Saluting Magpies: Exploring the connection between old wives’ tales and modern information sharing
PhD project abstract
Old wives’ tales are a type of female narrative from the oral tradition. Definitions of them vary from fictional stories told by old women to pieces of advice shared through generations, some of which are true, whilst others have been scientifically disproven. Generally, the phrase has negative connotations. For example, in the King James Bible it states ‘refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself [rather] unto godliness’ (Timothy, v4). Historically, women found to be sharing these tales, especially those based on health and wellbeing advice, which this research focuses on, were admonished. These punishments included exclusion from religious, social, and educational institutions and being arrested under the Witchcraft Acts of 1563 and 1604. Women’s own educational accomplishments and desire to help their community was used in retaliation against them. But what would these persecuted women do if all the tales they told were true? Which tales could be weaponised against their persecutors and which ones could they use to help one another? In my practice-based PhD I explore this by writing a collection of contemporary short stories, embedded within a novel. The plot for each short story is based upon an old wives’ tale. For instance, in ‘The Cookbook’ Sofia’s feeds her friend carrots so that she can see in the dark and spy on her cheating husband. I address the interdisciplinary nature of my research methods; as alongside the established creative techniques used in my field, I am using empirical research methods conventionally found in other disciplines to update traditional storytelling. I discuss how I am embedding the empirical findings into the creative work, and how this research supports the idea that old wives’ tales lend themselves to emerging trends via social media, for example beauty ‘hacks’ and D.I.Y healthcare.