Nails are claimed to be of the same composition as hair, nails grow from a single root, and lengthen every day. But over time, after the age of thirty, nails no longer grow at the same rate as growth slows down. The famous French herbalist Maurice Messegue wrote about nails, explaining everything that can be revealed about human health by their appearance.
The author emphasizes that blue nails can signal heart problems, yellow nails indicate liver problems, pale nails or white spots indicate that their owner is anemic, while brittle nails, if they have not become so from excessive use of nail polish and acetone, on the onset of rheumatism. Nail loss is especially worrying because it alerts you to several serious conditions such as depression, diabetes, syphilis, blood stasis or nervous disease.
People who bite their nails, according to the author, have psychological problems, usually mild neurosis and fear, and in order to solve this problem, it is necessary to discover the source of this condition. A diet based on green fruits and vegetables has a beneficial effect on annexed people and can help get rid of this unpleasant habit.
In the folklore tradition of BiH, there is a belief that when white spots appear on someone's nails - "they will be happy again" or they will be happy about something again, although those white spots or stains, from a medical point of view, are actually a signal that the body lacks calcium.
Nails in folk tradition
There are dozens of superstitions about nails in the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the most famous is that they must never be cut at the time when the sun sets, because then the one who does it risks becoming the target of evil spirits or even worse, someone else, who would accidentally set foot on those nails. In northwestern Bosnia, it was believed that an individual, who had a habit of cutting his nails at dusk or at night, would become a "lampir" after death, as our ancestors once called a vampire. In Velika Kladuša it is still claimed that it is not good for the house and its well-being if a guest who has never spent the night in it cuts his nails. In order not to violate the taboo, the guest must ask the host if he can cut his nails, so if the host allows it, then this approval has a prophylactic effect. Similarly, also in Velika Kladuša, there is a belief that the one who always cuts his nails with scissors gains the power of the evil eye and can harm small children with his own eyes.
In both beliefs, the notion of cutting in half or cutting off is emphasized, suggesting a symbolic cessation of happiness or health. And this is perhaps best explained by the following custom. Namely, when one woman interrupts another in a conversation, she usually then says: "Don't blame me for interrupting you in my speech, may I interrupt all the evil in your life just like that!"
Furthermore, it is believed that one who does not look after his cut nails and throws them anywhere, when he dies, will have to look for and collect them in the afterlife, literally to the last. This belief seems to be a supplement to the taboo on traditional nail care, due to their fatalistic impact on human health and destiny.
Nail care starts from birth and accompanies a person until his death, and even after it. Namely, the first cut nails of children in Velika Kladuša are taken to the mosque on Fridays and secretly left under the carpet, so that the child, when he grows up, will be wise and successful in school. In Zvornik, children's nails would be wrapped in paper and pushed somewhere into the wall or left in a clean place, saying:
Eli eli fentu ćabeli ćuntu,
toprak šae crne nokte daje,
nosi elif kuda znaš,
kad poželiš da mi daš!
The above magic formula, which is composed of Turkish and Bosnian words, mentions "suvaldžije", angels who come to the grave for the soul of the deceased, and they are given these nails through the formula, so that the deceased would not have to look for and collect them there, in the underworld.
In Rogatica, it was customary to pick up the cut nails and take them to the forest and leave them in the hollow of a tree, saying:
Take them, angels,
wherever you know,
when i need them
give them to me!
And in this formula we have a clear allusion to the task of angels to secure man, by symbolic gift of nails, before going to another world with one small addition, which explains in more detail the connection between forest and nails. Namely, the Bosniak people believe that every man has his own source of water and his own tree in the forest, which represents his totems or, better said, natural counterparts, which is a remnant of the shamanistic beliefs of our people.
In addition to the above, nails are props very often sought after in the occult, whether it is to practice love or black magic. For this reason, they were traditionally kept and carefully collected after cutting, so that the witch would not reach them. The ancestor of monotheism, Zarathustra, also warned against this, ordering that man treat carefully cut nails and hair, and this dogma was taken over by Paracelsus himself. Namely, he believed that hair and nails have a life force in them for a short time, after removal from a person, and that they are therefore ideal props for occult manipulations. Probably under this influence, in the Middle Ages it was believed that after a man died, his hair and nails grew for some time, which was actually the result of the withdrawal of the flesh and not the growth of the above.
Long nails in mythology
Among the Bosniak people, as we can see from what has been said so far, nails have always been treated with caution and mothers have never allowed their daughters to nurture long nails. Even today, a pious old woman brazenly snaps at the mention of long nails: "such a girl or woman is no better than an ordinary bitch or a cat!". The reason for such an attitude is certainly not exclusively of a religious nature but also of a practical nature. Namely, long nails are, above all, an ideal place for the accumulation of various impurities and bacteria, and this is by no means desirable when cooking and preparing meals with dough. In the past, all Bosniak women, especially girls, had neatly trimmed nails on which they would apply a canoe (kna) before Eid, "Mevlud" or a wedding, the color of which would gradually wash off on its own.
In Bosnian mythological legends, long nails are the weapon of certain dark beings who attack people. There are many legends and stories about strange nocturnal creatures called "Prepasti".
One of them, which I heard and recorded about ten years ago, happened to my cousin’s grandfather while he was riding a horse in the evening. Namely, after the horse drank water on the river, as many evenings before, he headed home. Somewhere halfway to his home, he suddenly heard a child crying. Guided by the sound, he stopped he dismounted and approached the edge of the meadow, in the tall grass, he saw a small child of only a few months old, lying wrapped in an old dirty blanket, crying unstoppably. Thinking that some woman had probably left him there and left, he took pity on him and without thinking took him in his arms and headed home. Holding the child with one hand, he steered the horse with the other, wondering whose abandoned baby it might be. Looking at that child at one point, he noticed to his horror how the child's face was distorted into some kind of freak, and bigger and bigger nails were growing from his fingers, which were trying to scratch him. Frightened by the sight, he threw the child and chased the horse, and behind him a hysterical sound similar to the announcement of a hyena was heard. When he later told his neighbors about the event, he learned that he was in fact the target of "Prepast", which tried to attack and kill him.
Except in "Prepasti", long nails are in our mythology, also, a witch's tool with which, according to the legend, she pierces a child's skin and takes out his heart.
Finally, it would be interesting to recall a few more Bosnian beliefs about nails. The first of them says the following: when you see your enemies arguing, you rub your fingernails, and they will fight.
Another belief suggests that one who wants his nails to grow faster should cut them on market day (when a fair is held in that place) and if he wants his nails to grow slowly then he should cut them on Fridays. Also, for those who cut their nails on Fridays, it will bring abundance in property, on Thursdays it will bring them children, that is, offspring, and on Wednesdays happiness and success.
The last belief is prophylactic and warns us that it is desirable to look first at your nails and only then at a small child, so that you wouldn't accidentally hurt him with your gaze and cause him illness.