Old Wives Tales

The letter O made from public domain, out-of-copyright "The Language of Flowers for The Women's Legacy Project, Legacy Tools, for the 2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge
is for Old Wives Tales
The phrase, “Old Wives Tales” conveys many, contradictory meanings and images.  Old is not a bad thing.  Old is alive, and experienced. We can actually use the phrase itself to illustrate some of the clues that such phrases can contain and convey.

  • Old – In our youth-focused society
  • Wives – female adult
  • Tale – why not a story

Tales are fictional stories.  Old is often derogatory.  Wives (meaning women) still earn less than men, have not achieved parity in governance nor in much else.  So perhaps we should refer to Sage Wives Stories  rather than Old Wives Tales.
But whether there is a linguistic reframing or not, a cultural reframing to acknowledge the information contained within such stories.  Even if the solution an Old Wives Tale might call for would be ineffective or deleterious, the problem the “tale” addressed was real and needed a solution.  In and of itself the documentation of needs is significant and worthy of notation.

Truths found in Old Wives Tales

What OWT may contain, such as in curative tales, are clues as to the pharmacopeia employed  before the modern medicine that entered the world with the acceptance of hand washing and germ theory that finally became somewhat common by the late 19th Century, 125 – 150 years ago.
Herbs by Allie Dearie from unsplash.com
A rather large set of botanicals are acknowledged by scientific studies to have medicinal value.  The entire field of natural products in the field of chemistry is derived from and evidence of the use of plant-based products by humanity over the centuries back into prehistory.
Curative rituals may have placebo effect, but placebo effect has been shown to be quite real.  Rituals, especially those with drums and dancing may induce a trance-like state.  Such states, meditation, and calming breathing can and do impact physiology and behavior.
The concept of Qi and acupuncture come from outside Western medicine, but are well-received and considered valid within the growing field of alternative medicines and even  integrative medicine.

Family Stories

So, take note of what your mother, grandmother, and wacky aunt tell you your female ancestors used to accomplish certain purposes.
Some are undoubtedly wacko, but endearing, I know my matrilineal ancestors had some fairly quaint sayings.

  •  A pinch of salt tossed over a left shoulder to ward off bad luck if salt is spilled.
  • Breaking a mirror brings on seven years of bad luck.
  • An itchy nose means you will kiss a fool.
  • Right ear burning or buzzing means someone is saying something nasty about you.
  • Left ear burning or buzzing means someone is saying something good about you.
  • A spider dropping down on a long silk in front of you means you will receive a letter.
  • A knife dropped on the floor will point in the direct of a soon to arrive visitor.

Women in my father’s family had some strange beliefs too.  Women and girls were not to can or preserve foods while their monthly menstrual flow was active as the food would spoil.
Asian floating market by Harvey Enrile

Deep Culture in Family Traditions

I have always suspected these tales point to different origin cultures for my mother and father’s families.  The information provided by folk tales can provide evidence of origins in the far past.  But regular old choice of Holiday Foods, for example, contains a great deal of cultural tradition embedded within it, too.
Document the details of your family’s life and traditions.  There may be much more information in it than you initially thought.

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