Author Archives: Tyler Anne Isaman

Jewish Evil Eye

“There is something called the “evil eye,” which is when you do not want to attract attention to yourself because you might get the “evil eye.” Other people cannot give the evil eye, but it’s a spiritual thing. I once had a family friend who when she visited would say “oh your so ugly” and “oh such ugly children,” because she did not want to give us the evil eye. Saying “oh such beautiful children” would give the children the evil eye. It is kind of like bad luck. Another example would be that people don’t buy things for their baby when they are pregnant.”

There are many variations of the ‘evil eye’ and it is used across the world to express a certain “look” that is bad luck for the person receiving it. Hamsa, for example, means five and is a symbol of a hand often used in Jewish jewelry or in talisman. Each of the five fingers of the hand represents one of the books of the Torah, Michal explains. An evil eye is in the center of the hand, because the eye is said to cause bad luck to anyone who gets the “look.” This look can come from a person unintentionally, so people need to be careful how they act around other people.

Michal, who calls her family very Jewish, claims that if you wish not to receive the evil eye then you should not boast about yourself, and you should avoid talking about your belongings, any good luck you might be having, and especially you should not talk about your children.

Therefore, when Michal’s aunt calls her nieces and nephews “so ugly” she is trying to protect them from other’s jealousy, because that jealousy could give the children and the family the “evil eye.”

Challah & Zechus

“There is a tradition that when a woman is having trouble getting pregnant, that if she or other people in her name make challah in her name then it’s a zechus for her and in her name, so she will then get pregnant.”

A zechus is a merit in someone’s name. The superstition of baking challah bread in someone’s name and then them being able to be pregnant could have to do with the community coming together to support that woman in her efforts to conceive. Accordingly, if the woman in question is able to conceive, sometimes the people who helped make the challah bread feel a special connection to that child, and the community protects her or him. This superstition is one I have never heard of before, but the mixture of community support and religious faith is endearing.

Virgin Mary Statue at Weddings

“My family says that if you put a statue of Mary out when its raining on your wedding day, then it will stop raining and the sun will come out. My great-grandmother told my mother that. It worked for my mother and my cousin on their wedding days.”

Similar to a previously posted story about burying Saint Joseph statues to sell a house, Emily tells the story of displaying Virgin Mary statues on one’s wedding day.

Having it rain on one’s wedding day is notoriously bad luck, with some saying it can represent the tears in the future to come. The Virgin Mary is the protector of domestic bliss, and is often see as a woman with a child.  As such, bringing out her statue at a raining wedding would correct the weather and allow the bride and her husband a joyous day. This instance of sympathetic magic, using a statue of the Virgin Mary to compel good luck for a wedding ceremony, is somewhat less well known as the ritual of burying Saint Joseph to sell a house, but Emily swears it works the same way.

Ha’pennies in Shoes at Weddings

“When you get married put ha’pennies in your shoes. My great grandmother told my mother that, and my mother told me. My mother is only around .02% Irish, but my great grandmother was “off the boat” Irish and immigrated here illegally. She even had to change her name.”

Ha’pennies are British halfpennies worth 1/480th of a pound sterling, and was discontinued by the British government in 1969, so Emily’s grandmother’s story must originate before then. Perhaps Emily’s grandmother got it from the Victorian rhyme, “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in your shoe,” and simply changed penny to ha’penny (1). There also exists an Irish version of this rhyme (which stays mostly the same) wherein the Irish penny in your shoe would guarantee the good fortune of the newly married couple.




Knock the Knots Out of Wood

“Some people knock on wood, but in my family I was told that someone needs to knock on wood upward, because otherwise you knock the knots out, and if that happens the luck is also knocked out. ”

Caitlin says she has no idea where that came from, but says it might have something to do with Ireland because anything having to do with trees has to do with the fairies of Ireland. Caitlin is of Irish heritage, and says that many of the stories her parents tell her have to do with mystical or magical qualities surrounding everyday objects—including wood. As she understands it, her family was from southern Ireland, where many fairies were associated with the forest, and so the saying her family uses probably has to do with knocking the luck right out of the fairy forests.


“There is a supposed phenomenon in the LGBT community called “bug-chasers” where there are people who specifically try to get HIV and sexual “bugs.” It’s a community that you get yourself into, where it is mutually agreed upon and understood. There are apparently parties for it and there are gatherings for it, because many people in the gay community have such high anxiety about getting HIV that they basically want to get it over with because it seems inevitable. Another reason is because they want to feel like they fit in, and the HIV community is very established and secure, so some people go searching to become a ‘member’ so to speak, so that they can feel included. I have been warned about these people several times by other gay guys, because sometimes you do not know who is a ‘bug chaser’ and who isn’t. They are kind of like the gay boogeyman in the gay community, with fear that a ‘giftgiver,’ or someone who gives people HIV would prey on someone else.”

The notion of ‘bugchasers’ and ‘giftgivers’ is somewhat foreign to the heterosexual community, but according to David is very common knowledge in the gay community. He claims that although the terms are used for individuals who give and wish to receive AIDS and HIV, they can also be used to describe someone who wishes to give AIDS or HIV to unsuspecting victims—hence the boogeyman analogy.

Yom Kippur, Book of Life

“There is an urban legend in the Jewish community where if you don’t fast on Yom Kippur, God won’t write you into the book of life for the following year. It means you need to be observant of the holiday in the proper way. My parents told my siblings and me this as a reason why we needed to go to temple. The significance of this is to keep you, and particularly children, loyal to their religion. It is also a way for families to come together. Personally I think it is typical conformist religious bullshit, but maybe I might do it with my kids one day. I’m not sure. I’m not sure how religious I will be for them.”

This tradition that you must fast to receive good graces from God is not new, but it is interesting that David sees this religious tradition as a way to keep children in line, rather than as a way to repent. David claims that he fasts every year on Yom Kippur, but does not necessarily know why he does so. Even though he is not that religious, it was his parent’s lesson that he had to fast to be written into the book of life, that he does it.

Tooth Fairies – Gay Dentists

“There is extreme paranoia in the gay community surrounding HIV and AIDS, and it can sometimes cause the gay community to turn on itself a bit. For example, in Oklahoma or Alabama hepatitis C and HIV were given to as many as 1,000 people through their homosexual dentist. I think that this, is like, an indicator that many people have AIDS in the gay community and that a lot of gay people no longer want to go to other gay dentists. People call gay dentists ‘tooth fairies’ because they are dentists who are gay and these dentists supposedly want to give other people HIV. I don’t even go to the University health center for dental work, because I know that someone there might be able to give me HIV or AIDS. I think that people in the gay community are even more afraid of AIDS and HIV then straight people because we are affected more often, so we have more of these terror stories surrounding the disease. We also generally take these stories more seriously.”

This phenomenon of “tooth fairies” that David talks shows a lot about the gay community and their attitudes toward HIV and AIDS. Kimberly Bergalis, a self pro-claimed virgin, accused her openly gay dentist in 1991 that he gave her the disease after performing a procedure on her. The story sparked controversy, and caused uproar in both the gay and conservative communities (1). More recently, an Oklahoma dentist was accused of doing the same, and 7,000 patients must now be tested (2). The pickle, however, is that the most recent Oklahoma dentist was not homosexual, but rather just an infected individual. These scary stories that appear surrounding gay dentist are actually scary stories about HIV, and less about the gay community. Therefore, this urban legend of the “tooth fairy” is partially factual, but also partially false.



Chicago Vanishing Hitchhiker

“There is a cemetery near my hometown where a woman died in a car crash in front of it. And people who drive past the cemetery at night will see a woman there. They will pick her up because they think she is a hitchhiker, but when the car drives to the edge of the cemetery, she disappears. The graveyard is a rural cemetery right outside Chicago.”

Ghost stories of a female hitchhiker who needs assistance are common, and have even appeared several times in pop culture. Although it is not known when the urban legend of a “vanishing hitchhiker” was created, Jan Harold Brunvand’s book The Vanishing Hitchhiker further popularized it in 1981. Variations of the tale are many, with some hitchhikers being female, while others male. Furthermore, some variations are more complex and involve left behind objects or specific directions for the driver.

Caitlin’s version of the “phantom hitchhiker” seems like a direct storytelling, but it is interesting that she specifies the exact area the ghost siting occurs in. This suggests that townspeople (to some degree) believe the story, or at least believe the story enough to keep telling it to future generations.

Irish Saint Nicholas Day

“Both sides of my family are 100% Irish, so they are obviously very Catholic. Also, I am from Chicago so there are a lot of Irish people there. I was raised pretty Irish Catholic with, like, the whole ordeal, and we would uhh go back to Ireland often. One special thing that we did is that we used to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day in conjunction with normal Christmas. It was during the Christmas season, but it was before Christmas Eve and Morning. From what I understand it was a Catholic holiday, but we celebrated it not because we were Catholic, but because we were Irish. When we went back to Ireland one year for Christmas, everyone celebrated it there. So it was a little before Christmas, and you would put your shoes outside your door of your bedroom the night before you went to sleep. If you have been good that year then there would be little trinkets in your shoes, so its like a really old version of Christmas. But unlike Christmas, there was a much bigger chance that you couldn’t get anything in your shoes if you were bad that year, so you actually had to be good that year. And depending on how good you were that year, you would get different things. And its basically what our ancestors in Ireland celebrated as Christmas.”

When I asked Devin if she also celebrated “American” Christmas, she said that they celebrated Saint Nicholas Day to connect to their ancestors, but because they were American as well, they still celebrated the “totally over the top American Christmas” as well. This merger of both ethnic and national Christmases show how some American families are trying to incorporate the folklore and traditions of their past into the increasingly commercialized American Christmas. In this case, the family decided to separate the two into separate days.

Upon asking Devin if she wanted to celebrate this Irish tradition with her kids one day, she said “most definitely,” because she would want her kids to know where they came from too. And that it does not even need to be a religious affair, per say, but she would want them to understand their “roots.”