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Folk speech
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What Happened to Dorothea

Over the past few years, I’ve heard snippets of this friend’s crazy grandpa. Many nights, we’d eat together and share stories of our nutty families, as we both share lineage with what many would call ‘eccentrics’. Self purportedly from a family comprised of 50% white trash and 50% religious explorers, he grew up around a variety of funny saying and stories.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“You’d go, ‘Oh grandpa, blablablablabla’. And then he would kind of like – you know when you were a kid and you’d kind of like ramble a lot? So he would like loose track and then be like, ‘Well you know what happened to Dorothea don’t ya?’. And then you’d be like, ‘what?’. ‘She went to shit and the hogs ate her’. It wasn’t connected at all. It was basically like, ‘Oh, fuck off. I’m not listening.’”

I love this little proverb or parable or whatever it is, because it’s just so frickin’ unique and strange. At first, you think it’s going to be related to ‘the Wizard of Oz’ or at least somebody named Dorothea, but that’s just thrown out the window with a tragic image of graphic violence. And, to top it all off, it’s hilarious. The shear absurdity of it all perfectly captures the care-free nature of an older generation.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
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Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Whole Image (Soul Stealing and Microphones)

This friend of mine has always been one of the most superstitious people I know. Her childhood was split between two households, each with their own unique beliefs and superstitions. Having been quite close for the past few years, I’ve heard innumerable stories regarding strange folk-beliefs her parents taught her as a little girl. When I asked her about her superstitions and pulled out a microphone, she sealed her lips and wouldn’t explain until I’d turned it off. And first, I was a bit peeved, but by the end of her explanation, it made a lot more sense.

The following was recorded by hand during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Okay so the reason I don’t speak into microphones, no actually don’t – no please don’t. I’ll hold it. I’ll explain it to you, it’s completely legitimate! Okay. So… I don’t believe in speaking into a microphone if there’s no image along with it because my personal spiritual beliefs have to do with the reflection and the way that a person is viewed by other people. Kind of like everyone has a projection, so if your projection doesn’t capture the whole picture it’s wrong. I’ll only be in a video if there’s sound and I’ll only speak directly if you can see me doing it. Think about the way people look at Instagram. If I show you Ben’s insta you only get 3% of his personality. As a means of calculating the projections I give off, I don’t get to know people that well, I’m really picky with people I get to know, and I’m picky with how I represent myself, so I’ve deleted my insta, and I don’t like posing for photos. I don’t like artificial projection, because it goes against my spiritual beliefs. Voice overs for movies are different. That’s acting out a character When representing yourself, I only like the whole image. I don’t take pictures.

 “Partly just growing up, a big part of misunderstanding and getting along with people is getting the whole picture. I grew up never getting the whole picture, I feel like it’s important to be as genuine as possible. If you’re allowing someone to see you and know you as a person, and you only give them a partial image, then, intrinsically, you’re setting yourself up to be stereotyped, and like, put into a box.

 “That’s why I hate telling people I’m vegan. It’s like, yeah, I’m fucking vegan, but I like chicken wings sometimes, you know? I hate being put into boxes because no one will ever kno- you don’t even know yourself. No one will ever know anyone. So why make it easier for people to assume that they can? I’m interested in things, but part of my spirituality is just lack of definition. I just think definition is so limiting… And I’ve also tripped on acid a lot, so I’ve felt more things than human existence. I also – I – Identity is complicated. I think people have crossover, but I don’t think – there’s absolutely no way that there’s a carbon copy of me somewhere else. There’s no way that anyone has a carbon copy. I don’t know. Now you get why I don’t like being recorded! I’ve had a lot of problems with this. In high school, I was – me and a couple of people were going to start a band, and then… we didn’t because I wouldn’t record. It was weird.

 “To go back to the question, I am like – I have depersonalization realization. It’s like a mental disorder. Everyone experiences it differently, but I have a separation between myself and what I make. My ankle for example – I just broke it, but I didn’t really process the pain immediately. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see myself, but I see a body that my soul is in. It’s kind of like Freaky Friday. I mean, nobody will ever know you. Your appearance has nothing to do with who you are. I don’t give a shit about my body. I don’t eat. I don’t feel hungry, or like feel anything. I only feel things in my brain. That’s why I live inside my brain. I mean I can feel you, but I’m not – it’s not like I don’t have nerves. I just live inside my brain.”

This superstition is fascinating to me, as it ties together a few more common superstitions and builds upon them while following a strange sort of dream-logic. Perhaps the most famous anecdote regarding soul theft and photography is famed Lakota tribal leader Crazy Horse never having his photograph taken. It’s quite common for many Native American and Australian Aborigines tribes to view photography as a fracturing and subsequent thievery of the soul, as the whole concept of photography is freezing a moment of time. However, my friend puts a whole new spin on this as she adds audio and video recordings to the mix. It’s fascinating to follow her complicated web of spirituality, and it really does make you think about how we define ourselves and those around us.

For more information on soul stealing and photography, check out: http://www.bigbanglife.org/?p=404

For a skeptical view of the same, check out: https://www.csicop.org/sb/show/soul_theft_through_photography

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Material
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Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Let Snacks Alone

This friend of mine has always been one of the most superstitious people I know. Her childhood was split between two households, each with their own unique beliefs and superstitions. Having been quite close for the past few years, I’ve heard innumerable stories regarding strange folk-beliefs her parents taught her as a little girl.

The following was recorded by hand during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“I think it’s bad luck to open people’s food and eat it before they do. Like if Nas buys a bag of goldfish, and I take it and open it, and eat it. One time in 7th grade, my best friend, Rocky, and I were sharing a bag of pretzel thins. She took it from me, opened it during a movie, and immediately after the movie she had her period. My mom said it was just us growing up. Later, I did it to someone else, I opened their bag and took a test and then I got an F on a test. This was back in middle school. I believe in signs. If you follow signs religiously, it’ll be good. I don’t think any of my superstitions allow me to have a crutch, religion is a crutch.

It’s interesting to hear first-hand how some superstitions come into being outright. As far as I can tell from online research, no one believes that eating another person’s food before they do is bad luck. My friend came to this conclusion herself after the above anecdotes played themselves out. She strung together two ‘signs’ in order to formulate an original belief. And she’s passed it on to me! Whenever I go out to eat, and someone’s food arrives before mine, I have the urge to steal a fry. Before I do, however, a little voice in the back of my head reminds me of my friend’s experiences and asks, ‘what if?’. And so I leave the fry.

I tried explaining to her how her superstitions sometimes do act as crutches. As in the case of the test, where she believed she failed due to her opening of someone else’s bag of chips. However, she would have none of it. And insisted that her superstitions served only to explain, never to redact the blame.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Glasses, Apples, and Parking Spaces – Oh My!

This friend of mine has always been one of the most superstitious people I know. Her childhood was split between two households, each with their own unique beliefs and superstitions. Having been quite close for the past few years, I’ve heard innumerable stories regarding strange folk-beliefs her parents taught her as a little girl.

The following was recorded by hand during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“I think it’s bad luck to wear other people’s glasses because you’re trying to see more of the world than you’re meant to see. Why would you try to see the world through other people’s eyes? It’s the principle of the thing. Why do I have superstitions? Because I don’t have a religion. My dad is really superstitious because he’s really OCD. So like my whole life, we weren’t allowed to eat apples in the house because he thought apples brought a mean energy. He’d always say that they were rude. And we weren’t allowed to park in spaces that were diagonal. He would not park in spaces that had that bar – he’d freak out.”

It’s interesting to view this piece as a sort of cause-and-effect type of deal. Her dad is superstitious because he’s OCD, therefore, he has lots of odd little habits and preferences that was interpreted by my friend as superstition (whether she or her father was the source of this conclusion has been lost to the sands of time). These superstitions bred more superstition – the one about the glasses is an original – which has been passed on to her friends and classmates, and may spread throughout the world. Her father’s condition has created a traceable line of superstitions that have the potential to spread globally. It’s fascinating to witness the overlap and snowballing effect that a few small beliefs can have.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Colombianizing the Fourth of July

Originally from Florida, this friend of mine grew up around a wide range of cultures and traditions. Raised by Haitian and Colombian immigrants, she speaks Haitian-Creole, French, English, and a little bit of Spanish. We share a love of food, and spend a lot of time talking about food and different recipes and whatnot, so when this project came down the pipeline, I knew I had to ask her about some unique, family recipes.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“And then Fourth of July dinner – that’s the day my dad really likes to make the sliders with like the cheese inside. Yeah, and then he puts like pineapple jam and like pink sauce – it’s so good. He’s Columbian, so he likes to … Colombinize, Colombianize food.”

This is a perfect example of cultural fusion. To take the most American food there is on the most American holiday there is and ‘Colombianize’ the two is literally what America is all about. We come from all over the world to share our cultures and make something new and beautiful and wholly original.

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Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative

Commonplace Reincarnation

During high-school, my dad studied abroad in Brazil for a year. He stayed with a family of Lebanese, Druze immigrants who showed him both Brazilian and Lebanese traditions, and always included him in everything. Growing up, I heard tons of stories from his time there. The Brazilian stories were relatively tame – beaches, clubs, schools, etc. But the Lebanese culture was of particular interest.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask him and my mom if they have any stories that I could use for my folklore project.

“And they also believed in reincarnation. Very strongly. Cause my – the Brazilian father of the family I was with never talked about it, but his wife said as a boy growing up in Lebanon, uh, when he was a young boy he started remembering his death as another person. His life. And he kept remembering more and more about it. And he was a young guy and, uh, a middle aged man or something, and there was a feud going on with another family.  And every year he started to remember more about this past life.  And uh, one day he remembered going to the water and he was bending over, washing his face, and looking up in the water and seeing one of his enemies behind him swinging something down. And he remembered his own murder. And after that he never talked about it. But it was common knowledge in the family, when he was growing up, as a kid he remembered this other life. So they all, they all believed in reincarnation. But it was interesting because, I would never have imagined this serious businessman recounting past life experiences. But he was a boy. But there was some story of him going to the house of the person who had been killed when he was twelve years old. And he knew the family and he told the family. And he knew where things were hidden in a drawer and things like that. Yeah, cause he remembered from his.. from his past life. So, but – the family – I was going, ‘weren’t they amazed’? But when they were telling me this story – it was the old uncle Rashid who was telling me this – and he said, ‘oh no, it happens all the time in the Middle East, it’s no big deal’. Like it’s common. ”

Holy cow this story is incredible. I’ve only ever read about these sorts of reincarnation stories online, but to hear it from my dad was a whole other experience. In America, stories such as these are usually scoffed at and forgotten in a matter of hours The same is true in the Middle East, however their reasoning is the exact opposite of ours. Whereas we think of reincarnation as being wholly impossible, there, it is so commonplace that stories such as this are considered drab and boring. It’s insane to think that there is a whole group of countries that believe in reincarnation so readily that they never really talk about it at all.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Tame Sort of Trance

During high-school, my dad studied abroad in Brazil for a year. He stayed with a family of Lebanese immigrants who showed him both Brazilian and Lebanese traditions, and always included him in everything. Growing up, I heard tons of stories from his time there. The Brazilian stories were relatively tame – beaches, clubs, schools, etc. But the Lebanese culture was of particular interest.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask him and my mom if they have any stories that I could use for my folklore project.

“I was just thinking about my experiences when I was a teenager in Brazil with a family of Lebanese immigrants who were Druze, and had the belief of many paths to the mountaintop. But they also had a uh.. a spiritualist element. And after I’d been there several months, they let me go to a family ceremony which was on a Sunday. One of the uncles would go into a trance and kind of channel spirits and try to get insight into some of the issues facing the family. So he would stand there and close his eyes, and appear to be communing with the spirits. And everybody would be quiet and sitting around, um, and then he would speak to them. But that was all in Arabic so I didn’t understand a word. Um.. But other than that, then they would say he’s asking about some problems we’re having with the business or this or that, and he would get some direction. They…they had these kind of sessions where one or more of them would kind of be in a sort of trance-like state. So I remember viewing that and thinking that was sort of interesting.”

Whenever I think of communing with the spirits, I picture ouji boards or fire-and-brimstone preachers in the deep south flailing around with snakes on their arms. I picture people getting real serious and asking about life’s deeper questions. It’s quite funny to picture this fairly frequent occurrence, where a member of the family would go into a trance and just ask advice for everyday problems. Obviously, the whole thing was treated seriously, as my dad had to earn a certain amount of trust before he was allowed to attend. But even so, there’s a lightness to it that is not normally associated with channeling spirits.

 

Childhood
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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Visiting Spirits and Dead Babies

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. Growing up, she told me tons and tons of stories from her time there. She’d speak fondly of their unusual ceremonies and traditions, and how, by the end of it, her host families said she was so in tune with the culture, that if they closed their eyes, they couldn’t tell she was a foreigner.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

“In Japan, it’s a uh … a worshipping of dead ancestors day in August, Oh-Bon. They put out the dead people’s – the dead grandpa, the dead grandma, they put out their favorite food, and they put out chopsticks, and they will, you know, burn their favorite incense and they do all this so the dead can come and visit. They do this in their home. Every year, in August. It’s always in August. So it’s like Halloween, except it’s got a religious significance. It’s when the dead come back. They have festivals in town too, Oh-Bon-Matsi.

“It was a festival for dead children. And there was a river running through the town. Not dead babies but dead children. And, they… But. You know lanterns with lights in them? They’d float these lanterns with lights in them down the river and it was just gorgeous. Each lantern represented a dead child and they had this beautiful eerie music, just vocalizations for the occasion. Traditional Japanese instruments too. And incense burning. It was a very volcanic, sort of lunarscape in the far north. I can’t remember the name of the… the far north of Honshu. So you can look up ‘dead baby festival Honshu’ and figure it out.”

This is a very comforting view of the afterlife. It’s as if death is not the end, but merely a move to a different city. Growing up, she imparted this same sense of the dead on me. She’d always tell me not to fear death or the presence of ghosts, but to welcome them, as they were once in our shoes and only wanted to visit. The dead baby festival further illustrates their benevolent view of death. In America, when a child dies, we mourn and often times never speak of it. In Japan, it is tragic, however they still take time to celebrate their lives. No matter if that life was only for an instant.

 

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Tales /märchen

Fireball Ghosts

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. Growing up, she told me tons and tons of stories from her time there. I was always particularly interested in their spiritual beliefs. Specifically, those regarding ghosts.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

In Japan in graveyards – because it’s… because everybody’s cremated it’s very common during typhoon season to see fireballs and whatnot. And that’s really because of the seepage of the rainwater into burial urns combining with the phosphorous of the bones and creating fireballs. But some people believe that they’re spirits and that the graveyards are haunted. So, yeah I guess. Some people believe it’s the spirits and other people believe it’s the phosphorous in the bones with the rainwater. It’s also very easy to imagine … you sort of feel different presences in Japan. Especially in subways in Tokyo. Because they’re very old, you can feel lots of spirits.”

This anecdote is particularly interesting, as it includes scientific explanation for a supernatural occurrence. Imagine walking home late one rainy night when you see fireball after fireball erupt out of a graveyard. That would be absolutely terrifying. Thankfully, my mother never told me this story as a kid, as it would have almost undoubtedly caused innumerable nightmares and late nights for her. Though she explains the fireballs, she still admits to feeling a very strong spiritual presence across the country as a whole. A presence no one can account for outright. Though some ghosts are easily explained, others are not.

Customs
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Folk Beliefs
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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Noodles for Long Life

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. My dad visited her a few times, and picked up a lot of the culture alongside her. Though his knowledge is not as deep as hers, he still knows quite a bit.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask him and my mom if they have any stories that I could use for my folklore project.

“And then, the um, New Year’s observance is that they don’t use knives for three days, um… can’t remember if it’s three days before New Year’s or three days before three days after… I think it’s three days after. Three days, including New Year’s and two days after. When they…so they do all their cooking all their food prep in advance, so they don’t have to touch a blade. Um, because New Year’s is a Shinto holiday, it’s a life affirming religion whereas Buddhism is the religion of death. And so, um, they- they prepare huge quantities of food, enough to last for three days. And then they don’t use knives for three days. They don’t want to take life, they don’t want to do anything with a blade. Oh-Shong-Atsu. It’s the same day as our New Year’s. Oh and they take their last bath of the old year on the thirty-first, and then on the first- on New Year’s day they eat long noodles, you know, noodles for long life. And they eat o-mochi in the morning. I can’t remember why they eat mochi, you probably wanna look that up. But they definitely eat noodles first thing in the morning.”

This is such a cool way to live. To apply symbolism, usually saved only for literature and movies here in America, to your everyday life is a whole other way of being. After the interview, my mom corrected a few pronunciation mistakes my dad had made, but all in all said his cultural memory was pretty accurate. A few times as a kid, we ate noodles first thing in the morning as a way of referencing my parents’ time in Japan. It was delicious and fun, and I will try to keep the tradition going with my children.

 

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