Category Archives: Homeopathic

Egg Healing

Context:

MV is a 2nd generation Mexican-American from New Mexico. Half of her family is of Japanese-Mexican descent and much of her extended family lives in Mexico. I received this item from her in a video conference call from our respective homes. She knows about this practice from her nana (grandmother) but she has never had it conducted on herself.

Text:

MV: When someone gives you the ojo… the lady, this could be your nana, or like anyone really, they could get an egg and rub it all over your body, and then all the bad energy goes in the egg.

JS: What’s the ojo?

MV: The ojo is when someone puts the ojo on you, like… if I gave you the ojo you’d be getting some bad energy. It’s like I bewitched you.

You pray a little bit and then rub it over your body… you do the cross up here (draws a cross on her forehead with her finger) and then just rub the egg over the rest of your body.

And then some people even say if you crack the egg in a glass of water, and like you see a trail, like in the water from the yolk, that’s the bad energy. But some people don’t do that.

JS: So it has to be, like, a special someone?

MV: Yeah usually it’s the brujería person… a bruja, a witch I guess… all nanas are like that.

Thoughts:

The association of eggs with luck and goodness has long and deep roots. Venetia Newall provides a sketch of the various uses of eggs in ritual, magic, and belief: cosmological models, magical properties, the notion of resurrection, games and festivals emphasizing fertility and fecundity. (Newall) Her study focusses mainly on egg-lore in an Indo-European context but these significances resonate with our example here. The notion here is that eggs have healing properties, capable of dispelling and absorbing “bad energy.” The association of the egg with rebirth, shedding of old ways, fertility, youth, suggests that here, the egg is valued for its life-giving properties. Brujería likely has a long history that cannot be fully examined here but of note in this example is that the bruja, or intermediary, is always an old female – “all nanas are like that.” There is a kind of magic associated with older females which resonates with the egg as a symbol of fertility, the womb, and a source of life. In this variation, the catholic gesture of signing the cross on one’s body is present with some notable exceptions to the mainstream church’s gesture. The cross is made on the forehead, combined with the secular folk magic of the egg. This is not the gesture sanctioned by the catholic church as an international institution, but a gesture that incorporates elements of both secular, paganistic belief as well as religious reference: it is both Catholicism and Brujería, a mix of Christianity with a folk magic which the Catholic church has historically demonized. This healing practice is thus a way of combining multiple sacred traditions and forming a unique model of spirituality that sets secular magic against and alongside the hegemonic colonial forces of Catholicism.

Newall, Venetia. “Easter Eggs.” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 80, No. 315. (Jan. – Mar., 1967), pp. 3-32

Hiccup Remedies

Context:

I collected this piece of folk medicine from my mother (LP) during a particularly infuriating bout of the hiccups. She grew up in suburban Colorado in the late 20th century and learned these tricks from her parents. She has “had success with all of them” but wonders “if it is psychosomatic, like you think it’s going to work so it does.”

Text:

LP: you’re supposed to drink water like this (mimes drinking water upside-down), drinking from the back of the rim. You can also hold your breath, or eat a spoonful of sugar. And being scared, startled, when someone says BOO!

Thoughts:

With no surefire medical consensus on how to deal with hiccups, people have often resorted to folk remedies that sometimes seem farfetched. The hiccups (Synchronous Diaphragmatic Flutter) are a quite harmless and normal biological event. They often happen after eating fast or drinking carbonated beverages and amount to little more than an inconvenience, and since they often pass within minutes, it is not common to seek professional medical help to remedy them. Nevertheless, they are annoying, and we feel like we must do something to address them. In a brief experiment, I tested all the methods my mom mentioned: the upside-down drinking and the sugar had no effect. My mom even sat down to startle me, and while I was indeed startled, I continued to hiccup moments after. Ultimately, holding my breath, after multiple tries, worked to alleviate my hiccups. I believe that my informant’s thought on the matter, that these remedies are mostly forms of placebo, is convincing. All of these different techniques require you to do something unusual, something that takes concentration or stimulates the senses in a startling way. These remedies can distract someone, often to the effect of clearing the hiccups away. Since the remedies that doctors offer are often unsatisfactory, people have created a long list of folk remedies that employ the placebo effect to address this annoyance.

Udala~ Folk Object/Legend

Context: Udala Tree is a folk object/legend native to my dad’s village of Onitsha. He knows about this legend because he is a titled man just like his father before him, hence why knowledge was passed down to him.

C: Udala tree is a sacred tree in Onitsha that can only be used by titled men[Ozo title and members of Abalenza] who are the spiritual and cultural leaders within the village. The Udala tree is a powerful tree that is kept as a means of communing with one’s ancestors. Titled men receive what is called an Osisi, which is made from parts of the Udala tree. The Osisi is a staff that has immense power as it too is a means of communing with one’s ancestors and is connected to the Udala tree. No portion of the tree can never be given as a gift because it holds immense power that could possibly be used for evil doing and should not be given to those without the proper understanding of its potential.

Thoughts: I think this is really interesting and is something that I never really understood until now. Growing up my dad was always telling my brother and I stories revolving around his childhood and in particular my late grandfather who was a titled man who was widely respected in his village. Similar to my grandfather, my dad is also a titled man and is designated as a spiritual and cultural leader within his village and in our family as well. The description of the Udala tree is eye-opening because it represents a sacred folk object for men like my dad. Tapping into my memory, one instance stood out to me that became more clear because of the description of the power held by titled men. I remember that my dad would refuse to pray when he was angry. I never really understood why, but in seeing the power he held it makes sense[i.e. It would not be wise to pray angry because you could unintentionally wish harm or do harm to someone out of anger during prayer].  I am unsure in my dad’s description, however, as to whether this tree is real or only a legend passed down by titled men. I know there are some things that my dad refuses to tell me because I am not yet ready to learn or even understand the things that he does, but I hope to eventually verify whether or not this sacred tree is in fact real.

Uneaten Food goes on the Husband’s Face

Main Piece:

Informant: Maybe another one is that it’s like if I didn’t finish all the rice grains on my bowl then like everything I didn’t finish would end up on my husband’s face. So essentially I’d have, like, an uglier husband, if I didn’t finish all the rice off my bowl.

Interviewer: Wouldn’t a husband with rice on his face, be like a good thing because it’s food?

Informant: It’s not just rice. It’s like any leftover food so I think the idea would be, like that would be like acne. So it’s more to promote not wasting food.

Background:

My informant is a friend and fellow student at USC. She was raised in the LA area but her family is ethnically Chinese and immigrated from Vietnam so she has multiple East Asian influences in her life.

Context:

I had set up a Zoom call with my friend because she said she had some examples of folklore that she could share with me. This sample was shared during that call

Analysis:

This seems like a fairly straightforward superstition to me. Parents want children to finish their food so there’s the motivation. So if a child does not finish their food, it will be transferred to their husband’s face. Even though there is not a strong emphasis, to my knowledge, on the beauty of the groom in traditional Chinese marriages, everyone would prefer a more attractive partner. The idea that it is rice (standing in for acne) that would appear on the husband’s face makes sense as rice plays such a central role in the Chinese diet.

Flipping the Fish – An Asian Seafarer Taboo

The informant, AW, was in a position where he couldn’t call because of WiFi restrictions and of course, in quarantine we couldn’t communicate in real life. However, he had a story he wanted to tell, so he texted me the following:

As a child, we had all kinds of superstitions about things you shouldn’t do because they were bad luck

Our family is Chinese, but specifically Shanghainese, and the family business was shipping, so a lot of the superstitions were around avoiding bad luck in business kind of realms

For instance, if you had a whole steamed fish for dinner, you absolutely had to work through the fish by filleting the meat aside and then removing the bones as is, without flipping over the backbone, let alone the fish overall

This was because if you actually, heaven forbid, flipped the fish over, for shipping/fishing family, it was symbolic of a boat capsizing on the water, which was about the worst kind of catastrophe a culture like that can imagine

Were you would lose the bounty of your harvest, your business venture would not come back to port and attain fruition, and there would be loss of life along the way

And so, we were taught very early on, but you must absolutely never “flip over the fish”, and anyone who actually did that would not be invited to dinner again, and no one who was aware of that superstition, whatever continue reading or otherwise touch a fish on the dinner table that had been unwittingly flipped over by some unfortunate ignorant guest

So as to avoid the bad luck created by the flipped over fish

It’s funny, I realized in later years it’s not even a Chinese thing, since I do remember seeing other Chinese, inland, non-seafaring Chinese flip fish with no problem. So I realized over time it was a seafaring thing, and a subset of Chinese culture not something universally Chinese or even Asian

And the funny thing is, to this day I still continue to observe that tradition and superstition, and if you ask my kids whether it’s okay to “flip a fish” they’d answer unthinkingly, reflexively, “obviously not, why the hell would anyone do that??” 

 And while it may seem funny, to all of us it’s simply obvious, and not even worth a 2nd thought 🙂

Context:

This story is a family tradition. The informant, AW, is my father, and we come from a family of fishermen. We always thought it was a Chinese tradition, but it actually might not be. This story was collected over text, due to technology restrictions.

Thoughts:

Before AW wrote this story down specifically for me, I never realized it wasn’t a Chinese tradition, but rather a seafarer tradition. I think that his decision to include the sarcastic part about “you would lose income by flipping the boat, and loss of life along the way” speaks to a seafaring tradition that is not romanticized/kindly views Chinese seafaring tradition. Rather, it says rather plainly that the wealthy did not care/were exploitative of the fishermen who worked for them. Many people in the west view fishing as a gentle, kind, simple life; whereas in 20th century China in an industrial setting, it was anything but.

Witching Rods Gold Ritual

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (HH).

CB: “Okay so what did your mom teach you?”

HH: “My grandma. It was….divining rods or witching rods? I can’t remember exactly. But they were two sticks tied together, and you’d bow ‘em and there was a certain way you’d hold them in your hand, and you’d walk around and when you were over gold they’d let you know”

CB: “Why do you think it was important?”

HH: “It saved a heck of a lot of time when we were looking for gold.”

CB: “What do they mean to you?”

HH: “It was a pretty cool experience when I was a kid. Because those rods knew what was happening. So you’d take a pan of gold and then you’d wave it over the pan a few times and you’d walk around and pretty soon they’d start pulling you down just like a fishing rod. And you’d know if you dug deep enough you’d find something. And my grandma lived on a great big gold claim, and so we’d go visit her and always go looking for gold”

CB: “Why do you think people kept using the rods instead of something like a metal detector?”

HH: “Well it’s just what they’d been doing since before metal detectors.”

Background:
My informant and all of his family grew up in northern California which has a rich history associated with the Goldrush. The area where he lives is just an hour from where gold was first discovered. Many of the families and towns in the area can trace their history directly back to the Goldrush. While it is no longer a profitable career, gold can still be found if dug in the hills or panned for in the creeks. Many still actively search for gold as a hobby. The gold plot that my informant described can be traced through family back to the Goldrush. Growing up, his parents and grandparents often sent him and the other kids searching for gold as a way to keep them entertained. Witching rods are typically associated with finding water to dig wells, however the old gold miners were known to use them to find gold as well.

Context:

I interviewed my informant in person, at home, as we sat on the couch and discussed local history. The conversation was easy and comfortable. 

Thoughts:

While gold digging and panning are still somewhat common in our community, witching rods have been phased out, and are very heavily associated with ‘hillbilly superstitions’. I thought it was very interesting that my informant believed so strongly in the rods, when they had been largely discredited socially. I think this belief is rooted in the idea of tradition, and trusting the generations before you. He cited the continuation of using the rods as being accredited to the fact that it was tradition. It’s this idea that many people have successfully used the same tool as you that gives the practice a sense of truth beyond the science of a metal detector. Like many other families in the area, my informant’s family no longer owns the gold plot, or engages in gold mining of any sort. He has become a passive bearer, and I believe that this tradition won’t be practiced for much longer.

For another variation of Witching Rods see YouTube video “Beginners guide to dowsing” uploaded by gardansolyn. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbwo0YCpV3E

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.
———————————————————————————————————————
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
———————————————————————————————————————
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.

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.

 

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.

Running Faucets for Cramp Relief

Context: I came home one day at the beginning of this year to all of the faucets running and I asked my roommate what was going on and she told me this story. So I asked her to re-tell me why she does it.

Piece: So basically, I don’t know where my mom… well let me tell the long version of the story. So you know when you are you they tell you not to keep the water running when you brush your teeth? They’re like “turn off the faucet to save water!” Well I would always say that, and my mom always left the faucet running when she brushed her teeth and I would be like, “Mommy, you’re wasting water!” And she has always said, “I have to leave the faucet running or I’ll gag or like throw up.” And I never understood that until I started like, when I’m on my period or nauseous for any reason and so I turn the faucet on and leave the water running. It’s supposed to help you like feel like less nauseous. Something about the sound of running water can like ease nausea. I feel like it might have been something my mom got from my grandma. It sounds like something my grandma would do.

Background: The informant is a 19 year old USC student of Pakistani and Indian descent. She is very close to her family and shares many traditions and beliefs with them. She learned this from her mother and does it whenever she gets her period cramps.

Analysis: This tradition is something I have never heard of before. It is a sort of remedy/ homeopathic healing technique. It is often said that water sounds are soothing, but this is the first time I have heard them help with pain. I have heard of soaking in hot water to ease pain, but it is interesting that this piece refers to sounds, which tackles the mental state rather than the physical.