April 07, 2012

The Magic Power of Spit

I'm not a big fan of spitting. Actually, I get really grossed out when I see people spitting on the sidewalk or (God forbid!) the subway platform. Not only is it disgusting, but these people are wasting the magical power inherent in their saliva.

What's that? You didn't know your spit was magic? I guess it's just another flaw in our modern educational system. To edify you, here are some interesting examples from Clifton Johnson's What They Say in New England:

  • "When fishing, spit on your bait for good luck. Certain of the most ignorant class will spit on money for good luck."
  • If you put on a garment inside out, you should wear it that way to bring good luck. If you want to put it on the right way and not lose the luck, you should spit on it to keep the good luck in. "To do this genteelly, you need only to moisten the finger-tip with the tongue, and touch the wrong garment.Then you can turn the garment again and no harm will result." And then no one will think you're crazy for wearing your pants inside out.  
  • If you need to find a missing cow, you can catch a daddy long-legs and hold one of its legs down with you finger. It will point with another leg towards the direction where you can find the cow. However, if you can't find a daddy long-legs, you can "spit in the palm of the left hand, strike the spittle with a finger of the right, and the direction the spittle jumps in will show what course to take in looking for the cow."
  • Back in the days when teachers would hit students with rulers, boys believed that if they spit in their hands before the teacher struck the ruler would break in two. 
  • To bring yourself riches, spit over your pinky when you see a white horse

Clifton Johnson collected this folklore in the late 1800s, but even older references to magic spit can be found in New England. For example, in the 1600s minister Cotton Mather claimed the accused witch Goody Glover of cursing someone by anointing a stone with her spit. It sounds silly to us today, but this was serious business for the Puritans. 

I'm not a saliva specialist, but it looks like the connection between saliva and magical power is not exclusive to New England. For example, in Islamic dream interpretation spit is representative of the dreamer's personal power, and someone who awakes from a bad dream should spit three times to the left, which will free them from the nightmare's influence. Wikipedia claims that mothers in North India and Pakistan will spit on their children to protect them from evil.

If we go even further back, Jesus used his saliva to effect miraculous cures. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus makes a mute man talk by spitting on his finger and sticking it in the man's mouth, and makes a blind man see by spitting on his eyes. (Thanks to this site for pointing this out!) 

That still sounds a little gross to me but I guess it was OK since it was the Messiah's saliva. I still don't want to see anyone spitting on the subway platform though.


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Anonymous said...

Even in Namibia we spit on our urine but I didn't know why...

Anonymous said...

I am from India. There was a teacher who taught malayalam language for us. He would ask questions on previous days lessons almost every day and at the end of the class and those who didn't answer would get a blow to the palm with the cane. Most student got the caining in a year as they might forget the lesson once in a while. I remember a fellow once spat on his hands before he showed it to the teacher and the cane broke into two ha ha.