Author Archive
Customs
Folk Beliefs

Something Old

The following folklore is an old folk belief my informant followed during her wedding. My informant is a middle aged white woman who will be referred to as M;

Text:

M: Brides should have something old, something blue, something borrowed, and something new at their wedding day.

Context: M and her mother both followed this wedding tradition when they were married, and M told me this folk belief numerous times throughout my life, usually in the context of whenever someone is getting married M would say “I hope the bride has something old, something blue, something borrowed, and something new.” It’s important to M because she followed this belief, as well as her mother and grandmother. For M, she followed this folk belief because it was a family tradition as well as supposed to give her good luck. According to M, the something old is supposed to remind her of her past and family, and M’s something old was one of her mother’s pieces of jewelry. The something new is supposed to represent the brides future, and for M she bought a new pair of wedding shoes. The something borrowed is supposed to represent that she will always have reliable friends, and M’s something borrowed was a necklace from her friend. The something blue is supposed to represent the purity of the wife, and M wore a pair of blue underpants. All together, they are supposed to set the wife up for an excellent marriage and M fondly remembers her collection of objects and the meaning behind them.

Analysis: I enjoyed learning about this folk belief and tradition because I think it’s fun to have a family tradition in your family, and my mother also follows this tradition. I hope my sister will also follow this belief. I think M analyzed this perfectly, it’s a folk belief that is supposed to give good luck to those who follow it. This belief shows how many customs we retain from our parents, and how it is hard to break these customs without feeling guilty.

For a more detailed version of this folk belief, watch season 8, episode 23 of the CBS series How I Met Your Mother titled “Something Old”.

 

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Italian American Wedding Tradition

The below folklore is something my informant noticed while at Italian American weddings. My informant will be referred to as D, and is a mid 40s white man.

Text:

D: At many Italian American weddings, and maybe some others, when they tap their glasses it calls for the bride and groom to kiss.

Me: Do you have any idea why this is or how it came to be?

D: No I have no idea.

Context: D has told me this a few times, especially when we are discussing weddings. It is often a funny story he tells, because to this day it still catches him off guard. This is because he had always grown up with the belief that tapping your glasses means you want to give a toast. But when he’s been to Italian American weddings, people would always tap their glass and D would expect a toast, but instead see the bride and the groom kiss each other. He often laughs about it when he thinks about it and remembers it because it caught him so off guard and was so surprised by it.

Analysis: This folklore is most important because it demonstrates different cultures different wedding traditions. That is what made it interesting to both my D and I, as we thought tapping your glass at weddings meant giving a toast, not that the bride and the groom should kiss. Also, the Italians have a reputation for a very romantic culture, so them encouraging romance at a wedding is no surprise. Other forms of this tradition say that the clinking of the glasses scares the devil away, and therefore the bride and groom should kiss while the devil is gone (1). All in all, it is a fun tradition that was good for me to learn about as I had never heard it before.

Works Cited

Longobardi, Alfonso. “Wedding Customs and Traditions for Your Wedding in Italy.” Italian Wedding Photographers | Weddings in Italy, 27 Apr. 2015, www.alfonsolongobardi.com/italian-wedding-customs-wedding-traditions/.

 

Customs

Brazilian Engagement Rings

The following is a folk tradition that I heard from my family friend, a mid-40s Brazilian woman. The woman will be referred to as C.

Text: In Brazil, both men and women wear engagement rings. While engaged, they wear the ring on the right ring finger, and switch it to the left ring finger at the wedding.

Context: C is my family friend who told me this folklore when she was telling me about differences between living in Brazil and America. She brought this particular example up because she thought it was strange only females wear engagement rings in America, when both men and women are engaged. She thought it would make sense that they would both be happy about being engaged and want to show it to other people. C said that she thought this tradition isn’t the case in America because in olden times, many women were thought to be owned by men, and therefore supposed to wear a ring to signify who “owned” them. However, men didn’t need to do this as they didn’t belong to anybody and therefore didn’t need to wear an object to show this.

Analysis: This was a surprising cultural difference between the US and Brazil that I didn’t know about. I had never thought about why men don’t wear engagement rings before, but this made me think about it for the first time. I realized there is absolutely no reason men don’t wear engagement rings other than tradition. It points out just how stuck into their own ways people are, and how hard it is to go against tradition. After doing a bit of research I discovered that wedding rings were initially meant to symbolize the women’s purity and virginity, and the man could break an engagement off at any time, so he never had a ring until he was certain that he was going to marry the woman. This cultural difference made me realize that men not wearing engagement rings is actually patriarchal and oppressive. This is because making women wear something that shows them as being taken, while men have no such reservations, is sexist in our modern society.

 

Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Legends

Leprechaun Traps

The following is a folkloric tradition that my informant participated in when she was young. My informant is a 45 year old women with Irish heritage. The informant will be referred to as M.

Text:

M: When I was young my brother and I used to set up traps for leprechauns and try to trap them. We would put out chocolate gold coins, and set a combination of traps for leprechauns. Some were holes with false tops, so the leprechaun could fall in and not get out, others were boxes that fell on top of the leprechauns when they went to grab the gold. We never caught any leprechauns, but the traps were often set off, and much of the gold was missing, as if the leprechauns always outsmarted us. I made these traps when I was about 5-7 years old.

Context: M got the idea for her trap from her grandmother, who was from Ireland. M’s grandmother told her that she had often seen leprechauns in Ireland and M was inspired to try and catch a leprechaun. M said that this activity was one of her favorite things as a child, the idea of imaging a leprechaun and catching one enthralled her. M thinks the message behind this act is allowing children’s imagination to thrive and grow. M also emphasized that is was a good way to share culture, because a lot of non Irish children also wanted to make leprechaun traps and catch a leprechaun. M says that for her entire childhood she always wanted to go to Ireland because she thought it would be much easier to see leprechauns there, just as her grandma said.

Analysis: I relate to this story especially well. When I was in kindergarten my teacher helped every student in the class create a leprechaun trap out of a shoe box on Saint Patricks Day. Similarly to M, when we came back in the morning, all the traps had been set off but there were no leprechauns to be found. The teacher told us that when she came to the classroom that morning, she had seen the leprechaun running off. All of us in the classroom went crazy looking for the leprechaun all day. Similar to M, this was one of my fondest memories from childhood. This idea of setting a leprechaun trap, shows the imagination, and creativity of children. It represents children as pure and having wild imaginations, believing things without question. It also shows parents and older adults trying to help cultivate and encourage this creativity and imagination. 

Legends
Narrative

Ghost Story- Personal Narrative

The following personal narrative was told to me by my friend from Saint Louis, age 19, he shall be referred to as N. He his of Italian ethnicity, but both his parents were born in Canada, however N was born and raised in Saint Louis.

Text: I don’t remember doing this, but my mom always told me a crazy story about me. One weekend, my neighbors were gone and my mom and I went over to their house to feed their cat and take the trash out. I was only about 6 years old. Anyway, according to my mom, we walked into the house and I started staring at the couch. My mom didn’t understand why, but I kept looking at the couch and eventually pointed to the spot I was looking at and said “Mom, there’s an old lady sitting right there.” My mom told me that this was not true and tried laughing it off. But I was insistent, and kept telling my mom that there was an old woman sitting right there. My mom began to get concerned, and she grabbed me and we ran out of the house. When the neighbors returned, my mom told them that I had apparently seen the ghost of an old lady sitting at the house. The neighbor started crying. My mom didn’t know this, but our neighbors were gone that weekend at the funeral of one of the neighbors mother. Apparently the neighbors mother had always sat on the couch watching TV, and the neighbors were comforted by the fact that their mother was still doing this, and that she has passed on to a better, happier life.

Context: This story was told to me by my friend N, who is 19 years old and while Canadian, has lived in Saint Louis most of his life. N described to me that his mom often tells him this story, but N himself has no recollection of it, as he was only 6 at the time of this event. However, because N trusts his mom, N believes this story fully, and believes in ghosts and the supernatural because of it. N remembers this story because it is crazy to him that he saw a ghost and doesn’t remember it. N said he doesn’t know what to think of this event. He doesn’t know whether or not to think it’s scary and freaky that the ghost of a dead grandparent was at the house when nobody else was there, or whether to think it was comforting that our ancestors are watching over us.

Analysis: This piece of folklore was especially interesting to me. Usually when I hear a ghost story, it is a distant story of someone who I didn’t know who had seen a ghost, which makes it pretty easy for me to pass off and not believe it. But, since this story came from and occurred to a friend of mine, who I know and trust, it made it hard to pass off as some random ghost story and made it much more believable and realistic. I think this memora is important to N because it is a really cool story that people are always interested by. It goes to show people’s fascination with the supernatural, as well as the social and conversation the develops from sharing stories and folklore. It also shows how reliant people are on folklore from their parents or elders. N has no recollection of this event, but because his mom told him it happened, he believes in supernatural and ghosts, showing just how much influence our parents and other older individuals can have in our thinking. Also, the fact that this happened to N when he was a young child is also very important. It demonstrates the idea that children are pure and innocent, and more liable to believe in the supernatural. The final thing this folklore shows us is the idea of ancestors looking over us and the idea of a friendly ghosts, contrary to the frequent scary and evil ghosts seen in movies.

 

Folk speech
Old age

Italian Folk Saying

The following folk belief is a saying that my family friend G often heard from her mother in 1950s-60s San Francisco. Her mother was an Irish woman but G believes this is an Italian and global saying.

Text: It’s amazing that 1 mother can take care of 8 children but 8 children can’t take care of 1 mother.

Context: G told me this folksaying when I was meeting her for coffee, asking her about folklore she has heard. G described that this was a common saying in Italian and Irish families in San Francisco. G emphasises that she believes this folklore describes how a mother always takes care of her children and does anything for them while they are growing up. She is always there for her children when they need her throughout their lives. However, when a mother needs help, which is most often the occurrence towards the end of her life, all her children are absent. The children always claim they are to busy, have to work, or don’t have enough money to take care of the mother. G also said that throughout her lifetime, she has seen this folk saying come to fruition many times, and often see mothers be ignored or not given enough attention when they need help from their children.

Analysis: I think G’s interpretation of this folklore is completely accurate. This folk saying is clearly representing the belief that mothers should be cared for later in life, and often aren’t by their children. It demonstrates how our society is obsessed with wealth and capitalism, and not focused enough on family. Often times people don’t want to take care of their mothers later in life because it might limit the advancement of their careers. Another aspect of the folk belief is that it seems to personify older women to be in needing of care, which could show small sexism in society, as it is assumed that older men don’t need any help or resist it. However I do not belief that there is any true meaning to be sexist in this folksaying. In my research of this folk belief however, I found it interesting that this folk belief also occurrs in other cultures throughout the world, and exists in Muslim culture as well. Showing the importance of mothers throughout the world and the belief that children often neglect their mothers as they get older. Why this particular folk saying names 8 children, and others I found online have differing numbers of children, seems to be arbitrary and there is no meaning behind the specific number of children.

Folk Beliefs

The Suffocating Cat – Folk Belief

This piece of folklore came from my informant, who will be called M. When M was first pregnant with her child in 1999. Her grandma, an Italian woman who was in her late 80s, came by to check on M and see that she was doing well. While visiting M, M’s grandma got very nervous about the cat that my family had at the time.

Text:

M’s grandma: You must be very very careful with that cat in this house M. Cats love warmth and have often been known to cuddle up with babies and suffocate them to death.

Context: M is my family friend who has told me this story often throughout my childhood, usually when we are petting our cat. M to an extent believes this story, and has always been careful with cats around newborns. M doesn’t believe that there is much proof to this story, as she herself has never heard of a cat actually killing a baby. She has seen cats be obsessive about warmth however, and cuddle up very close to her and others. M believes that her grandma did not hear about this through folktale, but actually had seen this happen or heard of it happening, as she says that her grandma was legitimately concerned about the cat.

Analysis: This story is interesting, because there is much folklore surrounding this idea that cats can kill babies. When searching for other folklore surrounding this idea, I was surprised to find folklore that says cats kill babies, but for different reasons and through different ways than suffocation for warmth. I found examples of folklore that says that cats suffocate babies because they are jealous of the amount of attention the babies are getting. I also found folklore that explained that cats like the milk that is in babies breath, and can actually suck the life out of the baby trying to lap up the milk in the babies mouth. The origins of this folktale seem to date back to the 18th century, where in 1791 a jury at a coroner’s inquest in England rendered a verdict to the effect that a Plymouth child had met his death by a cat sucking out its breath (1). Moreover, cats were often right next to a child when it died, increasing the superstition that the child could have been killed by a cat. All in all, cats have a bad reputation in society and are often a bad omen. It is understandable to see why many would think they could be bad around babies.

Works Cited

1) “FACT CHECK: Cats Suck Babies’ Breath.” Snopes.com, www.snopes.com/fact-check/murderous-moggies/.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever

The following is a folk medicine belief that my informant heard from his mom in the 1980s California. My informant is a middle aged white man who will be referred to as T.

Text: Feed a cold, starve a fever.

Context: T heard this folk belief from his mother who was a nurse. His mom followed this belief as well, and if T had a cold, she would feed him a lot, and if he had a fever, she would just give him small amounts of soup. T’s mother was German, but had grown up in America. The reason behind this folk belief is that it was believed that eating heated up the body, and if you fed someone while they had a cold, it could warm them up, but visa versa if you didn’t feed someone who had a fever, it could cool them down. T says he never thought this worked particularly well, and he never instilled this belief on his children. However, T also said that he never questioned his mothers knowledge as a child, and always thought that eating with a cold would help him recover faster as a child. However, T does believe in the placebo effect, and thinks that there is some advantage to thinking you are helping your body, even if you aren’t at all.

Analysis: I liked this folk belief, and like many others the first question I had was whether or not it worked. When I looked it up, their were numerous articles written about it, all of which said that there is very little evidence to support it but also very few studies to disprove it. Due to the sheer amount of articles regarding it, it seems like this is a common folk belief and according to Scientific America,  “This saying has been traced to a 1574 dictionary by John Withals, which noted that “fasting is a great remedy of fever. (1)” This folk belief shows the importance of the knowledge we receive from our parents. If our parents tell us something is going to make us feel better, we never question it and always accept it. It also shows how well folk beliefs can spread, with this belief being heard and used by so many different people, despite having no scientific or medical support.

For a more in depth examination of this folklore go to

O’Connor, Anahad. “The Claim: Starve a Cold, Feed a Fever.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Feb. 2007, www.nytimes.com/2007/02/13/health/13real.html.

Works Cited

1) Fischetti, Mark. “Fact or Fiction?: Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever.” Scientific American, 3 Jan. 2014, www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-feed-a-cold/.

 

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Golden Arm

The below folk story is a story my friend, who will be referred to as J, told me he had heard from his dad in Columbus, Ohio. J is a middle aged white man who heard this story when he was a young boy.

Text: There once as a woman who got hit by a car. In the car accident, she lost her arm. However, the man who hit her with his car was very rich, and feeling very guilty, he bought the woman a golden arm.

The woman’s husband was an evil man however, and felt tremendous greed that his wife had a golden arm, and begged his wife to sell her golden arm. However, the wife refused, and the thought of all the things the man could buy with the golden arm drove him insane. He ended up killing his wife, by strangling her in her sleep.

The man attended his wife’s funeral, pretending to be heartbroken, and watched her buried into the ground. That night however, the man snuck into the graveyard and dug up his wife, removing her arm from her dead body.

The man was overjoyed and the next night he stayed up in bed holding the arm, and imagining all he could buy with it. However, that night he was startled by a sudden gust of wind that sounded like it was saying, “giveee mee my arrrrm.” The man fell asleep that night however, and had good dreams. The next night, the man heard another another gust of wind, this time definitely saying “giveee mee my arrrrm.” This continued for the next several nights, each night the sound got louder, clearer, and lasted longer. The man began to get very paranoid, locking all his doors and boarding all his windows, clinging to the arm ever tighter. Eventually, the man couldn’t take it anymore, and when he heard the voice saying “givee mee my arrrrm” that night, he shouted out, “Fine, I have your arm and will give it to you.” The voice of his wife responded, “Come outside and give it to me!” Timidly, the man walked outside, and seeing the ghost of his wife, he handed out the arm in payment to her. At that moment, a lightning bolt struck the arm, electrocuting the man. The ghost of his wife took the arm back, and returned to her grave happy and content.

Context: J told me this story when I was discussing folklore he had heard. He said this was a favorite story of his dad’s that his dad would tell this story to him and his sisters when they were young. J emphasized the importance of the oral telling of this story. He said that when he reads this story, it is not the same. What makes it a good story according to J is that there needs to be a talented storyteller, who can shout to scare his audience and keep them tense the entire story. J said his dad told this story primary because it entertained the children, but also because of the moral lessons it taught. J described how this story shows that being greedy will never make you successful, and how committing a crime will always come back to haunt you.

Analysis: I liked this story and found it interesting because when researching this story, I realized just how many variations of this story exist. The story emphasises the importance of oral storytelling to children. As J said, a story being said orally is a great way to entertain children and teach them lessons at the same time. Also, as J described, this story teaches moral such as not being greedy, a belief in Karma, and an emphasis of not taking something from the dead. It is well known not to mess with the dead, especially steal something from them. It plays into the idea that grave robbers are evil and will be cursed later in life, similar to the idea of how the man who open King Tut’s tomb was cursed and died shortly after. All in all this story is an excellent example of folklore because it has multiplicity and variation, is a way for adults to transfer knowledge to their children, and is also a way morals are spread to different generations.


For another version of this text, visit Joseph Jacobs‘s Collection, English Fairy Tales

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech

Swimming Folk belief

The following folksaying was collected by my friend J. J is 19 years old and from Ohio.

J: My mom would always jokingly tell me “Don’t swim an hour after after you eat.”

Context: J told me that his family has a lake house and they often go swimming in the summer. His mom has told him this, but nobody in J’s family actually believes it, including his mom who told J this. J says that the belief behind this saying is that after you eat, all your blood and energy goes to your stomach, and your arms and legs therefore lose blood and energy to keep you up if you are swimming. J says that it is logical, but in his experience, he sees no difference in his swimming abilities before and after he eats. J says his mom told him this because she thought it was an interesting belief and wanted to share it with J, but didn’t believe in it and never prohibited J from swimming after he ate. J told me this folk saying in a group and it delved the group into a conversation as to whether this folk saying has any truth to it.

Analysis: This is a common folk saying that I too have heard in my lifetime. I have never heard of anyone following this folk saying however, and J felt the same way. It is surprising to me that this folksaying has survived for as long as it has, considering there seems to very few people who follow it.  It shows how people like to share information and beliefs they have heard, even if they don’t believe in it, as it can start an interesting conversation. It also shows that folk sayings are reliant on logic, not on science.

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