USC Digital Folklore Archives / Signs
Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I began by simply asking, “What do you know about astrology?”

The informant most likely first heard about astrology when he was a child from the Internet.
Informant: “[Pauses for a long time after I pose the question] I know… I’m a Scorpio.”

Interviewer: “Okay, what makes you a Scorpio?”

Informant: “Uh… Born in early November. At least, before the signs changed… somehow. I don’t know what’s up with that. But uh… yeah. Apparently different signs have different personality traits. Scorpios are very competitive. From my experience, that doesn’t seem to not be true [The informant is a rather competitive person]. I’m not saying that I’m competitive… but I am. Uh… That’s all I can think of, though. I’m not really sure what the other personality traits are because I don’t follow them, although I’m going to assume that Libras are smart.”

Interviewer: “Why?”

Informant: “Because it’s short for library…… Kidding! Because the book, it’s a book.”

Interviewer: “It’s a book?”

Informant: “Isn’t the symbol a book? I don’t know.”

Interviewer: Do you know if the symbols are connected to the star signs at all?”

Informant: “They just look like what they’re named after. So Scorpio’s a scorpion, aaaand Cancer’s a crab. Don’t quite understand that one… Uh, Gemini is twins. Makes sense.”
This informant does not know too much about astrology. Much like others who don’t know much, though, he does know his star sign, as well as an aspect of his sign. He is also aware of the connection to constellations, like many others.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I began by simply asking, “What do you know about astrology?”

The informant first heard about astrology around the age of 6 or 7, when her family told her about the Chinese Zodiac signs.
Informant: “Astrology? Umm, you mean, like… star signs and stuff? Um… base level, a bit. Like, know, I know there’s like twelve signs and all that, and… um… I d- I don’t know what, what I would say. I know a little bit… The twelve signs, there’s, like, personalities assigned to each of them, and…”

Interviewer: “Do you know those?”

Informant: “All twelve?”

Interviewer: “Any of them.”

Informant: “Uh, Pisces, Aries… Aquarius…”

Interviewer: “Do you know the traits associated with any of them?”

Informant: “Uhh, like, Pisces is a dreamer, super, no super emotional. Cancer is also super emotional. Aries is, like, the, ‘Yeah! I’m awesome!’ self-confident sort of person. Um… Libra is a balanced person… [smacks lips, thinking] Mmm…………. I don’t, [sighs] I feel like I’m going to get Leo wrong. Le- I, I think Leo’s also another very self… not self-important, but, like, self-inflated one. They’re like… ‘Me first, I’m awesome. Let me be courageous and help.’ Um……………… [Quietly, in thought] Yeah Cancer’s super emotional, just like, ‘Ha! I’m here.’….. Yeah I don’t know a lot about all of them, I just know that they exist and there’s a connection between them all [laughs].”

Interviewer: “Do you know what your star sign is?”

Informant: “[Quickly, excited] Uh Pisces!”

Interviewer: “Do you know anything else about it? What it means? How you get it?”

Informant: “Mmmm… It’s- I know you, you- It’s assigned based on the months. Like approximately one per month, but it’s actually shifted over a little bit. I can’t remember if it’s forward or back, like… M- It’s February 28th to March 18th for Pisces, I think, and it’s the last one, so accordingly, Aries would be after that. Umm……. I don’t remember where it originated; I used to know. I used to be a lot more into this stuff [laughs]. Uhhh…….”

Interviewer: “When did you first hear about it? Why did you used to be into it, and not anymore?”

Informant: “It was a middle school thing, I was very, like… I was at that sorta phase where I was like, ‘Ooh let me just get on Google and research a bunch of stuff.’ I did a lot of weird stuff like Googling – specifically the stars. A lot of, like, research on black holes and… that led to astrology cause astronomy is connected to it.”
This informant knows only a little about astrology, but like others, knows about her own star sign. Like some others, she connects astrology to the Chinese Zodiacs.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I began by simply asking, “What do you know about astrology?”

The informant first heard about astrology around the age of 8 or younger from his parents. He recalls being told about it in, specifically, a Fuddruckers restaurant.
Informant: “Uhh, that it uses – I mean I know some stuff about it, like, in the context of what it meant to medieval Britain? In that, cause I study middle english, I take a class in middle english in Dornsife right now, and about how astrologers… were… basically… like, people thought they were magic? And they sort of, like, it – it was lined up with the occult. And because astrology and astronomy were basically the same thing ([quiet voice] because they did not know what stars were?), um, and so they had, like, these big books, um, with star charts, and they mapped out their star charts, and they would tell, um, and farmers would come to them and kings would come to them and be like, and ask them about the harvest because, they thought that was more reliable than an almanac. Um, s- like, that’s basically my experience with astrology beyond, ‘Oh there’s a horoscope in the newspaper and Buzzfeed girls are into that.’”

Interviewer: “Do you know what it is?”

Informant: “It’s, so it’s, it’s the study of astrological signs, and how those signs affect your life and your personality?”

Interviewer: “Okay, do you know what sign you are?”

Informant: “[Hesitantly] I think I’m an Aires.”

Interviewer: “Do you know what traits associate with each sign?”

Informant: “No.”

Interviewer: “Is there anything else you know about it at all? You mentioned stars?”

Informant: “I know that when Mercury’s in retrograde, things are bad?? It has to do with stars and the planets. Uhh, I know that each planet has relationships with the other planets and the Sun, and they’re all also associated with traits. Like I can assume Venus is associated with sensuality and romance because it is Venus. Um, and Mars is probably maybe associated with some sort of anger? Eh, because again, Mars is the god of war, and… but I don’t have a huge amount of experience with astrology, it’s n- never something I super believe in.”
This informant knows more about the science and history of astrology rather than astrology itself. He is aware of the connection to the planets, but doesn’t know any of the traits – even his own. He does, however, have a unique perspective, what with his knowledge of astrology in regards to medieval Britain.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I began by simply asking, “What do you know about astrology?”

The informant first heard about astrology around the age of 7, most likely from his parents when he became curious about star signs.
Informant: “Um….. Well… I personally don’t believe in it. I do know it uses, like, uh, you know, the idea is that if you look at the stars, you can predict what’s going to happen in the future, and that, you know, it’s like a combination of the positioning of the stars and the various star signs and that kind of thing, and then the alignment of the planets and that kind of thing. And you use that to predict other things, like, depending on what month you were born in, for, like, whatever your star sign is, it changes what the meanings are, and, you know, generally, generally, you know, like… like… like with a lot of, like, that kind of stuff it’s just very, very broad statements that you can sort of apply to anything, which means that you always feel like confirmation bias-wise that, um, you know, whatever you’re being told is correct.”

Interviewer: “Do you know what your star sign is?”

Informant: “I’m born in November… and I’ve always forgotten whether I was Sagittarius or if I was something else. I don’t remember, but…”

Interviewer: “Do you know what the traits for each sign are?”

Informant: “No idea… [Sudden realization] I was born in the year of the ra- no was I born in the year of the rat? I think I was born in the year of the rat… But I’ve forgotten what that means as well.”
This informant does not know much about astrology; He is not even sure what his sign is. His understanding is that it is mainly used to predict the future. He also, like some others, connect astrology to the Chinese Zodiac.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I began by simply asking, “What do you know about astrology?”

The informant first heard about astrology from his teachers when he was in elementary school, around 6 years old.
Informant: “Ummm, I’m trying to make sure I don’t get it mixed up with astronomy, cause I know there’s a difference, but I don’t know exactly much about it, so… I know it’s not astronomy, right?”

Interviewer: “If I said it has to do with stars and star signs, would you know?”

Informant: “Ooooh that makes s- yeah okay, that’s… Well I know there’s like, a lot of people have the Zodiac sign thing happening? Where they’re, like, ‘Oh this is, like, I’m a Leo,’ or, ‘I’m a Sagittarius,’ or, ‘I’m a Cancer,’ and they can, like, find out where, what the constellation looks like and sometimes it relates back to, like, the calendar, like, kinda like personal, like, type that you are and what you’re about.”

Interviewer: “Do you know what your sign is?”

Informant: “I am a Leo.”

Interviewer: “Do you know what traits match up to each sign?”

Informant: “Not really. Like I think there’s some kind of, like, confidence or leader thing to it? But I don’t take that seriously. Mmmmm… Somebody said Leo’s don’t get along with other Leo’s, and that’s all I got.”
This informant does not know much about astrology, but does know his star sign, as well as some of that sign’s traits. He, like some others, somewhat connects astrology to the Chinese Zodiac, but he is adamant that it is different from astronomy.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I began by simply asking, “What do you know about astrology?”

The informant first started looking into astrology in college, when he was inspired by a post he saw on the Internet.
Informant: “That is a pretty – I know a lot about astrology. Um, I’m pretty deep into the tarot major and minor arcana. Um, I’ve done some tarot research. Um, uh, in terms of astrology, I am a Libra with my moon in Cancer. Umm, I know all about the, the major cardinal signs, the wind, fire and earth signs. Um, I have a pretty extensive astrology chart built for myself that is oddly accurate. Um, I don’t think there is, I don’t think it is a scientific practice, but it is… it is too accurate too often to be completely disregarded, in my scientific opinion.”

Interviewer: “Do you know the traits of the different signs? Can you give me brief descriptions?”

Informant: “Uh, yeah, I can work through most of them. Uh, Libras are particularly good at balance, obviously. Umm, they sit in the center of opinions and work to normalize situations. That’s why I’m a good advisor. Uh, Virgos are, uh, anal, retentive neat freaks. Leos are fiercely dominate leaders, often, uh, ignoring of the needs of the people around them. Scorpios are hot-headed. Geminis are two-faced and often not to be trusted. My wife is a Gemini; It’s wonderful. Umm, uh… [Sighs] I don’t know, I guess Sagittarius’s, not quite sure so much about them. Taurus’s… we talked about, really straight-forward, bullish. Um… Yeah, I’m sure there’s some other ones that I’m forgetting, but… those are the main ones that I’ve primarily engaged with.”
This informant knows a surprising amount of astrology that delves into very specific aspects of the craft. He has fairly straight-forward descriptions of almost all the signs, and while he doesn’t necessarily believe wholeheartedly in it, he has noticed that it has been fairly accurate.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Material
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Let Snacks Alone

This friend of mine has always been one of the most superstitious people I know. Her childhood was split between two households, each with their own unique beliefs and superstitions. Having been quite close for the past few years, I’ve heard innumerable stories regarding strange folk-beliefs her parents taught her as a little girl.

The following was recorded by hand during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“I think it’s bad luck to open people’s food and eat it before they do. Like if Nas buys a bag of goldfish, and I take it and open it, and eat it. One time in 7th grade, my best friend, Rocky, and I were sharing a bag of pretzel thins. She took it from me, opened it during a movie, and immediately after the movie she had her period. My mom said it was just us growing up. Later, I did it to someone else, I opened their bag and took a test and then I got an F on a test. This was back in middle school. I believe in signs. If you follow signs religiously, it’ll be good. I don’t think any of my superstitions allow me to have a crutch, religion is a crutch.

It’s interesting to hear first-hand how some superstitions come into being outright. As far as I can tell from online research, no one believes that eating another person’s food before they do is bad luck. My friend came to this conclusion herself after the above anecdotes played themselves out. She strung together two ‘signs’ in order to formulate an original belief. And she’s passed it on to me! Whenever I go out to eat, and someone’s food arrives before mine, I have the urge to steal a fry. Before I do, however, a little voice in the back of my head reminds me of my friend’s experiences and asks, ‘what if?’. And so I leave the fry.

I tried explaining to her how her superstitions sometimes do act as crutches. As in the case of the test, where she believed she failed due to her opening of someone else’s bag of chips. However, she would have none of it. And insisted that her superstitions served only to explain, never to redact the blame.

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Signs
Tales /märchen

Fireball Ghosts

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. Growing up, she told me tons and tons of stories from her time there. I was always particularly interested in their spiritual beliefs. Specifically, those regarding ghosts.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

In Japan in graveyards – because it’s… because everybody’s cremated it’s very common during typhoon season to see fireballs and whatnot. And that’s really because of the seepage of the rainwater into burial urns combining with the phosphorous of the bones and creating fireballs. But some people believe that they’re spirits and that the graveyards are haunted. So, yeah I guess. Some people believe it’s the spirits and other people believe it’s the phosphorous in the bones with the rainwater. It’s also very easy to imagine … you sort of feel different presences in Japan. Especially in subways in Tokyo. Because they’re very old, you can feel lots of spirits.”

This anecdote is particularly interesting, as it includes scientific explanation for a supernatural occurrence. Imagine walking home late one rainy night when you see fireball after fireball erupt out of a graveyard. That would be absolutely terrifying. Thankfully, my mother never told me this story as a kid, as it would have almost undoubtedly caused innumerable nightmares and late nights for her. Though she explains the fireballs, she still admits to feeling a very strong spiritual presence across the country as a whole. A presence no one can account for outright. Though some ghosts are easily explained, others are not.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Signs

The Veil

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other language(s):  French

Age: 52

Occupation: n/a

Residence: California

Performance Date: 3-25-18

 

What it is: Tea Leafs and the Veil

“Papa’s Grandmother had been taught how to read tea leaves from a very young age. She was what is not considered to be a gypsy but in Ireland they call them travelers. So she was an Irsish ‘gypsy’ and would read tea leafs. Even in her old age she would, after drinking tea (afternoon), would read the leaves. My grandfather would have to beg to read the leave, she wouldn’t always do it. She also was said to have second sight (see what would happen in the future). One of her sons had been born with a piece of the placenta attached to his face, and this was considered to be a great omen, so she preserved it. The say is ‘If you were lucky enough to be born with the veil’. When he was in World War II, papa remembers her becoming very concerned about him and sent him the placenta in the mail. He was in a great fierce battle after he had received his mother package and was the only one in his platoon to survive.”

Why they know it:  Meghan was told the story from her father about ‘the veil’ and her grandmother reading the tea leaves but never witnessed it herself.

When is it said: This is a family legend and is told at family events or when sharing family stories to others.

Where did it come from: Ireland

Why it’s said: Enjoyment and nostalgia

How they know it and what it means: This is something that has been passed on.

Thoughts: I have always believed in ‘witches’ and people being able to sense things others can’t. I’ve always believed I have been able to do so as well. So hearing about my Great Great Grandmother, who was able to do something similar makes me feel connected to my ancestors in a completely different way. As well as being connected to a ‘homeland’ I have never been too. Through these investigations I have learned a great deal about myself, my family, my culture, but I have also learned a great deal about the commonalities I have with people I have never met, peoples of lands I have never visited, etc. It makes me feel as if I have a whole new circle of connections and knowledge that I never knew existed.

Folk Beliefs
Protection
Signs

The Clock is Ticking

Main Piece: SM: For Chinese people, don’t bring clocks to the wedding, because that’s like a symbolism… thats a symbol of basically counting down someone’s death. So if you give it as a gift, it’s like you’re wishing for someone to die soon.

 

Context: This is a superstition that is just understood in the Chinese culture, similar to how it’s understood in the US that “you shouldn’t wear white to a wedding.”

 

Background: SM grew up in Singapore, and so she grew up fully aware of this superstition.

 

Analysis: The symbolism in this one is particularly interesting, because it does actually make sense! Clocks are often used as symbols of death, or of limited time, and so when you think about it it completely makes sense that gifting a clock could symbolize gifting someone death. At a wedding, when everyone is excited about the future, and many families are gifting practical household options, I can understand how the last thing you would want is a clock.

 

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