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Catholic/Italian Headache Remedy

Posted By justinross On April 18, 2012 @ 9:27 pm In Customs,Folk Beliefs,Folk medicine | Comments Disabled

My paternal grandmother, who is of Italian heritage and a second-generation American, described a folk remedy against headaches that was practiced before her day.  She said “When a person had a headache, a friend would obtain a basin of water and sprinkle a few drops of olive oil on it, make the sign of the cross and recite a prayer.  That was to chase the evil spirits away.”  This was also used to make a person stop gossiping.  Obviously, this would have been practiced before her family emigrated and assimilated into American culture.  It is closely tied to the Catholic church and Catholicism’s deep roots in the nation of Italy.  My informant, while still a devout Catholic (as is most of her extended family), did refer to this practice as a superstition, and is far more likely to resort to Tylenol or Advil to relieve a headache than to attempt to cure it through any spiritual means.
The tradition itself seems to reflect elements of both Catholicism (sign of the cross, prayer) and more obscure or pagan religions (chasing away evil spirits), though perhaps my informant uses “evil spirits” synonymously with “demons.”  My informant’s description also seems somewhat vague and incomplete, as though it has been transformed through much telling and retelling over time.  My conjecture is that the tradition originated many centuries ago, well before the advent of modern medicine, out of the idea that demons or evil spirits are responsible for physical distress.  Certainly “magic superstitions,” under which classification this ritual falls, for curing ailments have existed well before even the Roman Catholic Church, and this one was likely Catholicized like many other pagan beliefs, superstitions, and even holidays.  As today’s society (at least in America) tends to favor scientific progress as the solution to medical problems (and a host of other problems), beliefs imported from worldwide have tended to fade out in this forward-looking culture.


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