USC Digital Folklore Archives / Life cycle
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Old age

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.


A Ghost in Grass Valley

Informant JM is 58 years old and recounted the story of a paranormal encounter she experienced ~10 years ago:

Have you ever experienced anything that you would consider to be of supernatural origins?

“Only once. Never before and never since but I will always remember that night”

So what happened?

“Well I was in my room getting ready for bed. All of a sudden I felt the room grow eerily cold. I thought it was a bit odd but continued to undress and sat on the bed to take off my socks. Upon doing so I felt the cold presence to my immediate right and upon turning saw, *shivers* wow this gives me chills just thinking about it. I saw a depression in the bed next to me as if someone were sitting next to me. Not knowing the intentions of this spirit I yelled at the top of my lungs ‘Go! Get out! Be gone with you!!’ and closed my eyes. After a moment or two I felt the cold dissipate and upon opening my eyes saw the depression was no longer there.”

Did your opinion regarding the existence of the paranormal changed after this experience?

“Well prior to this encounter I’d say I believed that ghosts existed sure, but having never experienced an encounter first hand and not knowing any immediate family or friends that had, I was certainly a bit skeptical. After that experience, I know now without a shred of doubt that ghosts or some form of spirit form definite exist. I cannot think of a single other rational explanation for what I experienced that night.”

What context would you share your experience in?

“At first, I shared it with literally anyone that would listen. I was equal parts excited and terrified by what I had experienced. In the years since though I only tend to bring it up when someone asks about my ghost encounter or the conversation shifts towards the talk of ghosts. ”

How did people react to your experience?  

“People tend to get pretty freaked out by it. They sometimes ask whether I thought it was going to harm he. Now I am not sure what the intentions of this spirit were, but be they benign or malignant the coldness of its presence definitely gave me an uneasy feeling leading to my prompt response of telling it to leave”


Analysis: This story possesses a couple motifs common to ghost stories. One such example is that it occurs at night. Another aspect of this story common to several stories I’ve read or been told is the association of the presence of a ghost with coldness. A unique aspect of this story is that the ghost in no way made itself directly heard or seen; it was only because of the drop in temperature and the depression it left in the bed that JM was even aware of its presence. The ghost itself was not visible or audible. While neither JM or anyone else would be able to determine the intentions of the ghost, be they simple curiosity or something more malicious, the fact that it reacted to her yells for it to leave is another interesting component of this particular encounter.


Haunted Air BnB

EC is a freshman majoring in International Relations and minoring in Marine Biology. This story takes place approximately six years ago.

“While my Dad was waiting for his new house to be built we stayed at Airbnb’s for a few months, usually one per week. I got a really bad vibes when I walked into one of them, and could tell something bad was there. When I went to bed the first night I jolted up from a dream and so did my dog after hearing a loud sound. I fell back asleep and woke up again, but I couldn’t move, and there was a silhouette of a person next to the bed. The next day when my brother and I left for school, we locked the house, but when we came home the door was unlocked and wide open, but my dad was away on a business trip.”

EC’s ghost story has many common ghost elements, including the dog’s reaction to the sound and the brother acting as a witness to the strange events. The story also takes place in a liminal space – the Airbnb is not home but it is not a hotel either.

Folk Beliefs

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.”

Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bloody Mary (All-Boys School in the Philippines)

Informant: Enrique is a 19-year-old boy, born and raised in Manila, Philippines who now attends college in California. South Ridge (the school in his story) is a Catholic all-boys school in Manila which he attended from kindergarten through until 7th grade.


Original script:

Informant: So when I went to South Ridge, [all boys school in Manila, Philippines] there was a super scary bathroom on the top floor of the school. No one ever used this bathroom because there was a rumor that someone had died inside the bathroom years ago. On special occasions, our classes would have sleep overs at school and during one of these sleep overs, one of the older batches went up to that bathroom in the middle of the night. The rumor goes that if you say Bloody Mary in front of the mirror in that bathroom four times, Bloody Mary actually shows up. So when one of the guys that decided to go into that bathroom did the ritual, she actually appeared and when he left the bathroom, he was covered in cuts and scratches.


Interviewer: Do you know what Bloody Mary has to do with the guy that had died in the bathroom?


Informant: She was apparently the one who killed him.


Thoughts about the piece: It is extremely interesting that the Bloody Mary ritual would occur at a local all-boys school in the Philippines. Especially considering the context that we discussed it in during class wherein we saw that the ritual is most popular among pre-pubescent girls usually in Western countries. We took this to be part of girls growing up as womanhood is bloody, thus, girls are basically looking into their future (by spinning and looking into the mirror) and trying to understand it by performing the ritual. I too attended school in the Philippines however it was an international school with many American and European students- here too I noticed that only girls would take part in the Bloody Mary ritual. Thus, it is intriguing that this would be such a big sensation (seeing as how no one wanted to use the bathroom because they all know what had happened there) at a local, Catholic all-boys school.

Something else that it interesting about this version of the story is that Bloody Mary actually physically harms the people that perform the ritual whereas usually, you are said to simply see an image of her in the mirror.

Folk Beliefs
Old age

Great Grandmother from Across the Country

*The informant is a grandmother, a wife, has a degree in Art, and has heard, and been involved with, many ghost stories.


Informant: I was born in San Diego, California, and Mum’s family was living back here in Maine. Mum always thought that she was her grandmother’s favorite, although her grandmother probably didn’t have a favorite. In my parents bedroom there was a little alcove where they kept my crib so they could keep an eye on me to make sure I was alright. I remember as a toddler standing up in my crib and seeing this white figure of a older woman walk into the room and it was like she was glowing. She was white, but I could see she was an old woman, and she went to the bed and my mother sat up and they were talking to each other. As I got older I thought it was a dream that I had had, so I never really said anything about it. When I got to be an adult Mum told me about her grandmother that she had loved so much and how when we were in California she woke up one night an there was her grandmother standing by the side of the bed. Mum was talking to her and she said “Grammy, what are you doing here in California? You’re supposed to be in Maine.” And she said, “Well, I wanted to come and see you before I left so that you didn’t worry about me or be sad, and so I could say goodbye.” Then the next morning my parents got a phone call and my great grandmother had died that night– a little bit before Mum saw the figure and talked to her. Mum told me this story and described what she looked like and I went “OH MY GOD! [laughs] I thought that was a dream!”. I described what I thought she looked like and she was said “Well yeah, that was my Grandmother”.

Collector: Was your great-grandmother sick? Was her death expected at all?

Informant: She was quite elderly, but I don’t think she had a lingering illness or anything. We knew it was coming soon but it wasn’t expected. And Mum always thought she was the favorite so she wasn’t really surprised that her grandmother came to say goodbye.


Collector’s Thoughts: I’ve collected many interesting stories from this informant, and although it may not sound the most reliable as it was recorded as a young child, many believe that children are able to see and experience spirits more than adults can. The validation from her mother that this experience really happened helps make the story more believable. I’ve heard many other stories where spirits visit to say goodbye and the fact that her favorite grandchild was not able to say goodbye to her in person may be the reason why she returned- to tie up loose ends. Many ghost stories revolve around that idea of a ghost returning to do something they were unable to do while they were living.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Red pocket money under pillow

My informant is a student who was originally from China but came to study in US since high school.

“You know, red pocket money is one of the biggest tradition during Spring Festival in China. But in my family, not only we get red pocket money from people much older than us, we also put them under our pillow at night. It’s like really coordinating with the word “压”(push down) in “压(push down)岁(age)钱(money)” (red pocket money). And my grandparents would also put ivy leaves inside there, just for good luck.”

“I know they are many superstitions from Chinese family, especially my family haha. But we still do that, I don’t think the truth matters that much in this case, I like these traditions.”

I think it’s really interesting that in both asian and western culture we have this kind of gift thing for kids during important festivals. Hoping for good luck with ivy leaves inside red pocket money that placed under their pillow to Chinese children, waiting for christmas gift to be put inside the christmas sock for western children, they both serve as a good method to give them hope and believes; as well as for better sleeping quality since they all happen during bed time.


Tales /märchen

Big Cookie Hero


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

“My grandmother used to tell me a story of a big cookie that could roll around and have adventure.  Sometimes it was oatmeal cookie sometimes it was a chocolate chip cookie, but they would roll around have adventures, save kids…She may have the story come down from her ancestors. Sweets are big product in Sweden. She may possibly hear this from her mother. It was like a bed time story. The big cookie was the hero. He would roll down the streets and rescue a lot of stupid kids. I think the cookie did talk, say things like ‘you stupid kid, how did you stuck in the mud? how did you lock yourself in the room?'”

“My grandma, who lives in St. Paul now, she still always has a mass amount of cookies and pastry that she baked before we came. So much culture pass down through food. ”

As an animation filmmaker and teacher, Christine loves this kind of tales that she heard from her family, which has also inspired her a lot in her creation.

I think this kind of folklore tales is really playing a positive role in people’s childhood, which could make the children grow up happily and imaginatively.


Old age

Vision before death

My informant is an American from New York, whose family originally came from Poland 100 years ago. His grandfather was a baker and his grandmother was a peasant girl.

“In my family, when my relatives are dying, they will always see someone who is dead before them, like they’re calling them. Like when my grandmother died, she saw her husband. (But how do you know about that? They’re dying right?) Yeah, but you know, like, when my grandma was dying, she would say ‘did you see grandpa? Grandpa was here.’ It’s within a few days, that week. And my aunt did that too, ‘I saw Raman’, which is her husband, who died 20 years before. I don’t know, who knows?”

There might be some other scientific explanations on that phenomenon, but I think it also make sense to me that when people are dying their brain uses this way of reasoning to release their fear toward death: there is still a good side about death that you’re gonna meet with your beloved one who has also been dead.


Rituals, festivals, holidays

Forget it, it’s Chinatown

JH is a senior at a all-boys Catholic high school in La Canada Flintridge, CA. He lives with his parents in Pasadena, CA.

JH sat down to talk with me about a ritual he and his friends began practicing as early as middle school – taking the train to Chinatown in downtown LA after school.

“Some of my friends started going in eighth grade…our middle school was really close to a Metro station, and we could just say we were walking to my friend N’s house and just go there instead. Tickets were only like $1.50 each way and it only takes like, 15 minutes to get there. I only went once though I think…and we just walked around and looked at stuff, they had those little turtles and firecrackers and shit, I don’t even know if anyone bought anything.

“I went more with friends in high school though, like freshman and sophomore year a bit. We could still take the Metro after school and just told our parents we were staying after school to do homework in the library or had a club meeting or something. My friends would also buy cigarettes at these little smoke shops there, and there was like, always one that kept getting shut down or they kept changing the name…it would pretty much be a different woman every time, like ‘Kim’s’ or ‘Annie’s’ or something. And they wouldn’t ask for your ID or anything, my friends would just like buy whatever their friends bought, like red Marlboros or American Spirits and stuff. They had pieces too [for smoking weed] and bongs, so sometimes my friends would get the cheap glass pipes, they were like $10 each or something. I know some people would go through the markets where they had clothes and knock-off jade stuff, and there was this one little stall hidden behind clothes that sold a whole bunch of weapons. We mostly just went and looked but some people bought things, like ninja stars or big knives…people said these guys supplied the Chinese mafia, or something. One time someone said they saw a warhead…like the kind of thing you put on top of a missile. For awhile one of my friends had like a plywood board in his garage, and we’d take turns throwing the ninja stars at it.”

I asked JH why he thought Chinatown was so popular for younger high school kids, and what it said about their youth culture:

“I don’t know…I don’t know when they built the Metro, but I guess it was probably pretty new. And in like 8th grade, beginning of high school, no one can drive, but you kind of want to start going out and exploring…beyond Pasadena, outside of just your neighborhood and school and stuff. And then the Metro only really has a few stops that aren’t in totally random places, like yeah you could get on different lines and go to Hollywood and stuff but we only had a couple hours after school and going too far was probably too…intimidating or scary when we were only like, 14. And then obviously older kids were doing it and that’s where they were getting dumb things like cigarettes that they had at parties, and I guess we just wanted to see what they were getting into, and it just seemed really cool going to a kind of sketchy place and knowing we were breaking all these rules. Probably just like, typical teenage rebellion, sneaking behind your parents’ backs before we could drive and really start getting into trouble. Plus, in Pasadena I think we all know we’re super sheltered in this really well-off community, and everyone’s had pretty comfortable and safe lives…which I guess adds to the danger part.”

My analysis:

I think this type of ritual is typical among teenagers, especially younger ones, who are just starting to become independent and want to push the boundaries their parents have set so far. The ages of 13-16, 17 really define the liminal period in American culture, when kids start to feel more self-sufficient but aren’t ready to take on all the responsibilities of adulthood; parents struggle with the transition too, knowing they should start preparing older children to take care of themselves, without wanting to kick them out of the nest so fast. Kids toeing the line, and learning to take advantage of their parents is nothing new, and here we see them trying to navigate the larger (and more adult) world using public transportation, coming into contact with drugs and drug paraphernalia, and doing so with an air of secrecy and defiance.

Additionally, it starts to separate “cool” or “mature” kids from those who are happy to obey authority, and some feel pressured to challenge their parents instead of their peers. Sneaking out and experimenting with illicit activities (drinking, drugs, sex, etc.) is a large part of the American high school experience, and this ritual demonstrates one foray into that world.