LYRIC O’ THE DAY:
And the devil in the black dress watches over
My guardian angel walks away
Life is short and love is always over in the morning
Black wind come carry me far away
--Temple of Love, The Sisters of Mercy
Good morning! I have been loving Rachel Harrie's Writer's Campaign. I'm steadily visiting lots of new blogs and meeting so many talented folks. If you've stopped by and I haven't followed you back, please let me know! Now, on to Sunday's mythbusting.
Armed with a backpack that made him look like a giant turtle, my son reigned victorious over his first week of kindergarten. He also returned with a valuable bit of information, thanks to a loose tooth and kindergarten lore.
“Mommy, the tooth fairy is going to bring me a lot of money for my tooth when it falls out.”
|My boy looked a lot like this during his declaration.|
Ah, the currency of calcium. A child has 20 deciduous or “baby teeth” to lose between the ages of 6 and 12. For most cultures, it’s a simple rite of passage. To lessen the blow of leaving childhood, the idea of a benevolent spirit purchasing a freshly extracted tooth has become well accepted. But before I started this post, I had no idea where this myth came from. To my surprise, there was no dentist to blame.
Teeth have long been symbols of power, luck, and protection. Teething rituals date back to ancient times with the earliest mentions of the tradition in the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda, the most extensive written account of Norse poetry and mythology. Viking folk were quite wary of witchcraft and demons, and believed that teeth offered a pearly protection. If a child lost a tooth, their warrior parent would give them a “tooth fee” for it. The Vikings often wore them as jewelry; a toothy talisman against demons. This tradition is still practiced today by warriors of the celebrity sect, as shown by my favorite Rocky Horror sweetheart, Susan Sarandon. Here she wears a bracelet made from her daughter's baby teeth.
|I actually think this is kinda cool. Photo from hollybaby.com|
Native Americans often used teeth in their medicine bags, believing them to have powers in love and protection magic. Gypsy lore suggests that parts of another human--like nail clippings, hair, or teeth--can be used in sympathetic magic. This is similar to how voodoo dolls are used. For that reason, they would destroy lost teeth in a fire, or in some cases, have an adult swallow them. Yum!
I suspect that’s something Paula Deen will NOT be covering in butter anytime soon.
Some cultures buried lost teeth to help the child “grow a new one.” In Asia and Africa, teeth were thrown on the roof for scavenger animals to retrieve. Supposedly if a mouse or rat ate the tooth, that would ensure future sharp teeth for the child.
Speaking of the order Rodentia, the Europeans seemed quite taken with tales of mice with tooth fetishes. In Scotland, a white rat purchased lost teeth. In Spain, “Ratoncito Perez," aka Perez the little mouse, promised money for each lost tooth. Italy, Germany, and the Czechs all had their own version of the tooth mouse. Not to be outdone, the Finnish went so far as to create a “tooth troll,” a vile creature named Hammaspiekko that would drill holes in children's teeth if they ate too much candy.
Now that’s something you don’t read in a Dr. Spock baby book. Although this clip from Metalocalypse is enough to make me stop eating candy. And serves as a reminder to let my kid know that teeth only grow back once.
At some point, the tooth mouse morphed into a fairy, and an 18th century story called La Bonne Petite Souris (The Good Little Mouse) may be the reason. In this tale, a beautiful fairy disguised as a mouse saves a princess from an evil king by repeatedly biting him in the face, ultimately causing his death. It’s probably much more poetic in French.
|The diabolical tooth mouse.|
America helped the tooth fairy finally wax her whiskers and became a proper lady. A three act play titled “The Tooth Fairy” came out in 1927, but the first published children’s story on the subject as we know it is believed to be by Lee Rogow in 1949. Some folklorists think that once Rogow’s story established the legend, the media, post-war affluence, and a more child-centered mindset in American families allowed the Tooth Fairy to take her place with Santa, The Easter Bunny and The Great Pumpkin.
|What pre teen boys hope the tooth fairy looks like. Drawing by 14-bis on deviantArt from google|
|What the tooth fairy actually looks like. Drawing by wolfgangmustdie on deviantArt from google|
Rosemary Wells, a professor at Northwestern University Dental School, was a leading tooth fairy authority. She had an extensive collection of tooth memorabilia showcased in The Tooth Fairy Museum in Deerfield, Illinois (now defunct). Her research showed that the idea of a tooth fairy and treats in exchange for teeth was universally shared in most cultures as a way to soothe the transition from child to adult. Simply, it was a way to get children to look forward to something normally unsettling.
The Tooth Fairy still shows up in popular media. Take 2010‘s creatively named cinematic zenith, “The Tooth Fairy,” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Didn’t see it? I guess mouse to fairy to WWE warlord was a folkloric jump people were not willing to make. Give it another 100 years.
In literature, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series has a story line of tooth fairies who possibly originated from the bogeyman. His fairies always carry pliers in case they can’t make change and need to extract an extra tooth to make it all even. For horror lovers, Thomas Harris’s novel Red Dragon follows a cannibalistic serial killer nicknamed, “The Tooth Fairy.”
Tasty Teeth, a Hellboy story from Guillermo del Toro, tells how tribes of fairies would suck the marrow from children’s bones. In 1226 Pope Honorius made a pact with the King of the Fairies to end the carnage--the fairies got children’s teeth in exchange for a silver coin. According to the story, children stopped believing in the fairies, so they started their grisly marrow suckage again. Grenades and explosions followed soon after. Gotta love Hellboy.
The Tooth Fairy is a myth that most people can easily give up. But my six year-old?
Anyone got a set of fairy wings I can borrow?