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Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Blessing – Japan

“When a person is having a bad day or week, someone who cares for them may take salt and sprinkle it over the other person’s head and rub it into their scalp to protect them from evil spirits or demons.  While rubbing the salt into the scalp of the person, it is common to say a prayer to ward off the evil.  The person will also make a circle of salt around the one in need of protection or put salt in front of their door so that the person will be guarded from these devilish spirits.”

Chris told me that his grandmother would often practice this blessing on him whenever he was feeling sad, had been injured, or was angry for one reason or another.  His grandmother is fully Japanese, however Chris claims to be only one quarter Japanese.  Chris told me that while she would rub salt into his scalp she would say different prayers sometimes, although they were usually in Japanese.  When she would say the prayer it would usually be a phrase such as “Guard over my grandson” or “May all evil be gone”.  His grandmother was a Shinto Buddhist and she used prayers from her church when she would speak, however Chris could not remember any of the actual Japanese that she used.  Chris’ grandmother was from Okinawa, which is an island right off of Japan and immigrated to Hawaii after the second world war and finally to Redlands, California where Chris and his family live today.

Chris said that he believed that his grandmother’s parents or grandparents had probably done the same blessing to her while she was a young girl in Japan. Chris was not sure whether his grandmother actually believed in the evil spirits or if it was just a tradition that she learned while growing up.  Either way it can be seen as a way that a person can help heal another, as to give their blessing to them and wish for their well being.  Usually this is practiced in a home, either of the person who needs protection or the person saying the prayer, according to Chris this was usually at his home or his grandmother’s.

Salt is an object that is often used in other superstitions and folklore.  One example that comes to mind is throwing salt over one’s shoulder for good luck.  As a food ingredient that has existed for all of human existence, there is a lot of tradition associated with it, not just in preparing meals, but in other senses as can be seen in this example of a blessing.  For this reason it seems that people have given salt some extra ability of being able to cure others or possibly even protect them.  I see this blessing as a combination of the use of salt as an agent to cure, and the prayer that is spoken to protect against these evil spirits that may be harming a person.

Life cycle

Lullaby – Georgia

C                                 G

“I see the moon, the moon sees me

G7                 C

Under the shade of the old oak tree,

C                   C7             F            Dm

Please let the light that shines on me,

G                  G7         C

Shine on the one I love.

C                                G

Over the mountains, over the sea,

G7        C

That’s where my heart is longing to be,

C                     C7          F             Dm

Please let the light that shines on me,

G                  G7     C

Shine on the one I love.”

Sven told me that his mother used to sing this lullaby to him and his siblings for about as long as he can remember, ever since he was a little boy.  He said that his mother would sing it to him before going to bed, or just sitting on her lap in a rocking chair when not much else was happening.  Sven said that he always associated the lullaby with the evening time and also times in which he was feeling sick or troubled to calm and soothe him.  I asked Sven where he believed the song came from and he told me that he believed his grandmother used to sing the song to his mother while growing up in Georgia.

When I looked into the origin of this song I found that many different versions actually existed with various lines that changed and stayed the same from version to version.  As with most folk music, I could not find an author to the piece and I found there were many oicotypes that existed.

According to Tina Beaumont-Clay, staff writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, she found the lullaby in an old leaflet of camp songs.  The lyrics she found are as follows.

“I see the moon, the moon sees me, The moon sees somebody I want to see, God bless the moon and God bless me, And God bless the somebody I want to see, It seems to me that God above, Created you for me to love, He picked you out from all the rest, To be the one that I loved the best, I had a heart `twas true and good, But now it’s gone from me to you, Take care of it as I have done, Cause you have two and I have none.”  As made clear by this version and the version that Sven told, there is a major difference in words, thus proving the variation.

In addition to these two versions, there is a superstition from middle Tennessee that contains the same opening line.  The superstition is you are supposed to “Look at the moon some night and say, ‘I see the moon, the moon sees me; the moon sees someone I want to see.’  Then name the person whom you wish to see, and in a few days you will see that person.”  This could be a variation from the song or vice-versa.  Either way, it shows how phrases travel.  I’m not sure whether the fact that Sven’s mother learned the song in Georgia and this superstition is from Tennessee has any regional correlation, but there definitely could be a possibility seeing as they are both states from the southern U.S. and are very close to one another.

Annotation:  Beaumont-Clay, Tina.  “Trivia Q&A.” Fort Worth Star-Telegram 2 Oct.       2001

Annotation:  Farr, T.J. The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 48, No. 190 (Oct. – Dec.,    1935), pg. 333


Legend – Mexico

“A woman went to Mexico on vacation and on her way home brings a cactus with her.  She waters the cactus every day and takes care of the new plant that reminds her of the time she spent while visiting Mexico.  However, after a few days she notices that the cactus starts moving on its own and appears to be breathing.  After awhile she calls a local Department of Agriculture and they tell her to shut all the doors and windows to her home and get out of the house immediately.  All of a sudden the cactus explodes, unleashing hundreds of baby tarantulas all over her house.”

Whitney told me that she first heard this story from a classmate at school in 9th grade.  She said that at first she believed it but later heard a different version from someone else that made her skeptical to the verity of the legend.  A legend such as this could be told at any sort of situation when there is a group of people trading stories or urban legends.  This story clearly invites discussions about a person’s belief, whether they think something like this could actually happen or not, and it is set in the real world, definitely classifying it as a legend.  A person would tell this story to get more and more people talking about different stories that they heard and get other people’s opinions on whether they have heard the story and whether they believe it to be true.

I think that the legend is told to give people the notion that one should leave something where they found it, and also leave people with the impression that anything

Folk Beliefs

Superstition – Connecticut

“To predict the sex of a baby: Suspend a needle held by a piece of thread over the palm of the pregnant girl. If the needle swings in an oval or circular motion the baby will be a girl. If the needle swings in a straight line the baby will be a boy.”

My mother told me that her good friends from work swore by this superstition and that they used it on her when she was carrying me as a baby.  The friends were also women who were around the same age as my mother when she gave birth to me (in their 30s).  She said that they were very into other superstitious practices as well, and had her try other folk pregnancy tests too.  My mother worked in a photograph archive in the town of Mystic, Connecticut with these women during her pregnancy.  My mom said that basically the only use of the swinging needle superstition was to determine whether or not I would be a boy or a girl.  She does not know where her friends learned this practice, but perhaps the fact that New England is rich in folk traditions can help describe where this custom came from.  In addition, she said that it was not clear when during the pregnancy this was supposed to occur, although she said she believed it could occur any time between conception and birth.  She also said that typically it is another woman who will suspend the needle over the palm of the pregnant woman’s hand.

I am not sure what the actual ceremony means, but I believe that the shape of the swinging needle may refer to the shape of a person’s sexual organs, straight for a man’s penis and oval shaped for a woman’s vagina.  This folk pregnancy test is part of the ritual of being pregnant and the excitement that surrounds the mother and her friends.  This also took place back in 1987, when less technology was used in pregnancies, and perhaps more folkloristic methods were used such as this superstition to determine the sex of an unborn child.

Seeing that this superstition is based on guessing the gender of the baby, I am supposing that it came to fruition before the development of technology that indicated whether or not a child would be male or female.  Also, because of the use of a needle and thread, it can easily be a tradition that could date back hundreds of years and even to other countries.  Since New England is primarily of European descent, I would think that if it did date back so far that it perhaps would come from somewhere in Western Europe.  There are various other possibilities of the superstition’s origin, however, I feel that it has been passed down many generations nonetheless.



“What’s the difference between a black Jew and a white Jew?

The black Jew sits at the back of the oven.”

Caleb said that he heard this joke about two or three years ago from his older brother who also resides in Leona Valley, California.  Typically this joke is told in an atmosphere away from either people of African descent or Jewish people so it will not offend them.  Caleb said that he knows many other versions of Jewish and black jokes that he learned from his brother and from his friends in high school and college.  A joke such as this would typically arise on an occasion with a group of anywhere from two to five people, as it is something that shows racism and hatred, even in a joking manner.  Often the way that this specific joke in particular would be told is if a group is trading jokes either of a racial or denigrating manner.

Clearly, this joke refers to two separate points in history that dealt with the degradation of black and Jewish people.  The fact that the black Jew sits at the back of the oven refers to the fact that before racial laws were enacted in America, black people were often forced to sit in the back of the bus.  Also, the generalization of Jews being put into ovens refers to the ovens that were used to kill so many Jewish people during the Holocaust in the midst of World War II.  Although it has been a long time since either of these occurrences, the visible moment of the joke is hard to define, because of the fact that there is still racism that exists and the pain and suffering endured by these two groups were so great that it is hard for some people to find this type of joke funny, even if they recognize the context.

Like many jokes, this joke does have a punch line that reveals the cleverness of the teller.  After the original question is posed, the listener expects a dirty response, which the joke teller will wittingly express.  I believe that the reason the joke is told is not to necessarily make fun of Jewish or black people but instead is told to portray the wit of the one telling it.  Over time, it is been considered easy to make fun of Jewish or black people due to the fact that they have been suppressed so much that they are easy targets of jokes such as these.

It is possible that due to the fact that Caleb is of German descent that he possibly relates to his own heritage and the way that the German’s treated Jews during World War II.  However, as is customary in California and the United States in general, racism is a subject that is often shied away from because most people do not want to be judged as “racist” even if they are or are not.

Folk Beliefs

Folk Belief – Massachusetts

“Do not own or live with cats or they will smother your babies.”

This is a much older wives tale that my step-grandmother was insistent upon believing.  The act of smothering a baby is basically not allowing the child to breathe.  She repeatedly told my mother during my infancy that my mother should get rid of the cats that were living with us, because they would smother me.  Although my step-grandmother is getting older she was still able to tell me that she had heard this from her mother and grandmother during the time when she was young even before her pregnancy.  Ola grew up in the Burlington, Vermont area and spent most of her time between Vermont and Massachusetts, so presumably she probably heard this somewhere in that section of New England.

I believe that she felt so strongly about this belief because it was something that her mother and grandmother had instilled in her as a young girl.  When she told my mother, my mother thought she was crazy, however Ola still felt that she was 100% correct in saying that the cats would smother the baby.  I am not sure where the origin of this belief came about, but perhaps it was conjured out of pure fear of cats.  In addition, cats have often been associated with witches, magic, and sometimes evil, which could lead one to think that cats have some inherent wickedness to them.  In other märchen and superstition cats are usually mysterious or strange creatures, as exemplified by the well-known superstition that it is bad luck for a black cat to cross your path.

Life cycle

Rhyme – Conneticut

“Mr. Simonchini had a ten-foot weenie and he showed it to the neighbor next-door,

She thought it was a snake, so she hit it with a rake, and now it’s only nine-foot-four.

Mr. Simonchini had a nine-foot weenie and he showed it to the neighbor next-door,

She thought it was a snake, so she hit it with a rake, and now it’s only eight-foot-four.

Mr. Simonchini had an eight-foot weenie and he showed it to the neighbor next-door,

She thought it was a snake, so she hit it with a rake, and now it’s only seven-foot-four.

Mr. Simonchini had a seven-foot weenie and he showed it to the neighbor next-door,

She thought it was a snake, so she hit it with a rake, and now it’s only six-foot-four.

Mr. Simonchini had a six-foot weenie and he showed it to the neighbor next-door,

She thought it was a snake, so she hit it with a rake, and now it’s only five-foot-four.

Mr. Simonchini had a five-foot weenie and he showed it to the neighbor next-door,

She thought it was a snake, so she hit it with a rake, and now it’s only four-foot-four.

Mr. Simonchini had a four-foot weenie and he showed it to the neighbor next-door,

She thought it was a snake, so she hit it with a rake, and now it’s only three-foot-four.

Mr. Simonchini had a three-foot weenie and he showed it to the neighbor next-door,

She thought it was a snake, so she hit it with a rake, and now it’s only two-foot-four.

Mr. Simonchini had a two-foot weenie and he showed it to the neighbor next-door,

She thought it was a snake, so she hit it with a rake, and now it’s only one-foot-four.

Mr. Simonchini had a one-foot weenie and he showed it to the neighbor next-door,

She thought it was a snake, so she hit it with a rake, and now he’s got a weenie no more!”

I used to sing this song in elementary school with my friends about our librarian named Mr. Simonchini.  We all sang it to make fun of him because he was a goofy looking guy and probably because he was an adult figure and an easy target.  We would often sing it on the playground or on bus rides to and from school, because nearly everyone in my class knew the song.  Usually it consisted of a few kids joking about a reading assignment that he would make us do and then one of us would bust into the song.  I do not remember how I learned this rhyme, but I do know that I learned it early on in my elementary school career, sometime in the mid 1990’s.  Every now and then we would change the words so that it was someone else who had the “ten-foot weenie” and sing it about them, however with the fortune of our librarian having such a name that so easily rhymed with weenie, we often reverted back to the original form.  Only my classmates and I would use the rhyme and we never sang it around adults so we wouldn’t get into trouble.

I believe that this rhyme basically was a form in which we could show our feelings towards our library teacher, that is that we believed him to be a pervert of sorts.  The fact that he is showing his weenie to a female neighbor and her getting scared gives the vibe that he is not welcome in her home and that he is meant to be portrayed as a creep.  Most children at this age found this funny and we would often laugh about the thought of our teacher showing off his family jewels to a neighbor, only, to have her cut it off.

This rhyme can also be seen as a way for children to become acquainted with the idea of separate sexes and become used to talking about a male’s private parts.  Children have different ways of learning about the opposite and same sexes and this song was most likely a form in which we could make fun of a teacher while also making a taboo reference to a penis.


Folk Game – Connecticut

“Ok so the way the game goes is first one person starts out by saying that they want to play snaps.  Then somebody chooses a category, we usually choose baseball players.  After that, the person thinks of the name of a player and begins the game.  The object of the game is for the person who has thought of the player to try to get the other people listening to guess the same player that teller is thinking of.  So the person who thinks of the player, ‘the teller’, begins by saying either ‘snaps is the name of the game’ or ‘snaps is not the name of the game’.  When snaps is the name of the game, that means the teller will spell out the person’s first name, and when snaps is not the name of the game that means the teller will spell out the person’s last name.  To spell out a name, the teller says a series of sentences in which the first letter of the first word of the first sentence gives the first letter of the person’s name, the first letter of the first word of the second sentence gives the second letter of a person’s name, and so on.  However, the catch is this is only used for consonants.  For vowels, the teller snaps his fingers: once for A, twice for E, three times for I, four times for O, and five times for U.  Usually this means that there is a scramble of sentences and snaps that form either the full first name or last name of the person that the teller is trying to get the audience to guess.  So as an example I will give you Roger Clemens when snaps is the name of the game and when it is not.  ‘Snaps is the name of the game.  Read books.  (Snap 4 times).  Go get it.  (Snap 2 times).  Remember everything I said.’  That would spell out R-O-G-E-R.  Hopefully the

person could guess that it was Roger Clemens given the category.   Here is how I would do Roger Clemens when snaps is not the name of the game.  ‘Snaps is not the name of the game.  Close your eyes.  Listen carefully.  (Snap 2 times).  Make sure you can hear me.  (Snap 2 times).  Notice my hands.  Stick with it.’  That would spell out C-L-E-M-E-N-S.  The teller must think of a name in the category that people would probably guess and use his best judgment when telling the name.”

I collected this game from one of my old assistant baseball coaches who I remember played snaps with us during bus rides and practice.  Usually there are some people who know how to play and some people who don’t know how to play.  It will often take listeners who have never played before at least a half hour to an hour before they can figure out the gist of the game.  Also, it is considered taboo to speak the rules, because that would be giving away the secret rules that everyone has had to figure out in the past.  Anybody can initiate a snaps game and usually after the teller has gone and a person has guessed it, someone else who knows how to play will start it up again and say a different person.

According to Mike, he learned this while playing minor league baseball for a Yankee’s farm team while in Canada.  What Mike has found is that snaps is popular across the baseball community and that he has found it being played in other groups as well.  He told me that everyone knew how to play on the team and that when rookies came to play on the team they would always be the target of the game.  Like many games, this folk game typically involved some people who know how to play, while others have to try to figure it out.  I believe the reason that snaps is such an addicting game is because when someone figures out how to play, all they want to do is try and stump the next person who wants to try and figure it out.


Legend – Connecticut

“There are these creatures supposedly in Fairfield County in Connecticut called ‘Melon Heads’.  Apparently they were escaped inmates or insane asylum patients and they are rumored to have big bulbous heads.  There is this insane asylum in Fairfield that shut down a long time ago and supposedly the patients there kept inbreeding with one another until they became mutants of a sort.  They’re also kind of yellowish in color.”

Tanner told me that he learned this legend from one of his fellow students who lived down the hall from him in his dorm this year.  He even said that they drove to the insane asylum and found a large system of underground tunnels that had been abandoned years ago but no Melon Heads.  Tanner said that these creatures also are rumored to exist in other portions of southwestern and central Connecticut as well as some other midwestern state that he believed to be Ohio.  He also said that the student down the hall heard the story from another group of his friends from high school.   Tanner said that they are creatures that are feared for their mysteriousness and for the mere fact that nobody knows much about them.  As for the legitimacy of actual Melon Heads existing, he told me that he wasn’t sure whether to believe in them or not, but that he never actually saw one so he seems skeptical.

However, there is other evidence pointing to the existence of Melon Heads.  In the book Weird U.S. – Your Travel Guide to America’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets it mentions that Melon Heads supposedly exist in Connecticut, Ohio, and Michigan.  The book goes on to say that many of these Melon Heads were the result of science experiments gone wrong and radiation testing, leaving them mentally retarded and continuing to mutate on their own.  Supposedly, the Melon Heads then moved into the woods, where generations of inbreeding occurred, resulting in even more mutations.

I think that part of the reason that people fear the Melon Heads so much is because during their creation, it supposedly was regular humans that turned them into the way that they are, thus giving them an inherent hatred towards the common man.  There are other examples of creatures similar to Melon Heads that can be seen in such movies as “The Hills Have Eyes” in which creatures that have been inbreeding live in the hills of a western state such as Arizona.  This could be a variation to the legend, but it could also be the writer’s interpretation of the creatures themselves.

Annotation: Moran, Mark and Mark Sceurman.  Weird U.S. – Your Travel Guide to America’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets.   New York.  Sterling            Publishing Company. 2004.  pp 60-63.


Ghost Story – Rhode Island

“At school there is this story that has been circulating through my school about this ghost that is on our campus.  Apparently, there is a chef that used to work at the Salve Regina but died mysteriously a few decades ago.  Ever since then many students and teachers have claimed to see the chef at many different times.  Usually they see him around the kitchen or cafeteria.  In most cases it is after the cafeteria is closed that people will hear things coming from the kitchen.  Then someone will see a tall chef’s hat and a fat man in an apron often holding a meat cleaver.  The chefs that work on campus nowadays don’t wear chef’s hats.  My teacher claimed to see the chef one time.  He said one night he was walking past this hall near the cafeteria where there are absolutely no windows or doors and at the very end of it there is a payphone.  As he was walking past the hall the payphone rang, so he walked all the way down to the other end of the hall to answer it.  When he picked the phone up, there was nothing but static, so he hung up.  Then the phone rang again so he picked it up and there was static again.  He was wondering what was happening and when he turned around and looked down the hall he saw the chef standing at the other end holding a meat cleaver in hand.  He immediately hung up the phone and when he turned around again the chef was gone.”

My friend Andrew told me this story when he first got to school last year.  Salve Regina University is located in Newport, Rhode Island and all of the dorms and classrooms, including the cafeteria, are in old 18th and 19th century mansions that were owned by immensely wealthy individuals.  The school itself houses an immense amount of ghost stories, with this one being only one of hundreds.  Andrew grew up in Connecticut and then chose to go to school in Newport, RI two years ago.  He said that he heard this story from his teacher his first semester he was at school which was the fall of 2006.  According to Andrew, it is a part of the culture at Salve Regina to ask about the history of the school and to ask older students and teachers about the ghost stories that they have either experienced or heard.

Andrew told me that his teacher strongly believed that he saw the chef’s ghost and that there have been a number of other sightings of the chef although Andrew has yet to see a ghost.  I don’t think that this takes away from the credibility of the story however.  Ghost stories have long been part of a rich tradition in New England, and there are some schools more than others that often have such lore associated with them.  The appearances of ghosts and the general notion of ghosts allude to the fact that a person must believe in some form of life after death.  Therefore, this questions a person’s beliefs.  Also because this story takes place in the real world and could be true, I would classify this ghost story as a legend.

Ghosts have been popularized in cultures for hundreds of years.  Examples can be taken from Mexico with the day of the dead festival and from Shakespeare’s plays that date back to the late 1500s.  In modern times, movies such as “Casper” have portrayed ghosts as friendly creatures while other movies such as “Ghostbusters” where the main characters are fighting off evil ghosts.  I do not believe that what this teacher saw was influenced at all by these modern concepts of ghosts, however I do believe that the culture of the school makes people keener to be on the lookout for such appearances.