Have you ever heard about people who could talk the fire out of a burn? I’ve heard about the phenomenon my whole life, but never seen it done. One of my friends said her daddy’s uncle could talk fire out of a burn.
My friend said she’d often heard the story of a little girl in the family getting badly burned and then being rushed over to the uncle’s house so that he could lessen the pain. Once he got through talking the little girl’s burn was much better. The uncle was also able to remove warts.
In days gone by it was easier for folks to get burned. They used burning wood for heat, to heat water, and to cook among other things. In other words, there was ample opportunity for children and adults to get burned as they went about their daily lives.
I’ve never been badly burned and I’m glad cause it hurts! I remember getting burned on Mamaw and Papaw’s wood stove. It sat in the corner of the small living room and I liked to stand close to it to feel the warmth. No one has ever had to tell me to come warm by the fire I always make a bee line for it.
I had a pretty little coat with the hood trimmed in some sort of fake fur. I burnt the back of the coat from standing too close to the heater and I also burned my arm on it.
I remember an uncle saying the best thing for a burn was to burn it again. I’ve also heard folks talk about drawing out the heat of a burn by placing it near a hot surface. Maybe that’s what my uncle actually meant. I was too backward to ask him exactly how you was supposed to purposely burn yourself again.
“Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia” written by Anthony Cavender has the following to offer about burns:
The folk materia medica for skin burns was extensive, but five substances are more frequently mentioned in sources: potato, soda, vinegar, butter, and balm of Gilead. Potato scrapings, or sometimes a slice of potato, were placed on a burn to “draw the fire out.” A soda paste or vinegar was applied singularly or in combination. The buds or leaves of balm of Gilead were mixed with hog fat and cooked down in a skillet into a soothing salve. Other popular remedies were a solution of slippery elm bark, egg white, water from the first snow in March, and vanilla extract. Some people thought it beneficial to apply cold water or, curiously, to situate the burned area close to another, stronger source of heat to “pull the fire out.”
In almost every community there were individuals known as “fire” or “burn” doctors who possessed the ability to “talk the fire out of a burn.” It is not difficult to find people in the region today who will gladly provide testimonials about the effectiveness of these folk healers.
It is likely that the burn doctor in this case used a charm well known in the region, and in English folk medicine as well, to “talk the fire out,” a version of which is the following: “There came an angel from the east bringing fire and frost. In frost, out fire. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” Another version collected in 1939 in western North Carolina substitutes “salt” for “frost”: “God sent three angels coming from the East and West. One brought fire, another salt. Go out fire, go in salt. In the name of the Father, the son, and the Holy Ghost.” Usually the burn doctor recited the charm in a murmur three times while moving his hand across and slightly above the burn, pushing his hand in a direction away form the victim, as though pushing the heat away, all the while blowing on the burn. According to tradition one can teach only three other people how to “”talk” or “blow” fire out of a burn. Some maintained that the person taught had to be of the opposite sex. No fee was charged for the service because it was deemed “the work of the Lord.”
The Deer Hunter used potato juice to heal his burned eyes back during his welding days and I’ve seen lots of folks use the soda and vinegar remedy for burns so those three home remedies are still being used. Please leave a comment if you’ve heard about talking the fire out burns.
*Source: Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia written by Anthony Cavender