Author Archives: Francesca Ressa

Evil Eye Oicotype

The Evil Eye and Evil Eye protection as described by informant:

“My mother is not a very religious person or anything she did grow up in an Islamic home. She thinks I’m just being superstitious. I 100% with my soul, even though I believe in God and I believe in Allah, I believe in the evil eye also it’s one of the strongest beliefs I have. It’s it’s not just a Persian thing it can be any Mediterranean you know even the Turks have it everyone has some variation of it basically you wear it and people who wish bad things upon you people who are jealous envious and I feel like I deal with that a lot because I’m in such a competitive major you know so for protection any of their evil energies go to this this absorbs it I will not feel anything and if you don’t I know the Kurds from Iraq I don’t know if the Kurds from Iran do the same thing, my friend who’s Kurdish from Iraq she says that one time she didn’t wear, okay, she didn’t wear this (holding evil eye pendant) she didn’t have any evil eyes on her and she was going to a weeding and she looked really pretty at the wedding and so she felt like a lot of people were being jealous and sending her the evil eye and when she got home on her legs she literally had pimple like things with black they were blackheads all over legs and that’s in the culture. They say that’s it, they put the eye on you they ruined your skin, and like people swear by this 100%. Like I don’t go anywhere without wearing one that’s why I have them in my car I have them on my keys and I wear my necklace. Mine’s literally from Iran, and they had to go everywhere to fucking find it for me. Cuz Like theyy bracelets and stuff like they both them off the internet and stuff and they break but that’s part of the legend is that they break because someone wished something bad on you and the energy broke the bracelet. Instead of the energy effecting you it broke your bracelet or it broke your necklace. That’s how you know it works.”

As my informant says, the Evil Eye exists in different cultures all over the world and the oicotype that she believes in cites the evil eye as deliberate and malicious wishes of bad things to happen to someone, often out of jealousy. Where some might say they have bad luck or bad karma, the evil eye is another popular concept to explain when bad things happen, though there are ways to protect yourself from it or, in a sense, other people. Her evil eye charms and jewelry protect her from the evil eye by absorbing this negative energy, often breaking as they take on the impact of the cynical and envious. Though she explains that her own mother, who is from Iran is not a believer, she is and has gotten her various charms from her aunts and other family members. My informant insisted that she believes in it, and the staunch confidence despite her own mother’s suspicions was funny to observe because as she said herself, “I know, I’m this Persian girl from Oregon with a Valley Girl accent, but I swear it’s true.”

Persian Tale of The Chick and the Kitten

The tale of the chick and the kitten told verbatim by informant:

“My mother and my grandfather told me this as a child and still remind me of it sometimes in Farsi, but I don’t know how exactly how to tell it. It’s a story about this baby chick and its mother hen and the baby chick always asks, ‘Why can’t I go play with that baby kitten over there?’ and the mom always tells it, ‘Don’t go playing with that kitten, don’t go play with the cats,’ doesn’t really explain why but she’s lecturing her chick and the chick goes against her wishes and plays with the cat and gets eaten. So the moral of the story is don’t go and associate with people or mix with people who are your opposites… because they can change you they can get you in a vulnerable environment, like you’re not familiar with, like they can destroy you and they can be bad influences on you and take advantage of you and basically corrupt you as a person.”

I think this märchen is another instance where the authoritative nature of parents towards their children come into play within the Persian culture. There is question from the chick without explanation from mother hen, which is no uncommon to parenting, but since the chick still doesn’t listen and gets eaten (fairly scary for a child) there’s the implication that you shouldn’t every question your parents but simply obey—for your own good. That at 22 years old my informant is still reminded of the lesson from this tale is fascinating because she is first generation American. Since she is in the melting pot of America, surrounding by people who are different in her in so many ways, she needs to be that much more careful with who she surrounds herself with. Though I don’t believe the chick and the kitten are opposed in any formal way, the cat can be understood as a natural predator in most respects. The chick is not just killed, but eaten, which is a whole other level of destruction, or corruption as my informant suggests. Either way the notion of the Other is clearly established and made out to be something to be cautious with, but seemingly avoided all together (if taken more literally).

Mint or Chamomile Tea: Folk Remedy

Mint or Chamomile Tea is a folk remedy for stomach ache:

“We use mint or chamomile for stomach ache. Those are the two popular things. Some people add a little bit sugar to make it taste better. But some people like the tea without sugar because they say it’s a medicine it shouldn’t have sugar.”

Sugarless mint tea and sugarless chamomile tea is a folk remedy my informant learned at a young age in León, Guanajuato, México. It makes sense that folk remedy would be used considering the difficulty buying medicine in the impoverished conditions my informant grew up in.

Folk Remedy for Menstrual Cramp Pain

“When I was a teenager when my period start I always have a pain in my stomach and sometimes my mother warm a tortilla and she put a little bit of lard in the tortilla and make it warm and put it in the stomach to make it go away. You cover uh You put it on the stomach and you lie down for a while and its warm in your stomach. The lard keep your stomach warm.”

This menstrual cramp remedy is a folk remedy my informant learned at a young age in León, Guanajuato, México. It makes sense that folk remedy would be used considering the difficulty buying pain medicine in the impoverished conditions my informant grew up in. Lard and tortillas are basic to Mexican cooking, and heated together this way make for a home-made heating pad if you will, easing pain by relaxing overworked muscles in the lower abdomen.

Esfand and Sage Burning: Persian Cleansing

Esfand and sage burning practices in Persian culture cleanse houses, bodies, and objects that may be occupied by evil spirits, spirits of the dead, or may be afflicted by the evil eye.

Described verbatim by informant:

“Esfand is basically these dried herbs that, every Persian household has them. And say um a lot of bad things have been happening like your car broke down, you got a bad grade, your boyfriend broke up with you, someone died, you know, so people feel like it’s obviously like it’s evil spirits literally are around your house and around your car and they’re around you so when you burn the esfand you walk around and its smells horrible and you walk around and you just you do it over everyone’s head you do it over even like around your pets head you do it around your car um everything you um walk through the room cuz you’re killing things by burning the esfand cuz it smells so bad and that like gives it’s like a cleansing to get rid of the bad spirits that are causing the bad things. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be evil spirits it can just be like people evil eyeing you and wanting bad things to happen to you. Negative Vibes.

Sage is kind of a similar process it’s just to clean whatever was in the house previously to be gone, it’s a fresh start, cuz you don’t know what happened someone could’ve died in that house, you know? Crazy things. So if you want a fresh start in a new home you can do that.”

Esfand to my knowledge is unique to Persian culture and this cleansing ritual. Ritual burning of herbs is common to many cultures, especially burning with sage. The idea of smoking out spaces and people for purification is something I know to be relevant to a lot of Native American tribes, Mesoamerican cultures, Aboriginal tribes, and countless others around the world. Though smoke is considered polluting and dangerous to many people, burning and beginning anew is a process found in nature, ie wildfires. This has since been observed by humans and emulated in swidden or slash-and-burn agriculture across the globe. Perhaps there is some root to the notion of burning and cleansing there, though that connection seems unlikely in the context of the Middle East, unless the practice of burning herbs was learned or brought in by some other influence (perhaps by trade ie along the Silk Road). This theory is purely speculative, though, as ritual burning could have begun in the Middle East or spontaneously come about for all I know.

I later got an email from my informant saying she wasn’t sure if she explained esfand and it’s relation to the evil eye well enough so she sent me a link to a website that she felt explained it well:

Esfand & The Evil Eye

The Four F’s

The Four F’s: Fat, Female, Forties, and Fertile

“Remember that. It’s the telltale signs: A woman, who’s overweight, in her forties, and hasn’t gone through menopause yet. Basically a recipe for gallbladders stones, if you can check off the Four F’s and there’s any pain in the abdomen then it’s pretty much an instant diagnosis.”

My informant told me this saying in an Operating Room where we both watched her husband perform pro-bono gallbladder surgery on a woman who had no insurance and a classic case of gallbladder stones, thanks to the Four F’s. In addition to being a memorable piece of folk speech for diagnosis, the Four F’s in name alone sounds like a recipe for something bad. Even if you didn’t know that fat, female, forties, and fertile referred to potential gallbladder issues, the list infers trouble.

Judge Cropsey Legend

The Judge Cropsey Legend as told verbatim by informant:

“Judge Cropsey was a story we learned when we went away to boy scout camp. Well there’s a bunch of different versions but the most popular version was that Judge Cropsey was a scout leader and every year he went to boy scout camp with you know one of the troupes from his home town and uh of course he taught all his kids how to um you know whittle with a pocket knife and how to use a hand axe and how to use other tools and you always had a project like building a tripod or building a tower, but Judge Cropsey was a real fanatic about safety and um he would be very upset if you didn’t use the tools properly. So one summer there was this kid you know this kid would not uh repeatedly didn’t use the tool properly particularly the hand axe and uh as Judge Cropsey was watching him one day this kid um (pause) was using the hand axe incorrectly and he managed to chop, lose control of the thing and hit Judge Cropsey in the wrist and knock of his hand. Judge Cropsey just went bananas. He had a psychological breakdown, went running through the woods, bleeding everywhere and kinda disa disappeared and from then on every summer at that boy scout camp there were sightings of Judge Cropsey in the woods usually at night time usually running around with a hand axe and of course threatening you know that he was going to chop off someone’s hand.

It was a typical campfire story you know. It was a lot of fun. And the whole purpose of the story of course was to scare the new kids you know at camp um but it became really a legend. And like I say there were multiple variations on the story. and of course anytime there were noises at night someone would scream (suppressed yell) ‘Judge Cropsey! Judge Cropsey!’ (laughing) And everyone would you know duck under the covers and you know hope that he wouldn’t come to your tent. You know the youngest kid at camp was 11, so. But everyone at camp knew the story.

You know, I think probably I told it outside of boy scouts because uh I used to take my friends camping. You know, and I’m sure I not only told the story but I’m sure I embellished it. There’s there’s another version that actually wound up in the movies. Uh where uh Judge Cropsey or someone similar to him grabbed the handle of the car and got dragged as the car was puling away and of course when the people didn’t realize what was going on and when they um when they stopped the car and got out they saw the hand um you know there. And then of course there’s the version where uh Judge Cropsey, because he lost his hand, he got it replaced by a hook and every once in a while someone would hear a scratching on their car and they’d speed off and then, of course, one day someone would look at their handle or look at their rear fender and see a hook hanging off it and that was Judge Cropsey’s hook.

I lived in Long Island and every year we’d go up in the Catskills where the boy scout camp was. So, but I think the hook man, my guess is that the hook man was a variation of the original Judge Cropsey boy scout story.”

The legend of Judge Cropsey in the boy scout context is perfect, as the informant mentioned, in terms of the scary campfire story and especially messing with the younger boys at camp. The threat of Judge Cropsey lurking in the woods at night with his axe is not only classic, but it does teach the boys a lesson in listening to their camp leaders, being alert, and of course staying on their best behavior. Running off to the woods isn’t so appealing if Judge Cropsey’s running around trying to kill kids. The informant’s connection to the fairly popular contemporary legend of the hook-man is interesting too, because the “embellishment” of Judge Cropsey or the essential collaboration of the two legends makes for an almost oicotype super-legend. If donned with a hook, Judge Cropsey isn’t limited to the woods, but can strike anyone at anytime. It’s also interesting because the legend of a child-threatening figure named Cropsey has numerous variations in other parts of New York, one of which was formally investigated in the 2009 documentary film “Cropsey.” The film explores the legend’s manifestation in Staten Island, where Cropsey kidnaps children and takes them to the woods where they are lost forever, then exploring its power in relation to the conviction of a local man as a child kidnapper.

Cropsey. (2009) Dir. Joshua Zemen and Barabara Brancaccio. Netflix. Web.

“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than be good.”

Saying described verbatim by informant and his wife:

“We use that a lot at work, in surgery, in medicine. And there are there are times when (pause) no matter how good a surgeon you are the result is not what you hope it would be, the patient doesn’t do as well. You can do the same operation the same way, you know, the same way on ten people but you can get you know 3 or 4 different results and so. It’s not to belittle anybody’s effort or ability but sometimes it just matters you know how the cards are dealt. And uh an example, another example would be: we take call at night, you work all night. Some nights a guy will be, won’t have any emergency surgery to do and he’ll be able to sleep all night and there are other nights where the guy is up All night uh through no fault of his own just happened to be a night where a lot of people showed up in the emergency room. So we always look at each other and we say ‘Well, it’s better to be lucky than good’ cuz no matter how good a surgeon you are you’d rather be lucky and not be working all night. You’d rather be the lucky one that gets to sleep.

I don’t think that phrase is unique to surgeons or in the medical world.

(wife’s interjection speaking quickly and emphatically: You’ve been saying that since the day I met you. You didn’t say that as a surgeon. You said that, when I met you you were saying that. Because you said you were good all the time and you had no luck. You used to say that all the time, I’d say like you know “You’re so good,” and he was like “Yeah, well sometimes its better to be lucky than be good.” And I was like, “Well what do you mean by that?” You’re like “You know I have no luck” Kay, not for nothing, you’re a pretty lucky guy, you work really hard but some people work really hard and they don’t get places, but that’s for another day)

(In answer) Well, there’s also the expression that you make your own luck, so. But I don’t, I didn’t realize that I said that so often but I don’t think the phrase is unique to me. I think I heard it from someone else.

(wife: No, of course not. But it obviously spoke to you. Right?)

I always think of my brother P. (P is an name substitute to keep confidentiality) cuz my brother P. was kind of an imp of a boy, always in trouble, but he was always incredibly lucky. I mean he he

(wife speaking as he spoke: The luck of the Irish!)

never got caught by the cops, he uh um he did very well playing cards um always had luck with cards (laughing)

(wife: Always had incredible luck with women)

Yeah well, he was very handsome so he didn’t have to be lucky

(wife disagreeing: Uhhh, I’m sorry)

but but uh certainly, Certainly when I’d look around at how hard I was working at school and he was still pullin good grades uh, usually he was lucky he had a good teacher or he had a good friend.

(wife’s question: Did he get good grades?)

He got okay grades, much better than he deserved (laughing) so.”

Obviously this proverb applies to numerous situations. For my informant, it held truth in both his professional and personal lives. With a high-stress high-stakes job as a general surgeon, the subjective reality of treating patients sometimes can only be justified and understood with the concept of luck. Since their work holds great consequence to people’s lives, when things don’t work as they “are supposed to” it can be a heavy blow to both their conscience and confidence. Being a good surgeon and doing things exactly as they are supposed to isn’t always enough to save someone, and that can understandably be a difficult concept to wrap their heads around. Also, the absurdly difficult “On Call” shift in the Emergency Room overnight takes a lot out of surgeons physically and mentally. Having the luck to sleep through the night is often favorable to performing surgery all night; even though you may be a good surgeon and can help people, there’s luck in the sense that people aren’t sick and don’t need help, which in turn is lucky for surgeons who can then get some sleep. So far as my informant’s personal life, he sees his impish younger brother as having luck in the sense that things easily work in his favor. Naturally, a man who by both his wife’s and his own description is a “good,” hardworking person, it’s easy to view the luck and ease his bad-boy brother always had as both irritating and enviable. Good for him that he can smile and laugh about it. In this manner, the proverb is almost a calming truth; not everything is within your power. That luck is an important concept to my informant whose family is a mix of Italian-American and Irish-American, among other things, isn’t so surprising.

Eye Contact before the First Shot

Everyone participating in a toast or the first drink of the “night” or celebration has to make eye contact with everyone else before taking the drink.

Custom described verbatim by informant:

“We need to make eye contact with each other, all the people who are taking the shot or it’s bad luck if you don’t. I learned that a while back and now I’m all about it. It might be a lingering thought in your mind but I really doubt if there’s any effect on your life if you don’t (laughs) I think people believe it because they don’t want to be sick at the end of the night so they feel like if they make eye contact with people they drink with they’d be better off. It’s like an anti-sickness superstition. We better our opportunity in waking up the next morning not feeling hungover if we make eye contact in the initial shot process. At least in my world. I don’t know about everybody else’s if they believe in something else but, it’s all witchcraft. (laughs then pauses) It’s about good vibes you know and if it’s about good vibes I’m into it.”

Though my informants description is humorous, he insists (at least in small groups) that you must do this every time a toast is made or the first shot is taken or drink is sipped. Maybe he views it as a way to forego getting a hangover and staying lucky as he continues drinking, but eye contact is also a simple way of establishing connection. Since drinking is very much a social activity, insisting on eye contact with everyone drinking with you, whether in celebration or not, gives the practice a deep-seeded feeling of togetherness—“Good vibes” in the words of my informant. Saying its bad luck to do otherwise is an easy way to get people to participate, especially if the flipside is getting sick later. Excluding oneself would be very anti-social, and the threat of bad luck and sickness lingers should you choose not to drink or follow this rule. I think its less about actually believing it and more about being social and connecting with people, if only for a moment.

Puerto Rican Folk Remedy for Laryngitis

A remedy for Laryngitis described verbatim by informant:

“A remedy from my Puerto Rican mother and it is using lamb fat, just lamb fat, put a little piece of lamb fat in a snifter, that is like brandy snifter and then you pour a little bit of brandy in it and you light it until it goes out, it burns up really all the fat and all the, pretty much all the alcohol. You have to do it at night right before you’re gonna go to bed, because you don’t want to speak after you drink it. You just go to bed, you wrap something around your neck to keep your neck warm, you drink it down like in shot, like you swig it, and the next day you always have you always have your voice completely back, your laryngitis is gone. I don’t know why, but it is. And it’s lamb fat—not bacon fat, not beef fat. Lamb fat, fat of the lamb.

I know in Puerto Rico in the 20’s and 30’s, in the Caribbean, there were not a lot of doctors usually, there was one doctor in the whole town, so there were a lot of remedies that were home remedies, herb remedies that people used. And it works! I love it because it works, and it’s from my mother. I love it because it’s Puerto Rican, it’s my mothers. I have used it with my own family, even when they were super little. Absolutely.”

I am not well versed in the science of how this remedy is effective, but my guess would be that since, as my informant said, people in Puerto Rico were often left to their own devices when they got sick, burning lamb fat in brandy is a pretty logical choice. The flambéed lamb fat might provide some soothing, coating quality to the throat while the alcohol or heated brandy probably provides some antiseptic quality. Doing this before bed makes sense because you don’t salivate in your sleep, so the medicine can “stay” in your throat and do its thing. Why it only works with lamb fat is not within my knowledge but my informants was insistent that that’s the only fat that works.