- A popular divinatory use for the snail, found in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland as well as England, is to place it in the ashes of the hearth, or on a plate of flour, and examine the marks of the creature's random meanderings to see the initial of your future spouse's name. The first known mention of this belief is in Gay's Shepherd's Week (1714: 34). Others claimed that it was lucky to throw a snail over your left shoulder (Henderson, 1879: 116). They also had their uses in folk medicine, being recommended for *earache (prick with a needle and drip the juice into the ear), coughs and colds (boil snails in barleywater), to remove *warts, cure the ague (strung on a thread and frizzled over the fire) (Black 1883: 56-7) and for gout (pounded into a plaster) (Aubrey, 1686/1880: 256). The well-known rhyme recited to snails by children:Snail, snail, Come out of your hole Or else I'll beat you, As black as coal. Snail, snail, Put out your horns I'll give you bread, And barley corns, was first printed in the mid-18th century, but the Opies point out its very wide geographical spread, taking in most of Europe and China, which possibly argues for it being considerably older.■ Opie and Tatem, 1989: 361-2; N&Q 5s:5 (1876), 208, 395; 5s:6 (1876), 158; Black, 1883: 56-7, 157-8; Opie and Opie, 1997: 465-7.
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.
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