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Folklore: Old Wives’ Tales

picture of many carrots in a basket. Photo by Hana Mara.
Photo by Hana Mara:

Nearly every family has a few of them. Which old wives’ tales run in your family has to do with where your family is from or where your family lives now. Appalachia seems to have more old wives’ tales than any of the other places I’ve lived (though in fairness I was quite young living in those other places and not quite to scary stories around the campfire stage yet).

My grandfather swore that tying a bar of ivory soap to his knee overnight helped with the arthritis. As someone with varying types of arthritis, this did not work for me.

My mom, when she first went gray in her early 30s told me, at like 8, that if you pulled one gray hair out, two more would grow in their place. If that were actually true, I would be all the way gray and be able to play with fun colors now instead of having very dark hair with maybe 25-30 gray hair (that’s way too fine and thin to chance bleach so, no real fun only subtle).

The bit about carrots helping your eyesight is less old wives’ tale and more purposeful propaganda (seriously! someone figured out how to use social constructs to cover for new technological developments and it’s a really neat story).

My grandmother subscribes to the idea that getting wet makes you sick. Nothing anyone says will ever convince her otherwise because when she was a young child, her own mother never let her play in the rain but one time she was at her aunt’s house and she did play in the rain and the next day, she was in bed with scarlet fever that marked the beginning of the worst summer of her life. Never mind that scarlet fever is brought on by bacteria that probably wasn’t in the rainwater but in her cousins but there’s no changing the story now, more than 80 years later.

My dad didn’t really spout old wives’ tales, just gardening and almanac and trivia sorts of things so I don’t really have a favorite from him.

As I started delving into herbalism, I found a lot of different ones. And there is a lot of that sort of thing in the folk magic of Appalachia. I’ll be reviewing a book on that very soon, in the next week or so. I really want to pick up a copy of New World Witchery which is supposed to be chock full of neat tales and folklore and traditions.

Do you have a favorite story? I’d really love to hear them!


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