Superstitions and why we have them

As far back as ancient Egypt, garlic has been credited as a protection  against a wide range of problems – and not just for its notable flavour.  At least two versions of its origin ignore that it is just a plant, allium sativum, a  tasty and aromatic member of the onion  family.   Early Egyptians perceived  garlic as a gift from the gods, but post-biblical  mythology decreed that it grew where Satan’s  left foot trod as he  was evicted from the Garden of Eden (the print of his right foot gave rise to ordinary onions).

Superstition  has long credited garlic with various powers: protecting sailors from  storms and shipwreck; giving soldiers courage; protecting miners from evil underground demons; if placed under the pillows of  babies, protecting them overnight; and as household garlands to protect against illness, witches, robbers and vampires.

The perceived connection between vampires  and garlic  was slow in reaching the  English language.  The first English story about vampires,  The Vampyre by John Polodori (1819) makes no mention of garlic.

Irish author Bram Stoker’s later  vampire novel, Dracula  (1897)  introduced the powerful effects between  vampires and  what they greatly fear:  daylight – and garlic.  But as a protection it had been  widely used long before that – against toothache,  sunstroke, leprosy and even bed-wetting.

Medical research can identify  a genuine physical  condition  called alliumphobia. And there is a medical theory that some people simply must not eat garlic because it causes disorder in  certain  blood types.  Scholars point out that this  condition, and its necessary repudiation of anything to do with garlic, may be a  contributing factor to the legend of vampires and their avoidance of garlic.

The vampire legends  were believed historically  in  southern Slavic countries and Romania, where an  eye was kept on those who refused to eat garlic. Consequently,  superstition decreed that cloves of garlic be  placed in the mouths of the deceased before they were buried, to ward off any passing  vampire.

Published by Exisle Publishing

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Max Cryer

Max Cryer is well known for his books on language and other subjects. In a long career, he has been a teacher, television host and m.c. as well as a performer on the opera stage in London and in cabaret in Las Vegas and Hollywood. He is now a full-time writer.