.
Sussex (in pairs) Cumberland (Singles)
The black sheep has generally been accepted in British folklore as an animal which brings good fortune to the farmer and flock despite the many rhymes to the contrary. The majority of farmers in other countries have firmly believed that having a black sheep as part of a flock would lead to the farmer becoming a victim of disaster with events taking a negative turn of fortune. Twin lambs are usually seen as an omen of good fortune if they are the first to be born that year although this is normally restricted to white lambs (as twin black lambs were traditionally thought to be twice the misfortune and a sign of darker forces and even the Devil’s foul play.
As the seasons change lambs are a sure sign that spring has arrived and the summer will soon be here in the northern hemisphere. In more rural parts of the UK and Western Europe it followed that the first lamb to be seen had great significance. When seen, should the lamb be turned towards you this was a positive omen. It indicated that the following twelve months would be positive with successful outcomes for the holding or farm, with no shortage of food and drink. If spotted facing away then the reverse was implied.
Sheep are seen to be useful indicators of changes in the weather, and the circumstances are similar to that of cattle although there are contradictions as to the actual meaning of events. In some places the sight of a flock of sheep laying on the ground or grazing close to one another indicates that rain is imminent, whilst fine weather will arrive in other countries. A period of clement weather can be expected if the sheep are seen grazing on high ground. The loud sound of sheep bleating though is almost universally accepted as a sign of a forthcoming storm.
Like cattle (See Mystical WWW Mystic’s Menagerie : Calf, Cattle, Cow), sheep are also said to turn towards the East on Christmas Eve to revere the baby Christ, bowing three times and able to have the gift of speech for this night. There has been an association made between this belief and the Christian religious expression the ‘Lamb of God’.
To carry a piece of the skull was once thought by shepherds in Europe to encourage good fortune, so much so that many were buried with some wool in the coffin in preparation it was believed for ‘Judgement Day’. It was believed that a good shepherd would never leave his flock and that therefore taking some of the wool with him would act as an indication of his love for the animal, carrying the wool close to him at all times, even in death.