Author Archive
Folk speech

Sleep well in your old bett gestell

Text:

“Sleep well in your old bett gestell”

Genre: Phrase / saying

Background: The interviewee, VP, is an American middle-aged female. VP resides in Northern California and comes directly from Austria and Latvian descent. VP’s heritage and traditions are deeply influenced by her Austrian descent and capability to speak both German and English. The folklore originated in Austria and was translated from German to English. The original German translation of “Schlaf gut in deinem bett gestell” translates loosely to “sleep well in your bed frame,” but means that the sturdiness and safety of your bed will allow you to sleep well. VP states that the phrase is used at night before either going to bed or tucking someone in. It can be said amongst adults and children alike, but is primarily used by parents and grandparents of German descent when tucking in their children at night. VP notes that she learned this from her Austrian great grandmother who passed it down verbally to her daughter, then down to her.

Nationality: Austrian
Location: origin: Austria, practiced: America
Language: English German hybrid

Interpretation: Like most oral traditions, these are passed down from generation to generation. What I find extremely interesting is that by definition, folklore contains variation and multiplicity, much like the phrase that has been passed down to VP throughout generations. Over time and through Americanization, the phrase has gone from the native tongue to shift into a mixture between both American and Austrian cultures as both languages are present in the phrase. This is seen more commonly within those who are capable of speaking both American and Spanish. People with this bilingual capability are often seen speaking both languages at the same time that some may call “Spanglish.” This blend of languages makes it extremely hard for someone who is monolingual to translate or make sense of quotes or conversations, thus causing a loss in translation as seen with the Austrian phrase presented above. What I also find interesting is that the original phrasing’s translation into English doesn’t make all that much sense, but in the native tongue of Austrian it carries a far deeper meaning. However, the mixture of the two languages does not lose any emphasis or meaning as the words become more of a phrase or saying that carries meaning versus a straight language translation.

Game

one word stories (game)

Text:

“When we would sit around the fire at night as kids we would tell stories in the form of one word. Which we would call “one word stories.” So the rules of the game were everyone would sit in a circle and usually the oldest or youngest person would start with the phrase ‘once upon a time there was’ and the following person in the circle, which was always done clockwise, would say one word like ‘fish’. This would then continue until a full story was formed. The stories always were quite comedic and didn’t really make much sense in the end since the younger kids loved to yell out random words that a typical 9 year old would think funny.”

Genre: folk game

Background: The interviewee, VP, is an American middle-aged female. VP resides in Northern California and comes directly from Austria and Latvian descent. VP remembers this game being taught to her by her American friends, however does not remember their exact origins or where they learned the game from. VP states that the game usually would consist of at least 3-4 younger children and often some adults to mediate. She mentioned that his game was played in a variety of locations sometimes around a candle at home or fire at her childhood cabin in Northern California. The game usually was centralized around funny and child inspired stories as it was primarily for the children of the group; the parents, as previously stated, were there to make sure the stories did not take a dark turn. This was a procedure put in place so none of the younger children would end up in tears over a death or other scary fate. VP mentioned that she passed this game down to her children as well, and in hopes they will do the same as it was product for some of her most memorable childhood memories.

Nationality: Austrian and Latvian
Location: Los Altos, CA
Language: English

Interpretation: I, once being a young kid myself, have had a personal relationship to this game as it was passed down to me as a child. I have played this game time and time again with friends and parents. Although the goal is to make sure no one is upset with the twists and turns the story, I remember several participants in tears after certain games. I was left curious with the is game’s concept and its origins, as my interviewee VP had no knowledge of this. A quick Google search later and I found a similar game by the name of Consequences. The game Consequences is not a typical board game, but is self-driven by its participants. There are two variations of the game, written and images based. These two game methods compliment the oral version VP practices which in turn creates a trifecta of written visual and aural stories. One version of Consequences is practiced by individuals drawing lines to create a creature or images, and the latter is done by the following template:

Adjective for man
Man’s name
Adjective for woman
Woman’s name
Where they met
What they went there for
What he wore
What she wore
What he said to her
What she said to him
The consequence (a description of what happened after)
What the world said

Although all three variations of this game are drastically different they focus upon imagination and blind story telling. This game is something that I will definitely attempt to pass on to others to inspire this level of connection and creatively.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Protection

tocca ferro: “touch iron”

Text:

“tocca ferro”

Genre: Superstition

Background: The interviewee, NB, is a European female in her early twenties. NB resides in Los Angeles however has citizenship in the United Kingdom. Her parents come from both England and Italy however, her traditions primarily spark from her Italian descent. The term “Tocca Ferro” translates into English to the phrase “touch iron.” This phrase is similar to the anglo superstition of knocking on wood. This piece of folklore was learnt through her Italian grandparents on her mother’s side of the family. NB stated that this was passed down orally through several generations, not knowing its exact origins. NB explained that the idea behind the reasoning for touching iron versus knocking on wood is that iron is stronger and more durable than wood; therefore by touching iron you have a better chance of avoiding an undesirable situation in the incidence of believing one has “jinxed” themselves. Ultimately this folklore has lead NB to partake in both superstitions: knocking both on wood, “or [her] forehead if there is not wood available,” and any metal that may be nearby.

Nationality: European
Location: origin: Italy, practiced: America
Language: Italian

Interpretation: By definition, a superstition is “a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation” (Webster Dictionary). The term superstition came about sometime between 1375–1425 from English origin. When researching the idea of superstitions especially those surrounding the idea of knocking on wood, I found it interesting that different cultures use different phrases. For example in Britain they use the phrase “touch wood,” as NB stated in Italy they use the phrase “Touch Iron” and here in America I have often heard the phrase “Knock on Wood.” I find interesting that the British phrasing combines both the word “touch” found in the Italian version, and “Wood” found in the American version. After diving deeper into this phenomenon I that Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa also use the phrase “Touch Wood.” The idea of knocking on a surface falls into the category of apotropaic tradition. Apotropaic comes from the Greek “αποτρέπει από τρέπειν” which directly translates into English as “prevent it from happening.” Apotropaic tradition is a type of magic, primarily practiced in Egypt, that is meant to deter harm or evil repercussions. Apotropaic traditions range from symbols, names, charms, and all the way to verbal phrases or actions (such as “knock on wood”). Another common explanation of the reasoning for knocking on, specifically, a wooden surface is that ancient pagans held strong belief in the idea that spirits and gods resided in trees. The ideas of superstitions have always held a strong interest of mine because I, like many others, believe they work. I find it interesting that so many cultures and groups use the same action of knocking to ward off evil or reverse bad luck. I am however, intrigued with the origins of the action of knocking because when i think of that action I normally related it to myself knocking on a door as if I am asking to be invited into someone’s house. This idea does not relate to the idea of warding off spirits or warding off anything in general. For this reasoning I am left with curiosites and want to dive deeper into actions pertaining to European superstitions and how they vary from those in America.

Legends

devil’s gate dam – portal to hell

Text:

“So when we were younger would go to this place called the Devil’s Gate Dam where there was a large drain tunnel running through the middle of it and people would go and see how far they could go in before someone would chicken out. Personally none of use ever got to the end because we were all too scared because of the story surrounding it. The tunnel is said to have been created in the mid-20th century and was said to be a gateway to Hell by a group of cultists. There are articles online that say there’s absolutely nothing at the end other than a wall but we still believe there might be something in there because we’ve never made it all the way through. Honestly there probably is nothing but we like to believe in the mystery of it.”

Genre: urban legend

Background: The interviewee, NM is a young American man in his early twenties. He mentioned that this mysterious portal to Hell was common knowledge between all of the younger teens in his area, although no one knew its exact origins or its credibility. NM explained that he and his group of friends growing up had ventured to the dam’s tunnel several times carrying flashlights to light up the way. The flashlights illuminated the walls lined with graffiti which featured odd text, symbols, and creepy images of faces. This made the venture seemingly impossible to complete. The group of teens never made it even halfway. The tunnel is located underneath the 210 Freeway in Hahamongna Park (123 OAK GROVE DR, PASADENA, CA 91011). The dam itself was built in the 1920s and claimed its name because of its “Satan-resembling” rocks that surround it. The tunnel’s name attracted a group of cultists who followed L. Ron Hubbard and Aleister Crowley. The tunnel is said to be a huge paranormal hot spot with countless “reports of missing children in the area and bouts of manic laughter coming from the tunnel” (California Curiosities).

Nationality: Italian and American
Location: Pasadena, CA
Language: English

Interpretation: Immediately after hearing about this urban legend of a “portal to hell” a similar memory shot into my head. Back where I grew up in a neighboring city there was a similar drainage tunnel that individuals would attempt to explore named “Wonderland”. Like the Devil’s Gate Dam tunnel, this tunnel was lined with graffiti of disturbing images and the end was out of sight. This tunnel, however, split up into two different tracks halfway through, one a shorter yet much smaller tunnel, and one longer yet larger. Many locals in my area would put on clown masks and carry baseball bats in the tunnel to try to frighten unsuspecting kids who attempted to explore “Wonderland.” This led to some unfriendly encounters. The tunnel of “Wonderland” has no negative backstories other than mischievous teens, whereas the Devil’s Gate is seen as a portal to Hell that may lead to an encounter with the Devil himself. One of the key differences between this tunnel and the Devil’s Gate tunnel is what lies at the end. After running through the “Wonderland” tunnel you can make it to the other side with light greeting you at the end. All you have to do is shimmy out of a small exist and you are on the other side of the park; whereas with the Devil’s Gate tunnel, there is nothing at the end but a cement wall. This brings me to the question of “why is there a tunnel with nothing at the end?” This possibly could be explained by the fact that it actually was sealing a “Portal to Hell” as some may like to believe, or simply because it was used as an overflow.

“DEVIL’S GATE.” California Curiosities, 10 Jan. 2017, www.californiacuriosities.com/devils-gate/.

Musical

Birthday Dirge

Text:

“Oh happy Birthday, Oh happy Birthday
Worms and germs are in the air
People dying everywhere
Oh happy Birthday, Oh happy Birthday”

Genre: Folk Song

Background: The interviewee, KP, is an American man nearing his mid-fifties. KP resides in northern California, and his family has been in the states since the second ship after the Mayflower.He also states that he doesn’t know its exact origins, but assumes they are from the South (where he and his ancestors grew up). KP notes that the birthday song was originally passed down orally by his mother. The conversation was brought up after overhearing this song at a family birthday celebration, where he states the song is traditionally sung at since others cultures may not approve of such dark and depressing nature. This depressing nature, however, is not how KP sees the song, he states they “sing it just to be funny and change up the traditional happy birthday song, and never sang it to be mean just to have fun.”

Nationality: American
Location: the South (transitioned into west coast)
Language: English

Interpretation: My initial reaction of hearing this dark and dreary birthday song was the thought of “ Who would want to hear this on their Birthday?” Often when celebrating a birthday we are trying to ignore the fact that we are growing a step closer to our impending deaths and this song seems to capitalize on this fear. After going into a deeper analysis of this text I found that the song or refrain is a variation of the Birthday Dirge a/k/a “The Barbarian Birthday Song”, “The Viking Birthday Song”, “The SCA Birthday Dirge”. This Dirge is sung to the melody of a Russian folk tune known as, The Volga Boatmen” (a 1926 American silent drama film). The Dirge often varies in lyrics based upon who it is being sung to and often is comprised of only 2-3 verses. It is said that after each refrain of “Happy Birthday”, often in Russian tradition, the noise “HUHN”-like a grunt, or a thump on the table or floor is produced. This thumping aspect has not followed into KB’s Birthday Dirge which I find extremely interesting as it is a quite prominent attribute to the Russian rendition. In addition to the thump or lack thereof, I found that the lyrics are slightly different from those recorded in the article I found; the only commonality being the line “People dying everywhere.”

Larson, Grig -Punkie-. “History of the Birthday Dirge.” Punkie’s Web Page – Lyrics for Viking/Barbarian Birthday Dirge, 2019, punkwalrus.net/cybertusk/viking_birthday_dirge.html.

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