Axes, much like knives, have been used in Ozark folk healing as a method of symbolically “cutting” maladies like fever, cramps, or birth pains. They’ve also traditionally been employed by weather conjurers to “cut” through storms and cyclones.

Under bed for chills – “Some families are accustomed to treat chills-an’-fever by placing an ax under the patient’s bed.” ~Randolph OMF 146

Under bed to cut birth pains – “Near Pineville, Missouri, I once sat with a neighbor out in a woodlot, while his wife was giving birth to a child in the house. This man had a regular physician in attendance, but one of the neighborhood granny-women had arrived ahead of the doctor. The patient screamed several times, and then the granny-woman came out to the wood pile and picked up the ax, which she carried into the house. I was horrified at this, but the husband sat unmoved, so I said nothing. After it was all over I asked the doctor privately how on earth the old woman had made use of a five-pound double-bitted ax in her obstetrical practice. The doctor laughed and replied that she just put it under the bed. ‘A common superstition,’ he said. ‘It’s supposed to make a difficult birth easier, and she saw that this was going to be a pretty bad one.’

“Later on I learned that this ax-under-the-bed business is practiced in all parts of the Ozark country. An old granny near Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, told me that an ax used for this purpose must be razor-sharp, since a dull ax may do more harm than good.” ~Randolph OMF 200

Under bed for fever – “An axe under the bed will break the fever.” ~Parler FBA II 2226

Under wash pot to stop rain – “Put an axe under a wash pot to keep it from raining.” ~Parler FBA XI 9617

To divert a cyclone – “When there is a cyclone coming, put an axe in the ground with the handle pointing in the direction of the cyclone, and the storm will go around.” ~Parler FBA XI 9698

“When a storm cloud threatened, and the folks of the village sought cellars for safety, she would grab an ax, rush into the yard, swing it in the air, calling out widely, ‘I’ll cut ye hyar, I’ll split ye thar.’ Through some kind of witchcraft or magic she would ‘cut the cloud in two’ and break the power of the twister.” ~Rayburn OFE A-13 “Axes”


Parler, Mary Celestia Folk Beliefs from Arkansas (FBA)

Randolph, Vance Ozark Magic and Folklore (OMF)

Rayburn, Otto Ernest Ozark Folk Encyclopedia (OFE)