Saturday, December 9, 2023
HomeOpinionsHumourBluenose Magic: Student Edition

Bluenose Magic: Student Edition

(Editor’s note: The following article is not actual medical advice. Do NOT, under any circumstances, try ANY of the remedies in this article. Some of these purported cures may kill you. Kill you dead. Neither the author nor the Gazette accept any responsibility for the results if you ignore this warning. I write this fully understanding that most of you aren’t morons, so please don’t take offense. I’m a law student who’s taken Torts though, so I understand how much damage that one-in-a-thousand paste-eater can do if they aren’t properly warned. — John Hillman)

The election campaign is over, and the Halloween season is well upon us. In the absence of debates to scrutinize and platforms to evaluate, I’ve decided to devote my free time to a new hobby: traditional folk magic.

This might seem like a strange leap, but are the two really so different?

Traditional magic involves divination rituals, the chanting of sacred mantras, and the swallowing of bitter, sickening potions in the hopes of preventing worse ills. Politics involves polling predictions, the constant repetition of campaign catchphrases, and the swallowing of bitter, sickening bullshit from the candidate you vote for in the hopes of preventing worse parties from gaining power. The transition wasn’t that hard.

To advance my studies, I turned to Bluenose Magic — a seminal collection of Nova Scotian superstitions and folk remedies published in 1968 by Helen Creighton, a celebrated folklorist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

You may have your doubts as to the relevance of some of the archaic superstitions she catalogues, but they are as effective today as they ever were. Let me illustrate, using some examples copied word-for-word from the text. You’ll be surprised just how much such folk magic can help you deal with common student problems over the course of a typical week!


On Procrastination

You have an essay due Monday, but you’ve reserved all of Oct. 30 for Hal-Con. Worry not!

“It is bad luck to start anything new on a Friday [Wolfville and Dartmouth, English]”

Turns out it would be a bad idea NOT to procrastinate — according to the wisdom of our forebearers, the only responsible thing to do is to start on Saturday.


On Menstruation

At the movie, you run into a friend who invites you out to her Halloween party the next night. Given how huge Jurassic World was this year, you desperately want to dig out your old genderswapped John Hammond costume. There’s only one problem: considering the time of the month, you’re a little concerned about those tight, pearly white pants.

Don’t worry; the Germans have you covered.

“Pennyroyal for menstruation. [Corkum’s Island, German]”

The instructions are a little lacking (do you drink it? Eat it? Smoke it? Apply to skin?) and the effects are unclear (does it start menstruation? Stop it? Alleviate the pain? Slow the flow?), but one thing is for sure — modern medical research shows that if you take too much Pennyroyal, it can lead to organ failures, seizures, and death, so you definitely won’t be worried about your period anymore.


On Vomiting

You go to the party. You have a few too many drinks and suddenly feel like hurling. Creighton provides you with two options, one English and one German:

“Make a poultice out of all kinds of spice; mix and lay on stomach. [Milford, Annapolis County, English]

“For vomiting, take the lining from the gizzard of a turkey or any fowl, dry it, steep it in water, and drink. [Conquerall Bank, German]”

Given the German solutions for menstruation problems and vomiting, I can only imagine their instructions for treating more serious ailments.


On Headaches

Even if your turkey-gizzard tea fends off the vomiting, odds are good that you’ll wake up on Sunday with a killer headache. The English and the Acadian settlers couldn’t agree on much, but they did mostly concur on how best to get you back on your feet and writing that essay:

“For a headache, get a piece of brown paper and saturate with vinegar and tie  a handkerchief around the forehead over the paper. [West Jedore, English]”

“Soak cloth with vinegar and tie over forehead for headache.” [West Pubnico, Acadian French]

You’ll smell like a pickle, but it’s cheaper than Advil.


On Toothaches

You cured the headache, but all of that Halloween candy you binged on has caught up with you, and your teeth are throbbing. The dentist’s office is closed — what can you do?

“When Dr. Dan L. MacDonald was practicing dentistry in Antigonish, he had a woman patient who said to cure toothache you should scratch the tooth with a splinter from a tree that had been struck by lightning [Argyle, Scotch]”

(Kind of puts in perspective how Peter MacKay kept getting elected in that riding, doesn’t it?)


On the Flu

You’ve submitted your essay, and you realize that it’s now November — flu season. You’ve read some troubling things about vaccines from reputable news sources like “”, so you want to skip your flu shots this year and handle things in a safer, more traditional way.

“Two or three drops of turpentine on sugar for flu, and cold water [Mooseland, MicMac Indian]”

Keep in mind: I don’t know what “two or three drops” works out to, but studies have shown that turpentine can be lethal to children in doses as small as 15 mL. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that vaccines contain CIA tracking devices and alien DNA, so I guess you’re taking your chances no matter what.


On Nerves/Insomnia

You’ve looked over that essay you submitted, and you’re starting to wonder whether if maybe you should have started on Friday after all. You can feel that knot of fear twisting in your stomach, and you’re finding it difficult to fall asleep. What kooky concoction did the old-timers rely on for dealing with anxiety/insomnia?

“Poppy for sleep, but you must be very careful with it. Old people gathered herbs in the fall and kept them in the attic. [Kingsburg, German]”

That … actually doesn’t sound like magic. That’s just opium, an illegal narcotic.  Let’s see what the other settler cultures had to say:

“A colored woman living here grew poppies, and she said her children were always quiet because she fed them poppies. [Granville Ferry, English, Irish, and Scotch]”

Well, I guess you can’t argue with results. To anyone suffering from sleepless nights, four out of five sleepless 19th-century Nova Scotian settlers agree: you can’t pronounce Opium without saying “yum”!

(I know he’s not exactly a big fan of Nova Scotian culture, but given that this remedy will probably be legal any day now under that reefer madman Trudeau, maybe someone should pass it on to Harper.)

John Hillman
John Hillman
John Hillman is the Gazette's Opinions Editor. John is a second-year law student, but he has been at Dalhousie for much longer than that. Recently discovered cave paintings indicate he was first observed lurching around campus by Halifax’s original human settlers some time during the late Pleistocene epoch. He started writing for the Gazette back when you were in elementary school, but he unexpectedly went off the grid a half-decade ago to concentrate on helping found, a DSU-focused political blog. Where exactly was he hiding between the years 2009-2013? Certain individuals would prefer he not comment. Why has he returned? Not because of a top-secret Illuminati indoctrination project known only as the Omega Initiative, that’s for sure. You can email John at

Most Popular

Recent Comments