Author Archives: Nicole Vartanyan

Vodka Cure

Form of Folklore:  Folk Belief (Medicine)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born in Yerevan, Armenia, where she attended a Russian school.  At the age of fourteen she and her family moved to America, where she was formally introduce to the English language and had to continue going to a school where the primary language was English.  She has had exposure to both Armenian (from her youth and family) and American folklore (by living and studying in America).

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of informant’s house.

Item:    When you’re throat hurts, you take a wet towel… actually you take a dry towel and you wet it in vodka (you put a lot of vodka in it to make it wet).  And you wrap it around your throat.  And first you get a cold feeling and then it kinda warms up; as long as you feel the warmth, you keep it on.  And apparently, that has the healing ability.  Preferably, besides the towel, you put a plastic bag over the towel to keep it even warmer.  And you could also do this for a stomach ache; you just put the towel on your stomach instead of your throat.

Informant Comments:  The informant learned this folk medicine from her mother (of Armenian decent); when she was ill, her mother told her to do this and her throat stopped hurting.  She believes it works and is mostly because of the heat that is causes by the vodka.  She has tried other types of alcohol, but they did not work, so the informant believe there is something specifically essential in using vodka.

Analysis:  It is no surprise that the heat from vodka can make a sore throat feel better.  Whether, making it feel better is truly a sign that the vodka has a healing ability is another matter; perhaps it only soothes the aching that comes from having a sore throat without actually curing the sore throat itself.  Since vodka is a common drink amongst Armenians and Russians, it seems that vodka is mainly used because it was the most available.  Nevertheless, using this remedy to get rid of (at the very least) the pain of a sore throat (or stomach) seems to be successful and will most likely be passed down from the informant to her family members.

 

Bottom of a Foot

 

Form of Folklore:  Gesture

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Glendale, California.  Most of the folklore he has been exposed to comes primarily from his father, who is of Arabic decent.  Other folklore has been attained either through media sources (i.e. Reddit) or through personal life experiences in America.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of another informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item:    In Arabic culture it is rude to show others the bottom of your foot.  So when you sit cross-legged, the bottom of your foot should not be pointing towards them; it should be pointing towards the ground.

Informant Comments:  The informant grew up with this idea that showing the bottom of his foot to someone, particularly an elder, is very disrespectful.  He developed this etiquette of not showing the bottom of his foot because he was raised in an Arabic cultural surrounding where this disrespectful gesture is considered very rude.  The informant does not know exactly why this gesture is considered to be so rude, but has decided to simply stray from doing it so that he never accidental offends anyone.

Analysis:  This gesture is considered rude in many Middle Eastern cultures.  It seems that the idea behind this gesture is that the bottom of your foot belongs on the floor and showing someone something that belongs on the floor seems to indicate that that person is like the floor.  Essentially, this gesture implies that the person doing it is in some way superior to (on top of) the person that it is being done to.  While in America, no one would be offended by this gesture, many Middle Easterners would.  Thus, this gesture is not universally rude, but one can see how it may be considered rude by those who grow up in an environment where it is disrespectful (i.e. in Arabic culture).

Cuchulain

Form of Folklore: Folk Narrative (Legend)

Informant Bio: The informant was born and raised primarily in Glendale, California; he only left the United States for a two year period (from age fourteen to fifteen) to live in London, England. Most of his knowledge of folklore is from his mother (of Irish decent), his father (of Persian-Armenian decent), and media such as the internet and television. Context: The interview was conducted in the living room of another informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item: Well um… this is one of the Irish legends my mom used to tell me about. About a young warrior named Setanta, who’s kind of an Irish hero. And he was raised by his father to be the greatest hunter, the greatest fisher, that there ever was, you he was kinda one with the wilderness… great in all these areas. And he had this ambition of joining the Red Branch Knights… a kind of mythical Irish heroes, that weren’t kinda named individuals, just like an order of great knights of the land heroes. And when he becomes old enough, his father gives him… um… I think a sling and a magic ball that he’s got to go into the wilderness and kind of prove himself before he becomes a member of the Red Branch Knights. And while he’s going, he happens across a dog. And the dog is really aggressive and territorial and he fights the dog and kills it with the sling and the ball. And it turns out that this is a famous dog, this famous guard dog of the area of Cullan, this is the official… the hound of Cullan. He’s just killed this famous dog in combat. And the owner of the dog, the lord of the castle, comes out, he’s like “what’s going on, you just killed my dog”. And because he’s such an honorable soldier, been trained so well by his father, he offers to take the guard dogs place. Setanta, he assumes the name of Cuchulain, he becomes the hound of Cullan, guarding the place. And this kinda cements his legend and lets him join the Red Branch Knights later on. It’s a nice Irish hero story.

Informant Comments: The informant’s mother told him about this legend. He believes that there is some partial truth to the tale. Most likely, he thinks, the Red Branch Knights probably existed but were glorified in the legend out of proportion; their doings and achievements seeming more than in reality. He believes it is possible for Setanta to have existed and to have become the hound of Cullan, but does not have any reason to say that his legend is completely true or completely untrue.

Analysis: This legend is famously told in Ireland and amongst Irish communities. Honor, respect, and strength are key elements in the legend of Cuchulain. According to the legend Setanta was raised to be strong and to become a member of the Red Branch Knights (an honorable position). This is physical strength, which is also apparent when he is able to kill the large hound. Beyond physical strength, inner strength, respect and honor are demonstrated by Setanta when he offers to take the hound’s place. Whether the legend of Cuchulain is true or not, it is clear that the legend is intended to uphold virtues of having inner and physical strength, honor, and respect.

Annotation:  The legends of Cuchulain can be found in “Mythastrology:  Exploring Planets and Pantheons” by Raven Kaldera (page 203).

Egg War

Form of Folklore: Holiday Ritual

Informant Bio: The informant was born in Yerevan, Armenia, moved to Moscow, Russia at six months, then to Detroit Michigan at age three. Since she was five years old, she was raised in Glendale, California. Most of the folklore she knows is from her mother (passing down traditions she learned) and from peers at school. Her mother remains as her main source of cultural folklore (Armenian) whereas her friends in school exposed her to the folklore of American culture.

Context: The interview was conducted on the porch of another informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item: On Easter morning, after the eggs are painted and put out on the table (it’s part of breakfast). So we basically eat the eggs for breakfast. And before we eat them, the way we open them is like… um… taping the top of one egg against the bottom of the other, so the pointier side is hitting the flatter side. And if it cracks that egg, that means you like won the egg fight. And if there’s a few people playing, you move on to try and crack theirs. And then if you win all of it, you’re egg is like the sacred egg and you don’t eat it; you put it aside and you eat one of the ones that was weaker.

Informant Comments: The informant believes that this Easter ritual is a pleasant way of getting the family together to play an innocent game. She enjoys playing the game and believes the best part is being able to eat all of the loosing eggs and saving the winning egg for another day (another war). Everyone wonders if the egg will be able to beat the rest of the eggs the next day also.

Analysis: This Easter ritual seems like a harmless game that can bring some excitement to a regular morning breakfast. This egg war is very common in Armenia (where the informant is from). This ritual, unlike others, brings out some good natured competitiveness in the family member. Luckily, it almost never leads to an argument since the strength of the eggs the members of the family have chosen have nothing to do with the people who chose them; thus, no egos are wounded. Essentially, only good can come from adapting this Easter ritual because it starts the day off with a certain level of excitement and offers an initial topic of discussion for the rest of the meal.

Lemon

Form of Folklore: Game

Informant Bio: The informant was born in Yerevan, Armenia, moved to Moscow, Russia at six months, then to Detroit Michigan at age three. Since she was five years old, she was raised in Glendale, California. Most of the folklore she knows is from her mother (passing down traditions she learned) and from peers at school. Her mother remains as her main source of cultural folklore (Armenian) whereas her friends in school exposed her to the folklore of American culture.

Context: The interview was conducted in the living room of the informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item: This is a game called Lemon. Ok so basically ahh the first part is just picking four girls names. It works out better if you do four girls you know; it just comes out funnier. So four girls you know, things you do to a lemon (things like lick or zest or cut or squeeze, things like that) so four of those. Four boys names, again four boys preferably that you know or who also know the girls you listed. And then four body parts (elbow, finger, arm… doesn’t matter). And that’s about it. The numbers are jumbled in each category, so then you just match up number to number… to number… and it comes out like … a girl’s name does this thing to this boy’s body part. It’s not something really done for a person, this is more mutually played between whoever’s there; it can be four people, five people together just making it for fun… just to see the results.

Informant Comments: The informant learned this game in high school. She believes it was a fun way for teenagers to see what weird and sometimes perverted results came from the game. Usually, the game would lead to some sort of sexual act or an action that seems nearly impossible. The game was not played often, but when it was, all of the participating players would take advantage of the rare opportunity to make certain girls match with certain boys.

Analysis: This game seems to bring out the curiosities of teenagers who are going through all sorts of new experiences (in high school). Having their hormones increase and decrease on different levels, teenagers pass down this game from person to person, as a way to vent out their sexual thoughts. At a younger age, this game would not be as popular since most pre-teens are not as obsessed with sex and physicality as teenagers are. Similarly, adults (over eighteen years old) are more experienced and knowledgeable than teenagers, so Lemon does not have as much entertainment value. This is a teenage game that will most likely continue to exist (or at least some version of it) as long as teenagers are sexually curious.

Pulling Ears

Form of Folklore:  Folk Belief (Protection)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born in Yerevan, Armenia, where she attended a Russian school.  At the age of fourteen she and her family moved to America, where she was formally introduce to the English language and had to continue going to a school where the primary language was English.  She has had exposure to both Armenian (from her youth and family) and American folklore (by living and studying in America).

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of informant’s house.

Item:    Armenian Transliteration – “Yerp vor vat bani masin es khosum yerekhayi mot, yerekhu akanju petka kashel”

English Translation – “When you speak about bad things in front of a child, you need to pull the child’s ear”

Informant Comments:  The informant does not really believe that pulling a child’s ear when speaking of bad things will prevent the bad things from happening; not does she believe that not pulling a child’s ear will guarantee that the bad things they are talking about will happen.  She does not actually use this folk protection in her life.  She thinks it is simply something older women (i.e. grandmothers) do so they do not feel bad about saying bad things in front of children.

Analysis:  This folk belief (protection) seems to be based on the idea that twisting a child’s ear is equivalent to taking away what they heard or preventing them from hearing all the bad things that will be said.  It does seem as though this protection is more for the people saying bad things than for the children who may hear the bad things.  It somehow offers a loophole for them to say all of the bad things they want without being condemned for saying them in front of children (offering protection to the speakers instead of the children).  Regardless of why they have this folk belief or who it is intended to protect, people can choose to believe it and do it if they please (under the assumption that the pulling of the ear is not painful).

Marriage

Form of Folklore:  Humor

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia until 1990, when she and her family moved to the United States (Glendale, California), at the age of thirty six.  Most of the folklore she has been exposed to is founded in Armenian culture.  Her social surroundings in Armenia and her father are her primary sources of folklore.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the dining room of informant’s house.

Item:  Armenian Transliteration – Mihat jahel hars ka vor shat mutahokvatsa amoosnanaloo masin.  Voroshuma vor gna ira tatiki mot vor hartser ta amoosnootsan masin.  Hartsnooma “Amoosnootsoonu vontsa?”  Tatiknel asooma iran, “Ari, nusti, bala, ameninch kasem.  Amoosnootsyan arachi tas tarin, dook amoosin yev kin k linek; myoos tas tarin, unkerner k linek; myoos tas tarin, koor oo akhper k linek, heto, yerkoo koor k linek, verchi tas tarin, k kirvek te ova mets kooru.”  Harsu asuma, “Bayts tati, du hitsoon tarits avel es amoosnatsats, ova mets kooru dzer mech.”  Tatiku juptooma oo asuma “oves kartsoom?”

English Translation – There’s a young bride who is very worried about getting married.  She decides to go to her grama to ask her about marriage.  She asks, “What’s it like to be married?”  Her grandma tells her, “Come, sit, my dear, I’ll tell you everything.  The first ten years of marriage, you will be husband and wife; the next, ten years, you will be best friends, the next ten years, you will be brother and sister, the next, you will be two sisters, and finally the next ten years, you will fight over who is the older sister.”  The girl says, “But grama, you’ve been married for more than fifty years, who’s the older sister.” The grama just smiles and says “Who do you think?”

Informant Comments:  The informant believes there is a lot of truth in this joke.  Being married for over thirty years, she thinks that the knowledge that the grandmother passed down to the young bride was very true.  She believes that, in marriage, the two people grow very close the way that two siblings would grow close.  Along with the closeness come more quarrels, hence, the fight over who is the big sister.  This folklore has become a humorous way of telling brides (in real life) about what marriage is truly like.

Analysis:  This folklore illustrates how marriage is viewed as a journey of two people who slowly evolve together and develop a close bond.  It is interesting to note that the husband is the one who becomes a sister, not the wife becoming a brother.  It seems that this is an indication that the female plays a dominant role in the relationship; especially considering how the grandmother smiles at the end of the joke and in doing so implies that she is “the big sister”.  The mild humor of what is said by the grandmother shows that even after more than fifty years of marriage, she is able to look upon her journey with her husband and find humor throughout each passing decade.

Salt Cross

Form of Folklore:  Folk Belief

Informant Bio:  The informant was born in Yerevan, Armenia, where she attended a Russian school.  At the age of fourteen she and her family moved to America, where she was formally introduce to the English language and had to continue going to a school where the primary language was English.  She has had exposure to both Armenian (from her youth and family) and American folklore (by living and studying in America).

Context:  The interview was conducted in the living room of the informant’s house.

Item:    Armenian Transliteration – “Yerp vor andzreve galis, aghov khach petke arvi getinu vor kuturvi”

English Translation – “When it is raining, you need to make a cross on the floor with salt so that it will stop”

Informant Comments:  As a child, growing up in Armenia, the informant believed that making a cross on the floor in salt actually was the reason why the rain would stop.  Now, she no longer believes this and has not passed this folklore on to any of her children.  She does not think making the cross would be a bad thing, but simply thinks it is not a necessary act to stop the rain.

Analysis:  Making a cross on the floor may have some connection with the fact that most Armenians in Armenia are Christian.  Since rain is sometimes considered to be the “tears of God”, perhaps making a cross on the ground that the rain falls on is a way of making the tears/rain stop.  The roots of this folk belief could be numerous; this is merely one possibility.  I do not think that it is in anyway required to stop the rain.  However, if children would like to feel that they are in some way in control of the weather (even when they are not) I see no harm in telling them about this folk belief.

Nightmares to the Water

Form of Folklore: Folk Belief (Protection)

Informant Bio: The informant was born in Yerevan, Armenia, moved to Moscow, Russia at six months, then to Detroit Michigan at age three. Since she was five years old, she was raised in Glendale, California. Most of the folklore she knows is from her mother (passing down traditions she learned) and from peers at school. Her mother remains as her main source of cultural folklore (Armenian) whereas her friends in school exposed her to the folklore of American culture.

Context: The interview was conducted on the porch of another informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item: Since I was young, my mom told me that if I ever had a nightmare at night, to wake up the following morning and go to the bathroom, turn on the sink, let the water run, and tell my bad dreams to the water… as a way of letting them be washed away and not come true. And I did this for a very long time and often, if my dreams are bad enough, I still follow through with it just to give myself the reassurance.

Informant Comments: The informant does not truly believe that telling her nightmares to the running water in the sink really protects her from having her dream come true. Doing it does, however, offer her some comfort when she has had a horrible dream. Since there is no harm in telling the water about what she had seen in her dreams, the informant continues to do so just as a part of her morning routine after a bad dream.

Analysis: In this and many other folk beliefs for protection, water seems to be used as a method of purification or cleansing. Somehow having the water running as the bad dream is being told, removes the danger of having the evils in the nightmare come true. Since water is physically used to clean, it makes sense that it is also used as a metaphorical cleaning agent for bad dreams. Like the informant, I do not see any harm in using this folk protection but would not consider it to be a necessary action; if one forgets to tell their nightmare to the running water in the sink, they should not panic (if they do, they could always find another source of running water).