Cattle Magic with Cowbell and Salt

The magic objects collection of Vapriikki in Tampere include one cowbell that came to the museum from Rautalampi in 1909. The catalogue tells of this object:

Has been used as a magic object. A handful of salt is poured through the loop of its tab and every grain of salt must pass through the loop. Then the salt is put into water that is given to the ox when the cattle is let out to pasture in spring. That summer the ox will follow the herd and not stray into someone else’s herd.

As was mentioned in the blog post about The Power of the Bear, cattle and horses pastured in the forest during summer and were thus vulnerable to many kinds of danger. The use of this cowbell suggests that the valuable ox could easily stray from its herd and perhaps be claimed by another cattle owner.

As often is the case with folk magic, there is some variation in this practice. In the archives of The Society of Swedish Literature in Finland (SLS) one can find a staged photo of two young women feeding salt from a cowbell to a cow. The legend to this image explains that this was done so that the cattle will keep together at the pastures. Thus, the idea to keep the herd together is present here too, but the salt is not poured through the loop in the bell’s tab nor put into water. The picture is taken in 1914 in a Swedish-speaking village in Porvoo. Therefore, this type of cattle magic was known both to Swedish-speaking and Finnish-speaking people in the area of nowadays Finland.

Feeding the cattle salt from a cowbell would keep the herd together when pasturing. Photo: Gabriel Nikander 1914, SLS. CC BY 4.0.

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