Author Archive
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general

A Natural Cure for the Cold

“Whenever I’m sick, I usually just have a couple teaspoons of coconut oil each day and feel much better afterward.” 

The informant, despite spending most of her time in Boston, grew up on the small island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Her dad still works there as a lawyer and she usually visits every Christmas and Spring Break when she’s out of class. After getting sick a few short weeks ago, she advised that I take some teaspoons of coconut oil to help knock the cold out. She explained that is has high levels of lauric acid which supposedly eliminate the coating of some viruses which makes them easier to be attacked by the immune system.

I asked her what made her think of something this random but she explained that it’s what people did when they got sick in St. Croix. Coconut farming is a huge part of life on the island and she also remarked that other parts of the coconut have many helpful healing qualities. I liked hearing about this remedy due to the fact that I think too many Americans are over dependent on antibiotics and unnatural substances to cure simple maladies. Something such as coconut oil is very natural and low cost and it was cool to hear that something so simple and unadvertised could help fix a common cold.

Customs
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Swedish Ritual of Saint Lucia

When I was younger I would dress up in a white dress and a crown with candles in celebration of Saint Lucia at my school. I would give out candy and sing to my friends and classmates because that was the tradition back in Sweden. This ritual is usually done at around Christmas time and usually done as a family. My grandma first taught me about Santa Lucia and bought me my white dress at 7 and I partook in the ritual of handing out candy until I was 12.

Both of the informants parents, though American born, are very Swedish with native born Swedish parents. My friend grew up just outside of Oklahoma City and she recalls her grandma always wanting to teach her about Swedish culture when she visited from Stockholm. Her grandma really emphasized the event, which I understand due to the fact that it often coincides with the winter solstice. I’ve learned from class that Scandinavians and other northern peoples in Ireland and Scotland all celebrate such events due to the fact that these yearly events greatly influence their lives due to the short appearance of the sun.

The informant later explained to me that though girls usually partook in the traditional ritual of dressing up and handing out goodies that men would sometimes hand out treats as well. Her grandma carefully explained to her that following the ritual each year would help one survive the long winter days without enough light. For my friend, she was always self-conscious about partaking in the ritual because she was always the only one to dress up in school. She recalls her parents forcing her the first couple years to celebrate it because they said it was part of their heritage. She is now happy that they did so because now feels closer to her Swedish relatives and it gives them something to talk about.

I learned about this ritual from the informant after asking her if she ever partook in events when she visited her Swedish relatives over spring break. It was enjoyable to hear more about her Swedish family and their traditions because my family, due to how many generations they’ve lived in America, doesn’t have such European rituals.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Game
general
Magic

Ouija Board

After hearing our friends at our Girl Scout Troop talk about the Ouija Board, your Aunt Mary and I decided to ask grandma to get us one at Christmas. Nothing happened the first time we played with it and we thought it was full of shit. It was supposed to float and guide our hands to answer questions that we asked the board. The second time we played it, it seemed to move a bit faster but I always assumed Mary was screwing with it. However, the movement perked out interest and the more time we spent with the game, the more responsive the guide became. Mary and I swore to each other that we hadnt moved it and it went from answering yes or no questions to spelling out vulgar words and messages. Still gives me goosebumps thinking about it because we were young and didnt know much of what this stuff meant until we asked grandma what it meant. We got freaked out and never touched it again.

My mom grew up with two sisters, all of whom are normal and sane people. I remember my mom and aunt talking about their memories with the Ouija Board when I was little and was always freaked out about it but wanted to know more when I was presented with this folklore collection project. I could tell my mom was uneasy talking about it and didn’t want to delve into too many details. She was only around 8 when she played with it after hearing about it from friends at her Girl Scout Troop and its obvious the game scared her greatly. Talking to her further about the game, she admitted that she feels it is somehow possessed and something that could, simply put, connect you with spirits you want nothing to do with.

I’m conflicted when hearing my mom’s story. My education in high school and even more so at USC has taught me to be rather cynical when hearing unexplainable stories or entirely dismiss them, but my mom and aunt have always been believable people. They would not after all these years lie to each other about intentionally guiding the piece toward certain parts of the board which prompts me to believe that something else could have been doing so. Though I don’t consider myself highly spiritual, its a game I have never messed with based off my mom’s experiences and I have no desire to play it in the near future.

Customs
general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Fraternity Fountain Sticker Tradition

“Every semester, the pledges always have the job of making sure a sticker with our fraternitys letters are stuck onto the side of the Finger Fountain. Its almost a game, and if actives see the stickers theyre supposed to take them off the fountain,  and then a pledge is supposed to immediately replace it. If no stickers are found on the fountain then the pledges get in trouble.” 

When talking with my friend about whether his fraternity hazes or not, the informant told me about this tradition first, which I found rather humorous. Helearned about it in his pledge semester and older brothers in the house say that it’s been done since the finger fountain was first built. The informant didn’t really understand the purpose of constantly applying stickers but I came to the conclusion that it’s a way of the house making its mark on the school and identifying with it. Furthermore, it could be seen as a way of having the pledge make his mark on the fraternity. It’s a task meant to test those who are dedicated and really want to join, as those who don’t replace the stickers display a less serious and caring attitude about pledging the fraternity chapter.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Senior Pilgrimage

“Senior Pilgrimage is a tradition at my high school. We would walk from our high school for 14 miles down to Mission San Juan Capistrano and even though the walk was long, it was fun to miss a day of class and have all my friends there with me. It was a highly encouraged event to go to, but students had to meet certain prerequisite requirements like turning in all books to the library, paying library fines, finishing detentions, and stuff to go. And if you didn’t want to go, you would have to have a form signed. They would give us out shirts that said “Senior Pilgrimage” and the year then have us start the walk to the mission at 8:00am on the last day of classes for the school.

The informant is a friend of mine from elementary school, though in high school we went to different schools. I ended up going to Tesoro High School while she went to Santa Margarita. She told me that the school liked having everyone participate in traditions such as the one above because it helped bring the students together and gave them a stronger sense of community. She told me more about this tradition when she was at my house last week and we were recalling things we had to do in high school. She enjoyed participating in the event besides having her feet hurt, and felt that she grew with many of the people she talked to along the journey to the mission. She feels it served as a capstone marking the end of her high school journey.

My friend recalls the school engaging in this tradition since its opening in 1987. Since then, every faculty member has ensured that the walk has happened in the same fashion each year, with everyone receiving the shirts marking the year of the pilgrimage. I wish that I too had something like this at my high school. Though strenuous, it would have helped round out my high school experience and mark my transition from high school to college.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Legend of La Llorona

“I remember my mother always warning to be cautious at night when coming home from a friends or if I was late from school when I was growing up in Chihuahua, Mexico. She would constantly warn that La Llorona was out there, ready to take children wandering at night by themselves. I never really knew who La Llorona was until I asked my mom, and she looked so nervous when I asked her. She was supposedly a lady who wanted to marry a rich landowner, though he would not accept her two children as his own. Eventually, the woman drowned her kids and when she told him what she had done, he was horrified and wanted nothing to do with her. She then realized what she had done and was overcome by grief and spent her time looking for her kids near the river. She then drowned herself and her spirit constantly is on the lookout for other children, wanting to drown them out of jealousy for her own missing children.”

The informant grew up in a rural town outside of Chihuahua but moved to Los Angeles in high school. Because he lived in the countryside, he felt people tended to believe in Mexican legends more than those who grew up in a city. I asked him at lunch this week if he remembered any Mexican folklore from growing up, and this story was the first thing that came to mind for him. He remembers always being afraid of being alone outside, due to his mom constantly warning him about La Llorona, which translates to “the crier.” When he was seven, he finally learned from his mom who she was and grew even more afraid of walking alone outside and made sure to always have friends with him if he had to go somewhere.

Though he never asked his mom point blank, the informant strongly believes that his mom regards the legend as true, due to her nervousness when explaining La Llorona’s story. His mom had learned about La Llorona from her mom, but the informant also heard other versions of the story from his classmates later on in elementary school. Some said she wore a black dress instead of a white one while some said she drowned her children for a different reason than that mentioned above. I think the story is creepy, and if I were the informant and heard about the story at such a young age, I would have probably believed it and be deathly afraid of walking outside by myself, especially at night. For another version of this legend, see Rudolfo Anaya’s novel La Llorona: the Crying Woman.

Anaya, Rudolfo. La Llorona: The Crying Woman. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2011. Print.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech

Swedish Folk Speech

“Whenever I was going out for the night or spending time with friends, my mother would always warn me that ‘the trolls would come out and get [me]‘ if I got into trouble. She was definitely influenced by Swedish folklore because of growing up in Sweden.”

The informant, my best friend’s father, was born in Oklahoma to Swedish parents. He remembers Swedish folklore influencing much of his parents’ speech. His parents were responsible for him learning of Swedish culture and much of the folk speech inspired by Swedish tradition. Though he and his family never believed in trolls per say, trolls were a big part of the culture, representing a significant danger for those traveling alone in the forest or mountains. I had asked the informant about the influence of Swedish folklore on his life at lunch when he visited my friend  over Spring Break and it was funny to hear that how when he was little, he was deathly afraid that a troll would actually come and take him if he was misbehaving.

I always find stories from other cultures amusing that entail parents telling their kids to behave or something bad will happen. Many children take their parents threats literally and shape up over the fear of some monster coming to get them. The story my friend’s dad told me reminds me of what I’ve learned in our folklore class thus far regarding La Llorona, as many Latino parents tell their kids that she will come and take them if they continue to misbehave.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Indian Proverb

ಆರೊಗ್ಯವೇ ಭಾಗ್ಯ

Aarogyave Bhaagya

Health is Wealth

Meaning: Being healthy is much more important than material wealth in one’s life and must never be neglected. 

I had met the informant though my dental honor society on campus, and after getting to know her I asked if she was familiar with any Indian proverbs or legends to help me out with her folklore project. Her parents were both born in Bombay and when they moved to the United States in the 1980’s, her grandparents moved along with them. Several years ago, her grandfather unfortunately died of cancer and she always remembered her grandmother saying the proverb above, explaining that without your health you really have nothing in your life because none of the other material objects matter.

I asked the informant if she knew the Sandskrit translation of the proverb, but her parents never taught her how to write in it. She asked her dad if he could send a Sandskrit translation of the proverb, which is listed above. I asked her more about the proverb, and she explained that its a very common one used in India and that most are familiar with it, having learned it from relatives or from others in the community. I liked hearing this proverb because my mom has always told me whenever I’m down that “at least I have my health.” Being healthy really is one of the most important blessings in life, and its reassuring to know that other people across the world value family and health over material objects.

Game
general

Rage Cage

“Here are the directions: Start by building a honeycomb of cups at the center of the table and filling each with about a 1/3 of a cup of beer. 20 should be enough. In the center of the honeycomb, add some extra beer and a few shots of hard liquor to the cup because that’s the ‘bitch cup.’ Gameplay starts with as many people as you want, with two cups with two players at opposite ends of the table starting the game. Players try to bounce pong balls into the cups after one bounce on the table. If they get a ball in their first try, they quickly pass it to the left of the person who’s trying to get the ball in the other cup. If the person it’s passed to is able to get the ball in while the other person is still struggling, he stacks his cup in the strugglers and the person who couldn’t get it in has to grab a cup from the honeycomb and drink it. If a player doesn’t manage to get the ball on his first try but manages to on another try, he or she can only pass the cup one person to their left. Gameplay continues until all the cups are left but the bitch cup. The last person who is unable to get their ball into their cup is then forced to drink it upon getting their cup stacked.”

This game represents a typical university drinking game that is meant to get students drunk, and fast due to the quick and tense play of the game. I had heard of the game before through students in class talking about it. My friend, the informant, plays it frequently, so I had him teach me it when I went to a party with him last weekend. He had learned it from older members of his fraternity, who too learned it from older members when they were younger. From what I’ve surmised, such games are part of fraternity/college identity and tradition, as its almost expected that such games are meant to be played on weekends and during parties.

Drinking games are an interesting part of folklore, and like folklore, they often possess variations that lead to arguing and disagreement. In playing the game that one time, I heard people debate the “after one miss rule” of having to pass it to your left and also how much hard liquor should be added to the “bitch cup.” Though drinking games are similar in many parts of the world, there are always rules in the games that greatly differ. People often argue the rules because they learned from others a specific method of play and are unwilling to bend based off what others feel is correct. I always find debates regarding the rules humorous, as it is impossible to distinguish who is correct in the argument. Just as in folklore, there is no correct version of a story.

Folk Beliefs
general

Chinese Gambling Superstition

When I went to China last summer to visit the fam in Guangzhou, we decided to go to Macau to meet everyone and gamble a little since I heard it was even bigger than Vegas. When we were getting ready to go to the casino one night, my grandma told me to wear red underwear. I didn’t understand what the hell she was talking about but she explained that it was for good luck. She said red symbolizes good fortune and that I should be wearing as much of it as possible. If I didn’t, she said it could bring bad luck.

The informant told me about this story when we met up and talked about his trip to China from spring break. Even though he is Chinese American, his parents never really taught him about Chinese culture or traditional practices. When he went over there and his grandma told him about wearing red underwear, he said he was definitely weirded out and had never heard of anything like that before. He explained to me that his grandma said that it was a huge part of Chinese culture and that the notion of  wearing red for luck had been around for many many years, though his grandma didn’t know its exact origin.

Though I am very respectful of others’ beliefs, I found this superstition hilarious. I heard more about it in class this past week when everyone brought in tourist items and one of the students talked about the need for wearing red for luck and the use of red underwear.  In America we have our own quirky beliefs about luck, such as kissing dice before rolling them, but red underwear definitely struck me as a bit strange. I look forward to hearing what other beliefs and funny stories the informant has in store.

[geolocation]