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October 30, 2012 > Halloween

Halloween

By Doris Nikolaidis

Halloween I always dress up like a witch. Witchcraft runs in my family and I have to uphold the tradition. My husband insists that I am a witch naturally and would not even have to dress up for the role but he considers all women witches, so his opinion does not count.

My grandmother, who lived with us, was a witch. I never did see her ride around on a broomstick but I heard my father several times referring to her in conversations with my mother as "that mother of yours, that witch!" In the farming community where she lived, stories abound of some of her mystical powers, especially faith healing.

Neighbors in the community would often call on her to heal the pain of a sprain or ease the cough of a child. She would grasp at her cane, sit for a moment closing her eyes, get up and slowly walk to the neighbor's house. When we asked my mother what grandma was doing, my mother answered, "She is doing a miracle." My father would usually add, "She is doing her witchy stuff." I was a little uneasy living with a witch under the same roof but my mother assured me that my grandmother was one of the good witches.

When I was about ten years old, I experienced her healing powers first hand. I had to walk to school a distance of about forty-five minutes, plodding through heavy snow in wintertime. Every year, during the winter, I would get severe frostbite in my toes. One particular winter the frost bites were especially painful and some of my toes were turning blue. The doctor prescribed footbaths with some stimulating additives, but nothing helped.

Then my grandmother took over. She told me she would make the frostbite problem go away once and for all, and I would never get frostbite in my toes again. I loved my grandmother dearly but the prospect of her turning into a witch in front of my eyes made me very apprehensive.

She told me to follow her outside to the back of the house. I eyed her witchy weapons anxiously. To combat frostbites, she had taken a chair, a chamber pot, and the brushwood broom that my father used to sweep snow or leaves off the garden paths. I was determined to keep my eye on the broom. In every fairy tale story I had read, this was the usual mode of transportation for witches. My grandmother told me to sit on the rim of the compost bin. I hoped she was not going to use the content of the bin as a medical unguent!

She took the broom and brushed the snow off a small area under my feet. If she asked me to ride the broom with her, I was going to yell for my father. She sat in front of me on the old, rickety garden chair, told me to take off my shoes and socks and walk around barefoot in the snow for about one minute. Then she told me to urinate into the chamber pot and poured the urine slowly over my feet. This was a very unpleasant ritual but if that was the alternative to having the content of the compost bin poured over my feet, I was willing to accept it. She dried my feet off with an old rag, told me to sit down again on the rim of the compost bin, and sat down opposite me in her garden chair. She took my feet into her hands, closed her eyes, and quietly sat with me for about five minutes. Then she rose and told me that I would never get frostbite again. I never did.

Years later, after my grandmother had died, my parents visited me in USA. My father told me that my grandmother, before she died, had told him the secret of faith healing and had instructed him to pass it on to me as she thought I might also have the gift. I had always rejected mystical claims people made unless their claims could be substantiated by concrete scientific evidence. Passing the secret on to my father, who was the very person who imparted a healthy dose of skepticism to all his children, seemed like an odd choice. My father explained that my grandmother had told him the secret could only be passed on to the opposite sex. By that simple statement I was convinced that the whole thing was a lot of hocus pocus but I was willing to listen.

According to my grandmother, a person really heals himself. The healer, by the power of her personality, would only convince the person that she could heal him. That explanation seemed too simplistic. I had experienced my grandmother's healing power on my very own feet, but I suspected that the cure was the result of my aversion to again having urine poured over my feet.

Once, when my four year old daughter suffered from a severe ear infection, crying with the pain, I was desperate and decided to give that faith healing business a try. I put my hands over her ears and told her to close her eyes. Mommy would make the pain go away. I closed my eyes also and concentrated on the pain. After a couple of minutes she sobbed, "Mom, it is getting worse!"

That was my last attempt at faith healing. If witchcraft runs in my family and I have, according to my grandmother, the gift, I must be a different kind of witch.

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