USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk medicine
Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Magic

Shungite Crystal Healing

Context:

The informant – LF – is a 20-year-old female from the Seattle, Washington. She currently is a sophomore in the USC Thornton School of Music. Her parents are part of a small sect of Islam, Sufism, and often lead meditation retreats that teach the meditation techniques of George Gurdjieff. Here, I asked LF about some of the spiritual healing methods used by her parents.

 

LF: She, like, aligns these crystals up in fashions, kind of. And there’s this one specific crystal called a shungite rock, I think, and she makes you hold it in your hand if you, like… I don’t know what it does. But literally when I held it – I’m not even kidding – it felt like my whole body was vibrating. It was whacko.

 

Me: What context did she tell you to hold it?

 

LF: I was feeling sick. It’s an energetic thing – it holds really powerful energy I think.

 

Me: So if you’re feeling sick, your mom would…

 

LF: Yeah, she’d be like, “Honey, take your crystals…” (Laughter) Yeah, I was vaccinated with crystals, haha.

 

Analysis:

I couldn’t find much on a relationship between Gurdjieff’s teachings and using crystals in spiritual healing, so I believe that the two could be unrelated. LF seemed to find the methods somewhat humorous, often making jokes about the methods, but also believed in the potential power of the crystals. It’s unclear exactly why LF’s parents use crystals in their healing methods/which, if any, tradition they’re drawing upon, though using crystals in spiritual healing seems to be a fairly common tradition among many different people.

Folk Beliefs
Folk Dance
Folk medicine
Kinesthetic

Gurdjieff’s Movements

Context:

The informant – LF – is a 20-year-old female from the Seattle, Washington. She currently is a sophomore in the USC Thornton School of Music. Her parents are part of a small sect of Islam, Sufism, and often lead meditation retreats that teach the meditation techniques of George Gurdjieff. The following is from a conversation about the meditation retreats hosted by her parents.

Piece:

LF: On the retreats, they go out to an isolated place – like a retreat center. And their daily routine is, they wake up for 6am meditation. So you have to get up and be there before that. After breakfast, there’s practical work. For practical work, they do some sort of physical labor, wherever they are. At the retreat center they’ve stayed at, they’ll re-roof a building, or build a deck, for example. It’s not like charity: the work itself is a meditation; you’re getting in your body, and you’re being really physical.

There’s not a lot of talking. There’s this idea throughout the retreat of staying collected, which is, kind of like, maintaining sensation throughout your body. And it’s kind of like meditating – it’s not super talkative or out of your head. You’re supposed to, like, stay really aware. And my parents actually met at a meditation retreat, and these are traditions that have been passed down from this Turkish dude named Gurdjieff… I don’t know, he just has a lot of these philosophies and shit like that.

But after the practical work, they have these things called the Movements, which are these dances, kind of, but they’re like, derived from the whirling dervishes. It’s from this religion they associate with, Sufism. But it’s more derived from the mystics from, like, the Quran.

Me: So what is the purpose of the Movements?

LF: It’s like a meditation, and they’re really hard to do, so they take a lot of concentration and focus and intention.

Me: Do they know the moves beforehand? Did you grow up knowing them?

LF: No, my mom teaches them. She knows all of them, because she’s been doing this shit for hella long. And I don’t know them – I was always too young to participate in the retreats. But then as I got older, I would play the piano to accompany them.

Me: Do the meditations each serve a particular purpose?

LF: Yeah, they’re kind of like overcoming different physical… It’s all about the struggle. That’s the thing, is they’re enduring the struggle, and the struggle is good. And you breathe through it, and you get through it.

 

Analysis:

Like LF said, it seems that Gurdjieff’s movements and the whirling dervishes, while part of a religious tradition, transcend religion, and are ultimately meditations that allow the participant to reach a transcendent state by persevering through physical and mental struggle while maintaining a meditative mental state. Though the practices are part of the religious tradition of Sufism, the meditations can be used – and are used, evidently, by participants in LF’s parents’ retreats – for anybody wishing to strengthen their mind through meditation.

 

For more information regarding Gurdjieff’s Movements, see George Adam’s (1998) Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and his Teaching, Nova Religio, 2(1), 161-163.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Homeopathic
Protection

Salt Balls From the Dead Sea

Context: A friend of mine had missed about a week of school, so when she finally returned, I visited her at her apartment in Downtown to catch up and hear about what had been happening.

 

Background: My informant explained that she had been falling victim to a string of bad luck for about one month. She was very sick and decided to spend a week at her parent’s home in Beverly Hills to recover. While at home, her mother instructed her to take a bath with salt balls that she brought back from the Dead Sea in Israel. Salt from the Dead Sea is known to have different forms of healing power, both internally and externally. She believes that this ritual has the power to heal, as well as dissolve negative energy. 

 

Main Piece: “For the last month it was just thing after thing coming my way. I was feeling pretty down overall. I kept getting sick over and over again. I had a couple of ruptured ovarian cysts. My family was fighting a lot and it was getting really heated and out of control. I kept losing things, I was doing poorly in school. It was just so much negativity surrounding me and I was losing my mind. So I go home and I was just miserable so my mom gave me these salt balls she brought back with her from Israel. The gist of it is like you can either use them in the bath as a bath bomb or something, or you can use it as a scrub in the shower and just scrub it all over your body until it dissolves into your skin. The salt in general is a healer, it heals physical cuts and wounds and it’s supposed to help your skin. But a lot of people think it heals internally too. It’s really renewing and cleansing both inside and out. My mom always tells me that it dissolves the negative energy, the illness, just the bad all around. She says it’s purifying and yeah it cleanses the toxins out of your body, but it’s supposed to really boost your energy and stamina too. I sat in the bath with it for like an hour a couple of times and I honestly felt so much better. There’s definitely things I’m still dealing with, but I swear afterwards I just felt completely cleansed. I felt at peace with a lot of things, I just felt the negativity clear from my mind. It could have been some placebo effect type of thing, but it helped regardless.”

 

Analysis: People from all over the world visit the Dead Sea, and revel in the salty pool of water. It attracts tourists for its’ power to make the body completely float, and for the physical healing power of the salt. What I found interesting was this interpretation of its’ power to heal internally – to heal energy, to erase negativity, and to cleanse the body and the aura.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Protection

Wet Hair and Headaches

Context:

While out during the weekend, the I was discussing beliefs and where they might have come from with a group of friends. While talking and after hearing some examples of superstitions, the informant brought up several superstitions he heard as a kid.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

 

S: Apparently, according to my mom, sleeping with wet hair will give you a headache the next morning. Not sure what it is… it’s just something that I was taught.

 

Analysis:

This belief is one that deals with things not to do. I have also heard of variations of this idea. One that I have heard is that sleeping with wet hair will make you sick. Different cultures find the idea of sleeping with wet hair to be something to be avoided but provided different, plausible reasons for doing so.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Healing Touch

Context:

The informant and I were talking about an injury he had since high school and shares with me a particular healing practice he received during his time recovering.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

 

S: As a Christian family, my mom believes in spiritual gifts. Specifically, the gift of healing. She goes to this church in downtown LA and goes to the elder whenever she’s in pain. The elder lies my mother down on the table and proceeds to gently touch and poke different places. The elder touches the area that hurts as well as any area that may connect to the afflicted area. My mom says the elder’s hands are warm, with spiritual fire. After praying for my mom, the elder runs her hands over my mom while my mother cries out in pain. The elder does this a few more times and my mom is still in pain. However, once the elder finishes, my mom says she is beginning to feel better.

My mom strongly believes that this woman has the art of spiritual healing as she’s gone to doctors with internal organ pain before and their medicine has done nothing. This elder has helped her with that internal pain and much more.

My mom now takes my brother and me to the elder when we are in pain. My brother is a firm believer now in what she does even though he is always in pain. I still struggle to see that it’s real, though I have gone many times as a result of my mom forcing me after my many knee surgeries.

 

Analysis:

Traditional medicine lives among the people as a part of their culture. Many believe in and adopt older medical practices and choose to prefer them over popular medicine backed by science. Although the validity of these practices is up to debate, many people turn to these practices when they are in need of medical care. The idea of the healing touch is an intriguing idea that places a special importance on the powers and skills of elders. In general, both forms of medicine often interact with each other. In many cases, people employ the help of popular medicine with other medical remedies that have been passed down in a culture or family. We can’t simply say that it is a placebo effect and dismiss the notion that the practices may actually yield results. Maybe it is the combined effects of both that help one recover from their ailments.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Magic
Protection

Disease as a result of Possession

Text:

BH: “So when I got chicken pox in like 7thgrade, no wait 10thgrade, yeah, and I remember we came back from the doctors’ with medicines and everything and my mom called my aunt and said “she has chicken pox”, which implied uske andar mata aa gayi hai [she’s possessed by the mata] so for the first three days, I was only allowed to have sponge baths and on the fifth day, the uh fourth day or the fifth day, a pandit [priest like figure] came and he put some oil and coins in a [bowl] and did something – I don’t fully remember but he performed some sort of ritual, uh he touched that oil on my feet. And then – uh it was only then that I was allowed to fully bathe in proper water. Before that I wasn’t allowed to bathe, and they all just saying “uske andar mata aa gayi hai” which like I don’t even know what that really means. And I asked my mom, and she didn’t really have an explanation either.”

BH: “Oh yeah, and I also wasn’t allowed to have onion or garlic because that is what apparently what you do when the mata [possesses you] and I wasn’t allowed to eat non vegetarian food also.”

BH: “I was only allowed to eat all this after 14 days when I wasn’t contagious anymore.”

BH: “The person [affected by the disease] is already in isolation – the family members are already treating you like some sort of untouchable and you’re basically being discriminated against at that point of time – it’s just not a good headspace to be in because you can’t go meet people, and people who visit you can’t come close…And on top of that you hear these terms that you don’t fully understand but seems negative so it just makes you feel even more low. I mean if there was some scientific basis, I would understand, but I just wish there was better terminology for it than using such words.”

 

Context:

The informant is a college student from India. The conversation was in response to my question about any odd things that happened in the informant’s past that she did not agree with but had to partake in anyway. The informant is also bilingual so the conversation happened in a mix of English and Hindi. I have translated the relevant Hindi parts to English as per my own interpretation and in an attempt to retain the meaning as best as possible. Certain key terms have been Romanized and their translations or explanations are given in brackets. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.

 

Interpretation:

It is interesting how even now cultural practices and beliefs like possession as an explanation of a disease like chicken pox, which is pretty well understood scientifically, persist. The informant talks about the feelings of isolation and prejudice she faced from her family which put into perspective the harmful effects of such folk beliefs when they are forced on people who don’t understand them or do not want to partake in them. Her confusion also arises from the fact that even the people around her whole seem to truly believe in this tradition don’t have an explanation for it. Often, folk beliefs are so integral to identity that they are not questioned by people who are involved in them.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever

The following is a folk medicine belief that my informant heard from his mom in the 1980s California. My informant is a middle aged white man who will be referred to as T.

Text: Feed a cold, starve a fever.

Context: T heard this folk belief from his mother who was a nurse. His mom followed this belief as well, and if T had a cold, she would feed him a lot, and if he had a fever, she would just give him small amounts of soup. T’s mother was German, but had grown up in America. The reason behind this folk belief is that it was believed that eating heated up the body, and if you fed someone while they had a cold, it could warm them up, but visa versa if you didn’t feed someone who had a fever, it could cool them down. T says he never thought this worked particularly well, and he never instilled this belief on his children. However, T also said that he never questioned his mothers knowledge as a child, and always thought that eating with a cold would help him recover faster as a child. However, T does believe in the placebo effect, and thinks that there is some advantage to thinking you are helping your body, even if you aren’t at all.

Analysis: I liked this folk belief, and like many others the first question I had was whether or not it worked. When I looked it up, their were numerous articles written about it, all of which said that there is very little evidence to support it but also very few studies to disprove it. Due to the sheer amount of articles regarding it, it seems like this is a common folk belief and according to Scientific America,  “This saying has been traced to a 1574 dictionary by John Withals, which noted that “fasting is a great remedy of fever. (1)” This folk belief shows the importance of the knowledge we receive from our parents. If our parents tell us something is going to make us feel better, we never question it and always accept it. It also shows how well folk beliefs can spread, with this belief being heard and used by so many different people, despite having no scientific or medical support.

For a more in depth examination of this folklore go to

O’Connor, Anahad. “The Claim: Starve a Cold, Feed a Fever.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Feb. 2007, www.nytimes.com/2007/02/13/health/13real.html.

Works Cited

1) Fischetti, Mark. “Fact or Fiction?: Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever.” Scientific American, 3 Jan. 2014, www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-feed-a-cold/.

 

Folk medicine
Foodways
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nepali Winter Holiday Food

Background

Informant: S.S. - a current Senior in college in Indiana, originally from Nepal.

Context

S.S. entire family still resides in Nepal and he always felt very connected to his heritage through food and by cooking the traditional meals from his home country. The collector has personally enjoyed S.S. meals and has observed the performance of Nepali culture and heritage while cooking with S.S. When prompted about special holiday meals or dishes in Nepal, the informant shared this which I have transcribed below:

Main Piece

“So we eat something called Kwati which is like a soup/stew. And it’s made out of 9 different beans- black eyed peas, cow peas, black lentils, chickpeas, adzuki, fava beans, soybeans, Mung dal, green peas. They’re all soaked before and cooked for an hour and a half along with garlic and ginger paste. We usually add momos to the soup too which are Nepali dumplings. And you can eat this anytime, especially in winter because of its high protein value and health benefits but during the holiday of Gun Punhi (Goon Poon-he) we make it and it’s a delicacy too. We add a tempering oil to it after it’s done cooking, which is basically heated oil or ghee and you quickly fry ajwain (carom seeds) and pour the mix into the kwati. So in my family and Newari culture, when the soul is served, before eating we have to look at/for our reflection in the soup and then only we can begin to eat it. This is like a ritual significance to show that eating this cleanses your soul and also rids your body of negative energy but it’s also very healthy so a way to tackle the winter.

Thoughts

From my relationship with the informant, I have learned that food is incredibly important in Nepali culture and that Nepalese people feel very connected to the idea of the clarity and pureness of their soul through the food that they create and consume. Much of the food made in Nepali requires a deep understanding of the rituals of cooking, meaning that each step in the making of the dish is specific and has a purpose. For example, the washing of rice multiple times prior to boiling it, from S.S. telling, serves a dual purpose. One is obviously the practical need to wash the rise of dirt before preparing it, but also the idea that cleaning the rice is important for the body and how the body receives it. Often, there are very specific steps and timing involved in the preparation of the meal, adding things at certain times and this requires a very intricate knowledge of the culture and the meaning behind each step from a spiritual understanding.

Folk medicine

Hard Boiled Egg Black Eye

IN: When I was little, I fell up some stairs when I was trying to like, race up on hands an knees or something. I hit my face really hard, like thats why I have this scar on my eyebrow here. Anyways, I got this like really, really bad blackeye. And my grandma would take an egg, boil it to be like hard boiled, and then wrap in in a cloth and press it to my eye. And I remember her and my parents telling me it was sucking out all of the bad stuff. Like, the bad energy or something. Like she wouldn’t let me eat it after either, which I was pretty sad about most of the time. Like it was because of the bad energy that I couldn’t eat it.

I looked it up and it just says that like, it’s an actual thing people do, but like I guess it’s just the warmth that’s supposed to help you. But like I clearly remember my parents telling me it was sucking out the bad stuff, just bad evil energy and blackness from my eye.

Context: I met the informant at lunch and asked about any folk remedies her grandmother used when she was little.

Background: The informant is a second year student at USC who is Chinese-American, but her parents grew up in Vietnam. Her grandmother used a lot of folk medicine growing up, and this was a method used to treat her black eye.

Analysis: I found this really interesting because at the core it could be a more scientifically backed treatment if you approach it from the “heat-healing” perspective of increasing bloodflow in the area to alleviate the bruise. However, the informant was very adament that it was about the evil blackness for her grandmother, and that it was likely something she learned from her mother before her.

Folk medicine

Spinach and Tofu

The informant is marked IN. The collector is marked JJ.

IN: My mom told me I can’t eat spinach and tofu together otherwise I would die. Like all throughout my childhood, she never let me eat spinach and tofu.

JJ: Did she explain why you would die?

IN: No she had no idea why and I told her I don’t believe you and she was like it’s real I heard it on the Chinese television. And my mom believes a lot of things from chinese television and they have the weirdest like, health talks where it’s like, they bring up the weirdest shit and it’s usually not true.

Context: I met the informant at lunch and asked about any folk medicine used by her parents.

Background: The informant is a Chinese-American whose parents were raised in Vietnam. Her parents collect a lot of health remedies from Chinese television, often explained with little scientific backing – which is something that the informant has never agreed with but faced a lot growing up.

Analysis: I found this interesting because both foods are very healthy and to my knowledge used often in Chinese cooking. I can’t imagine reasons for avoiding these two foods, folkloric or scientific.

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