USC Digital Folklore Archives / Earth cycle
Customs
Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Saint John’s Tide

Content:
Informant – “Saint John’s Tide is on Midsummer, the eve of June 21st. There’s a big fire. Everyone gathers around the fire and one at a time they throw their intentions for the new year into the bonfire. Where you want to be in the coming year, what you want to do, whatever. Then you leap over the fire.”

Context:
Informant – “It has very pagan roots. It’s the longest day of the year. After this, the days get shorter. As winter approaches, our thoughts move away from the external. We begin to self contemplate more. It’s a good time to think about your plans for the coming year.”
The informant learned about this ritual in the 70s, but she doesn’t remember exactly where. She thinks she was invited to one.

Analysis:
Throwing your intentions into the fire is very reminiscent of Greek prayer burning. Jumping over the fire sounds like a trial, a way to prove yourself worthy of your desires. It sounds like a test, a purging of old weaknesses and fears before the dark, scary winter comes.

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Dance
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

May Pole

Content:
Informant – “In early May, the Waldorf school hosts a May Pole celebration. In the central courtyard of the lower grades, the faculty erects a tall wooden pole crowned with a bouquet of flowers. Dangling from the top of the pole are long ribbons. Everyone is invited. Grades 1-3 dance and sing songs with their German and Spanish teachers. Then grades 4-6 dance around the maypole with the ribbons. Each grade has a specific dance, but all the dances are spiral. They interweave the ribbons, going in and out. 7th grade plays the music. Each dance has a very specific song.”

Context:
Informant – “The May Pole is a symbolic of the Earth reawakening. The dancing is circular, spiral, going in and coming out. It’s the rhythm of how the world works, an awakening and a sleeping, an awakening and a sleeping. As the outer world becomes more opulent, we see the green, smell the flowers, and inner world becomes sleepier. It’s a very joyful, very OUTWARD celebration. We are recognizing the earth crowned with flowers, the scent, the glory. It’s very very visual.”
The informant learned about this festival when she started teaching at the Austin Waldorf School. She knew about the May Pole before, but not the specifics.

Analysis:
Each grade has a specific role to fill in the celebration. It’s highly regulated. This adds to the community-centric atmosphere of the festival. Everyone has a role to fill. The spiral dancing reminds me of a flower unfurling, going from within to without. It’s interesting that such a joyous, gregarious celebration is so strictly controlled. There is no room for improvisation.

Customs
Earth cycle
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Martinmas Festival

Content:
Informant – “On November 11th, Waldorf schools around the world celebrate Martinmas. As the story goes, Saint Martin was a Roman soldier. He saw a beggar shivering in the cold, so Martin cut his own cloak in half and covered the beggar with half. The beggar was actually Christ. To commemorate his generosity, the 1st and 2nd graders create lanterns and walk through campus sharing the light with the school”

Context:
Informant – “This is a festival of light. As the light decreases on Earth, the light becomes more inward. We bring the light inwards so that we carry the light within. Martinmas is celebration of Saint Martin, but it is also a sharing of our own internal light with the everyone.”
The informant learned about this festival when she started teaching at Waldorf.

Analysis:
Despite the references to Saint Martin and Christ, the actual festival is more pagan than Christian. It’s interesting that only the youngest grades make the lanterns and carry them through the school. Not only are they are spreading light at a time of darkness, they are also spreading youth and life at a time of dying.

Customs
Earth cycle
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Michaelmas Festival

Content:
Informant – “Every fall, on September 29th, Waldorf schools celebrate Michaelmas Festival to honor Saint Michael defeating the dragon. The 4th grade puts on a play. The play is different from year to year, but the overall plot is the same. A town is besieged by a dragon. A maiden gives herself up to the dragon to save the town. Saint Michael saves the maiden by taming the dragon. After the play, the high school sings a powerful three part harmony.
‘Hearken all, the time has come when all the world at last the truth shall hear; then the lion shall lie down with the lamb. Our lances shall be turned to reaping hooks, swords and guns be cast as plowshares, nations shall live in lasting piece, all men unite as brothers.’ ”

Context:
Informant – “Around this time, meteor showers are very prevalent in the Northern Hemisphere. The whole festival is very indicative of iron coming down to earth and strengthening humanity for its fight against the darker forces as summer ends and winter begins. The dragon isn’t really a dragon – it’s the evil within us. Saint Michael is the Lord of Light, his iron comes to strengthen mankind with light. The whole festival is a celebration of our higher, nobler self defeating our lower, base impulses.”
The informant learned about this festival on her own when she was studying Waldorf education.

Analysis:
The festival is an interesting mix of pagan and Christian influences. It’s intrinsically linked to both Saint Michael and the ending of summer. The fact that the dragon is tamed and not killed is also interesting. It reinforces the informant’s claim that the dragon is not an external enemy, but our own internal demons. We cannot kill our base impulses, but we can learn to control them. The timing of the festival is also interesting. It is a celebration of light and peace at a time when the world is getting darker and all the plants are dying.

Customs
Earth cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Advent Spiral

Content: Advent Spiral
Informant – “The Advent Spiral is a somber ceremony for grades 1-8. It happens in the winter. Fresh pine boughs are laid in a large spiral in the center of a dark room. Paper star mats are spaced out equidistantly along the spiral. In the center of the spiral is a single lit candle. A class enters the room. There might be a harp player in the corner, or it might be silent. One by one, a child enters the spiral. Each child has an apple with a candle stuck in its center. The child walks through the spiral, lights their apple candle from the candle in the center, then places their apple candle on one of the star mats. Then the child sits outside the spiral. Once everyone has gone, the room is full of light.”

Context:
Informant – “Walking into the spiral symbolizes walking into the spiral within yourself. Lighting the apple is like lighting the flame within yourself. The apple itself is a symbol of new life. This ritual has is based on the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Celts. They took an ember from their city, from their central sacred hearth of their city temple and transported it carefully to the new land. They took an ember from their holy hearth to whatever land their were colonizing, and then they would light their first sacred hearth with that ember. All the fires were started from that first original coal. That sacred fire is holy, regardless of the religion. It symbolized them carrying their religion forward. It symbolized a unity with the old land, a unity with their culture and religion. That’s similar to the advent spiral. The students place their apples on the stars. Stars represent our connection to the cosmos, an outer world, a spiritual world. It shows that you are giving your light to the whole world. By the end of the advent spiral, the whole room is filled with light. It’s symbolic of what we want the students to do. It’s not Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, whatever. You are a light filled person, and as you grow older share your light so the world becomes a light filled place.”
The informant learned about this ceremony when she started teaching at Waldorf.

Analysis:
The use of pine boughs reminds me of Christmas trees. They are evergreen, a sign of life in the dead of winter.
I couldn’t find any references to Greeks, Romans, or Celts transporting sacred coals on Google. Still, I agree with the informant’s interpretation of the ritual (i.e. it is symbolic of sharing your inner light with the world to make it a brighter place).

For another version and explanation of this festival, see “Winter Spiral and the Meaning of Advent.” www.clws.org/events/winter-spiral-and-the-meaning-of-advent/.

Earth cycle
Myths
Narrative

Myth of the Creation of Seasons in Maui

Informant: The ancient Hawaiian myth of Maui straining the Sun is basically that Maui is an ancient chief and his mom was complaining that the days were not long enough because her kapa, which is like a cloth made out of bark, didn’t have enough time to dry in the Sun, so he took his sister’s hair and made a rope out of it and used it to lasso the Sun’s rays. When he caught the Sun with the rope that he made, the Sun was begging for her life and they came to an agreement that the days would be long in the summer and short in the winter, and so that’s the Hawaiian story of how seasons happened.

Context: The informant is a USC student who is from Maui, and has lived in Maui their whole life. They heard this story growing up on Maui, and they remember it because it is the myth of how their home was created. To the informant, this piece is reminiscent of home and the place in which they grew up; this is how they interpret it. This piece was performed in a traditional, face-to-face, storytelling interview, where the informant told me the story and I recorded it.

Analysis:

This narrative piece of folklore is a myth, and it is very indicative of the genre of myths as it is a creation story for a specific location, in this case Maui, taking place outside of this world (in the sky), as it involves the Sun. This myth is intended to tell the story of the creation of the seasons of the island of Maui, and it tells the story from beginning to end, involving the primary character of Maui, whose interaction with the Sun leads to the creation of the world as they know it in Maui. This conveys not just how this story is a traditional myth in that it displays the characteristics of traditional myths: that it is sacred truth, has no relation to our world, and is a creation story that sets up the weather seasons of everyday life, but to me, it also conveys how myths relate to the physical characteristics of the location they are placed in. The climate of Maui is tropical and therefore very sunny, so it only makes sense that the Sun is a central part of this myth about Maui. The physical characteristics of the location observed by the people of Maui translate into their myths, and this is very indicative of a characteristic of myths that I have noticed throughout this class: myths often reflect the world surrounding them in ways that may not have been previously thought of, such as climate, geography, physical surroundings, etc. I know that I did not realize how much this aspect contributed to myths until interviewing the informant and analyzing the story of Maui, and it conveys the way in which geographical locations affect myths. This myth gives a way for the Hawaiian people to pass on the story of the creation of seasons through generations, in a way that sounds familiar to them because of the characteristics that come from the geographical location they are in. This conveys how this myth can create a sense of identity among the Hawaiian people, through the commonalities they will recognize in this myth. Overall, the myth of Maui conveys both a traditional and nontraditional way of analyzing the myth.

Annotation: For another version of this myth, see Chapter XVI, Section 1 (Kalakaua, 63-65), “Hawaiian Mythology, Chapter XVI, Maui the Trickster.” Ulukau,

www.ulukau.org/elib/cgi-bin/library?e=d-0beckwit1-000Sec–11en-50-20-frameset-book–1-010escapewin&a=d&d=D0.18&toc=0.

Earth cycle
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jumping on New Years for Height

Context/Background: The informant is Filipino-American and has many family traditions, especially around holidays. One, in particular, is the annual jumping that occurs on New Years Day. Essentially, starting at midnight of the new year in hopes of growing in height, they jump together for a minute straight.

Informant:

“My family’s tradition is jumping on New Years as the ball drops and to jump for the entirety of the first minute of the New Year and it’s just this belief that you’ll get taller if you jump.”

Introduction: The informant was introduced to this custom as a child growing up in a Filipino family that celebrated said tradition.

Analysis/Interpretation: I found it endearing that families such as this one will do this together every New Years. The informant has participated in this actively, and if they’re celebrating New Years elsewhere, they will have to leave and rejoin their family at home by midnight in order to engage in the ritual. What struck me was the specific desire to get taller. After further inquiry, I found out that the desire for height and jumping on New Years can be found across Filipino culture and is not exclusive to one family. What is called “Bisperas ng Bagong Taon,” or, “New Years Eve,” is a popular time to jump high. This makes me think of any traditions on New Years, specific to the U.S.; one being very centered around a particular city rather than focusing on a broader country at large. Because of the size of the U.S., I think it differs from other New Years Traditions globally I think there’s definitely different celebrations across the U.S. that’s placed much importance on, but there is a heavy emphasis on New York City’s ball drop. This program is played throughout the country, even when pre-recorded due to timezone differences.

 

Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Maslenitsa

Context:

The subject is a USC student, born and raised in Southern California. The subject takes pride in his Russian-Jewish heritage, so I wanted to ask him about any rituals he has attended.

 

Piece:

Subject: There’s a great Russian holiday, um, that’s to celebrate the end of the winter. And I saw it when I was going to school in Russia for a bit in eighth grade, I’m not sure the name in English but in Russian it’s called Maslenitsa. Which is sort of — it’s the process where you burn this, like, hay statue of the, winter witch, or something.

Interviewer: The winter witch?

Subject: Yeah, so it’s like the farmers defeated her, cuz she was gonna ruin their crops, but they survived. So it’s a very joyous time, and, um, you eat all this great Russian food, it was a lot of fun.

Interviewer: So when exactly in the year does it take place?

Subject: The end of winter, whenever it is that year, I, uh, think when I went it was the end of February or something.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that Maslenitsa is an Eastern Slavic religious and folk holiday, celebrated during the last week before Great Lent, and it may be the oldest surviving Slavic holiday. Since Lent excludes parties, secular music, dancing, etc. which provide as distractions during times of prayer, Maslenitsa is the last time for individuals to take place in social activities.

An important aspect of the holiday which the subject did not include, is the presence of pancakes, and the lack of meat (however, in modern settings the ban of meat is less enforced).

Compared the the rituals and festivals which we studied in class, we can see that this society greatly values its prosperous agriculture. During such dire times of cold, harsh winter, it’s comforting to know that a party is waiting on the other end.

 

Earth cycle
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese New Year

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about any traditions he shared with his family. The subject told me he doesn’t have a strong connection with his parents, which I think underscores the great importance of Chinese New Year for him; the fact that he travels to convene with his family while not being intimately close with them shows how much the tradition matters to him. The subject gave me a general overview of the traditions associated with Chines New Year but did not elaborate on specific details.

Main Piece

“For Chinese New Year’s it’s a huge deal for our family so we’ll have a meal together, but, like, it’s supposed to be a time where everyone goes home, so I try and do that as well. And, um, there’s a lot of Chinese cultural traditions associated with that: like the types of meals you’ll cook, how you eat them and like getting money from elders.”

Earth cycle
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Easter Egg Traditions

Context & Analysis

My roommate (the subject) and I were sitting in our dorm room talking about how our families celebrated different holidays. The subject’s family is relatively large and extremely tight-knit. Most of her extended family live within an hour radius, and they highly value family gatherings. The dying of the Easter eggs the night before is a tradition carried out only by her immediate family, suggesting that this tradition might not be shared with her extended relatives. It is also interesting to consider that the family chooses to celebrate Easter despite not being religious themselves. Additionally, the subject and her sisters are all high school age or older, so I think that it is fascinating that their mother maintains the façade of the Easter bunny hiding the eggs. It appears that the tradition of the performing the event in the exact way it has “always” been is a way to preserve an important part of girls’ childhood.

 

Main Piece

“On Easter, we always do an Easter egg hunt and the night before we always dye hard-boiled eggs. And my parents always hide the eggs and it’s funny because they keep the façade of ‘Oh, the Easter bunny hid it over there, wow he’s so sneaky!” but its them, it’s like—but my sisters and I are (all three) old enough that we know that, but, like, it’s funny that they still keep that. My mom won’t shop for Easter bunny stuff in front of us, she’ll like—my sister pointed out some stuff to her at Target like “Oh mom, look those are cute baskets for everyone “ and she’s like “No that’s Easter bunny shopping, the Easter bunny will come back later” [laughs], so she attempts to like keep that going, but it’s funny and it’s always been that way.”


 

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