USC Digital Folklore Archives / Magic
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

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!

Folk Beliefs

The Evil Eye (Folk Belief/Protection)

My informant is Marc. Marc is a 19-year-old student at USC but was born and raised in Mumbai, India. This year was the first time he lived in the United States but he still speaks very good English but with a noticeable accent.


Marc: “So in India a big belief all around is the Evil Eye. So I guess if you are bragging to someone especially if it is something you can do or you have that they can’t do or don’t have. Basically you need to be humble because if you are bragging or being arrogant about this stuff then the Evil Eye will transfer like a negative energy to combat whatever you were bragging about”

When was the first time you heard about the Evil Eye?

Marc: “Well it’s really common and well known in India there are trinkets and stuff but like the first time I think was a friend saying to another friend like bragging and someone warned him about the Evil Eye”

So is the Evil Eye a person?

Marc: “No it’s more like a negative energy or like the reasoning to why things go wrong but the eye is the face that we put to it. And you can ward it off too with like necklaces and jewelry that a lot of people wear.”

Do you believe in the Evil Eye?

Marc: “I don’t know. I believe in the idea of like if you are doing a bad thing it will catch up to you but I don’t know about the evil eye or if that’s real”


To me the Evil Eye in India is our form of Karma in the United States. It is the idea of if you do bad things then bad things will happen to you but Karma also has the reward aspect: do good and good will come. Marc claims how widespread the idea of the Evil Eye in India is and I think it has to do with parents teaching humbleness. Those who brag will be punished and children are far more concerned about an “Evil Eye” then their parents. It has progressed to a culture in India which brings along the merchandise such as the necklaces and trinkets for protection.


Folk Beliefs

Birthday Rings (Magic/Superstition)

My informant is Natalie. Natalie is a 21-year-old female who attends Chapman University. Natalie grew up in Sacramento but her mother was born in El Salvador; because of this she speaks fluent Spanish and has a Hispanic influence in her life.


Natalie: “Ok so on someone’s birthday, my mom passed down to me that you’re supposed to take the ring you’re wearing and place it over the candle and everyone present is supposed to do it and you want as many rings around the candle as possible and I guess it’s supposed to be good luck and the person making the wish it will more likely come true with more good luck”

When did you start doing this?

Natalie: “My mom probably taught me when I was like…6 or 7”

Where did she learn that?

Natalie: “She learned it from her mom”

Where are they from?

Natalie: “My mom and her mom are from El Salvador so I guess it comes from there”

Is there any meaning to you with this?

Natalie: “It is important to me I do it every birthday and always try and get as many rings as possible, cuz if I don’t do it…I don’t want bad luck”


Natalie learned this tradition of placing rings over her birthday candles as good luck. I feel like there could be more to that story and a reason for a ring but if there was it got lost over time. This tradition has been passed down mother to daughter to granddaughter and they all practice it in belief it brings them good luck. Birthdays carry a lot of folklore and making a wish while blowing out your candle is common but the addition of the rings adds an interesting factor and maybe additional luck.

Folk Beliefs

A Perfect Game (Superstition)


My informant is Lewis or “Luke” . Luke is 22 and was born and raised in Darien, Connecticut but now attends Chapman University in Orange, California. He is of Irish and Russian descent.


Luke: “So the superstition is, in baseball when someone is pitching a perfect game, anyone on the team of the person that’s pitching the perfect game cannot mention it or bring it up at all or it will be ruined. They just have to act like nothing’s happening. My sophomore year we were playing Taft and Jerry Silvey was 5 innings deep into a no-hitter and I turned to my friend not realizing and asked “Is Jerry throwing a no-hitter?” and my friend looked at me like are you kidding me and I kid you not he struck out the net batter then got a homerun hit off him immediately after.”

When was the first time you heard this superstition?

Luke: “I probably first heard it like third or fourth grade when I got into baseball”

And you believe in it?

Luke: “Oh I definitely believe in it”


This superstition, like many others, revolves around sports. In sports, when playing or watching, it is common to have some ritual whether it be small like wearing the same shoes or abiding to certain superstitious laws of the game. In this case it is the ladder and this superstition is widespread in American baseball. It is common knowledge to those who have played of the existence and partaking of this general rule. Luke even went against the superstition and mentioned the perfect game and he blames the eventual failure of the perfect game on his actions.




Folk Beliefs

Cursed Rock

The informant, T, is 19 years old. He was born and raised on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. His parents were also born and raised on Oahu. His grandparents on his mom’s side came from Japan and from his dad’s side were raised on Oahu. He is majoring as an Industrial and Systems Engineer. He considers himself American and is full Japanese.

T-“ Pele is the goddess of volcanoes so like currently the big island, which is the furthest right island in the Hawaii chain, is like active like a volcano erupting and it is said that Pele lives there so you can’t take lava rocks from the big island or its said that Pele will curse you or something”

Is it only from the big island? Can you take it from the other islands?

T-“Well you’re not supposed to take it from the others, but it is well known you’re not supposed to take it from the big island. That one I think everyone knows that”

Did you hear this since you were little?

T-“Yea since I was little”

Do you know if there are any laws behind it?

T-“I don’t think there is any laws but there’s like Hawaiian laws which like you can’t enforce them”

Do share this story?

T-“Yea. This is one of the ones that I mainly tell other people when we’re talking or having in depth conversations about my culture”

Analysis- While there are no official laws, the story of the curse could be a way of the natives to protect their land. By scaring tourists into believing in the curse, they can ensure that the land will not be disturbed and/or damaged. The fact that most, if not all, of the people know it and tell it can be seen as possible proof of this. Since the locals do not have the power to enforce this law, the curse story could have been made up. Overtime, however, it appears that the legend has been canonized and is becoming more known and accepted by the people to be true.

Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

Walking Gnomes

The informant, K, is 19 years old. She was born in Long Beach, California but was raised in Los Angeles. Her dad is from Guadalajara, Mexico (Southern Mexico) but moved to the United States when he was 2. Her mom was born in Obregon, Sonora (Northern Mexico) but grew in Mexicali (a US-Mexico border town), and she moved to the United States when she was 18. She is majoring in Applied Mathematics with a Computer Science Minor. She considers herself Mexican-American (or Chicana).

K- “Ok so we have like a folklore of garden gnomes where it’s like, so it’s like my family in Mexico like my tias (aunts) from my mom’s side they believe that garden gnomes they come alive at night. And like the proof they have of it it’s like my grandma used to own gnomes and her neighbors used to own gnomes in Mexico. And the garden gnomes the next day would be found in different places and a lot of stuff was broken and sometimes my mom and her sister would wake up at night, and they used to hear things and they would look outside and they would never see the gnomes there. So there’s that story that they become alive at night in Mexico.”

Did you hear this story anywhere else with other people or other versions of it?

K-“Well recently I was talking to one of my cousins who like is from same side from my mom side and we all grew up here in America but like my cousins was supposedly telling the story to some friends whose parents were also from Mexico and like their parents here in LA here in California their parents own garden gnomes. And the thing is that this friend was telling my cousin that he actually believes what the parents are saying, because one night the garden gnomes were not where they had placed them and they found them inside the house and like the friend found them one night in the house and they were like rolling in the hallway. Since then, they got rid of the gnomes, or at least they tried to. They threw them away but the next day they were in the same place they had put them before. That’s another version, at least from here in California.”

How long ago was the first time you heard this?

K-“Two or three years ago. I just found out about my mom”

Analysis- This story is very interesting in the fact that this is one of the few stories from Mexico where inanimate objects, that are not haunted, come to life. The Mexican culture does not traditionally include creatures such as gnomes but instead, it consist of larger creatures and ghosts. This is because the country did not originally have gnomes until places, such as the United States introduced them to there. This story can be seen as a representation of the fear towards the unknown and the things that are not traditional. Traditions or stories of gnomes coming to life are more common in Europe.

Folk Beliefs

Cooking with High Emotion

Folklore Piece:

“Well, my grandmother always used to tell me that when you cooked, your emotions would like seep? I don’t know if that’s the right word. Seep into the food and affect the taste. Um, she would say you should never cook, especially for other people, when you are angry or sad or the food will come out wrong or, like, taste bitter. And this goes double for baking, um because baked goods should be made with love so that they’re sweeter. Basically, like, basically you should always cook in a happy environment where you’re relaxed, with music, your favorite show, or, like my grandmother’s favorite, a glass of red wine.”


Background information:

Asked for more information online at a later time, and this was her response

“My grandmother is the cook in our family and we’ve done a lot of baking and cooking together, both for family holidays and for daily meals while she taught me how to cook. Cooking and baking with my grandmother was a great way for us to bond and we made many great memories. She taught me everything I know about cooking. This was a good reminder of not only taking care of myself and my emotional/mental health but also of caring for my loved ones. Food is sustenance in the same way love is; family and friends need both food and love to thrive. It’s a pretty traditional idea as well, grounded in the idea that women are the main caregivers and the source of a family’s happiness and well-being. I’m not sure where my grandmother heard it from, but I take it very seriously and it helps me feel connected to both my ancestors and the loved ones I’m cooking for. “



I knew the informant had liked to cook and bake, so I asked if she had any good advice she had learned from her grandmother, who, based on previous collections I had taken from her, I knew was quite the character. She told me this story, and also said that it would “definitely be something she would teach kids whenever they’re learning how to cook”.



Cooking and its various associated folklores are important identifiers for many ethnic groups and families. Recipes, traditions, and the act of cooking itself are taught traditionally between family members and those belonging to the same cultural group. Particularly interesting in this piece is the dynamic between the food and the cook; tangibly, the ingredients in a recipe are what makes the food taste the way it is. The preparation has an effect, too, but if you prepare food the same way, with the same ingredients, you should get the same result. That the participants grandmother suggested that the cook’s emotions and feelings can be used as an ingredient is a way to personify the food to be an extension of the self.

In the same way that one would not want to make a family member sad, angry, or distressed, the cook would not want to give food that would have that emotion cooked into it. This was perhaps introduced so that the cook – often put in stressful situations – can remember to keep calm. Especially as a child learning recipes and how to cook, it’s important that they not become frustrating and instead are taught that cooking can be the cultural instrument it is often used as.

Folk Beliefs

San Simon



Primary Language- Spanish

Secondary Language- English

Occupation- Factory Worker

Residence- Honduras

Date of Performance- 4/11/16

There is saint named San Simon that came from Guatemala. It is said that he grants your wishes if you pray and praise him. So what I do is buy a candle in his honor, typically in a store that sells a ton of candles, put it on top of a pan with leaves and burn the leaves along with the candle. I then have to walk around the whole house repeating my wish in order for him to hear my wish. I have to make sure I spread the smoke around the house in order for it to work. This then leaves his aroma and leaves good luck, fortune, and money for anyone in the house.

Wendy is from Honduras but currently resides in Los Angeles, California. She learned this ritual while researching saints that grant wishes. Her family was in a tough financial situation and she could not do enough to support them so she decided to praise and pray for San Simon. Her daughter’s father was from Guatemala and he told her about the saint and his powers for wish granting. She bought candles for him and began to praise him hoping that he would help her. After her first attempt, she ended up getting a better job where she would clean office buildings. The job was not magnificent but it was enough to help her family in Honduras more. Coincidence or not, this opportunity founded her faith for San Simon and has made her perform the ritual for years on.

When performing the ritual, you must acquire the materials and spread San Simons aroma around the entire household so when you walk around the house, little by little, your chances of San SImon answering your prayers increase.

Although many know that it may not work all the time, people still keep attempting the ritual until it does because their hope never fades. If it happens once, then people will take the slightest chance they can get and keep performing for San Simon. The ritual is mostly performed by people from Central America. Countries like Guatemala where it originated, Mexico, Honduras, and Salvador. The belief within saints spreads as some people believe or do anything to get a wish granted. The ritual did not pass on well to a person such as myself because it seemed as you were playing the lottery. There seemed to be no difference between wasting money for the slight chance of money or fortune when you also have a small chance for the same earning when you buy a lottery ticket. It is thoughts like these that can end rituals of this type with the next generation, but the folklore will always still be present in countries like Guatemala.

Reeves, Benjamin. “The Drunken, Devilish Mayan God Still Worshipped in Guatemala | VICE | United States.” VICE. N.p., 18 Dec. 2013. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Another iteration where San Simon is revered as a devilish mayan god.


Folk Beliefs

Hair is Luck, Don’t Cut it Away

Main piece:

You can’t cut your own hair because you’re going to cut your own luck away.


Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

My mom I think told me. I don’t like it, I don’t care about it. I never cut my hair anyways. It doesn’t affect me anyways. I’ve had bangs all my life, and sometimes they get hard to keep up. It’s easy to look and think that you can cut just a little bit off, but I would never do that. I just make a hair appointment. I take all of this with a grain of salt but if I can avoid losing the luck, then I will avoid it. It’s not like I have no other choice.


Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

I was told when I was little. My dad usually gave me a haircut for my bangs- which turned out awful always- but I still wouldn’t cut my own hair.


Personal Analysis:

This seems like a way to deter children from cutting their hair by themselves. I personally have cut my own hair more than I would like to admit, never quite succeeding in making it look professional. Then again, I was told not to cut my hair after I had already done the deed- after I found out how fun it was! Ana, who was told her luck would go away if she cut her own hair, has literally never attempted it- even with the nuisance of overgrown bangs. Either she has incredible willpower, or this mild warning was very successful in deterring her from cutting her own hair. I should have asked why someone else cutting her hair didn’t also cut the luck away, but I think I can assume the answer is no. Otherwise, she would have some pretty long hair!

Folk Beliefs

Bury the Broken Glass

Main piece:

I did theater growing up, all through elementary, middle, and high school, and my theater teacher was a character. She basically spoke exclusively in proverbial terms, or in, I don’t know, sayings and quotes, and very very superstitious as well. And so, this one time we… we were a part of a competition play where different high schools from my state would travel to one high school to perform and we’d be judged based on how we performed. And, we did not do that well, we- well, our performance was really, really good. I think it was one of the best performances I’ve ever been in; it was an absurdist play. But, it didn’t make it through. And earlier that day, a cast member had broken a mirror in the dressing room. She found out about it later, and she was livid. She was really, really upset that we didn’t tell her about it, and I guess she went back to the dressing room and grabbed the mirror, and took it with her home, and brought it back later, maybe a week later or something to bury it at the high school where we broke the mirror because I guess she heard somewhere that you need to bury the shards of the mirror to reverse the curse of the seven years, uhm….. So she’s pretty crazy, she’s awesome, I love her, but definitely… pretty wacky.


Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

Oh, she told us, yeah. She told us, like, the next day, “I went back and I buried the mirror… in the ground of the high school. It just reminds me of her character, and uh… I think, I don’t believe in superstitions, and this is kind of out there, but… yeah. It doesn’t mean anything to me especially, I don’t think there was a curse and that’s why we lost, I just think that they either didn’t understand the play, or didn’t like it for whatever reason, and I don’t think it was reversed once she buried it or anything like that. I wouldn’t bury a mirror… definitely not.


Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

You bury shards of a mirror… when you break it. Whenever you break it- it’s not exclusive to performances or anything.


Personal Analysis:

This superstition is not directly linked to theater, though the informant refers to it as if it were specific to the stage because that was the only time he had heard of it performed. Mirrors are often the source of folk belief, thought of to posses magical powers. Breaking a mirror in many cultures is considered bad luck, though I had never before heard a remedy to this curse. The informant also mentions a 7-year curse. I assume that to be associated with the breaking of the mirror itself- if it shatters, the curse –whatever it may be– lasts for 7 years.