Ozark Encyclopedia – A – Animal and Human Parts

Associating various animal and human parts, such as teeth, bones, hair, fingernails, etc. with folk magic and healing is common in Ozark folklore. Many instances (which will be discussed in their own entries) likely trace their origin to both European as well as African and Indigenous sources. These human body parts, usually in the form of hair or fingernail clippings, create a sympathetic connection with the patient (or victim, in the case of malicious witchcraft). In the case of animal parts, certain animals are often associated with specific conditions or diseases (owls with malicious witchcraft, reptiles and amphibians with colds/flu, beavers or squirrels with teeth, etc.) in which case the animal part would be used (often alongside related charms or songs) to summon the spirit of the animal in to do the actual healing (or witchcraft). This animal is most often not an actual animal that lived and died, but instead a sort of cosmic blueprint animal. Such animals are seen in the African folklore that permeates the South (Briar Rabbit, or Compère Lapin, for example) as well as sources from the Indigenous American populations.

Witches using animal parts to do harm – “To curse any particular part of a victim’s body, the witch take’s the corresponding part of an animal, names it for him, and then buries it in the ground or suspends it in a pool of water. There was a man near Neosho, Missouri, who said publicly that his prostatitis was ‘wished on him’ in this manner by a former mistress. Many people think that witches can, by some hocus-pocus with the sex organs of a sheep, render a man impotent or a woman sterile. A girl in McDonald county, Missouri, named sheep’s testicles for a boy who had mistreated her and put them into an anthill; this was supposed to destroy the young man’s virility but was apparently without effect, as he was still going strong the last I heard of him.” ~Randolph OMF 279-280

Heart of murdered man burned for retribution – “Some old people cherish a belief, said to have been borrowed from the Osages, that by burning the heart of a murdered man his relatives may make certain that the murderer will be punished for his crime. There are whispers of such things being done in the back hills even today, but the rumors cannot be verified, and it is not prudent for an amicable outsider to investigate these matters too closely.” ~Randolph OMF 316

Afterbirth buried – “The old-timers believed that the membrane should be buried, preferably at the corner of the chimney just outside the house. It was never burned or thrown into a stream to be washed away. It appears that the superstition included the belief that the mother of a newborn babe would not make proper recovery unless the afterbirth was properly buried.” ~Rayburn OFE A-1 “Afterbirth”

Randolph, Vance Ozark Magic and Folklore (OMF)

Rayburn, Otto Ernest Ozark Folk Encyclopedia (OFE)

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