Remedies and Rituals
Folk Medicine in Norway and the New Land
Publication Year: 2007
Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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Preface [Includes Note about Spelling]
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All the Stokker cousins knew the story of Grandpa. We often reviewed its horrifying details—the fall from a skittish horse that dragged the young husband and father over rough ground until his head hit a tree stump. They had laid him out on the counter of the grocery store he managed in Hayward, Minnesota, though by then he was beyond help. The “popular Otilia Gulbrandsen,” as one newspaper...
1. Healing the People
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Nothing shaped the lives of nineteenth-century Norwegians more than their health, but historical accounts remain vexingly silent on the subject. Though some sources mention doctors, nurses, and hospitals, they completely overlook the meaningful medicine practiced by mothers and neighbors, by pastors and pastors’ wives. These “folk healers,” trained only through hands-on experience, bridged the yawning gap in people’s...
2. Folk Healers and Folk Cures: Filling the void
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Every neighborhood in nineteenth-century Norway had at least one folk healer. Helping others, often at the risk of their own well-being and good name, hundreds of healers provided badly needed and otherwise unavailable health care. Though their names are mostly lost, some have stories that can be pieced together. Three Norwegian healers, Mor Sæther (1793–1851), Anne Brandfjeld (1810–1905), and Valborg Valand (1812–93), developed national reputations,...
3. The Pastor as Doctor: A matter of trust
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Ministers and ministers’ wives did much of the doctoring and dispensing of medicine in rural nineteenth-century Norway and Norwegian America. As the most educated members of the community, they naturally asssumed this role. The clergy’s superior education also gave rise to legends of black-book ministers who could conjure up the devil and force him to do their bidding.¹ The association of medicine with religion has ancient and international...
4. The Black Book: Magical, mystical medicine
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For nineteenth-century Norwegians, the simple name “black book” raised goose bumps and conjured up thoughts of the devil. Stories about the black book accompanied Norwegian emigrants to America, where, according to Carl Roan (born 1878), they might even talk about the book at social events such as a quilting bee. In his memoir of life in Glencoe, Minnesota, during the 1880s, Roan wrote that after women...
5. Doctor Books: Mirroring the march of medicine
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When illness struck, nineteenth-century Norwegians on both sides of the Atlantic relied on doctor books (legebøker). “We read in the medical manuals and used everything suggested there we could get hold of,” wrote Caja Munch from the Wiota, Wisconsin, parsonage on August 12, 1857. Caja had confessed earlier that year how “frightening” it was to be “so absolutely devoid of a physician’s aid.” She added,...
6. Birthing Children: Do-it-yourself delivery
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On both sides of the Atlantic, nineteenth-century Norwegian women faced childbirth with a combination of fear and fatalism. “Childbirth is like standing a piece of flatbread on edge,” held an old adage from Aust-Agder, “you never know which way it will fall [toward life or death].” Childbirth claimed some mothers, but most deliveries proceeded successfully. Assisted by good neighbors, informed by the wisdom...
7. Rickets Remedies and Lore: From changelings to English disease
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As science unraveled the mystery of infectious diseases, once the great scourge of early childhood, one pervasive children’s disease continued to elude explanation. The almue called it svekk (general debility) or valken (for the swelling it caused around the child’s joints), and they blamed the huldrefolk (hidden people) for the condition that C. E. Mangor in his Lande apothek termed “very common among both...
8. Alcohol as Medicine and Scourge: From “water of life” to “Devil’s yoke”
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Most Norwegians began the nineteenth century believing that alcohol benefited the body and regarding brennevin (hard liquor) as essential to every celebration. Fifty years later, many could be found campaigning furiously against drikkeondet (the evil of drink). This dichotomy prevailed on both sides of the Atlantic, as some people drank to tragic excess, while others “went to their graves without a drop...
9. The Letting and Staunching of Blood: Traditional remedies newly relevant
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Nineteenth-century Norwegians of all classes believed in the therapeutic effects of bloodletting. Some did it annually as a spring tonic; others engaged in the practice more often. If toxins in the blood caused disease, they reasoned, getting rid of the “bad blood” would invigorate them and make them well. Doctors relied on bloodletting, too, making it the single most widely used therapy on both...
10. Remembered Remedies
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While researching this book, I asked Norwegian Americans to send me home remedies their families had used. The responses are presented here by key ingredient or by ailment. Remedies gathered by students in my 1983 folklore class at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, are also included. These folk cures offer fascinating glimpses into the past and resonate with the nineteenth-century remedies discussed above.
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Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2007