Beneficiary Tales And Entomophobic Legends

Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

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Another force behind some folklore is a means of obtaining some diffuse or ancillary benefit for the originator or propagator of the tale. The tale of the Machaca among some inhabitants of Amazonia is a good example. The purportedly deadly consequences of the bite from the Machaca, which in actuality is the harmless but menacing looking fulgorid Fulgora laternaria, can be thwarted by having sexual relations within 24 h. These insects instill fear and should be avoided, but should the unfortunate happen, a cure is available. Such "sex antidotes" are fairly widespread among folk cures. The potential benefits to those disseminating such tales are obvious.

Other superstitious beliefs benefit particular insects by protecting them from undue harm from people. The Cornish believed that fairies were the souls of ancient heathen people that were too good for Hell but too bad for Heaven. These beings had gradually shrunk from their natural size to that of ants. It was therefore unlucky to kill ants. Similar tales of bad luck when people willingly or inadvertently step on or otherwise harm particular insects are found throughout the world. This is particularly true for insects perceived as beautiful or beneficial to human endeavors such as butterflies and ladybird beetles.

Some insect folklore stems from a general dislike of insects by people and serves to pass this feeling on to others and propagate fright and ill will toward insects. In some stories, insects may be stigmatized with imagined, dangerous qualities. This is most common for insects that have a frightening appearance and gives reason for them to be despised and avoided. Dragonflies and damselflies, for example, are the bearers of nearly 100 English folk names related to their appearance or supposed behaviors. One of their names is "the devil's darning needle," referring to their ability to sew closed the mouth, nostrils, and eyelids of someone unfortunate enough to be the focus of their displeasure. Other examples focus on fanciful abilities of certain pestiferous species to invade nearly any aspect of human life. One fictitious tale describes the plight of an unlucky woman who kept her hair pinned up for such a long time that it became infested with cockroaches.

A little known legend surrounds the comings and goings of body lice, Pediculus humanus humanus, an ectoparasite long associated with humans. There was a belief during the 16th century that during trans-Atlantic voyages, lice on the heads and bodies of mariners would miraculously disappear from the westward traveler at a line of longitude roughly 100 leagues west of the Azores. Furthermore, these parasites would return to the eastbound sailors at the same meridian. The basis of this sailor's tale is unclear, but it may be loosely related to the effects that the increase in ambient temperature and the associated shedding of clothing had on the number of observed lice as ships approached more tropical climes.

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