Author Archive
Folk Beliefs
Signs

Red Sky At Morning

Background:

My informant is a twenty-two year old deckhand on a lobster vessel out of Gloucester, Massachusetts. He began working part-time on the boat as a senior in high school and began lobstering full-time just out of high school. He has also worked fishing cod, crabs, and halibut. He spends a great deal of time on the water in his free time as well.

Performance:

“I think everyone has heard this one. ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailor’s take warning?’ Basically it just means that if you’re going out and you see a wicked red sunrise…that’s probably not gonna be good. At night it’s supposed to be red, so that’s okay. We say it on boats and stuff but I think I heard it when I was little somewhere. Everyone says it I guess. Honestly it’s pretty fucking accurate…like, every time I see a red sky when we’re going out in the morning we’re all like ‘shit, this day is gonna suck.’ It’s not like a huge storm or anything, usually, but it really sucks when it’s wicked choppy and rainy or windy or something. I don’t know if there’s science or something about it but I think it’s legit.”

Thoughts:

This saying gives some predictability to an otherwise very unpredictable job. Often both the weather and the success of the trip are equally uncertain. Mike was incredibly adamant that the superstition is true based on anecdotal evidence. Despite the superstition, it does not seem that a red sky in the morning would seriously deter a boat from going out; rather, it portends the quality of the day.

Customs
Folk Beliefs

Eye Contact

Background:

My informant is a twenty-one-year-old college student in Boston, Massachusetts. She is studying to be a nurse and has worked in the emergency room at both Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Performance:

“I heard this when I was in Australia for the summer. It was just before junior year, I think…yeah, that sounds right, but anyway I was at a party kind of near Melbourne and these guys were pouring shots. So I took one and was about to take it and this one guy like grabbed my wrist and was like ‘Wait! Stop! We all need to make eye contact otherwise we’ll all have bad sex for seven years!’ Like that thing with breaking the mirror or something, you know? So we all made eye contact and took the shots and that was that. Weirdly I heard that a ton in Australia, like in Sydney and Cairns and all over. Not just from guys either, like from girls I made friends with and everything. It wasn’t just some gross dude…like, being gross, or whatever (laughter)  I’ve done it ever since. I mean, obviously it’s probably not a real thing, but like, why risk it? (laughter).”

Thoughts:

It seems appropriate that this superstition is prominent amongst young people, a demographic which in all likelihood sees a close connection between sex and alcohol. The ritual itself invokes a certain intimacy; one must look into their companion’s eyes, “the gateway to the soul” before consuming alcohol with them. Since the superstition is present amongst both groups of single-sex, heterosexual friends and mixed-gender social groups, it may not necessarily have much to do with sexual intercourse; the eye contact and intimacy may speak more to the idea that drinking is a social activity and means through which people can develop new relationships.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Magic
Myths
Narrative
Protection

Golem

Background:

My informant is a twenty-two year old student at USC. She is originally from Pennsylvania and came to LA to study screenwriting. As a writer, she makes it her business to be familiar with a variety of legendary creatures; she is ethnically Jewish.

Performance:

“I heard this from a rabbi, I think, when I was pretty small. I’ve read about it a lot since, so I’m sure a lot of what I think I know about this story comes from books and I just filled in the details later on…but from what I remember, a golem is this mythical creature in Judaism that is completely made of inorganic materials…99% of the time the story says clay but I’ve also heard about stone and mud, definitely mud, maybe not stone…so yeah, golems are these giant clay warriors that come alive by magic and protect the Jewish people when they’re in danger. Warrior is a good word for it, I think. There are a ton of stories about them, some more famous than others. But I’ve always thought it was so fascinating, these giant inanimate pieces of art coming alive to protect their creators.”

Thoughts:

This is not a story I was previously familiar with, and one that I decided to research more thoroughly. The Wikipedia page is fairly in depth: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem#The_Golem_of_Che.C5.82m as well as on a number of Jewish sites, like: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/golem/. The second page says that the name “golem” comes from the Hebrew word for something “incomplete or unfinished.” It’s interesting that something that is, by name, unfinished would be called upon as a warrior or protector. The article also includes an ending to the story that Kieryn didn’t include: the golem’s power slowly grows out of control and the creator is forced to destroy its protector. It seems to speak to the idea that violence breeds violence, and perhaps isn’t quite the answer to conflict.

Legends
Narrative

Rest Stop Stalker

Background:

My informant is a twenty-one year old USC student; she’s studying human biology and is currently applying to medical school. She was born in Macedonia, and immigrated to the Long Beach, CA with her mother and stepfather at the age of five. Her father still lives and works as a doctor in Macedonia, and my informant visits each summer. She speaks the language fluently.

Performance:

“So my boyfriend spends a lot of time on Reddit, and sometimes he’ll send me the weird shit he finds; like memes, videos, etc. One of his favorite things to do when he’s bored is read, like, ghost stories and scary stories and that kind of thing. He sent me this really scary one a few months back that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. I don’t remember it, like, word for word, but I’ll send you the link. It’s — it’ll bug you out.”

(I ask her to tell me what she remembers of the story)

“Okay, so it’s about this guy who works in the city but lives like, hours and hours away in another state so he drives home every weekend and stays in the city for work. So one time, he was driving back into the city and had to stop and pee. So he’s in the bathroom and he sees, um, this like drawing thing, a super profane drawing with a note that said something like ‘I want to fuck you’ or ‘I want your cock’ or something, and it was in super neat handwriting and well-spelled — basically, like, not your typical graffiti in a rest-stop bathroom. It was also dated so the guy knew that whoever did the drawing had done it like, that day a few hours before. The guy leaves and gets in the car, which had a University of Michigan sticker on it, or something. So he keeps driving and has to pee again and stops at another rest stop. He’s peeing and he sees another piece of graffiti but this time it’s a super intense picture of someone who’s literally been ripped apart…like, um, guts everywhere and stuff…and the notes in the same handwriting as the last one said like ‘I want to eat your intestines’ and like ‘I want to fuck your corpse’ and really gruesome shit. The date/time on the wall were only from an hour or so ago. The guy’s freaked the fuck out, so he gets in the car but when he passes the next rest stop he’s curious so he gets out and goes into the bathroom and finds a huge message written in shit on the wall that says like ‘almost there, Michigan! You’re so close!’ like whoever wrote it knew that the guy would stop and knew exactly who he was and was taunting him…so the guy runs out of the bathroom and to his car and he hears like muffled laughter coming from in the bushes. On the last stretch of the trip he sees a car pulled over on the side of the road and a guy standing in front of it with brown stains all over him…as the guy passes the guy on the side of the road yells ‘FUCK YOU MICHIGAN!’ and starts laughing hysterically….there was something wrong with his face, like his eyes were wrong or he had too many teeth…something about him that just wasn’t quite…human, maybe? So like whatever it was that was like stalking him the whole time was just trying to torment him for no real reason…just because he could. Or it could, I guess (laughter).”

Thoughts:

Neither me nor my informant could find the link to the original story on reddit, but did find the story on another website: (http://adequateman.deadspin.com/a-rest-stop-stalker-and-more-of-your-real-life-horror-1738356933). While looking through Reddit, however, I was stunned by the sheer volume of collected folklore on the site. There are thousands and thousands of ghost stories and legends that are shared and discussed between users. It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that, when bored, someone would go through and look for engaging piece of folklore on Reddit. This story is terrifying because it’s incredibly contemporary; it features rest stops, road trips, and time-stamped stalking. The story is geographically non-specific. This is a world we’ve seen and could recognize; we can imagine his terror and picture ourselves as victims of the same stalker. And most importantly, we can believe that this may have really happened to someone at some time in some area of the country. It’s a terrifying Urban Legend.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative

The Domovoi

Background:

My informant is a twenty-one year old USC student; she’s studying human biology and is currently applying to medical school. She was born in Macedonia, and immigrated to the Long Beach, CA with her mother and stepfather at the age of five. Her father still lives and works as a doctor in Macedonia, and my informant visits each summer. She speaks the language fluently.

Performance:

“My grandparents always had a bunch of stories, that were like, supposed to make me do their bidding (laughs) but my grandmother had this story about a little house elf called a Domovoi. It’s spelled — (she struggles to spell it, and I tell her I’ll look it up later) Okay, but yeah, these little house elves would like, live in your house and protects it and neatens up at night. But if you were bad — like, made a mess, broke stuff, tracked dirt in — he’d get angry and start making scary noises all over the house. I remember once I broke a vase or something and that night while I was trying to sleep there was this thumping on my door and I remember being so fucking scared because I’d pissed off this elf and I thought he was going to like, murder me or something. I was a lot more careful around the house after that.”

Thoughts:

This seems to be a classic example of adults using folklore to control and discipline children. This household beast shares a lot in common with characters from other cultural traditions, like brownies, hobgoblins, and even the Roman concept of a household god. The adults use the creature as an incentive for children to respect their home and keep things neat — in other words, to prevent them from adding to their parent’s workload.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative

Changelings

Background:

My informant is a twenty-two year old student at USC. She is originally from Pennsylvania and came to LA to study screenwriting. As a writer, she makes it her business to be familiar with a variety of legendary creatures from different regions and cultures; she is ethnically Jewish.

Performance:

“This is one of my favorites. There was that Angelina Jolie movie about it, and everything, but that kind of sucked (laughter) so I first heard this from my grandmother sometime in high school, just kind of like, a scary story or something. But I’ve done more research and the basic story shows up across a bunch of different cultures and whatnot. So basically, we think of fairies as like, Tinkerbell, right? Well in most old cultures, fairies were not that fucking benign. Like, at all. Fairies were these sort of horrendous creatures that would sneak into your house and steal your babies and drive you crazy. Like, parents would hang iron over their baby’s crib to keep fairies from getting in and taking their kids. This whole legend grew up around that idea; when people were wondering if their kid was their kid or the fairy replacement, they’d call them ‘changelings.’ Basically, what a fairy leaves behind to mimic your child while the real thing lives on in the fairy realm. Some stories say that these changeling kids were kind of brutal, monstrous little things, and others just say they’re sort of…off, I guess? There’s a lot of variety, which makes it a cool story to build stories off of, if that makes sense. A lot of wiggle room.”

Thoughts:

This legend seems almost mythic, in the sense that it’s a story that was created as a means of explaining and understanding the world around us. As Kieryn mentioned, the changeling story appears in a variety of different traditions; it appears here: https://www.britannica.com/art/changeling-folklore and http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/scanchange.html and elsewhere across print and digital resources. Nowadays, you hear stories about a child one day “changing” and becoming “someone else;” all of a sudden, an otherwise sweet baby grows disobedient or angry or difficult. We would usually go straight to an autism diagnosis or some other psychological explanation, but this offers a more spiritual explanation. According to one of the articles above, there were myths about how to have your child returned from the fairy world, many of which included torture. This story in particular speaks to mankind’s understanding and treatment of mental illness and disability.

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection
Signs

Nursing Superstitions

Background:

My informant is a twenty-one-year-old college student in Boston, Massachusetts. She is studying to be a nurse and has worked in the emergency room at both Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Performance:

“I’m not technically a nurse yet so I’ve only really seen this stuff happen…but you kind of catch on. The biggest one I think is to never say that you’re having a “quiet” day, because that’s when everything like, blows up in your face. I’ve had nurses seriously freak out at each other for saying that. That’s the big one, I think…there are also a few nurses, no one that I know really well, but some people say that if you tie a nurse in a patient’s sheets they’ll live through your shift. They’d only do it to the really sick people — you know like bad accidents, or kids, or something. I don’t know if it works, necessarily, but I will say that when we think we’re keeping our patients alive, we’re working a lot harder and people tend to stay alive just a little bit longer, if that makes sense.”

Thoughts:

The never-say-quiet superstition makes a lot of sense, though I’m not sure if it’s specific to nursing. I remember at my high school job scooping ice cream, we had a similar rule about not saying that the store was “slow” because that would mean a rush was imminent. The superstition about the knot, however, it interesting. It’s like the nurse is trying to create a bond between their patient’s life and the physical world; like they’re trying to keep the patient physically tied to their life. Though a simple gesture, it speaks to how seriously nurses take their work. They’ll do anything to keep their patient’s alive, even if its as simple as a knot in a bed sheet.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Signs

No New Waves

Background:

My informant is a twenty-five year old USC graduate who splits his time between Los Angeles and his home in La Jolla, CA. The informant is a lab assistant but spends the majority of his free time surfing. It’s both a personal passion and family activity that has taken him all over the world.

Performance:

“Another one is that you never leave waves to find waves. That was one of the first ones that I learned, my Dad is super, like, intense about it. Basically it means that if you have waves, if you’ve found like, decent conditions, you shouldn’t leave to find something better because you’ll never find it. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be like, philosophical or something, but it’s honestly true. Every time I’m like, ‘oh, these waves suck, let’s go to this beach’ or whatever, the waves totally suck. Like I’m cursed because I couldn’t appreciate what I had. So just, like, stay in the moment. It’s worth it.”

Thoughts:

This is another superstition that sheds a light on the spiritual side of surfing. There’s a whole set of beliefs behind the sport and culture. As Doron mentioned, this seems to be equal parts philosophy and superstition. The message is to “stay in the moment” and appreciate what’s in front of you rather than running off to chase something that might be better. Unlike traditional American discourse, this piece of folklore is anti-future; it insists that the surfer lives fully within the present moment and focuses only on what is happening around them.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Signs

Never Say Goodbye

Background:

My informant is a twenty-five year old USC graduate who splits his time between Los Angeles and his home in La Jolla, CA. The informant is a lab assistant but spends the majority of his free time surfing. It’s both a personal passion and family activity that has taken him all over the world.

Performance:

“Surfers are pretty superstitious, which is crazy just because of how, like, chill we’re supposed to be (chuckles). But one thing is that you never tell people you’re leaving…like, if you’re out there and you know that you’re going to just like, get one more and then go in, you don’t say it. You just paddle in and like, you’re done. If you tell people, like, ‘hey I’m going to go’ it basically brings like, really awful conditions. Like, no waves and stuff for anyone else. Not cool. Don’t do it!”

Thoughts:

This is both etiquette and superstition. It seems to speak to the limited time most people have available to surf. People tend to talk about surfing and surf culture like it’s pseudo-religious; there is a spiritual importance to the individuality of a surfing experience. In this case, it seems like the act of ending your own session is tantamount to ending everyone else’s. You’re supposed to let everyone have as much or as little of their own time to surf and do your own thing.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

The Wooden Table

Background:

My informant is a twenty-one year old student at USC; she’s studying neuroscience with an eye towards medical school. Her father is Laotian and French and her mother is French.

Performance:

“Both of my parents believe in ghosts. This happened to my mom — or maybe it didn’t happen to her but it happened to someone she knew? I’m not sure. This was in the Basque Region, on the French side. It’s, um, an interesting place. Super pretty, super old. Have you been? (I tell her that no, I haven’t) okay, but you’ve been down south, you know what I’m talking about. Super pretty, super old (laughter). They were at my grandmother’s house which is this super gnarly little cottage and the family has lived there, for like, ever. So they were eating dinner and a bunch of kids were fighting or something and all of a sudden this huge wooden table just flew across the room. Like, slammed against the far wall. They didn’t say they were scared or anything but they just knew that it was a ghost and that the ghost wanted them to know it was there.”

Thoughts:

This seems like a classic European ghost story, in many ways. The ghost isn’t necessarily malevolent, but simply there to make its presence known. Much like the piece we read about Estonian ghosts, the ghost is another familial claim on the property and a more tangible connection between the family and the house itself.

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