In this week’s spotlight I wish to discuss the nature of myths, metaphors and wives’ tales. Science has traditionally tended to scoff at these things, dismissing them as just so much nonsense. Is that fair?
There are several so-called wives’ tales that science and data have discovered are indeed true. For example, the wives’ tale that insists a long difficult labor will lead to a boy is statistically supported, at least according to a survey in the Maternity Hospital in Dublin.1
How about the wives’ tale that hot baths can damage sperm or the idea that carrots improve vision? Well it turns out that both of these are also true.2 The fact is, oily fish really is brain food, cheese can give you weird dreams, heartburn during pregnancy may well mean a hairy baby, honey does genuinely suppress a cough, the full moon can influence behavior in crazy ways, ice cream can give you nightmares, yawning is contagious, an apple a day has medical relevance, and so forth.3
How about metaphors like, “We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less,” or “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” We instantly grasp the value of metaphors like this, but how about “A smile is a window on your face to show your heart is at home,” or “It will take a big tractor to plant anything in the fields of his mind?” Are metaphors such as these of the same value?
Here’s the thing. Many of our metaphors are outgrowths of wives’ tales twisted in sometimes humorous ways and sometimes in nonsensical untruths. A smile may be disarming and hide malevolent intent. The tractor plowing someone’s mind may have appeal, but it’s an insulting way of calling someone very stupid.
It seems that we often laugh at what we should find insulting and dismiss what we should pay some attention to, and that’s the point of today’s spotlight. If plants all turn toward the sun, does this suggest that people should do the same? This is the question that prompted today’s spotlight, for there are those who believe exactly this. Or are statements of this sort to be taken as metaphors referring to a different sort of sun. Think of the myth that Jesus Christ was born in December.
The 25th day of December celebrated the rebirth of the sun, s u n, the vernal equinox, for the cult of the Great Mother many years before the birth of Christ. That said, today the 25th is celebrated as Christmas, in honor of the birth of the Son, s o n. What’s more, where members of the cult of the Great Mother (mother earth) drank of the blood and ate of the flesh of a slaughtered bull, out of respect for this festive rebirth of the s u n, modern day sacrament privileges imitate this ancient cult practice in recognition of the resurrection of the s o n.
It’s easy to get lost in the landscape between fact and fiction as it winds its way along the grasslands of fantasy and between the knolls of actuality. My thoughts anyway, what are yours?
- 2015. Thorpe, J.R. “7 Old Wives’ Tales That Are Actually Scientifically Proven.” Bustle. June 24, 2015.
- Staff. “7 Old Wives Tales That Turned Out To Be TRUE.” Home and Gardening Ideas.