USC Digital Folklore Archives / Protection
Folk Beliefs
general
Life cycle
Old age
Protection
Signs

A Death in the Family (Philippines)

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

 

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

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

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

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Protection

Najar: The Evil Eye

“We were probably like – I was probably like 11, and [my sister] was probably 9-ish so it was kinda long ago, but I remember we were at my grandma’s house [in India], and she had three different stories. No one goes on the second story; it’s just like boarded up. And then the third story is a terrace. So, we go to the third story, and we’re just talking and my sister said something like ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’ or something, like literally those words. And so I was like, ‘Oh my God, dad’s gonna get so mad at you, you said a bad word, blah blah blah.’ Usually she would be like, ‘ok stop, you’re not being funny,’ but like legitimately she was like, ‘oh my god, you’re so right,’ and she just starts bawling. She’s crying, she’s losing it, she’s like freaking out, like legitimately I thought she was going crazy. She was like ‘I have to tell dad I said it!’ and she’s like running everywhere and she’s like ‘when’s dad coming home, when’s dad coming home? I have to tell him, I have to tell him, he’s gonna be so mad at me.’ And like, she’s nine years old, so she’s old enough to where it’s like ‘ok you’re being weird.’ And so, like no one thought much of it, and then my dad comes home, and she’s like ‘dad, I said “dumb”’ or whatever the word was. And he was like, you know, like, ‘don’t say that word again’ and whatever, and she was like ‘I know, I’m SO sorry.’ She just starts crying and crying. And she was doing weird stuff like that for three or four days, and we were like ‘ok what’s going on?’

“[It started] since she was on the terrace, I guess – because – we had gone somewhere, we had like taken the train somewhere and it’s super common knowledge that the train stations are like  the most haunted places in India because people commit suicide and stuff; they jump off while the train is coming. And so, they think that she got some “bad air” – so like a ghost, like, spirit thing. Because they don’t – it’s not like a ghost possessed you, but it’s just like you picked up on some bad aura or like a bad spirit from the train station and it kinda like made her go crazy. So like, I was freaking out. I was like, ‘Get her away from me. I don’t want her in the same room. She can sleep outside!’

“But yeah, so we took her to the pandit, which is a priest, and he like, did all this like, fire smoke stuff, and like put it around her and stuff. And he like gave her this bracelet and was like ‘okay, after doing that, this bracelet will collect the bad spirit inside of her, and then you take off this bracelet and you like dispose of it.’ If you were in India, you would throw it in one of the holy rivers, but we were going back home [to the United States], so he was just like ‘just put it in a river anywhere.’ I honestly think we took it to the Trinity River, I’m being so serious. It sat in our garage for a while. But yeah, he put that bracelet on her, and a couple days later, she was like fine, like it immediately went away. So I don’t know if it worked or like she was doing it to herself, like a placebo-type thing. I don’t know, but she was just acting super weird for a couple of days, like freaking out about things that didn’t matter. She was like losing her mind over stuff, like she couldn’t get over it. So yeah, I think that she picked up on some…some sort of bad air.”

 

When I was researching Indian ghost belief, I came across the belief of “najar” which roughly translates to “evil eye.” I asked my Indian friend that I knew from Texas if she knew of or ever had an experience with “najar,” and this is the story that she gave me. I find it interesting that her sister never caught this evil eye while in the United States, but it was only a trip to India that spurred this occurrence. I asked her to elaborate more on “najar,” and she told me a bit more about how people typically act when they have new (cute) babies.

 

“If you have a child – and some babies are ugly, but some are super cute. So if you have a baby and everyone’s like, ‘Aw, your baby is so cute, blah, blah, blah,’ – my mom would like freak out. She hated that, she would not let people like – you know how sometimes you like see a cute baby at Walmart and you’re just like staring at it like ‘aw that baby is so cute!” and you just look at it? – she would not like that at all. She would like turn her kids, us, around. She always said that if people were staring over you, like gawking over you, they’re gonna get jealous because you have this cute baby. And that jealousy is like evil, you know? And so your child is going to catch that evil eye.”

 

My informant also told me a bit about the steps that mothers would take to protect their babies against the evil eye, other than just staying away from potentially jealous people.

 

“Babies will sometimes have black dots on their foreheads to protect them from the evil eye. I guess it’s just symbolic of evil, like evil is black. You [also] always have this silver bracelet with black beads; I’m pretty sure my mom still has all three of ours. Because like, you wear it for a long time, until you’re older. Because I guess as an infant, you’re more vulnerable to the evil eye because you’re younger.”

 

In conclusion this interview, my informant expressed uncertainty as to whether her sister was affected by a spirit or simply rattled from leaving home for a prolonged period of time.


“I don’t know if it was actually a ghost or if she was just like being weird, but she was acting really weird and spooked me out too. There’s so many things; it could’ve been like we’re home now and she’s calmer; we had been gone a while. Or it could’ve been like the ghost left her on the plane or something. But yeah, she was back to normal when we got back home.”

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Evil eye

Subject: Evil eye inoculation

Informant:

 Haifa grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to a progressive family. She is a Professor at the King Saud University in Riyadh and conceders herself a religious person, but does not believe in a lot of the superstition behind some of the stories. She grew up, and works, around all different kinds of people that shared with her different traditions and folklore of which she has shared some of her favorite.

Original script: “a lot of Saudi superstition is based around the evil eye. One really prevalent practice is the ingestion of another persons spit…it sounds disgusting but this is how it works. If you have a guest and fear that they may have eye eyed your house or family you take either the water they have drank or you wash the cup they have been drinking coffee or tea from, wash it and drink from the water you wash it with. It is believed that if you do so, you take a trace of that persons essence and therefor inoculate yourself against any evil or malice that comes from them.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Most of Arabic myth and superstition surrounds the evil eye and it’s affects on people and how to protect ones self from its negative affects.

Thoughts about the piece: Saudi’s often employ what would seem to be superstitious practices probably left over from a time before Islam. However, like all good folklore, the myths, practices and superstitions have evolved with the spread of Islam to involve Islamic themes such as using prayer and the name of god to proceed the ritual.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Magic
Protection

Mashallah

Informant :

Haifa grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to a progressive family. She is a Professor at the King Saud University in Riyadh and considers herself a religious person, but does not believe in a lot of the superstition behind some of the stories. She grew up, and works, around all different kinds of people that shared with her different traditions and folklore of which she has shared some of her favorite.

Original script:                                                                                                                 

ما شاء الله

Phonetic (Roman) script: Mahsallah

Transliteration: Mashallah

Full translation: As god wills.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Mashshallah is said to ward off any bad or evil eye from things. When you say something is nice like “you have nice hair” you have to say mashallah after it of you may unintentionally give someone the evil eye. My mother still yells at me if I don’t say mashallah after I say something nice and will even tell strangers to say mashallah if they are complementary or her kids.

Context of the Performance: Said to ward off the evil eye from a person, home or object and used throughout the Arabic speaking world.

Thoughts about the piece: Like a lot of traditional Arabic saying and myths this blends superstition with religion (Islam). While the saying involved the belief that only god can make something happen, it still is used to ward off evil created by humans.

 

general
Protection

Workplace Tradition

Subject: Event Planner Traditions (Workplace)

Abby:

Original script: “We always carry an emergency case with us, literally think like a magicians magic hat. We have EVERYTHING in it, from shampoo to protein bars, and it is only in a little clutch! It has saved our lives a dozen of times! And we use it for everyone! The brides, the clients, us, the vendors, it does come in handy. In fact I don’t know an event planner that doesn’t carry one of these kits with her. “

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Abby says “I have been working with an event planning company for a couple of months and love it. I can say throughout these moths these emergency kits have come in handy DOZENS of time. They are literally the best things ever. “

Context of the Performance: The Emergency kit it used during wedding celebrations.

Thoughts about the piece: The wedding kit is a piece of occupation folklore that no one outside of the wedding planning business would be aware of. Because of Abby’s work ethic, and because she works for a professional company, the wedding kit is essential knowledge and an essential tool for preforming the job correctly and avoiding any major disasters.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Material
Protection

Kitchen Witches

My informant is an American from Minnesota, who has ancestors from Czech republic and Sweden, back to 1880.

“The other thing that Sweden has, we have the kitchen witches. So hang a witch in the kitchen and they protect the kitchen. I still have kitchen witches, I have several.  It’s like a little figurative witch on a broom, but they go in the kitchen, they’re called kitchen witches. They protect the food in the kitchen. So it’s a very Scandinavian sort of thing. It may have different looks in each family, but it has to be a witch, and you hang it in a kitchen. It keeps you up from messing up your kitchen.”

She is very proud of this specific object that they keep in Sweden culture, even though she has been immigrated to US for a long time. I think it’s very lovely that in many Scandinavian cultures they believe in magic and magical creatures, and sometimes they really work when you believe in them. In this case if you do believe in the kitchen witches can protect you from messing up your kitchen, and hang them there, you may really become more cautious while cooking.

 

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Rosary in the Oxen’s Horns to Protect Against Witches in Rural Slovakia

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

 

Main piece:

A.J.: So with the cows, owner were protecting about which all your animals like cow they make hole to the horn and put inside rosary – protect them because witch was scary from “saint” stuff and they have like blessing water – they always take some branches – nice young branches from tree and they like make cross with this sand water in the stable – protect this stable from witch.  And when sometimes happen like a animal’s broke horn and they lost this rosary when they no more protect.  Yeah.   And this happen in my Dad family, they animal broke leg cause they were on the field and more cows together and they start fighting and they broke the horn off that had the rosary in it and until they come home they broke leg and this cow die on the field.  This was like true story what Dad told me.  He was very sad but they said this was like witches in the religion.  The witches broke the horn which was this protection – the rosary.  They were out and no more this cow was protect they when she was walking then on the way she broke leg and they cannot fix this time and she died.

 

Q: So when do witches come?

 

A.J.: All the time they were. Witches come all the time.

 

Q: Could you see the witches?

 

A.J.: They think this was like one lady but they were not sure but once this was happen they saw in stable frog and Grandpa take this pitch fork and he was stick this frog and this frog was like make sound like a hurt people – when you hurt somebody they was making sound and was hopping away and next day or couple days later he saw one lady she was hurt – she was like some wound from this – like it was from the pitch fork – she was the frog and they said this is the witch

 

Q: How can you tell who’s a witch?

 

A.J.: You cannot tell but always something happened when this lady was around.

 

Q: Just one lady in your village?

 

A.J.: Not my village, my Dad village.

 

Q: There was only one?

 

A.J. They know about this only one lady but maybe is more.

 

Q: Do you know what she looked like?

 

A.J.: She was a regular lady but she had power what she can make bad stuff.

 

Q: And how did you know that she was the witch?  Did she go up to people and say something like “I’m going to curse you” or something like that?

 

A.J.: No, no, no, no when she was walking around, there always something bad happened to you. But she was just choosing people. Not all people make something bad but some, some people what she doesn’t like maybe.

 

Q: Is there a way to get rid of the witches’ curses?

 

A.J.: People usually with the “saint” stuff protect their self – like blessing water, praying, um carrying rosary with you, just maybe like that.

 

Performance Context: A rosary would typically be put into an ox’s horn in rural farms of Slovakia to protect the ox from being hurt by the witch’s magic.

 

My Thoughts: I think it is interesting how a rosary, a strong symbol of Christianity, would protect against the evil magic of witches, who are typically known to be part of a pagan religion. Christianity and Roman Catholicism is the most prominent religion in Slovakia. It is possible that the rosary’s ability to protect the oxen symbolizes the importance of Christianity in Slovakian culture, and the idea that Christianity is able to protect against all evil of the world, including witches’ magic.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Informant is a 19 year old female who was born in Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is my roommate.

Informant: So there’s this bedtime prayer and it goes like “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take.” When I was younger, I had a doll and every time I squeezed her, she would say that. And when I went to bed, my mom would squeeze the doll, and the doll would say it and I would say it, and then it became a ritual that we would have. And in my mind, as a child, I didn’t think that it was scary until it started being incorporated into American horror movies. So when I was 10 or 11, I remember watching a horror movie, and this very scary doll saying the same lyrics. So now, it’s a common prayer that started to be associated in multiple horror movies, and the origins are definitely from the bible, but it’s not a typical religious saying. In my generation, it was common that stuffed animals or dolls would say it. But now they don’t really sell these things anymore, because it’s turned into a creepy symbol in American culture, and it scares people.

Collector: Who gave you this doll originally?

Informant: My mom gave me the doll. I just remember having it. In my mind, it was like a protection spell, like it protected me in my sleep. Like in my mind, it never registered as something that was scary, until I started seeing it in horror movies, because of the way that they made the dolls say it. It was in such a creepy manner. It still exists in some parts of culture. I’m not saying it’s completely a horror movie thing, but in my perception I’m very scared of it now. The earliest version was from 1711 I think, like it dates back that far. It technically is a prayer, but it turned into this ritual between my and my mom when I was a kid. And I know other of my friends who had that said to them, when they were kids, mostly because I was also raised by a Christian family and went to a Catholic school.

Collector: Does this particular piece of folklore have any special significance to you?

Informant: It has meaning to me because it’s a big representation of my youth. That like, when I was younger, it was this comforting thing to me, and it’s shown me like how, as I got older, my perceptive of the world has changed.

For another version of this myth, see “Standard Publishing Editorial Staff. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. N.p.: Standard Pub, 2011. Print.”

Because I have personally never watched a horror movie, I cannot say that I find this particular phrase creepy. However, I can see why it has been used in multiple scary stories, as it is very suggestive of death. I think it’s interesting how people actually manufactured and bought dolls with this saying inside of them, and I think that might have been something that contributed to the rise of this saying in horror movies. When I actually think about the prayer though, it makes sense as a protection spell, and really isn’t scary at all. Basically, it asks God to protect your soul while you sleep, and if anything were to happen to you at night, then to at least bring your soul to heaven. I think it is the particular phrasing and word choice of the prayer that has made it such a creepy horror icon today.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Black Neck (Protection)

My informant is Betsy, a 5’3, white female. Betsy is 26 years old and grew up in Los Angeles her whole life. She is of Irish and Eastern European descent.

 

Betsy: “When I was a little girl my grandma would always tell me to wash my neck in the morning, like she made sure I did it. She said that if I didn’t my neck would turn black because when she was growing up she knew a girl who never washed her neck and everyone would make fun of her at school because she had a black neck”

How old were you when she first told you this?

Betsy: “Ever since I remember she told me that story! She really wanted me to wash my neck”

Did you actually do this?

Betsy: “Yes! Every time I took a shower, to this day, I remember my grandma Florence saying “Wash your neck!” so I always did it”

Did you think your neck would turn black?

Betsy: “When I was younger I did and I would really scrub but now I know it won’t but I still wash it every morning out of habit”

 

Betsy’s folklore is a superstition her Grandma told her about how if she didn’t wash her neck it would turn black. This seems like any normal persuasive saying a parent or grandparent would tell a child but she took it really far, enough to where Betsy continues to this day remember that warning and wash her neck appropriately. It’s interesting how we keep the same habits even though we find out they do not work.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

The Evil Eye (Folk Belief/Protection)

My informant is Marc. Marc is a 19-year-old student at USC but was born and raised in Mumbai, India. This year was the first time he lived in the United States but he still speaks very good English but with a noticeable accent.

 

Marc: “So in India a big belief all around is the Evil Eye. So I guess if you are bragging to someone especially if it is something you can do or you have that they can’t do or don’t have. Basically you need to be humble because if you are bragging or being arrogant about this stuff then the Evil Eye will transfer like a negative energy to combat whatever you were bragging about”

When was the first time you heard about the Evil Eye?

Marc: “Well it’s really common and well known in India there are trinkets and stuff but like the first time I think was a friend saying to another friend like bragging and someone warned him about the Evil Eye”

So is the Evil Eye a person?

Marc: “No it’s more like a negative energy or like the reasoning to why things go wrong but the eye is the face that we put to it. And you can ward it off too with like necklaces and jewelry that a lot of people wear.”

Do you believe in the Evil Eye?

Marc: “I don’t know. I believe in the idea of like if you are doing a bad thing it will catch up to you but I don’t know about the evil eye or if that’s real”

 

To me the Evil Eye in India is our form of Karma in the United States. It is the idea of if you do bad things then bad things will happen to you but Karma also has the reward aspect: do good and good will come. Marc claims how widespread the idea of the Evil Eye in India is and I think it has to do with parents teaching humbleness. Those who brag will be punished and children are far more concerned about an “Evil Eye” then their parents. It has progressed to a culture in India which brings along the merchandise such as the necklaces and trinkets for protection.

 

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