USC Digital Folklore Archives / Protection
Customs
general
Protection

Yellow String

“The informant wears a yellow string tied around her wrist. It was given by her mom for luck.”

After thoughts: The strings are called blessing cords and used in Buddhism practice. In the traditional practice, the Lama ties a knot in the cord and blows a mantra into it which makes a blessing. This allows you to take your teacher with you wherever you go. This is similar to many other religious traditions where the teacher is associated with spiritual blessings. They are meant to touch your body and purify any negative mantras.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Signs

Blue Eyes = Evil Eyes

“People with blue eyes can give you evil eye.”

My informant heard this from her father. People with colored eyes have the power to do harm to you, even subconsciously. She laughs at this statement because her brothers have colored eyes. My informant is from a Lebanese family.

She is a college student at the California State University Northridge. She is very close with her father, often helping him run the family store. We sat down at a coffee shop to talk about folklore form her family.

What was interesting of this piece was that it sounded familiar to a belief form my culture. In Salvadoran culture we believe that people eyes and eyesight can cause “mal ojo” or evil eye. It reminds me of the notion of how the eyes are the windows of the souls. It would make sense that they would also be the seat of our energy.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Signs

Persian Food Beliefs

Informant: My friend is Persian, and her mother told her old tales like these in order to get her to behave as a child.
Original Piece: Food related rules: don’t eat chocolate or anything with sugar before bed or else you’ll have bad dreams…later I realized that’s so I don’t have energy when I sleep. Then, let’s see… oh, don’t eat when you’re crying or it’ll turn into poison in your stomach. Again, I later realized that’s so I don’t find comfort in eating when I’m sad. When you get a new car, you have to run over an egg, because the egg symbolizes any accidents or danger that can happen to you in the car, and by doing it to an egg, right when you get the new car, it takes the place of the impending danger in a light, easier way.
Context of Performance: I invited her over for dinner and we were remembering stories we shared as roommates, and I remembered her talking about all the things she used to believe growing up. I asked her if she would share any particular pieces of folktale from her childhood.
Thoughts about the Piece: I love hearing these stories, which always seemed like quirks of hers, until she told me the reasons behind them. I remember even in college, although she knew these things aren’t necessarily true, she still abided by them… just in case.

Gestures
Protection

Getting My Ears Pulled When Speaking of The Dead

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): None

Age: 62

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 8, 2017 (telephonically)

 

Alan is a 62- year old man, born and raised in New Jersey who is a 2nd Generation American whose ancestry is Austrian and Russian.

 

Interviewer: Good Morning. You mentioned that you experienced your mother’s family superstition first hand when you were a youngster. Can you explain it?

 

Informant: Sure. My mother would always pull my ears and those of my sister, when we were very young, when she heard that either a relative or person she knew had just died.

 

Interviewer:  Was there a reason why she did this?

 

Informant: She never spoke directly about this, but my mother was a superstitious individual when it came to the evil eye. I have to assume that this had something to do with that. For instance, she would always dress my sister and me in red if we were visiting someone who she felt possessed an evil eye. I remember one time when she just stood in front of this particular person and walking backward pushed my sister and me out of the room. I was young and didn’t really think anything about it.

 

As I got older I began to realize that the pulling of our ears when she spoke about the dead was a part of her superstitious beliefs. I never observed this behavior with her sisters and brothers (my aunts and uncles). Her mother and father (my grandparents) were both dead before I was born so I never saw if it was somehow connected this action to them. However, knowing my mother, she might have come up with this crazy superstition all on her own.

 

Interviewer: Does She Still Do This?

 

Informant: No. The last time I remember her tugging at my ears was when my Great Uncle Joe had passed away when I was 13. We were driving to a supermarket and my father asked my Mother when was Joe’s funeral. As he did she reached around from the front car seat and managed to grab my left ear, but I twisted and prevented her from getting my right one. From that day forward, she never tugged my ears again!”

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts about the piece:  

Superstitious gestures like this one become ingrained even if connection to meaning is lost. http://www.imamother.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=172695

For other Jewish superstitious customs see: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/popular-superstitions/

 

 

 

Initiations
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Breaking of the Glass

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): None

Age: 62

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 8, 2017 (Skype)

 

Alan is a 62 year old man, born and raised in New Jersey who is a 2nd Generation American whose ancestry is Austrian and Russian.

 

Interviewer: Good Evening. When I asked you about Jewish Wedding Traditions, you told me about your personal experiences with that of Breaking of the Glass. Can you explain further.

 

Informant: I would be very happy to do this. I remember when I was eight years old at my Uncle Jerrys wedding that I was the ring boy.  It was a traditional Jewish Wedding and Uncle Jerry and his bride stood under a tent called a Chuppah. I later learned about what the meaning was. I am not going to get into ah here…you can read all about it online.  It is well documented. So anyway, getting back to the breaking of the glass.  So when my job as ring boy was over, the ceremony was ending and then um, Uncle Jerry stomped on this white cloth on the floor and then I heard this sound which sounded, um like glass breaking. Then all the crowd of people at the wedding shouted. At the time I didn’t know what they shouted, however I would latter learn it was Mazel Tov, um which, I mean is a Jewish word for good luck.  At that moment I was so taken by how happy the people were and I thought the glass breaking caused everyone to become so happy.  I remember when everyone left where the wedding ceremony took place I went and very carefully to pick the white cloth up containing the glass. I remember carrying this cloth with the glass like it was the most valuable thing I ever held.  Anyway after everyone ate, I found Uncle Jerry and his new bride Audrey, who later divorced, and I presented the glass in the cloth.  They asked me what this was and as typical eight year said don’t you remember it is the glass you broke and then everyone cheered.  I um then told them that I thought you might want to keep the glass to remind you of the happy times. They looked puzzled and then laughed and took the glass and went on talking to other guests. Upon later learning of their divorce many years later and um speaking to Uncle Jerry I mentioned that the glass didn’t bring them any happy memories. He looked at me like he didn’t understand what the heck I was talking about.

 

As I got older I learned and understood more about Judaism I learned about the meaning of the glass breaking was all about.  There are a lot of interpretations about this, but one fact which is agreed that it commemorates uh the destruction and, sorry, destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  Of course all the sorrows that brought but also remember for the wedding aspect of this tradition that you know that there will be good and happy times. Other sects of Judaism have other beliefs as well and it is open to many different um shall we say schools of thoughts. Such as the couple comes together by the smashing of the separate bonds or another is the reuniting of the two souls as ah lifelong mates.  I always felt that it was a beautiful thing in that it announces to the world the couple’s union as husband and wife and announces the journey in life as one united. I am very sorry I am going on and on.

 

Interviewer:  No that’s OK. This is a great story, please.

 

Informant: OK then. Glad you are still interested. So oh where, oh let me see, yes, so I liked this tradition so much that at every Jewish Wedding that I attended that I would collect the glass, this time being smarted about things and carry a plastic zip lock bag, so to keep everything intact. Then I would present it to the couple afterwards and explain what I told you before and all the time the couple was thrilled to have it.  I vowed that when I got married that I would save my glass and if I could turn it into something which could be displayed.

 

Interviewer: What does this piece mean to you?

 

Informant: While this meaning of the tradition of the glass breaking has multiple other meanings other than the one everyone agrees about the destruction of the temple, the meaning for me always holds great optimism about a couple coming together to hopefully live a joyous and loving life together.

 

Thoughts about the piece:

A surprising number of manufacturers create vessels for this ceremony of destruction, similar to inexpensive plates sold to be broken at Greek weddings. Another Jewish fable about remembrance; two souls reunited as one, at: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/542288/jewish/Why-Break-a-Glass-at-a-Wedding.htm?gclid=CJyfvcSzpNMCFUSBswody4QOww

Some other Jewish wedding day traditions at: https://www.theknot.com/content/jewish-wedding-ceremony-rituals

 

 

 

Protection

Superstitions Amongst College and Professional Athletes in the Locker Room

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): None

Age: 80

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 9, 2017 (via Skype)

 

 

Robert is a 80 year old man, born and raised in New Jersey who is a retired business executive.  He played varsity level college basketball at the University of Florida and in the National Basketball Association with the New York Knicks.

 

Interviewer: Good Morning. Do professional athletes have superstations when they are active players?

 

Informant: “Well basically if you had a good game you never change your socks for the next game, you wear the same jock.  if you had a particular outfit that you wore to the game and it was a bad game then you would change the outfit and if it was a good game maybe you would wear it again the second day.  And those are some of the superstitions. If you were parked in a specific spot and you did have a good night then you would want that same spot. Then you would arrange everything you could to make sure you got the same spot all over again.

 

Interviewer:  So this is your recollection when you played ball in College as well as professionally for the New York Knicks.

 

Informent: Correct

 

Interviewer:  Was this about all players?

 

Informant: Most players all have superstitions. Some of the guys would before the game have warm ups. They would want to be the last one to shot the ball in the hoop before the game started. So they kind of hang out when everyone is getting ready to go to the bench before the game started and then they would take the ball and shoot the little jump shot just cause that was a superstition and they wanted to have the last shot.

 

Interviewer:  When did you first start observing these superstitions?

 

Informant: When I was in college at the University of Florida. Most ball players have a superstition. I mean it goes into how you put your uniform on, the same way. If you had a good game you always wondered what made you have a good game.

 

Interviewer: And ah did it ever play out to the point that where your superstition reinforced your belief?

 

Informant: Yes. You would have the superstition and if you hit three or four in a row you would say that’s it, that’s it, and then you would keep doing it until it changed. When it changed you would look for another superstition.

 

Thoughts about the piece:  

Anyone who has played or even been a spectator of sports observes silly rituals that are important to fans and players. This professional basketball player took the rules of luck seriously. For other sports superstitions that famous athletes believe see: http://www.mensfitness.com/life/sports/10-most-superstitious-athletes

 

Magic
Protection

Removing Evil Spirits from a Beauty Salon

Nationality: American / Bosnia-Herzegovina

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Serbian

Age: 54

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 10, 2017 (via Skype)

 

 

Sania is a 54- year old women born and raised in Bosnia-Herzegovina and emigrated to the United States over 34 years ago.  She is the owner of a beauty salon in New York City.

 

Many more people are realizing (and I have come strongly to believe) that energy, good and bad can affect everything in life, from health to work. A few years ago, my salon was having trouble with my website, e-commerce, phone lines, and we couldn’t figure it out. One particular day, my website crashed, for no reason, and the back up company said they had never seen this before, and lost their file as well. I told a friend who is also a famous photographer, and he brought in some energy healers.  They basically walk around the salon to check out every corner, mirrors, etc.  They then took my energy to be at the same sequence as me.. and little did they know there was an acquaintance who basically tried to steal my identity. They cleansed the mirrors, cleansed the windows (I was directly facing the church, which wasn’t good).. and used sage and diamonds and other jewels to cleanse the place. They told me my website would be running within a few hours.. sure enough that night my daughter called so excited because the pages of my website went up. By morning everything was running. Phone lines running well, etc. Now they come every few months to make sure things are ok. The last visit, they noticed one of the mirrors had something bothersome and they placed a card over the mirror (from a distance), and then my LOCKED French Doors flew open.  This never happens even if they were somewhat open! They said people look into this mirror when entering, and people carry all kinds of energy. It can be intentional or accidental. But good to use sage, at the very least for cleansing. These women are scholars from Brown, and I believe Harvard. I have become a believer, and they helped many people I have referred them to.

 

 

 

Thoughts about the piece:

This informant is a sophisticated American business owner that relates her success to her respect for old traditions. A similar Native American practice is described here: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-17875/a-sage-smudging-ritual-to-cleanse-your-aura-clear-your-space.html

 

 

 

 

Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Burying St. Anthony in my Backyard

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): None

Age: 35

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 12, 2017 (telephonically)

 

Ethan is a 35 year old man, born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who is employed as food vendor at a local food market. He is a College Graduate iand majored in Business Administration. He is 4th generation American

 

Interviewer: Good Morning. You mentioned that as a child you remember a family ritual. Would you mind sharing it with me?

 

Informant: Of course, I would be happy to.  So anytime anybody would move into a new house it was my grandmother on my Dad’s side, the Catholic side of the family, not the Jewish side, um there is a patron saint I believe St. Anthony which is the Saint of lost things or something like that. And she would give us a little doll; and we would bury it in our backyard and that way if we lost anything we would just pray to Saint Anthony then that object would be found. And I am not sure about the origins but I know that I buried that St. Anthony in my backyard

 

Interviewer:  Did you ever find anything that you lost?

 

Informant: “I once misplaced my favorite batting glove and could not find it.  And ah a few weeks later my grandmother was visiting and she took out of her purse the glove. She asked if it belonged to me. She told me that she took it by mistake when she was bundling her clothes.

 

Interviewer:  Did you attribute this to St. Anthony?

 

Informant: Well I remember being so excited, I think I must have been 10 at the time or 9 cause I was in the 4th grade, when I received the glove from her and I said to her that I guess St. Anthony found it and um all I can remember having the greatest smile I ever saw from her

 

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

 

Informant: Um not much other than it was a nice little touch that it is a nice little tradition that my grandmother passed down that I was happy to continue forward. While I doubt it worked, this tradition makes me think about my grandma.

 

 

 

Thoughts about the Piece:

Anyone who has lost something has “prayed” to find it but Catholics pray to a specific individual for help. For the text of the prayer see: http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=150  Other stories of St Anthony novena anecdotes can be read here: http://www.holysouls.com/stanthony.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

Folk medicine
Protection

The Story of the Tenrikyo Miracle that Saved My Grandfather

Nationality: American/Japanese

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Japanese

Age: 23

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 13, 2017 (Skype)

 

Sammy is a 23 year old man, born and raised in New York who is a representative with the Tenri Cultural Institute of New York City.

 

Interviewer: Good Morning. I never heard of Tenri, can you tell me something about it and a tradition associated with it.

 

Informant: “Ok ok. The teaching of Tenrikyo (sp)”

 

Interviewer:  Can you spell it please.

 

Informant: “that’s T-E-N as in Nancy R-I-K-Y-O, Tenrikyo, ah basically we are taught that our bodies are something that is lent to us from G-D something that we borrow something from G-D The Parent and uh just our minds are our own ah our own. And basically depending on the way we use our minds G-D The Parent will ah show ah us ah the proper way to mature spiritually hum which means basically is to become selfless and in order to do that we basically have to keep our minds from becoming ah or getting rid of our egos basically. And ah what we are taught when we use our minds in selfish manners it is like we are accumulating dust. And when we accumulate dust, we are unable to see our goals as human beings um from what it should be basically. Um and so what we do in the Service the Tenrikyo Service is we ask G-D The Parent to sweep that dust from our minds ah but we are also responsible for our own, you know, how we use it individually. So we have to continue to keep ah fighting ourselves almost not others and fighting ourselves to not to be greedy or arrogant or selfish or anything like that. Ah but if you ever get the chance please read up on and the teachings of Tenrikyo ah it is native to the country of Japanese ah the country of Japan and there is a small town in Tenri where we call our home.”

 

Interviewer: When did you first become aware of this?

 

Informant: “Ah actually I was born into the church.  Ah My Father he ah he was I am a third generation Tenrikyo and basically my father he came to New York to spread the teachings of Tenrikyo and he so started at a church in Bayside Queens, and that is where I was born. My my original, my grandfather was the one who kind of started the faith and he ah he has suffered from ah tuberculosis and he was saved miraculously ah through ah missionary who was walking in Japan, a Tenrikyo Missionary and he was taught the same thing what I actually just said.  And ah realizing that it was his own mind that was the problem he kind of replaced his mind and ah decided that even though he was going to die from tuberculosis he might as well die you know saving others.  And when he, he firmly resolved that mind ah, he was saved from his tuberculosis in some way. My father was born and also I was born after that. So it is kind of nice.”

 

Thoughts about the piece: 

Faith healing belief systems exist in many cultures and modern medicine placebo testing is one way that the power of thought to promote health is being investigated. Tenrikyo is a matriarchal religion founded on miraculous healing. Background can be found here: http://what-when-how.com/religious-movements/tenrikyo-religion-of-heavenly-wisdom/ Another testimonial is: http://tenrikyology.com/343/36-firm-resolution/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Folk Beliefs
Protection

A Superstitious Fear of Crowds

“Whenever me and my family go places, we always avoid big crowds because we have this superstition that only bad things can come from crowds.  I don’t really know why we ever started avoiding crowds so vigilantly, but now we make it a point to never be around a big crowd, especially in places we aren’t familiar with.  It’s a family superstition we take very seriously.  So, when I was in Nice, there were a lot of big crowds and I didn’t feel comfortable, and I didn’t feel safe, so I told my girlfriend that we should leave, so we did.  As we were walking away we started to see people running behind us, and then someone told us to run, and then we heard shooting.  That was the day of the Nice terror attack.  And if we hadn’t left because of our fear of crowds, we would’ve been right in the middle of the attack.  Then, a year later, we were visiting London, but because it was right in the middle of tourist season we were always around crowds, so we left early.  Two days after we left, there was a terrorist attack.  And if we had stayed in London for our entire planned trip, we would have been there for it.  Now I think it’s a good thing we have our superstition, it’s saved us a few times.”

ANALYSIS:

This is a really interesting case of a superstition being validated by random events that seem to have meaning.  What I find really fascinating about superstitions is that, no matter a person’s background, upbringing, or beliefs, they are probably superstitious about one thing or another.  Everyone is susceptible to believing in a superstition simply because sometimes certain events happen in a person’s life that are seemingly undeniable, and that’s probably the source of their superstition.

[geolocation]