Day 129: Wasps and Hornets



Despite the fact that the wasp and hornet was often a great nuisance for the Ozark hillfolk, they also figured into a lot of signs and cures. The photo above is of a hornet I collected then put into some grain alcohol as a remedy for hornet stings. Oftentimes in Ozark remedies you’ll find the causer of the harm to be a part of the cure as well.

Here are a few other examples of remedies and lore from Vance Randolph’s “Ozark Magic and Folklore”.

Weather Signs
“Many old people say that if the hornets build their nests low in the trees, it means that a severe winter is coming; if the hornets’ nests hang high, the following winter will be mild.”

Household Superstitions
“An empty hornets’ nest is hung up in the loft of nearly every old-time mountain cabin, and I have seen such a nest tied to the rafters of a new house that had not yet been occupied; some people say that this brings good fortune to the whole household, particularly in connection with childbirth and other sexual matters.”

Mountain Medicine
“I have seen skin eruptions treated with mud supplied by crushing dirt- dobbers’ nests and adding water mud from these nests is credited with some astringent virtue not found in ordinary earth.”

The Power Doctors
“I have known old people who went to a great deal of trouble to obtain pieces of hornets’ nests, which they used to wipe their spectacles. Not only does this stuff clean the lenses better than the finest cloth or paper, they say, but it is somehow good for sore and tired eyes.”

Courtship and Marriage
“Ozark girls sometimes carry little wasp nests in the belief that they somehow attract men. These objects are usually pinned to the lady’s undergarments if she wears any undergarments.”

Pregnancy and Childbirth
“There are some old people who always make sure that an empty hornets’ nest is hanging in the loft of the cabin where a woman is to be confined. I have heard of granny-women who refused to deliver a child until they saw the hornets’ nest for themselves but have never met one who would admit this. It is a fact, however, that there are few really old cabins in which one cannot find a hornets’ nest suspended under the eaves, or attached to one of the rafters.”

Animals and Plants
“The sting of the big Ozark hornet is a painful matter, but I never heard of hornets killing anybody. Mr. Elbert Short, however, who lives near Crane, Missouri, reports the old idea that if seven hornets sting a man at once, the poor chap dies instantly, as if he had a bullet through his heart.”

“Mr. Lewis Kelley, of Cyclone, Missouri, tells me that practically all of the old settlers believed that spiders hatch from eggs laid by “dirt dobbers” or mud wasps. ‘Just open up a dirt dobber’s nest,’ he said, ‘and see if you don’t find it full of live spiders.’ The truth is, of course, that the spiders are stung by the adult wasps into a state of paralysis and placed in the mud nests to serve as food for the young dirt dobbers. The old-timers have heard of this theory, but they don’t believe it.”

In Louisiana Creole medicine the nest of the dirt-dauber or wasp is often used in poultices and wraps for sprains. Here’s an example collected by Charles Joseph Bienvenu:

Melez de nids guepes en terre avec ein ti pé di sel la table et déliez avec vinég. Marez sa si so foulire.

For a Sprain
Mix a dirt-dauber’s nest with a little salt and dissolve it with vinegar. Rub that on the sprain.

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