Superstitions and Cures for Everyday Maladies
Every disease and malady nowadays is considered to be
completely biological. Most are able to be treated as simply as popping some
pills or applying some type of store bought ointment to the afflicted site. However,
in ages where magic was practiced as often as medicine, and remedies were still
being experimented with and discovered, superstition played a huge role in both
diagnosing the cause of an illness and in its treatment. Below is a list of
several common illnesses/afflictions and the superstitions that surrounded
Drunkenness: To cure someone from alcoholism, it was recommended
that a person slipping something un-appetizing, like owl eggs, blood, the
powder of a dead man’s bones, or live eels, into the person’s drink. If a
person wants to sober up quickly they should roll around in manure, drink
olive, and then be forced to smell their own urine. Males must then also bind
their genitals to a vinegar soaked cloth. However, one can avoid the problem of
getting drunk altogether if they eat the roasted lungs of a pig before going
out to drink.
Ear issues: A tingling ear means that someone somewhere is
talking about you. If it is the right ear that tingles, it means that good
things are being said. On the other hand, if it is your left ear that is tingling,
it means that someone is spreading malicious gossip. However, if the person
with the tingling ear pinches the afflicted ear, or makes the sign of the
cross, the person spreading the malicious gossip will immediately bite their
tongue. Hearing ringing in one’s ears has a whole other superstition behind it.
Because the ringing is said to resemble church bells, having ringing in your
ears is said to warn of the death of a friend or family member. Another superstition
says that if a person whose ear is ringing asks a friend to choose a random
letter from the alphabet, that letter will tell the person the first initial of
their future spouse.
Epilepsy: According to the ancients, epileptics were thought
to be somehow in contact with the Gods. Therefore, people were extremely wary
of the disease. Later, epileptic fits were blamed on witchcraft. Cures for this
disorder included burying a black rooster alive at the place where the fit took
place, piercing the ground with a nail, or wearing a ring made from a half
crown that was given during a Holy Communion service. Another cure was to drink
a potion made from mistletoe, and then consuming the heart and blood of a crow
for nine days straight.
Eye issues: An itching right eye is said to be lucky for
men, but unlucky for women. If the itching eye becomes intolerable, one should
bathe their eyes with rainwater gathered from the leaves of a teasel, or that
was collected on either Holy Thursday or Ascension Day. Stys can be cured by
rubbing it with a gold wedding ring or hair taken from the tip of a cats tail
nine times. The sty can also be washed with cow urine or rubbed with green garlic.
A sty was also thought to disappear if a person rang a doorbell and then ran
off before the door was answered. Cataracts could be treated by rubbing the
ashes from a burnt cat’s head onto the affected eye. Conjunctivitis could be
cured by applying a lotion made from powdered vine shoots, or an eye wash of
egg yolk, curdled milk, and urine.
Fever: Superstition says that one of the best ways to get
rid of a fever is to eat spiders alive on slices of apples. Cobwebs may also be
rolled up into pills and eaten, or a spider can be worn in a box or bag around
the persons neck until it dies. Another solution is to bury an egg at a
crossroads in the middle of the night for five nights in a row. The fever will
be buried with the eggs. If neither of those solutions is appealing, a fever
sufferer can also wear two sets of underwear. Family and friends must then tear
off a piece of the one worn closest to the skin until no more clothing remains.
Feeding a salted bran cake to a dog can transfer the symptoms to it instead.
The fever can also be transferred to a disliked neighbor if one places a bag of
trimmed hair and nail clippings under their door.
Gallstones: These can be treated by drinking a mixture of
boiled sheep droppings and milk daily.
Headache: There are many superstitious treatments for
headaches. One remedy is to wrap the skin of a snake, or a hang-man’s rope
around the afflicted person’s temples while having them hold tightly onto some scraped
horseradish and pressing their thumb against the roof of their mouth. Another
remedy involves drying and powdering moss that was found growing on a human
skull and inhaling it through the nose.
Heartburn: One cure for heartburn was to drink the juice of
St. John’s Wort that had been picked at the daybreak of St Johns Day. Another
remedy was to suck on a lump of coal or to eat some powdered toenails.
Hiccough: An attack of the hiccups means that the sufferer
is being talked about by someone else. Anyone who has hiccoughs in church is thought
to be temporarily possessed by the devil. Cures for hiccoughs include simply
identifying the person who is thinking about the sufferer, or placing a damp
paper cross on the sufferer’s forehead. Other cures include holding one’s
breath until the count of one hundred, or dropping a cold key down the sufferers
back. Those in the U.S say that hiccoughs can be stopped by surprising the
sufferer with a loud noise. Alternatively, a person can grab their left thumb
with their right hand while reciting one of several charms.
“Madness”: According to superstitious tradition, those
suffering from “madness” were treated in contrasting ways. Some people would
avoid those suffering from madness, believing those who were mad to be
possessed by demons, while others would welcome them because they believed that
they were harbingers of luck. Those who believed in the latter thought that the
mad were chosen by God. It was considered lucky to meet a mad person in the
streets. Regarding mental retardation, it was believed that “simpletons” could
see into the future. They were not supposed to move out of their home district
as it was thought that another person in the area would have to become mentally
disabled in their stead. According to the Japanese, anyone who has their hair
lit aflame is most certainly going to go insane. In Lincolnshire, it was
thought that anyone named Agnes will eventually go mad. Cures for madness
include consuming honey, ilk, and salt before sunrise. In Europe, madness
caused by rabies could be cured by having the afflicted eat the burned and
powdered liver of the diseased animal that bit them in bread and butter.
Menstruation: In ancient societies, women were considered
harbingers of evil. When they had their period, they were considered extra
dangerous. Therefore, they were (and in some places still are) disbarred from
important ritual events or were otherwise isolated from human contact. It was
also believed that menstruating women would pollute the Earth, cause fruit to
fall from trees, make seeds infertile, kill swarms of bees, cause plants to
wither and die, dull swords, and dull mirrors. It was said that menstruating
women should never make mayonnaise or jam, as the eggs will curdle and the jam
will not set. They should also not be allowed to bake bread or handle meat as
the dough will not rise and the meat will spoil. In parts of Africa,
menstruating women are not allowed to aid in preparing meals, and are also
considered bad luck for hunting parties.
Toothache: Toothaches can be avoided by wearing a tooth
taken from a corpse in a bag around one’s neck. Carrying a walnut or the legs
of a mole is also said to prevent the problem. A person should also avoid
eating anything when a funeral bell is tolling and take care to put their right
sock and right pant leg on first. If one gets a toothache, they can ease the
pain by nailing a few strands of hair and some nail trimmings from the person
suffering to an oak. Chewing on the first fern of spring or a piece of wood
taken from a tree that has been hit by lightning can also ease the pain. If a
tooth must be extracted, the least painful way is to make a powder out of dried
worms during their mating season and applying this to the tooth. The tooth
should then fall out on its own.
(Source: Cassel Dictionary of Superstitions by David Pickering)