Category Archives: Signs

Prognostications, fortune-telling, etc.

Tae-mong, Korean Conception Dreams

Main Piece:

The following is translation of a conversation with my mom, identified here as M, in Korean about “tae-mong”, Korean conception dreams. I am identified as IC.

IC: Can you tell me about tae-mong?

M: Tae-mong is a dream that you have either when you’re pregnant or about to be pregnant. Usually it’s the pregnant woman that has the dream but sometimes it’s people around you. When you have this dream, you usually know that it’s tae-mong

IC: How do you know?

M: It just feels a little different. The dream is clearer and something big either comes at you or you pick up something nice.

IC: Is there a specific time frame for when you have tae-mong?

M: There isn’t a specific time, but generally it’s in early or mid-pregnancy. But I had mine before, for both you and your brother.

IC: What was the dream for my brother?

M: I went to my in-law’s place where your dad’s grandmother lived. So, She and I were walking when a huge pig came towards me, bit my hand and didn’t let go. I screamed and screamed and woke up. So, I thought, this is either a tae-mong or a dream telling me to buy lottery. I wasn’t pregnant so I but the lottery which I didn’t win. But two months later, I became pregnant. Also, what’s fascinating about tae-mong is that when people hear it they guess the gender.

IC:  How do they know?

M: Normally if it’s a big or fierce animal, people say it’s a boy

IC: Is this guess usually correct?

M: It was right for me, but for some people it’s wrong. For girls it’s something small and pretty like flowers.

IC: What was the dream for me?

M: One day, I went up a mountain and there was a small, spring pool that was filled with clean and sparkly water. Inside, there were two small fish playing and I picked one up and kept it.

Also, after I was pregnant with your brother, my mother said that I would have two kids, one year apart. I asked why and my mother said that she had a dream and there were two puppies, similar in size—one little smaller than the other—ran to me.

IC: I see, that’s cool. My brother and I are one year apart.

M: Right. And in Korea, when you’re pregnant, people generally ask if you had a dream. When they ask this, they’re referring to tae-mong. And typically, you just know that it’s a tae-mong because you’re the center focus of the dream.

Background:

It is common for pregnant Korean women to have conception dreams that relate to the gender of their baby. My mom experienced this when she had me and my brother.

Context:

TThis was collected in an interview with my mom in a casual setting.  I had remembered about my mom telling me about conception dreams before and I thought it would be interesting to ask her about it for this project.

Thoughts:

Although the idea of conception dreams to predict gender is interesting, I can’t help but think that the basis for differentiating gender is a little outdated and somewhat sexist. For boys, it’s a big and fierce animal like pigs, lions et cetera. But for girls, it’s something small and sparkly, like small animals or jewels. Whether it’s food, animals or flowers it’s always small for girls. I don’t know if this is something in Western cultures or even other Asian cultures, but I think it’s a unique tradition that Koreans have.

Black Cat Superstition

Black Cat Superstition

Main Piece:

I mean everyone has that superstition about black cats who has superstitions. It’s just they’re creepy because it’s like if they cross in front of you, you’ll have bad luck. And I don’t know I am a superstitious person so I believe when I see a balck cat if it crosses in front of me I’ll have bad luck and I don’t want bad luck. It’s been a big thing in movies and everyone alway said “never let a black cat cross your path” and that’s been a big thing since elementary school for me cause we had a lot of stray cats around our school and whenever I saw a black cat I was like no, not today. 

Background: My informant is a Junior in college. She is American, but her Mom is an immigrant from Jamaica and her Dad is an immigrant from Nicaragua. She talks about her superstitions with black cats in this piece. I feel that it is important to note that the school she is referring to is a catholic school. This school is where she first learned about the superstition, but she also learned later that her mom’s side of the family is very superstitious as well. It was clear from the informants tone that she doesn’t care if she looks silly, or if there’s no proof of the bad luck, she will still avoid black cats at all costs. 

Context: This story was prompted by the informant and I seeing a black cat on a walk. After calming down, I asked the informant to tell me a little bit more about the superstitions that have a rather large impact on her like this one. 

My thoughts: As I was able to see the informant have a small meltdown before our encounter, it was clear to me that the fear of something  happening from an encounter with the black cat was very real for this individual. The genuine terror made me curious about this, as I have heard of the superstition, yet I looked at it as more of a symbol than a death sentence. Or rather, a bad luck sentence. Other superstitions I can get behind, they make sense to me in their perfectly nonsensical way. After asking myself why this is, I realized that I have personal ties to the Superstitions that I believe, just as my informant does. Her upbringing and school fostered an environment where this folk superstition could thrive.

Bubbles in Puddles

Context: 

This piece is collected in a casual interview setting around a cup of coffee. My informant (BA) was born in Lille, France, and moved to California in 2002 with her husband for their jobs at Caltech. She has a Master in Human Resources and Detection of High Potentials, is a mother of two teenage girls, loves to garden and go on hikes, and is overall a very energetic and happy woman. This specific conversation is about predicting rain.

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant (BA) and interviewer.

Interviewer: Can you tell me again how you can tell if it will rain again tomorrow if it rains today?

BA: Yes, yes, yes, so it works like this, ok? When its raining, there are puddles that form on the ground right? And after a while, when it rains a lot, the puddles become a little bigger. So when it rains and you see bubbles forming in the puddles, that means it will rain again tomorrow. You understand? **pauses**

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah.

BA: And so when you don’t see bubbles, it won’t rain tomorrow! 

Interviewer: Ah ok, yeah, yeah, I understand. Oh and also where did you learn this trick from?

BA: My grandparents and dad use to tell me this when I was little. We would look at the puddles outside the window to see if there were bubbles when it rained. There was something really cute and magical about it.

Interviewer: And do you still believe it will really rain again the next day if you see bubbles? 

BA: Hmm… well. When I was little I believed it. I kinda forgot about it when I grew older. I guess when I moved to California with how little it rains here I stopped believing it. 

Thoughts: 

I have heard a version of this old wive’s tale before, but it was not for predicting rain the next day, per say. The version I had heard of before was that when women worked and it was raining outside, if there were no bubbles forming in puddles, or if the bubbles burst immediately, that meant they would go home for the day because the rain would subside. However, if the bubbles formed and stayed, the rain would last and so the women would continue working. 

Annotation:

For another version of this old wive’s tale, please visit this website and find the comment written by “daveq” comment: https://www.weather-watch.com/smf/index.php?topic=7551.0

Dandelions

Context: The informant is my older sister (LC) and the following text is transcribed from our phone conversation. She reflects on a good luck ritual she used to do with her friends that was taught to them by their parents.

Main Text (LC): “The belief or myth behind the meaning of the Dandelion is that if you make a wish and blow on one, and the seeds all go everywhere, your wish will come true. And I think that’s the myth everyone knows about them. But now, to me, they mean something else. They show up in this book about activism and social justice that I read and the book states that the dandelion is a metaphor for change. The book says that just like the dandelion, only one seed is necessary to spread great change, and I find this message very powerful.”

Analysis: The belief or ritual that blowing on a dandelion grants your wish has been commonplace in the United States for a long time. This practice reminds me of how a child blows out a birthday candle and makes a wish. I think it is interesting how the dandelion is used as a different metaphor in the book my sister read and demonstrates how an object’s symbolism can change over time and garner new meanings.

Children’s Game: Cars

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from an interview between the informant and the interviewer. “A” refers to the informant and “B” the interviewer.

A: “We used to play a lot of games when were kids. Did [my sister] tell you about the game with the cars?”

B: “No.”

A: “What we would do is we would sit on the porch, and there were a lot of kids in our neighborhood and we all grew up together. So, like, as your sitting on the porch the next car that comes down the street would be your car. Okay, so it might be a nice car. It might be a clunker, you know? So you didn’t really want it to be a clunker, but yeah. And you couldn’t like back out of it. So if it’s your turn, the next car would be yours. So, we would all do that until we all had a car. For that day, you had a nice car if it was a nice car. If it was a piece of crap then you had a piece of crap for that day.”

Context:

I collected this piece of folklore in an over-the-phone interview. The informant, my uncle, used to play this game when he was a kid growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. He and his neighborhood friends would play this game while they were in elementary school, and then they grew out of it. He is African American.

My Thoughts:

This game shows how kids fantasized about a certain right of passage, driving and owning a car. In this game, kids got to experiment with how their lives may be when they grow older and what kind of car they may have as a symbol of success. If a kid got a nice car, then he could boast about the kind of car he has with the money and accomplishments that could probably come with it. A “clunker” would be like a projection of an unsuccessful future. This game was ultimately an outlet for kids to think about their future and a way to showcase how cars are connected to one’s success.

Witching Rods Gold Ritual

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (HH).

CB: “Okay so what did your mom teach you?”

HH: “My grandma. It was….divining rods or witching rods? I can’t remember exactly. But they were two sticks tied together, and you’d bow ‘em and there was a certain way you’d hold them in your hand, and you’d walk around and when you were over gold they’d let you know”

CB: “Why do you think it was important?”

HH: “It saved a heck of a lot of time when we were looking for gold.”

CB: “What do they mean to you?”

HH: “It was a pretty cool experience when I was a kid. Because those rods knew what was happening. So you’d take a pan of gold and then you’d wave it over the pan a few times and you’d walk around and pretty soon they’d start pulling you down just like a fishing rod. And you’d know if you dug deep enough you’d find something. And my grandma lived on a great big gold claim, and so we’d go visit her and always go looking for gold”

CB: “Why do you think people kept using the rods instead of something like a metal detector?”

HH: “Well it’s just what they’d been doing since before metal detectors.”

Background:
My informant and all of his family grew up in northern California which has a rich history associated with the Goldrush. The area where he lives is just an hour from where gold was first discovered. Many of the families and towns in the area can trace their history directly back to the Goldrush. While it is no longer a profitable career, gold can still be found if dug in the hills or panned for in the creeks. Many still actively search for gold as a hobby. The gold plot that my informant described can be traced through family back to the Goldrush. Growing up, his parents and grandparents often sent him and the other kids searching for gold as a way to keep them entertained. Witching rods are typically associated with finding water to dig wells, however the old gold miners were known to use them to find gold as well.

Context:

I interviewed my informant in person, at home, as we sat on the couch and discussed local history. The conversation was easy and comfortable. 

Thoughts:

While gold digging and panning are still somewhat common in our community, witching rods have been phased out, and are very heavily associated with ‘hillbilly superstitions’. I thought it was very interesting that my informant believed so strongly in the rods, when they had been largely discredited socially. I think this belief is rooted in the idea of tradition, and trusting the generations before you. He cited the continuation of using the rods as being accredited to the fact that it was tradition. It’s this idea that many people have successfully used the same tool as you that gives the practice a sense of truth beyond the science of a metal detector. Like many other families in the area, my informant’s family no longer owns the gold plot, or engages in gold mining of any sort. He has become a passive bearer, and I believe that this tradition won’t be practiced for much longer.

For another variation of Witching Rods see YouTube video “Beginners guide to dowsing” uploaded by gardansolyn. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbwo0YCpV3E

Filipino Utensil Superstition

Piece:

Informant: So what I remember is, like, y’know, like that one, if you drop a utensil, either like, a fork– if you drop a fork on the floor, then they were saying that you’re gonna have a visitor, it’s gonna be a male. And if it’s, ah, a spoon, then it’s gonna be female.

Collector: Do you know why, like, the fork and the spoon have genders?

Informant: Yeah, it’s kinda like, the fork kinda like, represents the male, y’know, and then– if it’s like the little spoon, then the young, young, yeah, young girl. And then if it’s the little fork, it’s like young boy. Y’know, something like that, so it doesn’t have an age or anything.

Collector: Right, right, where did you pick this up, just like–?

Informant: Yeah, I heard it from the people, y’know, like, my relatives, and folks in the Philippines, y’know–

Collector: Where in the Philippines are you from?

Informant: Um, I’m from Cavite City. Yeah, it’s like an hour away from Manila.

Context: The informant is the mother of a close friend of mine, and is an immigrant from the Philippines. She has lived in Southern California for roughly 40 years, while still maintaining close connections with her home country. After the interview, the informant then recalled a past incident in which she had dropped a fork minutes before her daughter’s boyfriend came for a surprise visit. 

Analysis: This particular omen, as she mentioned, she had picked up from not only her relatives, but the general folk as well, suggesting that it is a household belief. While transcribing the interview, I searched the internet for more information of who participates in this belief. One thing I noticed is that when I searched up the phrase “dropping spoon company,” the only sites I found that mentioned it were at least ten years old, the latest being posted in 2010. However, when I searched up “dropping spoon Philippines,” there were far more results, most of them posted much more recently. Nearly all of them involved lists of Filipino superstitions, which were then posted on Filipino websites. One could reasonably assume that many of these lists were written by younger people, and from there, infer that this belief is still very much alive. 

Overall, this omen, though a minor thing, seems now to be a point of pride for many Filipino people. This pride could be an enactment of “cultural intimacy,” which Michael Herzfeld describes as “the recognition of those aspects of a cultural identity that are considered as a source of external embarrassment but that nevertheless provide insiders with the assurance of common sociality”. Though perhaps not too embarrassing, this belief is certainly not a proven fact by any means, and so could be seen as superstitious or outdated. Despite this, many Filipino people seem to regard it as an identity marker, given its inclusion in many lists entitled “You know you’re Filipino when..” 

Herzfeld, M. (2005). Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State. New York: Routledge.


Chinese Red Name

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and the interviewer.

Informant: So, I grew up in Thailand but my family’s actually from Shanghai, China. There are lots of Chinese people living in Thailand, but even with Thai people there are plenty of cultures that we share. For example, we both don’t write our names with a red ink. Or anyone’s names, people tend to not write any names in color red. I though this was a strictly a Chinese tradition, but it was pretty common in Thailand too.

Interviewer: My Korean family also believes in that myth.

Informant: I guess it’s pretty common amongst all Asian cultures. I just thought it was Chinese exclusive because the color red is so heavily used in China. Chinese people love the color red. We think it can bring good luck and good energy, but it’s also heavily associated with death at the same time. So when you write someone’s name in red, it’s as if you’re welcoming death.

Interviewer: What would you do if you had to write your name and you only had a red pen?

Informant: (laughs) I guess I’ll have to write my name and hope I don’t die suddenly.

Background:

My informant heard about this piece when she was very little from her Auntie. While she doesn’t recall the exact whereabouts of how that was brought up, but she describes it as a common tradition that one acquires simply by being around other Chinese people.

Context:

My informant and I were discussing traditions that we share in common, as we come from two different cultures – Chinese and Korean, respectively. One thing we found was that both our cultures avoid writing a person’s name in color red. This conversation took place at her house, she currently resides in Los Angeles.

Thoughts:

This was an interesting piece of folklore to learn about as it’s common in multiple cultures. I think the reason why it’s so heavily spread in Asia is because how deeply Asian cultures are unified, especially East Asian regions where Buddhist ideologies of linking death and good luck as coinciding factors are common.

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.
———————————————————————————————————————
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
———————————————————————————————————————
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.

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.