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Folk Beliefs
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Sana Sana Colita de Rana – Spanish saying

“Sana sana, colita de rana. Si no te alivias hoy, te alivias mañana”

Translation: Heal, heal, little tail of a frog. If you do not heal today, you will heal tomorrow.


 

This saying has been promulgated throughout almost all Spanish speaking households, and the interlocutor asserts that it is an essential aspect of growing up and learning the capacity of one’s body and mind. The last part of the saying usually goes “si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana,” which is more directly translated to heal, while the verb aliviar, as used in my interlocutor’s version, translates more directly to alleviate. She mentioned that her personal version is one she learned from her own mother despite the other version being much more popular. She taught this version to her own children, saying it when they came to her with scrapes and bruises, seeking comfort amidst their tears.

This saying is most commonly used to comfort an ill or hurt child. Arguably a universal notion, children have quite an immense amount of energy that requires some sort of exertion. Through this, many children play throughout their youth, and in doing so, they are exposed to myriad dangers and possibilities of getting injured. Therefore, this saying allows and even encourages the exploration that children experience through play, asserting that an injury by way of play is one that is trivial and easily cured. This saying also illustrates the compassion and care that Latino parents give to their children, reassuring them that tomorrow promises healing and opportunity for further exploration.

Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Old age
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mexican Novenario

The majority of Mexico follows the Catholic religion, and in doing so, the rosary is an integral part of every day life, bringing about the goodness that only Divinity is able to bring. When someone feels that their death is near, family members and friends go to their home every day and say the rosary, praying together for some sort of miracle. If it is perceived that the person is bound to pass, they pray for their peaceful passing. Once a person has actually passed, they participate in what is called the Novenario. Through the Novenario, family and friends bring their rosaries to pray for nine days, as it remains a crucial aspect of that person’s ascension to Heaven. At the end of the nine days, it is customary to eat a final grand meal to thank the life of that particular person and all those who participated in the prayers. Traditional dishes include tamales and mole. Once this is complete, the person is expected to be in the hands of God.


 

The interlocutor has taken part in many Novenarios because of her relationship with her Mexican family members who have passed, mainly extended family members that she was connected to but did not have an intimate relationship with. She mentioned that the most excruciating Novenario she witnessed was the one that was in service of her own mother. The Novenario transpired as usual, but the interlocutor mentioned that this was an especially unique Novenario because the entire house was filled with many more people than it was designed for. Many women cried as they clutched their rosaries, muttering prayers amid the clamor of food preparation. In this aspect, the interlocutor felt immense comfort despite her sorrow. She mentioned that the Novenario, while integral to person who has passed, serves to comfort the living in their sadness.

The myriad religious connotations through the Novenario illustrate the reliance on religion during a time of loss and reflection. It is the backbone in which the Novenario is based, proving that many pious Mexicans rely on religion for comfort and peace of mind through their unwavering faith. The nine days spent praying acts as a sort of watch for the spirit, keeping the person company on their difficult journey from the physical to the divine. They protect and help guide the spirit that would otherwise get lost, utilizing prayer and presence to aid their passing.

Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Indian Funeral and Cremation

Indian funerals generally last 13 days where everyone is expected to wear white to celebrate their sadness over losing their loved one. As they commemorate the life of that person they are also beginning to release them. It is the duty of the man of the house to burn the body because of the Hindu belief in cremation. Once the cremation of the body is complete, the ashes are thrown into the ocean to dissolve the Pancha Maha-Bhoota, or the five elements. Through the dissolution of the elements of earth, water, fire, air, and aether, the spirit and soul of that person is liberated from their physical confines.


 

Though the interlocutor has witnessed various funeral occasions, she has only actively taken part in a funeral celebration a handful of times; because of her residence in India, she has been exposed to the traditions tied to funerals. She mentioned that the idea that celebrating sadness seems like a counter-intuitive sentiment, but in Indian culture it allows the passage of humans beyond earth easier, and those that are left behind are able to embrace their emptiness. As for her own plans regarding her time to pass, she stated that she plans to be cremated as well, and she finds the idea of the Pancha Maha-Bhoota dissolving to be reassuring.

Indian funerals are known to be quite visually striking, especially to those who are accustomed to the tradition of black clothing and solemnity. The white worn by participants and loved ones is pious and peaceful with an established sense of purity. Thus, the meaning of death is revealed as something that is to be rejoiced, simply a time in which one ascends beyond their physical body; this is quite a positive view on death. The number 13 appears quite often with calendrical measures of time, and because the funeral event lasts 13 days it ties one’s death to merely a measure of time. The cremation of the body at the hands of the male in the house also places power in the hands of the men while commemorating the renewing properties of fire as it allows disintegration and regeneration. The involvement of the Pancha Maha-Bhoota and the ocean also tie the funeral to the elements of life and nature, grounding the celebration among the living with the earth, the forces that we all will eventually return to at the time of our own demise.

Festival
Folk Dance
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holi

“Holi is one of the most celebrated Indian festivals because of the color it adds to everyone’s life, literally. It is a jubilant two-day festival which my family celebrates by lighting a bonfire on the first night to cleanse all the bad and evil. The next day is all about the festival of colors and we start by applying powdered colors on each other followed by dancing and eating delicious meals. Holi gives us a chance to be reborn and melt away the bad and negative things within us.”


 

Though Holi has arguably made an appearance into the mainstream through uses of color at various festivals, the interlocutor asserts that Holi is the best celebration that involves color. He has actively participated in Holi celebrations throughout his entire life, claiming it was an event he looked forward to each year. He remembered the agonizing anticipation he felt as a child waiting for this festival to arrive, as it was a time in which his energy could be channeled into something wild and fun without restraint. Holi, he stated, is the time when no one can hold back on their energy; everyone has to keep their spirits high throughout the entirety of the two days. He also mentioned that he mutters good wishes during the prior bonfire, mainly to strengthen the positive and purifying effects of the fire. He claimed that while Holi is meant to be a fun break from every day life, its cultural significance allows every participant to reconnect with themselves and the community in the most exuberant manner.

The vibrant colors of Holi tend to speak for themselves, illustrating the brightness and positivity that Indians seek and value. The two days demonstrate immense stamina, also demonstrating an incredible desire through the process—people would not be so incredibly energetic for two days if they did not have the desire to take a break from the trials and tribulations of life. Despite the myriad colors used to celebrate, there appears to be quite a distinct dichotomy between the forces of good and evil. The bonfire and the many colors are meant to dispel the forces of evil, allowing the good to prevail through it. Yet, good takes on many different forms for various people, and the numerous colors and sparks of the bonfire allow that good to manifest itself through its diverse configurations. Thus, Holi is a celebration that is communal while also obtaining the ability to be personalized for everyone involved.

Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Diwali

“Diwali, the festival of light as we call it in India, is one of the most renowned festivals in the Indian culture. Diwali is a symbolic victory of light over darkness and to celebrate this my family surrounds our house with lamps to honor the light present in our lives which has guided us to where we are. The fun part of the festival is the fireworks. We celebrate Diwali with a lot of fireworks and decorate our house with new things. Diwali is more than a mere festival for us because it signifies a renewal and letting go of the past and welcoming the future with hope.”


 

This particular interlocutor has celebrated Diwali his entire life, and he mentioned that he remembers celebrating Diwali throughout his childhood. Because of its popularity throughout the entirety of India, it was hard for him not to acknowledge its presence, not that he would want to. He stated that this is one of his favorite holidays because of the grand celebratory acts and the happy disposition of the general public in his community. This is also a time in which one is able to reflect and project their wishes for the future, something he does with the utmost sincerity and unwavering faith.

When light prevails over darkness, in most cases, people generally rejoice in its victory. The Diwali festival utilizes this light and joy to celebrate how good is much more powerful than evil. The various lights, especially through the many lamps, represent this victory while also providing hope for those who feel they are consumed by darkness. One who is immersed in so many lights would not be able to sulk in their troubles for very long. The lights also serve to guide, as the interlocutor mentioned, leading people toward a stronger and better path while also redirecting those who are astray. In this sense, the myriad lights protect, uplift, and guide. The fireworks also contribute to this uplifting as well, symbolizing the pockets of kinetic joy that surprises all humans. Though their duration is limited to mere seconds, they bring about lasting joy that is unforgettable. By way of this, Indian culture is revealed to prize moments of exultation in the midst of darkness; this also illustrates the incredible resilience that is present in Indian culture.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Magic
Protection

Il Malocchio – Italian Evil Eye

Il Malocchio: “In Sicilian culture… there’s something called the Malocchio, which translates to bad eyes. So, it’s the idea that I can look at you and curse you just by looking at you. I can curse you by giving you some kind of eyes. Like you stick two fingers out, your index and your pinkie, and point it in their direction. That is to give you the malocchio. Like ‘I saw this guy the other day and I hated him so much I gave him the malocchio,’ and this is the symbol to represent it.”

Defense: “Italians put it in their car, it’s the horn of the rabbit, the corno. It looks like a pepper, everyone has one in their car, my grandma has one in her car, it’s like a little pepper. The horn tradition evolved from like, I think, when the horn animal, the moon goddess was sacred. You can wear it around your neck, people hold it in their car as a protective measure.”

Diagnosis: “To diagnose someone with having been struck by the evil eye, you have them drop three drops of olive oil in a bowl of water, and if the oil forms, like, the shape of an eye, the victim has received the malocchio, and they’ve been cursed. When the oil separates from the water, you had to make the sign of the cross, la croce, and you say ‘il nome del padre, del figlio, e dello spirito santo,’ which is name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit, to like protect yourself.”


 

The idea of “Il Malocchio” was introduced to the interlocutor throughout childhood, his grandmother and parents informing him of this belief while gifting him multiple “cornos.” He mentioned that he still has a corno with him at all times, even allowing me to view the one he kept in his bag. This belief remains in his life to present day which is why he is able to explain it with such clarity. Though he has kept some of the cornos, he stated that he does not entirely believe in the Malocchio as he keeps the corno by habit rather than by genuine faith in its abilities.

Although I have heard of the term “malocchio,” I have only experienced the evil eye through a Hispanic lens by way of the term “mal de ojo,” which is essentially the same concept. When a person falls ill or is subject to bad circumstances, it is generally fitting to blame an outside source. In this way, it is somewhat a visually contagious superstition because it can be passed through infection, usually with malicious intent. The supposed cure for the “mal de ojo” that I have witnessed involves a cross made of straw, and though I have not witnessed it, I have heard of the utilization of an egg to ward off the negative effects of the evil eye.

Foodways
Material

Scalille

Scalille is an Italian dessert that is usually made and served during Christmas time. Scalille in Calabrese dialect means little ladders or little stairs, and it is made of dough that is twisted a few times to create the shape of ladders. The ladder is meant to symbolize the ladder in which one may travel to heaven and be a servant to God. Because it connects heaven and earth, angels are able to travel down the ladders as well to do God’s work on earth.


The interlocutor mentioned this particular dish as a Christmas dessert that he has enjoyed throughout many holidays spent with his family, especially as he played a partially active role in the kitchen making the scalille. Both of his grandmothers have made scalille and have passed down the process to him. His knowledge of the biblical connotations of scalille originates in his Italian Catholic faith, as well as the lore surrounding the making of scalille. He regards this dessert as one of his favorite aspects of the holiday season, especially the process of making it with his family. An interesting aspect of the interlocutor’s relationship to this dessert is his strong identification with its divine implications, as he adopted a sort of reverent tone when relaying the biblical meaning behind scalille. This reverence was carried into his mentioning of making it with family members as well, which illustrates the importance of both religion and family through Italian holiday celebrations.

Italian culture largely involves the influence of religion into its identity, especially during times of religious celebration due to the fact that Christianity remains a particularly dominant religion in Italy. An interpretation of the religious connotation with this dessert can assert Italian desire to connect with heaven during a special time, as well as the desire to associate oneself as a servant of God. Scalille can connect two worlds together, providing consolation and peace during a special time of the year.

Folk speech

Syrian Good-will Phrase

“They say a lot, the phrase ʾIn shāʾ Allāh which is ‘If God wants to.’ A lot of Arabs say that. Like if somebody invites you over, ‘yeah, ʾIn shāʾ Allāh, if I can or if I have time,’ but in that case it’s translated to ‘If God presumes it to happen’ or ‘If He wants it to happen then it will happen.’”


Having been exposed to this phrase by way of his Arab Christian upbringing, the interlocutor is familiar with this expression but has never used it. He mentioned that the employment of this phrase usually occurs within the adult and elder community in Syria, specifically Muslims and Christians that follow faith through their everyday life.

ʾIn shāʾ Allāh is meant to express “God willing,” demonstrating the prominence of quotidian religious allusions in Syria. I have also experienced a similar religious allusion in my own family, especially among the elders of the Hispanic community as well. Usually, as a person is leaving the company of another, the adult would say “Vaya con Dios,” or “Go with God.” It remains a standard method of bidding someone a happy and fortunate farewell. There seems to be a common thread woven through both expressions, asserting a sense of hope and good wishes from a divine power that has control over the course of respective destinies. Through this, there is a sort of reliance on powers beyond the realm of humans, furthering the notion that the future is in the hands of a higher being and not necessarily in the control of those that are concerned with it.

Adulthood
Holidays
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ivan Kupala

“Ivan Kupala, which is celebrated on a midsummer night, celebrates the young women of the community. The girls wear flower wreaths on their heads, though at the end of the night they let them float down the river. Everyone, especially the girls, sing happy and innocent songs all day, and they do not sleep for fear of demons or witches that arrive in the night. A bonfire is lit to symbolize purity and renewal as well. Eventually, everyone goes through the forests in search of a fern flower. When you find it, you make a wish and the flower has the power to grant your wish.”


 

The interlocutor has visited Russia multiple times, and due to her frequent visits, she has become close friends with a particular native Russian. The folklore that she has shared with me is derived from her native Russian friend. The interlocutor stated that of all the holidays unique to Russia, she enjoyed the concept of Ivan Kupala the most because of its positive imagery and perspective on femininity. She laments that she does not know of any event that celebrates femininity in the way the Ivan Kupala does, and she hopes to receive a flowered wreath or herb wreath on her next visit to Russia during the summer. However, she does not know if she could last through such a long event, especially as it lasts through the night.

A prominent theme throughout this holiday is the celebratory sentiment regarding the budding fertility of women. The flowers represent their nascent ability to bear fruit of their own, yet it is not a shameful or ascetic acknowledgement, but one of commemoration and joy. This goes for the fern flower that is sought after as well; its special capacity to grant wishes also symbolizing the power that women have through their fertility.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Syrian Proverb

الشخص الذي لايخدم أسرته ليس جيدا لاحد

Transliteration: Al sha’s al ladi la ehdm asratah lees jeidam la ahd

Translation: “One who has no good for his family has no good for anyone.”

Context of proverb: This proverb represents the importance of family and familial ties in Syrian culture. It also reflects the desired morality that is meant to be promulgated, one of being a general goodness and loyalty.


 

The interlocutor recalled this proverb due to extent to which older family members have said it, hoping to instill or impart some knowledge on the younger members of his family, including himself. He mentioned that this particular proverb is used especially during times of conflict within the family, especially within the conflicts that naturally arise in sibling relationships.

Because one must enact their vernacular authority in order to grant another person with a bit of wisdom, the giver of the proverb is usually an older person with much more life experience and their own fair share of wisdom to give. One grows into the social role in which they are allowed and even expected to give advice to family members and the community in general. In the case of this specific proverb, the supposed elder is imparting the message that one must first be good within the limits of family members, and that goodness will translate toward others outside of the family. Through this, a sense of expected righteous virtue is promulgated throughout the community.

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