Author Archive
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Protection

Wet Hair and Headaches

Context:

While out during the weekend, the I was discussing beliefs and where they might have come from with a group of friends. While talking and after hearing some examples of superstitions, the informant brought up several superstitions he heard as a kid.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

 

S: Apparently, according to my mom, sleeping with wet hair will give you a headache the next morning. Not sure what it is… it’s just something that I was taught.

 

Analysis:

This belief is one that deals with things not to do. I have also heard of variations of this idea. One that I have heard is that sleeping with wet hair will make you sick. Different cultures find the idea of sleeping with wet hair to be something to be avoided but provided different, plausible reasons for doing so.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Healing Touch

Context:

The informant and I were talking about an injury he had since high school and shares with me a particular healing practice he received during his time recovering.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

 

S: As a Christian family, my mom believes in spiritual gifts. Specifically, the gift of healing. She goes to this church in downtown LA and goes to the elder whenever she’s in pain. The elder lies my mother down on the table and proceeds to gently touch and poke different places. The elder touches the area that hurts as well as any area that may connect to the afflicted area. My mom says the elder’s hands are warm, with spiritual fire. After praying for my mom, the elder runs her hands over my mom while my mother cries out in pain. The elder does this a few more times and my mom is still in pain. However, once the elder finishes, my mom says she is beginning to feel better.

My mom strongly believes that this woman has the art of spiritual healing as she’s gone to doctors with internal organ pain before and their medicine has done nothing. This elder has helped her with that internal pain and much more.

My mom now takes my brother and me to the elder when we are in pain. My brother is a firm believer now in what she does even though he is always in pain. I still struggle to see that it’s real, though I have gone many times as a result of my mom forcing me after my many knee surgeries.

 

Analysis:

Traditional medicine lives among the people as a part of their culture. Many believe in and adopt older medical practices and choose to prefer them over popular medicine backed by science. Although the validity of these practices is up to debate, many people turn to these practices when they are in need of medical care. The idea of the healing touch is an intriguing idea that places a special importance on the powers and skills of elders. In general, both forms of medicine often interact with each other. In many cases, people employ the help of popular medicine with other medical remedies that have been passed down in a culture or family. We can’t simply say that it is a placebo effect and dismiss the notion that the practices may actually yield results. Maybe it is the combined effects of both that help one recover from their ailments.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs

Hold Your Breath Around Strangers

Context:

We began talking while walking from class to lunch when he told me something his mother told him about strangers.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

 

S: I’m not sure if this counts as a belief but when I was young, I was told that strangers have this scent that would mind control me, so whenever I walked past a sketchy looking stranger I’d hold my breath.

 

C: *laughing That’s awesome. Where’d you hear that?

 

S: My mom *chuckling

 

C: What do you think it means?

 

S: Like why did my mom tell me that?

 

C: Yea

 

S: Like.. to be careful around strangers.

 

Analysis:

As children, we are often told to be wary of strangers and to never follow people that we don’t know because it can be very dangerous. Though I heard a lot of things like “stranger danger,” this is the first time I have heard this particular lesson being taught this way. The idea of holding your breath is not new to me, however, because I hold my breath while in a tunnel after seeing my friend do it. He told me to do it because the air in tunnels is bad for one’s health. It’s interesting that these two seemingly different beliefs use the same idea of holding one’s breath to stop something bad from happening to them.

Folk Beliefs

Whistling and Snakes

Context:

The informant is a student currently attending Pierce Community College. He recounts a Korean story told to him by his parents when he was younger and giving his parents a tough time.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

continuing from another conversation about superstitions

S: Also, there’s another one that goes: If you whistle at night, snakes will appear.

 

C: That’s interesting. Can you give some reasons why people might believe that?

 

S: The whistling is more about not to disturbing others and to keep to yourself during the night.

 

Analysis:

Superstitions have a long-standing place in folklore around the world. Each culture imparts their own belief about what they deem important. This superstition about whistling at night draws on the idea that doing so will summon snakes – a symbol often associated with evil or bad. It is interesting to see how many areas share a commonality in symbols.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Knocking on Wood

Context:

The informant is a student at USC. We began talking in a study session room while we were waiting for other people to come. In this account, he is describing a tradition he and his family does.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

 

C: So, what kind of story do you want to share?

 

S: First one is pretty simple. Something weird that my family does as like a superstition. It’s that, in my family we always knock on wood to break a jinx. For example, we’d just be talking and discussing the worst financial situations like “Oh, we might run out of money or something” but then we would knock on something to break the jinx.

 

C: So like the whole knock on wood thing that other people do?

 

S: Yea, exactly.

 

Yea. So, I don’t know exactly where it originates, it’s just a thing that we saw in the movies one time so when we see something that happens, we just say let’s knock on wood for that.

 

Analysis:

The notion of knocking on wood is generally well known. It’s interesting to see where this family first found the superstition. People draw stories and beliefs from all sorts of things around them. This particular kind of superstitious belief may also help promote a positive mental attitude by changing what might have been a bad notion into something that will no longer happen after completing the action.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Myths
Narrative

Buddha Crossing the River

Context:

The informant is a student at USC studying Bio-Chem. In this account, he recalls religious stories that he heard.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

 

C: Do you have any stories like from your childhood or from growing up? Anything you might want to share?

S: Yea… I’m Buddhist. Kinda forced into it I guess. Both of my parents are from Burma, I guess.

So when I was in elementary, my parents wanted me to hang out with my Burmese friends but I didn’t speak Burmese. There was a session with the monk but during break or down times, they would tell us stories and stuff.

It was told by a monk. So… I don’t remember the lesson but, most of the stories are about Buddha.

So there’s this one story I remember:

So one day, Buddha was hanging out with his apostles when this one guy said he knows a monk that surpassed him or something.

He was like, “Where? Bring me to him.”

When we went to the monk, we has all frail and sickly.

The monk told Buddha, “I can walk on water. This was done by strict meditation and following the teachings while starving.” This was obviously a lie.

The monk continued, “You’ve only started your path. I’ve gotten this far already.” He was basically challenging the Buddha.

The monk said, “I bet I can get across this river.”

Buddha: “Why would you do that?”

Monk: “It just proves I’m much stronger. Can you do the same thing?”

So Buddha accepted this bet and the monk proceeded to give a ferryman one penny and crossed the river with on a ferry.

 

S: This story isn’t verbatim, but I guess the lesson that I learned was this: Buddhism isn’t a superstitious religion. It’s very grounded. Each city it went and added their own superstitions to make it different and “holy.”

Buddhism is about self-actualization and helping others but it gets muddled in all the lighting candles, and like all the rituals and stuff.

 

Analysis:

It’s interesting to hear religious stories, mostly because of the lessons or explanations that they teach. In this case, the story explores the idea of what Buddhism is or isn’t. It also teaches a fundamental idea in folklore in that, each group makes variations or changes to something that they learn in order to adapt it as their own. This is the same case in religion as each group adds on their own superficial things which may distract or draw away from the core beliefs.

Customs
Holidays
Legends
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Three Wise Men

Context:

The informant recounts the different religious and cultural stories that he heard while growing up as a child.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

 

S: Do you have the thing of the three wise men? It’s a Catholic thing.

 

C: No… can you explain it?

 

S: Like you put your shoes out and then the three wise men from Jesus’ birth come and give you gifts

 

C: Oh.. is that it?

 

S: That’s pretty much it. Like parents put money in your shoes obviously instead of the three wise men. It usually happens around Christmas but I forget the exact date.

 

C: Oh so is this something that you or your family did?

 

S: Yeah. Well it’s a catholic thing. Popular in Spanish speaking countries.

 

 

Analysis:

Biblical stories are often told for the lessons they are able to impart on the listener, but also for entertainment. The tale of the Three Wise Men is one such story that encompasses many functions. The three men are figures of great status in society and they all see an unusual new star in the sky, and knew that it told of the birth of a special king in Israel. This marks the coming of Christ into the world and the spark of Christianity as it exists today. To welcome Jesus’ arrival, they presented him with gifts that hold symbolic meanings in Christianity. Gold was given as something that is associated with kings and the idea that Jesus was to be the King of other kings. The other two are Frankincense, a symbol used to show that people would worship Jesus and
Myrrh, a perfume that showed Christians of Jesus’ eventual suffering and death. The act of giving gifts is still something that we do til this day and it is curious to see if many base their tradition of gift giving to this tale in the Bible.

 

For another version, see: All About the Wise Men

https://www.whychristmas.com/story/wisemen.shtml

Cooper, James. “The Christmas Story – All About The Wise Men.” The History of The Christmas Story — Whychristmas?Com, www.whychristmas.com/story/wisemen.shtml.

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