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Lice in Folklore and Fairy Tales

Lice in Folklore and Fairy Tales
Updated on 
May 8, 2019

Lice can be found in myth, folklore, literature, and history throughout time. You will be surprised at how prevalent head lice have been throughout the ages. You are definitely NOT alone. Lice are even mentioned in the Bible as one of the famous plagues released on Egypt.

Across the world, the Southern Paiute Tribe of North America passed down a story about the tiny bugs. Clifford Trafzer writes in his ”A Chemehuevi Song:

coyote the trickster southwestern native graphic art

The Resilience of a Southern Paiute Tribe"  about the story of love between Coyote (called Sinawavi) and Louse (called Poowavi) where nits (lice eggs) carried in a woven basket must be carried to Coyote’s brother, Wolf. Along the way, the trickster Coyote hears voices and movement from the sealed basket. Ignoring the instructions not to open the basket, Coyote looks inside out of curiosity and the nits flowed from the basket in every direction, becoming the first human beings on Earth.

The Brothers Grimm even have a tale in their collection called “Little Louse and Little Flea”. The louse and flea are married, until one day the louse drowns while brewing. Little flea starts to mourn, prompting a chain tale (or cumulative tale) as the news spreads to a door that begins creaking, then to a broom that starts creaking, finishing the sequence with a spring that overflows and drowns them all. This style of tale might be familiar to you in the modern children’s story and song x`“The Little Old Lady that Swallowed a Fly”.

fly and louse graphic line art

In 18th century Ireland, John Lyons wrote the famous song The Kilkenny Louse House, wherein the singer, after turning out the lights in his room, realizes he must fight off bugs, “for the fleas and the bugs they collected to march, And over me stomach they formed a great arch”. This song as been recorded by modern singers, as recently as 2003 in the album From Puck to Appleby. Irish writer James Joyce mentions lice in his book “Finnegan's Wake” where brothers Shaun and Shem fight over who will replace their father, Shaun assassinates Shem’s character, including accusing him of being infested with “foxtrotting fleas, the lie-a-bed lice...[and] bats in his belfry”.

In Scotland, there is a proverb credited to John Ray that states “Give a beggar a bed and he’ll repay you with a Louse” - another warning for travelers using inns. The famous Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote his own ode to the creatures in 1786, titled “To a Louse: On Seeing One on A Lady’s Bonnet, At Church” about seeing lice crawling unnoticed in a woman’s hair. He admonishes the bug for preying on the pious woman, asking “How dare ye sit your fit upon her, fine lady! [Go] somewhere else, and seek your dinner on some poor body.” Today we know that lice don’t discriminate based on age, gender, or religion – they are equal opportunity blood suckers.

Lice can even be found in Shakespeare! In his tragedy “Troilus and Criseyde”, one of the characters disparagingly compares his brother to the lowly louse. Imagine if that scene were as famous as Romeo and Juliet!

Not all depictions of lice are negative. In Spanish and Latin folklore, using lice in entomotherapy (the use of insects for the treatment of human diseases) is encouraged. It was once believed that consuming nine live lice each day for nine days could be used as a cure for jaundice. While not known to cause direct harm, eating head lice has not been researched  or proven to cure disease.  (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3770454/).

Even today, the stories we tell our children have been influenced

princess with long golden hair

by the presence of lice in our history. Have you ever wondered why princesses in fairy tales must have their hair combed for hours each day? During the Middle Ages, lice were so prevalent that most people accepted it as an inevitability  while only the truly rich and powerful had special combs and servants to remove the bugs each day.

Today, professional in-home lice treatment is available to you through LiceDoctors. Your lice technician will eliminate even the most advanced cases of head lice. There is no need to tackle this overwhelming task alone.

Call LiceDoctors today at 800-224-2537 for the answer to your lice problems. It’s not a myth...LiceDoctors will make those lice go away and stay away!

We provide a friendly in-home lice removal service

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