Author Archives: Kayla Adams

Haitian Voodoo

Context: Informant’s father is from Haiti and grew up in an area where Voodoo was practiced. Though it may not have been the majority, there was still a presence and the practice was perceived as dangerous. Because of this, he would need to come back into the house from playing at a certain time in order to avoid being caught up in any practices in his neighborhood area.

Informant:

“The thing that keeps coming to mind is like Voodoo… which isn’t like… I don’t know. I just remember my Dad saying that like… he would play stuff… he would like play outside, and at a certain time, you would like, have to go inside because like… the Voodoo people would just like, come around the corner and do their thing and leave at night. But one day, he was like playing too late and he could hear sounds like around the corner, around the mountain or whatever, from around his house and then he saw them and they were in all white… and like, yeah.”

KA: And what is the “Voodoo people” specifically? Like, this was in…

“In Haiti.”

KA: Okay.

“This was like, when he was a kid in Haiti. Um… I mean, for my family specifically, we don’t have to like… really do anything related to Voodoo, but you shouldn’t like… not believe in it just in case anything comes true. It’s like you shouldn’t… I don’t know… I guess like… speak against the gods or like Loa or something like that. I’ve also started researching Voodoo, ’cause I thought it was interesting, but I don’t know. It’s not something that… it’s not really a thing that a lot of Haitians like… do? But it’s also like… not a thing that a lot of Haitians DON’T believe in.”

KA: So why would your Dad have to run inside and not be out?

“Because they’re also like… I mean it can be dangerous.”

Introduction: The informant was introduced to Voodoo through their father.

Analysis: I found this extremely interesting. I feel like people acknowledge Voodoo but don’t fully understand it all of the way. Growing up, I’d hear about Voodoo a little bit from my dad, but it was never an overwhelming presence in my life. The interaction I did have from him was caution though. Through the years I feel as though I’ve been exposed to it the most through popular culture which can morph the reality of it in a way, so I think it would be extremely interesting and beneficial to learn more through a lens that isn’t just one meant to entertain.

Don’t Count the Pierogis (Polish Superstition)

Context/Background: The Informant is of Polish descent and her grandparents and mother strongly identify with the Polish culture. While she, however, does not view herself as socially integrated, she’s been exposed to many customs and superstitions throughout the years. In this context, there is a superstition around a popular Polish food.

Informant:

“So, Pierogis are basically like… this super Polish dish which… I don’t even know how to explain them in a broad sense. They’re like, very large dumplings in a way. But, um, it’s basically like… pasta and its field with… you can have cheese and potatoes, cheese and spinach… Uh, there’s pork ones. There’s not really beef ones. Never chicken. Never fish. And you basically- when you make them- they’re really hard to make… when you make them, you don’t count them because it’s like… it’s considered like… you just shouldn’t do it. Don’t. But my family’s never like, ‘Don’t count them!’ but like… we know it’s a thing.” (Informant)

Introduction: The informant was introduced to the Pierogi counting superstition by her parents.

Analysis/Interpretation: I think the notion that one shouldn’t count food is notable since I’ve heard in many cultures that counting is important since “lucky” if oftentimes attributed to numerical values and becomes culturally significant. The informant wasn’t exactly sure why this was done, and was more sure that is was just a very important rule. More insight towards numbers in the Polish culture might be helpful this context to understand the full custom.

Bad Luck Toasts (Italian Folk Belief)

Context/Background: Subject is of Italian Descent and has heard superstitions around making toasts from her Grandfather and other family members. It was stated that one should never toast with anything but alcohol or it is bad luck. What is emphasized the most is the dire resentment towards toasting with water because it is worse than toasting with anything else.

Informant:

“So, it’s bad luck to toast with anything that’s not… alcohol… because… if it’s not alcohol, first… it doesn’t mean anything because it’s not a toast. But, it’s especially bad luck to toast with water… because it like… signifies death… or something? Like, I think it comes from Greek Mythology where it has to do with like the underworld. I don’t really know though; But, it was always just a thing that it was bad luck to toast with water, so you never toast with water! And you shouldn’t toast with something that isn’t alcohol, but it doesn’t really matter as much.”

KA: And where did you hear this from?

“So it’s an Italian thing I think, um, but they have it in like other cultures. I don’t think it’s that specific to Italy, but my grandfather family was from Italy and it was a lot of brothers and sisters and I spent a lot of time with [them].”

Introduction: The informant was introduced by their Italian grandfather and extended family.

Analysis/Interpretation: It’s notable that one would consider water to signify death, as indicated by the interviewee when in many regions, it popularly serves as a symbol of life. I think this serves an interesting dynamic in the idea of “toasting” overall since it indicates a sense of dismissal of a vital life sign in many cultures.

Passing Salt for Bad Luck

Context: Informant is speaking about superstitions and then proceeds to introduce the specific implications around salt.

Informant:

[During a face-to-face conversation]

“There’s a lot of superstitions, it’s a lot of really like… like basic ones. But even in Mexico, even when I’m there, you DON’T walk under a ladder. NO shoes on the bed, no bags on the floor OR on the bed. No hats either. Um, umbrellas can be opened… and you can’t pass salt… Let’s say you want salt right? I can’t give it to you in your hand. I have to put it on the table and you pick it up.”

KA: And why’s… is there a reason why-

“It’s bad luck.”

KA: Okay.

“All of this is bad luck.”

KA: Okay, and do you know where this comes from, or is this just like… something that’s been there for a long time?

“It’s been there for a long time. Like we all do it. Um… and it’s taken very seriously.”

Introduction: This piece was introduced to the informant by their mother.

Analysis: I think there are many renditions of salt superstitions which can be found across cultures and this causes me to question what salt, in particular, symbolizes since there are so many beliefs, especially regarding back luck, surrounding it. Growing up, my mom always told me that if you knocked a salt shaker over, it was bad luck, and to undo that luck, one would have to toss the salt over their shoulder. As I got older, I was told it needed to be your left shoulder specifically by others who also had a version of this superstitious practice to reverse bad luck. To this day, I still participate in the tossing of the salt to avoid back luck and have seen more versions including this Mexican idea of not being able to pass salt.

 

For reference to another rendition of a salt superstition, refer to

Welsh, C. (2019, Jan 3). Spilling Salt. Retrieved from http://www.timelessmyths.co.uk/spilling-salt.html

Astrological Indian Wedding Ceremony

Context/Background: The Informant is an Indian-American who has witnessed wedding customs tailored to suit an astrological calendar in order to promote success and prosperity of Indian Marriages.

Informant:

“When you get married and you’re supposed to check like… the person’s astrological sign or something- or when they were born and then you like compare the two. And that timing will like… determine when it’s okay for the literal marriage ceremony to take place. So the wedding can go on for the entire day, but the time the wedding ceremony takes place happens at on specific dates and times. Obviously, some people just ignore it… but like… in the summertime, I was in India and my cousin fully like… he fully got married. Like had a wedding in the middle of the night. So that happened. If you look it up online, I’m sure you’ll find something. And there’s like a special calendar that you can buy from the temple that’ll like tell you! Like, Oh! This is your day, and this is their day, like it’s cool to get married on this day. And like, yeah my grandma has one in her kitchen and she like… refers back to it sometimes, and it’s like ‘When is it okay?'”

Introduction: The Informant was introduced to this custom through her family; more specifically, her grandmother.

Analysis/Interpretation: I find this ritual interesting because I’d never seen marriages that strayed from a daytime setting. The notion that the actual ceremony should occur at a specific time is actually really sentimental and I’d find much meaning in designating a particular time to get married. I feel as though many astrological encounters have been accentuated more recently in popular culture, but to find them more engrained seriously in cultures’ traditions opens up another insight on it. This leads me to wonder how other cultures may have additional differing wedding customs which I’d like to explore in more depth.

Long Noodles, Long Life

Context/Background: The informant is a first-gen Filipino-American whose family has engaged in a wide range of customs throughout her life. One specifically pertains to food and one’s lifespan which she learned from her family.

“Yeah, so a Filipino… maybe Asian… tradition is to eat long noodles on your birthday for long life. So Even if you go out to dinner for your birthday, you HAVE to eat long noodles in order to have a long and fulfilling life.” (Informant)

 Analysis/Interpretation: When I first heard of this tradition I thought it seemed like a nice practice where one could find a clear state of mind when consuming their bowl representing a long life on a birthday. I looked into this more after speaking directly to the informant and found a large presence of this tradition in Chinese culture where participants eat yi mein, known as “longevity noodles.” I found it interesting that these noodles were being compared to cakes in some aspects because these noodles are such an integral aspect of birthdays in Chinese culture. Seeing how these specific aspects of birthdays in varying cultures are so integrated, caused me to wonder how other cultures perceive American birthday traditions such as cake and blowing out candles.

 

For further information on other forms of food for with significance, refer to

China Highlights. (1998-2019). The Symbolism of Chinese Foods. Retrieved from https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-food/chinese-food-symbolism.htm

 

Egg for Protection (against El Ojo)

Context/Background: The informant is Salvadoran and Mexican-American and had grown up surrounded with the use of eggs to absorb bad energy. It had common connections to “el ojo,” something that is given to someone through magic, typically young, with the intent of inflicting harm.

[Face-to-face conversation]

“There’s something that any Hispanic person that you talk to will tell you this. Um, if something bad happens, you take an egg and you like… put the egg over your body. I don’t know if you’ve seen the video- they do it to a dog. But, you put it all over your body, and that egg is supposed to take out all the badness in you. So supposedly when people cast… um like spells on you… like, these wizards- these people that do bad things- and when… but one of the big things that happens to you is El Ojo. So El Ojo happens when like… let’s say I have a child, right? And a woman… or like anyone can come up to me and be like… ‘Hey can I hold your kid, right?’ And then if I say no, I run the risk of them giving my child El Ojo, and if my child is given El Ojo, he will die. Like, they will die. It happens. And the only way to cure that is to do like… the egg thing, or to give the person the child. And any Latinx new mother will be told like… ‘Be careful. Your kid can get El Ojo.’ That’s really common- not just Mexico; El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras. Very common.”

Introduction: The informant was introduced to this through her mother.

Analysis: I’ve vaguely heard of using an egg to collect bad energy; however, I’ve recently become more familiar with “the evil eye,” something coinciding with “el ojo” in different Latino cultures. To my understanding, the evil eye refers to what can be given to someone, typically without their knowledge. Oftentimes, many people wear something (typically a necklace or perhaps a piece of clothing) which is to ward off anyone giving them this eye. El ojo, as described to me, means “the eye” in Spanish and is given to people, typically young babies. I find this interesting because in the context of what I’ve been exposed to it, it’s been more socialized with adults rather than newborns.

El Ojo is essentially similar to the Evil Eye, except it is performed by wizards and Santeria practitioners in Latin American regions.

 

For more information on another rendition of el ojo, “the evil eye,” refer to

Heaphy, L. (2017, May 2). The Evil Eye Powerful Protective Talisman. Retrieved from https://kashgar.com.au/blogs/ritual-objects/the-evil-eye-and-the-hamsa

Head on Traditional Chinese Statue

Context/Background: The informant has grown up with many Chinese customs on her mother’s side as a 2nd gen Chinese-American. In her childhood home, they had a traditional Chinese statue which, if touched on the head, was viewed as a sign of bad luck and could not only harm you, but potentially curse an entire building and its inhabitants.

“Basically, it’s like this lion statue that a lot of- I don’t know if it’s Chinese or, I think it’s a Chinese tradition- that you just have in your house, and they’ll have it in like a lot of buildings and you can’t touch the head of it… like you can clean around it, but like you can’t even like, with like a duster, like clean the top of its head or else its like very bad luck and it’ll like curse the building that you’re in”

Me: [Does your family] do that?

“Yeah. We got one… Like when my Dad used to have his like… annual poker party at the house and we’d like put a box over it’s head to like hide it so his friends- his drunk friends- wouldn’t touch it. So, we’d hide it.”

Introduction: The informant learned from mother’s side of the family and it was a part of her immediate family practices.

Analysis/Interpretation: One thing I noticed was that this statue exists both in homes and in public places. I wonder how cleaning it and avoiding the head being touched can be regulated in that more public capacity. I also have also wondered when it exists in public spaces, with visitors from outside of the culture that haven’t been socialized to understand its significance, if there are issues with head touching. Though there are people that will intentionally touch artifacts carelessly, there is an element of accidents and I’m curious as to if there are any reversal methods or predetermined courses of action in case the head is touched.

Cups to Find a Lost Item (Colombia)

Context/Background: The informant is Salvadoran and Mexican-American and grew up with folk beliefs such as that of conjuring a lost item. In this piece, she describes the methods of finding something that has been lost.

[Speaking face to face with physical items such as pictures supporting the information described]

“So the thing I’m trying out right now, and this is from Colombia, is um… if you take… let’s say if you lost something, you put a cup… you take a cup, you put it upside down, you fill it with water, throw out the water, put it upside down and whatever you need will appear.”

Introduction: The informant was introduced to this practice through their mother.

 Analysis/Interpretation: This is interesting because I feel like I’ve seen a few different methods of attempting to find a lost item across cultures and a commonality that I’ve registered is the idea of putting energy out which reaffirms that one will find the item seems present. I’ve previously heard of many “speaking it into existence” ideologies where people tend to put forth verbal affirmations in an attempt to conjure this into a real-life, tangible setting. In this instance, there’s a specific physical aspect manifesting this in which I can see people finding comfort and confidence.

 

Ogopogo Lake Monster

Context: The informant is a Canadian-American who has family from the regions surrounding the Okanogan lake, reportedly the home to the “Ogopogo,” a monster treading the waters.

[Speaking face to face]

“So it’s like… Ogopogo, and it lives in… yeah I think it’s the Okanoga. But, um, yeah right so Ogopogo is basically Lochness Monster for Canada and it says like… it’s to live in Okanogan Lake in British Columbia. And it was, according to Wikipedia, it was allegedly seen by the first nation peoples in the 19th century. Um… so it was like… as far as Canadian folklore goes, it kind of all I know.”

KA: How did you hear about that?

“My mom, I think, yeah. Um… but like, everyone knows about Ogopogo in my family, ’cause like, most of my family is from British Columbia. I mean, the Okanogan- like my family lives in the Okanogan, so wait… where is Okanogan Lake because I might’ve actually been there. Oh right, I’m actually closer to this lore than I thought. Um, my aunt lives in Colona, and it’s IN Colona, where the Okanogan Lake is. It’s a very big lake, but… yeah. I think even if you go to the… I think there’s like some mini golf type thing there in Colona, and they have like, an Ogopogo monster… like… in the place. It’s like a family fun center”

Introduced: The informant knows of the legend due to it being socially constructed around them, having family from British Columbia. It was primarily introduced through Informant, (LG)’s mother.

Analysis & Interpretation: The Ogopogo is clearly comparable to the infamous Loch Ness Monster of Scottish folklore. I find it interesting how though it is perceived as such a prevalent part of Scottish culture and identity, particularly regarding inhabitants of areas directly surrounding Loch Ness, it is such an internationally recognized legend. As someone from the U.S., I grew up hearing of Loch Ness and not necessarily attributing that to a specific region; Essentially, anywhere you went with a body of water could potentially be home the infamous Nessie. I’ve found that many children may tend to generalize it and attribute it to their own location. But beyond this, the Ogopogo, very far from reported Loch Ness Monster (Nessie) sitings, has exemplified the globalization of a multi-version mysterious lake creature.

 

For similar renditions of the hidden lake monster tale in other regions, refer to the Scottish based “Loch Ness Monster” legend at:

History.com. (2019). Loch Ness Monster [Video file] https://www.history.com/topics/folklore/loch-ness-monster-video