USC Digital Folklore Archives / Protection

Remedy For Sickness

I asked my grandmother if she had any remedies that she does when she is sick or wanting to prevent a sickness. She told me that “When I get sick I home-make matzah ball soup as a something to make me feel better. It’s something that my mother always did for me and it helps your throat and body feel much better. I still use the recipe that my mother gave me. I also drink a water with lemon squeezes inside”


Background Info: My grandmother is Jewish, and matzah ball soup is a traditional Jewish deli dish. The recipe that she speaks of was created by her mother in Romania, and she would have this while she was little as well.


Context: My grandmother told me about this remedy at our family Passover dinner


Analysis: This is my favorite soup that my grandmother makes for me, and whenever I get sick or feel under the weather, I too will have some of this soup if I have access to it. She said that before even using medicine she will try this remedy first and it usually works for her, and I have had a similar experience.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Evil Eye

Main Piece: Raul:  Whenever you see a cute baby you should always touch their hand or something so you don’tgive them the evil eye. Some people just have some kinda power that makes babies sick. This iswhy all Mexican babies have that red and black bracelet because it protects them from the evileye. But when babies don’t wear them and get the evil eye you have to pass an egg that youhave to warm up with your hands so it won’t be so cold around the body in a cross way whilepraying. The coolest part about this is when they are done with the prayers and rubbing theegg, they crack it open on a glass of water and if they had the evil eye then the yolk of the eggwould like um make somewhat of an eye. Then you just have to put the glass of water with theegg under the crib and let the baby sleep. I remember my mom would always cure my cousinsof the evil eye and would let me crack the egg. Everyone I knew at some point had experiencethe evil eye and had the whole egg thing done to them.  Context: The participant walked into the kitchen when I was interviewing his mother on a piece of folk medicine. After I concluded with her interview, he asked what we were doing, and I let him know I was collecting folklore. After explaining what folklore is he said he had a legend that originated where he was from. After he told the legend he told me about the evil eye. Raul noticed I was writing everything he said down so he told me about the evil eye in English only. Background:  Raul is a 27 year old who was born in Mexico but what brought to the United States when he was 17. He is fluent in Spanish and learned roughly learned English in the few years he attended high school. Analysis:This piece of folklore incorporates two categories of folk belief which are folk medicine and folk protection. The babies are supposed to where this magic bracelet that protects them from the evil eye. If the baby somehow does catch the evil eye then there is a remedy for it. This piece displays the power folklore has and the influence it has on peoples actions. This belief is strong enough to make parents put bracelets on their babies and even do these remedies to safeguard there children.  This piece is also shocking because my parent also believed in the evil eye. I surprised because there is no report a child ever dying from the evil eye. It is not scientifically proven yet so many people believe in it.

Folk Beliefs

Bleaching Hair

Main Piece: Bryan: So at Bell High school the wrestling team had a tradition. So every year before the championship tournament every single team member… even coach…we would all bleach our hair. Some would do the whole head, like me. Some would do a stripe. Then the next day we would all have a huge lunch. Like I mean gigantic where would bring lots and lots of food into the wrestling room and we would all eat and just feast… then after we would huddle in a group and give thanks and well pray that we would win. Me: I have heard of people wrestlers bleaching their hair but I never heard about the feast. Bryan: Yea so actually… bleaching the hair is a thing for wrestlers. Like a lot of different schools do it, not just Bell. Me: Why do you bleach your hair and have a feast? Bryan: Just because we want to. Hahaha. I am just messing with you. It is actually like a luck and unity thing. By dying all of our hair, we like become one group. Also bleaching your hair is supposed to be lucky. I am not sure why. I would have to get back to you on that one. You know but the food and everything is for that unity. We are a team. Kinda like a family is made by doing this tradition. We pray for good luck but we also pray or everyone’s safety. I mean you could really get hurt wrestling.  Me: Awesome. Would you say that this tradition is important to you? Bryan: Definitely… when I was still in the team it was like a day we all looked forward to. It sounds cliché but it was our teams way to say we are a family. Win or loose.  Context: I had interviews Bryan the previous day and he the sent me a text message stating that he forgot to tell me about another tradition. I called Bryan around 3 pm on Aril 22, 2018. We talked through the cellphone and I used a voice recorder to capture everything. Background: Bryan was born in Guatemala but came to the Unites States when he was a baby. He was raised in a predominately Hispanic community. He is currently attending California State Long Beach where he is studying Philosophy.  Analysis: The wrestling team tradition of dying their hair, having a feast, and praying displays folk belief. The team does not have evidence that this tradition provides luck to win and protection to the team; however they still do it every year. It is interesting to see a team be passionate about a superstition they only learned from their fellow teammates.

Folk Beliefs

Knock on Wood

Main Piece: When you say something that is good luck our you don’t want to like jinx it, you have to like knock on wood or say knock on wood. That like prevents you from getting bad luck and like stop you from like jinxing what you said. Context: This piece of folklore was collected in a Taco Bell I work at. I asked my fellow employee if there were any sayings or proverbs that he knew. He gave me one and then after when we both took our breaks he told me this proverb. This time we were sitting down at a table in the dining area and eating. Background:  Lee is a third generation American. However, his ancestral roots originate in South Korea. Lee is unaware of who he learned this folk belief from. He also stated that it does not mean a lot to him; however, he still practices this belief just to make sure. My thoughts: This is a common subgenre of folk belief called folk protection. In this instance you protect yourself by knocking on wood or saying “knock on wood” from turning your good luck into bad luck. It would be interesting to see on how this folk belief started because of its wide popularity.  This folk belief is interesting because it is practiced by many who do not believe in the protection, or who are not superstition. This folk belief has become so widespread that it is said and done as a habit. Another folk belief similar is when people say “Bless You” after someone sneezes.


Chinese Jade

Interviewer: Do you have any cultural beliefs or superstitions?


Informant: Well in Chinese culture, jade is in a lot of the jewelry that we wear.  It is supposed to be worn for good luck and protection.  But the most common forms that jade comes in for a lot of people is in bracelets or necklaces. There are various colors that jade comes in is green, orange red and purple but green seems to be the most popular.  It is also really important that the jade is real and not just a fake or an imitation.  My mom has a jade necklace and a jade bracelet that she never takes off, never.  The jade is supposed to be for protection and also it channels one’s chi or energy.  And typically jade is really vibrant, but my mom’s jewelry becomes really dull when she wears it but my aunt had jewelry that she wears it doesn’t fade or go dull.  So it’s kind of weird because when my mom gets a new bracelet the old one will become vibrant again once she takes it off, so it’s almost like she’s using the magic in it, like she’s draining it.  I don’t know if that’s very common but I have only seen it happen to her.


Interviewer: Are there any times when the jade actually protects someone?


Informant:  Well I have heard this story that one of my grandmother’s friend was wearing a jade bracelet and she one day took a really bad fall.  And when she looked at her bracelet it had shattered but she walked away with no injuries.  It was also very important for my grandmother that when I went away to school, I had a jade bracelet to protect me.  So even if I don’t wear it I always have it with me somewhere.


Interviewer: so do you believe in its powers?


Informant: I think that growing up and being told that jade is protection and a source of good luck has made me believe in it.  But I also don’t believe in the tradition of having to wear it for it to protect me.  I don’t wear mine often, but I keep little pieces of jade everywhere.  Like in my car there is a piece hanging from the rear view window and in my wallet there are pieces of it.  But I don’t actually wear it most of the time because my taste in jewelry is just different but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in its power.  I think it would be very weird for me if my family members stopped wearing their jewelry or took off their jade.  It is also more of a practical choice because I am in a lot of science classes and they are often really careful about what we wear and I don’t want it to get damaged or get chemicals on it.  So I do believe in the tradition and the magic but I don’t practice it in the same ways that my elders do, and I should probably be doing it but I just haven’t recently.


Interviewer: Great thanks for sharing!


Background:  The informant is a Junior at USC studying human biology.  She is half Chinese and half Italian but spends more time with her Chinese family and has more beliefs and practices based on her Chinese ancestors.  For the informant, this piece became a form of self-reflection about her own beliefs and how she lives them out in her daily life.  It also served as a reminder of where she came from and the people who are supporting her while she is away.


Context: This interview was done during a discussion in a dorm room as the informant and interviewer are roommates.  The informant first experienced this belief and practice as a young child and was given her first piece of jade upon birth.  Though the informant is unsure where the belief originated, it is understood throughout most of China as a folk belief and has traveled with people who have immigrated to other parts of the world.


Analysis:  This belief is evident throughout a lot of mainstream culture and exemplified in many Chinese practitioners.  It was interesting to understand the meaning behind the practice and the stories that reinforce the belief. I have seen many people wear jade but it was more meaningful to learn about the power and strength of having this cultural symbol always with you.  In a way it made me related to my own pieces of jewelry that I do not take off and what they mean to me.




Folk Beliefs

Plane Safety 101

Main Piece: KC: My brother touches the side a plane before we get on it every time we fly, and makes all of us touch it too. I thought he was just weird but I guess it’s a superstition we all have now.


Context: This practice takes place every time KC’s family boards a plane.


Background: As KC’s family is particularly logical, and generally doesn’t take place in ghost stories or superstitions, this one superstition that her brother learned is of particular interest to her and her family.


Analysis: This is interesting, as it shows that folk beliefs can be learned from outside your family as well; KC’s brother would never have learned this superstition from his family, as they don’t practice any superstitions. Through school and his friends, he learned that to be safe while travelling on a plane, you were supposed to touch the side of the plane as you were boarding. As he began to believe this, he asked his family to do this while they would travel, and now the whole family partakes on it anytime they fly. Usually, folk beliefs are seen to be passed down from generation to generation, but this is an interesting example of a younger person teaching an older generation a new superstition.


Folk Beliefs

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.


Folk Beliefs

Money Traditions

Main Piece: SM: Don’t put money on the table! It’s just bad luck. Grandparents will scream at you. You can put it on top of a napkin or a book and it can still be on the table, but don’t let it touch the bare table.


Context: This is a Filipino tradition, seemingly with an older generation, as SM’s parents did not seem worried about it.


Background: This tradition only existed shortly, because SM told me that after a few times she learned to never do it, because her grandparents would freak out every time.


Analysis: What is particularly interesting about this is that her grandparents freaked out about it; not her, not her parents. Neither her nor her parents thought that putting money on a bare table was a problem, but her grandparents told her it was bad luck and she should never do it! This is an interesting example of a superstition dying out little by little, as SM’s parents did not carry this tradition from their own parents and did not pass it down onto her, but her grandparents still firmly believe in it.


Folk Beliefs

Jinx, you owe me a coke!

Main Piece: KK: My family is VERY strict on jinxes, and if you say something like, “oh it’s been so nice out today, the sun’s been out all day”, or like “we’ve been really lucky today, no traffic!” we have to recount what we say or else we WILL have traffic. Basically, it’s any instance where you say that you’re lucky about something, that’s like bad luck. To fix it, you either have to knock on wood, or say “don’t jinx it!”, you just can’t say it and then not fix it, because if you don’t recount what you said then something bad will happen.


Context: This practice is done frequently in KK’s household, as she said, her family is very strict on curses and jinxes.


Background: KK grew up in a household full of folk medicine, folk songs, and countless fun little traditions, so it only makes sense that this same family would also be extremely superstitious in their actions.


Analysis: Jinxes are quite common bits of folklore, and interestingly enough when KK began to tell this story, she stopped because she said “Oh no, everyone does this, that’s not cool enough,” and I had to tell her that the whole point is that other people should do versions of this as well! Because “jinxing it” is so common in our society, it is easy to forget that it isn’t real, and is actually a piece of folklore, and isn’t just something that humans do.


Folk Beliefs

Baseball Superstition

  1. The main piece: Baseball Superstition

“It’s kinda a superstition. When we used to play baseball there would be…. Uh… so the rule, um, was that when you walked on to the field at the inning, you don’t step on the chalk line. You step on it, bad luck, you’re gonna lose the game, we’re all gonna die in a miserable hellfire. So a lot of people overemphasized that they weren’t gonna step on the line… like, they jumped as high as they could over the line, made a big show of it, otherwise it’s bad luck.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? The context of the performance?

The informant learned it from the kids in his neighborhood, and the kids in his community and public school. He said that it became increasingly prevalent as he went from middle to high school, and sports became more playful but more intense. There were big consequences for those who stepped on the chalk line.

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This baseball superstition seems similar to the folkloric theories of conversion magic, in which counteracting something that is considered evil or bad luck reverses that bad luck. Since the consequences of stepping on the chalk line were so greatly overexaggerated, making a show of how far from the chalk line players were made them feel as they were going to play even better since they were so far from the chalk line.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a 22 year old American male and grew up in Tiburon, where he spent lots of time with his father and grandfather, as well as the other kids in his tight-knit neighborhood. His primary language is English, and he currently resides in Los Angeles.