Saturday, 22 November 2008

Pig tooth amulets

Sergei's tooth

I made a necklace out of my pig Sergei's tusk. This is only perhaps half of his tusk - it broke off at one point.

Wild boar tusks have been worn as hunting trophies since ancient times wherever boars have been hunted. They symbolize power and manliness, since boars with their intelligence, strength and willpower are very difficult and dangerous to hunt (even in the age of rifles). In New Guinea, domestic pig teeth are a symbol of men's wealth - the more you have in your necklace, the more important you are. (See what I've written previously about pigs in New Guinea.)

But boar and pig teeth have also been used as magic charms. Those who have read or seen Howard's End will remember that there is primeval symbolism in the form of a wych elm tree, in which the countryfolk have stuck pig's teeth, so that you can chew on the bark to relieve toothache.

Britain and North America: tusks and toothache

In his 1947 book Ozark Superstitions, Vance Randolph gives a study of superstitions among the in his words most superstitious people in the United States. He met a man in McDonald county, Missouri, who kept the blind tooth (the hindmost upper molar) of a pig that he gave his children to wear around their neck whenever they had a toothache. A boar's tusk was believed by others to have the same effect when worn in your pocket; if the toothache was on the right side, you would wear it in your right pocket, and vice versa if it was on the left side. The boar's tooth supposedly also protects against venereal diseases. (The book also accounts of people during the Civil War who believed that seeing a "monstrous black hog" was a death omen, but that belongs in another post ...)

The Journal of American Folklore
Vol. 4, No. 13 (Apr. - Jun., 1891), featured an article on "The Amulet Collection of Professor Belucci". Among the hundreds of items it lists: "36. Aids in dentition of infants, five objects. Pig's tooth, bone." ("Fighting Ignorance since 1973") explains how in the origins of the tooth fairy, there are pigs: "
If an animal eats a lost baby tooth, the new teeth coming in will supposedly resemble that animal's such as a dog's tooth or pig's tooth. Letting the tooth be eaten by mice or rats will ensure that the child grows strong, sharp teeth (such folk rituals were recorded as late as 1929)."

South and Central Asia: tusks and the evil eye

Charles Godfrey Leland in 1891 popularized "Gypsy lore" in his book on Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling. "The pig, as is well known, is a common amulet, the origin thereof being that it is extremely prolific", he writes. Boar's teeth "are regarded as protective against malocchio--a general term for evil influences--especially for women during pregnancy, and as securing plenty, i.e., prosperity and increase, be it of worldly goods, honour, or prosperity."

The amulet on the left is from Vienna. (An illustration from Leland's book.)

On the website All About Sikhs, you can read about similar superstitions among Punjabi peasants: "Eating pork or wearing the teeth of a pig round the neck protects a person from the evil eye and witchcraft. [...] Some women make their children wear round their neck nazarbattus (protectors from the evil eye), [to protect from the evil eye], or sometimes for the same purpose hang pig's teeth round their neck."

Turkmen people, despite being Muslims, raise pigs. (V.G. Moshkova in her study The Tribal Gol in Turkmen Carpets, mentions a specific pattern called dunguz burun, 'pig's snout'.)
In Turkmen wedding traditions, "to escape alien eyes the bride wore a cape covering her head along with amulets and charms which were believed to possess guarding forces. All kinds of wedding clothes had a thread from a camel's wool, a pig's tooth, silver plates, beads with "eyes" fastened to them; the cape was furnished with a sawn-on triangular pouch with coal and salt inside (some nations believe that salt has guarding properties)."

These are only two kinds of boar and pig tooth related superstitions, and I'm sure there are more in other cultures of the world. (Voodoo, perhaps?)

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