USC Digital Folklore Archives / Signs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Life cycle
Magic
Signs

Moroccan: Tino Moths and Rebirth

Informant (AH) Is a 22 Year old USC Narrative Studies student interested in user research for games, we traded stories over a podcast we record together.
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Interviewer(MW): You said you had folklore from your grandmother?
AH: Yeah, so my grandma is from morocco, there’s a lot of folklore culturey stuff and I didn’t realize it was like that until I moved away from her and was like “oh you guys don’t do that here?”
AH: But like one thing in particular is you know Tino Moths
MW: Like the plant? (Interviewer thinks AH has said Tino Moss)
AH: No the bug
MW: OHhhh Moths
AH: yeah, some people when they get into their house you think “Oh I gotta kill it or take it out of the house” but at my grandma’s house you don’t touch the moth you just admire it…because in her culture moths are kind of like ghosts when one of your family members dies they come back to you as a moth, so that was yeah.
MW: We don’t have that in my religion, but that rules
AH: Yeah, it’s sort of comforting you know, to think that the people you love are still around and stuff
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Analysis
Insect rebirth symbolism allows the departed agency and a fleeting return to the lives of their loved ones, this is reflected in the chance, almost random nature by which the moth ends up in your home. This belief offers a comfort in the wake of loss and serves to temporarily sate the low-level pain that comes with the loss of a loved one, that stays for the rest of your life. Likewise the respect for the moth constitutes a respect for the dead, because those two beings are intertwined. Likewise this piece of folklore serves to connect AH to his grandmother, so that every time he sees a moth he sees her, allowing her to transcend death and remain with him, a part of his life, as her loved ones did when the story lived with her.Thus here, the moth becomes a symbol for death, it’s ephemeral nature makes contact with it fleeting and therefore more valuable, as it carries the soul of the departed onward to wherever it goes next.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

What Trees Not To Plant in Your Yard

Context:

The collector interviewed the informant for Chinese folklores. The informant is the mother of the collector. She lives in Shanghai. She learned some of the following folk beliefs about twenty years ago from a seller, when she was buying trees for a new house she bought. Another time she learned the superstition about peach tree because she saw her new neighbors cutting down a peach tree in their front yard and asked them why.

 

Main piece:

  • Peach tree

Peach trees should not be planted in front of the house.

The first reason is related to a Chinese folk speech: 桃花运 (In Pinyin: Táo Huā Yùn, Literally: Peach Flower Luck), which means good luck of encountering love relationships. If people in the family frequently see peach flowers as they step out the door, that might bring extramarital affairs to this family, which should be avoided.

Another reason is that in Chinese folklores, weapons or charms made of peach wood are used as tools in exorcism. So peach wood is considered to be related with evil things and people don’t want them to grow near their house.

 

  • Mulberry tree

Mulberry trees should not be planted in front of the house. The Chinese name for mulberry tree is 桑树 (In Pinyin: Sāng Shù, literally: Mulberry Tree) . Meanwhile, another character with the same pronunciation, 丧 (In Pinyin: Sāng), means funerals and mourning. Thus it is not a good sign to plant mulberry trees in front of one’s house.

 

  • Willow tree

Willow trees should not be planted in the back yard. Because willow trees do not bear fruits, willow trees in the back yard are believed to signify a family without offspring. Also, because willow trees often appear in Chinese grave yards (Collector’s note: which the informant doesn’t know why), they seem ominous.

 

 

Collector’s thoughts:

There are a lot of Chinese folk beliefs based on homophony or puns, probably because there are numerous Chinese characters with the same pronunciation. The belief about mulberry trees is a very good example. Chinese people also care a lot about arrangement, decoration and surroundings of their home.

Even though people do not necessarily believe in any cause-and-effect relation stated in these folk beliefs, they always think it’s better not to violate these taboos.

The folk belief about peach trees might count as a meta-folklore because it is derived from a folk speech and belief in magic.

Folk Beliefs
general
Signs

Rock Hair Superstition

The following is from a 20-year-old USC student.  She is describing a superstition she was taught.  I will be represented by K and she will be represented by A.

 

K: So, tell me about some superstitions you have.

A: Uh, yeah, so… my… my grandma used to tell me, back in North Carolina, if it’s raining… with- when the sun is up, like it’s not cloudy and it’s raining- and you look under a rock, you’ll find the color of your future husband’s hair… It’s… true story.

K: So, what does this piece of folklore mean to you?
A: Uhm… to me it means that… uh, my husband’s going to have brown hair… and every day I look for him… Thanks Grandma!

Context:

This conversation took place in my living room with a group of people.  The informant brought up the superstition taught by her grandma and I asked her if I could record it for this project.  She agreed and we all listened to the story.

My Thoughts:

Like most superstitions, it is clear that this one is not necessarily accurate, but something fun to believe in.  The informant’s grandma told her about this when she was younger, probably trying to give her something to believe in and look forward to as a lot of adults do with kids these days.  We see this in a lot of Disney films with the idea of believing in a better future and looking forward to a happily ever after.  It is likely that this belief is meant as a happily ever after type.

general
Legends
Narrative
Signs

The Banshee

The following is a story about an Irish legend.  The informant is represented by the letter S, and I am represented by the letter K.

Piece:

K: Tell me about the Banshee.

S: So, the banshee is… uh… and Irish legend. And it’s, it’s this spirit of a woman… who has this long, silver-white hair… like down to the floor.  And she’s always brushing her hair with this comb.  And her eyes are red- from like centuries of crying and grieving over people who- who other people have lost.  And uhm…uhm… and basically, the Banshee is the uhm, warning, that somebody you’re close to is going to die.  So if the Banshee comes to you, someone you love- is gonna end up dying.  And uhm, the Banshee is the…. kinda the predecessor to the… what is it? The Coach de Baron… What is it? The Cóiste Bodhar. Uh, which is… the… the coach that takes you to death, so… yeah, the Banshee is very scary. She wails. And if you hear the wailing, then you know… that somebody’s gonna die.

Context:

We were sitting at a dining room table on Easter Sunday.  We had just eaten dinner and celebrated the holiday.  We were sitting around and just talking and sharing stories and folklore that we knew about.  The informant is my friend’s younger sister, so she lives at the home we were at and she was sitting with her friend, with me, her brother, and our other friend sat across from them.

My Thoughts:

The Banshee seems to be a legend that is meant to kind of scare people into always being alert and always watching out for their family.  It was interesting because when I collected this piece of folklore, the informant told me that her dad’s friend had actually heard the Banshee at one point and then someone they knew died shortly after.  The informant seemed to strongly believe in the Banshee from hearing this story of the person her dad knew.  This goes back to the idea that with legends you never really know if these people or things exist/existed because there are stories of them existing, but there’s no proof they never did or that they don’t.  The Banshee seems to have some similar characteristics to La Llorona, actually, which was also interesting.  It’s possible that both of these legendary people are the same and the context of each story is different from culture to culture, but there’s a mass belief in this spirit of a woman with long hair that grieves. With the Banshee, a lot of the context I received from my informant and from her father, who followed up with some context is that the main thing about the Banshee is that you hear her, but you don’t really see her, which I also thought was very interesting in relevance to our class discussions about ghosts and spirits.  It seems as if in American folklore we’re much more scared of seeing actual ghosts, but here there’s a clear fear of hearing the Banshee.

 

For another version of this story, see p. 9-19 of Elliott O’Donnell’s 2010 Banshee (Project Gutenberg)

general
Legends
Narrative
Protection
Signs

Moment with the Devil

The following is a somewhat of a ghost story, but also a demonic encounter.  The informant is represented by L and I am represented by K.

Piece:

K: Tell me about your story.

L: Okay… I heard this from my mom, and my mom told it to me when I was younger, that… back when she was living in Mexico, when she was coming home from school with her- with my aunt… and that… the girl who lives next to them… she was like, very bratty and just very mean to her mom, didn’t want to go to work with her, didn’t go help her out to like get money and get food, and she was just… not a nice person at all.  And my mom said when she was coming home from school, she just heard like… a shrilling scream… and her- the girl comes out and she was just sobbing and crying and my mom, it took her- it took my mom a while to calm her down and.. uhm… and she said that.. that the Devil… that the Devil came for her because she was just being so- she was being a bitch, and that… what only she saw was like the black and long and like scary hands with like the fur and stuff. And then my mom stayed with her- my mom and my aunt stayed with her until… her mom got home and then her mom took her to a priest to go… to go bless her, but uhm… I guess what it means to me is just, it kept me in line as a kid ’cause like I can’t be disrespectful to my mom because I don’t want that to happen to me.

Context:

The informant was sitting at a dining room table.  There was a group of 5 of us and we had all just celebrated Easter together.  We were sitting at the dining room table sharing folklore and she had a lot of Mexican folklore that she wanted to share with us.

My Thoughts:

I thought this piece of folklore was interesting because it’s kind of a ghost story, but also kind of just a demonic encounter. I think it was really interesting because this could totally be a real experience or it could be a story that was made up in an effort to keep children in check.  I, personally, think it’s a real story and was told as a way for the informant’s mother to make her behave well when she was younger, but I definitely think it’s real. I also think it’s interesting because, it’s somewhat of a variation of a ghost story, but in this context, the ghost happens to be the Devil.  I think it’s super interesting because people who aren’t religious, but believe in ghosts would probably say it was just a ghost, but people who don’t believe in ghosts, but are religious, might say it’s really just the Devil.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
general
Signs

Puerto Rican Witches Getting Married

Description

“In Puerto Rico, they say a witch is getting married.”

Context

I was sitting with a few informants as we all discussed our cultures and our different belief systems. After one informant randomly offered their thoughts on what the Persians believe about rain when the sun shines, this informant gave me this tidbit of information. She went on further to explain that the origins of the belief are unclear, but that whenever it rained while the sun was shining, she had clear memories of her mother pointing at the sky and saying it.

Analysis

I found it interesting that I had two different people from two different cultures reflecting on this belief that there had to be something happening because it was raining and sunny at the same time. The closest thing I remember believing is that after a rain, or if there was a rainbow while it was still raining, there was a little leprechaun and a pot of gold at the end of it. My friends would make jokes about God peeing onto Earth, of course, but that was the most of it. I love that different cultures have different explanations, but I cannot begin to think what witches and rain and sun have to do with each other.

 

Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Predicting Children- A Korean wedding ritual

Main Text:

Collector: ” You mentioned the clothing of the bride and groom that is traditional to Korean Weddings, but are there any acts that the bride and groom perform at most weddings that you have been to?”

HK: “I do remember one actually. So after the wedding ceremony, the bride has a white cloth that they have to drape and carry around their arms and someone else would have to carry the bottom of it because they are really long. Usually the groom’s parents will toss little ball-like objects into the air towards the bride and however many the bride can catch with this cloth determines how many kids she will have.”

Collector: “Does the cloth have a specific color like the clothes did?”

HK: ” I think the cloth can be any color but usually I have seen it as a white cloth.”

Context:

After I asked HK whether or not there were specific acts performed at Korean weddings she listed out many traditional pieces ranging from the color of the clothes the bride and groom are supposed to wear all the way to this piece about predicting how many children the new married couple will now have has been to family weddings in Korea as well as in the United States and and observed these wedding rituals in practice. When asked about her interpretation about why Korean weddings contain this act she said that children and family are a large part in Korean culture and that once a couple gets married it is expected that they jumpstart the process to conceiving children, so the act of predicting how many children they will have is a sort of precursor to this. I also asked her why she remembers this ‘performance’ specifically and if she would do it at her wedding to which she responded, ” I remember it because I thought that it was a really cute thing to do for a new family and I like to think I would do it at my wedding too because it is a fun part of my culture.”

Analysis:

The ritual that HK is describing is a ritual that is used in many Korean weddings to present day and the “ball-like” objects that the bride is catching are dates (대추), also called jujubes. While the weddings HK described in particular use the dates as a way of predicting the number of children that the couple is going to have this ritualistic act can also be interpreted in another way that is very similar to her explanation. The dates that the bride catches also symbolize the fertility of the bride and her ability to bear many children. As HK explained, children and family are very important to Korean culture so it makes sense to have such an act in the wedding.

Another explanation for this act is that it could figuratively symbolize the “deflowering” of the bride.  Proof of this symbolic deflowerment is that balls are being tossed into a cloth which is supposed to represent fertility or one’s womb and since the cloth is white , it is also supposed to represent purity and virginity. To many cultures, marriage is not necessarily about love but instead building a home together as well as procreating. This being said, the symbolic deflowering of the bride represents this belief that marriage is all about the next generation and establishing a place for your children in society. I think that this wedding tradition continues in traditional Korean Weddings because it is does, as I mentioned before, serve as a nice precursor for the family that is to be built by the newly married couple, which Korean culture places a heavy influence on.

Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Signs

Black Cats Superstition

Main Piece:

“Black cats are bad luck.”

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 19-year-old female. I asked my informant if she knew of any superstitions people live by.  To this, she responded,  “black cats are bad luck.” My informant does not remember when she first heard this superstition, but she thinks it was around the time of Halloween. She claims she also saw it in a tv show she watched as a child called, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. In the show, the black cat was friends with the witch. The informant states that a black cat is a sign that something bad is going to happen. For example, if you are going somewhere and you see a black cat it means something bad will happen in the near future. The informant recalls,

“One time I was driving in the car with a friend and her dad, can’t remember who it was, but we saw a black cat crossing the road and my friend’s dad turned around and drove the other way. My friend says that every time her dad is driving, and he sees a black cat he has to turn around and take an alternate route.”

The informant says she does not believe this is true and feels bad for black cats because everyone thinks they are evil.

I too have heard this superstition that black cats are bad luck. It is interesting to note the association with color. The color black is often used when referencing fear, mystery, evil and death. All of these themes are common around the time of Halloween, so it makes sense the informant believes to have heard this superstition around that time. One also wears black to a funeral to represent the mourning of a loved one. Therefore, seeing a black cat by the color alone can imply death. Death is a mysterious subject terrifying for many people. The black cats’ color can be enough to make people fear the superstition. Cats are also animals that hold a lot of mystery. Often it is said cats have nine lives. This makes the superstition that black cats are bad luck even more fascinating because if the color black is associated with death, and cats have nine lives, could this have some sort of implication that cats can take lives? An intriguing relationship to note.  When looking into this superstition I also found a reference to it in the book Fearful, Spirits, reasoned follies the boundaries of superstition in the late medieval Europe by Michael David Bailey. He also speaks of the association cats have with demonic beings and magical connections.

Bailey, Michael David. Fearful Spirits, Reasoned Follies the Boundaries of Superstition in Late Medieval Europe. Cornell University Press, 2013.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Pass the Salt Superstition

Main Piece:

“It is bad luck to hand someone the salt without setting it down on the table first to break the connection.”

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 47-year-old female. She says she first heard this superstition when she was having dinner with a couple of friends.  They were enjoying dinner when one of the ladies asked for the salt.  The person closest to the salt picked up the salt shaker and handed it to the person who had asked for the salt. The lady who had asked for the salt was reluctant to take the salt from the other person’s hand.  She then asked if it could be set down at the table because she did not want to take the salt shaker from the other person’s hand. The lady who had passed the salt asked why she had to set it down. The other lady responded that it was bad luck to pass the salt from one hand to another without setting it down first. My informant says she has since adopted the superstition claiming there is no harm in following the tradition and likes to think she is avoiding bad luck. I asked my informant where she thinks this superstition began, to this she responded she is unsure, but she thought it had something to do with the Jewish faith because the people she has encountered that strictly follow this superstition are Jewish.

I had heard this superstition before but was curious to know where it originates from and why this is the case. In looking into this superstition I found countless of other superstitions, beliefs, and traditions about salt. Such as the bad luck implied with spilling the slat on the table, and if one does so then they must immediately pick up a pinch of the salt and throw it over their left shoulder. It is also believed salt is a protector and would keep away evil spirits. To keep an unwanted visitors away some believed that if one sprinkles salt at the door right after they leave then sweep it up and burn it they will not return. I also discovered a belief in Buddhist tradition making it common to throw salt over your shoulder when returning home or after a funeral to keep the evil spirits away.

After finding so many beliefs about salt I looked into those related particularly just to the Jewish faith following my informant’s intuition this was a Jewish belief. To my surprise, there were also other Jewish superstitions related to salt. These included placing pockets of salt in the corners of a room or the pockets of clothing to drive evils away(myjewishlearning.com), and throwing salt over your shoulder if you spilled the salt. The likely reason for so many salt superstitions and beliefs is likely due to the value of salt in the Middle Ages. Salt was extremely rare and expensive therefore the thought of spilling it would be unspeakable; similarly to spilling a bag of miniature diamonds in current day standards(something of very high value). In Judaism salt seems to have positive connotations. It is customary to sprinkle it over the challah(ceremonial Jewish bread) and is used as a preserver making what it touches last forever, elevating its status (jtsa.edu).

I found it very difficult to find any information about the passing of the salt specifically. The most common salt superstition I found was about spilling the salt. I can’t seem to recall where I heard this but remember someone mentioning passing the salt being a taboo due to the high value of salt. Therefore setting the salt down before the other person picks it back up acts as breaking the connection between the holder of the salt and the person who is about to hold it. Therefore, if anyone spills the salt it will be clear whose fault it was. Whoever picks the salt back up is now responsible for the salt. This eliminates any debate or misplacing of fault if the salt is spilled.

“SPILLING SALT.” Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly (1876-1904), vol. XI, no. 4, 04, 1881, pp. 413. ProQuest, http://libproxy.usc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy1.usc.edu/docview/136551260?accountid=14749.

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/popular-superstitions/

http://www.jtsa.edu/sprinkling-salt-on-the-challah

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Game
general
Myths
Protection
Signs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

American Street Crack Superstition

Main Piece:

“Step on a crack and break your mom’s back”

Context and Analysis:

The informant claims the superstition is common knowledge. When asked when she first heard it she insisted not knowing when she picked it up, she just assumed it was common knowledge, “Everyone knows that when you are walking, you are not supposed to step on a crack it’s just what everyone says.” The informant does not know where the superstition originates from. The informant does not believe this superstition is true and therefore she does not apply it to her daily life. The informant states, “I know it is not true because I have stepped on a lot of cracks and nothing has happened.”

Like most superstitions, this one uses the threat of something valuable to encourage people to follow it. If something valuable is at stakes many times even if people do not believe in the superstition they will follow it to avoid any potential curse. This superstition emphasizes the dangers of stepping on a crack which can lead to breaking your mother’s back.

It is interesting to note the informant’s belief that this superstition is known worldwide. Often when someone does not know the origin of where something comes from or if they heard it at an early enough age, they assume everyone is familiar with the same things they are. Due to the understanding my informant has of the superstition I want to infer she heard it when she was in her early childhood years.

I also think it is important to note my informants reasoning as to what makes this superstition relevant. She states ‘everyone’ knows this. By emphasizing the use of a lot of people following a tradition or employing a saying, this gives any work reliability and validation.

There also seems to be a correlation with how difficult the superstition is to follow and how many people follow it. Many people follow superstitions when it does not inconvenience them. Therefore, when you have a superstition like this where it takes a lot of effort to avoid cracks everywhere one goes, it is less likely people will follow it.  Among children, this superstition can act as a game where a child will aim to avoid the cracks on the pavement and if he fails the punishment is the belief that his or her mom’s back will be broken.

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