USC Digital Folklore Archives / general
Folk Beliefs

Spitting on the Devil


“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.”


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.


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.



Abandoned Nunnery in Oklahoma


KM: “Apparently there’s this like abandoned nunnery out somewhere in Tulsa, and I had a couple of my friends who got there, obviously trespassing to this place. But it was like, I don’t know, but there were rumors that there were like tapes that were still there even though the place was like abandoned that like showed like really bad things I think that happened there. So they go out there at like night, and they say – there were like 6 of them I think, 4 or 6 or them, and they were like okay we’re going to split up and we’re going to search for these tapes. And so, the person who told me this, he and this other guy, they went up like upstairs, and they were like searching for stuff. But um, my other friend, he went in the basement and they actually found the tape. And when they like picked it up, the like lights flickered in the building. And so, they had to like get out of there and apparently the tape is supposed to be like super creepy and stuff and my friend was just like keeping it in his car for the longest time.”

MS: “Did you ever play the tape, to see what was on it?”

KM: “No I don’t think so – it was a VHS tape so I don’t know. I never really followed up. I’m pretty sure the tape is just in my friend’s car still.”

KM: “But for the longest time, I felt like I was haunted by the nuns after hearing this story because like weird stuff would happen with like my phone and I was like “the nuns are haunting me” so I was convinced… My Twitter AV, this is like stupid, but my Twitter AV, which is like your profile picture on Twitter, I would upload it and it would always just turn to black, just like a black picture and I could never like change it back, and I was like I’m really being haunted by these nuns for listening to this story. Because I think part of the legend was that once you hear the story, or once you know about the tapes, they would target you too so I just remember feeling distinctly uncomfortable knowing this.”



The informant is a Chinese-American college student from Tulsa, Oklahoma. This conversation was part of a discussion among a group of similarly aged people about their high school experiences growing up in various parts of America. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.



Even though this is not a first-person account of visiting this apparently haunted nunnery, it still provides us with information because this is how legends typically spread – the informant believes she was haunted by the nuns even though she never took a part in directing interacting with the legend herself. She may have experienced the same “haunting” things even if she hadn’t heard the legend but having heard it, she automatically used its mysterious nature as a way to justify inexplicable things in her life. Also interesting is how the mysterious nature of the tapes gives them their value and so even though they were taken from the original site, they were never actually played to verify the legend one way or the other. This may be an instance of the fear of the “other”. For the modern generation, VHS tapes are not something familiar and have this spooky quality because of that.




Urban Legend: The Children with the Black Eyes

I’ve lived in Texas for about a year now, and all the locals I work with have told me a lot about the mysterious events that are connected with the state.  The creepiest one I’ve heard is The Children with the Black Eyes.

In the nineties, a man was returning to his car after work when two kids knocked on his door asking for a ride.  He could tell the kids were odd in some way, and he became very anxious and scared.  He looked away from the kids for a second, and when he looked back, their eyes turned pitch black and they started screaming at him to let him in.

Obviously he drove away, and later he spread the word about the event.  Weirdly enough, other people who heard about his experience came forth and said that they and others have had similar encounters.


The informant is my sister.  After college, she moved to Texas for her work at FedEx.  Her colleagues told her about many folkloristic and supernatural legends about the state, but this one was the one she feared most.  She is not a fan of real supernatural encounters—she would rather watch fabricated stories on television—and was scared during the entire work day.  The knowledge is fairly fresh in her mind, having heard it less than a year ago, and when I confronted her in order to obtain interesting examples of folklore from her new home, this was the first one that came to mind.


In contrast to my sister, hearing about the supernatural, hauntings, and real-life ghost stories is both scary and intriguing.  Safe in my California residency, I have no need to fear these children, but I can empathize with the origin story and the man involved.  I think this legend is different from most others because it was not just the one man who encountered the children, but many people; this statement gives the legend more validity—I actually believe that instances like this did occur—and makes for a more enticing and interesting legend.














Tales /märchen


IN: Okay, so far away in a village in Africa, uhm there was a giant by the name of Abiyoyo. For some reason, he got angry and started rampaging, like towards the village of people. Until this little boy decided to take this guitar and start singing, “abiyoyo, abiyoyo, abiyoyo..” and all of the villagers joined in and it started to make him get happy. The giant started dancing, and he and the boy walked into the sunset singing the song.

JJ: Does abiyoyo mean anything? Or did it start to mean anything after?

IN: No, as far as I know it was just kind of arbitrary, like a cool sounding word. It could mean something I guess.

Context: During a slow work shift I asked the informant if he remembered any folktales from his childhood.

Background: The informant is s South-African American. This was a story his father used to always tell him before bed. It is one of the few ways that his family actively passed down their African heritage to him in the States, so this was a significant story to him growing up.

Analysis: In this tale, we see music as a healing tool and important instrument in society. Music is a huge piece in African culture, and this story undoubtedly expresses that. Music has the ability to calm and tranquilize even a beastly giant, and gives reason for little kids to learn instruments and develop and explain interest in music.


Tales /märchen

Sacred Owls in Hawaii

The informant is marked IN.

IN: There was this one myth about an owl that I kind of remember, like not exactly but I’ve heard it a couple times. So basically there was this kid, called Kapoi, who found some owl eggs, and he like, wanted to roast them to eat and stuff. And this all – by the way – kind of just relates back to how important owls are for Hawaiians. So like he’s about to cook these eggs and an owl comes down and tells him “hey, you can’t do that please give me my eggs” and the kid doesn’t really listen, but the owl asks again and the kid says “okay, come get them and they’re yours.” So the owl comes down and gets his eggs back, and he tells the kid to build a temple with an alter and everything and it ends up that on the same day, the king had set up a temple and he had already dedicated it, and basically just made up a rule on the spot that no one shall dedicate a temple on the same day as the king. So the king sends all these men to kill Kapoi, but the owls heard about this and they decide to intercept the kings men and attacked them all, just pecking and scratching and killing his men. So then like, the owls won, and like the king I guess acknowledged the God that Kapoi had dedicated the temple to, which was basically the owls, and since then owls have been seen as very divine, god-like birds and just show up a lot throughout Hawaiian sacred history and stuff. They just play a big role overall, in like, everyday life I guess and they have to be respected.

Context: I asked the informant during work if he had any Hawaiian folktales.

Background: The informant is a Hawaiian Japanese-American, who was raised hearing a lot of Hawaiian folklore around him. This is a story he heard less often but was an essential piece for understanding the importance of owls in Hawaiian legends.

Analysis: I thought that this was a really interesting piece because it gives the message that if you respect nature, nature will respect you. Treating animals kindly instead of stealing and roasting their eggs will lead to better karma and protection from those animals in the future. I also never knew that owls were prevalent in Hawaii so this surprised me.


Future Son-in-law and Poached Eggs

Context: The collector asked the informant (as MD) for some Shanghainese folklores. The informant is the mother of the collector.


MD: You know, when a couple in relationship want to make sure parents from each side agree with their marriage, they will visit the woman’s mother. When it is the first visit for the man, he should bring gifts, such as liquor or cakes or whatever, while the future mother-in-law is supposed to serve him a bowl of 水潽蛋 (Shanghainese in IPA: /sɻ̩ pú de/  Chinese Mandarin in Pinyin: /shuǐ pū dàn/  Literally: water boiled egg, specifically poached egg in Shanghainese), 水煮蛋 (Mandarin in Pinyin: /shuǐ zhǔ dàn/, literally: water boiled egg). The kind of water boiled egg that you break the shell first and then boil it. (The informant was emphasizing the difference between hard boiled eggs and poached eggs)

Collector: Yes, I got it. But why?

MD: I have no idea. It’s just a custom! If the woman’s mother does serve the man a poached egg, that means she recognizes the man as her future son-in-law.

Collector: Is there anything special with poached eggs? Aren’t they just daily matters?

MD: Well you know, life in the past wasn’t like now. Eggs weren’t something you could afford every day!

Collector: But you told me your family had hens when you were young… Okay, okay, I got it. Did Grandma serve Dad poached eggs when he first went to visit?

MD: She did.

Collector: Did she just give him the egg or she told him what that meant? Dad mustn’t know the custom. (The collector’s father is not from Shanghai)

MD: Well, she just served him the egg. Your dad is an outlander. He didn’t know.

Collector: Then did you tell dad what the egg meant?

MD: Yeah after the visit.

Collector: But wasn’t that meaningless for Grandma to do so? Because Dad couldn’t know what she implied.

MD: That doesn’t matter. It was the purpose and the feeling of the mother-in-law that mattered.

Collector: Alright. If CH (the collector’s elder sister) brings her boyfriend to you and you think he is a good man to marry, will you also serve him poached eggs?

MD: Yes, I will, if I like him.

Collector: Even if he is a foreigner?

MD: Yeah. That doesn’t matter.


Collector’s thought:

In the past, eggs were valuable food for ordinary people. Even if they had hens, they would probably rather sell eggs for money than consume eggs frequently. Thus, serving future son-in-law eggs is sharing something highly valued with that person, meaning that the man is viewed as a trustworthy husband and is welcomed as a new family member.

It is interesting that the informant values this custom and intends to actively carry it on even though she didn’t really know the background of the custom and in fact, the social context has already changed a lot, which to a certain extent reduces the special value of poached eggs and the meaning of the custom.

The custom might only be a practice in Shanghai, but it’s also possible that the custom is practiced in a larger region, for example, the Yangtze River region.

Folk Beliefs
Life cycle

Haunted Santa Fe Hotel

Haunted Santa Fe Hotel

The following informant is a 21 year-old student from Sherman Oaks, California, currently studying at the University of Southern California, but raised for a few years in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Here, they are describing a legend they heard of while living in Santa Fe; they will be identified as B, and I will be identified as U.

B: There’s this one hotel in Santa Fe, it’s kind of in the middle of town, too, but if you’re a bride, you’re not supposed to stay there, because once upon a time, there was a woman who was left at the altar at the hotel, like she was staying there, and her husband, just like, didn’t show up, and then, it was told she died of sorrow. And so, she haunts the hotel now. So, you’re not supposed to stay there because she’ll ruin your wedding.

U: Just for brides, or…

B: It’s just brides. Well, if you’re, like, getting married, you’re not supposed to stay at that hotel.


The informant is a friend of mine who studies in the same program. I was aware that they have lived in a few different locations while growing up, and was curious if they have carried any urban legends with them that they would be willing to share.

My Thoughts

Among the few ghost stories that I have been told for this collection, this one stands out, as there is a deterrent factor included. Whereas many stories are composed of a simple chronological plot, this one possesses a “don’t do this, or this will happen” quality. It offers a specific sort of identity to the hotel in question (I could not find a specific hotel name online).

However, I am sure this story has brought in many tourists; many of the haunted Santa Fe hotels I read about online have drinks served at the bar that are named after the ghost’s supposed name and other sorts of souvenirs. This gives the location and business a unique identity that I have no doubt brings in many willing customers, even engaged couples.


Folk Beliefs
Life cycle

The Haunting of the Lorenzo

Main Piece

JS: “Yeah, dude! The Lorenzo is haunted! You’ve never heard about this?”

Collector: “No! I guess I don’t know enough people who live there.”

JS: “The Lorenzo used to be a hospital, which was abandoned for a bunch of years before the developers bought out the land for the apartments. A bunch of people died in that hospital, so obviously some parts of a place that big have got to be haunted. They try to gloss over it, but the carpets in there still give it away. It looks like The Shining! People get lost in the hallways all the time, and never come back.”

Collector: [laughter] “Has this happened to people you know or is it just something that you’ve heard about?”

JS: [laughter] “No, it’s never happened to anyone I’ve known. It’s probably all just made up. You can never be too careful, though. The place still gives off the creepy vibes and I am not making up that it used to be a hospital…look it up!”


Buildings that have taken on lives beyond their original intention or original owners are often claimed as haunted places. The inevitability of death and pain in places like hospitals and prisons adds a very convincing layer to many that there are still souls who cannot escape the earth trapped in these locales. Many people are uncomfortable thinking about the harsh lives of those in the same spot as them, even if they did not know them directly. The legend is known to students of USC because of how many end up living at the Lorenzo after they lose their spots in student housing. To this very day, people consider ghosts as considerations when deciding where to live, which demonstrates how strong the belief in after life and spirits are in the US.

Folk Beliefs

Rock Hair Superstition

The following is from a 20-year-old USC student.  She is describing a superstition she was taught.  I will be represented by K and she will be represented by A.


K: So, tell me about some superstitions you have.

A: Uh, yeah, so… my… my grandma used to tell me, back in North Carolina, if it’s raining… with- when the sun is up, like it’s not cloudy and it’s raining- and you look under a rock, you’ll find the color of your future husband’s hair… It’s… true story.

K: So, what does this piece of folklore mean to you?
A: Uhm… to me it means that… uh, my husband’s going to have brown hair… and every day I look for him… Thanks Grandma!


This conversation took place in my living room with a group of people.  The informant brought up the superstition taught by her grandma and I asked her if I could record it for this project.  She agreed and we all listened to the story.

My Thoughts:

Like most superstitions, it is clear that this one is not necessarily accurate, but something fun to believe in.  The informant’s grandma told her about this when she was younger, probably trying to give her something to believe in and look forward to as a lot of adults do with kids these days.  We see this in a lot of Disney films with the idea of believing in a better future and looking forward to a happily ever after.  It is likely that this belief is meant as a happily ever after type.

Folk Beliefs

Fans and Heaters

The following is a superstition or belief of the informant based on stories from their parent.  I am represented by a K and the informant is represented by an S.


K: Alright, so go ahead and tell me about your superstition.

S: Uhm, uh, my mom used to always tell me that I wasn’t allowed to keep the heater or a fan on, uhm, like when I’m going to sleep. Uhm… and it was always like a weird thing ’cause I always get really warm at night, uhm, especially in Virginia, where I’m coming from.  And, uh, so like she was always saying like, uhm, that apparently, like the – the blades of- of- of a fan, could like… attack you… or like suck you in in the middle of the night. And she said that- she was always like- it’s dangerous!!! So, it’s just something that I think about a lot whenever I like leave my fan on in the summer- and I’m like – I hope I don’t die tonight! Sorry mom!


The informant is a 20-year-old sophomore at USC.  We were sitting in a room with a group of friends, going around and sharing traditions or superstitions we all had.  When we got to her, she mentioned this story.  She was sitting on a couch in a living room setting in the Village apartments.  We were all just talking and eating food.

My Thoughts:

This is definitely a belief told by the informant’s mother to keep her daughter safe.  While the informant’s mother could be scared of fans, she most likely told her daughter this belief in order to keep her as safe as possible because fans can definitely be dangerous.