The following story is told by my old high school teacher regarding some of the superstitions he observed while living in the midwest:
“When I inherited a box of stuff from my grandfather, in the box I found a well-worn St. Christopher medal on a chain. In the same bag in that box was a Nazi Iron Cross medal and some other Nazi stuff. Since I am not Catholic, I had to ask about the medallion and why it was in the Nazi bag, and found out that literally millions of troops on both sides of WWII wore the medallion for protection. Many millions still wear them today. In Catholic hospitals in the Midwest, it is common practice to let patients wear St. Christopher during surgery. Otherwise, many people would die – they will not have surgery without their medal.”
Analysis: My teacher, an atheists, is very skeptical of if this omen actually works but acknowledges the cultural significance the medals have in the midwest. In living in Indiana for a brief period, he heard stories from his peers about the lucky powers of the St. Christopher medal which he shared with me in an interview. This is a classic story of a lucky omen worn by many to ward of bad spirits and bring good luck. It is not uncommon that people seek comfort in a lucky omen when they fear for their life, like many people do when they undergo major surgery, or are in a major war.
The following poem was read to me by my friend’s Armenian grandmother first in Armenian, and then in English:
Analysis: This poem written in the 1920s by Yeghishe Charents speaks to the beauty not only of the culture and land, but also of the language. This is Mary’s (my friend’s grandmother) favorite poem that she heard from her mother growing up in Beirut, Lebanon. The poem is beautiful in English but even more beautiful in its original language: Armenian. This poem is a fantastic piece of folklore because it explains some of rich history of the Armenians and their land. It exemplifies Armenian national pride which is very big in the culture. The poem touches on mournful traditional Armenian music which Armenians take pride in because it tells their long story of how they have persevered throughout history.
A rural area of India experienced a UFO sighting in 2002 my Grandfather remembers hearing about from his colleague who was living in India at the time. In an interview with my grandpa he describes what his colleague remembers from the incident:
Interviewer: “How did your colleague hear about the UFO sighting?”
Informant: “He was was working in Mumbai at the time and so he didn’t see the UFO himself but most of the country heard about it. They were all terrified that the Muhnochwa was going to come after them next. He told me he heard it was spotted in Uttar Pradesh and that people there reported that it looked like a UFO but it was this thing they named a Muhnochwa that beamed red and green lights and swooped down from the sky trying to scratch people with its huge talons”
Interviewer: “Did he know anyone who saw the Muhnochwa?”
Informant: “He knew people who knew people who claimed they saw it and were scratched by the talons, and that’s where the chaos started. People started panicking over something that only a handful of people claimed to see and there had been no other spottings since that incident. People started taking preventative measures such as holding sermons to ward away evil and staying up all night to stand watch. People stood around bonfires all night looking for the mysterious creature but it never showed again.”
Interviewer: “Why aren’t the people still worried about a potential attacks?”
Informant: “The police were able to convince the people that the attack was just a rumor, but I guess we’ll never know.”
Analysis: My Grandfather believes that life outside Earth is entirely possible which is why the story has an ominous tone because nobody is really sure what happened. The only facts are that the country quickly turned to chaos when an unknown threat was detected and the community that was directly effected banded together to help solve their alien problem. They turned to religion first to protect themselves, and then gathered weapons and fire to protect the community if another attack happened. UFO sightings are not uncommon even today, but it’s the way in which communities respond to them which reveals most about that certain group. I particularly like this piece of folklore because I too believe that life outside of Earth is possible and like to entertain the possibility.
According to the Nez Perce legend, a long time ago, a coyote created human beings. My old history teacher still teaches this story when he teaches Washington State History and in an interview he retold the story:
Interviewer: “How did Coyote create human beings?”
Informant: “Before there were people on Earth, there were animals. Until one day, a huge monster ate all the animals in sight. Coyote was the only animal left on Earth and wondered where all his friends went. Upon hearing the tragic news, Coyote became infuriated and vowed to stop the monster and rescue his friends. So Coyote went across the Snake River to the highest peak in the Wallowa mountains and tied himself to the mountain with rope. He then challenged the monster to try to eat him. The monster tried but the rope was too strong and the monster panicked and tried to befriend Coyote because he could not eat him. After building more trust between the two of them, Coyote asked to go inside the monsters stomach to see all his friends. The monster agreed and when in his stomach Coyote saw all his friends were safe and plotted to free them. Coyote then used his fire starter to start a fire in the monster’s stomach and took his knife and cut the monster’s heart down. The monster died and all the animals escaped. Coyote decided that in honor of the event he would create a new animal, a human being, so he cut up the monster into four pieces and flung them into the four winds to create tribes of Native American people. He then washed the monster’s blood off his hands and proclaimed, ‘here on this ground I make the Nez Perce. They will be few in number, but they will be strong and pure'”
Analysis: The origin story of man according to the Nez Perce also serves as the origin story of the Nez Perce tribe. Their origin story tells much about their people as they are exactly how Coyote describes them as few in number but strong and pure. This is one of the most important pieces of folklore to the Nez Perce people because it tells their story. Most tribes have their own origin stories of their tribe and mankind which tells more about the tribe and their culture and beliefs than it does about how the first man was created. Common Native American motifs are present in this piece of folklore including the presence of animal characters all named their animal names, and how it tells the story of creation. I particularly enjoy this piece of folklore because I heard it in middle school and again in highs school taking Washington State history.
Another version of this same story can be found here: http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/CoyoteCreatesHumanBeings-NezPerce.html
Thet Mahachat is one of the biggest festivals in all of east Asia celebrating one of Gautama Buddha’s past lives. My old english teacher went to Thailand a few years ago to celebrate this festival and recalls his trip in an interview:
Interviewer: “What is the Thet Mahachat festival celebrating?”
Informant: “Thet Mahachat celebrates one of Gautama Buddha’s past lives, his reincarnation as Prince Vessantara Jataka. When he was reincarnated as this prince, he was determined to be charitable in anyway possible and gave away all of this possessions. Such a nobel spirit is celebrated with parades, dance and drama performances. Gautama Buddha is also honored with a sermon from all the monks from the Vessantara Jataka chapters. Most Thai holidays were centered around a moral and in this case it’s highlighting the significance of charity”
Interviewer: “Did you listen to any of the monks’ sermons?”
Informant: “Unfortunately no, I did not get a chance to because I was distracted talking to a local about the festival and the dance performance we were watching. It was incredible! They illustrated the whole story of Gautama Buddha’s rebirth into Vessantara Jataka and his life story. My favorite part was during one of the drama performances when they brought out the elephants. According to the Thai folklore, on the day of Vessantara Jataka’s birth, a white elephant was also born and brought rain to the land which was in a drought”
Analysis: Although my old english teacher was unable to hear the words of the monks, he was able to immerse himself in the culture in other ways by just watching the festival on the street and interacting with the people. His recollection of the Thet Mahachat festival highlights the main themes of the holiday which are charity and elephants. Elephants hold a certain cultural significance in most East Asian cultures, but specifically Thai culture and folklore. The elephant from the story was said to have powers of bringing rain to the land and is regarded highly by the people of Thailand. The motif of the elephant commonly occurs in Thai culture and can be seen at other holidays and festivals. This piece of folklore seems incomplete to me because my teacher did not hear the monk’s sermon but is still quite valuable because it tells more about the Thai culture and how they celebrate.
The ancient civilization Sumer is home to one of the earliest riddles known in existence. The following is the first riddle recited by my old high school english teacher:
“There is a house. One enters it blind and comes out seeing. What is it?
Answer: A school.
That’s why it’s my favorite”
Analysis: My old teacher said he first heard this riddle from another teacher at a school he used to teach at and has been teaching it to his students ever since. I think riddles are extremely significant pieces of folklore because they make people think but are still lighthearted. Riddles have had more cultural significance earlier in history when heroes would commonly be asked them in order to enter or pass through an area of some sort such as a temple. Nowadays, people do not get asked or tell riddles as commonly, but it is not uncommon for people to still have to answer riddles to gain entry somewhere, like a password to a secret party. For example, there is a riddle each member of my sorority must solve to gain entrance to our weekly chapter meetings. Riddles are especially prevalent in schools where instructors are constantly trying to help their students gain knowledge by challenging them academically with something like a riddle. I find this piece of folklore intriguing because the riddle by itself often accompanies a larger story involving key players such as who is asking the riddle and who is answering the riddle. One can either choose to look at the whole story or simply analyze the riddle.
The following urban legend was told by a Hawaiian native that she learned from her auntie:
“Theres this creepy looking haunted house on the corner of 8th and Harding that they just tore down last summer but they’re trying to rebuild….they shouldn’t. It’s home to a kasha. A kasha is a demon that feeds on human corpses and there’s one probably still living on that plot of land. The kasha first started inhabiting the house after a man killed his wife, son and daughter in his house and buried their bodies on the property. The bodies of the wife and the son have been found but the daughter’s body is still missing…because she’s now the kasha that haunts the Kiamuki house. She tried to claim her first victim in 1942. The police received a desperate phone call from the woman who lived in the house in 1942 claiming that her children were being strangled by a ghost. The police responded to this call and were terrified at what they saw at the house. According to police reports, they witnessed the two children being thrown around and strangled by an unseen entity. After about an hour and a half the policemen were finally able to save the children from the kasha and evacuate the family from the house never to return…but that did not stop different people from moving in. After the family moved out, three women moved into the house and one night the kasha violently grabbed one of the women’s arms. They quickly called the police and they responded and offered to escort the women to another house for the night. On their drive, the kasha reappeared and started choking one of the women. The car pulled over and the two other women struggled to get the kasha off of their friend. The policeman also pulled over and tried to help the women but was restrained by what he describes as a ‘large calloused hand.’ Finally he was able to break free and get the kasha off of the woman. He offered to drive the women to the house but when they got into his car it wouldn’t start so the women returned to their car and all of a sudden both cars worked again. As they drove down the road the policeman recalls seeing the car door get ripped off of the car and thrown into the road by an unseen entity which then continued to drag one of the women out of the car and strangle her to death while her friends and the policeman watched helplessly”
Analysis: This terrifying ghost story might be more than an urban legend with detailed police reports that are still unexplainable, after all how do you explain someone being choked to death by thin air? The informant sounded utterly terrified of this house and claimed she will always take a longer driving route if it means avoiding that neighborhood. The common ghost story motifs are all present in this chilling story because the kasha is a young girl who was tragically murdered who’s purpose is now to inflict harm to others. However, this goes further than a common ghost story because there are detailed police accounts and multiple accounts of attacks on the property. This story has been passed down to generations of Hawaiians as a tale of caution to always avoid the Kaimuki House.
In the following interview, a energy worker and herbal and flower essence specialist explains the significance of the scarlet monkey flower essence:
Interviewer: “Which herbs or flower essences help with emotions?”
Informant: “Scarlet monkey flower essence is one of my favorite flower essences because it addresses the fear of repressed strong emotions, especially those of anger and powerlessness. It helps one communicate clearly and directly with emotional honesty.”
Interviewer: “Who would you recommend scarlet monkey flower to?”
Informant: “Well your mom currently takes scarlet monkey flower. She has expressed and I have observed that she struggles with accepting her emotions so she has been using this flower essence for a few months now”
Analysis: My mother claims this flower essence works and has improved her quality of life significantly as she is happier and more in tune with herself and her spirit. I agree as she has been much better at communicating with me when she is feeling angry or upset instead of just letting her emotions brew until one day she explodes. This flower essence has been passed down for generations from the informants teacher to her and now to my mother who excitedly tells anyone willing to listen about the miracle essence. Although the flower essence is ancient, the informant is finding new uses for it in the ever adapting world.
In the following interview, a energy worker and herbal and flower essence specialist explains the significance of the stone circle flower essence:
Interviewer: “What are some of your favorite flower essences?”
Informant: “I find the stone circle flower essence to be quite powerful. It places an aura of solid protection in the energy field so that one does not take on any unbalanced energy from the environment”
Interviewer: “Who do you recommend this essence to?”
Informant: “People and animals under a lot of stress that need balance in their life. Especially people or animals who are ultra sensitive to the energy around them and therefore have a higher risk of getting hit with negative energy. They have to be protected.”
Interviewer: “Who is an ultra sensitive”
Informant: “Your sister, for one. She is very effected by her environment and the littlest thing could throw her off balance. For example if a big storm came with a bunch of negative energy that could mess up her balance as well as if she got in a big fight with her parents or is stressed about school work. Anything out of routine could potentially upset their balance.”
Interviewer: “So how should people like my sister take this flower essence?”
Informant: “I make it at home and it comes in a little dropper bottle. It’s a liquid that can either be ingested or rubbed on the skin or hair”
Analysis: The informant learned all of her practices from her teacher who would prefer to remain anonymous who learned them from a teacher before her. This folklore is especially important to me because it pertains to my sister. I have first-hand seen the effects of this flower essence and how it has completely changed my sister’s personality. She is more patient now and in control of her emotions. Although there is a lack of scientific evidence, this remedy that has been passed down for generations seems to work at least in the informant’s experience.
The following Argentinian urban legend was told by my old high school history teacher:
“There are many urban legends in Argentina, my favorite being El Familiar. According to the legend originating in the sugar plantation in Salta, Tuchman, and Jujuy, the Argentinian government was struggling economically which meant the sugar industry would take a big hit. However, the titans of the sugar industry found a way around their economic misfortune, by partnering with the Devil. The Devil promised to protect the sugar industry from the failing economy in return for a yearly human sacrifice. The sacrifice would be selected by the sugar industry and then dragged to the Devil in Hell by a decapitated black, rabid dog dragging a chain around its neck. Legend has it, the dog still rabidly wander the sugar plantations searching for its next victim”
Analysis: Although this is only a legend, it has increased religious practices of protection in the northern areas of Argentina. The eminent threat of the Devil leads Argentinians to use rosaries or blessed crucifixes for protection. This is one of my favorite pieces of folklore because I am very interested in urban legends. Although they are never true, they have a great impact on the communities and culture around them. In this case, the old urban legend has decreased unwanted activity in sugar plantations and increased religious faith in northern Argentina.