USC Digital Folklore Archives / Homeopathic
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.
———————————————————————————————————————
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.

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.

 

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.

Folk medicine
general
Homeopathic

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.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

Don’t Step on the Books – Hindu Custom

“So basically, if there is like a book on the ground, you are not allowed to step on it, deliberately or accidentally. And you are also not allowed to let them [books] touch your feet, because it’s kind of like, books are seen as this sacred holy thing that gives up knowledge, so we have to give books a certain level of respect. So if you kind of touch the books with your feet or kick them, you are disrespecting the sacredness of the knowledge that the books are giving us.”

Context: The informant was raised Hindu, but is non-religious. She explained to her roommate why she should not step on her books in order to reach a high shelf. For her [the informant], this was something that was told to her throughout her childhood by her parents and grandparents. Though this custom/folk belief is rooted in religious belief, the cultural aspect of the custom is what sticks with her and impacts the way that she lives her life–specifically whether or not she is able step on books.

Analysis: I agree with the informant’s insights about this particular custom. For many superstitions and folk beliefs–especially those that are rooted in religious beliefs–they are not just about religion, but are also influenced by the culture from which the custom was derived. For example, while literacy and knowledge is influential in the Hindu religion, but I believe the Indian culture is also a large factor in how impactful this belief is on non-religious members of the culture. For Indians, intelligence, and more importantly, the acquisition of knowledge is extremely important, and the value of an education has been instilled by many parents into their reluctant children. This shows that even though some see knowledge as sacred based on Hindu belief, there is also a cultural component to the custom. This cultural component of the custom is what carries with the non-religious members of the community.

Along with this, there is a component of homeopathic magic in this superstition/folk belief. As homeopathic magic follows the principle that “like produces like”, this folk belief follows the idea that if you step on a book, then you are disrespecting that book, and thus you are disrespecting knowledge itself. Like placing pins in a voodoo doll to inflict pain on another person, placing your foot on something–which is seen as disrespectful–then there is a greater significance. Books are often placed in front of the god Ganesha, who is god of knowledge and wisdom, so disrespecting books would thus also be disrespecting this god. This is a hallmark of the “like produces like “ phenomenon.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Kicking the Lightpost – USC Band Tradition

“So the band has a tradition of, every time we march to the football stadium–the Coliseum–for games, everyone has to kick the bottom of the light pole as we are leaving campus for good luck. Then, we also kick it on our way back on [campus] after the game.

If we win the football game, we always play ‘Conquest’ at Tommy Trojan as, like, a celebration.”

Context: The informant, EK, is a member of the USC Trojan Marching Band (also called Spirit of Troy), and specifically part of the drum line of the band. We were having a discussion about some of the strange and somewhat rituals that the band does on game days (football) and how they affect the outcome of the games. EK feels an obligation to participate in this ritual as she is a member of the band, and fears the consequences of not participating in the tradition as it is a highly ingrained belief in the student group. The band, according to EK, relies heavily on many superstitions and traditions in order to ensure the success of the USC football team.

Analysis: For the informant, this ritual is extremely important for the band and to ensure a good outcome for the football game that they will be performing in. In this manner, this ritual is a demonstration of folk belief and superstition and how it supposedly affects the outcome of events that can be seemingly out of our hands. With this superstition, this group of performers can have a level of control over an unpredictable event.

There is also a participatory context for this superstition. If you do not participate in this ritual and kick the light pole, then if the football team loses, the band can blame the person who didn’t kick the pole. In a way, knowing and participating in the superstitions of the marching band is a way to figure out who is a member, and who is an outsider. Due to this, if you choose not to participate, or merely forget, your band members will see you as someone who is not really a member of that group anymore, and only after you resume your participation in that ritual can one resume their membership. This is mirrored in many other societal groups, from firefighters to physicians to USC students. Particular superstitions and customs are defining components of culture, and the groups that perform them claim them as a piece of their identity.

Customs
general
Gestures
Homeopathic
Kinesthetic
Magic

Splitting Poles and Friendship

Transcription

Collector: So yeah, I remember when we were hanging out that you, like, had us walk around the poles if we both went on opposite sides of it. Is that something you do with everyone or, like, how did you learn that?

Informant: Yeah! So, when I was in sixth or seventh grade, my best friend did it because she was superstitious. And she was superstitious because her mom was, so like it kind of passed on to me. But now it’s basically conditioned in me so I always do it.

Collector: so what does it even mean to split the poles?

Informant: So if you’re walking with someone or a group of people and you pass by a pole or trash can or anything that’s an obstacle, you all need to walk on the same side of the obstacle or you will split with the person who walked on the other side. And by split, I mean no longer be friends. Like there will be a big fight in the future or the people will just stop talking with each other. So you have to walk on the same side because then you’ll lose each other.

Context

Collector lives with the informant and is best friends with her. The practice was viewed many times as they were together and the collector wanted context for it. This explanation was prompted by the collector’s question about the origins of the custom. At this point, the custom is a habit for both the informant and the collector, who both make conscious efforts to walk on the same side of the pole. If one of them is on the wrong side by accident and realizes after the fact, they will go back and walk around on the correct side of the pole to undo the mistake. 

Analysis 

In this case, I feel that the act of “splitting the pole” is seen as homeopathic magic, as the physical, bodily splitting represents the metaphorical and emotional split as well. However, in this case, it isn’t a representation of the person that is being performed upon, but instead the people themselves representing a future version of themselves. The tangible, current action of walking on either side of the road is a representation of the future emotional split that could happen as a result of the gesture.

Folk Beliefs
general
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection

Bad People Go In The Freezer

Piece:

My informant begins by specifying: “Also, my family’s not crazy”

JK: “I don’t know if this is a Columbian thing or just my mom, but whenever there is someone that has wronged someone in my family or is really bad for someone in my family, she will write their name on a little piece of paper and put it in the freezer. That is supposed to keep that person away from you and out of your life.”

I: “Would she take them out ever?”

JK: “No. We have a bunch of people in our freezer!”

Context:

The informant grew up in Newport Beach, CA. Her mother only started writing names for the informant after the informant started college. The practice is saved for serious offenses. The informant’s mother is 56, from Columbia, and grew up in New York. The informant learned of this practice when her mother starting writing and freezing names for the informant.

Analysis:

This is a practice of protection, with a somewhat magic-like element. Something literal (the freezer)  is used as a means of bringing about an emotional catharsis (blocking someone out of your life/ emotionally detaching) and consequence (being left alone by Person X). While the names literally get put in the freezer, the hope is that the person represented by the name will be frozen from interacting in your life. To me, this practice seems like it helps the person doing it attain an emotional state of peace rather than cause an actual result from the practice (singularly causing an actual result would be the possible magic- like element within this). It reminds me of the phrase “self-fulfilling prophecy”– if you put that person in the freezer in your mind, then they will stay out of the rest of your life, likely because your actions toward that person are reminiscent of of you putting their name in the freezer. Perhaps keeping names in the freezer is similar to holding a grudge, or it is a symbol of a betrayal of trust and therefore a reminder to not let that person back into your life!

 

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Signs

Splitting poles

“So one day my aunt and I and were walking to this little fashion jewelry store where they sell really cheap jewelry by the way and as we were walking we came across this pole and I was about to go the opposite way so we started to split the pole. She got so upset she was like don’t you dare split that pole with me. so from that day forward, I learned it was like bad luck to split the pole with someone. and the person that’s younger gets bad luck. ”

Why bad luck and why the younger person?

“well its cause the two of us have a connection and when a pole comes between us you are letting it cut that connection so the younger person who is less wise than the older one gets the bad luck since they have had less time on this earth and just lost the connection to an older and wiser person. So they don’t get bad luck, they have to reestablish that connection and you do that by saying hi”

Context: The informant is a twenty-one-year-old student at USC she is from Tennessee. Once before she had mentioned that it was bad luck to split the pole so I asked her more about it.

Background: She heard this from her aunt and since then she has been afraid to split poles with anyone she is walking with, especially if they are older than her. She is an active participant of this superstition, always careful when she walks and has even had to say hi to strangers because she does not want that bad luck.

Analysis: Like many superstitions, it is better to participate just to stay on the safe side. Ever since she explained this superstition to me I am careful not to split any poles with her or anyone I am walking with. However, I do not go out of my way to remove the “bad luck.” I have also heard a different version where if you split the pole with someone you must neutralize the situation by saying “bread and butter.” I asked the informant if she had heard about this one and she said she had not. This shows that maybe it is a geographical difference since she grew up in the South.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general
Homeopathic
Magic

Pasar El Cuy

Original
“En Peru, se dice que cuando las personas estan enfermas, les pasan un cuy, lo frotan por todo el cuerpo. Cuando matan al cuy y lo abren, la parte que tiene el cuy mas oscura es la parte que esta enferma. Por ejemplo, si tienes algun problema en el igado, cuando abren el cuerpecito del cuy, el igado se ve mas oscuro, como, enfermo. Dicen que scientificamente hay como probarlo pero, bueno, yo no se.”

Translation
“In Peru, they say that when people are sick they pass a guinea pig through their body, they rub it all over their body. Then, when they kill the guinea pig and they open it, the body part that is dark on the guinea pig is the sick part. For instance, if you have a liver problem, when they open up the guinea pig’s little body, the liver will look dark, like, sick. They say that there are ways to scientifically prove it, but I don’t know.”

Context: The informant is my mother, a Peruvian woman whose parents both come from villages near Cuzco, Peru. She grew up in Lima, the capital and the most metropolitan city in Peru. Peruvian culture, however, is deeply rooted in pride about their myths and legends, and these forms of folklore are widely known. I actually inquired about Inca creation myths on my own, but realized that this is a prime example of folklore.

Analysis: This custom is highly recognized and highly debated in Peru. As we learned, I believe that the belief rate for this technique is much higher in Peru, but there have also been scientific attempts to debunk or confirm the scientific element of this folk medicine strategy and they determined that it does work, but no one truly knows why.

[geolocation]