USC Digital Folklore Archives / Myths
Myths

The Banshees

My informant is a 23 year old student who is heavily interested in mythology and myths of other cultures.

“So another tidbit of Irish folklore, uh, one of their big spirit-type things, is, you’ve probably heard of this before, the Banshee, right. Um and, so banshees aren’t malevolent spirits really. Um, they’re considered bad luck though because you hear their screams, like the banshee screams, because it’s a herald for death. So if death is on its way, then you start hearing the banshee scream and that’s why they’re… kind of have that ill-omen attached to them. But they themselves, the banshees, they’re not malevolent. They’re usually, like um, incestual… kind of things. So like, um, there are stories where they help out. There’s also stories where they do like, uh, they do harm. But they’re not like you know, quid pro quo malevolent. It’s just, it depends on the banshee I guess. So yeah, they’re heralds of death ‘cause that’s when they do the famous banshee scream. Banshees are one of the big things in Irish mythology that’s carried over to modern um, video games and pop culture and everything. If you haven’t heard of a banshee before outside of  like an Irish movie, it’d be kind of surprising because it’s so iconic. Like um, they’re a big thing in World of Warcraft, for instance, and other, um, other fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons has banshees also and so on and so forth.”

In his own words, the informant explains why this mythology is important to him: “My knowledge of Irish folklore is important because although I’m not mainly ethnically Irish, I am partly. Ireland also has one of the most unique european mythologies due to their relative isolation.”

He learned this myth through research of his own volition.

Analysis:

My informant uses this mythology to connect himself to the culture he partly grew up in. His grandmother is completely Irish and tried to impart certain traditions and my informant and his relatives. He uses this folklore to further connect back to his ethnicity and he is heavily intrigued by mythologies of all kinds.

 

For more information on this myth, click here.

 

Myths
Narrative

The Headless Mule

“My mother’s Brazilian, so when I was growing up she would tell me the Brazilian folklore story of the headless mule.  The story goes that a sinful woman was cursed so that she was transformed into this headless mule that could spit fire out of its stump.  So every Thursday night the mule would run around in the dark spitting fire everywhere it went, and, if you happened to come across it, it could turn you into a headless mule, too.  But I think the contingency was that it could only turn you into a headless mule too if you had committed the same sin as the original headless mule, something like infidelity or something, I’m not sure.”

ANALYSIS:

This folk myth is super interesting because of how many different variations there are of it.  Nothing the informant said is inherently incorrect, it’s just that this is merely one version of the myth, and there are many others that are equally valid.  Additionally, the authenticity and the heritage behind this myth really fascinates me, as it’s a traditional Brazilian myth, and the informant is familiar with the myth because of his mother’s Brazilian background.  The myth connects the informant to his heritage, which is something I really appreciate in folklore.

For another version of this riddle, see the Volkswagen commercial titled “The Legend of the Headless Mule”.

Myths
Narrative

College Finals Myth

Common myths that become quite popular around midterms and finals are ones about how to get an easy A in a class or just passing the final. The one that I come across the most is how to get an A in the class without taking the final. The way to achieve this is to experience a great personal loss about a week before finals. The exact details vary from active bearer to active bearer. My friend Adam told me that if someone in the class dies during the final that the whole class is rumored to receive A’s. My friend Sara told me that as long as a close family member, a brother, sister, or parent, dies within a week or two of the final that the student doesn’t have to take the final and receives an A all of their classes. My sister informed me that if the student has a personal trauma such as a horrible car accident or medical emergency usually within a few days of the final that the student can then become exempt from the final exam and receive an A in the class. My friend, Sara, is a computer science major with a game development emphasis. As part of the computer science community she collects and forwards a myriad of folklore specific to this unique group. Computer science folklore is unique and reflects the beliefs and the culture of the group. Per my informant, as well as personal experience, computer science majors have a unique sense of humor that develops from the difficult coursework, the long hours spent on the computer coding, and the group dynamic required to get through the major. This humor is often expressed through memes and jokes only members of this group can understand and appreciate. My friend, Adam, is a computer science and business administration major with a cybersecurity minor. As part of the computer science community he collects and forwards a myriad of folklore specific to this unique group. Computer science folklore is unique and reflects the beliefs and the culture of the group. Per my informant, as well as personal experience, computer science majors have a unique sense of humor that develops from the difficult coursework, the long hours spent on the computer coding, and the group dynamic required to get through the major. This humor is often expressed through memes and jokes only members of this group can understand and appreciate. My sister is a political science and economics major. She plays water polo and is a member of many “fandoms”. A “fandom” is a group of people who follow, generally, a television show or a novel. Some of the fandoms that she belongs to follow shows such as Supernatural, Doctor Who, and Naval Criminal Investigative Service(NCIS). The group develops terminology that is only understood by other members of the group. For example, many fandoms “ship” certain characters. This means that the members of the fandom or just fans of the show want two characters to become a couple.

Whether or not this actually happens depends on a myriad of factors such as the student’s grade in the class before the misfortune or the student’s relationship with the professor. One of my professors told our class that he had a student miss the final exam due to a medical emergency. The student made proper arrangements to make up the exam. However, the professor looked at the student’s grades and calculated what the student needed on the final to receive an A in the class. As it turned out the student needed to fail the final in order to not receive an A in the class. Since the professor deemed this highly unlikely he allowed the student to skip the final and gave the student an A.

My friends and I often joke about this myth right around finals time. Usually as we get ready to take the final one person in the group will ask “So who is gonna take one for the team and die during the final so that the rest of us can get an A?” Last finals season I became the “chosen one”. I volunteered since I was already really sick throughout finals. We have yet to actually test the myth to find out whether or not it is actually true.

Myths
Narrative

Story of the Stars

Matt is an 18 year old Freshman at USC who grew up in northern California. His parents are from Greece and were born there and then moved to the United States. He said when he was younger one of his favorite things to do was look at the stars and find constellations. One day his parents told him a story as follows:

So like, lemme think, essentially, there is like no humans, and uh, all of the animals used to live in harmony, and then they were being mean to each other, and mother nature was like, “screw you guys I’m gonna put a blanket over the world”, and mother nature put a blanket over the worlds and all the animals were like “what the frick man I want to hang out with the sun,” and the animals kept trying to get the blanket off, and mother nature wouldn’t take it off, frogs tried to jump to pull it off, no luck, giraffes reached their necks as high as they could but still couldn’t reach it, birds tried to fly up there and they poked holes in it and that didn’t do anything except create little holes of light, and then the animals just decided to just get along, and then mother nature said “ok I’ll take the blanket off for half of each day,” and the holes that the birds made are the stars.”

Matt said he vaguely remembered the story, because it was one of his favorites as a kid growing up because of his obsession with stars. Matt said this story stuck with him and he even bought a telescope afterwards to see if he could see the little holes that the birds made. I had never heard this story before, and I think it is unique. Matt said his parents learned it in Greece when they were children, but I personally do not see any Greek elements of it. Matt also isn’t the best storyteller in my opinion.

Myths
Narrative

Story of the British flag and Saint George and his Dragon

Michael is a 23 year old from London, England. Michael grew up In London with an American mom and a British father. He said a lot mainly translated from England to here, except for a few stories that are told there that do not get told here. One he spoke of was the story of Saint George and his dragon, and the correlation it had to the British flag.

“He slayed dragons, and he’s the reason, the cross of Saint George is the English flag”

Michael said that he did not know much of the story, except for the fact that the cross on the English flag, the red cross, was Saint George’s cross. He said that everyone learned this when they were young and began to admire the British flag more than he did before. I personally did not know the significance of all of the crosses on their flag, and while he said that they do also represent different regions in London, that this was the defining factor behind the red cross in the middle. I like this brief backstory behind their flag.

Game
Myths

Slenderman

My informant is a good friend that loves ghost stories.

Informant:

My favorite ghost story is definitely about the Slenderman.

It is believed that Slenderman has been around for many centuries as an urban legend. The Slenderman usually is seen to be hanging around young children and is extremely tall, standing maybe around like 8 to 10 feet. He is supposed to have 2 dominant hands and many tentacles that act like more hands that can retract and grow to his bidding. He is like a creeper that hangs around little children and ‘disciplines’ the naughty and alone children. Although he is an urban legend, from the version I heard, he walks around in a black suit with no face and lures children in suburban areas into forests. He is not scared of being seen in broad daylight and there are even some pictures on the internet that show his existence.

I know about this urban legend and have actually played an authored literature of this urban legend as a video game. It was made about 5 years ago and stays somewhat true to the urban legend. You play as a man looking for his lost child that was taken away. Your only clues are these 8 pages around this area which you cannot leave because you are fenced in. At the same time, you will be chased down by the Slenderman.With only a flashlight you have to find the whereabouts of your lost kid, if you see the Slenderman you only have one option, and that is to run the hell away. It is interesting how the game takes a German urban legend and makes it into a game.

Legends
Myths
Narrative

La Leyenda de la Llorona

Informant: Carlota Rodriguez-Benito. 20 years old. Spanish Heritage, born in Miami, lived in Mexico. USC student.

Informant: “There is this very famous legend in Mexico called ‘La Leyenda de la Llorona.’ From what I can recall it goes like this. There was once this very beautiful woman. The most handsome guy fell in love with her and they had three beautiful children. Their life was perfect until one day he stopped coming home. He would only return at times to visit the children and paid no attention to her. One day, while the children were sleeping, she went to town to look for him. There, she saw him with another woman. She followed them for a long time and then… they kissed. She ran back home, woke up the children, and took them out on a picnic near a river. She got in the water and told the children to follow. She carried the children in her arms and told them everything would be alright. She held them strongly and sang them a lullaby. With tears in her eyes, she suddenly sank them in the water. The children screamed..…MAMÁ AYUDA (MOM HELP!)…..but she wouldn’t let go. The children stopped moving and she carried them out. It was that moment when she realized what she had done. She started crying and screamed…AYYY MIIISSS HIJOOOOSSS(OH MY CHILDREN)…. and tried to bring them back to life. She couldn’t live with what she had done and killed herself. Since then, she roams around at night crying for her children. If a child is awake and hears her cry, she steals him or her thinking it is her own. After taking the child and realizing it is not hers, she drowns him or her with grief!”

Collector: “When did you first hear this legend?”

Informant: “So I moved to Mexico in 10th grade. I don’t know exactly how I learned about the legend but if I can recall, it was around Halloween time. I was talking to a classmate and she asked me what I was gonna be. I told her I wanted to dress up as ‘La Katrina.’ She then told me she planned on being ‘La Llorona.’ “Excuse Me?” I asked her.  “What is La Llorona??” It was then that I learned the story and was immediately captivated. As I stayed in Mexico longer, I eventually learned that La Llorona is a legend that everyone knows. It is really part of the Mexican culture.

Thoughts: La Leyenda de la Llorona is really famous in Mexico. Interestingly, there are so many variations of the story. One version is that the woman killed the children because the husband paid more attention to them than to her. She hated the children and hoped that after killing them she would have him all to herself. Something that really surprised me is the intermix between La Llorona and La Malinche. Somehow, I had only heard about la Llorona and did not know about its correlation to la Malinche until I took this class. This story would spook me as a child and it would keep me from walking by myself at night. I think this is maybe because her story is everywhere in Mexico. The media also portrays la Llorona and there was even a ride that told her story at six flags called “La Mansion de la Llorona” – “The Weeping Woman’s Mansion.”

Interesting history of the legend: “http://www.lallorona.com/1legend.html”

For another version please see:  http://www.literacynet.org/lp/hperspectives/llorona.html

general
Myths
Narrative

The Sun and the Moon

The 22-year-old informant was born in South Korea and moved to the U.S. at a very young age. She chose to share this story because they are commonly told in Korean culture.

“There’s this tiger and he sees this brother and sister, and he’s like ‘Can I please have some food?’ and they give him rice cakes, and he tries them, but doesn’t like them, so he starts chasing the brother and sister to eat them, which is messed up! So the children climb up a tree and the tiger’s like, ‘How did you get up there?’ and the brother’s like, ‘We used oil to climb up the tree,’ so the tiger rubs oil on his paws and tries to climb up the tree, but then he slides down. And then the sister’s like “Ha ha!” so then the tiger takes an axe and chops the tree down, so they get chased again. So they’re running and they start to pray to God and they’re like ‘Hey God, please let us live and bring down a rope that we can climb up.’ So two ropes fall in front of them. Then the tiger comes and is like, ‘Can I also have a rope, God?’ So then God brings down a rope, except it’s a rotten rope, so he starts to climb it and he falls and dies. So the brother and sister keep climbing and going up the rope and they become the sun and the moon.”

 

This is an origin story of the sun and the moon, but the story also serves a moral, which is essentially that good things come to those who are good. Basically– you get what you deserve.

general
Myths

Aswang

The 21-year-old informant was born in the Philippines, but moved to the U.S. at the age of 9. As ghosts and other mythical creatures play a large role in Filipino culture, the informant recounts personal stories and myths that she encountered during her time in the Philippines.

Informant: “I remember hearing about this when I was little… It’s one of the most common Filipino monsters. They’re shape-shifters who are human by day, and then at night, turn into a bat.

Collector: “What’s it called?”

I: “Aswang. A-s-w-a-n-g. Uhm, what I’ve heard about them is they like to go to pregnant womens’ homes, like right on top of where their room is, and just like, eat their child from there.”

C: “Do they turn into a bat when they do it?”

I: “Yeah they turn into a bat. It’s like half-woman, half-bat, and they go after babies.”

Folk Beliefs
general
Myths

Duwende

The 21-year-old informant was born in the Philippines, but moved to the U.S. (Hawaii) at the age of 9. As ghosts and other mythical creatures play a large role in Filipino culture, the informant recounts personal stories and myths that she encountered during her time in the Philippines.

Informant: “So there’s this thing called a ‘duwende’– literally, dwarves. My parents had a concrete farm, and they had like, employees that lived there too. It was kind of a huge lot.

Collector: “Is this still in the Philippines?”

I: “Yeah still in the Philippines… And I guess they said like, they kinda live by trees or whatever, and then if you happen to just run by a tree, or like, kick a tree or whatever– just disturb where they live, they would follow you and like… what was the word for it…? You know like, exorcism? You know how you get like, taken over?”

C: “Oh like, they possess you.”

I: “Yeah! They possess you. There’s like a good kind, and then a bad one, and I remember one of the employees’ daughter that lived there apparently got possessed by it. I never met her ’cause I was little and my mom was just like, telling me about it, but she didn’t want me near her.”

C: “Wait, so there’s a good kind?”

I: “There’s a good kind and bad kind, and the bad kind possessed her apparently.”

C: “Oh so this was like, an actual thing?”

I: “An actual thing, yeah. Well so, my mom said that the dad said this, but she was like, ‘Maybe she’s just crazy’ haha.”

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