USC Digital Folklore Archives / Life cycle
Contagious
Game
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Baby Blue

Context: I was teaching a class of sixth graders for the Joint Education Project (JEP) in a middle school near USC.

Discussion

Instructor: So, after learning the differences between myths, tales and legends, can anyone give me an example of a legend that they have heard of? (A number of different students interjected to corroborate to the first student’s story, they have been given aliases to protect their identities)

Angel: Baby Blue! (Announced loudly)

Instructor: What or who is Baby Blue?

Angel: It’s like uhm you go into the bathroom and look into the mirror and uh fold your arms, and if you feel a weight in your arms its Baby Blue and you gotta drop it!

Maria (interjecting): No no no, you gotta go into the bathroom by yourself and turn the lights off and cradle your arms like you’re holding a baby and say ‘Baby Blue’ in the mirror three times. If you feel a weight in your arms like you were holding a baby, you gotta pretend to drop it in the toilet and flush it before it gets too heavy.

Instructor: Or else what happens?

Maria: The baby will haunt your family.

Daisy (interjecting): No if you don’t flush the baby, her mom will turn up behind you and scream at you to give it back and kill you if you don’t. (Other students nodded along or exclaimed ‘yeh’ as if her version was the most well-known)

Instructor: So, who is baby blue?

Maria: Its like a evil baby that will haunt you if you don’t get rid of it I think.

Instructor: And who is the women?

Daisy: Some kinda evil spirit I guess.

Instructor: Have any of you done this?

Daisy: I tried it once with my big sister.

Instructor: And did the woman show up?

Daisy: No but I felt a weight in my arms and through it in the toilet so maybe I did it before the baby grew too big.

Instructor: Was it a scary experience.

Daisy: Yeh I guess, me and my sister ran outta the bathroom straight after flushing the toilet.

Analysis

This is a very interesting legend. It is very much like Bloody Mary accept with a baby involved. After some research I discovered that some people think that the mother who appears is Bloody Mary and that Baby Blue is her child that she murdered. The legend seemed fairly well-known throughout the classroom of thirty students but some new it better than others. It is clear that Angel was more of a passive barer of the legend and had not participated in the legend quest. Those that did had a better knowledge of the backstory to the legend, which was usually learned from older relatives. The students did not seem to be overly scared of this legend and approached it as more of a game. They were adamant that there was a right way and a wrong way to do this pseudo-ritual.

There are theories that the Bloody Mary legend is related to young girls’ oncoming period cycle. The legend is most common with girls aged 8 to 14 and takes place alone in a bathroom where you see a bloody woman appear behind you. This could be some kind of folk ritual, beyond the knowledge of the participants, to prepare girls for the oncoming changes to their bodies’ which takes place near this age range and usually alone in a bathroom. This intense bodily change might be more easy cope with when compared with the extreme of seeing a creepy woman covered in blood behind you. I think that the Baby Blue legend is a continuation of this theory. It is in someway ingratiating girls to the idea that if you feel a baby growing heavy in your arms (which are cradled at your stomach) that you should somehow get rid of it, or else it might haunt you for the rest of your life. This seems to be suggesting to the girls that take part in this pseudo-ritual, on a deeply subconscious level, that if you get pregnant at a young age (as pregnancy tests usually take place in the bathroom alone) that you should somehow get rid of the baby before it stays with you forever. If this is the case, this legend has an extremely dark aspect to it. Obviously because of the fact that this deeper meaning operates on a subconscious level, boys take part in the legend too. This is for the surface reason that it is scary and thrilling which is probably why the girls do it too but it may be communicating a deeper message to them specifically.

Childhood
Festival
Foodways
Game
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Greek Easter

Main Piece

The informant told me about Greek Easter and its associated traditions as practiced in Northern California. Greek Easter occurs one week after regular easter, and the celebrations the informant attends are at a local park. Classical Greek dances are performed, as well as an egg cracking game. Eggs are hard boiled and dyed red before they are used for the game. Two people each take an egg, and then the two people hit the eggs together until one egg cracks. The first person to have their egg crack is the loser. Nothing is won or lost. There is also a traditional easter egg hunt for “little kids,” as the informant called them.

Background

Informant Details

Nationality: Greek–American

Location: Outside San Diego

Language: English

The informant’s grandmother is “very Greek” and the informant always visits for Greek Easter. The informant commented that Northern California has no Greeks, but even so, about 100 people would come each year. Presumably, Greek Easter is a very important holiday for community building.

Context

The traditions included in Greek Easter are performed only at the specified time of year, one week after the traditional Christian Easter, and only among other Greeks.

Notes

The game with the eggs is perhaps indicative of the importance of strength in Greek culture; you want your egg to be the strong one, the one that doesn’t crack. The influence of American easter “traditions” is also very interesting. The easter egg hunt was invented by corporations, and although it has influenced Greek Easter to a small extent, the participation is limited to “little kids,” which reflects the fact that as the children grow up they will perhaps ‘age into’ Greek cultural traditions.

 

Adulthood
Game

Bloody Mary

Main Piece: “There is a scary story that I used to play when I was a young girl during sleepover parties with my friends called Bloody Mary. It’s basically when you go into a bathroom and you turn off all the lights. Then you say “Bloody Mary” three times and flush the toilet. Then you are suppose to see Queen Mary appear in the mirror and then she kills you and scratches out your eyes and your spirit is forever in the mirror and you can’t escape. I was actually never brave enough to play the game because I thought I was gonna die. Still to this day it freaks me out a little bit but it was a big part of sleepovers with girls.”

Background Information: The informant learned this story from her other friends who were girls when she was around age 7. The informant would play this game during every sleepover and the informant describes it almost like a social experience with her friends. The informant said the game had a deep impact when she was younger and still bothers her today even though she knows it is not true.

Context: In the informat’s dorm room

Thoughts: This story seems symbolic of womanhood. As Alan Dundes said/analyzed, this story can be seen almost like a transition of young girls to womanhood since there is blood involved (mesntration cycle). For young girls, this transition into womanhood is terrifying so this story may be symbolic of those emotions. The number three is also important as well, because three is a very common used number in American culture.

 

 

Adulthood
Game

Girl and the red skirt

Main Piece: “ If you go into the girl’s bathroom on the third floor of the building, and walk to the third stall,  knock 3 times and call her name a little girl in a red skirt will be there named Hanako-san. She will have a bloody hand and grab you, or be a animal that eats you. I was so scared going to the bathroom when I was in middle school in Japan, it was a game that a lot of girls would play but it really made me scared as a kid. I don’t know why it was so popular to be honest.”

Background Information: The informant learned this story in Japan through her friends in middle school when she was about eleven. The informant says that this is a very popular story and game in Japan among girls. She hasn’t played it since or heard it since being the United States.

Context: In a coffee shop in San Diego

Thoughts: This story seems very similar to Bloody Mary and has a lot of parallels. First, the number three is in both of the stories. Second, blood is in both stories and the “scary” being is a female. I wonder if this story has the same meaning as Bloody Mary, that it symbolizes the transition of girls becoming women and going through their period. It is interesting how this story, even though it is in Japan, is similar to an American story.

 

Adulthood
Game

La Llorana

Main Piece: “There use to be a game I played with my friends called  La Llorona where if you say that name three times and splash water on the mirror a lady called La Llorona would appear and kill you. La Llorona was a Mexican lady who had two kids but they were abducted. After that she was traumatized and would always cry in the middle of the street trying to find her kids. My earliest memory of the game was being in elementary school and being in the girl’s bathroom. My friends and I would splash water on the mirror and say her name three times which was “La Llorona. La Llorona. La Llorona. But to be honest was just seeing who could stand being in the darkroom and seeing how long we could stand there waiting for her to come out of the sink and my friends and I would just start screaming and run out”.

Background Information: The informant learned this game with his friends in middle school, and most of his friends were female who were also Mexican. He said this was a very popular game for young girls and he was one of the only boys who would play but he was always too scared to actually do it.

Context: Next to a park in Los Angeles

Thoughts: This story seems to also have parallels with Bloody Mary in terms of it being popular with young girls, and that a mirror is involved, and the number 3 is significant. I am curious why the number 3 is also significant in this context in other cultures and not just America, and if the origin of these bathroom stories came from one person or one culture specifically.

 

 

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

Circumcisions are Cheaper in the Philippines

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Childhood
Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Musical
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Visiting Spirits and Dead Babies

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. Growing up, she told me tons and tons of stories from her time there. She’d speak fondly of their unusual ceremonies and traditions, and how, by the end of it, her host families said she was so in tune with the culture, that if they closed their eyes, they couldn’t tell she was a foreigner.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

“In Japan, it’s a uh … a worshipping of dead ancestors day in August, Oh-Bon. They put out the dead people’s – the dead grandpa, the dead grandma, they put out their favorite food, and they put out chopsticks, and they will, you know, burn their favorite incense and they do all this so the dead can come and visit. They do this in their home. Every year, in August. It’s always in August. So it’s like Halloween, except it’s got a religious significance. It’s when the dead come back. They have festivals in town too, Oh-Bon-Matsi.

“It was a festival for dead children. And there was a river running through the town. Not dead babies but dead children. And, they… But. You know lanterns with lights in them? They’d float these lanterns with lights in them down the river and it was just gorgeous. Each lantern represented a dead child and they had this beautiful eerie music, just vocalizations for the occasion. Traditional Japanese instruments too. And incense burning. It was a very volcanic, sort of lunarscape in the far north. I can’t remember the name of the… the far north of Honshu. So you can look up ‘dead baby festival Honshu’ and figure it out.”

This is a very comforting view of the afterlife. It’s as if death is not the end, but merely a move to a different city. Growing up, she imparted this same sense of the dead on me. She’d always tell me not to fear death or the presence of ghosts, but to welcome them, as they were once in our shoes and only wanted to visit. The dead baby festival further illustrates their benevolent view of death. In America, when a child dies, we mourn and often times never speak of it. In Japan, it is tragic, however they still take time to celebrate their lives. No matter if that life was only for an instant.

 

Customs
general
Legends
Life cycle
Musical
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

May you find Peace, The Eagle in the sky

Nationality: American
Primary Language: English
Other language(s):  Italian, a bit of Hebrew
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: California
Performance Date: 3-15-18

 

What it is: May you find Peace, Traditional Native American Burial Ceremony

The performance I witnessed was a traditional Native American Funeral Ceremony.

A few weeks after the Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara, California and the subsequent mud slide and after every missing person (except Jack Canton) was found, Jack’s best friend Cozmali and his family conducted a beautiful traditional Native American ceremony. The ceremony consisted of music and prayers. This ceremony is highly sacred and private and was not able to be video taped. Altogether (with testimonials included) the ceremony was approximately an hour and a half.

We were explained that the ceremony is about helping Jack find peace on his new journey as well as letting him know he is all on our thoughts. The ceremony however was a bit unusual as we did not have Jack’s body present; thus, certain aspects were left out or adapted to our situation. These objects were also involved: drums, feathers, ash, talking stick, and blankets. The Drums were used during the vocal portion of the ceremony (i.e. chants and songs). The feathers, of an Eagle, were used as a visual representation of Jack’s new journey. The ash was passed around, individuals would pinch some ash and then travelled to the water to “set Jack free”. This aspect was normal done with a mixture of a fires ash and a small bit of Jack’s possessions (or ashes), but since we have not found his body we used ashes from a fire. The talking stick was used so that we could all share stories and memories. Lastly, the blankets were wrapped around Jack’s mother and grandparents to represent the community they had supporting them. At the conclusion an Eagle flew over head, circling us, and we all broke out crying because we knew Jack was going to be ok.

Why they know it:  I personally witnessed the ceremony

When is it said: This specific ceremony is conducted after a death

Where did it come from: The Chumash

Why it’s said: To give the ones we lost peace and to help aid them on their journey

How they know it and what it means: Cozmali has been raised in this culture that dates back centuries and has been taught this process by witnessing it first hand and by his elders. He is not ready to lead the ceremony on his own; however, is very close to being able to do so. This is a cultural tradition that changes with the passing of time; all-the-while remaining very much the same.

Thoughts: Personally, witnessing this ceremony greatly lessoned the pain I was feeling about Jack’s loss. He was a friend of my brother and a positive member of my community. He created philanthropy groups and was an Eagle Scout. Because he was missing, I kept thinking he’d show up alive but after the ceremony, I believe it provided me with the closer I needed to move on and help spread his greatness. The ceremony was beautiful, all-the-while, deeply educationally. This tribe is a part of my home, native to Santa Barbara area; thus, provided me with cultural knowledge of my hometown. This was also a sign that Jack is still with us, as he was a huge advocate for knowledge.

Adulthood

Superstition

When talking to my mother, I asked if she had any superstitions that she can think of. What she came to was something that I actually have noticed in her actions.

 

She said that, “Whenever I hear an ambulance, either outside or while I am driving, I catch myself scratching my head. I think this is me targeting my nerves and anxiety in hopes that whoever is in the ambulance, or who the ambulance is rushed too, is not someone that I know or am related to.”

 

Background Info: My mother mentioned that her mom was always cautious about ambulances and firetrucks, she did not scratch her head, but always would check the news to ensure that whatever emergency there was got resolved, or did not involve someone that she knew or was related to. This was clearly a superstition triggered by an emergency vehicle or situation.

 

Context: My mother told me about this superstition while at lunch over Passover weekend.

 

Analysis: This is something I have actually noticed my mom do, I remember asking her about it a while ago and she discussed with me how it is usually unintentional, but that it happens every time. This reminds me of my superstition of knocking on wood in a situation where I want to prevent an event.

Adulthood
Customs
general
Initiations
Life cycle

Jewelry as part of initiation

When talking to one of my roommates Braxton, I asked if he had any sort of initiation type things associated with his family.

 

Braxton said that, “Every man in my family on my dad’s side, including me and my brother, when they turn 16 get a necklace that has our family crest and a Swan on it.” (Pictured Below)

 

 

Background Info: Braxton is originally from Pittsburgh and now lives in Los Angeles. I always see him wearing this and never knew what it was, but Braxton made it clear to me that when a man in the family received this necklace he was “initiated” into the manhood club in the Swann family tree. It is something that goes back in many generations.

 

Context: I asked Braxton about this while talking to our class in a conversation about family initiations.

 

Analysis: I think this is a very cool way to integrate a sense of initiation and belonging to a group in a family, Braxton knew that he was going to get this necklace when he turned 16 so he had something to look forward to. I think I want to integrate something similar in my family and be the one to start it because I love this idea.Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 3.05.24 PM

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