USC Digital Folklore Archives / Magic
Contagious
Magic
Protection

Protective Superstition: String in Mouth

You always hold a string in your mouth when someone is cutting or pinning something on you, and that way they won’t cut you by accident, or stick you with the pin.  I’m not sure how or why, but my grandmother was a seamstress and her mother was a seamstress, and you can bet nobody ever pinned or cut anything on me, when I was trying it on, you know, without a string in my mouth.  My mother and my grandmother, they just wouldn’t do it.  I don’t know why, it’s just how it was.

 

Informant does indeed come from a family of seamstress.  The interviewer was unable to verify other sources for this superstition, but it is clearly a sort of contagious magic: that if the person holds a string in their mouth, the wholeness of that string will somehow keep them whole.  It probably also serves a more practical purpose–reminding the person to stay still and quiet while the seamstress works on them.

Magic
Signs

Brujo

This is a true story about magic:

“Your great uncle was a brujo (Witch). And he had killed someone. It was from my mom’s side of the family, I don’t know. My mom was small and lived with the mother of the uncle. The uncle had a fight with a neighbor, and killed them. The police were looking fro him at this point. He went to go visit my Aunt Rosa. She asked him what he had done. He asked if he could stay there for awhile. The police came looking for him. They asked if a man had entered the house. The police entered the house to search. My aunt responded no. He was in the kitchen and there was a bunch of bananas. He had transformed himself into the bananas. My Aunt asked where he had gone, and she saw him fall to the ground as bananas and transform into a man and leave.”

My informant is a service coordinator. She likes to help people. She also migrated from El Salvador to the United States. Most of her stories are from her mother or personal experiences.

I talked to my informant over coffee in our house.

It is interesting to hear a story explaining how our family comes from a line of witches. Another interesting thing is how the story changed from the last time I heard it. I have always wondered why my great uncle would turn into bananas. It is always interesting to learn about your family history.

 

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Signs

Blue Eyes = Evil Eyes

“People with blue eyes can give you evil eye.”

My informant heard this from her father. People with colored eyes have the power to do harm to you, even subconsciously. She laughs at this statement because her brothers have colored eyes. My informant is from a Lebanese family.

She is a college student at the California State University Northridge. She is very close with her father, often helping him run the family store. We sat down at a coffee shop to talk about folklore form her family.

What was interesting of this piece was that it sounded familiar to a belief form my culture. In Salvadoran culture we believe that people eyes and eyesight can cause “mal ojo” or evil eye. It reminds me of the notion of how the eyes are the windows of the souls. It would make sense that they would also be the seat of our energy.

Customs
Folk medicine
general
Magic

Pregnant Women in red

During a full moon or eclipse a pregnant women must wear a piece of clothing that is red. This is to prevent the baby form being born with a cleft lip. The red color is supposed to prevent negative energy from hurting the baby.

 

My informant is a building engineer. He migrated to the United States form El Salvador when he was 16 years old. He grew up in a city in El Salvador. Lots of the folklore he has heard has come from his family.

He heard this from his mother and other female relatives.

Magic

Born with a Spirit

My informant is the Lebanese father of my best friend. He grew up in the town of Yaroun, Lebanon before migrating to America. This story is a true story of an encounter his sister had in Lebanon.

My sister got married, and every time she delivered a baby they used to sometimes live one week, one month, one of them lived one year one time. And then they get sick, they get really sick. It was like a weird situation. the doctor checks on them and their face turned blue. They’re like suffocating. Like something is suffocating them. It is a true story, my sister. And they used to die. And when they used to take the kid to the hospital. The doctors were amazed. The doctor was one of the best doctors, got so like shocked that he couldn’t, that he didn’t know how diagnose them. He didn’t know what was wrong with them! And the end we found out that it was some bad spirit that was born with my sister. That she choked them to death. And so we didn’t know. There was one year where she had a boy like one year old and she delivered another boy and both of them died in the same week. I was like probably seven eight years old. At that age you remember. We were so sad. The oldest sister was very aware. Because the doctor said its not something medical. So automatically she knew it was something spiritual. So my sister what she did, even though she didn’t have a lot of money, she found money and went, she traveled all the way, we are next to Syrian and Iraq,. She went and she was looking and looking and traveled all through the Middle East. But at the end someone mentioned a lady. She lived closed to us, in the city called Teir.   So my sister wen to there and the lady opened. She gathers the evil spirits … she has the way to gather them. She gathers them and talks to them and after asking my sister what her name and the mother name. Once she knew what her name and the mother name they could locate, they know who she is. They told her exactly that she was born with a bad spirit that kills children, we call it erini, it’s like a partner. This women I don’t what she did, but she wrote part of the Koran to ward of the spirit.

I gathered this piece from my informant in his house while he served me food.

The interesting part of this folklore, is that every so often he would emphasize that this was a true story. It always interesting to hear a person’s personal story with the supernatural. It was also interesting to see that the idea of a supernatural force at work only came after other more “legit” means were exhausted.

Folk Beliefs
Game
Magic

Chesh

Informant: My friend is Persian, and her family practices traditions like these.
Original Piece: Huge part of Persian culture: chesh-ing someone! Chesh (ch-eh-sh) literally means “eye” in Farsi and here it means the evil eye or in English it’s when someone jinxes you. It’s basically when someone sees you and envies you or is jealous of you and sends evil spirits… or vibes, for lack of a better word, your way. Usually it happens out of jealousy, like when you show up to a party and you’re the only one wearing a dress and everyone is in jeans and you look really good… but sometimes it can happen innocently too, like you see your family members after a long time and they say “wow you’re so beautiful and so grown up and so mature”. Or you’re successful in school/work and someone says “wow she has it all together she’s amazing”. But basically to save yourself from the “bad omens” being sent your way, someone will have to light up this herb… which, it’s a mixture of a lot of things, but I’m unsure exactly what… until it’s smoking and you say a phrase, which loosely translates to mean “keep the bad eyes away”, while circling it over the person’s head. When someone opens a new business or goes to a new job or is promoted you can put small amounts of this herb in the four corners of the room to make sure there’s only good spirits and good luck in the beginning of the business. Like when my dad moved offices, his office had a couple small circular dishes of this on his desk for a couple weeks.

Context of Performance: I invited her over for dinner and we were remembering stories we shared as roommates, including traditions and practiced her family introduced to me. I asked her if she would share some of these pieces of folktale.
Thoughts about the Piece: I remember first learning about the “evil eye” after my informant’s aunts complimented me, and her mother insisted on lighting herbs to keep the bad omens away. This is one of my favorite practices, as I find it interesting how the evil eye recurs in so many of their traditions.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Signs

Persian Food Beliefs

Informant: My friend is Persian, and her mother told her old tales like these in order to get her to behave as a child.
Original Piece: Food related rules: don’t eat chocolate or anything with sugar before bed or else you’ll have bad dreams…later I realized that’s so I don’t have energy when I sleep. Then, let’s see… oh, don’t eat when you’re crying or it’ll turn into poison in your stomach. Again, I later realized that’s so I don’t find comfort in eating when I’m sad. When you get a new car, you have to run over an egg, because the egg symbolizes any accidents or danger that can happen to you in the car, and by doing it to an egg, right when you get the new car, it takes the place of the impending danger in a light, easier way.
Context of Performance: I invited her over for dinner and we were remembering stories we shared as roommates, and I remembered her talking about all the things she used to believe growing up. I asked her if she would share any particular pieces of folktale from her childhood.
Thoughts about the Piece: I love hearing these stories, which always seemed like quirks of hers, until she told me the reasons behind them. I remember even in college, although she knew these things aren’t necessarily true, she still abided by them… just in case.

Magic
Protection

Removing Evil Spirits from a Beauty Salon

Nationality: American / Bosnia-Herzegovina

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Serbian

Age: 54

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 10, 2017 (via Skype)

 

 

Sania is a 54- year old women born and raised in Bosnia-Herzegovina and emigrated to the United States over 34 years ago.  She is the owner of a beauty salon in New York City.

 

Many more people are realizing (and I have come strongly to believe) that energy, good and bad can affect everything in life, from health to work. A few years ago, my salon was having trouble with my website, e-commerce, phone lines, and we couldn’t figure it out. One particular day, my website crashed, for no reason, and the back up company said they had never seen this before, and lost their file as well. I told a friend who is also a famous photographer, and he brought in some energy healers.  They basically walk around the salon to check out every corner, mirrors, etc.  They then took my energy to be at the same sequence as me.. and little did they know there was an acquaintance who basically tried to steal my identity. They cleansed the mirrors, cleansed the windows (I was directly facing the church, which wasn’t good).. and used sage and diamonds and other jewels to cleanse the place. They told me my website would be running within a few hours.. sure enough that night my daughter called so excited because the pages of my website went up. By morning everything was running. Phone lines running well, etc. Now they come every few months to make sure things are ok. The last visit, they noticed one of the mirrors had something bothersome and they placed a card over the mirror (from a distance), and then my LOCKED French Doors flew open.  This never happens even if they were somewhat open! They said people look into this mirror when entering, and people carry all kinds of energy. It can be intentional or accidental. But good to use sage, at the very least for cleansing. These women are scholars from Brown, and I believe Harvard. I have become a believer, and they helped many people I have referred them to.

 

 

 

Thoughts about the piece:

This informant is a sophisticated American business owner that relates her success to her respect for old traditions. A similar Native American practice is described here: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-17875/a-sage-smudging-ritual-to-cleanse-your-aura-clear-your-space.html

 

 

 

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Magic

The Haunted City of Pleasanton, California

“I’m one of the believers that my hometown of Pleasanton, California is haunted by ghosts.  There are certain buildings around the city that are rumored to be haunted by ghosts, and most people that live in Pleasanton know exactly which buildings I’m talking about, regardless of if they believe in the ghosts or not.  So whenever you enter one of these buildings you have to not freak out or anything, because that’ll make the ghost want to haunt you.  If you just stay calm and act normal, the ghost will be friendly with you, and you’ll be okay.”

ANALYSIS:

I find it interesting that in this ghost story, whether the ghost is amicable or not to you is completely up to the person interacting with the ghost.  This results in a ghost story that directly opposes the traditional ghost story narrative of the evil ghost trying to haunt everyone it comes across.  Additionally, I found it very interesting that there was such a clear divide between who believes in the ghost stories and who doesn’t, because the way the informant described it made it seem like the believers and non-believers were in direct opposition to each other.

Folk medicine
Homeopathic

Sore Throat?

This entry comes from the interviewer’s mother, P, in a conversation they had about homeopathic medicine. Coming from an Indian family, the interviewer, DP, was curious as to whether or not his mom encouraged him to take homeopathic remedies for common ailments as a child. It should be noted that Eastern medicine is much different than and often rejects Western medicine. At this point, the informant tells the interviewer:

 

“You used to take a drink made of roasted turmeric root. Once the turmeric was dried, I would grind it into a powder and combine it with milk.”

 

DP: “did it help any?”

 

P: “it was supposed to”


 

From the point of view of the interviewer, it is perfectly reasonable for Eastern medicine to be effective in curing common ailments. These remedies have been around for such a long time that there must be some base element of truth – or they wouldn’t be so strongly encouraged. The interviewer also concedes that it isn’t the best to take over-the-counter medication every time one’s throat hurts or they have a headache. In these cases, folk remedies provide the best application.

 

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