My grandmother (and my informant) learned this folk remedy in her twenties when her mother-in-law, who was born in Italy, noticed my grandma had warts on her hand. It was something she taught me as a young child, and although I’ve never tried it, she claims she did and the warts on her hands have never come back.
In a natural setting, this piece of folklore is almost exclusively passed from one who has had warts and used the remedy, to one who currently has them and is in need of a remedy. And when being carried out, is only performed by the individual with the ailment. My informant also noted that when she practiced the remedy, she was traveling and in a place she knew she’d never go again, making it easier for her to find a spot she wouldn’t revisit.
“You have to tie a string around each digit with a wart on it–and you can only use one hand. You have to wear it for a whole day, and at the end of the day you have to take a walk to a place you’ll never go again. On the walk you gotta bury it, and make sure you never-never-ever go back to that spot or the warts will come back!”
The other day, I was retelling this remedy to a friend of mine because she was curious about the project that I’ve been working on. As I told her about how the cure is conducted, she started asking things like, “why a place you’ll never go to again?” and “why do you have to bury the string?”. After taking some time to think about it, I believe this cure is a practice of sympathetic magic. In sympathetic magic, actions are taken which are representative of the change one wants to be made. In this case, each string is representative of a wart, wearing the string(s) for a day corresponds to the time one had already had the wart(s), and therefore burying the string in a place one will never visit again indicates the wart(s) disappearing and never returning.
JE: “During college basketball season, specifically March Madness, we will all go over to Jordan’s Aunt’s house ad watch the University of Kentucky play basketball. Grapes are like a staple for when watch basketball games so we eat grapes during the game because it is almost like a good luck thing. And then at the start of the season wherever you sit in the house, that has to remain your seat during march madness. Also, if you go to one game you have to go to all of them. You can’t just go to one game. And if we win a championship, like a March Madness championship we have to burn a couch as a celebration and good luck for the next year’s season. Another thing is that if you go outside for any reason and the score starts going up for any reason in Kentucky’s favor then the person who went outside has to stay outside until the game is over. If we start to lose and we did not do anything to make it happen, you have to start eating like snacking. For example, if for every single game you go in and eat except for one and that game the Kentucky’s team starts losing then you have to go eat in order to undo the loss of points.”
Collector: “Is there any reason that you eat grapes specifically?”
“No I don’t think so, my aunt just always has them out on the counter.”
When I collected this folk belief from JE I asked him why his family passes down this belief that they all have to sit in the same seats for March Madness in order to provide luck to their team and he said that this process has been passed down ever since his grandma was little… so for like three generations so it just makes sense for them to continue doing. He also said it acts as a way to remember and celebrate the life of his grandma who had passed away. I also tried to get his opinion on why he thinks that they eat grapes and he said that it was because my his aunt just always has them sitting out on the counter.
This folk belief can be explained by analyzing the region in which it is centered around and performed in. This belief focuses mainly on March Madness and even more specifically on the University of Kentucky’s performance in the tournament. According to JE, in Kentucky basketball is probably the most watched and biggest celebrated sport for college. Adding on to this, since the University of Kentucky is the most watched basketball team by many Kentuckians except for those found in Louisville, it is understandable that his family generations ago created a tradition upon the belief that where they sit will provide luck to the University of Kentucky during their games. Based off of the content that I collected from JE, when one is in Kentucky, it is like a state identity to always root for the University of Kentucky unless you happen to live in Lousiville where you would then root for the University of Louisville.
Putting this together, this folk belief was created as a way to provide support for one’s state basketball teams and also to be used as unifying one who practices it as a person of Kentucky (in other words as an identity marker).
The informant is a college student born and raised in Denver, Colorado. While the informant and I were studying in the library together, I asked him if he or any of his friends had any traditions or superstitions that were unique to Denver. He described a folk belief that children engaged in when hoping school would be canceled for a snow day.
“If a large snowstorm is predicted or if it is snowing lightly before bed, you have to flush an ice cube down the toilet in hopes that there will be a snow day and school will be cancelled the next morning. The more kids that flush an ice cube down the toilet, the more likely it is that there will be a snow day.”
The belief is most prevalent during one’s elementary and middle school years, but many people continue to carry out the tradition of flushing an ice cube down the toilet throughout high school. The superstition goes that flushing a single ice cube down the toilet will ensure a snow day. The informant was not sure what the significance of the single ice cube was, but said that he has always thought it has to do with the fact that ice cubes and snow both require below freezing temperatures. I followed up with a friend from New York City to determine whether this was an isolated folk belief, and she confirmed that kids at her school did the same thing. Growing up in California, I had never known anyone to engage in this practice. The belief in this sympathetic folk magic, then, is most likely concentrated in areas where snowfall is common. It is a fun and harmless way for children to try to get out of school, and probably continues to be spread among children rapidly because of the idea that each child must do his or her own part to make it snow, and so it is very likely that when one child hears of the supposed magic properties of flushing an ice cube down a toilet that they will tell their friends to do it as well.