Author Archives: Erik Beltz

Game – Persian – Call to Hafez

Persian Script“Oh, Hafez from Shiraz, you are the keeper of all secrets. By the devotion that you have to your lover, I beseech you to answer my wish.”

Hafez was a Persian poet, and his work has become extremely influential in Persian culture. Although it is authored work, his poems and sayings have become a part of the daily lives of Persian people, becoming almost like folklore. The ways in which his work is now used is particularly striking, and these uses have become folkloric in that they are ritualized and have become traditional. Many Persians will recite the “Call to Hafez” out loud, express a wish or desire, or even ask a question in their mind, and then open to a random page of poetry in the collection, “Odes of Hafez.” The performer will then read the poem and interpret its meaning, which they view as an answer or response to the desire or question they expressed. The informant made it very clear that this tradition has existed for several generations, as she remembers her father doing it with his friends when they lived in Iran. Furthermore, she made it very clear that this tradition cannot be distinguished by social or economic status either, and is a tradition practiced by all kinds of people. I found it particularly interesting when the informant insisted that I perform this tradition and ask Hafez a question. After asking a question and opening to a page, the informant became very excited and read the poem aloud, asking if it provided any insight into the question I asked. After stating that I was unsure, I revealed that I asked Hafez if I would be able to find employment after college. According to her analysis of the poem, my future is optimistic. Her excitement at not only performing this tradition herself, but also in sharing it with me, exemplified its role as a social activity, or game, that is fun and entertaining. It also exemplifies that people of all cultures have long tried to predict their futures and fortunes, often through astrology or entertaining traditions like this one.

Book of poems used: Odes of Hafiz: Poetical Horoscope (translated by Abbas Aryanpur Kashani)

Legend – Giant Man Eating Catfish – Texas

Legend – Giant Man-Eating Catfish in Lake Travis

“I’ve heard my whole life that there are catfish in Lake Travis that are the size of Volkswagens. Right by Mansfield Dam the water gets to be like 200 feet deep, so they say the catfish down there have just had years to grow so large. Apparently divers have gone down there and seen these giant catfish… they’re so big that they could just swallow a full-grown man. I mean, catfish don’t eat people, but if you accidently, like, swam under them and they were sucking something up, they could swallow a human. At least that’s what they say.”

The informant is fifty years old and grew up on this lake in Austin, Texas. Catfish as a meal is very popular in this area, and there have been instances of big catfish being caught, though not as big as the ones that are said to dwell at the bottom of the lake. This legend, in many ways, is similar to the legends of the Loch Ness Monster and Giant Squids in the ocean. It seems that, wherever there is a large body of water that is generally untouchable by humans, a legend like this is formed. It is as if all areas undeveloped and untouched by humans are somehow savage and monstrous, almost to prehistoric extremes. Uncertainty is, apparently, a breeding ground for folklore. There was an article about this legend written in a local hill country newspaper, in which the journalist attempted to debunk the legend. According to this article, a local man made jokes to tourists, which they apparently they took seriously, and the legend of giant catfish in Lake Travis began. Also, the article addresses the fact that the water at that depth contains too little air to sustain fish, so all the fish stay closer to the surface. Overall, this seems to be just another legend of a monstrous sea creature, but adapted to the culture of Central Texas.

Williams, John. “A Body in Mansfield Dam? Man-eating Catfish in Lake Travis? Are These Stories True, or Are They Urban Legends?” The Hills of Lakeway Messenger [Lakeway, Texas] Feb. 2008, 2nd ed., sec. 2. Print.

Legend – Jake’s Hill – Ghosts

Legend – Jake’s Hill – Ghosts

“There’s a bridge in Hutto, Texas where if you go there at night in your car, park on the bridge, put your car in neutral, and turn off your lights, the ghosts of children will push your car across the bridge. I’ve heard of people who put flour on their car and then they can see the handprints of the kids after they leave. We didn’t want to put flour on the car, so I dunno about that. But I went with three friends during high school and did it, and our car did move across the bridge. And then we were followed by this truck that put on it’s brights… it tailgated us for a few miles and then just.. kind of.. disappeared… there wasn’t even a road. That’s another part of the legend.. they say a truck will fly around the corner and chase you away from the bridge. I dunno if this was a coincidence, but I won’t lie, it scared me. So the story… apparently back in the 1800’s or something there was this dude that was a cotton farmer… and his family was hit by a drought and went broke. Then, story goes, he murdered his wife and kids on the bridge and then committed suicide. They say the ghost kids are pushing your car away from the bridge to save you from their father. Another story I’ve heard is that a school bus full of kids drove off the bridge and everybody died.. so the kids push your car away from the bridge because they are protecting you from driving off. I dunno which is true. And I have no idea where the truck part of the legend came from. All I know is that this worked when I went, and I haven’t been back.”
The first variation of this legend seems to reflect the importance of farming in this area in the past, and even today to an extent. The fact that it is children makes the legend that much more disturbing, because children are the embodiment of innocence. The part of this story that struck me was that the informant went and investigated this legend during high school, and was with his male friend and two girls. There seems to be an aspect of liminality in that they were in high school and about to graduate, so they were sort of exploring their independence. There also seems to be a sexual or romantic aspect in taking two girls with them. It is similar to horror movies, where the young woman will seek protection and comfort in the young man out of fear. In reality, both parties are perfectly aware that they are merely finding excuses to be close to each other. Overall, the investigation of this legend exemplifies these young peoples’ transition into adulthood, and the uneasiness that comes with that. Additionally, the social aspect of doing this with friends is notable. By sharing emotional experiences such as this, people build commonality and bonds with their friends.

Contemporary Legend – Ghosts – Texas

Contemporary Legend – Ghost Story

“My dad lives in a big, old house in the country outside of Austin, Texas. The house was built in the 1850’s, and sits on fifteen acres of land that are pretty much in the middle of nowhere. After we moved into the house, nothing happened for a while, but one night it was storming really bad. I remember it very vividly. The roof was made of metal, so the sound of the rain scared me. I went downstairs and slept on the couch because it was closer to my older brother’s room, and because the TV was on. I even remember what was playing on TV, it was a marathon of that movie ‘Teaching Ms. Tingle.’ Anyway, besides the point. I fell asleep, and for some reason I woke up in the middle of the night.. and kneeling right in front of my face on the floor in front of the couch was a little boy.. around 12. He was transparent, had messy clothes and hair, and was wearing overalls.. he looked like a farm boy. I rubbed my eyes thinking I was imagining it, but he was still there. After a few seconds, he slowly vanished. Not believing what I saw, I fell back asleep eventually. After that, we began hearing noises all over the house on a regular basis. Doors rattled, stations would change by themselves on the TV, and sometimes we could hear an office chair rolling around upstairs. The creepiest thing was when you could hear somebody walking down the stairs, but nobody was there. My whole family heard these things… even my dad got spooked a few times and searched the house with a gun, thinking there was a burglar. One night when he was home alone, he says all the sudden all the doors in the house starting rattling and sounded like somebody was beating on them. Sometimes my sister would see the boy standing at the top of the stairs by her bedroom door. All this was fine.. we accepted that the house was haunted… but then we met an old man who knew the family that used to own the house.. he said he played there as a child. Anyway, he told us that a young boy and an older woman with a bun of gray hair haunt the house. He said this without us saying anything about the house being haunted.. and he basically confirmed that a young boy haunted the house. There was also this one time when a little girl was at our house and we thought she was talking to herself… when her mother asked who she was talking to, the little girl said that she was talking to the boy standing next to her… but there was nobody standing next to her!”

This story describes the supposed haunting of the informant’s house in Texas. She was extremely effective at telling me the story, and was very believable. I honestly believe that she wholeheartedly believes that this house is haunted. It is freakishly believable, and I have a hard time disbelieving myself. That being said, the story serves a very important social purpose for the family. They often host parties with hundreds of people, and everybody knows this story. I spent a lot of time with the informant growing up, and she often told these stories to groups of friends, and usually at night in a creepy setting. The story provides a very strong case in support of belief in ghosts in general, especially considering the story from the old man, who allegedly was unfamiliar with the family’s firsthand experiences in the house. Although this story began as a personal story within this family, it has expanded to the small town community around them and has become somewhat of a local legend. It is also interesting that this legend exists in such an old house and in such a rural area that is not inhabited by many people. In some ways, it seems to reflect how much of folklore stems from human uncertainty and the unknown.

Folk Tale – Armenian – Mother’s Heart

Folk Tale – Armenian

“There’s this story about a man who betrayed his mother. So he’s a momma’s boy but his wife hates her and so gives the husband an ultimatum: kill your mother or I will leave you. He’s sad, but he does it… rips out his mother’s heart, throws it on the ground. Then weeks later, he is walking home from the market and he trips on his mother’s heart and falls, skinning his knee or something. The mother’s heart says from the ground, genuinely concerned: ‘Oh my dear boy, please don’t be hurt.’ I believe this story is a metaphor for a mother’s infinite and unconditional love, even in complete betrayal.”

I agree with the informant’s interpretation of this tale. Even in the ultimate betrayal, being matricide, the mother is still loving and concerned for her son. Even in death, she reaches into his life. This story very effectively portrays the power and scope of a mother’s love for her child. Furthermore, the conflict that exists between a mother, her son, and his wife is portrayed in this tale. Often wives and mothers become jealous of each other, because both want to be the primary woman is the man’s life. The mother has cared for her son throughout his life, and now another woman has entered and, in some ways, replaced her. On the other hand, when a man remains too dependent on his mother after marriage, his wife may also become jealous and believe she is not enough. This dynamic is extremely gendered, but it nonetheless is depicted in an exaggerated manner in this story. The son is too dependent on his mother, so the wife forces him to murder his mother to prove his love and dedication to his new wife. This dynamic between these roles is exaggerated in this story, but it effectively exhibits the conflict that often exists.
This jealousy between new wife and mother is depicted in many stories, and often is portrayed as a struggle between the women. An example of this is the film, Monster-in-Law (2005), directed by Robert Luketic. In the film, a humorously violent struggle ensues between a mother and her son’s new fiancé (Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez).

Superstition – Bad Luck – Marine Corps

Military – Marine Corps – Superstition

“When you’re in combat or even training it’s bad luck to eat the charms in your MRE… It’s something you learn early on so you just don’t do it. Every MRE comes with some sort of dessert.. like lemon pound cake or poppy seed pound cakes. Those are the best, but you never know what you’re going to get.. but if you get these charm candies you aren’t supposed to eat them. You’re supposed to throw them out on the side of the road or into the garbage. I don’t really know why it’s bad luck. But I think it’s just in the Marines. There are stories of misfortunes from Marines disobeying this.”

The informant did not seem to have much of an opinion about the reasoning behind this superstition. In my opinion, it seems to relate to the Marines’ (or other military service members’) experiences with dangerous situations while in combat. Although the individuals play a large part in their own safety, they are living in constant danger, and the potential of death looms over them. In some ways, this superstition seems to be an attempt to alter one’s fate in a dire situation. The Marines have relatively little control over their situation during combat, and must follow orders in every aspect of their lives. In this way, it makes sense that throwing away these candies is a way of asserting some form of control over one’s own fate. It is ironic that these candies represent bad luck because they are charms, which typically are viewed as symbols of good luck. The charms remain symbols of luck in this context, but represent bad luck rather than good. This consistency as a symbol of some form of luck helps explain why these specific candies are associated with bad luck, and exemplifies that this association is not entirely random.

Evidently, this superstition is discussed in this publication:
Evan Wright (2004). Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the new face of American war. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. pp. 83. ISBN 0-399-15193-1.

Furthermore, there are many message boards and online posts regarding this superstition. There are even people who suggest that candy should be entirely removed from MRE’s, supposedly to prevent even the possibility of bad luck stemming from these candies. The informant also stated that he believes the film Jarhead (2005), directed by Sam Mendes, references this superstition.

Military Ritual – Blood Stripes

Military – Marine Corps – Promotion Ritual/Ceremony/Tradition

“In the Marines, blood stripes are red stripes you get when you are promoted to Corporal as an NCO. At the same time, when people congratulate you they shake your hand and hit your rank insignia, which can make you bleed because the back of the insignia hasn’t been put on yet… so it goes along with the blood stripes. And they say that the blood stripes are from the Mexican American war in memory of those lost in battle. I think they go together because, in a way, when they hit you, you’re feeling the pain and blood of the Marines that were lost in the Mexican American War… so it’s like a connection to them, to the past.”

I agree with the informant’s analysis of this ritual/tradition. It seems likely that in an organization so reliant on camaraderie, like the military, this connection to the past would be important. According to the informant, the Marines that fought in the Mexican American war were considered especially courageous. By associating themselves with these past Marines, the new Marines are allying themselves with ideals of courage, while paying a sort of homage to their history. Traditions such as this seem to be formative when it comes to identity, and the military places much importance on a sense of common identity among service members. In effect, this ceremony where they are hit on their insignia ties them to their fellow Marines that are being promoted at the same time, but also to the Marines of the past, creating a camaraderie and commonality that spans generations of Marines.

Story Closure – Armenian

Story Closure – Armenian

“At the end of a story or fairytale that a mother tells her child, she always ends with: ‘Three pomegranates (or sometimes apples) fell down from heaven. One’s for the story teller, one for the listener, and one for the entire world.’”

The informant was unsure as to why her mother said this after telling her stories, but stated that she knows both pomegranates and apples are symbolic. I agree that this symbolism is important, as apples are often viewed as fruits of knowledge, while pomegranates can be seen to represent fertility. In my opinion, this sort of closure to the story depicts how each participant in the storytelling process, including the society in which it exists, benefits from the story. The heavens give each person a fruit at the end of the story. In some ways, this seems to possibly symbolize the seeds of knowledge and ideas that are implanted in a child’s mind by their parents through storytelling. Furthermore, it seems to be a variation of other story closures, such as “happily ever after.” Perhaps it is also just a way to end a story on a happy note, while also allowing the storyteller/narrator to assert themselves outside the context of the story at the end of their performance.
I found a few variations of this story closure, usually only in the last part of the phrase. Instead of “for the entire world,” a couple variations say, “for he who understands” or “for he who takes to heart.”

Proverb – Armenian

????? ??? ?????, ???? ????? ??????
Transliteration: Yerger shat gitem, bayts yergel chgitem
Translation: I know many songs, but I cannot sing

The informant was unsure about the meaning of this proverb, but said that her grandmother used to say it to her when she was younger.  She said it was usually used when her grandmother was criticizing her, and took it to describe things in life that she understands but is not a part of.  I agree with the informant, but I also think this proverb can be applied to a variety of situations.  I understand it to mean that no matter how much you think you can do something, you must actually do it to be sure.  To me, it seems to almost be a variation of, “practice what you preach,” with somewhat different connotations.  In other words, you can talk or explain or justify endlessly, but real experience and being proactive is what is needed.

Proverb – Armenian

???? ??? ??????, ????? ?? ??????
Transliteration: Achquh inch tesnar, sirtuh chi mornar
Translation: Whatever the eye sees, the heart won’t forget.

The informant was unsure about the meaning of this proverb, but said that her grandmother used to say it to her as a child, and usually when describing past experiences.  She assumes it has something to do with how experiences shape a person.  In my opinion, this proverb is attempting to explain how no matter how insignificant an experience seems, all experiences converge to create a unique perspective on life and the world.  Furthermore, even if exact instances or details of experiences are forgotten, emotions are never forgotten.  In some way or another, whether consciously or subconsciously, all experiences affect an individual.