There are many folk beliefs in the Ozarks surrounding dreams and dream interpretation. Dreams are often used by healers to divine what might be wrong with their patient. Vance Randolph records one such story:
“One old lady who has cured warts for a large family says that she just lets ‘em alone until she happens to dream of a man, then seeks this fellow out and induces him to spit some tobacco juice on a penny; after rubbing the warts with the penny she gives it to the man, and as soon as he spends the coin the warts drop off. I asked her if the warts ‘passed’ to the men who spit on the coins. She looked a bit disturbed by this query but answered stoutly that she ‘never had no complaints.’”
In this case the man the woman dreamed played an active role in the healing process. Sometimes the healer will dream certain “signs” that need to be examined, like a sort of puzzle, in order to work out what might be happening. These signs often correspond with other cultural symbols but are also sometimes the product of the healer’s own interpretations.
In the past dreams were also traditionally used in the Ozarks for love divination. Randolph records several interesting examples:
“An old woman once told me that if a girl counts nine stars each night for nine consecutive nights, on the ninth night she will inevitably dream of her husband-to-be. A simpler method is to stare very hard at the brightest star in sight and wink three times; this produces the dream on the first night and gets the same result with much less expenditure of time and energy.”
“Sometimes a mountain damsel boils an egg very hard, then removes the yolk and fills the cavity with salt. Just before bedtime she eats this salted egg. In the night, according to the old story, she will dream that somebody fetches her a gourd filled with water. The man who brings her the water is destined to be her husband.”
“A girl near Clinton, Arkansas, tells me that she has only to write the names of nine boys on a slip of paper and put the paper between her breasts at bedtime; she is sure to dream of the one who will be her husband.”
“The girl who looks at the new moon over her right shoulder and repeats:
New moon, new moon, do tell me
Who my own true lover will be,
The color of his hair, the clothes that he will wear
And the happy day he will wed me,
will dream of her future mate that night.”
“Or a girl may urinate on the sleeve of a man’s shirt and hang it up between her bed and the fireplace. In this case her future husband is forced to appear in the night and move the shirt so that it will not burn. ‘He aint really there, of course,’ one woman told me, ‘She just dreams it.’”
Here are some common dream interpretations listed by Randolph. Many of them are similar to other interpretations coming in from European folklore sources.
“To dream of muddy water means trouble, to dream of snakes presages a battle with one’s enemies, to dream of money means that the dreamer will be poorer than ever before. A dream of white horses is unlucky and may mean sickness or death in the family. A dream of death is good luck if the dream comes at night and usually signifies a wedding, but to fall asleep in the daytime and dream of death is very unfortunate. A dream of childbirth is always welcome, a sign of a happy and prosperous marriage. The man who dreams repeatedly of fishes will attain great wealth. To dream of chickens is bad luck, and the vision of a black boat means an early death. A lady at Fort Smith, Arkansas, told me that she had discarded nearly all the superstitions of her childhood, but still felt that it is bad luck to dream about cattle. To dream of a hoe or a rake signifies a happy marriage. The girl who dreams always of storms and floods will marry a rich man. It is good luck to dream of pigeons or doves, and usually means that a fortunate love affair is just around the corner.”
“The first dream that one has in a new house, or when sleeping under a new quilt, will nearly always come true many mountain girls are anxious to ‘dream out’ a new quilt or coverlet. The same may be said of a dream related before breakfast, or of one dreamed on Friday and told on Saturday:
Friday night’s dream, on Saturday told,
Will always come true, no matter how old.”
“An old woman at Pineville, Missouri, told me that as a little girl she dreamed of a gigantic snake coiled around her father’s log house. She says this was a sign of the Civil War which broke out a few months later, in which her father and two brothers were killed. In 1865 she dreamed that the big snake was dead, upon which she knew that the War would soon be ended.”
There are also many traditional remedies for bad dreams. Here are a couple mentioned by Randolph:
“Mrs. May Kennedy McCord, of Springfield, Missouri, says that the best way to stop unpleasant dreams is to stuff cloth into the key hole. But I’m not sure that she means this to be taken literally.”
“Some people are accustomed to place a knife under the dreamer’s pillow, to prevent nightmares. I once noticed a small girl, not more than ten years old, sleeping with the handle of an enormous homemade bowie knife sticking out from under her pillow. ‘Maizie used to wake up a-hollerin’,’ the mother told me, ‘but since I put that there knife under the piller, we aint had no more trouble.’ Somnambulism is related to nightmares in the hillman’s mind, and there is a widespread belief that one should never awaken a sleepwalker, as this may cause instant death. The Ozarker who sees a friend walking in his sleep just strides along beside him and tries to keep him from getting into danger, but makes no effort to wake him up.”
I’ve also heard you can tie three knots in your pillowcase, then take out each knot, slowly, one at a time, and that will prevent a nightmare. You can also sleep with the Bible under your pillow. That, like the keyhole remedy above, are focused at preventing the work of witches on the dreamer. There’s a belief that witches can enter a room through the keyhole, so stopping it up would be a good remedy. Along those lines you can also hang a sieve above your bed, or leave out a dish of salt or mustard seeds to prevent the work of witches. It’s said that witches have to count all the seeds or grains of salt, or they have to pass through every hole in the sieve before they can work on you. The Bible remedy works in the same way. The witch has to read the entire Bible before she can work on you.