Author Archive
Myths
Narrative

“Romulus and Remus”

Text:

This is the story of the founding of Rome. Romulus and Remus are two dudes and their Rhea Silvia and they’re all descended from the Trojans and Aeneas. These dudes… I think it’s uh… I don’t remember how they get lost, but they get lost as wee little children from their mama, and they get raised by a she-wolf, which in latin is lupa. So they grow up with the wolf lady and then they go out to found their own city, so they both start building walls around these hills, one being the Appaline and I don’t remember what the second one is, but they’re building these walls right near the river Tiber. Then they get in a fight about whose city will be the ruling city and who gets to name the overall city, so Romulus kills Remus, which is why Rome is called Rome because it’s named after the brother who survived the duel.

Background:

I learned that from a Latin class in middle school from this dude named Mr. Mele. Our school was really big on Latin and Roman mythology and history and stuff. I just like the idea that a city is founded from this like one dude that’s like raised in the wild and that Rome has like this one family tree that you can trace back to ancient history like the Trojans and shit. Basically the focus about a lot of Roman myths fighting another dude and because of that he gets to name stuff is pretty common. I guess I think the Romans really found a need for like individuals to idolize, especially into the empire. I think what’s especially interesting about how these myths are utilized is that there was a hut in Rome proper even into the empire that was left there as a historical landmark of Romulus’s house to legitimize their ancestry and culture to prove they come from Troy and all these heroes and everything.

Context:

This is just a fun fake history thing that I think was just created to give the Romans this heroic background, so similar to the Bible with Cane and Able, and shit, like other stuff like that, it’s just like similar to other stories like that. I think it’s mostly just history at this point cuz the people who valued this story, like their culture is dead now, so really the only occasion to talk about this is in a history class or whatever.

My Thoughts:

This made me think a lot about similar myths of my own culture. For example, as an American, I think the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree is a good comparison because it deals with idealizing one person as the patron of an entire place. Much like the Romans idealized Romulus, we idealize George Washington through these stories even though historically he was actually a pretty crappy general.

Folk Beliefs
Legends

“Picasso’s Castle”

Text:

Where I live in the south of France is kinda remote and there’s this giant castle like 10 minutes away. It’s on this hill and no one can access it except for government people. It’s super off limits. It used to be Picasso’s home during his prime. When he passed away, his daughter took the house and sold it to some people, to a couple actually, and the woman murdered her husband for cheating. And they had to dogs who are said to have witnessed the murder. Anyway, that’s why the castle is closed to the public. But whenever we drive by or see it from afar, you can always hear dogs barking, no matter what. So the story goes that the dogs who witnessed the murder are calling on other dogs to help save their master. I had a summer home there in the south of France, that’s why I know the story. I personally experienced hearing the dogs. If you do drive as close to the house as you can, there are two dog statues in front of the gate that look like domestic, docile dogs – not like guard dogs or anything, they look kinda like golden retrievers. Oh, and before the house belonged to Picasso, it belonged to Cezanne who was an artist in the era of Van Goh, and the locals say the place became haunted because the house wasn’t passed on to another artist after Picasso.

Background:

We were driving past the house one time and we were just like “Why are there so many dogs?” and eventually we ended up talking to this local who’d lived there like his whole life and he told us the story. It’s just this big empty castle with tons of rooms not being used because of this legend. I like the story, it’s kinda funky. Part of me believes it because there are a lot of dogs, but they could just be strays and it’s a big coincidence.

Context:

Everyone in the town already knows. The locals don’t exactly make a point to tell tourists about it. They’ll talk about it if you ask, but they won’t bring it up – I don’t think they want it to be a tourist attraction. It’s kinda there for you to discover I guess.

My Thoughts:

The most interesting part of the story to me is that the origin of the curse is said to come from the fact that Picasso didn’t pass the castle along to another artist. It reinforces this idea of property within communities I think – specifically the artistic community in this case. Like only someone in the same vein of fame would be worthy of the house.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

“Three Dead Sisters”

Text:

At my high school, we were located right next to a graveyard. There was always like… so right after WWII, right after the British left, they found three bodies of three dead girls. Like my High School was a hospital during WWII, and they found the bodies in a stairwell. People say whenever it rains, the lights flash on and off and people say it’s the girls haunting the school and if you look to the graveyard, you can see three candles being lit in commemoration of them. I went to high school in Hong Kong, it used to be called King George V School. If you go to that back stairwell, the temperature drops – only in the specific area they passed away. I can confirm that it’s cold right in that specific place. There’s a weird chill and it’s eerie – and it’s all artificial light, not natural light. I heard the girls were sisters –  the daughters of a high ranking British officer. When someone else invaded the school/hospital, he put them there to be safe but he never came back for them so they died of starvation. Oh, and they were all under the age of 13.

Background:

Everybody at my high school knew the legend. Students, teachers would joke about it. There’s historical evidence my high school was a war hospital. I don’t believe in the legend, but whenever I go to that staircase no matter what temperature it is outside, it’s chilly despite having no airflow or anything there… and on the day of their anniversary three fires do get lit from the graveyard and I have no idea who does it. I think people tell it because it’s entertaining and gives our school a little history and backstory. It’s kinda spooky and fun and yeah.

Context:

Whenever there’s a typhoon or something like that, and the lights flicker we’ll talk about it. Otherwise it’s just whenever anything generally creepy happens. And you always tell it to incoming freshmen. Seniors always tell it during initiation or whatever, to pass the story on.

My Thoughts:

The most interesting part about this story to me is that the informant personally felt the chill and saw the three lights in the graveyard – I guess my first instinct is to think that some students must go do it every year, but my informant said she never heard of anyone taking on that responsibility, and she felt like she probably would have known. In any case, I think it’s cool that this story gives this school character and it’s fun to think about how the story influence’s people’s physical perception of that hallway, or maybe there’s some weird way to explain the cold feeling with physics?

Customs
Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Folk speech

“Devil Frying Pan”

Text:

The devil is in hell beating his wife with a frying pan.

Background:

My mom told it to me probably in Louisiana on one of my trips there because she learned it from her family who’s lived in rural southern Louisiana for a long time which I think is important cuz it’s not so much a Cajun thing as a southern Louisiana thing. I like how it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a funny image that really has no significance when uttered, it’s just something people associate. If I don’t like anything about it, it’s that kinda same thing that this weird nonsensical thing about violence related to rain. I can only imagine that it caught on when one guy was like oh man this is such a weird occurance that there must be something going on in the other world so he just said something super ridiculous and outlandish and it caught on. I think that’s why people remember it, I think that’s why I remember it.

Context:

Whenever you see the sun out while it’s raining, not like behind a cloud or whatever, like it’s shining bright, but it’s raining. And you just know, Satan’s doing his thing.

My Thoughts:

I’m really interested to know if there’s more mythology about the devil’s wife. Is that just the sun in this context? Or could the sun be the frying pan since it’s round? Anyway, I also want to know if there are more sayings like this which have the same context of raining while the sun is out. I suppose that phenomenon is only observable in certain parts of the world, so it wouldn’t happen everywhere. But it is bizarre enough that I would think other cultures would have some sort of saying or ritual to accompany it.

Digital

Doge meme

doge meme

Background:

Doge originated on Tumblr when this one picture of this really cute dog with this huge face was given comic sans text over it with poorly grammatically structured phrases over it. Usually these phrases are in different colors and center around a common theme. In this example, that would be about fashion. Usually the format is “much (blank), many (blank), wow” but can have all sorts of other poorly structured phrases. Then it got really popular and spread to 4chan and reddit and all these other sites. I’m pretty sure the first place I ever saw it was Facebook. I don’t know what I like about it. I don’t know what anyone likes about it. It’s just so funny. It’s like… so… I’m trying to find the right word. Like, infantile? … Dumbed down? That it’s just hilarious. There’s something inherently funny when someone says something wrong grammatically, like in everyday conversation with someone, it’s funny when people mess up. So to have a cute dog saying it just works, staring you right in the soul. Something it really capitalized on when it was getting popular was just a really ridiculously high frequency of posts. It got super annoying, but that almost made me love it more.

Context:

There’s actually no specific time this is appropriate. I guess just during sessions where you and your friends are hanging out on your phones showing each other funny pictures.

My Thoughts:

It seems to be that since there’s no specific context for this other than friends hanging out, it’s used as a way to bond in the digital age. I mean, if people are on their phones anyways, it’s a lot easier to connect with people by sharing things that are mutually humorous than trying to make jokes yourself. In this way, the doge meme becomes a sort of social lubricant to facilitate group dynamics, much like alcohol.

Digital

“Condescending Willy Wonka meme”

wonka meme

Background:

Can I just say the internet? I never went on reddit or 4chan or anything like that, so where would I have seen it? Probably just a stupid comment thread on Facebook or something, back in the day. It’s based on Willy Wanka and the Chocolate Factory, it’s a screenshot of that, and Gene Wilder is one of my favorite actors. He has such great delivery and great comedic timing, so probably any screenshot you take will be funny. Then the internet kinda owned it cuz in the film, he’s not being sassy in that scene this is a screenshot of, and turned it into this other thing which I think is interesting. Even though this meme has specific uses, I think it’s interesting that it’s adaptable to specific conversations, so it has the same function but keeps changing the words that overlay the image.

Context:

You’re supposed to use it when you’re mocking someone’s complaining, like “Oh you have to do four papers? Your life is so hard.” Or like demeaning someone who thinks their life is important. I guess I just mean the meme has gotten such specific usage in conversation it’s essentially become it’s own recognizable phrase like anything else in a language, but it’s not based around the specific words, it’s based around the construction and delivery of the words which is pretty fascinating to me having taken linguistics classes.

My Thoughts:

I think this meme is hilarious. He just looks so sassy. My informant is definitely correct that if someone constructs a sentence in this way, anyone from my generation will be able to recognize it as the “Sassy Wonka” meme almost immediately. It’s cool that the internet can facilitate this kind of folklore which becomes a part of everyday situational lexicon.

Digital

“Wolfjob meme”

 

Background:

There’s this youtube channel called Game Grumps that consists of two dudes named Danny and Aaron, and Danny told Aaron about this picture on one of the episodes of the show. The Game Grumps have kinda owned the picture by doing a lot of photoshops with it where to censor it they’ll put their faces over the nipples or add a top hat over the penis or whatever. There’s a Christmas version and a Jew version, but I think all of them embody the same vision or purpose which I guess is just vague internet awkwardness, like something really awkward done very seriously, which creates this quality of irony and campiness that I find hilarious.

Context:

Danny first used it between his friends like they’d be texting and whenever things got awkward or he had to break a silence he’d send wolfjob. The way he puts it is there’s something weird and adorable about it which juxtaposed with this ridiculous CG thing it helps to break those silences. I use it a little differently because I know people don’t know about wolfjob, so I use it for a lot of shock value or to comment on the awkwardness of a situation by making it even more awkward through this photo.

My Thoughts:

I guess this is just me, but I don’t understand how this breaks awkward silences as opposed to creating them. In the first place the photo is really lewd, and I don’t know where the comedy comes from. But I think it’s interesting that my informant and many people over the internet find this funny – especially over the internet where people can like it anonymously without admitting to another live person they think this thing is funny thereby facing the judgment of others.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“Festina lente”

Text:

Original Latin: “Festina lente”

English: “Make haste slowly”

Background:

This is a Latin motto I learned in high school during my four years of learning Latin. We learned it as a motto that Augustus Caesar would use as a way of progressing as an emperor; always have something you want to do, and wait for the right time to do it. It is a classic example of the literary device oxymoron. This proverb has governed how I think about parts of my life, especially working on film sets. One always needs to be working on somethings, but sometimes to work, one must wait. And on film sets, you always have a job to do that involves waiting: waiting for actors to fly in, waiting for lights to be set up, waiting for the camera to roll, etc. There are so many moving parts in a film, and it’s important to understand how all of them work together. So for one part to progress well, it must wait for the others.

Context:

This proverb comes up a lot in work environments, particularly those that rely on multiple people to finish one’s own job.

My Thoughts:

I think it was interesting that my informant described this piece as being used almost exclusively in a professional context. I think this is the only piece I’ve collected so far that is used thusly. In any case, it seems to be particularly applied to film for the informant’s life… I wonder how it applied in ancient times? If there were specific professions or tasks that utilized this proverb more than others?

 

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

“The Golem of Prague”

Text:

The Golem of Prague is one of the best known stories in the Jewish oral tradition. There are many versions, but they all tend to share the common thread of a well-respected 17th Century Rabbi in the secluded Jewish ghetto in Prague. Beset by antisemitic raids and pogroms, the Rabbi constructed a clay statue of a man, which when given a scroll reading “shem” (a holy word) came to life. The animated statue defended the Jews from their enemies, but eventually fell out of the Rabbi’s control (some legends point to the Golem falling in love, others to basic monstrous behavior). The Rabbi, realizing that the creature had to be stopped, removed the “shem” from it’s mouth, and it fell apart on the spot.

Background:

To me, the legend of the Golem is fascinating because of its ambiguous message. On the one hand, it’s a cautionary tale that warns against overreaching human limits; on the other, it’s an expression of Jewish resilience and ingenuity. The proto-sci-fi angle also reveals some of the more offbeat elements of the Jewish oral tradition. My general impression of the story is one in which the Jews, whether to their benefit or detriment, manage to assert themselves in a hostile environment (a theme which would have absolutely helped the story to endure throughout the events of recent centuries).

Context:

The legend of the Golem comes from a fundamental part of Jewish identity and history: persecution. The Golem represents the desperation to which Jewish culture would resort for their very survival, and the inherent risk of playing God in order to do so. The Golem’s influence is evident in many popular legends, most notably in that of the Robot. I think the story is invoked in times of peril.

My Thoughts:

I think it’s really interesting that my informant didn’t try to tell a definitive version. It wasn’t important to him that the story had a one-hundred percent certain plot, but more so he took the general idea as the important piece of the narrative. He seemed totally comfortable with the ambiguity of the stories and took it as having multiple meanings and lessons more so than having no meaning at all by being ambiguous.

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Torah Kissing Before a Journey”

Text:

We have a fancy book of Torah from Iran in our house that we keep near the door. Everytime one of us is going on a trip or somewhere particularly important we do this thing where someone holds the book over your head at the doorway and you walk under it, turn around and come back inside under it, kiss the book and then exit the house from under it. You’re not supposed to turn around and look at the house again until you come home. It’s symbolic and about going back to honor your traditions and having the Torah be the last thing you see or do before going somewhere.

Background:

My mom was the one who first taught me about it when I was really little. The first time I remember her teaching it to me was when we were going to the hospital for my little brother to be born. I was three years old. I like the tradition a lot because it makes me feel protected somehow. I don’t think of myself as really superstitious, and I’ve never noticed a correlation of like amazing outcomes for events with this ritual, but it always made me feel better somehow. Especially since the book came from Iran, I think I liked that part best, cuz it made me feel like my ancestors had my back or something.

Context:

We do it whenever something significant is happening. I don’t think there are like specific guidelines – it’s kinda like knocking on wood for good luck right? You just kinda feel it out and decide what you want to do it for. I did this before I took my SAT’s, before leaving for college, and other important events like that. It was also for events like my brothers being born, so it’s not just a personal thing I guess – you can do it to wish luck on someone else if you’re going to an event that you want to go well in general.

My Thoughts:

I think it was cool my informant made the comparison to knocking on wood because while she was telling me the story, I was pretty forcefully reminded of that ritual because my family practices it. I really appreciate that this version creates a strong connection to ancestors and faith in family. By participating in it, my informant both draws upon her personal family history and contributes to it for future generations.

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