July 30, 2016

Drought, Snakes, and Rain Magic

I don't know about you, but I actually like a rainy day now and then. My favorite type of weather is a windy and cloudy day. So this long spate of clear, dry (and hot) weather has been nice enough but I am ready for a change.

Much of Massachusetts is in a drought situation, so I think everyone is ready for a change. We had a little rain recently but it hasn't helped. The grass in all the parks near my house yellow and crunchy, and a lot of the flowers that usually bloom this time of year just haven't appeared. I feel like I'm living in California instead of New England. Is this what climate change looks like?

Happily we are supposed to get some more rain this weekend but probably not enough to alleviate our drought. Perhaps a little rain magic is due?

When I was a child in the unenlightened 1970s I always associated rain magic with American Indians, since cartoons often showed them performing dances to bring rain. Some Native American groups do indeed perform rain dances, as do other groups around the world as well. I haven't seen any indication that rain dances were ever performed in this part of the country, though.

Rain magic can be found in New England folklore, but most of it involves predicting when and how long it will rain. There isn't a lot of magic to actually bring rain. I think that might be because this area is usually pretty wet. But perhaps rain magic might be in order if we continue to get more droughts like this one!

Clifton Johnson's book What They Say in New England (1896) contains two techniques to bring rain. Johnson collected his folklore among the farmers in western Massachusetts. I don't think those crusty old farmers used words like 'magic' or 'spell' to describe their practices. They were just things you did. However, they sound like magic spells to me.

They are both violent and I don't recommend them since they involve killing animals, which is not a good thing to do! DO NOT KILL ANIMALS TO BRING RAIN. Anyway, here are the rain spells folkloric weather techniques.

A garter snake in my front yard.

The first is just to kill a beetle. That's it. Just kill a beetle and it will make it rain.

The second is to kill a snake, and then hang up its body. This should produce rain. On the other hand, if you want the weather to be dry you should bury the snake's body.

I'm not sure what the connection is between these animals and rain. Certainly, serpents are associated with water in myths around the world. In China dragons often live in water, and in ancient Babylonian mythology the god Marduk creates the world by killing Tiamat, a primordial water-serpent goddess. In some Algonquian myths the thunderbird fights a watery horned serpent. But would any of these myths really make their way to Yankee farmers in Massachusetts? If you have any insight please share it.

So to wrap up: don't kill animals to make it rain, but maybe try some other magic if you know some. The drought will end at some point I'm sure. What's the old New England saying? "If you don't like the weather just wait a minute."

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