Author Archive
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Legends

Ghosts and Paralysis

Context:

The informant and I are sitting in the USC Gould Law Cafe around 3:00 pm. She is a Chinese American student at the University of Southern California who was born and raised in Shanghai until she came to America for high school in Maryland. She recounts some of her grandmother’s traditions to cure paralysis. 

Body:

J: “So I got it from my grandma. So it talks about when people are suddenly paralyzed, they have to lie on their back and sometimes they blame it on a ghost. So, they actually say the ghost is dirty and you accidentally bumped into them when you were walking on the street because you can’t see them since they are a ghost but they want to get out – but they can’t. So you have to find someone who is specialized in the ghost theory and they will do some…they’re not like a magician…but they will do some sort of ritual/ceremony in order to get the demon outside of your body.”

A: “Kind of like a witch doctor?”

J: “Yeah like they will do different things like burn paper in order to cure and get out the demon from your body and then you can start to walk. I don’t know if it’s real, but what my grandma said is that it actually happened to one of her sisters and the witch doctor actually worked! I don’t know if she exaggerated some part of it.”

A: “Do you think that’s played into some of your grandma’s beliefs and what they have passed down to you?”

J: “I definitely think that it influenced her generation, but I don’t think it technically was passed down to my mom or me, but it’s still out there but we don’t actually believe it.”

A: “Do you think if you were to be paralyzed that your grandma would want you to have this treatment?”

J: “I don’t think so. What they say about ghosts is that there are less ghosts in the Western country like Europe and America they have less. Whereas in the eastern country, like China and things like that, we have more. Especially the rural parts like where the places aren’t civilized. Where it’s civilized with high rises, ghosts are scared of this because it’s crowded so they tend to move to the countryside and that’s where they are more active.”

A: “Is your grandma from a rural town?

J: “She was born in a rural town then moved to the big city when she was 16”

Takeaways/Thoughts/Analysis:

It is very intriguing regarding the informant’s grandmother and her beliefs that ghosts are stuck to people that then cause them to be paralyzed. This could relate to ancient Chinese medicinal cures as well for ailments and how she believes one has to perform rituals to rid one of the “ghost” of paralysis. This can also be seen as moe plausible due to the “FOAF” (Friend Of A Friend) phenomenon in which the informant’s grandma’s sister was cured from this ritual. An interesting note is one of her last sentences where she describes how ghosts are most active in the countryside since they are scared of cities. This could be due to the fact that usually rural towns are smaller and closer knit communities where stories are passed down more often and this plays into people’s beliefs. They also may not have knowledge on new medicinal technology. Whereas in the city, it can be a whole melting pot of many people from many places and this can cause some stories to be lost, and medicinal discoveries can be more easily known among an urban population.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Gestation, birth, and infancy

Ghosts Affecting Crying Babies

Context:

The informant and I are sitting in the USC Gould Law Cafe around 3:00 pm. She is a Chinese American student at the University of Southern California who was born and raised in Shanghai until she came to America for high school in Maryland. She is describing Chinese beliefs about crying children and how there is a belief held that babies cry the most loudly when they have a ghost that is connected to them. 

Body:

J: “So ya know when babies cry really loud during the night? This is blamed to ghosts. Because what they say is that babies are really vulnerable since they are just born and this is kinda like a life stem. When a baby is born, it’s like a small stem then they grow into a tree later. So it refers to their life as a stem and when they are first born, they are really vulnerable so little things like the wind can hurt them so that’s why babies sometimes can see ghosts because they’ve just been born and are more likely to see ghosts than adults.

So when they see a ghost, they can’t say it because they don’t know how to talk. So sometimes when a ghost haunts them in the night, they start crying and crying and crying and some kinds of ghosts will stick to the baby so that they baby will cry for a long time. Like every night they will cry. So what they do is some ritual ceremonies to get it out. Because a lot of babies tend to cry, but only a certain amount of babies cry really loud at night…every night. They have a certain name for them. **See image below for Chinese characters** So that’s the name.”IMG_1342

A: “So that’s for children that cry a lot at night?”

J: “Yep, like during the night some people will hear a baby cry at night and they will call them this.

A: “So to calm the babies at night then, they perform rituals to calm them down?”

J: “Yep”

A: “Have you ever heard of this happening in your family or friends lives?”

J: “One of my mom’s friends actually. But he is kinda old and my grandpa’s age. His grandson would always cry during the night. It didn’t happen after the day he was born but it actually would happen when he was two years old then he would always cry at night. So our friend actually found someone to perform the ritual and he stopped crying at night! It’s weird!”

Takeaways/Thoughts/Analysis:

This contribution that babies cry loudly during the night due to a ghost “sticking” to them can be seen as rational especially since babies don’t know how to communicate what they are seeing or experiencing except for them to cry. This can also be seen as more credible due to “FOAF” (Friend Of A Friend) where the informer had a family friend where the ritual was a success to calm the crying child! The ways of ridding the ghost seem to be rooted in ancient teachings and practices that were passed through from generations. The child’s crying can also be associated with a ghost because a child’s cry can be very aggravating as I am sure it would be to have a ghost possessing your body. To stop the crying and thus, “rid the ghost,” performing such rituals to make it go away would help the child sleep better and thus the care takers as well.  

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Scissors Under Your Pillow Will Keep Away Nightmares

Context:

The informant and I are sitting in the USC Gould Law Cafe around 3:00 pm where she is describing some of the Chinese traditions her grandparents used to practice. She is a Chinese American student at the University of Southern California who was born and raised in Shanghai until she came to America for high school in Maryland. This recount describes a way to keep nightmares away.

Body:

J: When you have a bad dream, some old people would put scissors under their pillow. They’ll put it under their pillow to prevent their bad dreams.”

A: “Just a preventive measure?”

J: “Yeah, from nightmares. To make them feel secure during the night which can actually be really dangerous! What if you sleep walked during the night!? But anyway, they put scissors under their pillow and sometimes wrap it with newspaper to prevent them from actually hurting themselves.”

A: ‘Do you ever do that?”

J: “**Laughs** This is actually a really old one. Like my grandma’s generation. So sometimes they practice this but I usually don’t.”

Take Aways:

This practice of placing scissors under one’s pillow can seem a bit counter intuitive to keeping danger away. This practice literally puts danger just under one’s head while trying to prevent danger from occurring. It’s funny how the informant laughs at her grandparents’ practice since it would seem silly to the culture she was raised in. But to her grandmother, this would seem completely normal. However, there can be some validity seen in this practice as having a weapon of protection can help to ease one’s mind and help them to not think negative thoughts while they sleep since they feel protected.   

This tradition also is practied in Egypt where they have supstitions about scissors and also sleep with scissors under their pillow to ward off nightmares. See more here.

Customs
Tales /märchen

Chinese Pear Story

Context:  

The informant and I are sitting on my bed in my room. It is about 9:00 pm and she is describing to me some of the stories she heard growing up that impacted her life and viewpoint.

Body:

Informant: “So the story was that there was a huge bowl of pears in the dining room table and there’s a little girl and she was the middle child and there’s like an older brother and a younger brother, I don’t think the gender matters. Then a friend came up to the little girl and asked her which pear she was going to get. The little girl ended up grabbing the smallest pear possible in that bowl. Then when the friend asked the little girl why she picked the smallest pear, she replied saying she was going to give a pear bigger than hers to her younger brother. When asked why, she explained how he has yet to experience the good things in life and that in order to know the good things in life he has to at least experience them once. So that’s why he’s experiencing the big pear first so that he knows that’s a good thing. Then she’s going to give a larger pear to both her parents and her brother because they’re older than her out of respect. Then the elders are the most respected and the leaders of the family, and giving them a larger pear is also kind of signifying like they don’t have as much life left to live and so we should be giving the riches of life to them because they don’t have as much time left. Kind of morbid in all honesty.

A: “How did this story affect your life growing up?

Informant: “Oh yeah it had a huge impact on me! Growing up, it’s one of the only stories that I remember from my Chinese book. I actually just asked my mom if she remembered any stories and she said ‘no’ and then when I told her that I remembered the pear story, she still didn’t remember that one. Then I explained it to her and asked her again if she remembered and she said ‘no.’ But that’s always impacted me because I feel that I’ve always tried to prioritize my parents a little bit more in the sense where I did have to respect them because they are my parents. Also, because I wanted to give them things more so because I knew that they wouldn’t have the chance to experience them again like I may have or I will be able to

A: “Was there any significance with the pear and why the pear was the fruit given?”

Informant: I think often times a pear is a symbol of royalty. Ya know how apples are associated with knowledge and giving that to teachers? I think the pear is a symbol of royalty and nobility. Especially in Asian cultures because I feel like everything is a pear versus an apple in Asian cultures.  

TakeAways:

Within Chinese culture, respecting your elders is one of the most important things. I think what this story is trying to tell children is to always respect those who are older than you because they have more wisdom and also to cherish them. This story also teaches children the joys of sharing with others and giving more to others than yourself. This is therefore then instilling children not to be selfish and care for others since you should want them to experience the best in life as well. Children’s stories play a large role in shaping who they are to become as they learn through examples. This story clearly had a large impact on the informant and has reigned true to present day.

 

Customs
Earth cycle
Folk Dance
Gestures
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jump Over Fire Into The New Year

Context:  

The informant and I are eating lunch outside of Fertitta Hall around 12:00 pm. She describes to me about how she would bring in the New Year due to her Persian heritage.

Body:

Informant: “So there’s a Persian holiday that you actually celebrate the day before Persian New Year. And Persian New Year, unlike regular New Year that’s around the world on January 1st, we celebrate the day of spring. So every year our new year changes because the first day of spring changes.”

A: “Interesting, so it’s not just like Christmas where every year it’s on December 25?”

Informant: “Right. Exactly. So this year it was March 23rd. So on March 22nd, that Tuesday, we celebrate this holiday – it’s called Chaharshanbe Suri. Pretty much it’s like a fire that burns. But to start the new year, you’re actually supposed to jump over fire.

And you kind of recite this chat, which pretty much means ‘from this last year take away all my yellow’ which is like sickness or negativity or bad health and ‘give me red’ which is like prosperity and love and good health. And the fire is supposed to take away all the badness and then, you know, give all that’s good from what burns and then you start the new year off positively and then you eat a lot of good food. So it’s a weird holiday because normally you shouldn’t make people jump over big fire pits.”

A: “Is it a big one where you could get burned or is it smaller?…”

Informant: “I have seen it where people will jump over full blown fire pits, I’ve seen people do it at the beach. I’m lazy, so I just do my tea light candles and nothing gets burnt. But, yeah I’ve been doing it since I was a kid and it’s just a nice reminder the New Year’s coming. We speak a little bit of Farsi. “

TakeAways:

The holiday of Chaharshanbe Suri seems to be counterintuitive to life since people are jumping over fire – which could lead to death – but it also signifies the burning of bad and bringing in of the good. I thought it was interesting that it didn’t matter how large or small the flame was, but it’s rather the concept of one just jumping over a flame that will bring them prosperity in the New Year.

See more on Chaharshanbe Suri here: https://irandoostan.com/iranian-fire-jumping-festival-chaharshanbe-soori/

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