HH is a retired former housewife who lives in Westergellersen, a small village in northern Germany.
“Knüpfe soviele Knoten in ein Band wie du Warzen hast. Dann vergrabe das Band bei Mondschein unter einem Stein. Wenn der Faden zersetzt (verfault) ist werden die Warzen verschwunden sein.”
Tie as many knots into some string as you have warts. Then bury the string under a rock by moonlight. When the string has decomposed, the warts will have disappeared.
This practice is a folk magic ritual that utilizes the Homeopathic principle. The knots on the string represent the warts, and the decomposition of the string metaphorically decomposes the warts along with it. An interesting note here is the need to perform the burying part of the ritual under moonlight. The moon is a highly magical and superstitious symbol in many societies, and is widely associated with magic, and especially women’s magic (though the moon is a masculine noun in the German language).
The rock under which the string must be buried does not seem to bring anything specifically auspicious or magical, but could serve multiple other purposes. First, placing the string beneath a rock would help speed up the decomposition process, as it creates an environment where organisms can more easily break down the string than if it was in an open space. Next, the rock weighs down the string and keeps it in place. If the string is anchored beneath a heavy object, it’s less likely to move around due to environmental factors like weather, or be taken and moved by an animal. Finally, placing the string beneath a certain rock makes the burial site easy to identify, which is helpful for tracking the decomposition of the string.
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.
If you have a wart, cut an onion in half, rub it on your wart, and bury it in the backyard on a full moon.
The informant learned this remedy from her mother and said that it was a very common one that she fully believed in when she was a kid. She said that not only did all of her friends know about this trick, but her husband who grew up on the other side of the country knew of a very similar remedy growing up. She believed it when she was much younger and practiced it frequently as she struggled with warts, but as she got older, she realized that it didn’t actually do anything
The informant is a woman in her mid forties who grew up in the small town of Garner, Iowa (population: 2,000 as of 2018). She attended public school and grew up in a very rural area where she worked on the farm that her parents owned.
Warts are certainly unsightly and could even be embarrassing for a young child. Children can be mean and a child may be teased for having something that made them stand out in a negative way like a wart. Warts are also something that happen for seemingly no reason at all and are uncontrollable. Freezing off warts is possible, but the informant may not have had access to a doctor who provided this service being from such a small town. Because of all of these reasons, it makes sense that the informant practiced this remedy even though there seemed to be no scientific reasoning behind it. It gave her a feeling of control over this fairly uncontrollable blemish.