USC Digital Folklore Archives / Homeopathic
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.

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.

 

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Whole Image (Soul Stealing and Microphones)

This friend of mine has always been one of the most superstitious people I know. Her childhood was split between two households, each with their own unique beliefs and superstitions. Having been quite close for the past few years, I’ve heard innumerable stories regarding strange folk-beliefs her parents taught her as a little girl. When I asked her about her superstitions and pulled out a microphone, she sealed her lips and wouldn’t explain until I’d turned it off. And first, I was a bit peeved, but by the end of her explanation, it made a lot more sense.

The following was recorded by hand during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Okay so the reason I don’t speak into microphones, no actually don’t – no please don’t. I’ll hold it. I’ll explain it to you, it’s completely legitimate! Okay. So… I don’t believe in speaking into a microphone if there’s no image along with it because my personal spiritual beliefs have to do with the reflection and the way that a person is viewed by other people. Kind of like everyone has a projection, so if your projection doesn’t capture the whole picture it’s wrong. I’ll only be in a video if there’s sound and I’ll only speak directly if you can see me doing it. Think about the way people look at Instagram. If I show you Ben’s insta you only get 3% of his personality. As a means of calculating the projections I give off, I don’t get to know people that well, I’m really picky with people I get to know, and I’m picky with how I represent myself, so I’ve deleted my insta, and I don’t like posing for photos. I don’t like artificial projection, because it goes against my spiritual beliefs. Voice overs for movies are different. That’s acting out a character When representing yourself, I only like the whole image. I don’t take pictures.

 “Partly just growing up, a big part of misunderstanding and getting along with people is getting the whole picture. I grew up never getting the whole picture, I feel like it’s important to be as genuine as possible. If you’re allowing someone to see you and know you as a person, and you only give them a partial image, then, intrinsically, you’re setting yourself up to be stereotyped, and like, put into a box.

 “That’s why I hate telling people I’m vegan. It’s like, yeah, I’m fucking vegan, but I like chicken wings sometimes, you know? I hate being put into boxes because no one will ever kno- you don’t even know yourself. No one will ever know anyone. So why make it easier for people to assume that they can? I’m interested in things, but part of my spirituality is just lack of definition. I just think definition is so limiting… And I’ve also tripped on acid a lot, so I’ve felt more things than human existence. I also – I – Identity is complicated. I think people have crossover, but I don’t think – there’s absolutely no way that there’s a carbon copy of me somewhere else. There’s no way that anyone has a carbon copy. I don’t know. Now you get why I don’t like being recorded! I’ve had a lot of problems with this. In high school, I was – me and a couple of people were going to start a band, and then… we didn’t because I wouldn’t record. It was weird.

 “To go back to the question, I am like – I have depersonalization realization. It’s like a mental disorder. Everyone experiences it differently, but I have a separation between myself and what I make. My ankle for example – I just broke it, but I didn’t really process the pain immediately. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see myself, but I see a body that my soul is in. It’s kind of like Freaky Friday. I mean, nobody will ever know you. Your appearance has nothing to do with who you are. I don’t give a shit about my body. I don’t eat. I don’t feel hungry, or like feel anything. I only feel things in my brain. That’s why I live inside my brain. I mean I can feel you, but I’m not – it’s not like I don’t have nerves. I just live inside my brain.”

This superstition is fascinating to me, as it ties together a few more common superstitions and builds upon them while following a strange sort of dream-logic. Perhaps the most famous anecdote regarding soul theft and photography is famed Lakota tribal leader Crazy Horse never having his photograph taken. It’s quite common for many Native American and Australian Aborigines tribes to view photography as a fracturing and subsequent thievery of the soul, as the whole concept of photography is freezing a moment of time. However, my friend puts a whole new spin on this as she adds audio and video recordings to the mix. It’s fascinating to follow her complicated web of spirituality, and it really does make you think about how we define ourselves and those around us.

For more information on soul stealing and photography, check out: http://www.bigbanglife.org/?p=404

For a skeptical view of the same, check out: https://www.csicop.org/sb/show/soul_theft_through_photography

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Signs
Tales /märchen

Fireball Ghosts

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. Growing up, she told me tons and tons of stories from her time there. I was always particularly interested in their spiritual beliefs. Specifically, those regarding ghosts.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

In Japan in graveyards – because it’s… because everybody’s cremated it’s very common during typhoon season to see fireballs and whatnot. And that’s really because of the seepage of the rainwater into burial urns combining with the phosphorous of the bones and creating fireballs. But some people believe that they’re spirits and that the graveyards are haunted. So, yeah I guess. Some people believe it’s the spirits and other people believe it’s the phosphorous in the bones with the rainwater. It’s also very easy to imagine … you sort of feel different presences in Japan. Especially in subways in Tokyo. Because they’re very old, you can feel lots of spirits.”

This anecdote is particularly interesting, as it includes scientific explanation for a supernatural occurrence. Imagine walking home late one rainy night when you see fireball after fireball erupt out of a graveyard. That would be absolutely terrifying. Thankfully, my mother never told me this story as a kid, as it would have almost undoubtedly caused innumerable nightmares and late nights for her. Though she explains the fireballs, she still admits to feeling a very strong spiritual presence across the country as a whole. A presence no one can account for outright. Though some ghosts are easily explained, others are not.

Folk speech
general
Homeopathic
Legends
Magic
Protection

Bless You

The following informant is an 8th grader. In this account she is explaining the phrase “bless you”. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as SA and I am identified as K:

SA: So bless you, um… , so basically when you sneeze someone should tell you bless you because back when the plague was around, they thought sneezing was a certain death, so they said “god bless you” and that was like a prayer over it, so when you say bless you to someone you are praying for them

K: how did you hear about this

SA: From my mom, she used to tell us that when we were younger and now I always say bless you to people

Context: She told me this while at my house one weekend.

Thoughts:

This was something I also heard growing up, and like the informant it became drilled into my head to always say bless you. Our moms are sisters, so maybe they heard it from each other, but even growing up I heard it from my other friends. What I find most interesting is that this version, along with others I have heard over the years, its sound very religious, yet people who are not religious say it. It’s become such a common manner that you might not even realize you are blessing someone.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection

Ach’k (Evil Eye)

Item:

Western Armenian: աչք

Phonetic (IPA): ɑt͡ʃʰkʰ

Transliteration: ach’k

Translation: eye

A blue bead representing an eye can be used to ward off evil. The bead is simply called the “ach’k,” meaning “eye.” For example, the ach’k could be hung from the rear view mirror of a car, worn as a necklace, or kept somewhere in a house. There is a particular color of blue needed for a bead to be an ach’k.

In particular, it is supposed to protect its owner from others’ covetous eyes. There is a particular saying associated with this belief:

Western Armenian: աչք կպնէ

Phonetic (IPA): ɑt͡ʃʰkʰ kpnɛ

Transliteration: ach’k gbné

Translation: the eye touches

The phrase literally translates to “the eye touches,” but the informant translates it as “the eye will touch you,” meaning that other people’s covetous eyes could touch you with some negative magic, unless you have an ach’k protecting you.

Background Information:

The informant learned this folk belief from his mother, who believes in it passionately. She keeps several in her house and gave him one to put in his car. The informant is skeptical of the belief but doesn’t deny it outright. For a while, the informant kept his ach’k hanging from his rear view mirror, until he became embarrassed by its perceived superstitious-ness and took it down. He still keeps it in his car, though—now out of sight in the glove compartment.

The informant believes that the ach’k is a very common belief among Armenians.

Contextual Information:

The ach’k belief is accompanied by the particular saying and object associated with it. These items are usually performed and displayed in public, though the informant has made his more private due to embarrassment.

Analysis:

The ach’k belief is clearly a variant on the very widespread “evil eye” folk belief. Unlike the more common variants, in this version of the belief, the eye is not particularly associated with growth, but rather with envy. It still shares the general spirit that there is a danger in prosperity and wealth—whether it is grown, purchased, or otherwise obtained.

Using a bead representing an eye to protect from others’ eyes is an example of homeopathic magic.

For other versions of the evil eye folk belief, see “The Evil Eye: A Folklore Casebook” (1981) by Alan Dundes.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection
Signs

Friday the 13th

Informant Info: The informant is an 18-year-old from St. Louis, Missouri. She is currently a freshman studying Public Policy at USC.

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: With it being Friday the 13th, do you have any fears or superstitions regarding it?

 

Interviewee: I don’t like superstitions like Friday the 13th, because 13 is just another number. But, I will say I do believe in other superstitions, and I couldn’t tell you why.  For instance, I refuse to walk under ladders, I think I would curl up in a ball and cry if I broke a mirror, and I always throw salt over my shoulder if I spill it. Again… I don’t know why, but I guess just because we grow up with these superstitions all around us and it’s better to be safe than sorry in my book!

Analysis:

 The informant names many of the common superstitions in America, even though she started answering the question be saying she doesn’t like superstitions. Her response seems to be properly in line with many individuals who question the truth/logic behind superstitions by stating that “it is better to be safe than sorry.” A similar response is often found in Ireland when people are asked about the fairy folk.

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection

Backpacking Preparation

Informant Info:  The informant is an 18-year-old from St. Louis, Missouri. She is currently a freshman studying Public Policy at USC.

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: As a hiker/backpacker, do you have any little traditions, rituals, or lucky charms that help ensure you have a safe and successful trip?

Interviewee: Well, before any hike, and also… any test, presentation, or project… I uhh, always – always – ALWAYS – have a very very specific omelet. I make it with 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon of milk, 2 strips of crumbled bacon, half of a pepper, a little spinach, and about a third of a cup of cheese.

Interviewer: Wow, that is specific… like why?

Interviewee: Well, some people have lucky charms but I have my lucky meal. It eases my mind, and it fuels me up. I can focus on making the perfect omelet that it prevents me from stressing out about what’s to come… and I also feel good after, so why not.

Interviewer: Makes sense, have you ever gone without it. If so, how did you feel?

Interviewee: I have. I wasn’t a fan. Something just felt missing. I know it’s stupid but I did noticeable worse on a test once. I knew the material, I studied for weeks… I just blanked. I doubt it would’ve happened had I eaten!

 

Analysis:

As with other lucky charms or rituals within these collections, a common trend seems to be mindset. The informant sort of mentions it herself by stating that the omelet itself isn’t lucky, but it instead helps her clear her mind. In a way, the omelet only serves as a placebo effect for her. This similar case can likely be argued for many lucky items. Nonetheless, it is interesting that she has such a belief and must make an omelet, of all things, so specifically (and ritually) before any major event.

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