Two years ago I bought this necklace in the photo above and had no idea what it was. Honestly, I just thought it looked cool. Doing research for this Lanark County folkloric tale I found out that it was a collection of Hamsa pendants, which was an old charm for protection against the evil eye.
There were many seers and those that dealt in potions and lotions in Lanark County that came from the old country. Some of these people who were said to predict the future on a regular basis were considered to be “special.” These regular folk had visions of the future. They were said to be born that way as though it were an inherited genetic mutation or gifted with the skill through divine assistance. Either way, these people had a tendency to stand out of the general public and were constantly sought after– like the Witch of Plum Hollow. Of course there were others who thought they had a gift and actually did more harm than good.
In a case of continuous family bad luck they might bury strands of hair of every member of the family in the hen house, or with personal matters, a small muslin bag was made intended to be hung about the neck. On the outside of the bag there would be some meaningless characters and inside it contained a scrap of paper on which was written a charm made up, as well a personal possession and herbs. Varying in size, it could be small enough to wear unseen around the neck and protect them from whatever evil eye was after them.
The size of the bag was determined by how many items need to be carried. In historic times, a large medicine bundle that could carry numerous items such as seeds, herbs, pine cones, grass, animal teeth or claws, horse hair, rocks, tobacco, beads, arrowheads, bones, or anything else of relatively small size that possessed spiritual value to the bundle’s owner.
Last week someone wrote me about their great grandmother who dealt in such practises and was known far and wide in the county for her achievements. In those days if you had emotional issues you were sent off to the asylums and she had a young man visit who seemed to be upon the verge of becoming a maniac under most peculiar circumstances. Having some major significant troubles he came to consult her.
She told him that his condition was due to a young woman who had held a penny in her mouth on a certain occasion when he visited her, and that as a result he was doomed to have consumption and to die within a few months. This alarming statement threw the young man into a condition of acute melancholia, which seriously affected his health. His mental condition was really troubling, and he believed that he was actually afflicted with consumption.
When she examined him she found that someone had placed a small muslin bag on his chest, suspended by a piece of white tape around his neck. She removed it and found that it contained Assafoetida. Assafoetida is a root which is part of the celery family and was used for breathing problems and also used for digestion. He had been told the bag would drive away his ailment and afflict her with the evil eye who gave it to him.
The woman tried in every way to convince this young man that he need not worry, that his lungs were perfectly sound. The fact of believing what someone else said was all nonsense and not to be regarded in the least she said. He finally went away to visit a brother somewhere in the county, and under the influence of the change of scene he forgot his afflictions and his health was perfect. But, had he had listened to the first woman he would have ended up in an insane asylum fearing forever the evil eye this young woman tried to cast upon him.
More to come…