Author Archive
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Macbeth in the Theatre

Context: Subject had worked Theater production in high school and had been exposed to many superstitions surrounding ideas of bad luck, prevention, and reversal methods.

Informant:

[Speaking face to face in a lounge while studying for classes]

“The whole Macbeth rumor… where if you are in a theater and you say the word ‘Macbeth,’ you have to leave the theatre and… is it spin backwards in three circles, or forward…?”

“Um… I feel like it might be backwards”

“I think you have to spin in three circles backwards and like… spit or something. Um, and basically, people are very superstitious about it, even if it’s not… even people who aren’t generally superstitious or worried about it. Like my friend who studies stage management at Syracuse… um… was like… complaining to me about some kid who said Macbeth in the theater and refused to do the circle thing and their play went horribly… And she legitimately believed it was his fault. And in a way, it’s interesting because just since you think it’s going to ruin the play, like you subconsciously ruin it yourself… so that’s interesting.”

Introduction: The informant was introduced by fellow theater crew members when they joined stage production in high school.

Analysis/Interpretation: This is interestingly, a common phenomenon seen within the theater community. Given that I hadn’t been exposed to theater until becoming employed at one, I hadn’t been exposed to any theater folk beliefs or customs. As of recently, I have come to see more commonalities between theater-based folklore. Specifically, regarding Macbeth, it seems as though much of what is actively practiced and reinforced within the theater community, consistent amongst even the most different regions is contingent upon ideas of prevention of bad luck from pursuing during a production.

Folk Beliefs
general
Material
Protection

Sleeping Near Air Conditioning System (Chinese Belief)

Context/Background: The informant is Chinese-American and grew up with different Chinese folk beliefs. One in particular, involves the idea that one cannot sleep next to air conditioning to avoid damage done to the face as heard from her mother.

Informant:

[Face-to-Face]

“So, my mom, I think it was just because there’s this thing in China when you get too cold and your body just starts hurting. Have you like- have you ever just too cold and your stomach starts hurting a lil bit and it’s just like… ouchie. Well, yeah, so uh in order to prevent that, my mom- I’m assuming my mom just told me this- but it was this thing where she would tell us stories about how, if you slept near grates- like fan grates when they’re like on the floor of your house… Have you ever had air vent grates on the floor of your house?

KA: Umm, I haven’t, but I know that’s a thing.

“Okay, well I used to sleep near it because I… I used to lay by it because it was cold and the like… So like, my mom told me, and it was common knowledge that if you were close to it, and you fell asleep, your face would literally fall off and it would move to one side and then your face would just be on one side.”

Introduction: The informant was introduced to this belief from her mother.

Analysis/Interpretation: I find it interesting how much of these folk beliefs tend to come from parents and it makes me wonder if there’s a higher underlying meaning to it. I think this may have just been something passed down, so it wasn’t questioned by the informant, but I would find it useful to search further into the reasoning behind a sleeping story such as this.

Folk Beliefs
Myths

Birthmarks and Beauty (Chinese Folk Belief)

Context/Background: This informant is from China, but currently resides in the U.S. In their culture, there are many belief systems and stereotypes based on features within the modes of attributing value.

Informant:

“[In Chinese culture], the most beautiful people have moles and birthmarks bc the gods were jealous of the beauty so they want to make them imperfect.”

Introduction: As a part of Chinese culture, the informant was immersed in its social principles and beliefs; this being one of them.

Analysis/Interpretation: When I hear this, I think it’s actually really touching because of the idea brought forth that something that makes someone “imperfect” actually being very much worthy of admiration. I’ve found in American culture at least, there are pervasive ideas surrounding imperfection, and while they may not be specifically steered towards birthmarks, there are many standardized and normalized ideas of beauty. Additionally, this does not go to characterize or ostracize an entire region, but merely accentuates my appreciate for small parts of cultures that challenge a traditionally enforced idea of what validates someone.

 

Foodways
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Polish Christmas Eve

Context/Background: The Informant is of Polish descent and her grandparents and mother strongly identify with the Polish culture. Growing up, her grandfather orchestrated a celebration for their family which was centered around Christmas Eve and engaging in the tradition of sharing a “piece of you,” to show love and appreciation while celebrating largely at night with much festivity.

Informant:

“Like… in Poland, we celebrate on Christmas Eve and you go to a midnight mass, but when you’re having dinner. you like… exchange… you like have your own wafer. My grandpa’s the one that orchestrates our thing, but you walk up to everyone in your family and you tear off a piece of their wafer and tear off a piece of you and it’s like showing them you love them ’cause it’s like… you’re giving something to them. We do that every Christmas Eve. And in Polish tradition, you stay up really late on Christmas Eve and eat a ton of food.”

Introduction: The Informant’s Family

Analysis/Interpretation: I’ve previously heard about some experiences from families that stat up until midnight (Christmas Eve, transitioning to Christmas Day) and celebrate in the middle of the night, opening presents and what not. This is a little different in the aspect of the wafer tradition. I find that custom to be very sweet and reaffirming in order to build onto your relationship with your family. I also think that because the Grandparents organize it, there’s something additionally special that’s added because there’s a sense of them passing on to the following generations and organization for them. I can personally understand this in some regard because on my mother’s side of the family, it’s always her older relatives that organize the events, particularly the family reunion they hold.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Foodways
general
Material

“Every grain of rice has a destiny”

Context/Background: The informant’s mother used to have a saying that she would express to them growing up. Pertaining much to emphasizing not wasting food, there is an element of attributing energy and value to it.

Informant:

“So growing up… my mom used to say every grain of rice had a destiny whenever you threw any sort of food away- it wasn’t just about rice, but just food in general. And it was basically just like something that her and everyone in her family- and I’d assume, our ancestors before that- would always say to like… encourage you not to waste food ’cause they were very like… economical and practical about that… and… yeah. I think it’s just like… every piece of food… or the value that was behind it was that every piece of food like has a certain amount of energy to it and that energy is like… if you… if you get the food, you’re supposed to ingest that energy and use it to fuel your body and if you throw it away, then you’re like… throwing away the like, potential energy of that food that it was supposed to give you.”

A) Some earlier datings referencing the “destiny” and a “grain of rice” can be found in studies referencing an Indian Subcontinent which indicates that “every grain has a name (of who will eat it).”

Introduction: She was first introduced to the saying by her mother who would recite it to her family in an effort to get them to appreciate food and not waste it.

Analysis/Interpretation: I think this proverb is very valuable cross-culturally because of the emphasis placed on the value of not wasting and appreciating any food you’re given access to. I think there are definitely similar elements across different cultures. Growing up, in my aunts home specifically, there was a large emphasis on not wasting anything on the place which was very known and heavily present.

Folk Beliefs
general
Magic

Cutting Nails at Night

Context/Background: The informant is Indian-American and has family in India who, alongside her family within the U.S., engage in cultural practices, one of which being the belief in not cutting one’s nails at night. It is deemed back luck, so they refrain from doing it at night time and have to wait till the day time.

Informant:

“Something that um… most people in India always say is not to cut your nails at night… or also, a variation of it is if you cut your nails at night, you’ll lose all your wealth or lose all your money or something like that, but, I don’t specifically know why they say that, but my parents always say that to me and if you’re like… starting to cut your nails at night, they tell me to wait until morning or something.”

Introduction: The informant was introduced by their parents in childhood.

Analysis/Interpretation: I find this piece of lore interesting because it causes me to develop questions regarding the cultural values of nails and growth in general. I’ve heard this from another Indian-American student as well, so it seems very ingrained in the folk belief. There’s definitely an interesting dynamic in terms of looking at the literal version of physical growth (nails), juxtaposed with the idea of wealth and prosperity financially.

general
Legends
Narrative

Doll Bride (Mexican Legend)

Context/Background: The informant is Mexican and grew up with Mexican folk narratives and beliefs such as that of La Pascualita, a mannequin in a shop that people believe to be the “embalmed young pride of a former dressmaker.” She is believed to be ‘mummified’ in a way because of the strikingly detailed features she possesses and lifelike quality that almost seems to interact with customers in the shop, today.

Informant:

“So basically, store owner’s name was Pascuala Esparza and she was embalmed of her daughter who died on her wedding date after being bitten by a black widow spider. So everyone’s saying that her eyes are actually very glass-like. They say her eyes follow people around the store… like her hands are very lifelike… so yeah!”

[Informant is showing photographs online to support her statements].

Onlooker #1: Wow… I think there’s literal fingerprints (referring to close-ups of her hands in photographs).

Onlooker #2: I’m pretty sure that’s real.

KA: And where did you first hear that from? Or like… find out about that?

“I don’t even know… I think it honestly was my mom, actually. I don’t know how we’d even come to that, but I was told in high school … that she brought up this whole thing about La Pascualita and she told the story and it was very interesting actually.”

Introduction: The Informant was Introduced to La Pascualita (the Doll Bride) from her mother.

Analysis/Interpretation: I found this story particularly intriguing because I’m always fascinated with folklore surrounding dolls. What differs from others though, is the notion that the “doll” in a shop, is in fact, an actual person who has been preserved. I’ve heard of certain stories involving preserved people in certain forms that somehow still live to see today, but  I found this interesting in the fact that it’s so accessible by people. Given that it’s in a store and customers have regularly interacted with the La Pascualita mannequin, there’s still a large uncertainty in the air regarding the legitimacy of Esparza’s presence.

Folk Beliefs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Old age

Haitian Reincarnation

Context/Background: The informant’s parents are from Haiti which holds positive beliefs towards reincarnation. One particular encounter sticks with them within this belief.

Informant:

[Face-to-Face conversation]

“So, my family- or I think Haitian people in general just believe that if someone is born the day someone dies, the person who dies- their spirit goes inside the new baby. So like, I think my Dad had a friend who died the day my sister was born, so he’s like, I think his spirit is like, in my sister. So, that’s a nice thing we believe. Yeah.”

Introduction: Personal exposure and informed through Haitian father.

Analysis/Interpretation: This belief is seen across cultures and religions, so I find that intriguing and would love to explore further similarities around the globe with similar ideas. I remember watching different documentaries and being introduced to the idea of reincarnation from different cultures and societies which was interesting to observe and compare that to the belief systems of others. I think the ability to find peace of mind in the informant’s specific circumstance by having faith in the transfer of a soul to another body as comforting, in a way.

 

For reference to reincarnation in other cultures, reference

(2019). Basics of Hinduism: Karma and Reincarnation. Retrieved from https://www.himalayanacademy.com/readlearn/basics/karma-reincarnation

Tsuji, T. (1996-2019). BuddhaNet Basic Buddhism Guide on Reincarnation. Retrieved from https://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/reincarnation.htm

Earth cycle
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jumping on New Years for Height

Context/Background: The informant is Filipino-American and has many family traditions, especially around holidays. One, in particular, is the annual jumping that occurs on New Years Day. Essentially, starting at midnight of the new year in hopes of growing in height, they jump together for a minute straight.

Informant:

“My family’s tradition is jumping on New Years as the ball drops and to jump for the entirety of the first minute of the New Year and it’s just this belief that you’ll get taller if you jump.”

Introduction: The informant was introduced to this custom as a child growing up in a Filipino family that celebrated said tradition.

Analysis/Interpretation: I found it endearing that families such as this one will do this together every New Years. The informant has participated in this actively, and if they’re celebrating New Years elsewhere, they will have to leave and rejoin their family at home by midnight in order to engage in the ritual. What struck me was the specific desire to get taller. After further inquiry, I found out that the desire for height and jumping on New Years can be found across Filipino culture and is not exclusive to one family. What is called “Bisperas ng Bagong Taon,” or, “New Years Eve,” is a popular time to jump high. This makes me think of any traditions on New Years, specific to the U.S.; one being very centered around a particular city rather than focusing on a broader country at large. Because of the size of the U.S., I think it differs from other New Years Traditions globally I think there’s definitely different celebrations across the U.S. that’s placed much importance on, but there is a heavy emphasis on New York City’s ball drop. This program is played throughout the country, even when pre-recorded due to timezone differences.

 

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

Pueblo Wizard (El Salvador)

Context/Background: The informant is Salvadoran and Mexican-American who grew up in a household surrounded by folk belief and customs. One in particular regarded magic in her grandmother’s hometown. In this circumstance, the informant’s grandmother has told her the stories of a local wizard and different legends about who he possibly is and is able to become.

Informant:

[Face to Face]

“My Grandma- she talks about a lot of things- but like, she talks about this man from her pueblo- the area she was born, who was kinda like a wizard, you can kinda say. And apparently, he would like, help heal people. Like one time, he told her to put like a cross under um, I think my dad who was like… drunk and gonna die on his back under the hammock and he would get better. This was an experience she had… and it was a story that he- this wizard- was like, she actually knows as a person, um, turns into a dog and scares people.”

KA: And where was she from:

“El Salvador, and it’s um… San Marcos specifically”

Introduced: The informant was introduced to this story through her Grandmother.

Analysis/Interpretation: I think this is an interesting dynamic because this story refers to someone who is real, but there is a legendary element to him which is questioned amongst local people expanding into a greater mystery when examining contrasting alter-ego types. I think it would be interesting to find out more both regarding how the wizard has interacted with others and what exactly his dog form symbolizes and what is done at that state.

[geolocation]