The Superstition in Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

If ever love had a living definition, then Louise Erdrich captures it so succinctly in his short story, Love Medicine. He says of the higher feelings of devotion: It is “The spiked leaves full of bitter mother’s milk…….A buried root……A nuisance people dig up and throw in the sun to wither……A globe of frail seeds that’s indestructible” (Erdrich 284). Through a lively and vivid narration by Lipsha Morrissey about estrangement of his grandpa from the bosom of his grandma into the arms of Lulu Lamartine, Erdrich portrays the kind of love that cements relationships, and the tragedy of a passion that has lost its touch. Central to this weave of intimacy, however, are the superstitions that condition people’s beliefs and convictions about love in particular and life in general. The story strikes one as a piercing reflection of the centrality of superstition in religion and love, and their timeless relevance to all ages.

Via a two-angle perspective- modern Christianity and tradition, Erdrich examines man’s desperate situation not only in love, but in other aspects of life as well that makes him a blind seeker of divine intervention to straighten his path. Lipsha Morrissey believes a meal of geese heart will tie his grandpa and grandma together, for that’s where love lives; the villagers believe that Lulu Lamartine is such a man-stopper because her corsets and between her legs…..until it rattled grandma Kashpaw’s ‘goat’ as to make her think of a love medicine, and Morrissey to conceive of one in the shape of geese hearts eaten by both, to achieve the touch of intimate attraction displayed by their owners. If that is not magic and pure superstition, then religion, whether Christianity or the Indian Chippewa tradition is a lie- it is founded upon faith; ‘the belief against the odds, whether or not there is any proof” (Erdrich 277).

A clear parallel is drawn between man’s search for love and the religious beliefs that motivate him: that both are beyond human understanding…a buried root that at best, man can only dig up and make a nuisance of by throwing in the sun to wither……but nonetheless remains indestructible even in death. And so two related aspects about love and religion come alive: that although they are as meaningless as the ‘deafening Gods’ to whom prayers must be shouted, they are eternal and indispensable to man. What is really interesting is the suggestion that a deaf God is not different from a love medicine that doesn’t work.

The Christian belief in God is inspired by the same superstitious convictions that validate traditional beliefs in magic, such as in love potions. The fact that a Christian’s answers may go unanswered does not dispute the reality of God’s existence. May be the prayers did not reach Him, or perhaps they were not supplicated properly. Likewise to magic- in this case the love medicine concocted by Lipsha Morrissey on behalf of his love-struck grandma: may be it did not fail, it is only that grandpa choked and died before it worked. In fact so powerful was the medicine in this regard- at least grandma Kashpaw believed so, that it works even among the dead; for nothing short of its implied potency explains grandpa’s frequent visits to his beloved widow.

And this leads us to critical conclusion based on reality. America makes promises it cannot deliver- but nobody challenges its capability. May be God makes similar claims; promises He cannot fulfill, reason why prayers go unanswered. Nonetheless, the belief that He can gives people the fighting spirit to endure the trials of life. What is wrong with a similar belief in superstition? Whether it is a deaf God who hears no prayer or a concoction of dead turkey hearts that backfires, Love Medicine demonstrates that both provides the magic that gets the world going. All you need is some degree of faith, and the audacity to dare to belief.

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