The informant, LF, is a medievalist from Panama. She comes from an agricultural family that largely lived in the countryside. LF recounts a family story involving a curse transmitted by a snakebite:
“So in my family- in the part of my family that lived in the countryside- my relatives earned their livelihood through the raising of animals and crops. Everyone participated. Even in our home closer to the city we had a chicken coop and a little bit of corns and tomatoes. We have a deeply-rooted agricultural tradition in our family.
So my great-great aunt had her own farm in the country. She was working on the farm and there was this snake. She didn’t see the snake and it bit her on the hand, and she had to be taken to the doctor- she was very close to dying but miraculously she recovered. When she went back to her farm, it was after the harvest and it was time to plant again. But when she planted the seeds, the plants never came up. So she went to tend to the trees that had been growing on the farm for generations, but according to the family story, the trees withered and died after she tried to prune them.
No one in the family knew how to explain it. The only thing they could come up with was that after the snakebite, she couldn’t touch plants because she had been damned. It was like something from the garden of Eden- if you get bitten by a snake, you cannot have a beautiful garden. You cannot touch a plant, because you will kill it. Upon contact, you kill the plants because you have been cursed by the snake’s poison.”
Was this a common belief, or was it exclusively told within your family?
“No, I think it was something my family came up with because they couldn’t explain what had happened to their relative. It was like a family superstition.”
Who did you learn this story from?
“I think I learned it from my mother. It supposedly happened to her great aunt. I never met this person and I don’t even know if it’s true. I heard it when I was a little kid. It came up actually when we were all watching a documentary about snakes, my mom suddenly goes- “Do you know what happened to your great aunt?”- It was just a casual thing.
It means that people come up with explanations for things that are unexplainable. It could have been that it didn’t rain that year, or that it rained too much, and the plants died naturally. But it was such a drastic change- this farm had been in the family for generations and it had always been successful until that year.”
My thoughts: I agree with the informant when she says that folk beliefs often arise when people want to explain strange events. It’s a way of rationalizing things we can’t explain otherwise, like a sudden lack of crops. I think it’s interesting that the informant makes a connection with Christian religion when she mentions the Garden of Eden- perhaps folk beliefs sometimes subconsciously reflect aspects of organized religion.