“Don’t Use the Dog-Finger”: Medicine and Superstition

Photo found on Pinterest

The Granny witches and Yarb doctors were the ones who cared for the community’s health in times of need. Magic paired with medicine always makes a unique brew. The Yarb folk often applied their “witching tricks” to the making and application of medicine.

The largest one seen is the belief surrounding the “Dog-finger.” This is the index finger which the old folks thought was poisoned and has been ever since Judas pointed out the Lord to his tormentors. It is thought to be able to corrupt the healing of wounds, to give the evil eye, or cross someone.

As such, medicine is never applied with the dog-finger; instead, the medicine is applied with the ring finger for speedy healing. You’re to never let the dog-finger touch a healing wound or the soft spot on a babies head. To do so will worsen the condition, with babies mama once said it give them “cone” head. But so did letting them lay down too much as an infant.

Any time my mother or grandmother put on any kind of medicine, even if it’s simple lotion for dry skin, they don’t use the dog-finger (or the skin will be worse when it drys again according to my grandmother).

The only time the dog-finger is used is when telling somebody about themselves, tasting food, or cursing work. I remember well one night, my grandmother when on a rant finding photos of her sister’s husband. He was real mean to Aunt Marie and Nana couldn’t stand him.

It was when he passed away that nana went about the Home finding old photos of Marie and her husband, poking his eyes out with her nails; cutting him out of the photos, rubbing her “dog-finger” over his face, mumbling incoherent things and finally burning them in the ash tray. “Best he’s ever looked to me,” Nana said when she was done, as she lit a cigarette. This went on all night. Me and mama didn’t dare stop her.

This “dog-finger” belief doesn’t stop at medicine either. A stick pulled with the dog-finger while sewing will cause the string to knot a lot. Fixing hair with the dog-finger worsens the curl or lick. When planting the garden, seeds aren’t planted with the thumb and forefinger; instead they’re held in the cupped hand and swiped over the index with the thumb to fall into the holes. Never point at the new moon or a graveyard with a newly dug grave, it entails bad luck.

However, it’s said to make some things “better” such as when you stir a drink of spirits with the index or pack a bowl of tobacco. Maybe the old term “don’t point, it’s rude” has deeper meanings than these, and greater effects than we see.

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Author: Jake Richards

Jake (Dr. Henny) follows family practice as a Yarb Doctor and Conjure man in the Appalachian Folk Magic tradition. He follows the legacy of his mother (a seventh daughter), that left behind by his grandfather, a baptist preacher who was a blood stopper, wort doctor, and thrush doctor; his grandmother, who was a knowledgeable woman in these works before Alzheimer’s set in; his great, great grandfather who witched for water in Washington County and his great grandmother who taught and worked from her roost at the foot of Devil’s Nest Mountain. Jake is the author of Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure & Folk Magic from Appalachia, available for preorder on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound. When he's not writing, blogging, reading the bones or trying for clients: he is either traveling, gardening, sewing, book binding, reading, or sculpting. For questions, readings, recommendations for future posts, interviews and the like, you are welcome to email him below: Littlechicagoconjure@yahoo.com

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