Mountain Tradition: Buying Warts from People



A handful of months ago, a small wart appeared on the side of my right hand.  Other than being slightly embarrassing, it really hasn’t bothered me too much and for the most part and has remained largely unnoticed.

Unfortunately, yesterday afternoon I spent some time with an honest four-year-old who was kind enough to tell me that “the bump on your hand is disgusting.”

It pains me to state that hearing the truth out of the mouth of a babe somewhat troubled me — no one wants to walk around town looking “disgusting” and so I dropped by the house of the one person I knew was most capable on offering true and real practical advice regarding all things medical — my West Virginia granny!

“Granny, how does a person get rid of a wart?” I asked, expecting for her to give me some type of ointment or provide a recipe to some sassafras concoction the old timers from her day used.

“You got a wart?” she inquired.  “Yes,” I responded, raising my hand and showing it to her.

Without saying a word, she stood to her feet, reached into her purse and pulled out a shiny quarter and handed it to me.

“I’ll buy your wart from you,” she answered.

A bit confused, I questioned, “What do you mean?”

“I have an ability to buy warts from people…”

Turns out, she practices a long celebrated mountain superstition in which certain individuals are believed to be able to actually “purchase” a wart from someone and in doing so, make the skin infection disappear.

“Your uncle once had a terrible place on his elbow that wouldn’t go away — we had tried everything possible to make it disappear and nothing worked. But then an old man told me that I needed to see if I had the power to buy the wart from him and so I gave it a try and within a week’s time, that bad place was gone,” she recalled.

After a little bit of research, I discovered that our forefathers were almost obsessed with warts and given the fact that early settlers didn’t necessarily practice the greatest hygiene habits, the tiny skin tumors that appear via germs entering cuts and scratches on skin were far more rampant than in modern times.

Unaware of their causes, our ancestors developed various lures pertaining to why they sprang up (surely, you remember your mother telling you not to touch toads or you’d get warts), and often even more elaborate practices regarding how to rid oneself from the “disgusting” skin bumps.

These practices ranged from washing hands in water that had been used to boil eggs to rubbing a wart with a bean pod and then secretly bury the pod — as the pod rotted and disappeared, so would the wart.

The belief in buying warts, however, can be traced back to Old England, to an era when individuals believed that if someone fell ill it was the work of an evil spirit troubling them.

In order to confuse the evil spirit troubling their sick children, parents would often “sell” their sons or daughters to a neighbor in hopes that the plaguing spirit would soon become confused and not know where or how to trouble the child.

Over the course of time this practice evolved from selling one’s children to selling one’s warts.

Twenty-four hours later, I’m still looking at a wart on my right hand, but I do have $0.25 more to my name.  Here’s hoping Granny can pull through and make this wart go away!

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  1. My granny always said to cut a potato, rub it on the wart, and bury it under the full moon. When the potato rotted, the wart would go away.

  2. My Aunt Stella “doctors” on warts. She took one from me once when I was a little girl. She would touch her mouth with her finger then touch my wart (several times) and she said some sort of mumbo jumbo…. In less than a week my wart was gone. lol

  3. I love our traditions. I know folks that rub the wart and whisper a few words and the wart will disappear. I have seen it work.

  4. My mom was the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter and could take away warts but never purchased them.

  5. My Grandfather, Ike Russell, was a noted wart remover around Pondville, Kentucky. His method was to rub the wart while telling his patient to let him know when the wart disappeared in about a week. Most were gone in a week to ten days. Turns out that is the nature of most warts to just fall off.

    • In college I developed warts on my face. They spread from shaving. After 3 visits to my MD with no Success. I called a man I knew in Houston. I got on a plane and flew from Muncie Indiana to Houston. My friend was an OBGYN Doctor. I knew he treated warts on women in hidden places. He had made my appointment for me via phone. I showed up at the appointed time and was told without looking at the book, I DID NOT have an appointment. I told here Doc’s name and assured her I HAD AN APPOINTMENT to please check her book. Afted 3 red face apologies she called Doc that his 9 AM was here. I no longer had a problem, the warts were gone from the frezen Doc gave them.

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