USC Digital Folklore Archives / Magic
Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Magic

Shungite Crystal Healing

Context:

The informant – LF – is a 20-year-old female from the Seattle, Washington. She currently is a sophomore in the USC Thornton School of Music. Her parents are part of a small sect of Islam, Sufism, and often lead meditation retreats that teach the meditation techniques of George Gurdjieff. Here, I asked LF about some of the spiritual healing methods used by her parents.

 

LF: She, like, aligns these crystals up in fashions, kind of. And there’s this one specific crystal called a shungite rock, I think, and she makes you hold it in your hand if you, like… I don’t know what it does. But literally when I held it – I’m not even kidding – it felt like my whole body was vibrating. It was whacko.

 

Me: What context did she tell you to hold it?

 

LF: I was feeling sick. It’s an energetic thing – it holds really powerful energy I think.

 

Me: So if you’re feeling sick, your mom would…

 

LF: Yeah, she’d be like, “Honey, take your crystals…” (Laughter) Yeah, I was vaccinated with crystals, haha.

 

Analysis:

I couldn’t find much on a relationship between Gurdjieff’s teachings and using crystals in spiritual healing, so I believe that the two could be unrelated. LF seemed to find the methods somewhat humorous, often making jokes about the methods, but also believed in the potential power of the crystals. It’s unclear exactly why LF’s parents use crystals in their healing methods/which, if any, tradition they’re drawing upon, though using crystals in spiritual healing seems to be a fairly common tradition among many different people.

Childhood
Game
Humor
Magic

Childrens Magic Trick: The Disappearing Bracelet Knot

Background: The performance is a magic trick, a form of slight of hand that uses a hair scrunchie or similarly elastic bracelet, the informant (RW) learned it on the playground from one of her friends.
RW: It’s so cool!
MW: What do you like about it?
RW: When you do it right everyone gets really excited!
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Context: Informant(RW) is a 12 year old student who’s interests include spending time with family, and riding bicycles. RW shared this particular magic trick with multiple members of her family during their annual Passover Seder, in this case RW, her sister, and I were getting paper from the garage so that RW’s father could teach us to make paper airplanes when she asked to show me a magic trick.

Performance:
RW: Ok, ok, so first you twist the rope like an 8 on your wrist
RW: You do that and you see this part? [RW points to the loop formed by her bracelet]
RW: The under part [she gestures to the under side of the bracelet], and you pull that part into the little circle but not too tight.
RW: If you flick it really fast the knot disappears!

Steps to reproduce:
1)Twist a section of the bracelet into a loop
2)Take the underside of the bracelet a pinky length away from the loop and pull it through to make a knot, loosely
3) Flick the end of the bracelet that sticks out of the knot and it disappears
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Analysis:
The trick is a way to “get one over” on one’s peers and even adults. Thus the child demonstrates “magic” that they know to be a reflection of their own knowledge. The informant’s pride is the key marker here, this piece of folklore is a performance passed from person to person for the benefit of the people around them. Likewise this is a display of trickery, the goal is to fool, and thus in harmless deception traverse the social taboo of lying. This gives the performer the space to engage in a behavior that is generally seen as wrong in a way that will actually net them praise.

Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Holidays
Magic
Material
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Peruvian New Years Tradition: 8 Grapes on Years

AS is a USC game design major who’s family hails from Peru, she enjoys spreadsheets, Dungeons and Dragons, and spreadsheets about Dungeons and Dragons.
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Interviewer(MW): So you mentioned earlier that in Peru some holidays are celebrated differently?
AS: okay so I guess I’ll start off with New Year’s so there’s like two weird holidays that occur on New Year’s for Peruvians for some reason

AS: We do the normal thing where it’s like you used to stand by you wait until you know the countdown starts and you drink the champagne you do all that jazz.

AS: But the things that you do is after you drink the champagne you down like 12 grapes in the champagne each one’s supposed to be a wish so down your champagne you eat individual grapes as quickly as possible

MW: I’ve spent New Years in Lima, I know they have some interesting New Years Practices, so are there things that do you have any particular set things that you associate with the grapes like there’s some things that you’re supposed to wish for?

AS: There isn’t anything you’re supposed to wish for I think, like generally it’s stigmatized in Latin Society for good health to be a thing or like wish your family good health like general well-being.

AS: I guess would be something that people would would generally stick towards at least want to do one or two wishes to be around there

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Analysis:
The use of champagne as a marker of the new year exists across culture but using fruit as a conduit for wishes ties the sweetness of the fruit to the hope for a sweet new year, this invokes a similar tradition to the Jewish Rosh Hashanah practice of dipping apples in honey for a happy new year. The wish too carries meaning, like a birthday the new year is full of promise and marks a transition and making a wish is a way to codify that promise in a fun and festive way. Likewise AS’s note that there’s a focus on well-being represent anxieties about that transition, the bitterness of the alcohol in the wine might invoke this anxiety, tinging the sweetness of the grapes with a fear of the unknown and the challenges that the new year will bring.

There are 12 wishes as well, this factors into the cyclical nature of the tradition as well as each grape likely represents a month of the year thus the wishes are meant to carry the participants through the entire year.

Customs
Earth cycle
Game
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Peruvian New Years Tradition: Run the Suitcase Around the Block

AS is a USC game design major who’s family hails from Peru, she enjoys spreadsheets, Dungeons and Dragons, and spreadsheets about Dungeons and Dragons. AS grew up in Texas after her family moved there from Peru.
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AS: My family had a lot of traditions for New Years, I’ve heard a lot of people do this one though

AS: We fill like a like a suitcase of some sort and we run it around the block and that’s supposed to represent like good luck in traveling and like safe travels and all that stuff.

AS: So my mom makes me do it every year cuz you yeah gotta have that good luck

MW: Do you have any particular attachment to this?

AS: I mean I would still do it if I didn’t live in South Central LA and that’s dangerous

AS: I guess it’s it’s it’s kind of just like a superstitious thing to me

AS: Or it’s just like it’s a cute tradition that makes New Year’s feel different than what like normal people celebrate even it doesn’t have like a very deep impact I guess it also fills me with nostalgia for things you did as a kid so you feel like you should do it anyways.
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Analysis:
The symbolism of running around the block mimics the cyclical nature of the calendar year and separates it from the idea of linear time. The suitcase is also filled, meaning that the carrier takes home with them when they travel and provides a direct connection to home and family life. Likewise, the fact that you run around the block and return to the starting point sort of carries the message that no matter where you go you can always return home, this centers the importance of home even in a tradition that’s all about travel. The desire for safety also reveals anxieties about leaving the home. Travel to new places is scary, a journey into the unknown thus the hope for good luck works in combination with the carrying of the known with you and the promise of a safe return to that known space.

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Life cycle
Magic
Signs

Moroccan: Tino Moths and Rebirth

Informant (AH) Is a 22 Year old USC Narrative Studies student interested in user research for games, we traded stories over a podcast we record together.
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Interviewer(MW): You said you had folklore from your grandmother?
AH: Yeah, so my grandma is from morocco, there’s a lot of folklore culturey stuff and I didn’t realize it was like that until I moved away from her and was like “oh you guys don’t do that here?”
AH: But like one thing in particular is you know Tino Moths
MW: Like the plant? (Interviewer thinks AH has said Tino Moss)
AH: No the bug
MW: OHhhh Moths
AH: yeah, some people when they get into their house you think “Oh I gotta kill it or take it out of the house” but at my grandma’s house you don’t touch the moth you just admire it…because in her culture moths are kind of like ghosts when one of your family members dies they come back to you as a moth, so that was yeah.
MW: We don’t have that in my religion, but that rules
AH: Yeah, it’s sort of comforting you know, to think that the people you love are still around and stuff
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Analysis
Insect rebirth symbolism allows the departed agency and a fleeting return to the lives of their loved ones, this is reflected in the chance, almost random nature by which the moth ends up in your home. This belief offers a comfort in the wake of loss and serves to temporarily sate the low-level pain that comes with the loss of a loved one, that stays for the rest of your life. Likewise the respect for the moth constitutes a respect for the dead, because those two beings are intertwined. Likewise this piece of folklore serves to connect AH to his grandmother, so that every time he sees a moth he sees her, allowing her to transcend death and remain with him, a part of his life, as her loved ones did when the story lived with her.Thus here, the moth becomes a symbol for death, it’s ephemeral nature makes contact with it fleeting and therefore more valuable, as it carries the soul of the departed onward to wherever it goes next.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Homeopathic
Protection

Salt Balls From the Dead Sea

Context: A friend of mine had missed about a week of school, so when she finally returned, I visited her at her apartment in Downtown to catch up and hear about what had been happening.

 

Background: My informant explained that she had been falling victim to a string of bad luck for about one month. She was very sick and decided to spend a week at her parent’s home in Beverly Hills to recover. While at home, her mother instructed her to take a bath with salt balls that she brought back from the Dead Sea in Israel. Salt from the Dead Sea is known to have different forms of healing power, both internally and externally. She believes that this ritual has the power to heal, as well as dissolve negative energy. 

 

Main Piece: “For the last month it was just thing after thing coming my way. I was feeling pretty down overall. I kept getting sick over and over again. I had a couple of ruptured ovarian cysts. My family was fighting a lot and it was getting really heated and out of control. I kept losing things, I was doing poorly in school. It was just so much negativity surrounding me and I was losing my mind. So I go home and I was just miserable so my mom gave me these salt balls she brought back with her from Israel. The gist of it is like you can either use them in the bath as a bath bomb or something, or you can use it as a scrub in the shower and just scrub it all over your body until it dissolves into your skin. The salt in general is a healer, it heals physical cuts and wounds and it’s supposed to help your skin. But a lot of people think it heals internally too. It’s really renewing and cleansing both inside and out. My mom always tells me that it dissolves the negative energy, the illness, just the bad all around. She says it’s purifying and yeah it cleanses the toxins out of your body, but it’s supposed to really boost your energy and stamina too. I sat in the bath with it for like an hour a couple of times and I honestly felt so much better. There’s definitely things I’m still dealing with, but I swear afterwards I just felt completely cleansed. I felt at peace with a lot of things, I just felt the negativity clear from my mind. It could have been some placebo effect type of thing, but it helped regardless.”

 

Analysis: People from all over the world visit the Dead Sea, and revel in the salty pool of water. It attracts tourists for its’ power to make the body completely float, and for the physical healing power of the salt. What I found interesting was this interpretation of its’ power to heal internally – to heal energy, to erase negativity, and to cleanse the body and the aura.

 

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Healing Touch

Context:

The informant and I were talking about an injury he had since high school and shares with me a particular healing practice he received during his time recovering.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

 

S: As a Christian family, my mom believes in spiritual gifts. Specifically, the gift of healing. She goes to this church in downtown LA and goes to the elder whenever she’s in pain. The elder lies my mother down on the table and proceeds to gently touch and poke different places. The elder touches the area that hurts as well as any area that may connect to the afflicted area. My mom says the elder’s hands are warm, with spiritual fire. After praying for my mom, the elder runs her hands over my mom while my mother cries out in pain. The elder does this a few more times and my mom is still in pain. However, once the elder finishes, my mom says she is beginning to feel better.

My mom strongly believes that this woman has the art of spiritual healing as she’s gone to doctors with internal organ pain before and their medicine has done nothing. This elder has helped her with that internal pain and much more.

My mom now takes my brother and me to the elder when we are in pain. My brother is a firm believer now in what she does even though he is always in pain. I still struggle to see that it’s real, though I have gone many times as a result of my mom forcing me after my many knee surgeries.

 

Analysis:

Traditional medicine lives among the people as a part of their culture. Many believe in and adopt older medical practices and choose to prefer them over popular medicine backed by science. Although the validity of these practices is up to debate, many people turn to these practices when they are in need of medical care. The idea of the healing touch is an intriguing idea that places a special importance on the powers and skills of elders. In general, both forms of medicine often interact with each other. In many cases, people employ the help of popular medicine with other medical remedies that have been passed down in a culture or family. We can’t simply say that it is a placebo effect and dismiss the notion that the practices may actually yield results. Maybe it is the combined effects of both that help one recover from their ailments.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Magic
Protection

Disease as a result of Possession

Text:

BH: “So when I got chicken pox in like 7thgrade, no wait 10thgrade, yeah, and I remember we came back from the doctors’ with medicines and everything and my mom called my aunt and said “she has chicken pox”, which implied uske andar mata aa gayi hai [she’s possessed by the mata] so for the first three days, I was only allowed to have sponge baths and on the fifth day, the uh fourth day or the fifth day, a pandit [priest like figure] came and he put some oil and coins in a [bowl] and did something – I don’t fully remember but he performed some sort of ritual, uh he touched that oil on my feet. And then – uh it was only then that I was allowed to fully bathe in proper water. Before that I wasn’t allowed to bathe, and they all just saying “uske andar mata aa gayi hai” which like I don’t even know what that really means. And I asked my mom, and she didn’t really have an explanation either.”

BH: “Oh yeah, and I also wasn’t allowed to have onion or garlic because that is what apparently what you do when the mata [possesses you] and I wasn’t allowed to eat non vegetarian food also.”

BH: “I was only allowed to eat all this after 14 days when I wasn’t contagious anymore.”

BH: “The person [affected by the disease] is already in isolation – the family members are already treating you like some sort of untouchable and you’re basically being discriminated against at that point of time – it’s just not a good headspace to be in because you can’t go meet people, and people who visit you can’t come close…And on top of that you hear these terms that you don’t fully understand but seems negative so it just makes you feel even more low. I mean if there was some scientific basis, I would understand, but I just wish there was better terminology for it than using such words.”

 

Context:

The informant is a college student from India. The conversation was in response to my question about any odd things that happened in the informant’s past that she did not agree with but had to partake in anyway. The informant is also bilingual so the conversation happened in a mix of English and Hindi. I have translated the relevant Hindi parts to English as per my own interpretation and in an attempt to retain the meaning as best as possible. Certain key terms have been Romanized and their translations or explanations are given in brackets. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.

 

Interpretation:

It is interesting how even now cultural practices and beliefs like possession as an explanation of a disease like chicken pox, which is pretty well understood scientifically, persist. The informant talks about the feelings of isolation and prejudice she faced from her family which put into perspective the harmful effects of such folk beliefs when they are forced on people who don’t understand them or do not want to partake in them. Her confusion also arises from the fact that even the people around her whole seem to truly believe in this tradition don’t have an explanation for it. Often, folk beliefs are so integral to identity that they are not questioned by people who are involved in them.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Re-entry into a Home: Indian Folk Belief

Text:

MM: “See when we return home after a long time, then it is supposed to be pretty auspicious that in front of the main door of the house someone pour oil on like both sides of the door – before you like enter the house.”

MS: “Is it usually when the person is already at the door, or before they show up?”

MM: “No like when you show up, you have to wait at the door, and then someone pours the oil and then you’re allowed to enter.”

MS: “Was there ever a time this ritual was done differently?”

MM: “Yeah there was this one time when we showed up somewhere and they had already put the oil on the doorstep and the door wasn’t even open yet and it was supposed to be like a super bad omen. Like you’re supposed to do it the right way, after the people show up, not before.”

MM: “My grandparents believe in this pretty ardently and some people from my parents’ generation do as well, but we kids like definitely don’t see the point and I don’t think I’d like continue to do it if it were just me.”

 

Context:

The informant is a college student from India, currently doing a study abroad program in America. The conversation was in response to my question about any odd things that happened in the informant’s past that she did not agree with but had to partake in anyway. The informant is also bilingual so the conversation happened in a mix of English and Hindi. I have translated the relevant Hindi parts to English as per my own interpretation and in an attempt to retain the meaning as best as possible. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.

 

Interpretation:

The informant does not really understand the reasons behind the ritual herself, and is adamant in not taking part in it, but she still acknowledges the proper way to do it and the consequences of messing up even the order in which the actions must take place. I think this ritual developed because there was a time when people would often go away for long periods of time and the lack of communication abilities would imply that there was no way of knowing if and when they would be coming back. Further, there was implicitly more of a risk in travel earlier than it is now. The ritual seems to be a response of gratitude for a safe return as well as a prayer that even return be as safe and sound as this one.

Customs
Holidays
Homeopathic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cutting Hair for Chinese New Year

[The subject is MW. Her words are bolded, mine are not.]

ME: Can you tell me about a Chinese New Year tradition?

MW: Chinese New Year, or Chinese New Year eve, we will put the whole table. Mother cook, or have the servant cook, all kinds of goodies, but we cannot eat first. But they still put the wine and the chopstick, and the whole table, but that’s let the ancestor come, ancestor, I mean we don’t see them- the people already pass away like my grandma, or grandma, you know? My mother always, we cannot- the kids eat later, just have to let them, still, put the best food, all warm, but we cannot touch the chair. It’s grand-grandpa, and grand-grandma, let them eat first. And after the time, bring the food back to the kitchen, and then bring it back and then we can eat.

And then also, in Chinese New Year, we have to go to have a haircut, the kids all have to go have a haircut.

ME: Why is that?

MW: It’s like for a new year, then you have to clean up the whole thing. And the next day, we have to go to, for our auntie, and grandma, those kowtow. And then they give us a red envelope.

Context: MW is my grandmother, who was born in Shanghai and then lived in Hong Kong later on in her youth. She moved to San Francisco as a young adult and has lived in the Bay Area for the last six decades. She is a native Mandarin speaker, but is also fluent in English. I sat down with her and asked her to talk about some traditions and stories she remembers from living in China.

Thoughts: I am half-Chinese and have lived in the United States for my entire life, so while the tradition of eating a big dinner on Chinese New Year is familiar to me, but the less common tradition of getting a haircut for the new year was not. I believe that this tradition could be associated with Frazer’s concept of homeopathic magic, because the chopping of the hair seems to represent chopping off what you no longer want to hold onto from the last year, and creates good luck going forward.

[geolocation]