USC Digital Folklore Archives / Magic
Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Evil eye

Subject: Evil eye inoculation

Informant:

 Haifa grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to a progressive family. She is a Professor at the King Saud University in Riyadh and conceders herself a religious person, but does not believe in a lot of the superstition behind some of the stories. She grew up, and works, around all different kinds of people that shared with her different traditions and folklore of which she has shared some of her favorite.

Original script: “a lot of Saudi superstition is based around the evil eye. One really prevalent practice is the ingestion of another persons spit…it sounds disgusting but this is how it works. If you have a guest and fear that they may have eye eyed your house or family you take either the water they have drank or you wash the cup they have been drinking coffee or tea from, wash it and drink from the water you wash it with. It is believed that if you do so, you take a trace of that persons essence and therefor inoculate yourself against any evil or malice that comes from them.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Most of Arabic myth and superstition surrounds the evil eye and it’s affects on people and how to protect ones self from its negative affects.

Thoughts about the piece: Saudi’s often employ what would seem to be superstitious practices probably left over from a time before Islam. However, like all good folklore, the myths, practices and superstitions have evolved with the spread of Islam to involve Islamic themes such as using prayer and the name of god to proceed the ritual.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Magic
Protection

Mashallah

Informant :

Haifa grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to a progressive family. She is a Professor at the King Saud University in Riyadh and considers herself a religious person, but does not believe in a lot of the superstition behind some of the stories. She grew up, and works, around all different kinds of people that shared with her different traditions and folklore of which she has shared some of her favorite.

Original script:                                                                                                                 

ما شاء الله

Phonetic (Roman) script: Mahsallah

Transliteration: Mashallah

Full translation: As god wills.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Mashshallah is said to ward off any bad or evil eye from things. When you say something is nice like “you have nice hair” you have to say mashallah after it of you may unintentionally give someone the evil eye. My mother still yells at me if I don’t say mashallah after I say something nice and will even tell strangers to say mashallah if they are complementary or her kids.

Context of the Performance: Said to ward off the evil eye from a person, home or object and used throughout the Arabic speaking world.

Thoughts about the piece: Like a lot of traditional Arabic saying and myths this blends superstition with religion (Islam). While the saying involved the belief that only god can make something happen, it still is used to ward off evil created by humans.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Material
Protection

Kitchen Witches

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

“The other thing that Sweden has, we have the kitchen witches. So hang a witch in the kitchen and they protect the kitchen. I still have kitchen witches, I have several.  It’s like a little figurative witch on a broom, but they go in the kitchen, they’re called kitchen witches. They protect the food in the kitchen. So it’s a very Scandinavian sort of thing. It may have different looks in each family, but it has to be a witch, and you hang it in a kitchen. It keeps you up from messing up your kitchen.”

She is very proud of this specific object that they keep in Sweden culture, even though she has been immigrated to US for a long time. I think it’s very lovely that in many Scandinavian cultures they believe in magic and magical creatures, and sometimes they really work when you believe in them. In this case if you do believe in the kitchen witches can protect you from messing up your kitchen, and hang them there, you may really become more cautious while cooking.

 

Childhood
Customs
Festival
Homeopathic
Magic
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.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic

Chopstick in rice bowl

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

“In China we are not allowed to place our chopsticks perpendicularly into rice bowl while eating. It is very inappropriate to do that there, because it would look like you are worshiping dead people.”

This is a common habit that parents always forbid their kids to do on the dining table since their very young age from decades to decades. My informant says that she still keeps that rule in mind every time she eats with chopsticks now, even though she no longer thinks about the reason behind it anymore.

It is quite interesting to me that there are many homeopathic folk beliefs like this in Chinese customs, which I think more or less relates to their hieroglyphic language that allows them to randomly connect two things that share similar features together.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Salt for bad spirits

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.

“She used to take salt with her when she went to new places, put them at corner and drive away bad spirits.”

“I think it’s their superstition from their peasants’ logic 100 years ago.”

I’ve actually heard this mystic belief of connection between salt and bad spirits in more than one cultures. To me it sounds very random and arbitrary, but if this activity could comfort the people who believe in that from anxiety and insecurity, I don’t think it should be criticized as superstition in a harsh way.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

Lead Shapes to Determine Your Luck

Background: A.J. is a 65-year-old woman who was born and raised in Poprad, Slovakia. She relocated to the United States from Slovakia 20 years ago, while her son was attending University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A.J. holds a degree in child development and since coming to the United States has worked as a nanny. She is married to her lifelong sweetheart and has one son and three grandchildren. She often talks about her home and family in Slovakia – about the beautiful mountains and the culture. Although she is now a US citizen, she incorporates many Slovak traditions into everyday life, and enjoys telling stories about her family and her family traditions.

 

Main piece:

A.J.: On December 13, we met all girls in one house and we melted PB, how call that – lead – on the stove and was like liquid, we took on the spoon and pour to the bowl cold water.  What kind of shape was made in this water we would decided what was that.  If you have heart you will be happy. You will have good luck. If it was some different shape we always was thinking what it can be. Was like snake, you have bad luck or was some witch or something you were always thinking about your next year how will be look.

 

Q: So how old were you when you did this?

 

A.J.: We were 13, 14, 15 like that.

 

Q: Who did you learn it from?

 

A.J.: From parents or some other girls or older girls what we have in the village.  Always this oldest girls invite youngest girls and go like tradition you know from one girl to another and then.

 

Q: Did all the girls in the one village go to one house or were there multiple?

 

A.J.: Multi – were like 10 girls or 12 girls in one house and other go to other.  We always meet in different houses every year

 

Performance Context: This ritual would be done in Slovakia on December 13th, St. Lucy’s Day, by a large group of teenage girls.

 

My Thoughts: I think that it is interesting how many of the traditions done by teenage girls in Slovakia surround their future luck and happiness. Additionally, many of these traditions happen on December 13, or St. Lucy’s Day. This is also known as the “witch day.” It is possible that this day was seen as a day of magic, which is why girls believe that they would be able to predict some of their future on this day.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Name of Future Boyfriend Hidden in a Dumpling

Background: A.J. is a 65-year-old woman who was born and raised in Poprad, Slovakia. She relocated to the United States from Slovakia 20 years ago, while her son was attending University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A.J. holds a degree in child development and since coming to the United States has worked as a nanny. She is married to her lifelong sweetheart and has one son and three grandchildren. She often talks about her home and family in Slovakia – about the beautiful mountains and the culture. Although she is now a US citizen, she incorporates many Slovak traditions into everyday life, and enjoys telling stories about her family and her family traditions.

 

Main piece:

A.J.: Same day – December 13. On St. Lucy, we make dough and on small piece of paper we write name what boy you like it – mostly this girl do it. What boy you like it – can be one, can be couple, how many you want and you put in in this flour dough and make dumpling.  Then you cook in water – boil in the water and when was ready this dough you put to the cold water and you choose one dumpling and what name of boy was there you will dating in this year.

 

Q: So does each girl do it for themselves?

 

A.J.: Yes – OK.

 

Q: So you can put maybe 5 names down and then whichever one you pick that’s who you are going to be dating?

 

A.J.: Yeah but we put the all girls in the one bowl. Yeah – all girls in one bowl.

 

Q: So what happens if you get somebody else’s boy?

 

A.J.: We just were thinking this will be my boyfriend for this year.

 

Q: Why did you do it on St. Lucy Day?

 

A.J.: Because they said December 13 is like witch day you know – witches coming and they would doing this stuff. This is like Witch Day. Witches are never good on this day. They make always trouble.  They said when the witch came to your house they kill animals and something happen to your family and bad stuff always happen.

 

Performance Context: This ritual would occur in Slovakia on December 13, also known as St. Lucy’s Day, by groups of young girls typically in their teenage years.

 

My Thoughts: I think that it is interesting how much of the Slovak culture surrounds witches and magic. This ritual is done on December 13, or St. Lucy’s Day, because it is the “witch day.” However, witches are typically associated with bad things that happen, so it is curious why girls typically do this ritual to “find their boyfriend” for the next year on the witches’ day. It could be because since it is the day of the witches, it is also the day of magic.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Homeopathic

Cow Manure as a Medicine

Background: C.M. is a 58-year-old woman living in Franklin Park, IL. She was born in Chicago, and has lived in the Chicagoland area for all of her life. She works as a nurse practitioner at Nye Partners in Women’s Health, and has been working there for 7 years. Before that, she worked at Loyola University Medical Center as a labor and delivery nurse. She is married and has two grown children.

 

Main piece:

C.M.: I heard this story from my dad. He told me that before he was born, and he was born in 1932, that his mother’s brother, his name was Georgie, but his name was actually just George. His last name was Wilming, W-I-L-M-I… I think? N-G.

 

Anyway, they lived out in Iowa on a farm, I think in Elizabeth, and they were using dynamite sticks to blow out the tree stumps out of the ground, ya know, to clear the land. One of them blew up and – he was there, he was too close – Georgie, and he got injured. He had wounds, terrible open wounds from the explosion. And in order to heal these wounds, they smeared cow manure on him, and they healed! They used home remedies because there were no doctors at that time, and this one worked.

 

Q: And how did your dad learn this story?

 

C.M.: My grandma told my dad, my dad told me, and now I’m telling you!

 

Q: Did the wounds heal completely?

 

C.M.: Yup! There apparently was no scarring or anything.

 

Performance Context: I interviewed the informant over the phone, as I am in California and she lives in Chicago. This remedy would be used out on the farm, especially in the early 1900’s, when someone got terrible wounds and there were no doctors around to prescribe any Western medical treatments.

 

My Thoughts: I think that it is interesting how, without access to a doctor, people were able to come up with easy home remedies, coming from easily accessible material, to take care of the problem. However, I am curious how someone figured out that cow manure could be used as a healing salve in the first place! Folk medicines are not always superstitions, they can also be founded in fact. Many folk remedies eventually end up being validated in the scientific community, so it is possible that this one might, as well!

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Magic

Hilots in Filipino Culture

Background: Y.G.M. is a 49-year-old Filipino woman who works at Nye Partners in Women’s Health as the office manager. She was born and raised in Quezon City in the Philippines, and lived there until she was 25 years old. Y.G.M. self-identifies as Filipino, and as a result of her upbringing, Filipino culture is very engrained into her personal beliefs. She attended college at Mirian College, and received a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts. Y.G.M. then immigrated to Chicago, Illinois with her family in 1997, and got her first job working at Citibank in River Forest, Illinois. She now lives with her husband in a suburb of Chicago.

 

Main piece:

Y.G.M.: So Filipinos also have superstitious beliefs like um a person called Hilot [hee-loht] which is an expert woman who can deliver um deliver a mother in labor so they are supposed to have supernatural powers to just deliver a woman without any problems and they are blessed you know to be in to help women in labor without any problems – kinda like midwives.  So it’s like they have supernatural powers to do that instead of taking women to the hospital.

 

Q: How are the Hilots chosen?

 

Y.G.M.: They say, like “oh I have that special gift from above to perform such a miracle,” like a special gift from God.

 

Q: Is it from a specific God or just all the gods?

 

Y.G.M.: All the gods. And up to this moment, they still believe in that.

 

Q: So they just self-proclaim themselves as Hilots?

 

Y.G.M.: Yes yes – uh huh.

 

Performance Context: Hilots would be used to help women during childbirth in the Philippines.

 

My Thoughts: I think that it is interesting how the Filipinos relate childbirth to a religious and magical process with the use of Hilots’ god-given powers to help women in labor. Instead of using “medicine” in the general sense to help with childbirth, this practice shows that Filipino culture believes more in religion and magic to assist with everyday life.

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