USC Digital Folklore Archives / Myths
Myths
Narrative

American Alabama Tribe Myth: Fire

Informant: I have a myth I heard from an Alabama tribeswoman I used to work with. Want to hear that one?

Interviewer: Sure.

Informant: At the start of the world, Bear owned Fire. It kept him and his people warm and let them see even when it was dark. One day, Bear came to a forest. On the forest floor, he found tons of acorns. He set Fire at the edge of the forest, and began to gorge himself on the delicious acorns. As the acorns around him began to run out, the wandered deeper into the forest.

While Bear was eating, Fire was burning at the edge of the forest. Soon, though, Fire had burned up nearly all of its wood. It began to shout “Feed me! Feed me!” to Bear, but Bear was too far away.

Man, however, was not far away, so he, hearing Fire’s cries, wandered over. Man hadn’t seen Fire before, so he asked it what he could feed it to help out. Fire explained that it ate wood, so Man picked up a stick and fed fire. Then he grabbed another, and another, until Fire’s hunger had been quenched. Man, meanwhile, warmed himself by the Fire. He sat nearby, feeding it wood and enjoying its warmth and colors.

After a while, Bear returned to Fire, but Fire was angry at Bear for abandoning him. Fire blazed brighter and brighter until it was blinding to Bear, and told Bear to leave it alone. Fire’s heat scared Bear away, and Bear could not get close enough to carry Fire back with him. Man and Fire were left alone, and that is how Fire came into the possession of Man.

Context: My informant is an eighty year old woman from a very scientifically/factually inclined Midwestern family. This performance was done over Facetime with my informant, since she lives in Seattle. Otherwise, however, it resembled a classic storytelling situation.

Background: My informant heard this story from one of her coworkers while working at a company in Alabama. It stayed with her because she enjoyed how well the story personified the wildness of Fire, but also thought its dependence on other beings for “food” made a lot of sense. Furthermore, the fact that Fire had not been found by Man, but rather had been inherited by a member of the natural world also stuck with her.

Analysis: Personally, I thought the story was great. It shares many similarities with myths I’ve heard from my own home region in the Pacific Northwest, primarily through its use of animals as characters and its personification of elements such as fire. It also demonstrates a really interesting progression where an important facet of our own life – in this case Fire – is not discovered by the ingenuity of mankind alone. Rather, mankind receives Fire from nature, as if we were successors of animals and part of the natural world, rather than detached from it.

Myths

Chinese Autumn Story

Main Piece: “ So there’s a story that’s called the Chinese Autumn Story. Basically, a really long time ago in China there were about ten suns in the sky. So, obviously because there were ten suns it was pretty hot and there was a drought. People were running out of water to drink and the crops in the rice fields were withering and in China rice is pretty important. But, a famous archer, his name was Hòu yì, was asked to shoot down 9 of the suns in the sky.  He did it successfully and was rewarded a “pill of the immortality.” Hòu yì went home and gave this pill to his wife, Cháng’é to keep safe. But, a visitor of the archer’s heard about this pill and wanted to steal it from his wife. As the visitor was about to steal the pill from her, the archer’s wife Cháng é swallowed it. After she took the pill she felt super light. Then she started to float and she flew all the way to the moon. When Cháng é got to the moon she coughed up the pill and the pill became a rabbit.  The rabbit was the only companion Cháng é (the Moon Fairy) had on the moon and is named the “Jade Rabbit.””

Background Information: The informant learned this story from his parents who were born and raised in Hong Kong, China. This story talks about how the Autumn festival is what it is today. The festival is time to enjoy rice and wheat with food offerings made in honor of the moon. It is still an occasion for outdoor reunions among friends and relatives to eat mooncakes and watch the moon, a symbol of harmony and unity. The informant describes the event as a massive gathering of friends and family.

Context: In a coffee shop in Los Angeles

Thoughts: The moon in this story seems to be symbolic for women as well. Moons are usually telling in that they correlate with a menstration cycle, so this moon story/goddess might be symbolic of that. It is also interesting that during the festival people eat mooncakes, which again is related to the idea of the moon and how this is important for females. In this story, the wife does not get punished for swallowing the pill which is different from other stories like Adam and Eve where Eve gets into a lot of trouble for trying the apple. This might suggest a difference in culture and also more high regards for women in Chinese culture.

For another version of this story see the book “Mooncakes” by Loretta Seto

Myths

Kuldhara

Main Piece: “So my mom said when she was a kid, she never use to go to Kuldhara, a abandoned town in India because it was haunted. She told me a story that there use to be, Salim Singh, then minister of state, who fell in love with a pretty girl of the village chief. However, Salim was super irritating so he threatened to steal the villagers money if they didn’t get him married to her. The chief of the village felt like Salim wasn’t the right man for his daughter and saw his request as ludicrous along with those of the nearby 83 villagers. So, they decided to abandon their village of Kuldhara. My mom said people also say that the villagers cursed the village that no one could ever inhabit the land.”

Background Information: The informant learned about this through his mom who lived in India until she was ten years old. The informant describes this story as “freaking him out” when he was young. This story also taught the informant that it is never good to make demands and instead it is always better to negotiate.

Context: In a restaurant in San Diego

Thoughts: This is an interesting type of horror/ghost story, because it does not have traditional elements like a ghost or “evil spirit”. Instead, the village is deserted and the reason why has to do with marriage and asking a girl to get married. It seems like the elements of tradition especially when it comes to marriage are important in the Indian culture, since Salim did not ask the girl to be his wife in a proper way.

 

 

Myths

Dragon Boat

Main Piece: “Once upon a time, there was once a poet called Qu Yuan who lived in China. When the kingdom was about to be attacked, the king asked Qu for his advice. Qu gave some pretty honest, so the King didn’t like him and then banished him. When the poet returned, he found that the warring state had taken over his state. He drowned himself in the river on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar year because he was so depressed.The people who lived in the area there tried to stop the fishes from devouring his body by throwing rice into the river. Then they started sailing their boats to search for Qu.”

Background Information: The informant learned this story from his parents who were born and raised in Hong Kong, China. The informant describes this story as being a part of many Chinese festival’s, in particular the boat festival. The informant says that looking for Qu is marked by the Dragon Boat Festival a great Chinese festival, like the Chinese New Year.

Context: In a coffee shop in Los Angeles

Thoughts: After doing some research on a dragon boat, it is a slender, long wooden boat shaped like a dragon; with a dragon’s head in front and tail at the back. Also, teams cross the river in a race with dragon boats. It is interesting that these boats still have cultural significance despite its original use of finding Qu’s body. Even people throw parcels of sticky rice into the river and bang drums in commemoration of the hero poet during the Dragon Boat Festival.

Myths

Anansi

Main Piece: “My mom use to tell me this story every night. So, there once lived a spider named Anansi. And his wife was a pretty good cook. But Anansi loved to taste food that other people in his village made for themselves and for their families because he was kinda greedy.One day, he stopped by Rabbit’s house who was his best friend. He wanted the rabbit’s food but he knew if he would stay he would have to do jobs that the rabbit would do. So Anansi said he would spin a web and told the Rabbit that when he was done to tug on the web so Anansi would know. Anansi made 8 different webs cause he could smell all the food like a dog in the village from other animals and made the same deal with them as well. But all the animals finished making their food at the same time so they all tugged on Anansi’s legs so hard that they became thin and he wasn’t able to move so he was salty.  So, to this day, Anansi the Spider has eight very thin legs and he never got any food that day at all.

Background Information: The informant, who has an African American background learned this story through his mom who would tell it to him every night. The informant said that the main lesson he learned from this story was to always be humble and not ask for more than you can’t take because it will hurt you in the long run. The informant says that this is a lesson he takes with him for the rest of his life.

Context: In the informant’s house

Thoughts: The Anansi stories are typical in African culture and is trickster who tricks other characters into getting what he wants which is evident from the story the informant said. It is interesting that this story is still alive in America with people who don’t have direct African heritage (I learned this story in kindergarden).

 

Myths

The Myth of Persephone

The following was recorded from a conversation I had with a friend marked EAL. I am marked CS. She shared with me a religious myth she grew up learning in school.

 

CS: “So how did you learn this myth?”

EAL: “I was really into Greek mythology as a kid and my mom bought me like a big book of Greek mythologies and we’d read them together as bedtime stories when I was really young.”

CS: “Can you tell me the story?”

EAL: “So basically Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, the god of harvest. She was very carefree, beautiful, and like vibrant. And so Hades, who is the God of the underworld, who is like dark and depressing, saw her and said he wanted her to be his wife. So she was playing in the field and his chariot comes up out of the ground and he abducts her and takes her to the underworld. And then because she was in the underworld and Demeter was so upset, winter came because she was heartbroken about the abduction of her daughter. And while Persephone was in the underworld she ate six seeds so like she has to stay in the underworld since she ate the food of the dead for six months, so that kind of explains the seasons. So the summer she can be with Demeter and its like the harvest season, and then the winter she has to be with Hades and that’s why it’s winter.”

CS: “Did you ever hear varied versions of this myth?”

EAL: “Yeah I’ve heard it before, maybe without the season aspect, so I think there’s definitely variations that leave that out. In others they’re married, but in the version I’ve read she doesn’t love him at all and is just kind of stuck with him.

 

Background:

The participant is a freshman at the University of Southern California and was raised in Chicago, Illinois with a strong Christian religious background. Her mom introduced her to mythology, mostly Greek and Egyptian, at a very young age.

Context:

An in person conversation recorded while walking to an event.

 

Analysis:

I found this myth really captivating because I also used to love Greek mythology and was an avid reader of myths such as this one. I hadn’t heard this version before in regards to how that is where seasons originate. I believe when I used to read Greek mythology it was from a children’s book so it makes sense why details such as that would be left out. It is interesting to see how folk myths, even when tied to religion, still have variations from one to the next.

 

Myths

Egyptian Myth

The following was recorded from a conversation I had with a friend marked EAL. I am marked CS. She shared with me a religious myth she grew up learning in school.

 

EAL: “So basically like this is one of the Egyptian myths out there and one of the most influential. So Osiris he was like a god and the king of Egypt. And his…um, brother Set, who is the god of chaos basically, imprisons him in a sarcophagus and so like Set takes the throne. And…um, Osiris’ wife Isis still has their son whose name his Horus. And basically she like protects him because he’s vulnerable or whatever. And once Horus grows up to where he’s strong enough, he fights Set and tries to take the throne back for his family and resurrect Osiris.

CS: “Does he do it?”

EAL: “Yeah so he defeats Set and Osiris becomes the king of the afterlife and restores ma’t (the order of the universe).”

CS: “How did you learn this story?”

EAL: “I read a book called the Red Pyramid Chronicles. And I also learned a lot of it through my art history class because it features a lot of Egyptian art.”

 

Background:

The participant is a freshman at the University of Southern California and was raised in Chicago, Illinois with a strong Christian religious background. Her mom introduced her to mythology, mostly Greek and Egyptian, at a very young age.

Context:

An in person conversation that was recorded while walking to an event.

 

Analysis:

I found this myth to be interesting because she has learned the story in two completely different facets of knowledge: a young adult series and an art history class. The idea that both referenced this Egyptian myth at some point in time really reflects the idea that folklore travels into all fields and this is an agreeable reason why it is always subject to variation.

Myths
Narrative

The Anunnaki: A Myth

Hrmm, I mea- I’m not sure you wanna use this.  Alotta people have ridiculed Sitchin’s work and if you submit this, people will probably think that your Mom’s a nutcase (laughs).

 Okay so here goes: The Anunnaki are the (quote) “ones who came from heaven.”  They’re told of in the Sumerian texts and the story goes, at lease according to Sitchin in his Earth Chronicle books – which’s been wildly panned by all the scholars – is that the Anunnaki were extra-terrestrials who came to the Earth about five-hundred-thousand years ago to mine for gold. They uhh that they needed the gold to replenish their atmosphere on their planet called Niburu.

 So because Nibiru takes thirty-two-hundred years to circle the sun, they lived incredibly long lives. The miners – the Anunnaki – got restless and wanted help with their work, so the Anunnaki used their scientific expertise and created the Adamu – that’s Adam in the Bible – by mixing their DNA with the native creatures already existing on the planet. I always found it interesting that this story is probably the basis for the Adam and Eve story in the Bible. 

The Informant has always been interested in unconventional explanations for nearly everything. The disclaimer above is genuine, her interest does not entail belief. She believes stories can be valuable inherently, with truth underlying them playing a lesser importance (a natural folklorist!). I’m almost certain she first learned of the Anunnaki for the first time on the show Ancient Aliens. It piqued her interest and she began reading Zecharia Sitchin.

According to Sumerian mythology, the Anunnaki are descendants of the sky-god, An. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, there are contradicting accounts of the Anunnaki, including the number of gods or even their function. Perhaps there were rivaling religious factions even in 2144 BC.

The mythology is written in stone, literally, but the academic world has widely rejected Stitchin’s creationist myth of the Anunnaki as an alien species responsible for creating homo erectus as a slave race to mine for gold. He has been accused of misrepresenting the Sumerian texts and mistranslating Sumerian to fit his claims.

Although this myth turned creationist myth is strange, oddity is a characteristic of mythology. The truthfulness of sacred myth, by definition, is questionable. Stitchin’s work is a good story and surely an interesting premise, but nonetheless a blatant exaggeration of the surely sacred to the Sumerian people in Mesopotamia.

Myths
Narrative

Origin of the Elephant Head: Mythology

So there’s this God named Shiva and his wife and they were married – obviously, since wife (laughs) – so apparently his wife would always take showers in the middle of the day and then her husband Shiva, the God, would walk in and she hated that because she felt as though it was very disrespectful and so she decided one day to create a protector -um- that was gonna be her Son.

 So she basically built him up out of I can’t remember what, but I… and this boy was really strong and, like, the husband got very upset because the kid wouldn’t let him into his own home when he wanted and the kid just wouldn’t let him in so one day he decided, fine! I’m gonna have to be the one to kill this kid and get rid of him and so he ended up slicing off his head and then his wife, the mom of the child, got super upset. So the only fix was basically… the way she fixed it was getting an elephant head stuck on the kids head and that’s how Ganesha was formed.

The Informant, my housemate, is of Indian descent, but was born and raised in the United States. She learned this Hindu myth along with many other Hindu mythologies through her parents and when she was visiting her grandparents in India. To her, it’s just a story. She doesn’t follow the Hindu religion or believe in the sacred myths.

The sounds like a brief summary of the Ganesha origin story, but with one discrepancy. In the Hindu canon, Shiva is angry because Ganesha won’t allow him into the bathroom while his wife is showering. He uses his divine powers to kill him right there and then.

I’ve always been interested in Hindu mythology because of the dramatic and vibrant origin stories for the Gods. Even for someone who isn’t Hindu, the mythology is a fun read and has interesting ways to impart wisdom.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Myths
Narrative

Ohana

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other language(s): French, a bit of Hebrew

Age: 18

Occupation: Student

Residence: California

Performance Date: 3-20-18

 

What it is: Our Mana-ray Mana (Ohana)

“It was an ordinary day during our summer vacation on the Hawaiian Island, Maui. My sister and I decided to go for a swim in the ocean with our Aunt and cousins, we were all in inner tubes. All of the sudden we started hearing ‘SHARK! SHARK! Come back in!’ from a man on the beach. My sister and I looked back and saw three black fins pop out of the waves. My sister grabs my arm and we kick ferociously back to show, losing the inner tube on the way in. I was perfectly fine but my sister was freaking out. So our parents had our friend, John (who was a native Hawaiian), come over and explain the Hawaiian legends of experiences with wildlife on the Island. By the time he came over, we had realized they were mana-ray (completely harmless) not sharks. None-the-less, John went on to explain that in the Hawaiian culture an experience lie this is actually very rare and special. He said to not be scared of the wildlife, that the mana-rays were our mana (family spirits) and that we were blessed to be surrounded by so many.”

Why they know it:  This was something Amanda and I personally witnessed years ago and were told about the mana and the legend behind them.

When is it said: The legend of the mana is something that is told often. It is told to those who were blessed with their presence and just as a part of the Hawaiian culture as a whole. There is not one specific event or time period that makes the mana a topic of conversation.

Where did it come from: Hawaiian, Polynesia

Why it’s said: Often, the legend of the mana is said when an experience like the one above has occurred. It is also, however, told to those who seek to gain more knowledge about the Hawaiian culture. To be visited by your mana is a great sign of luck and a great blessing.

How they know it and what it means: John knows this knowledge because of his life on the island, the fact that he is native Hawaiian, and ultimately his cultures great incorporation of their myths, legends, and traditions. Amanda and I now know this knowledge, not only because of our lives on Maui, but because of John who is our Ohana.

Thoughts: I was the girl freaking out in the story above, and well, I was terrified. However, after John told us of the mana that surrounds us and that this is a blessing and a sign of good luck, my fear lessened. I didn’t exactly get back in the water the next day but I learned to love my Mana and I know seek for them everywhere. Mana means spirits, which is thought to be the spirits of your ancestors and they help guide you through life’s greatest (and not so great) adventures. While the experience was terrifying at the time it has made me feel more connected to the island that I love and to my ancestors.

[geolocation]