Author Archive
Proverbs

Cherokee Proverb

Cherokee Proverb

 

Informant:

Richard Spicer. Richard “Larry” Spicer is my adopted Grandfather. He married my maternal grandmother after my Mother’s biological father died in an Air Force airplane accident. Larry graduated from Stanford with an engineering degree while also running track. He was in the Air Force and spent time in real estate development before retiring. He then became the mayor of Indian Wells for two terms, and now remains very active by sitting on several boards, such as the Living Desert: Indian Wells’ zoo. Larry is part Cherokee. His wife and my Grandmother is a Reverend that remains very active as well.

 

Folklore:

“Perhaps my favorite Cherokee Proverb is this:

 

‘When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a way that when you die the world cries and you rejoice.’

 

Native Americans, not just the Cherokee, provided such a beautiful and humbling perspective of the world. I believe that we can learn a lot… From what they said and did. Even ancient Cherokee Proverbs still apply to our everyday life. This is an inspiration to me. Look, it’s on our refrigerator! Maybe that’s why it’s my favorite – I always see it when I eat! I kid…”

 

Analysis:

What my Grandfather says is very poignant. It is extremely moving that we can still learn a lot from a Cherokee proverb from hundreds of years ago. I admire his ability to see that in his lineage. While he was obviously not brought up in a traditional Cherokee manner, he is able to understand and respect the beauty of their culture, and attempts to embody their strong spirit.

Proverbs

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

 

Informant:

Richard Spicer. Richard “Larry” Spicer is my adopted Grandfather. He married my maternal grandmother after my Mother’s biological father died in an Air Force airplane accident. Larry graduated from Stanford with an engineering degree while also running track. He was in the Air Force and spent time in real estate development before retiring. He then became the mayor of Indian Wells for two terms, and now remains very active by sitting on several boards, such as the Living Desert: Indian Wells’ zoo. Larry is part Cherokee. His wife and my Grandmother is a Reverend that remains very active as well.

 

Folklore:

“I understand an important part of Folklore is proverbs. This one is near and dear to my heart:

‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going.’

I remember so well how JFK used to say this at times. In my mind, this embodies not only my life but most that grew up with us. During the Depression, this proverb described all of us. We had no other choice… we had to get going!”

 

Analysis:

It’s interesting that this proverb gets attributed to John F. Kennedy most prominently. Clearly, this quote holds a special importance to anyone that faces a struggle. While the quote is antique, it is certainly not out of style, as it is very appropriate and relevant in today’s times, just like every other era anyone has ever experienced hardship in. This proverb, however, does seem to be the theme of the Great Depression, which is interesting that my Grandfather mentions it so quickly.

Customs

Pinning

Pinning

 

Informant:

Richard Spicer. Richard “Larry” Spicer is my adopted Grandfather. He married my maternal grandmother after my Mother’s biological father died in an Air Force airplane accident. Larry graduated from Stanford with an engineering degree while also running track. He was in the Air Force and spent time in real estate development before retiring. He then became the mayor of Indian Wells for two terms, and now remains very active by sitting on several boards, such as the Living Desert: Indian Wells’ zoo. Larry is part Cherokee. His wife and my Grandmother is a Reverend that remains very active as well.

 

Folklore:

“I have found the ‘Pinning’ tradition particularly interesting. It has been around for as long as I can remember. Your Dad pinned your Mom… from what I understand it’s still pretty common today, right? I didn’t have the pleasure of pinning your Grandmother, since we didn’t meet until after Stanford. I love the idea of it, especially in modern times. It seems to me today that long-term relationships have seemed to take a back seat. I appreciate the tradition and respect that pinning maintains between fraternity gentlemen and sorority women. Commitment and loyalty are something we start to see less and less now… Pinning is a tradition that keeps it in place.”

 

Analysis:

Basically, a brother of a fraternity “Pinning” his significant other in a sorority means that he is placing her above his brothers. This is an extremely poignant and significant act, as a fraternity member places all loyalty in the hands of his brothers and its bond. By pinning someone, he is placing her above this sacred bond. It has become increasingly rare, which almost makes the sacred tradition even more special in today’s day and age.

Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs

Cherokee Creation Story

Cherokee Creation Story

 

Informant:

Richard Spicer. Richard “Larry” Spicer is my adopted Grandfather. He married my maternal grandmother after my Mother’s biological father died in an Air Force airplane accident. Larry graduated from Stanford with an engineering degree while also running track. He was in the Air Force and spent time in real estate development before retiring. He then became the mayor of Indian Wells for two terms, and now remains very active by sitting on several boards, such as the Living Desert: Indian Wells’ zoo. Larry is part Cherokee. His wife and my Grandmother is a Reverend that remains very active as well.

 

Folklore:

“Because I am only partially Cherokee and do not maintain strong ties with its community, I only have bits and pieces of what you would call Cherokee folklore. I was brought up Catholic, so I don’t identify with many Cherokee beliefs, but I do find this one particularly interesting. It’s the Cherokee creation story.”

 

The earth is a great island floating in a sea of water, and suspended at each of the four cardinal points by a cord hanging down from the sky vault, which is of solid rock. When the world grows old and worn out, the people will die and the cords will break and let the earth sink down into the ocean, and all will be water again. The Indians are afraid of this.

When all was water, the animals were above in Gälûñ’lätï, beyond the arch; but it was very much crowded, and they were wanting more room. They wondered what was below the water, and at last Dâyuni’sï, “Beaver’s Grandchild,” the little Water-beetle, offered to go and see if it could learn. It darted in every direction over the surface of the water, but could find no firm place to rest. Then it dived to the bottom and came up with some soft mud, which began to grow and spread on every side until it became the island which we call the earth. It was afterward fastened to the sky with four cords, but no one remembers who did this.

At first the earth was flat and very soft and wet. The animals were anxious to get down, and sent out different birds to see if it was yet dry, but they found no place to alight and came back again to Gälûñ’lätï. At last it seemed to be time, and they sent out the Buzzard and told him to go and make ready for them. This was the Great Buzzard, the father of all the buzzards we see now. He flew all over the earth, low down near the ground, and it was still soft. When he reached the Cherokee country, he was very tired, and his wings began to flap and strike the ground, and wherever they struck the earth there was a valley, and where they turned up again there was a mountain. When the animals above saw this, they were afraid that the whole world would be mountains, so they called him back, but the Cherokee country remains full of mountains to this day.

When the earth was dry and the animals came down, it was still dark, so they got the sun and set it in a track to go every day across the island from east to west, just overhead. It was too hot this way, and Tsiska’gïlï’, the Red Crawfish, had his shell scorched a bright red, so that his meat was spoiled; and the Cherokee do not eat it. The

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conjurers put the sun another hand-breadth higher in the air, but it was still too hot. They raised it another time, and another, until it was seven handbreadths high and just under the sky arch. Then it was right, and they left it so. This is why the conjurers call the highest place Gûlkwâ’gine Di’gälûñ’lätiyûñ’, “the seventh height,” because it is seven hand-breadths above the earth. Every day the sun goes along under this arch, and returns at night on the upper side to the starting place.

There is another world under this, and it is like ours in everything–animals, plants, and people–save that the seasons are different. The streams that come down from the mountains are the trails by which we reach this underworld, and the springs at their heads are the doorways by which we enter, it, but to do this one must fast and, go to water and have one of the underground people for a guide. We know that the seasons in the underworld are different from ours, because the water in the springs is always warmer in winter and cooler in summer than the outer air.

When the animals and plants were first made–we do not know by whom–they were told to watch and keep awake for seven nights, just as young men now fast and keep awake when they pray to their medicine. They tried to do this, and nearly all were awake through the first night, but the next night several dropped off to sleep, and the third night others were asleep, and then others, until, on the seventh night, of all the animals only the owl, the panther, and one or two more were still awake. To these were given the power to see and to go about in the dark, and to make prey of the birds and animals which must sleep at night. Of the trees only the cedar, the pine, the spruce, the holly, and the laurel were awake to the end, and to them it was given to be always green and to be greatest for medicine, but to the others it was said: “Because you have not endured to the end you shall lose your, hair every winter.”

Men came after the animals and plants. At first there were only a brother and sister until he struck her with a fish and told her to multiply, and so it was. In seven days a child was born to her, and thereafter every seven days another, and they increased very fast until there was danger that the world could not keep them. Then it was made that a woman should have only one child in a year, and it has been so ever since.

 

This is the most popular version. Posted online at http://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/cher/motc/motc001.htm.

 

Analysis:

While my Grandfather certainly does not practice close ties with Cherokee customs, I admire the fact that he appreciates and respects them. He is familiar with many of them even though he was not fully immersed in the group’s culture, which I believe makes him a more interesting human being. The Cherokee creation story is vastly different from any traditional or popular religion creation story, or at least any one that I’m familiar with, however, it is very telling that he keeps in touch with his roots.

Customs

Topping Out

Topping Out

Informant:

Nathan Dixon. Mr. Dixon is my best friends’ father. He grew up in New Jersey under some challenging circumstances. He was not given anything and had to work for everything that he had. He moved to Los Angeles at the age of 18 and has worked his way up from the role of a humble construction worker to the owner of a construction company. He is a very successful contractor and enjoys an adventurous life full of skiing, hiking, and traveling with his three sons and wife.

 

Folklore:

“So I guess the closest tie I have to Folklore in my line of work would be ‘Topping Out.’ It’s different for every job, but basically, when me and the guys reach a certain point in the construction process, we celebrate. Depending on the job, this can be when we put the last beam in place when framing. A lot of the time when it’s a remodel, it’s when our mason puts the last brick or stone in. A lot of people put a tree or wreath there and make a toast…. We work harder than that. I’m not very superstitious, but I do acknowledge it. We’ll have a lunch break or do something like that, but we don’t call it quits. We roll up our sleeves and continue to finish what we’re there for.”

 

Analysis:

This custom seems similar to the celebration of breaking ground on a construction site. I like Mr. Dixon’s approach – he acknowledges the tradition, but adapts it in his own way. He doesn’t conform to the natural custom, but places his own personal approach on it while still staying true to the roots of it. It seems that this is an international tradition, which is more widely celebrated in foreign countries.

Folk Beliefs

Feng Shui

Feng Shui

Informant:

Nathan Dixon. Mr. Dixon is my best friends’ father. He grew up in New Jersey under some challenging circumstances. He was not given anything and had to work for everything that he had. He moved to Los Angeles at the age of 18 and has worked his way up from the role of a humble construction worker to the owner of a construction company. He is a very successful contractor and enjoys an adventurous life full of skiing, hiking, and traveling with his three sons and wife.

 

Folklore:

“This is a good one. I have built several, several houses. I’ve suspended guest houses from cliffs and built soccer fields on top of buildings. Those jobs made these clients a piece of cake… I had an elderly Chinese couple that bought a house in Santa Monica… wanted me to remodel for them… that was the plan at least. I have never experienced more particular people in my entire life. The entire infrastructure of the house had to be built to precise specifications in the name of Feng Shui. I would propose a renovation and they would hate it. I couldn’t win with them. When I finally finished the most frustrating job of my life… I finally looked at them and asked ‘Why did you buy this house? You hired me for a remodel… this is a new house.’ You know what they told me? The address number was good luck. I walked away not sure whether to smile or freak out…. Did a little of both.”

 

Analysis:

The concept of Feng Shui is extremely interesting, and can be extremely complicated. It’s the “Chinese philosophical system of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment.” Very similar to Daoism, Feng Shui is basically the Chinese form of superstition and maintaining good luck in their lives. Many Chinese realtors and independent buyers have knocked on our door in Palos Verdes making us offers on our house, as it presents a strong sense of Feng Shui. We have a large olive tree in our front yard, directly in front of our front door. According to Feng Shui, if any good luck escapes the house, this tree will shepherd it back inside.

Myths

The Jersey Devil

The Jersey Devil

Informant:

Nathan Dixon. Mr. Dixon is my best friends’ father. He grew up in New Jersey under some challenging circumstances. He was not given anything and had to work for everything that he had. He moved to Los Angeles at the age of 18 and has worked his way up from the role of a humble construction worker to the owner of a construction company. He is a very successful contractor and enjoys an adventurous life full of skiing, hiking, and traveling with his three sons and wife.

 

Folklore:

 

Honestly I don’t buy this at all… But when you mention the word ‘Folklore,’ this is what first pops into my mind. The ‘Jersey Devil’ is supposedly some… weird, goat like, winged, devil creature that’s supposed to be flying around the greater New Jersey area. I’ve never seen it, and I don’t really know anyone that claims they’ve seen it… but it’s supposed to be famous. It honestly doesn’t scare me much… a flying goat? Sounds goofier than scarier to me. A lot of people are freaked out by it, though. Some claim they’ve seen it, but no way it exists. I’ll believe it when Big Foot reveals himself…”

 

Analysis:

 

I actually heard about the New Jersey Devil on Facebook when it was trending news. It was trending because there is a supposed picture of the creature that someone posted. The photo is clearly doctored, but it was powerful, as it sparked intense conversation and debate about the mythical creature. Many people of New Jersey are very passionate and intense about the monster… It’s like the Loch Ness monster phenomenon.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Eyelashes

Superstition: Eyelashes

 

Informant:

Dan Niemann. Dan is my father. He was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri as the fifth of eleven children living under his mother and father. He is one of nine boys and two girls, and played several sports in high school where he eventually matriculated to USC. He studied engineering and now works as a real estate developer living in Palos Verdes Estates, California with my mother. He has three sons, and I am the youngest of the three.

 

Folklore:

“My mother was full of superstitions and rituals. I’m not sure if it was just our family, but whenever one of us lost an eyelash…. She would immediately grab it and put it on the back of our fist and say ‘Make a wish!’ I’m not sure if any of my wishes truly came true, but it became a habit that I still practice to this day… Whenever I find an eyelash of mine, I immediately put it on my hand, make a wish, and blow it away.”

 

Analysis:

I didn’t realize that I inherited this from my father and grandmother, but I regularly do this as well. I also encourage my friends to do the same. It seems that some part of me feels incomplete if I have a shed eyelash and I don’t make the wish… It almost feels like I’m holding in a sneeze. Superstition, rituals, and customs… whatever you choose to call them… are very powerful.

Customs
Signs

Burying St. Joseph Statues

Superstition: Burying St. Joseph Statues

 

Informant:

Dan Niemann. Dan is my father. He was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri as the fifth of eleven children living under his mother and father. He is one of nine boys and two girls, and played several sports in high school where he eventually matriculated to USC. He studied engineering and now works as a real estate developer living in Palos Verdes Estates, California with my mother. He has three sons, and I am the youngest of the three.

 

Folklore:

“Like me, my mom was a very religious lady, and very superstitious, too… I learned that from her. When she was fifty years old, and all of us were starting to leave the house, she decided she was bored and wanted a job. She quickly became the top realtor in Saint Louis. Even two years after her death, she was still in the county’s top ten realtors. She attributes her success to burying a small statue of St. Joseph in the yard of every single house that she sold. The day she got the listing, she would drive to the site and bury the figurine. She always asked me to come with her since my middle name is Joseph. She claimed I was her ‘good luck charm.’ I’d like to think she was right!”

 

Analysis:

I think this is really cool, and particularly special to my father, since his namesake is so important. My grandmother was extremely religious, and this practice was very important to her. I also believe that her superstitious nature was passed down to my father. She claims that nobody taught her this idea. She just came up with it. I think that’s pretty cool. Whatever works, right?


 

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Game Day Ritual: Apple Sauce

Game Day Ritual: Apple Sauce

 

Informant:

Dan Niemann. Dan is my father. He was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri as the fifth of eleven children living under his mother and father. He is one of nine boys and two girls, and played several sports in high school where he eventually matriculated to USC. He studied engineering and now works as a real estate developer living in Palos Verdes Estates, California with my mother. He has three sons, and I am the youngest of the three.

 

Folklore:

“So this superstition actually is your brother Trevor’s. I suspect he got this from me at a young age, though… I would always tell teams that I coached ‘It’s best to play on a half-full stomach.’ I would suggest eating light meals such as power bars or apple sauce before games. I encouraged your brother to do this, too. For as long as I can remember, actually… Trevor had two cups of apple sauce and water before each football game. From kindergarten through high school, he would have the same meal on game days. When he started to play for Penn… Mom and I had to ship this specific brand of apple sauce to Trevor until we found it on Amazon Prime for him. He ate this meal every football game of his career. You think I’m superstitious?”

 

Analysis:

This is extremely similar to the “Lucky Underwear” superstition. Again, I believe the placebo effect of feeling that you have done things right and want to continue the same method is very important. However, in this case, I believe that the physical effect could actually be real since it is an ingested food. What I find most interesting though, is that Trevor seemed to have learned this ritual from my Dad. It is passed down, even though my father isn’t the one who started it necessarily.

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