Addendum to Day 94

A question came in about the folk tale I posted today:

Q: Can you explain the significance of that folk tale you posted today? I’m not familiar with ozark folklore.

A: I’m not sure what you mean by “significance” but I’m assuming you mean go through some of the symbols and themes of the folk tale? That I can do.

First let’s start in the beginning of the story, with the boy’s sickness. It appears to be similar to the “live things” folk sickness of the Ozarks, where lizards, insects, or sometimes small mammals (moles in another story collected by Parler) are felt running around under the skin of the patient. It’s said that this disease is picked up by eating or walking through animal parts that have been placed by a witch. The boy seeing red-hot waffle irons is a little puzzling, but might point to seeing flashes or patterns when he closed his eyes.

The significance of the witch doctor was already explained in another post.

The salt that the witch doctor eats is an interesting item, I’ve not seen it before. It should be noted that it’s hard to interpret the actions of the witch doctor when the story is being told by observers and not the man himself. It could be that the salt is used in calling the witch to appear at the house. It could also be related to what she will ask to borrow as we see she eventually comes to get some salt.

The burning of brush in the house is also not well explained. It could also have to do with calling the witch to appear. There are stories of witch doctors who light rings of brush on fire and call the witch to appear inside the circle, or who light bonfires and call the witch to appear in the smoke.

In most folk tales involving witches and bewitched persons the witch will eventually always come to the person’s house to borrow something. This usually happens after a cure has already been sought. The idea is that by borrowing an item from the house the witch forms a connection with the person that can be used to bewitch them. For a cure to work the item asked for by the witch must under no circumstances be given or all is lost.

The witch doctor eventually tests the woman, asking her to say a blessing on the house and family. The idea is that the witch can’t say a blessing in good faith. She eventually does say the words but immediately must leave the house, thus proving to the witch doctor and the family that the old woman was in fact a witch. There are other tests, such as hiding a bible under a chair and having the suspected witch sit down, or hiding a needle in the cushion and having the person sit, if they are a witch they will not be able to sit above the bible nor will they feel the pain from the needle.

As a whole this story is counted among many other such tales of witchcraft and witch doctors, and points to the belief in the constant battle of the individual against the supernatural world. Those who stand in between this world and the other one are the witch and the witch doctor, the only real thing separating the two is the fact that the witch doctor’s calling is in the trumping of the power of the witch in the world. As I’ve said before, there’s a fine line between who is considered a witch and who is a witch doctor, with the community as a whole being the final authority on the matter.

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