USC Digital Folklore Archives / general
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

Active Angels

This friend of mine has always mentioned that his family is very Christian, while he himself is more secular. He believes in God, and prays regularly, however he is a bit skeptical in terms of miracles happening here on Earth. Having grown up in San Diego in close proximity to his grandparents, who are even more religious than his parents, he often shares stories from his childhood, many of which involve church or some other religious attribute. Though he attends Mass somewhat regularly here at USC, college has made him even more of a skeptic than before.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Is it okay, if this is like, religious? Alright so, it was like evening. It wasn’t dark, it was almost dark. That time between five and six pm. You know what I’m talking about. So I’m at Torrey Pines Cove. Er, no that’s not a thing. La Jolla Cove. But it’s near Torrey Pines, anyways so. I’m there, and I’m climbing on the cliffs. I started off on just little ones, but then I got to bigger ones, and it was sort of like, more dangerous. My mom was talking to my dad, and like, just, they were walking around and stuff. And they didn’t see that I had moved on to more dangerous areas. And, I am afraid of heights, I don’t know if you know about this. But I don’t like being up high ever. I can’t look down if I’m higher than like a story. A third floor freaks me out. So anyways, I’m at a cliff – I can’t remember how far it was, but when I was a kid it felt like really really really far. You know? Like a giant gap. So I look down and I’m like way high up. And I look down and am like, holy shit? How am I gonna get down? And I didn’t know. My mom saw me at this point, and she couldn’t climb that high up, she was freaking out. She wouldn’t climb that. She was like, ‘oh my God, he’s up there, you know, he’s gotta climb down or something’. I was just frozen, I was there the whole time, and then. This guy was at the top of the cliff, and went and like helped me down. Like, I don’t – he didn’t, okay. This is hard to envision, but he went and like walked down and helped guide me down the rock face. And then, like. And then he was like, ‘there you go’, and then walked away. And then my mom was like, ‘that was an angel. A guardian angel’. Because we didn’t see any guys up there, like – it didn’t look like. She didn’t recall anyone being up there, and he just showed up. And then got me down. And then left. And my mom was like, ‘that’s a guardian angel up there’.

“My grandmother used to tell me stories about what my guardian angels looked like. And it was really like, it was a way for me to bond with my grandmother on a deeper level. Sort of supernatural, like, are there really angels out there that are everyday people? She would make up the stories. She was like – this was like what guardian angels would do. Like if I had a big test coming up, she was like, ‘the guardian angel is watching. He’ll help you with the answers,’ or I don’t know what it was. Help you study – that’s more ethical. So, but yeah. She was a big believer in angels, like active angels. Not ones that were just up there. She was like, ‘nah, they’re out there. They’re helping people’. And I always thought that was just good Samaritans. People that were like, ‘yo, this kid’s on a cliff face. I need to help him out.’ You know? And we just didn’t see him. That’s what I think happened. But my mom has a different take that that was my guardian angel like stepping in. Like, ‘this kid’s about to die’.”

This story fascinates me, as I never really think of angels as walking among us. While I, myself, believe in a higher power with a sort of spiritual-hierarchy of subservient deities (aka God with His angels, a Creation God with Nature Spirits, something along those lines), I’ve never really pictured them as being physical incarnates that interact with us one-on-one. Though my friend claims to have interacted with one face to face, he still is a skeptic that it was, in fact, an angel. It beautifully illustrates the sharp generational divide in beliefs, even if those beliefs share a common root.

general

“I was just thinking about my experiences when I was a teenager in Brazil with a family of Lebanese immigrants who were Druze and had the belief of many paths to the mountaintop, but they also had a uh.. a spiritualist element. And after I’d been there several months they let me go to a family ceremony which was on a Sunday. One of the uncles would go into a trance and kind of channel spirits and try to get insight into some of the issues facing the family. So he would stand there and close his eyes, and appear to be communing with the spirits. And everybody would be quiet and sitting around, um, and then he would speak to them. But that was all in Arabic so I didn’t understand a word. Um.. But other than that, then they would say he’s asking about some problems we’re having with the business or this or that, and he would get some direction. They…they had these kind of sessions where one or more of them would kind of be in a sort of trance-like state. So I remember viewing that and thinking that was sort of interesting.”

 

“And they also believed in reincarnation. Very strongly. Cause my – the Brazilian father of the family I was with never talked about it, but his wife said as a boy growing up in Lebanon, uh, when he was a young boy he started remembering his death as another person. His life. And he kept remembering more and more about it. And he was a young guy and, uh, a middle aged man or something, and there was a feud going on with another family.  And every year he started to remember more about this past life.  And uh, one day he remembered going to the water and he was bending over, washing his face, and looking up in the water and seeing one of his enemies behind him swinging something down. And he remembered his own murder. And after that he never talked about it. But it was common knowledge in the family, when he was growing up, as a kid he remembered this other life. So they all, they all believed in reincarnation. But it was interesting because, I would never have imagined this serious businessman recounting past life experiences. But he was a boy. But there was some story of him going to the house of the person who had been killed when he was twelve years old. And he knew the family and he told the family. And he knew where things were hidden in a drawer and things like that. Yeah, cause he remembered from his.. from his past life. So, but – the family – I was going, ‘weren’t they amazed’? But when they were telling me this story – it was the old uncle Rashid who was telling me this – and he said, ‘oh no, it happens all the time in the Middle East, it’s no big deal’. Like it’s common. “

general

“Founder’s” Rock: An Onomastic

The Tiburon Open Space Committee -um-… it was founded for the sole purpose of preventing the 110-acre Martha Property from being developed. They wan’ it to be open space. When they actually founded the committee, what they did was the organizers trespassed on to the property and went to this large rock on the ridge. You said you’ve been there, you know how incredible that lot is.

So -um- they went up there and gave a toast and drank a bottle of champagne to y’know symbolically found the organization. The rock became known as Founder’s Rock and now people use that story to argue that the property can’t be developed in any way that would interfere with Founder’s Rock – an important Tiburon landmark (said sarcastically).

The history section on the website for the Tiburon Open Space Committee neither confirms nor denies the onomastic founding story. The photos on their website, however, are all taken from the Martha Property in a blatant admittance to trespassing. There’s no clear, irrefutable evidence of the truthfulness of the committee formation story told above, but the acknowledgement of trespassing on the property on their website certainly gives the story some weight.

 

This is just one instance of a misnaming being used to try to persuade public opinion. It reminds me of the beginning of the high fructose corn syrup downfall in public opinion. In a commercial paid for by the high fructose corn syrup producers union, they had people from all walks of life saying, “It’s just sugar,” repeatedly for a full minute advertisement. They wanted the American people to associate high fructose corn syrup, a chemical sweetener, with natural sugar. This is seemingly the same marketing tactic being employed by the Tiburon Open Space Committee.

 

Now, the large stone laying on the top of the Peninsula is adorned with a metal post, driven deep within it. It holds a large ‘No Trespassing’ sign. The symbolic breaking of Founder’s Rock may have an effect on the onomastic, but this is a folk location. There is no yelp page; it’s not listed on any tourist map. It is discovered via word of mouth, as does the name. Even with the literal symbol for the location name broken, it could prove more difficult to break the name.

 

I had never even heard this story until I was back at home a few weeks ago. It had always just been Founder’s Rock. I never questioned the name; that’s just what everyone called it – mainly because many people trespassed and went up there. It’s one of the greatest views on Tiburon Peninsula. On the Fourth of July, you can see 8 different fireworks shows if the weather permits. So, I’m not entirely surprised the name revolves around trespassing. I could nearly feel the Informant’s eyes rolling over the phone when he was talking about “Founder’s” Rock.

Customs
general
Legends
Life cycle
Musical
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

May you find Peace, The Eagle in the sky

Nationality: American
Primary Language: English
Other language(s):  Italian, a bit of Hebrew
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: California
Performance Date: 3-15-18

 

What it is: May you find Peace, Traditional Native American Burial Ceremony

The performance I witnessed was a traditional Native American Funeral Ceremony.

A few weeks after the Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara, California and the subsequent mud slide and after every missing person (except Jack Canton) was found, Jack’s best friend Cozmali and his family conducted a beautiful traditional Native American ceremony. The ceremony consisted of music and prayers. This ceremony is highly sacred and private and was not able to be video taped. Altogether (with testimonials included) the ceremony was approximately an hour and a half.

We were explained that the ceremony is about helping Jack find peace on his new journey as well as letting him know he is all on our thoughts. The ceremony however was a bit unusual as we did not have Jack’s body present; thus, certain aspects were left out or adapted to our situation. These objects were also involved: drums, feathers, ash, talking stick, and blankets. The Drums were used during the vocal portion of the ceremony (i.e. chants and songs). The feathers, of an Eagle, were used as a visual representation of Jack’s new journey. The ash was passed around, individuals would pinch some ash and then travelled to the water to “set Jack free”. This aspect was normal done with a mixture of a fires ash and a small bit of Jack’s possessions (or ashes), but since we have not found his body we used ashes from a fire. The talking stick was used so that we could all share stories and memories. Lastly, the blankets were wrapped around Jack’s mother and grandparents to represent the community they had supporting them. At the conclusion an Eagle flew over head, circling us, and we all broke out crying because we knew Jack was going to be ok.

Why they know it:  I personally witnessed the ceremony

When is it said: This specific ceremony is conducted after a death

Where did it come from: The Chumash

Why it’s said: To give the ones we lost peace and to help aid them on their journey

How they know it and what it means: Cozmali has been raised in this culture that dates back centuries and has been taught this process by witnessing it first hand and by his elders. He is not ready to lead the ceremony on his own; however, is very close to being able to do so. This is a cultural tradition that changes with the passing of time; all-the-while remaining very much the same.

Thoughts: Personally, witnessing this ceremony greatly lessoned the pain I was feeling about Jack’s loss. He was a friend of my brother and a positive member of my community. He created philanthropy groups and was an Eagle Scout. Because he was missing, I kept thinking he’d show up alive but after the ceremony, I believe it provided me with the closer I needed to move on and help spread his greatness. The ceremony was beautiful, all-the-while, deeply educationally. This tribe is a part of my home, native to Santa Barbara area; thus, provided me with cultural knowledge of my hometown. This was also a sign that Jack is still with us, as he was a huge advocate for knowledge.

Customs
Foodways
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A New Year’s Salad

Nationality: Russian/Ukrainian
Primary Language: Russian
Other language(s):  English
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: California
Performance Date: 4-1-18

 

 

What it is: Traditional Salad

“On new year’s eve, Russians traditionally put this salad on the table including potato, bologna or meat, egg, pickles, cucumber, boiled carrot, onion, mayonnaise (Russian) (sour cream can be replaced), canned peas, and salt. Always has to be there for New Year’s Eve, especially when hosting a New Year’s Eve party. I have been told this and it is a common belief among Russins: It is said that if you get drunk enough on New Year’s Eve one person (usually a man) will get drunk enough and pass out in the salad and its good luck for that person and everyone for a year.”

Why they know it:  She is Russian/Ukrainian and has eaten this dish many times.

When is it eaten: New Year’s Eve

Where did it come from: Russia/Ukraine

Why its eaten: This is a traditional dish and is often thought to give good luck to the person (and people at the party) if someone gets drunk enough and passes out in the salad.

How they know it and what it means: Valery has eaten the dish every New Year’s Eve and has seen her grandmother make it many times. Not only is it a traditional Russian/Ukrainian dish but this dish has also become part of her family’s traditions.

Thoughts: Through my investigations I have found that there is always a traditional dish, perhaps not a salad, but un every culture and every family. While I cannot relate to this specific dish, nor do I know what it tasks like, I can relate to the experience, the feelings you get when you make the dish and eat it with the ones you care about. This tradition definitely seems like fun, what’s better than good luck for everyone?

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Mushroom Circles

Nationality: Russian/Ukrainian
Primary Language: Russian
Other language(s):  English
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: California
Performance Date: 4-1-18

 

What it is: Fairy Circles

“I heard a story about fairy circles that since from a scientific perspective, the mushrooms grow in a circle because there used to be tree roots there. Since the tree is no longer there, that makes it a tree grave. Since humans are not part of nature, but fairies and spirits are, they are allowed into the gravesite and we are not. If humans go into the circle, the fairies get mad at the humans for interrupting their funeral ceremony and steal the people.”

Why they know it:  This was something that was once told to Valery that she has held on to ever since.

When is it said: This is not something that is told at a specific time or for a specific reason other than to help explain where ‘fairies’ have come from. This concept is something a lot of people believe in, in many different areas, she herself believes in fairies. The myth above is told in several different settings: normal conversation, after a class, during a movie (about fairies), etc.

Where did it come from: She is not entirely sure where this came from. This example has been told to many people. She heard it from a friend, who had heard it from a friend, who had heard it from their grandmother, and so on. So this has been passed around for years and across so many people.

Why it’s said: It’s said for context. There isn’t a specific reasoning behind it. It can also be used as a warning to be cautious around fairy circles.

How they know it and what it means: Valery knows the meaning from her friend but also from others who have told her similar to or the same thing. This, however, is not something she can say she knows with one-hundred percent certainty as she has not seen the fairies that live, party, exist in fairy circles.

Thoughts: Growing up I used to see these ‘fairy circles’ all over our backyard. I was always told to be careful around mushrooms so I never went to close; however, I never knew the background, to what I always thought was just mother nature. Now knowing this I can say that I too believe in these fairies and the graveyards of tree that were once there. I have always been interested in stories, myths, legends of things that are somewhat magical because I always believe the magic is what made it so beautiful. While I am not a fan of mushrooms, I can appreciate this story and have looked at grassy lands differently… seeking for the fairies.

Customs
Festival
general
Holidays

Intricate Eggs

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other language(s):  n/a

Age: 81

Occupation: n/a

Residence: California

Performance Date: 3-15-18

 

 

What it is: Painted Eggs

“My best friend, your mother’s Aunt Helene Balaban, perserved the Ukrainian tradition of painted eggshells. She explained it as: you would take the egg and use a tiny straight pin to put a hole on each side of the egg. Once the eggs have been pinned you gently blow the egg yolk out (through the hole) so that all was left was the shell, this makes sure that the egg would not rot. This step has to be done very very carefully so that the egg shell does not break. The outside is then painted in traditional Ukrainian colors and patterns. These are then presented as gifts (house warming gift, holiday gifts, birthday gifts, even the smallest events could be used to give out these beautiful objects). This is a very intricate process, because it was so easy to crake the shell but a very fun one all the same. After the eggs are painted, they are then varnished.”

Why they know it:  Valerie was give an egg by her best friend and asked about the background to them.

When is it done: These are done for any event. Traditionally, they are a holiday gift and given to friends, family, and neighbors.

Where did it come from: Ukraine

Why it’s done: Since the process is so intricate and time consuming, these eggs are done to represent the love the painter has for the recipient. While these are given at events like a house warming party (or even just as a gift), the recipient would know how much they are cared for because they can see how much time and effort went in to making these objects.

How they know it and what it means: Helene Balaban knows of this tradition from her mother, who knows of it from her mother, and so on. This has been passed down through generations. Valerie knows of this tradition because she received the beautifully painted egg and is very close with Helene who told her of the tradition.

Thoughts: I really wish that I have seen one of these eggs. While I have not met Helene Balaban, she is part of my family and thus I share her culture like she shares mine. Knowing that this is something that meant a great deal to her and subsequently my Grandmother makes me value this tradition, even though I haven’t witnessed it. I know hope to continue this tradition and not only show my love for my friends and family, but for my Great Aunt as well by continuing her traditions.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general
Legends
Myths
Narrative

The Shark

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other language(s):  

Age: 55

Occupation: Banker

Residence: California

Performance Date:-4-15- 18

 

 

What it is: The Shark

“One evening when we were at a traditional Hawaiian Luau, you would’ve been around seven, we met a very nice man. He was showing us how to catch fish with this massive net… throw it over one shoulder, a bit in your mouth, then toss it into the water. Anyway, we got talking and he shared with us a legend, one that he believed to be true, something he claimed to have witnessed. He told us: ‘One day my grandmother walked to this pier just outside of her house with a bucket of fish and be greeted by a shark. She ended up feeding the shark. The next day, sure enough the shark was back. Everyday, she would walk to this pier and feed the shark, telling me this is my ohana, this is my mana, when I asked her why she was feeding the shark. The last time we ever saw the shark was the day she died.’”

Why they know it:  Robert knows this legend because of the man who was working at the luau, who told him the story.

When is it said: This was conversed because he and Rob gained a deeper connection throughout the day. This was a symbol of trust between the two men.

Where did it come from: Maui, Hawaii

Why it’s said: This is not typically stated but when it is, it represents the Hawaiian’s strong ties to their ancestors and their appreciation for their island and all that live there.

How they know it and what it means: The man that was talking to Rob at the traditional luau had personally witnessed these events and talked to his grandmother about it.

Thoughts: I personally really like these types of legends. The ones that you read and think, oh they’re with they’re family now, or they’re in a better place. Having gone through a similar situation myself I understand that connection to something. While I am not sure if the shark was actually the same shark or if the events above were purely coincidence, I choose to believe that it was the same shark and it was her mana. Hawaiian culture is all about their connection to the land and to their ancestors and in doing so they have created, continued these beautiful traditions and legends.

general
Humor

Smart Pills

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other language(s):  

Age: 55

Occupation: Banker

Residence: California

Performance Date: 3-12-18

 

 

What it is: Smart Pills

“One day, when I was around seven years old, my grandfather had come over for dinner. He beckoned me to him and whispered in my ear, ‘have you ever heard of smart pills?’. I replied ‘no’ at which point he went on to explain, all-the-while, telling me that this was between us. So he explained that if I ever wanted to prank my friends I needed to do this. He said that I should go around our backyard a pick rabbit pellets (because they best resembled a pill). Once I had the pellets, I needed to put them in a medicine tube (the orange prescription bottles you get from your medicine).  Then he said ‘at school, or after school (probably after school when you are all playing), ask your friends if they wanted to be smarter. When they reply yes, hand out the pills, but stop them just before they put it in their mouths. Explain to them that it is actually a rabbit pellet and not safe to eat. When they ask why’d you do that? What was that for? etc. tell them ‘Hey. I did make you smarter…now you’ll think twice when asked if you want a smart pill.’”

Why they know it:  His grandfather told this to him and he has since passed it on to his kids.

When is it said: This is said when someone wants to prank their friends (of course they stop their friends from actually eating the ‘smart pills’). This is meant to be funny.

Where did it come from: Not known

Why its said: It is usually told to those who need a good prank

How they know it and what it means: Robert was told this by his grandfather

Thoughts: While I personally have never tried to trick my friends into taking rabbit pellets, I can imagine that this would be quite amusing. This prank seems quite mischievous which is part of the reason why I never partook in the prank; however, I believe that this is an excellent example of what folklore is. The sharing of knowledge across time. While this is not the best knowledge to spread it gives an insight into who the people who were taught and teach this legend.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Signs

The Veil

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other language(s):  French

Age: 52

Occupation: n/a

Residence: California

Performance Date: 3-25-18

 

What it is: Tea Leafs and the Veil

“Papa’s Grandmother had been taught how to read tea leaves from a very young age. She was what is not considered to be a gypsy but in Ireland they call them travelers. So she was an Irsish ‘gypsy’ and would read tea leafs. Even in her old age she would, after drinking tea (afternoon), would read the leaves. My grandfather would have to beg to read the leave, she wouldn’t always do it. She also was said to have second sight (see what would happen in the future). One of her sons had been born with a piece of the placenta attached to his face, and this was considered to be a great omen, so she preserved it. The say is ‘If you were lucky enough to be born with the veil’. When he was in World War II, papa remembers her becoming very concerned about him and sent him the placenta in the mail. He was in a great fierce battle after he had received his mother package and was the only one in his platoon to survive.”

Why they know it:  Meghan was told the story from her father about ‘the veil’ and her grandmother reading the tea leaves but never witnessed it herself.

When is it said: This is a family legend and is told at family events or when sharing family stories to others.

Where did it come from: Ireland

Why it’s said: Enjoyment and nostalgia

How they know it and what it means: This is something that has been passed on.

Thoughts: I have always believed in ‘witches’ and people being able to sense things others can’t. I’ve always believed I have been able to do so as well. So hearing about my Great Great Grandmother, who was able to do something similar makes me feel connected to my ancestors in a completely different way. As well as being connected to a ‘homeland’ I have never been too. Through these investigations I have learned a great deal about myself, my family, my culture, but I have also learned a great deal about the commonalities I have with people I have never met, peoples of lands I have never visited, etc. It makes me feel as if I have a whole new circle of connections and knowledge that I never knew existed.

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