USC Digital Folklore Archives / Magic
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.

Folk Beliefs
Magic

The Virgin Mary and Weather

Main Piece

Religious tradition

“I heard about it when i was in like 4th grade and we wanted our field trip to the Bronx Zoo to not have bad weather. My 4th grade teacher told us about this thing…where you put the Virgin Mary statue facing out in a window. Supposedly it makes…like…good weather, for the next day or something.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Long Island, New York

Language: English

The informant doesn’t think that the practice actually has an effect, but she thinks you should continue doing it as a “trope.” The informant is deeply religious; she said that she believes that, if God wants it to rain, it will rain regardless of anyone’s actions. The informant has never had a Mary statue but has been given them as gifts, she just never kept them or used them. The informant said that she doesn’t feel as strongly as other people do about Mary.

Context

The informant attended a coeducational Catholic school where she learned of the practice.

Notes

The conflict of institutional and non–institutional religious beliefs is an interesting contention. Folk practices such as this are indicative of the importance that people place on different religious figures, like the Virgin Mary, who are perhaps underemphasized by the church. Furthermore, the informant learned the practice from a teacher, but not from the institution itself, which is an interesting distinction to make. When is one acting as part of their employing institution, and when is one not?

 

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic

Psychic Abilities

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I originally asked the informant about his experience with ghosts, or the supernatural, but the conversation quickly shifted when he mentioned that his great grandmother was apparently a psychic.

The informant has deep Jewish roots, with ancestors having fled from Germany during World War II, and has a deep interest in the paranormal, and other odd subjects.
Informant: “I have never seen a ghost. Um… I have heard stories of people who have seen ghosts, and my family maintains that my great grandmother was a psychic.”

Interviewer: “Your great grandmother was a psychic?!”

Informant: “Yes.”

Interviewer: “What can you tell me about that?”

Informant: “Um, so there – we have two stories. Um, so my great grandmother was a holocaust survivor, and the story goes that, um, they – she and my great grandfather, who I’m named after – lived in Berlin for a long time. Um, like, as things were getting worse. Um, but before it was immediately obvious that every Jew in Germany’s life was in imminent danger. But my grandmother had a dream, and she told my great grandfather, ‘We need to get out of Germany now.’ Um, and so they go – like it wasn’t, it still wasn’t easy for Jews to get out of Germany at that time, and there’s a follow up story that is not supernatural about them getting out of Germany, but that’s the first one. And then the second one, um, is someone in my family was going through a particularly painful birth, and, um… and she had – she heard her grandfather’s voice in her head saying, ‘All will be well. Do not worry.’ Um, and the bir- and after that, like almost immediately after she started screaming that she heard her grandfather’s voice, the birth started going better and the next morning, they got a call from the funeral worker, er, from the cemetery worker that her grandfather was buried saying that the tombstone was cracked.”

Interviewer: “Wow. And so do you believe that she was psy-”

Informant: “[Said immediately and with a lot of conviction, interrupting me] Yes.”

Interviewer: “Okay, do you have anything else to add about that?”

Informant: “Um, I mean [laughs] the only reason I think she’s psychic is cause I also sometimes have weird dreams that are either deja vu or the future [laughs]. Um, like, I think the best example of that is when I was in fourth grade, the night before we got assigned to our reading groups, I had a dream that accurately called [laughing] which students would get put into which reading groups. And I just maintained, ‘Oh, that’s weird. I don’t know what to do with that [laughs].’”

Interviewer: “Has anything else like that happened?”

Informant: “Um, a couple times, but they’re all harder to remember than that, because that one was just, that was the first time it happened to me, like, every so often, I’ll, like, I’ll run into something and I’ll remember, ‘Oh wow that, I’ve seen that before.’”

Interviewer: “Is it kind of like, ‘Oh I’ve seen that in a dream,’ or…”

Informant: “[Adamant, perhaps defensively] No, it’s like I know I saw that. Like it’s a definitive, ‘I’m, like, remembering a series, like, a really specific series of events that I had already seen hap,’ like, cause I could – When it happens I could almost always pinpoint when I remember seeing it, but, like, I don’t know?”

Interviewer: “But you can’t think of it in advance?”

Informant: “No… I feel like it’s prob – if if if it is anything, and I don’t know if it’s anything, it’s probably a That’s So Raven-type deal [An older Disney Channel show about a girl - Raven - who has visions of the future] where the thinking about it is what causes it to happen?”

Interviewer: “Was the fourth grade thing something that you dreamed about and then remembered later when it happened, or… ?”

Informant: “I remember, so I remember having the dr- so I had the dream, and in the morning I talked to my family about the dream, then went to school and it happened. That one, that’s like, that’s the why that one stuck out to me, cause I remember, like, there distinctly being a dream, a conversation about the dream, and then the events unfolding. Yeah that one, that one’s wild.”
I have met multiple people in the past who claim that they are somewhat psychic, yet their “psychic” moments sound exactly like deja vu, a phenomenon that almost everyone, myself included, experience. The informant seems to be one of these people who thinks these to be physic moments, though he won’t claim anything as truth. However, his case of him having a dream, describing that dream to his family, then it occuring is indeed an odd coincidence, if it is just a coincidence. I cannot say whether he is psychic or not, but including the incidents with his great grandmother, psychic abilities may be hereditary, if they exist.

Customs
Magic
Material

Pre-Test Ritual

Subject: Tradition. “Dress your best to test your best”.

Collection:

“Interviewer: Can you talk about going out to buy that dress my sophomore year of high school… the first time we ever did dress your best to test your best?

Interviewee: So, when I was growing up my mom would always take- when I was taking tests even through college… and buy me something to make me feel… uh… special. And to put me in the best state of mind for my tests. And then when Emerson was taking her first AP test we went out and got a dress and it’s her- was called her AP dress, from that day on… but like I- you- you started not wanting to- a dress, but like we would buy a shirt or some shorts or something. It was always like just dress up, get yourself in the best state of mind to take your test”.

Background Info: C. Taylor grew up in Southern California. She had a close relationship with her mother and paternal grandmother who first introduced her to this custom. She passed it down to her daughter when the tests being taken became significant. She currently lives in San Clemente, CA with her husband and one daughter.

Context: This tradition was shared over dinner with her daughter and husband when talking about various traditions passed down through the women in our lives.

Analysis: While this custom appears indulgent, the principles behind it are simple and could be easily enacted without much pomp and circumstance. This tradition centers around the individual while simultaneously asserting a sense of belonging and responsibility within the family structure.

First, the specific action being performed, shopping and then wearing new clothes to the test, is designed to make the person taking the test feel good about themselves. By putting on the clothes, there is an attempt to feel in control of the situation, even though they may not be. This evokes a type of sympathetic magic in which the practitioner makes themselves physically appear and feel their best to then trigger the best possible results from the test. Hence, it is all about the success of the individual and an attempt to control an indeterminant outcome. Furthermore, the practitioner is physically changing their appearance to commemorate the event, an outward statement that the test is important and deserving of the highest levels of dedication.

Secondly, the build up to dressing your best to test your best presents an opportunity for mother and daughter to go out and perform a self-serving activity that is out of the normal. By performing a distinct activity and making the day a special occasion, an additional level of bonding is introduced. The positive feelings of the bonding trip are then commemorated by the apparel that is donned to make the tester feel confident and supported going into their test. It also simultaneously produces a sense of duty of child to parent, the parent has made an investment in the success of their child and so the child must perform well.

In this way, this ritual is not unlike wearing a pair of lucky socks before a basketball game. A physical item is applied to the body to produce a desired outcome; only in this case, it is the newness of the item that gives it its special powers.

Magic

Heungbu and Nolbu

Main Piece: “ This is one of the most well known stories in Korea it is about two brothers. Heungbu and Nolbu were brothers. Nolbu, the older brother was super greedy and annoying but his younger brother Heungbu was kind and the opposite. The day that their father died, they learned that he was ordered to split his fortune in half for each of them. Nolbu tricked Heungbu’s family and threw them out in order to keep the entire fortune to himself.  But Heungbu didn’t complain. One day Hengbu helped a bird get away from a snake. The next year the bird  came back and gave Heungbu a seed as a thank you present. Heungbu planted the seed in his backyard and found gold inside. Since gold basically means that you are rich they bought a new house and became very wealthy. Nolbu ended up finding out about this and met Heungbu and asked him how he became so rich so quickly because he was jealous. Nolbu heard the secret and did the same with the bird. The bird brought Nolbu a seed the next spring, and Nolbu planted it. But there were no gold and instead his life sucked because there were only elements of destruction, like no wealth and stuff like that so Nolbu and his wife lost all of their wealth. But they finally realized their mistake and asked Heungbu to forgive them and they all lived together happily ever after.”

Background Information: The informant learned this Korean folktale from her parents and she was also born and raised in South Korea. This story is important to her because it taught her that what goes around comes back around and that people who treat others with kindness will always win.

Context: In the informant’s apartment

Thoughts: This story is interesting because of the dynamic of the two brothers, and that this story is about family compared to other folk stories that I have collected that are about individuals. This might suggest that family is very important in the Korean culture, and values like kindness and being humble are important as well.

 

Legends
Magic

Tengu

Main Piece: “My mom use to tell me a story about a Japanese legend. Back in the day there lived an old woman in a village at the foot of Mount Takao in Japan. She would always cook up food like traditional Japanese food like rice and bamboo shoots for the Tengu, (which are magical looking creatures, to eat). One day, the old woman was super sick so her son became worried and went to get water from some hot spring far away. However, he was clumsy so he tripped just before reaching home and spilled all the water. He was pretty disappointed and thought his mom would get mad at him, but then he noticed water springing up from the ground so he gathered it for his mom. When the old woman bathed in this water, she became healthy again. Everyone in the village said it must have been the Tengu who caused water to spring up as a way of saying thank you to the woman for all the meals she cooked for them.”

Background Information: The informant describes Tengu as a type of legendary creature found in Japanese folk religion and are also considered a type of Shinto god (kami) or yōkai ( supernatural beings). The tengu were  thought to take the forms of bird like creatures. The informat learned this story through his grandparents who live in Japan, and he says that this is one of the most classic and well known stories that involve supernatural beings. He also said this story made him less scared of ghosts when he was a kid because in the story the Tengu help heal the woman.

Context: At a restuarant in downtown LA

Thoughts: This story contains magical elements, will the special healing water which reminds me a little bit of the water of immortality. This story also demonstrates the importance of good deeds, and that you should treat others the way you would want them to treat you (the woman making food for the Tengu and the Tengu healing the woman). This story also contains important aspects of Japanese culture, like food (rice and bamboo shoots). After talking to the informant, he said that his grandmother makes rice and bamboo shoots for him when he is not feeling well.

Magic
Tales /märchen

Momotaru

Main Piece: “So there was an old woman who would go to a riverside in Japan to wash clothes. One day she found a sweet peach and wanted to take one home for her husband so he would be happy. Then  the peach just magically appeared next to the woman and the woman took it to her house. When she tried to cut the peach in half, a human boy just came out out of nowhere. They called the boy Momotaro (which means the peach boy). Momotaro grew super fast and became huge like a man. He helped the old couple with house chores. But then there were some evil devils bothering the villagers and Momotaro decided to fight against the devils on the devils’ island to repay the old couple.  He told the old woman that if she made special dumplings for him he would beat the devils because he needed fuel. So, the woman made special dumplings that can give a human being something of like 100 times their power. When he got to the island he beat a huge devil. Momotaro then gave the treasure that the devils had secretly equally to all the villagers”

Background Information: The informant learned this story through her parents who grew up in Tokyo, Japan. The main message behind this story is to always give back and be humble (for example, the peach boy giving back to the villagers after his parents had given him dumplings). The informant says that this is a very common folk story in Japan which parents tell their children.

Context: Next to a grocery store in Los Angeles

Thoughts: Peaches are significant in Japanese culture as being “Kami”, or the Mother goddess which is a symbol of fertility and magic powers. Peaches are in many other different Japan mythology and are said to have magical powers. This story seems to have a symbolic importance with the peach as good luck and not just a morally important lesson.

 

Folk medicine
Homeopathic

Wet Socks Fever Remedy

The informant is marked EL. I am CS. She shared with me a few forms of folk medicine practices she has learned over the years.

 

CS: “So are there any other remedies or folk medicine you can tell me about?”

EL: “Hmm yeah let me think. Oh! Ok…there is another super weird one, but I actually kind of think it works.”

CS: “Perfect, can you describe it for me?”

EL: “Yeah so it’s a remedy for when you have a fever. You basically take a pair of socks and put them under cold water, and put your feet in hot water. Then, when you go to bed, you put the wet socks on your feet and I guess it like increases circulation and blood flow? Sounds kind of weird, but the next day it supposedly relieves like congestion and your fever.”

CS: “And you’ve done this before?”

EL: “Yeah my mom always made me do it when I was younger. I got fevers all of the time.”

CS: “Did you notice any results from it?”

EL: “Honestly, yeah. I always felt better the next day. Weird how those things can sometimes really work.”

 

Context:

Met for coffee to record her different encounters with folk medicine and remedies.

Background:

EL is a first year student at The University of Southern California. She was raised in Dallas, Texas.

 

Analysis:

I find this remedy interesting because I have never heard of it before, and the method seems bizarre, yet I understand the purpose behind it. I personally remember whenever I was sick with a fever doctors would tell me to cool myself off instead of warm myself up. I never used to understand the logic because I believed if I was struck with a fever and my body wanted heat, then it makes sense to give it heat. However, warming yourself up does prolong a fever’s duration, and essentially is just another catalyst to making you sicker. So off of this medical point, this method does seem to be logical and probably soothing. Compared to many over the counter drugs and doctor’s diagnoses, I enjoy learning of other methods that could similarly take care of the problem without all of the extra legwork.

 

Folk medicine
Homeopathic

Onion Sleep Remedy

The informant is marked EL. I am CS. She shared with me a few forms of folk medicine she has learned over the years.

 

EL: “There’s this other remedy too I always used to tell my friends about. Obviously in like high school everyone always has a hard time falling asleep, so my mom always made me put onions in a jar to help aid sleep deprivation.”

CS: “Interesting, where did you put the onions?”

EL: “We’d cut them up and put them in a jar and leave the jar on the nightstand. If you still can’t sleep in the middle of the night you are supposed to open the jar and breathe in the scent of the onions. Not exactly sure what it really does it help you sleep, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to try, right?”

CS: “Right. How long have you been doing it for?”

EL: “Probably from like late elementary school to high school. Obviously I’m too lazy to do it every time I have a hard time sleeping. That’d just be a waste. But here and again I do it and I still am not sure if it really works.”

 

Context:

Met for coffee to record her different encounters with folk medicine and remedies.

 

Background:

EL is a first year student at The University of Southern California. She was raised in Dallas, Texas.

 

Analysis:

This remedy was fascinating to me because I can’t possibly understand how it works, but it makes me even more curious to try it. It seems to be such a bizarre form of folk medicine that I can’t help but wonder its origins and subsequently if there are other variations to this so-called “sleep aid.” It would be interesting to see this remedy’s specific origin and if it is linked at all to heritage or particular cultures.

Folk medicine
Homeopathic

Peppermint Oil Remedy

The informant is marked EL. I am CS. She shared with me a few forms of folk medicine practices she has learned over the years.

 

CS: “Any other folk medicine you can think of?”

EL: “Yeah we also did this one that helps with anxiety. I think it is Peppermint essential oil that does the trick.”

CS: “How long have you been doing it for?”

ET: “Whenever I’m stressed my mom makes me do it, so yeah…it’s been a while.”

CS: “Does your entire family follow this folk remedy?”

ET: “Definitely, we all do this one. It’s nice to do before like a test or something to detox after. It helps kinda clear and cleanse your mind.”

 

Context:

Met for coffee to record her different encounters with folk medicine and remedies.

Background:

ET is a first year student at The University of Southern California. She was raised in Dallas, Texas.

 

Analysis:

I thought this remedy was not only interesting but something I personally would love to try. There is nothing too odd about it, and it seems very likely to work. It would be interesting to research and try to discover other similar essential oils and if they have different effects than peppermint.

 

 

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