The eel, popularly known for the electrical properties of
some species, has been credited with many marvelous virtues.
If left to die out of the water, its body steeped in strong vinegar
and the blood of a vulture, and the whole placed under a dunghill,
the composition is said to be able to raise from the dead
anything brought to it and give it life as before. It has also been
said that anyone who eats the still-warm heart of an eel will be
seized with the spirit of prophecy and will predict things to
Eels figure in the folklore of many countries. The Egyptians
worshiped the eel, which their priests alone had the right to
eat. In Polynesian, Melanesian, and Indonesian stories, men
are sometimes transformed into eels. In the Philippines, eels
were believed to be the souls of the dead. In New Zealand, an
eel head was eaten to cure toothache. In other countries, eel
skins were laid on wounds to heal them. In the United States,
there was a folk tradition that eels eat human flesh, and some
fishermen were reputed to have caught large quantities of eels
with human bait.
In the eighteenth century, magic eels were made of flour
and the juice of mutton. There is an anecdote told by William
of Malmesbury about a dean of the church of Elgin, in the
county of Moray in Scotland, who, having refused to cede his
church to some pious monks, was changed, with all his canons,
into eels, which the brother cook made into a stew.