Author Archive

The Ghost of Frankie Silver

“The town that I am from in North Carolina, it’s called Morganton and it’s in Burke County, and one of the famous citizens of Burke County is named Frankie Silver and she was the first woman to be hanged… I thought it was in North Carolina, but it might just be in Burke County… I am not entirely sure, but she was accused of murdering her husband and chopping him up with an ax and then burning him in a stove, like the stove in their house…
And so she was found guilty and hanged. I think she wasn’t hanged in Morganton. I think she was hanged at the state courthouse, but I think the trial was in Morganton in the old county courthouse, which is still standing. They don’t use it as a courthouse anymore, but it has like a museum inside of it. It’s pretty cool. But supposedly, her ghost, you know, still kinda haunts where her house was. I think it’s not quite in Morganton. It was more out in the woods kind of up the mountain, but my mom told me that supposedly where she was buried, which I guess has since kinda been lost… no one really knows where it is anymore… is kinda out towards my childhood home. There was a road off of the main road that was kind of…I think it was just a gravel road called Buckhorn Tavern or something real rustic like that… and that supposedly is where her grave is according to my mom.”

The informant grew up in North Carolina and lived there his entire life there until moving to Los Angeles around three years ago, where he currently resides.
In regards to Frankie Silver, there is speculation to if she was innocent or not, or even if it was just self-defense. This happened at the turn of the century though, so a lot of the speculation comes from women not having as many rights as they do now, meaning that even if it was self-defense, she could have been “doomed at the onset once she was accused” (according to the informant).
While the informant claims to not believe it now, he admits that he probably did as a child, being that he was into ghost stories then. However, he also admits that he didn’t really understand who she was until he was much older. He learned who Frankie Silver was as the children in Morganton/Burke County are required to read a book called “The Ballad of Frankie Silver” by Sharyn McCrumb in middle school.
The informant also cannot distinctly remember what would happen to you if you saw the ghost, but he figures it has something to do with her being unjustly hung.

The informant relayed this to me while in the passenger seat of his girlfriend’s car as she drove us all back up to Los Angeles. I have known the informant since he moved to Los Angeles.

I find it interesting that the informant knew about legend of Frankie Silver, but did not fully understand it until reading a book based off of it. In this case, the legend was enhanced/more distributed because of the authored literature based upon it. While the informant was able to distinguish what he knew as the legend and what he knew as the book, I am sure that the two often get confused or even fall under the same heading of “By Sharyn McCrumb.”
That being said, there is no way of telling how much of the book influenced the informant’s version of the legend or how much it has changed since the book was published.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Dussehra and Diwali Festival

“Dussehra and Diwali both are basically celebrated for the triumph of good over evil. So, mytholoigcally speaking, there were two gods, Ram and his wife Sita. Sita was kidnapped by Raavan, Aasur as they called it, a Satan in maybe English. So now, Raavan kidnapped Sita and took her to a place where Ram had to, you know, cut down trees, go inside the forest, look for her, and then kill many people. People as in like, the bad people obviously, and then when he found Sita, he brought her home and killed Raavan. Raavan had ten heads, so he was called Dash Aasur. Dash is ten and Aasur is a devil, so Dash Aasur, as in the ten headed bad guy. He killed Raavan and that’s why we celebrate Dussehra, where we make a statue of Raavan and burn it. We burn it so that we can tell people that they need not be scared, he’s dead, and it’s the triumph of good over bad. And then, there is the festival called Diwali, which is ten days after it. It is a part of Dussehra. So, after Dussehra, you have Diwali, the festival of lights. People lite candles, like lanterns everywhere, candles everywhere, and then they decorate their houses with flowers and colors just to celebrate.”

In India, there are around fifty festivals that are celebrated all around the year. However, half of them are more regional, while the others are more nationally celebrated. Essentially, most of the festivals are known, but not all are celebrated in every state. These two in particular take place at the end of October through the first week of November.

As are a lot of their festivals, color plays a huge role in Dussehra and Diwali. For these festivals, it is more elegant than some, but still has to be colorful. You are not supposed to wear black because Indians view it to be ominous, which would go against the festival’s idea of good defeating evil.

The informant relayed this to me while we were re-shelving books in the stacks of Doheny Library at USC. She is one of my co-workers.

It is very common around the world for celebrations to revolve around their gods, but I was surprised when she described the festival being based on a myth before telling me about it. I feel that it is very uncommon for people to discuss their myths in such a way to other people, already acknowledging that others do not believe what they do. However, I found that she was more open to discussing and sharing it with me because of her approach, even though she does believe in the gods.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holi Festival

“It begins in March, so the first week of our New Year has Holi. It’s the festival of colors because in North India, like few states in the North, they say that colors make you look beautiful and initially, in medieval times and, you know, the early civilizations, they used to apply turmeric to look fairer. So, that’s how the concept of putting colors came in. Later, it got a little fancy, from yellow to green to pink and then everything. So, that’s how it is. Now, it is more of a water sport. I mean, people splashing water on each other and colors and everything. And, in India in fact, everything is closed. It is a national holiday and even if you don’t know each other, you can go on splashing water without anyone being offended.”

For the Hindu calendar, New Year begins in March. This is one of their many festivals, but this one more specifically honors color, which is very important in Indian culture. It is a very communal festival as well. There was even a celebration on the USC campus that the informant participated in with her friends.

Historically, the idea of applying colors came with the concept that being more fair was more beautiful. Since then, as she said, it has expanded to more bright colors representing individual things in Indian culture.

The informant relayed this to me while we were re-shelving books in the stacks of Doheny Library at USC. She is one of my co-workers.

Personally, I feel as if the Holi Festival has spread into American culture through the forms of “color runs,” where people run a 10k while being pelted with color. I also have seen it in one of Coldplay’s music videos, so knowledge about it is spreading quickly.

I find it interesting how much it has changed from the “original” tradition, yet that the color aspect has carried through while evolving in its own way. It is also interesting how Indians outside of India are taking the festival with them where they go, preserving their culture and allowing people to see and often participate in it with them at the same time.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Common Cold Prevention

“To prevent this, every night, what you should do is boil water, put flax seeds into it, cumin seeds into it, and there’s a special kind of leafy vegetable, which looks like mint but does not smell like mint. It is called “adulsa.” So, when you put that…it’s pretty pungent…. Like, but you just have to pinch your nose and drink it because it’s for your own good and if you drink that on a regular basis, your metabolism is such that there is good blood circulation happening inside you. You breathe better, you know. You need not do yoga basically, like it helps you cleanse your body well. People even believe that they will lose weight, but I don’t know. I don’t think so, in seeing myself. But definitely you will not catch a cold.”

In India, where the informant is from, there are a lot of variations in climate. It will start off maybe at five degrees Celsius and will increase to potentially forty-two degrees Celsius later in the day. On top of that, it is very humid, so you spend most of the day sweating through your clothes. The informant explains that at that point, no A/C can cool you and that most days you will sweat through your clothes within three hours. So, many Indians try to eat a lot of ice cream or milkshakes to combat the heat. However, they believe that when your head is hot, from the heat and the sunlight, and then you enter a cool place and drink something cold, your body cannot take the difference in temperature and it causes you to catch a cold. While they believe they know why they catch colds, the choose to use this cold prevention trick than trying to go throughout the entire day without attempting to cool off.

The informant assured me that this works and that she often drinks it for months during exam season. However, this is not something that she drinks all the time. Some people will drink it every other night for four years and decide they have built up enough that they will not get sick for awhile after. She does not believe there is a chance to build immunity against this, but she doesn’t think drinking it that much is helpful. For her, it depends on if she can afford to get sick or will have enough time to get well on her own that she drinks it, but she also believes it to be more psychological than physical. That being said, she still swears by it and drinks it as a safety procaution just the same because it has always worked for her.

The informant relayed this to me while we were re-shelving books in the stacks of Doheny Library at USC. She is one of my co-workers.

Personally, I feel like if Indians had the cure to the common cold, the world would have jumped on that awhile ago. Despite that, it sounds to me like the cleanse that has become a craze around Los Angeles. Those, as I am sure this drink as well, help you purge bacteria and such from your body. Unlike the cleanses in America though, you don’t only drink that for three days. Overall though, I think the psychological part plays more of a factor into preventing sickness than the drink itself does.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

How to Heal Basic Wounds

“She [often a mother] boils butter for like half an hour and when the froth comes on the top, she scrapes it off, freezes it, mixes it with turmeric and a little bit of baking soda. Then, she will place it in a handkerchief till it gets wet and then apply it on the wound and keep it overnight.”

This way of healing a wound is one of the rituals that the informant claims comes from her home state of Mahrasha. She explained that they have a lot of rituals like this, but this one is the most effective. It works on bruises or cuts, even if you are bleeding. It is always applied in the way described if it is to work.

It is said that by doing this, your wound will heal overnight. However, the informant explained that it actually takes closer to a week of using this every night before it works. After a week though, it does completely heal the wound. She emphasized the fact that this will work only when not using other medication whatsoever though.

The informant relayed this to me while we were re-shelving books in the stacks of Doheny Library at USC. She is one of my co-workers.

I found it interesting that the whole treatment really does not speed up the healing process more than I would assume other forms of medication could on their own. However, I think that the butter mixture may help clean the wound better than other forms of medication might be able to, but I am not an expert and do not know for sure. It is interesting though that they would opt to use this home remedy over other forms of medication that you could buy at a drugstore. However, I think the idea of a mother going through the process of making it creates a sort of connection between her and whoever is wounded, making the healing process a communal thing.

Folk Beliefs

Helping the Homeless Superstition

“Since religion is a huge part of our family, one of the like lessons that my aunt, my dad’s sister, told my cousin was like, you know, always give to the homeless, which is super like prominent here in South Central LA. And like, my cousin always does it without fail whether she gives money or food or anything because she believes that the one person who she doesn’t give it to will be Jesus and then when she reaches the gates of Saint Peter, like, Jesus will be like, “Why didn’t you help me that one instance?”

For the informant’s cousin, she does it out of fear in a sense, but also because she sees it as helping preserve her faith and maintain that goodwill. For her, it is necessary and she adamantly sticks to it. It does not have to just be money either, but can be food, clothing, or anything as long as you are still helping them in some way. However, for the informant herself, it is not as necessary. She explained that during her religious holidays, she is more likely to give either food or money to the homeless, but does not do so with every one that she comes in contact with. She explained that because she goes to school in South Central Los Angeles, she would practically be giving away all of her money due to the large population of homeless people in the area. When she does give money to someone, she often does so when she strongly sympathizes with them, like when it is a mother trying to take care of her child, etc. In that case, she often gives what she has, even if they are asking for less.

The informant relayed this to me while we were sitting on a bench on the USC campus.

While not the first time I had heard this, I found her story unique. To me, it shows two variations of practice within the same religion. For the informant, location and personal preservation play a huge factor into how necessary she feels it to be. For her cousin, the idea of denying Jesus help is more terrifying than anything else because of the potential of being denied entrance at the gates of Saint Peter.

I often have heard that people do not give money to the homeless because they believe they will buy drugs or alcohol instead of using it for what they say, but neither the informant nor her cousin seemed to think in that way whatsoever. Some people may believe the woman the informant gave money to was lying, but she felt sympathy for her instead of doubt. Overall, I think their lack of doubt comes from their belief, especially for the informant’s cousin.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Hoya Hoye Festival

“There is a festival in Ethiopia. It’s called “Hoya Hoye.” It’s in August, which is in neḥāsē. I forgot exactly what it’s about, but the big thing that we always do is like we have a huge bonfire in our front yard, so to speak, and you just kinda like chant with like sticks, which we call “dulas” and they’re like taller than you and your like “duh duh duh” and then, you’re like “Hoya hoye, yeena geatta.” It’s a religious festival because “yeena geatta” menas like kinda like “My Savior,” so you are like praising Jesus.”

The Hoya Hoye festival is widely renowned throughout Ethiopia. It is a festival that is both very participatory within your family, but also within the entire neighborhood. Even though the houses in Ethiopia are separated by gates, people come together in celebration by banging on their neighbors gates saying “Hoya hoye” or “Salem.” It is a simple way of saying hello during the festival in a friendly way that brings the community together to celebrate.

The informant compared it to the typical American celebration for the Fourth of July, where people will have a barbecue with a lot of their family and friends coming together to celebrate. However, instead of patriotism, it is religious. For both though, there is the sense of community and connection to your culture and the people within it.

The informant explained that she would never celebrate Hoya Hoye in Oregon, where she is from, because the community and appreciation is not there. However, she has been able to go the last couple of years to Ethiopia to experience this. She explained that it was a real honor to be present at that time.

The festival usually falls between August 10th and August 20th. For the informant, it has been difficult to make it back to Ethiopia because that is when the fall semester for school begins, but she still has managed to make time for it.

The informant relayed this to me while we were sitting on a bench on the USC campus.

I find it interesting that this festival does not necessarily cross boarders of Ethiopia. With other festivals, like the Indian Holi festival, the people of the culture have been bringing it with them wherever they go, actively continuing it.

For the informant, the Hoya Hoye festival was something that she would never feel comfortable doing outside of Ethiopia. In part, I think it has to do with the lack of people to participate in it in Oregon. I also think that her being a mostly passive bearer also plays a role into why she only feels completely comfortable performing it with others who maybe understand the meaning behind it more.


The Legend of Saint Abuna Aregawi’s Monastery

“So, my saint name is “Waleta Aregawi,” which derives from the saint Abuna Aregawi, who was a Syrian monk who was residing in Ethiopia. And basically, he is famous for building the Debre Damo monastery, which is on a mountain top. So, the legend says that when he was at the base of the mountain, a large green serpent came to him and Saint Michael was giving him instructions on how to build a monastery and after that, the snake coiled around the monks body and helped him travel up the mountain to build the monastery.”

In Ethiopia, especially in the orthodox church, when you are baptized as a child, you are given a saint name. According to the informant, multiple people can have the same saint because it correlates with both the month and the certain day you are born. For example, the informant was born in August, which translates to “neḥāsē” in Amharic, and she believes that the 31st is attached to Abuna Aregawi. She actually brought a picture of her saint and keeps it in her room here at USC.

While multiple people can have the same saint, she believes that her own saint name, “Waleta Aregawi,” is specific to her.

The monastery is a real location that can still be visited today. The monastery is not only for people who have Abuna Aregawi as their saint, but for everyone.

The informant relayed this to me while we were sitting on a bench on the USC campus.

When the informant first described this to me, I saw a lot of similarities with astrological signs. You have the specific month and day you were born connecting you with others who supposedly are similar to you. While not exactly similar concepts, the idea of being connected to a group of others with the same heading creates a sort of community within a community. At the same time, it also gives a form of identification and belonging to their particular religion.

Folk Beliefs

Dreams of Death Bringing Health: Folk Belief

“The one time I told my dad, he was like ‘oh, actually, in our culture that’s not as bad as you think because when you dream of someone dying, they opposite happens in real life and they’re actually rewarded with more years to live.’”

In Ethiopian culture, dreams are a very big deal alongside religion. The informant explained to me that she dreams a lot, but that a lot of her dreams are very dark. For instance, she often dreams that either just her dad, just her mom, or both of her parents were dying or had died. At first, these dreams terrified her and kept her from telling her parents because she initially saw this as a bad omen. A huge part of her fear came from her being an only child and realizing that if her parents died she would lose everyone in her immediate family.

Eventually, she mentioned it to her dad and he explained that she did not need to worry because it was actually a blessing in a sense. While this did not make the dreams less awful, she felt less scared they were an evil omen that would come true. She jokes now that her parents will live until they are 230 years old with the amount of times they have died in her dreams.

The informant relayed this to me while we were sitting on a bench on the USC campus.

Dreams are something that people are always trying to figure out. There are books written about them, extensive studies about them have been done and even more things that circulate orally with no real idea where it came from. For instance, I have heard that if you are dreaming of someone, it means they were thinking about you before they fell asleep or that what you eat before you sleep effects your dreams.

With this case in particular, I feel like some people would try to relate it to something scientific. However, I think that there is a lot to be said of there being folklore about it in that it must have been a big enough thing for people to have developed this belief about them.

Folk Beliefs

Superstition: Don’t open an umbrella in the house

“Don’t open an umbrella in the house.”

The informant was born in Atchinson, Kansas, but moved to California when she was seven, where she has lived ever since.

While the informant cannot remember a specific instance where she heard this saying, she explained that this was something that people would say over and over again. Essentially, part of her vocabulary growing up. She considers her generation to have been homebodies and that their sayings simply reflected the way people were living. To her, these sayings came from people who were doing more manual work, like farming and housekeeping, rather than office work. She herself never had a job, but fulfilled her goal of becoming a mother and homemaker.

She remembers being told that it would bring her bad luck if she did open an umbrella in the house, but she thinks that someone created it simply because they didn’t want someone to do it, potentially because it could break something, so they started telling people it was bad luck to do so. She claims that if you did though, you would just have general bad luck because the saying never specifies what exactly will happen to you.

The informant does admit to having opened an umbrella in the house at one point in her life, but she does not know if she had bad luck or not as a result. She thinks it is possible though because she does not know how things might have been different than they were/are. However, now, she says that you shouldn’t take any chances because you don’t know what bad luck will befall you if you do.

The informant relayed her folklore to me at my dining room table. I have known her my entire life as she is a close relative. I had already asked her about her folklore weeks before, but upon meeting on this day, she brought a list that she had written of all she could think of so that she would not forget when she told me. While she read the specific folklore off the sheet, the other details I got from her were not pre-determined.

I think there is a large possibility that the informant’s belief that it was created to scare people into not doing something they did not like is accurate. However, there is no real way of knowing for sure. She also brings up what I have found to be the key reason most people don’t test their superstitions. Even if you don’t necessarily believe it to be true, you don’t want to risk having bad luck by trying to find out if it is true or not.