USC Digital Folklore Archives / Signs
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Signs

A Death in the Family (Philippines)

Informant: Natasha is a 19 year old girl who grew up in Bangladesh but attended high school in Manila, Philippines and now lives in England as a college student. Her mother is Filipina and her father is British.

 

Original script: “Okay so my parents met in the Philippines whilst my Dad was working there, but at the time since my Dad was so busy with work and was constantly being called in on the weekends, both my Mum and my Dad would get frustrated at the little amount of time they got to spend with each other. Seeing as though my Mum was rarely with my Dad on the weekends she would often use the opportunity to go see her grandfather who was quite ill during this period, so she’d come along to take care of him as well as bring him medicine. Over time my Dad was quite frustrated with not being with Mum and in a slightly selfish manner was irritated with the amount of time she was dedicating to her grandfather. He then decided to take the initiative and plan a weekend away and so my Mum agreed and they went off. One night in their hotel my parents were lying down in bed and as they are laying there a huge black moth- which both of my parents say to this day was the biggest moth they had ever seen- flies into the room and lands on the wall facing my parents. Immediately my Mum senses and tells my Dad that something feels wrong and both feel very unsettled. 10 minutes later my Mum receives a phone call from her family telling her that her grandfather has sadly passed away. My Mum believes that the moth was a symbol of death and was warning her that her Grandfather was passing. At Filipino funerals it is common for them to be open casket. As my Mum approaches the casket she finds herself crying and blaming herself for being irresponsible and not being there to take care of him. As she apologizes over his body she says her last goodbye by kissing him on his cheek. Now one of the weirdest part of the story is what happens next. To this day my Mum swears that after she kissed him on the cheek her Grandfather cracked a small smile. After all of the events that have happened and the guilt she felt before, she now felt like all was ok as she believes this was a sign of his forgiveness. The end.”

Thoughts about the piece: This story is a great exemplification of how a person’s belief system can be shaped by people, in this case Natasha’s parents. Parents can be a huge influence on their children’s belief systems- most especially in early life where they are likely the single biggest influence. The way that Natasha’s parents believe so strongly in the presence of a supernatural being in this story, most especially her Mother, has definitely influenced the way that Natasha perceives things. To an outsider looking in, you may just think that the moth was a coincidence and that the Grandfather smiling is just something that her Mother convinced herself of in a moment of grief to try to overcome it. However, the fact that this took place before Natasha was born, that she has been told this story countless times since she was very young, and that her mother is someone who she trusts deeply are all factors which shape Natasha’s belief and consequently the way in which she tells the story. She has a deep emotional connection to the story and thus, she tells it as an absolute occurrence.

Something else to note is the Filipino culture that peeks through the story. Filipinos are generally very family oriented and they also have very strong belief in ghosts and superstition. The fact that Natasha’s father is British and was initially skeptical about the whole moth situation and did not look as much into it as her Mother but now completely believes in the supernatural aspect of the story shows how possibly being immersed in Filipino culture and such could have altered his belief system.

Folk Beliefs
Narrative
Signs

Time Myth

 

Informant:

Brandon grew up in Saccremento California to a practicing Jewish family. He is an only child and works as a financial advisor at a back in New York City.

Original script:My father always used to say that if you are in a group or someplace where people are talking and everyone goes quite at once and you look at your watch it will be 20 past the hour.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: The informant has a strained relationship with his parents. It’s interesting to me that his father uses this time related myth as a way of explaining lulls in conversation.

Context of the Performance: When there is a lull in the conversation.

Thoughts about the piece: I had never heard this before but it is a good way to break the awkwardness in social situations. Like a lot of tales, proverbs, and other folkloric things it helps people in social situations.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Gestures
Signs

Deadly Chopsticks

KM is a third-generation Japanese-American from Los Angeles, CA. She now lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and 18-year-old son.

KM gave me some insight on chopstick etiquette that was passed down from her Japanese parents:

“So in Japan, when you’re eating rice with chopsticks, or really anything which chopsticks, you NEVER rest them by sticking them straight up in your food. It looks like the number 4 spelled out, and in Japanese culture 4 is a very unlucky number – it means death. If you go to Japan you’ll never find anything grouped or sold in 4s, it’s just superstition, like how in America people are scared of the number 13. Also, you never point your chopsticks at people, like if you’re talking at the dinner table. It’s rude, and a little threatening.”

My analysis:

Many cultures have different traditions surrounding food and table etiquette, and this folk belief offers insight into utensil practices many American might not be familiar with. While Asian cuisine is not absent here, it’s often transformed over time by the influence of other places, or even other Asian cultures (like common Japanese-Korean fusion). People from all over use chopsticks, but it’s important to be aware of protocol observed by those whose heritage is more authoritative.

Apparently, chopsticks stuck straight-up in rice also imitate incense sticks on the altar at a funeral, another symbol of death or bad luck. Oftentimes people avoid mixing their foodways with death imagery, compounded by the prevalence of rice in Japanese meals.

I also think it’s interesting that the subject is Japanese-American, and three generations removed at that. Seeing which customs are continued when a family emigrates shows both their cultural and individual values, or superstitions that for some reason or another “stick” in places where they’re not observed.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

Lead Shapes to Determine Your Luck

Background: A.J. is a 65-year-old woman who was born and raised in Poprad, Slovakia. She relocated to the United States from Slovakia 20 years ago, while her son was attending University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A.J. holds a degree in child development and since coming to the United States has worked as a nanny. She is married to her lifelong sweetheart and has one son and three grandchildren. She often talks about her home and family in Slovakia – about the beautiful mountains and the culture. Although she is now a US citizen, she incorporates many Slovak traditions into everyday life, and enjoys telling stories about her family and her family traditions.

 

Main piece:

A.J.: On December 13, we met all girls in one house and we melted PB, how call that – lead – on the stove and was like liquid, we took on the spoon and pour to the bowl cold water.  What kind of shape was made in this water we would decided what was that.  If you have heart you will be happy. You will have good luck. If it was some different shape we always was thinking what it can be. Was like snake, you have bad luck or was some witch or something you were always thinking about your next year how will be look.

 

Q: So how old were you when you did this?

 

A.J.: We were 13, 14, 15 like that.

 

Q: Who did you learn it from?

 

A.J.: From parents or some other girls or older girls what we have in the village.  Always this oldest girls invite youngest girls and go like tradition you know from one girl to another and then.

 

Q: Did all the girls in the one village go to one house or were there multiple?

 

A.J.: Multi – were like 10 girls or 12 girls in one house and other go to other.  We always meet in different houses every year

 

Performance Context: This ritual would be done in Slovakia on December 13th, St. Lucy’s Day, by a large group of teenage girls.

 

My Thoughts: I think that it is interesting how many of the traditions done by teenage girls in Slovakia surround their future luck and happiness. Additionally, many of these traditions happen on December 13, or St. Lucy’s Day. This is also known as the “witch day.” It is possible that this day was seen as a day of magic, which is why girls believe that they would be able to predict some of their future on this day.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Name of Future Boyfriend Hidden in a Dumpling

Background: A.J. is a 65-year-old woman who was born and raised in Poprad, Slovakia. She relocated to the United States from Slovakia 20 years ago, while her son was attending University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A.J. holds a degree in child development and since coming to the United States has worked as a nanny. She is married to her lifelong sweetheart and has one son and three grandchildren. She often talks about her home and family in Slovakia – about the beautiful mountains and the culture. Although she is now a US citizen, she incorporates many Slovak traditions into everyday life, and enjoys telling stories about her family and her family traditions.

 

Main piece:

A.J.: Same day – December 13. On St. Lucy, we make dough and on small piece of paper we write name what boy you like it – mostly this girl do it. What boy you like it – can be one, can be couple, how many you want and you put in in this flour dough and make dumpling.  Then you cook in water – boil in the water and when was ready this dough you put to the cold water and you choose one dumpling and what name of boy was there you will dating in this year.

 

Q: So does each girl do it for themselves?

 

A.J.: Yes – OK.

 

Q: So you can put maybe 5 names down and then whichever one you pick that’s who you are going to be dating?

 

A.J.: Yeah but we put the all girls in the one bowl. Yeah – all girls in one bowl.

 

Q: So what happens if you get somebody else’s boy?

 

A.J.: We just were thinking this will be my boyfriend for this year.

 

Q: Why did you do it on St. Lucy Day?

 

A.J.: Because they said December 13 is like witch day you know – witches coming and they would doing this stuff. This is like Witch Day. Witches are never good on this day. They make always trouble.  They said when the witch came to your house they kill animals and something happen to your family and bad stuff always happen.

 

Performance Context: This ritual would occur in Slovakia on December 13, also known as St. Lucy’s Day, by groups of young girls typically in their teenage years.

 

My Thoughts: I think that it is interesting how much of the Slovak culture surrounds witches and magic. This ritual is done on December 13, or St. Lucy’s Day, because it is the “witch day.” However, witches are typically associated with bad things that happen, so it is curious why girls typically do this ritual to “find their boyfriend” for the next year on the witches’ day. It could be because since it is the day of the witches, it is also the day of magic.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

A Perfect Game (Superstition)

 

My informant is Lewis or “Luke” . Luke is 22 and was born and raised in Darien, Connecticut but now attends Chapman University in Orange, California. He is of Irish and Russian descent.

 

Luke: “So the superstition is, in baseball when someone is pitching a perfect game, anyone on the team of the person that’s pitching the perfect game cannot mention it or bring it up at all or it will be ruined. They just have to act like nothing’s happening. My sophomore year we were playing Taft and Jerry Silvey was 5 innings deep into a no-hitter and I turned to my friend not realizing and asked “Is Jerry throwing a no-hitter?” and my friend looked at me like are you kidding me and I kid you not he struck out the net batter then got a homerun hit off him immediately after.”

When was the first time you heard this superstition?

Luke: “I probably first heard it like third or fourth grade when I got into baseball”

And you believe in it?

Luke: “Oh I definitely believe in it”

 

This superstition, like many others, revolves around sports. In sports, when playing or watching, it is common to have some ritual whether it be small like wearing the same shoes or abiding to certain superstitious laws of the game. In this case it is the ladder and this superstition is widespread in American baseball. It is common knowledge to those who have played of the existence and partaking of this general rule. Luke even went against the superstition and mentioned the perfect game and he blames the eventual failure of the perfect game on his actions.

 

 

 

Folk Beliefs
Signs

The utensils that know the future

The informant, C, is an 18 raised in South Central Los Angeles, California. His parents are both Mexican and he considers himself Mexican as well. He is studying Astronautical Engineering.

 

C-“So in my family we have this superstition that if you drop your utensils by accident you will receive different guests. If a spoon is dropped then a child is going to come, if a fork is dropped then a friend is going to come, and if a knife is dropped a stranger is going to come”

When did you first hear this?

C-“When I was little my aunts and grandma and my mom would say ‘oh a friend, or whatever person, is going to visit’ every time that I dropped a utensil.

Have you heard or seen this in other places?

C-“I have heard variations in other families and even with the other side of my family. Sometimes it’s that a woman is going to visit if you drop a fork and a man if you drop a knife”

Do you believe in it/think it’s true?

C- “I’m not sure. Sometimes it does like come true and then the person comes and visit but other times they don’t or is the wrong person. So I guess it depends if the right person shows up”

Analysis- The superstition could be a way to cover-up what may be an embarrassing and socially looked-down thing. Adding the consequence of the different visits creates a nicer response to this rather than public humiliation. The different visits could be different according to what the utensils resemble and remind the people of.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Signs

Bad comes in 3’s

Superstition

 

Primary Language- English

Occupation- USC Student

Residence- Los Angeles, CA

Date of Performance- 4/16/16

Everytime my family hears bad news, they believe it comes in three’s. The side of the family that usually believes that are the females like my sister, mom, and aunt. Say if somebody gets in a car crash that we know, my family then believes that three other bad things are going to happen. So after the crash, something like losing money, or even stubbing someone’s toe can happen and my family will believe it’s because three bad things was meant to happen. I don’t know why they stick to that superstition but it makes them feel at ease when they think they are ready for it.

Justin has heard about this piece of superstition from his family. They have always warned him about the dangers of the threes. After on bad news arrives, he has to be ready for two others. He does not really believe in that superstition but his family really does. The superstition is still interesting to him because he thinks it is funny how strong their belief is.

Whenever you experience something bad, you should always be cautious of the two other bad things that will happen to you, at least according to Justin’s family. When Justin told the superstition, he thought it sounded ridiculous that his family believed it in so he laughed while telling it. Real or not, his family becomes very cautious once they hear or are stricken with bad news.

The mystical three’s have struck again. Bad news in three sounds like a lot of other folklore that so happens to also come in threes yet most people do not know why. It is believed that it is an ancient superstition and originated from the men’s genitalia for some reason. But the theory behind the three cycles brings up the idea that the cycle will end eventually. It just so happens that it will be after the third bad news. In other cultures, things come in fours and fives but many in America have been buried with the idea that everything comes in threes.

 

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Ears Ringing

Superstition

 

Primary Language- English

Occupation- USC Student

Residence- Los Angeles, CA

Date of Performance- 4/16/16

If your ears begin to ring, that means that someone is thinking about you. My mother once told me a story about how her ears kept constantly ringing one day, she did not know why but at the end of the day her friend had came to her house saying that she was trying to get in contact with her because she found an amazing job opportunity for her. Ever since then, she believes that when her ear rings, it is because someone is thinking about you.

Justin’s parents were born in America as well as him. He learned this story from his mother when Justin’s ear kept ringing one day. He does not believe it but he knows it well because his mother firmly has faith that when her earn rings, it is because someone is thinking of her. To Justin, it is just a way to remember his mother when he is in college so he like to tell or smile whenever he hears someone’s ears ring.

This short folklore is quite simple, does not matter when or where you are but when your ear rings, someone is thinking about you. Telling someone else about it is just like passing down information because those who believe in it have had personal experience with the ringing.

This folklore piece is interesting due to the fact that I have had my ear ring, but I never knew why or bothered to find out. So to hear a friend whose mother supposedly knows the reason is intriguing. Ear ringing meaning something more has been around for quite a long time. The common superstition is based on which ear rings. If the left ear rings, it means somebody is thinking positive thought about you, and if it rings on your right ear, then it means that somebody. This is the most common belief but there are multiple alterations such as when your left ear rings, a loved one is thinking about you. They are similar but slightly different.

 

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Bad Dress Rehearsal, Good Opening Night

Main piece: Okay, so… if you have a terrible dress rehearsal- well, what I should say is, how your production does in its final dress rehearsal is supposed to be an indicator of how your first performance is. BUT if you have a terrible dress rehearsal, it means that you’re going to have a great opening night. And if you have a great dress rehearsal, it means you’re going to have a bad opening night.

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

Um… again it’s something that, this is a universal thing, this happens at all theaters. It’s universal knowledge. There wasn’t a specific instant where I realized that this is what everybody thought. It was something I just heard over and over. As I did more and more performances, it’s something I myself found more accurate. I think it makes a lot of sense. It can really kind of scare your cast into trying their absolute hardest. If you’re in a show and you have a terrible dress rehearsal, it’s easy to feel defeated and think the show isn’t good, it’s never going to be good. But because of the superstition, if you have a terrible dress rehearsal, you’re going to try that much harder to overcome everything that happened in the dress rehearsal. There’s a really beautiful energy in not knowing if the production is going to work. If you know that your show is amazing, then you sit back too much, and you don’t try as hard, and you don’t really bring yourself to the stage, and you don’t really plant yourself in the present. The, kind of, energy in throwing it all together and hoping something sticks… you are giving so much more of yourself as a performer.

 

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

In the final dress and opening night of a production. That’s pretty simple haha. It’s not something that carries across. If you have bad rehearsals all the time, you’re not going to have a good opening night. Its very specific to the dress rehearsal.

 

Personal Analysis:

While I have done some plays before, none have been serious enough to accumulate folk beliefs. This opposite outlook on the status of dress rehearsals is an interesting way to counteract the potential anxiety accrued from having a bad practice run. The underlying intention is to calm the nerves of the performers so that they feel confident in acting the next day. While I am not convinced that having a bad dress rehearsal removes the mistakes from a performance, I am convinced that tacking on a positive connotation to the act serves to dispel the frustration associated with a less than satisfactory dress rehearsal.

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