Swearing at the Lettuce

This is part of the preface from The Handbook of Folklore

“When a gardener, in accordance with the traditional lore of his craft, swears at his lettuce or radish-seed and thrashes his young walnut trees, or sows his peas in the wane of the moon and his potatoes on Good Friday, and utterly declines to root-up his parsley bed, he is putting in practice time honoured beliefs, not only about trees and plants, but about life and death and the influence of sacred days and of the heavenly bodies. When the mourners at the funeral feast tell the bees of their bereavement, they are acting on ancient imaginings as to the nature of a future life and on their own actual beliefs as to the sagacity of the lower animals, as well as carrying out a traditional part of the funeral rites” (Burne, 1914 p. vii).

This book was originally written (by a woman!) in 1914 and is a guide book on how to collect folklore from ‘primitive’ peoples. The entire first chapter tells you how to behave to the  “lower races” so that they will spill the beans on their cultural practices. It’s actually quite (unintentionally) funny, due to it’s sheer pomposity and use of language. What is fantastic about it is that it is a glimpse inside the mind of a collector from history, not a famous collector, nor a collector of physical items but a ‘normal(ish)’ person who was obsessed with a particular thing. Obsessed enough to devote enough research and time to fill a book and get it published with the view of enabling others to also become obsessed with the thing. Like passing on the torch, or spreading a compulsion. A bit like art-making, you find things that really drive you, things you want to explore, then you spend all your time following those things and developing a language with which to talk about them with, then you make something out of them and push it out into the world so that others can share in your compulsion.


There is a decent amount of the preface as well as the first chapters of the book as a preview on Amazon which you can read HERE



3 thoughts on “Swearing at the Lettuce

  1. This goes against the thought that you need to play classical to your plants to put them into the right frame of growth!!
    An interesting approach, would love to read the book, is it from our library?

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