Sara Tilley and the search for an aphrodisiac to call our own.
Since the human race first began recording its customs way back in the days of pictographs, there has been evidence of our use of aphrodisiacs. Loosely defined as any agent which arouses or is purported to arouse sexual desire, aphrodisiacs can include certain smells, foods, drugs, alcohol, music, items which resemble genitals, and so on.
My first forays into the topic turned up mountains of information on a wild variety of aphrodisiacs, but almost nothing originating in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Why were there no records of what our ancestors used to get themselves some action?
How we had achieved our reputation as the most sexually active province in Canada (go team!) without the help of any philtres, charms, potions, or special foodstuffs, as can be found in nearly every other culture in the world? Due to our unflagging, unmitigated virility? Our superhuman stamina? Our unwavering, insatiable erotic appetite?
With these burning questions in hand, I turned to Philip Hiscock at Memorial’s Folklore Department.
Although he says there is scant evidence of any tradition of aphrodisiacs on the Rock, it is likely we were still using them — just not talking about it. Newfoundlanders are generally tight-lipped when it comes to topics of a sexual nature, even if we’re known for being randy. Our lack of well-known aphrodisiacs could just be another case of no one wanting to ingest and tell.
When I asked Hiscock about specific items used as aphrodisiacs, he emphasized that reports are few and far between, and difficult to verify. However, we managed to sniff out the following local substances that could have been responsible for Nanny and Poppy getting together, getting it on, and/or getting it up…
Native plants – There are reports of tansy being used as a female aphrodisiac, as well as a good herb for inducing menstruation; many aphrodisiac plants double as regulators of the female cycle. Hiscock also had records of boy’s love, or yarrow, being used as a sort of love charm – given from girl to boy, it made him fall in love with her. My extensive Googling also turned up angelica, the seeds of the ash tree, and evergreen bark. Roseroot was used by the Inuit, and the Vikings too. Another shared herb between those two cultures was Labrador Tea, high in vitamin C. It made the Viking Beserkas go berserk and was also touted as making you better in the sack, or under the caribou hides, or what have you.
Seal Penises – Just the topic you’d hoped I’d broach. While unknown whether or not Newfoundlanders themselves have ever used seal penises as an aphrodisiac, the seal penis market in China does exist, and it does still purchase several tens of thousands of seal penises each year, to be ground into powder for virility potions. In the late nineties, a shocking penis fraud rocked the hard-on industry – 100% Canadian Seal Penis Powder had been found to contain the penises of dogs, cats and cattle. Said Bradley White, one of the researchers who discovered the scandal, ‘Domesticated animals don’t have the same power as wild animals. But you can get a domestic animal penis a lot easier and cheaper.’ Word.
Seal Oil – Also in the late 90s, an elderly man phoned in to Open Line and said he didn’t need Viagra because of his daily dose of seal oil. Apparently the same vigour-imparting ingredient is found in both the seal’s genitals and the oil rendered from its blubber; perhaps, one could thus construe, eating flipper pie could be part of our legacy of lustfulness.
Shellfish – Many cultures consider seafood to be an aphrodisiac, which is logical, considering Aphrodite rose from the sea. However, even if you knew sweet nothing about Greek mythology, you could still get in the mood by feasting on crustaceans. What makes them erotic? Perhaps it’s the saltiness, perhaps the genital-like structure of mussels, clams, and oysters (and, dare I say it, sea urchins!), perhaps the dose of protein, or the tricky, somehow sensual work it takes to pry the shell apart and get in at the flesh. Or all of the above.
Fresh blood – It’s just the thing to get you hot and bothered, apparently, according to many cultures, the Inuit among them. Again, I think the injection of protein is probably what does it in this case. Besides, what could be sexier than gulping down a mug of nice, warm blood?
Ambergris – A ‘cruelty-free’ whale product. Essentially this wax-like substance is excreted from the sperm whale’s intestines, and collected from where it floats on top of the surface of the sea. It apparently smells like musk (that other enticing animal-gland excretion) and thus was historically highly prized as an ingredient in perfumes and cosmetics. Its pheremonal properties were reputed to drive members of the opposite sex wild.
Other – Potatoes, salt, onions, carrots, rum. Sunday dinner, anyone?
Love Charms (for women)– According to the Folklore archives, there is much more known about our historic use of love charms than anything else. These, for the most part, were performed by teenaged girls.
If you were Protestant, Midsummer’s Eve was the big day for love charms, and if you were Catholic, the Eve of St. Agnes in January was your time to get to work. You might, for example, place your shoes at the foot of your bed in a T formation, and recite the following:
I put my shoes in the shape of a T
In the hopes that this night my love I’ll see
You would then dream of your future husband. Similarly, a girl might cut out many letters from a magazine and place them face down in a bowl, then cover them with water. In the morning the letters that have floated to the top would spell her lover’s name. You could break an egg into a glass of water on your windowsill and ‘read the yolk’ at daybreak, or throw a glass of water out of your window onto the road; the first man to walk over it would either be your love or have the same initials as the man you love.
Love Charms (for men) – The one local male love charm that Hiscock came up with involved a man rubbing a piece of fruit in his armpit before giving it to a woman to eat; in this case the theory is that his pheremones, when ingested, cause her to lust after him. When I told my partner about this, he said ‘You didn’t know that? I kept wiping your India in my underarms the whole night, when we met.’
What a sweetheart.Did our ancestors count on these, or on other lubricators of lust? Perhaps cod britches or rubbing yourself in fatback, or doing shots of Purity Syrup (raspberry, straight) or bathing at midnight in rainwater?
I believe they must have, if our culture is at all like the other cultures in the world.
And why has the human race been eating, drinking, snorting, or otherwise absorbing aphrodisiacs since the dawn of time? Do they actually work? Who knows. Eating foods high in vitamins or protein is probably going to make you feel healthier, and hence, hornier. Certain foods, like chocolate, do raise the endorphin levels in the body, bringing you that much closer to the big O.
And, thankfully, our powers of persuasion are enormous; believing in something is enough to make it real, sometimes (ask Peter Pan about that one).