- There are a number of beliefs about the adder which have been collected across the country, with little variation. It was said to be deaf, on the authority of Psalm 58 ('They are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear, which will not hearken to the voice of the charmer'). It can only die at sunset, and if you kill one its mate will come looking for you. Adult female adders swallow their young when in danger, then vomit them up once the danger is past. An adder coming to the door of a house is a death *omen, and to dream of adders means your enemies are trying to do you some secret mischief. In the Fens, it was said they were attracted by the smell of a *menstruating woman (Porter, 1969: 51).Adders were thought to like milk. A story in The British Chronicle of 15 October 1770 concerns a farmer and his wife who, having noticed that their best cow gave little milk, stayed up one night to catch the thief. Just about sunrise they saw 'a most enormous overgrown adder, or hag worm, crawl out of the bush, and winding up one of the cow's legs, apply its mouth to one of the paps'. The man managed to kill it with his cudgel, and the stuffed four-foot long skin could be seen displayed at the farmhouse (quoted in Morsley, 1979: 72).On the principle that like cures like, adder's oil was prized as a remedy for *deafness and earache; one snake-catcher used to sell it regularly to a chemist in Uckfield (Sussex) at a guinea an ounce in the late 19th century. The way to catch an adder was to shake a silk neckcloth in front of the snake, which would strike at it and be unable to withdraw its fangs; one could then break its back, slash its skin, and hang it in a warm place for the fat to drip out as oil.A shed adder skin could draw out thorns, splinters, or even needles when applied to the other side of the hand or finger. This cure is mentioned by Aubrey (1686, 1880: 38), as well as by 19th- and 20th-century folklorists. He also mentions that 'Sussexians' wear the skins 'for hatt-bands, which they say doe preserve them from the gripeing of the gutts'. Other sources list this as a remedy for a headache. In Cornwall, adder skin sewn to flannel was worn by pregnant women as a belt (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 362-3).If a man or animal has been bitten by an adder, the best remedy is fat taken from that very adder, but another is to wrap the victim in a fresh sheepskin. Aubrey's cure (Natural History ofWiltshire MS in Royal Society) involves the 'fundament of a pigeon applied to the bite-place'. The pigeon will quickly die. Keep putting fresh pigeons to the wound till they stop dying.
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.