USC Digital Folklore Archives / Protection
Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

Right Foot First – An Ice Skating Superstition and Ritual

The following informant is a 22-year-old student who competed in ice skating throughout her childhood and well into her teenage years and continues to ice skate recreationally now. She is describing a common superstition she and some of her teammates have. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: One superstition that I have always had when I used to ice skate was that I always used to put my right skate on and tie up the laces before putting on my left skate. I made sure I always did that.

K: What would happen if you put your left skate on first?

S: I just had this belief that if I put my left skate on first, then I would not have as good of a skate, or I would mess up and risk hurting myself. I always thought oh my god you have to put your right skate on first

K: Were you the only one to have this superstition or did your teammates also share it?

S: I’m not sure if other people shared my superstition specifically, but some of my other teammates had similar superstitions. Like my friend J, when she steps on to the ice, she always puts her right foot down first and never the left first for the same reason I put my skates on right first. I, and a lot of the other girls, also followed her superstition as well. Which is probably where I got my superstition about skates.

K: Would you only do this before a competition or anytime you put on skates and stepped on to the ice?

S: Oh, every time I put on skates and went on the ice. I’ve been doing it for years now that I don’t have to worry about accidently putting my left skate on first because I have trained myself to always put my right skate on first and step with my right foot first.

S: One more thing, I am not sure why my superstition has to do with the right-side, maybe it’s because I’m right handed… but that doesn’t really make sense because my friend J is left handed… I honestly don’t know

Context:

This conversation took place at a café one evening. The informant brought up superstitions and I asked if she would like to participate in the folklore collection project. The conversation was recorded and transcribed. Although she only acts out the ritual when she ice-skates.

Thoughts:

I find her superstition about always doing things on the right side first very fascinating, along with her reasoning, that she later disagrees with. But maybe she is not wrong, It seems pretty obvious that if you are right-hand dominant that you would consider your right side to bring good luck and your left side to bring bad luck. But how would this explain her friend. Or maybe in our everyday life we tend to go from right to left, like reading English, her first language, you always read right to left, reading left to right just would not make sense.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Material
Protection

Pre-Race Breakfast

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about some of his experiences at USC; particularly, I asked him if he knew of any strong traditions at USC (aside from the obvious ‘Fight On’!). The subject is a member of the USC Triathlon team and is very active and involved on the team. He described one of the strong pre-race traditions as having a regular breakfast before the grueling, hours-long race. Different teammates have different foods that they eat, but each individual on the team always eats the exact same thing before every race. Though I’ve categorized this as a tradition, this ritual also has elements of folk superstition as well—even though the athletes might not necessarily personally believe that eating the same pre-race food is lucky, it implies that it is a special ritual for them.

Main Piece

“Traditional foods that we’ll have for, like, breakfast, like, it’s not really routine as in like more traditional and meaningful. My food is pretty lame—it’s just oatmeal—but it’s sort of a comfort, like a pre-race food. And like everyone has that. Some people have like PB and J.”

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Knock on Wood

Subject: Folk superstition. “Knock on wood”.

Collection:

“Interviewer: On the morning of a race, what would you do if someone said something about your own car running well, or someone else’s team maybe being on the frits, what would you make everyone do?”

Interviewee: When somebody would comment in that fashion, for 22 years of racing in Baja, the old knock on wood would come out. So I would make the whole crew knock on wood. Which typically was chrome molly.

Interviewer: How many. So for you the chrome molly was a good sub- good enough substitute for wood?

Interviewee: Tha- because there’s no wood in a lot of places down there.

Interviewer: So you didn’t do your head?

Interviewee: Nope, we knocked on the car.

Interviewer: Knocked on the car. Interesting.

[laughter from his wife]

Interviewer: Um, how many people were on the crew?

Interviewee: Typically, about twelve of us.

Interviewer: So all twelve people, you’d make them all stop the important work they were doing to make them knock on the chrome molly of the car?

Interviewee: Uhhh, all who were standing around at that time, yes.

Interviewer: So if someone was occupied, say, racing, they would not have to knock on the wood?

Interviewee: They would not have to knock on the wood.”

Background Info: S. Taylor grew up in Southern California he grew up snow skiing, water skiing, motorcycle driving, jet skiing, playing volleyball, and racing cars. He first heard the expression as a kid from his parents and the other adults on trips to the river, the Salton Sea, and Canyon Lake. Today, S. Taylor lives in San Clemente, CA with his wife, C. Taylor and has one daughter.

Context: This story was shared over dinner after I asked my father if there were any activities, sayings, or traditions for him and his buddies either when they raced in Mexico or when they now attend off-road races. The only piece of shared culture he could recall is himself forcing everyone to knock on wood if something was said to potentially jinx the race.

Analysis: Off-road racing is particularly dangerous, more so than driving on the normal highway or around town, despite there always being a threat of danger. The practice of knocking on wood is employed to counteract any negative effects that might emerge because of someone saying something that is desirable, and you don’t want to jinx it. On the surface, this activity embodies the normal practice of knocking on wood. First, the trigger is a verbal expression of a positive outcome or aspect of a situation then someone says, “knock on wood” which triggers everyone in earshot to knock on wood. Second, it is an expression of people trying to gain autonomy over an unsure or indeterminant outcome or situation. If you say to a friend, “You studied hard for you Organic Chemistry final, you are going to do great!” They might tell you to or they themselves might knock on wood. The indeterminant future contains the material on the test, if the person will remember what they studied, and the grade they will receive. By knocking on wood, a person is showing their desire to control and fix one outcome, usually one that is most desirable to them.

However, the situation is distinct since an unusual material is used as a wood substitute and there is an effort to have unanimous participation by all in a group. First, my dad specifically mentioned that they would knock on the chrome molly of the car. In traditional enactments of the knock-on-wood counter curse, if real wood is not present, the only true substitute is one’s own head (a suggestion that the person’s head is made of wood or that the person is imbecilic for enacting this tradition). As a matter of fact, if one knocks on any other substance, a double jinx is enacted. Here, S. Taylor, cites choosing chrome molly as a suitable substitute because it is the only material present in abundance. I propose that the chrome molly is more significant since it is the primary material that makes up their race car. In racing, not only are the racers not in control of the wiles of fate, but they have very little control over the mechanics of their own car. By knocking on the car, they are enacting additional magic in the sense that they are doing a physical action on something to create a desired effect (be that the race or the car) to ultimately gain “a say” in the outcome.

Second, S. Taylor made it clear in the initial conversation and many times during the meal that everyone present was forced to knock on wood. Typically, only the speaker of the jinx is forced to knock on wood. This differentiation shows the element of teamwork and comradery shaping tradition. By enlisting the whole pit team and the drivers, a sense of importance is being diffused amongst all participants no matter their role in the outcome of the race. All have a shared liability in the outcome. Similarly, it reinforces a sense of belonging and purpose for the group when performing their individual roles. The counter curse is enlisted at the expense of their competitors, increasing morale and restating team members’ responsibility in working towards the success of their team.

Legends
Protection
Tales /märchen

Boto

Main Piece: “There’s a story that a young girl lived near a river bank with family. Everyday she would go down to the river to do chores. One day as she went to collect water, she decided to cool off so she swam. As she swam, a young man appeared sitting at the edge of the river. They started to talk and she began to fall in love with him. From then on they hungout almost every day and spent each night together.  Her dad was kinda concerned so he confronted her. But the girl told him that she was in love so she wanted to marry the fisherman. The father surprisingly agreed and invited the guy to stay the night. But it was weird cuz the father noticed that the man would leave every morning coming back only in the evening. But one night, the fisherman he forgot to wake before dawn, and when the young girl woke up she found a pink dolphin in her bed. The dolphin tried to escape but the father shot it. The fisherman never came back since it was the dolphin so the poor girl began to believe that he left her and it was bad cuz she was pregnant. Nine months later, she died of giving birth and the father found that the baby was a pink dolphin. He realized then that the fisherman was the dolphin he killed. From then on all girls were warned to not talk to guys found near the river bank.”

Background Information: The informant learned this story through his cousin who has Brazilian roots when the informant was a young boy. The informant said he was scared to talk to strangers after hearing this story and had a fear of dolphins for a period of time.

Context: During a car ride with the informant

Thoughts: It is interesting that females are being warned, which hints that in the Brazillian culture woman are looked out for and protected. The boto dolphins are actually becoming very extinct and there is a cry from many Brazilians to protect them.  These pink dolphins usually live in the Amazon River
and make up the largest population of river dolphins in existence. It is interesting that an animal that was a legend in Brazilian culture is now becoming extinct, and I wonder if these stories will continue.

 

 

Adulthood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Life cycle
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Circumcisions are Cheaper in the Philippines

This friend of mine is one of the sweetest guys I know. He’s quiet, but has a great sense of humor. One day, late at night, he blurted out, “is it normal that I was circumcised in the fifth grade?”. I knew I needed it for my folklore project. Most of the background information is contained in the transcript below.

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

“What is there to talk about? I guess you guys are my friends… so… eh? I don’t know if it’s like a cultural thing here, but in the Philippines it’s really looked down upon if you’re not circumcised, like you’re just kind of like a dipshit, you know? You get made fun of. So then like it’s kind of like a rite of passage thing – which is really strange – that like somewhere around like, um, I don’t know like end of elementary school to middle school. You, like you should do it, you know? Yeah, so then, um, we had like a Philippines vacation and my dad was like, ‘oh yeah, you should do it’ cause it’s cheaper in the Philippines, so then I was like, ‘okay, I’ll do it dad’. And I was like really scared. It was just, I don’t know. It was really weird. And then, okay. My dad would explain what would happen and I’d get so scared. Because like, ‘oh, there are scissors involved’. Hahahahaha. People in the Philippines can get superstitious that you’d get infected if you did it too young or something, so you wait. Also, because the healthcare system there is really bad, so they’re afraid that like babies will get sick and die if you do it then. Anyways, then. Um, uh, I’ll just jump to when it happened, because it was really scary. I was just really scared and I kind of just let it happen. But, basically when I went there, it was like- it was really strange.

“Like I said, the Philippines healthcare is really bad, so they didn’t knock me out or anything. I was awake when it happened. Um, yeah, hahaha. They put me in the room, and my dad’s just outside. And the doctor – like I’m lying there, and it feels like a really bare room, like probably no bigger than this room, and it was really strange, and it was just a lot of lights and stuff, and it didn’t even really feel like a proper.. like… surgical place. There were just some beds and stuff, and needles and everything. So, like um, the doctor… the doctor dude he gets a towel and is like, ‘oh, I’m gonna put this over your head. Because you’re gonna be traumatized if you see what happens. You know? So they blindfold me pretty much, as it happens, and then he pretty much walks me through in like Tagalog – which is Filipino – what’s gonna happen. I don’t even remember much of it, I know I didn’t pass out. But like, they definitely numbed me in that area, you know? No needles going anywhere. They just, I don’t know, stuck a needle around your … groin? Area? Basically, the entire time, I couldn’t really feel – or like I couldn’t feel any pain, but I could definitely feel … things moving around. And like, being cut off. Just saying, and it was really strange. And it was just a lot of pressure, until like, afterward. Um, and I just remember going, ‘whoa, it’s not that bloody’, when they took the towel off because there wasn’t that much blood. And it was just really strange. And it took like two weeks to heal. And that’s all I remember. There were stitches that like, melted off. Because that’s like medicine. It’s not really a Filipino tradition – I don’t know if they do it so much anymore cause like, the Philippines has been getting a lot better, since back then. This was fourth or fifth grade. It was just kind of interesting. I don’t know how old I was, I don’t want to remember hahahaha.

“You know that Twilight Zone episode? Eye of the Beholder? I was kind of like that. Except there was no pig on the end, yeah. It wasn’t that bad. Just a lot of gauze and pills.”

This piece really sheds some light on the overlap between modern medicine and folk medicine. Circumcision is an ancient tradition, however the advent of modern medicine has propelled it further into the mainstream. This friend of mine describes how even to this day, modern Filipino circumcision are influenced by folk belief in that it is considered bad luck to get it down as a baby. Later, he mentioned to me how the timing of the circumcision (around the age of 9 or 10) was also meant to be a sort of ritual celebration of adulthood, although his family did not really celebrate it. Rather, they viewed it more as something that just happens without imparting a significance related to maturity.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Whole Image (Soul Stealing and Microphones)

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. When I asked her about her superstitions and pulled out a microphone, she sealed her lips and wouldn’t explain until I’d turned it off. And first, I was a bit peeved, but by the end of her explanation, it made a lot more sense.

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.

“Okay so the reason I don’t speak into microphones, no actually don’t – no please don’t. I’ll hold it. I’ll explain it to you, it’s completely legitimate! Okay. So… I don’t believe in speaking into a microphone if there’s no image along with it because my personal spiritual beliefs have to do with the reflection and the way that a person is viewed by other people. Kind of like everyone has a projection, so if your projection doesn’t capture the whole picture it’s wrong. I’ll only be in a video if there’s sound and I’ll only speak directly if you can see me doing it. Think about the way people look at Instagram. If I show you Ben’s insta you only get 3% of his personality. As a means of calculating the projections I give off, I don’t get to know people that well, I’m really picky with people I get to know, and I’m picky with how I represent myself, so I’ve deleted my insta, and I don’t like posing for photos. I don’t like artificial projection, because it goes against my spiritual beliefs. Voice overs for movies are different. That’s acting out a character When representing yourself, I only like the whole image. I don’t take pictures.

 “Partly just growing up, a big part of misunderstanding and getting along with people is getting the whole picture. I grew up never getting the whole picture, I feel like it’s important to be as genuine as possible. If you’re allowing someone to see you and know you as a person, and you only give them a partial image, then, intrinsically, you’re setting yourself up to be stereotyped, and like, put into a box.

 “That’s why I hate telling people I’m vegan. It’s like, yeah, I’m fucking vegan, but I like chicken wings sometimes, you know? I hate being put into boxes because no one will ever kno- you don’t even know yourself. No one will ever know anyone. So why make it easier for people to assume that they can? I’m interested in things, but part of my spirituality is just lack of definition. I just think definition is so limiting… And I’ve also tripped on acid a lot, so I’ve felt more things than human existence. I also – I – Identity is complicated. I think people have crossover, but I don’t think – there’s absolutely no way that there’s a carbon copy of me somewhere else. There’s no way that anyone has a carbon copy. I don’t know. Now you get why I don’t like being recorded! I’ve had a lot of problems with this. In high school, I was – me and a couple of people were going to start a band, and then… we didn’t because I wouldn’t record. It was weird.

 “To go back to the question, I am like – I have depersonalization realization. It’s like a mental disorder. Everyone experiences it differently, but I have a separation between myself and what I make. My ankle for example – I just broke it, but I didn’t really process the pain immediately. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see myself, but I see a body that my soul is in. It’s kind of like Freaky Friday. I mean, nobody will ever know you. Your appearance has nothing to do with who you are. I don’t give a shit about my body. I don’t eat. I don’t feel hungry, or like feel anything. I only feel things in my brain. That’s why I live inside my brain. I mean I can feel you, but I’m not – it’s not like I don’t have nerves. I just live inside my brain.”

This superstition is fascinating to me, as it ties together a few more common superstitions and builds upon them while following a strange sort of dream-logic. Perhaps the most famous anecdote regarding soul theft and photography is famed Lakota tribal leader Crazy Horse never having his photograph taken. It’s quite common for many Native American and Australian Aborigines tribes to view photography as a fracturing and subsequent thievery of the soul, as the whole concept of photography is freezing a moment of time. However, my friend puts a whole new spin on this as she adds audio and video recordings to the mix. It’s fascinating to follow her complicated web of spirituality, and it really does make you think about how we define ourselves and those around us.

For more information on soul stealing and photography, check out: http://www.bigbanglife.org/?p=404

For a skeptical view of the same, check out: https://www.csicop.org/sb/show/soul_theft_through_photography

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

The Parking Lot Angel

This friend of mine has always mentioned that his family is very Christian, while he himself is more secular. He believes in God, and prays regularly, however he is a bit skeptical in terms of miracles happening here on Earth. Having grown up in San Diego in close proximity to his grandparents, who are even more religious than his parents, he often shares stories from his childhood, many of which involve church or some other religious attribute. Though he attends Mass somewhat regularly here at USC, college has made him even more of a skeptic than before.

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

“Another angel story, my grandmother says there’s a parking-lot angel that she has that follows her car around. And every time she’s gone to places to park she just always manages to find a spot. And she would tell me that every time. She went to like parking lots and stuff, and she used to tell me stories.”

This story is just so innocent and sweet. A little old grandma who has come to the conclusion that the reason for her exceptionally good luck when it comes to finding parking spaces is her very own guardian angel. Everyone I’ve told it to since I’ve heard it has smiled and said, “hey, that’s not such a bad explanation”. Perhaps the parking lot angel is busier than we know.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Glasses, Apples, and Parking Spaces – Oh My!

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 wear other people’s glasses because you’re trying to see more of the world than you’re meant to see. Why would you try to see the world through other people’s eyes? It’s the principle of the thing. Why do I have superstitions? Because I don’t have a religion. My dad is really superstitious because he’s really OCD. So like my whole life, we weren’t allowed to eat apples in the house because he thought apples brought a mean energy. He’d always say that they were rude. And we weren’t allowed to park in spaces that were diagonal. He would not park in spaces that had that bar – he’d freak out.”

It’s interesting to view this piece as a sort of cause-and-effect type of deal. Her dad is superstitious because he’s OCD, therefore, he has lots of odd little habits and preferences that was interpreted by my friend as superstition (whether she or her father was the source of this conclusion has been lost to the sands of time). These superstitions bred more superstition – the one about the glasses is an original – which has been passed on to her friends and classmates, and may spread throughout the world. Her father’s condition has created a traceable line of superstitions that have the potential to spread globally. It’s fascinating to witness the overlap and snowballing effect that a few small beliefs can have.

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
Magic
Protection

Salt Moat: Folk Belief

My dad would frequently get big containers of salt and then her would just open them up and then sprinkle it all around the house, so in essence there’d be an outline of salt around the house and it was more of I guess a superstition of us believing that it could help fend off, like, negative energy or just occurrences that would happen that would be… would just be any sort of negative thing. 

The Informant, my housemate, is an Econ major at USC. He was born and raised in Texas. The Informant told me about his dad’s way of warding off negative energies at around midnight on 4/22 while he played PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, an intensive online battle royale game. He spoke like he was skeptical of the actual powers of this salt border and he admitted he doesn’t truly believe. He says he doesn’t believe in the positive effects, but would be slightly worried about the possibilities if his dad skipped the salt.

Salt seems to be the center of many folk beliefs – from the conversion magic of throwing salt over your left shoulder after a spillage to ward off bad luck, to this border of salt to keep bad energy out of the house.

This folk belief seems odd to me. In my opinion, this sounds more like a story parents tell their children to hide the fact they’re planning on killing all the snails ransacking the garden.

[geolocation]