Today’s #FolkloreThursday theme couldn’t be more perfect again: we had two visits from the tooth fairy in as many weeks.
This is quite complicated in our household. Our literal little boy is very nervous about the whole idea. Much like when Santa comes, he likes the end result but is scared of a magical entity coming near him while he sleeps. I mean, same.
Our solution is to put the tooth in a small hanging bag made by his Grandma and place it on the outside of the porch door. His anxiety means we check for money in the morning and he takes it after some reassurance. I remember he was very disappointed the first time that it wasn’t a chocolate coin, he tried to bite the pound.
If you are not familiar with the tradition, the child leaves their baby tooth for the fairy to collect from under the pillow and receives money for it. The British Dental Association explains the tradition goes back to 1900s. There’s some ancient wisdom behind it both in British folklore and my own family.
They share a different story from Lanchashire than I had heard, Apparently Jenny Greenteeth would pull your child in the pond if children did not look after their teeth. She could also be used to get you to go to bed on time. I am about to write a review of the excellent The Familiars by Stacy Hall and I do wonder whether the infamous witchcraft trials in Lancashire influenced their different folklore. Either way I see the tales as being a way to encourage your children to look after their teeth.
The tale I have heard from Lanchashire comes from my Grandmother who grew up there. She always left my mum’s baby teeth in a dish of salt. The exchange would be the same, money for the salt and the tooth. I only found one essay mentioning this practice by Tad Teluja in The Good People: New Fairylore Essays. They suggest that the salt helps preserve the tooth: a knowledge about salting food went back centuries so makes sense. But another account of this is that it kept malevolent pixies away. Apparently teeth were burnt in medieval times, perhaps to stop witches from performing spells. The tradition is very interesting because I think it does seem to suggest adults may have had fears around the fairy or sprites. Maybe wrapped up with the fears that your child is no longer a baby this is quite natural.
There could be many reasons that the tooth fairy myth has an important place in British childhood. The baby tooth may have helped an adult ward off evil spirits from their child, more important in previous age of infant mortalities being high here. No doubt, it remains a method of getting them to brush their teeth or even to reassure them that good things are coming through these change.
If you have recently taken an interest in fairies like me, I would highly recommend this blog about British Fairies. I am very interested in the surge in the interest at the turn of the century when talk of fairies became part of adult life as much as children’s lives in Britain.