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Remedies and Rituals

Remedies and Rituals

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Folk Medicine in Norway and the New Land

Author Kathleen Stokker

Minnesota Historical Society Press (March 16, 2021)

Spells are conjured, herbs collected, and potions concocted in this fascinating history of the practices and beliefs of Norway's folk healers at home and in the New Land.


To cure a fever that begins with chills, write the following on a piece of bread and give it to the patient for eight days, one piece each day, and on the ninth day, burn the last piece: Colameris x, Colameri x, Colamer x, Colame x, Colam x, Cola x, Col x, Co x, and C x.

To prevent the huldrefolk from stealing your healthy child and leaving a child with rickets in its place, make three dolls from the child’s clothing to put into the cradle. The huldrefolk will take one of them instead of your child.

These and many more fascinating folk-healing rituals were secretly administered by healers, “witches,” and religious caregivers who tended the medical and spiritual needs of rural Norwegians for hundreds of years. In Remedies and Rituals, Kathleen Stokker culls from hundreds of original documents and first-hand accounts to detail the ingredients, customs, and histories behind natural remedies, potions, whispered spells, and the infamous “black books” used for centuries by Norway’s folk healers.

Stokker also illuminates the surprising personalities of those who risked imprisonment and persecution to help fellow Norwegians throughout the nineteenth century, as well as the often reluctant healers in the U.S. who continued to treat immigrants living in rural communities beyond the reach of doctors. Dodging harsh criminal laws championed by formally trained doctors, these rebel practitioners drew on ancient written and oral sources to treat everything from burns, broken bones, and whooping cough to difficult labors and emotional stress.

(Originally published in hardcover, 03/01/2007)

Author information

Kathleen Stokker is a professor of Norwegian at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Recipient of Norway’s prestigious St. Olav Medal in 2006, she is the author of Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land (MNHS Press).

Reviews and news

Advance Praise:

“An absorbing and remarkably thorough historical exploration of folk medicine in Norway and the New Land. This significant and highly readable study, which includes a rich array of remedies and rituals, will appeal to those interested in the intriguing tale of nineteenth-century health care and its contemporary relevance.”
Odd S. Lovoll, professor emeritus of history, St. Olaf College

Remedies and Rituals brims over with stunning scholarship: Stokker’s vivid, illuminating, accessible consideration of medical procedures, clerical perspectives, magical practices, legal strictures, and community structures will endure as a classic study of Norwegian and Norwegian American folklore.”
James P. Leary, professor of folklore and Scandinavian Studies, University of Wisconsin–Madison

In the Media:

"A history of the ways folk medicine represents a living, evolving body of knowledge and practice--not just as a result of the change in resources and circumstances experienced by immigrants but throughout the documented history of folk medicine in Norway, extending back to the Middle Ages. All too often, folk medicine is portrayed as a kind of timeless survival from a more primitive era, when in fact--as Stokker demonstrates--practice evolves in response to changing needs, materials, and knowledge. . . . An invaluable glimpse into the transformation of day-to-day life of an ethnic group in transition from the Old World to the New."
Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"This book is a wonderful work. Kathleen Stokker has written a detailed account of the worldview, rituals, and health practices of the Norwegian and Norwegian American immigrant almue, or common folk, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. . . . Anyone interested in the lives of the common folk of Norway in their home country or in America, folk medicine, or the history of medicine and health ideas generally will thoroughly enjoy this book."
South Dakota History

West Central Tribune

Annals of Iowa

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 260 pages
  • 25 b&w illustrations
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • ISBN: 9781681342047

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