Tag Archives: headache

Catholic/Italian Headache Remedy

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.

Saudi Hiccup Remedy

Press a wet newspaper against the center of your forehead.


Who ever consults a medical textbook when they get a case of the hiccups?  There must be more methods of curing the hiccups (or at least attempting such) than for any other frustration that ails the human body, and it seems everyone has heard and tried at least one of these folk remedies.  I have heard of many supposed hiccup cures myself: scare the person with the hiccups, gulp down water rhythmically (seven times in one particular variant), rub your earlobe with your fingers (this one has actually produced results on me – perhaps there is some real nerve connection there or perhaps it is the placebo effect), drink sugar water, hold your breath.
Recently, my roommate (Lebanese) and I, along with a friend of his from Saudi Arabia (my informant), were driving to buy food, and my roommate began hiccuping quite forcefully.  Predictably, everyone began reciting the hiccup-cure ideas they had learned growing up.  Since my roommate was driving, he unfortunately had to suffer the hiccups (and did for quite some time) until they passed.  I asked the informant how he would cure the hiccups back where he used to live in Arabia, and his method was the most unusual I had ever heard.  He said his mother used to soak a newspaper and press it against his forehead.  The informant did not know why this worked, but claimed it did.  Perhaps the cold, wet sensation triggers a reset button in the nerves and stops the spasms, or again, perhaps it is just the placebo effect – and it is doubtful that any medical guide would ever confirm this for us or would address the effectiveness of these traditional remedies.