Author Archive
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Protection

Spitting on the Devil

Description

“Whenever you talk about something good happening, like if you mention you’re doing good, you have to spit over your shoulder three times. The Russians believe that’s where the Devil is, so you’re spitting on the Devil real quick, just to make sure that he doesn’t, uh, to make sure that nothing negative happens. Speaking of that, you usually don’t want to talk about anything good happening in the future or anything, you wanna be pessimistic. Or else it means that it won’t happen, if you talk about it a lot.”

Context

I asked the informant about his Russian culture, and he proceeded to tell me a lot about Russian superstitions and things that his family practices. He said that he first encountered this when he was very young, because when he was young he wanted to talk about what he wanted to do when he was older, but his mother would always remind him to spit on his shoulder, as outlined above.

Analysis

This is interesting to me because as someone who grew up without “culture” aka, my family is generations removed from its original culture from wherever in Europe, I never encountered the idea that talking about the future could be bad. I think this says a lot about Russian temperament that a lot of people talk about — I’ve heard that Russians are in a bad mood all the time, etc. I like the idea that something could be ruined by talking about it, as I’ve had good news that is almost true, but didn’t want to share it with people in case it didn’t actually end up happening.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Holidays
Initiations
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Eating Almonds at Persian Weddings

Description

“Whenever someone gets married, it’s a tradition to eat almonds at the wedding so that the wife becomes fertile. I first saw this at the first Persian wedding that I went to when I was, like, eight years old. They put little bags of almonds underneath every single guest’s seat during the ceremony. At the end, when they marry each other, all the guests take out the almonds and eat them. Obviously, I was confused when it first happened, and my mom said, ‘Oh, you do this so the wife becomes pregnant.”

Context

I was with friends when the informant offered this piece of information. We had been talking about how people our age (early 20s) are getting married very quickly, which then devolved into a conversation about weddings, both traditional and not. The informant learned about this custom, as outlined in the description, through weddings she celebrated with her own family, and she learned through observation.

Analysis

I think small details like these within larger events or celebrations are very interesting. In high school, I learned a lot about fertility charms, such as the fertility goddesses made of stone. The act of eating almonds raises a lot of questions for me, questions aimed at wanting to know why almonds, why eat them, etc. I’ve not been to many weddings, but my first thought when I encountered this ideal was — what happens if someone is allergic to nuts?

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Magic

A Cat Giving Birth

Description

“They say that when the sun is out and it’s raining, a cat is giving birth. My mother would say it all the time, but I remember one time we were in the car and we were driving, I was a toddler. It’s raining and it’s sunny, and she would say, ‘Oh look, a cat is giving birth right now.’ I asked her, ‘How do you know, mom?’ and she was just, ‘It’s just true.’”

Context

This conversation came when I was discussing the rain back where I am from, and this informant as well as another discussed their beliefs surrounding rain while the sun shines. The informant heard it first from their mother, when they were in the car and driving, as outlined in the description.

Analysis

I found it interesting that I had two different people from two different cultures reflecting on this belief that there had to be something happening because it was raining and sunny at the same time. The closest thing I remember believing is that after a rain, or if there was a rainbow while it was still raining, there was a little leprechaun and a pot of gold at the end of it. My friends would make jokes about God peeing onto Earth, of course, but that was the most of it. I love that different cultures have different explanations, but I cannot begin to think what witches and rain and sun have to do with each other.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends

The Hunt for the Melonheads

Description

“There’s this really interesting thing about St. Joseph, MI, this thing about Bridgeman, the neighboring city. So, there’s this, uh, story about the “melonheads.” There’s this Cook Nuclear Plant between the cities, which is one of the only ones in the area. Very high restricted, obviously because there’s nuclear shit in there. Very, very high security. There’s this rumor, this old story, that way back in the 50s or something there was an acid leak from the plant and this acid leak affected a bunch of people from Bridgeman, where it demented their heads. The people became outcasts, aka the “melonheads,” they went to live amongst the woods.

So, what people do is that they go on hunts for the melonheads. It’s this fun thing that teenagers do, and I’ve never been, but I’ve been asked to go. They go to the depths of the Cook plant. You’re supposed to turn off your car with your lights on. You’re supposed to howl in the night. Apparently, the melonheads will come to your car and kill you. People swear they’ve seen the melonheads. Usually, people tell this story when they’re attempting to be “scary” or share creepy stories. It was told to me when I was hanging out with my other friends, drinking beer and hanging out outside somewhere. Everyone thought it would be great fun to hunt for them, but I didn’t want to go, so we didn’t.”

Context

The informant would hear of this story when engaging with other teenagers, back when the informant was a teenager. Typically, this story would be shared when teenagers gathered in groups and the informant first heard of it when their friends attempted to get the informant to partake in the “hunt.”

Analysis

Like most stories that teenagers tell each other, I believe something like this would be used as perhaps a sort of group “initiation,” or something to use to scare each other. It feels like a Michigan-specific Bloody Mary story, something teenagers would do when they are bored or want to see who is the bravest. I engaged in many such games when I was younger, sort of playing “chicken” with these weird stories and legends. I would also make a guess that the idea of the melonheads was created as a way to possibly ward people off from visiting the nuclear plant.

 

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
general
Signs

Puerto Rican Witches Getting Married

Description

“In Puerto Rico, they say a witch is getting married.”

Context

I was sitting with a few informants as we all discussed our cultures and our different belief systems. After one informant randomly offered their thoughts on what the Persians believe about rain when the sun shines, this informant gave me this tidbit of information. She went on further to explain that the origins of the belief are unclear, but that whenever it rained while the sun was shining, she had clear memories of her mother pointing at the sky and saying it.

Analysis

I found it interesting that I had two different people from two different cultures reflecting on this belief that there had to be something happening because it was raining and sunny at the same time. The closest thing I remember believing is that after a rain, or if there was a rainbow while it was still raining, there was a little leprechaun and a pot of gold at the end of it. My friends would make jokes about God peeing onto Earth, of course, but that was the most of it. I love that different cultures have different explanations, but I cannot begin to think what witches and rain and sun have to do with each other.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Myths

Ghosts in Banana Trees in Malaysia

Description

Informant reported that their mother told them, “Don’t hang near the banana trees in Malaysia because ghosts live there.” Their mother grew up there and heard it from her Aunts. She describes the origin of this piece of folklore as having come about due to the amount of plantations in Malaysia, therefore people created this story to ward kids off of them, as they would play near the trees.

Context

Informant is a secondary receiver of the folklore, whereas their mother experienced this in action — she would be taken near plantations and told not to stick around, while my informant only received the warning when about to go outside and play with other friends. It was less of a warning while in Malaysia, but rather a general warning before going outside.

Analysis

I think this is an interesting anecdote that had to have started way back when, perhaps when children were hanging out too much in Malaysian plantations. It could have started due to malicious circumstances with a landowner getting fed up with children stealing from the plantation and therefore killing him, or it could be more lighthearted than that. I think a lot of different cultures have sayings such as these.

I did some research and found something called the “pontianak,” which is a female vampire ghost in Malay mythology. These are said to be spirits of women who died while pregnant, and my informant thinks this saying about Malaysian banana trees has roots with this mythical figure. Further reading can be done at the citation below:

Skeat, W.W. Malay Magic. New York, Macmillan and Co. Ltd, 1900. Print.

Folk Beliefs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Snow Day Ritual

Description

“You would hear there was a snow coming, a big storm, and in order to secure the snow day, you would do the pre-snow day ritual. What you would do is wear your pajamas backwards, then flush three ice cubes down the toilet. While the ice cubes were being flushed you would chant ‘I love snow days.’ The ice needed to be gone, your pants needed to be backwards, and then you had to do it until the ice cubes were gone. If it worked, you were a genius, and if it didn’t work, you were pretty stupid.”

Context

The informant reported that in Michigan, where they are from, snow days are incredibly important to school culture. This ritual would be used when the informant was in school, usually in the winter, to attempt to secure a snow day, which involved shutting down school for a day due to inclimate weather.

Analysis

A lot of students have been heard of doing this — I had similar snow day rituals that the students believed, often well into high school. I find this sort of thing very cool because where does it come from? At what point, after the invention of the modern school day began, did something like this start, and how did it become customary for students? My own personal idea is that it comes from other rituals to ward off evil, but is a children’s bastardization of that idea, creating their own.

 

Customs
general
Initiations
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Rugby Traditions and Songs

Description

“One thing that we do in Rugby is called ‘shoot the boot.’ So if a rookie scores their first try, which is just like a goal or the equivalent of an American football touchdown, after the game, they have to fill their cleat or their ‘boot’ with beer and drink it all in one go. The other teammates sing a song that goes like, ‘Why are we waiting, we could be masturbating, drink mother fucker, drink!’ So, yeah, also, in rugby, the team sings a lot of provocative songs after every game. A lot of them are about having sex, drinking, respecting Jesus, that sort of thing. The one song that is like the worst goes like, ‘Shit damn fuck a damn, fuck a damn damn. Some mother fucker just fucked my man,’ something like that. I don’t know the exact lyrics to all of them.”

Context

Having played rugby, I know a lot of other rugby players that are more well versed in the folklore of rugby groups than I am. I sat down with one of them and asked specifically about things I’d been a part of, and the informant very eagerly shared this with me.

Analysis

This is one of the only pieces I collected that I myself have experienced. I have shot the boot, and it is about as terrible as it sounds, but also works as a rite of passage. You aren’t a “real” member of the team until you have participated in this custom, which is very interesting. It also becomes a sort of initiation, as well, and raises the question — can someone still be a rookie if they haven’t scored, but have played for many years? There are some positions in the game that hardly ever score. This piece of folklore had me wondering where it came from, also, and if the sport’s roots in New Zealand and Europe started this, or if it came about when the sport started being played in the United States.

 

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