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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Timepiece: Superstitions and Folk Tales

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Arkansas River Valley Business Directory

By Dr. Curtis Varnell

Growing up at the base of the Ouachita mountains, most of us are the product of the many superstitions and folk tales that abound throughout the region.  As products of the Scotch-Irish, German, and African-American settlers, we received a veritable smorgasbord of ingrained beliefs that supposedly assist us through the unsettled span of our lifetimes.

Surpassing the traditional and pedestrian superstitions such as lucky rabbit’s feet and black cats, mountain superstitions prescribe our behavior for events ranging from our birth, marriage, and even our burial.  Growing up in the area, superstitions become ingrained and accepted as facts of life.

My father, the third of ten boys, was delivered by a midwife.  When he arrived, he had a caul called a veil across his face and head.  These occur in one out of eight hundred thousand births and generally, the membrane is harmless and quickly removed. Famous people including Sigmund Freud, Charlemagne, and Napoleon were born with veils and my dad joined that fortunate group, according to local superstition, of being in line for a special life, the ability to predict events and to have extraordinary perception.  The elderly midwife pulled my grandparents aside to inform them of this blessing and to pronounce him as a blessed child.

Although unsure of the folk tale, my father had uncanny abilities of reading people and getting along with everyone.  Rising from a very humble beginning, he developed extensive business relationships with car companies and was considered very successful in life.

My oldest uncle, William was born with one ear.  My grandmother always believed she had “marked” him while he was in the womb when she pulled her hair back over the right ear and smearing it with blood while skinning a squirrel. 

One of the strangest superstitions of the region has to do with the mad-stone.  The mad-stone is a stony concretion and comes only from the stomach of an albino deer.  When used correctly, it has curative powers and the ability to cure rabies, rattlesnakes, and spider bites, among other things.  Several people, including the Cox family of Cox valley fame, have possession of such stones, which are passed from father to son.  When needed, the stone is placed on the wound or bite.  It is left directly upon the wound where it “sucks’ the blood from the wound until it falls off on its own.  It is then placed in sweet milk until the milk turns green, indicating the poison is removed.  People throughout the region attest to its effectiveness and, in a period of time when rabies and snakebites more often than not lead to death, mad stones and their owners were much in demand.

As a child, I once slipped out with my uncle Jerry and was introduced to the habit of cigarette smoking.  Huddled inside our hide-out, we smoked an entire package of Salem cigarettes.  That night, I was sick unto death!  My grandmother, not knowing what was wrong but sure she had the remedy, mixed me a spoonful of sugar and coal oil.  Holding my nose, she poured a spoonful of the gritty mixture down my throat. Not only did it help my stomach, it completely cured me of any desire to ever smoke again.  I am not sure it was from the remedy or the fact that I was afraid that any fire constructed near my mouth might lead to a fatal explosion from the fuel. 

I am not sure what superstitions are true and what are not, but I am not going to walk across someone’s grave, break a mirror intentionally, and, if I spill the salt, I am going to throw a spoonful over my left shoulder.

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Tammy Teague
Tammy Teague
Tammy is the heart behind the brand. Her tenacity to curate authentic journalism, supported by a genuine heart is one her many wholesome qualities.
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