The informant is of Chinese descent and shared this piece at my request. It was an informal environment.
Why is it improper to flip over a fish as you eat from it?
“Oh okay so, back in the, um olden days in China when fishermen were on their ships, they wouldn’t flip over the fish when they eat- ate it because it would give a bad omen and possibly flip their own ship over. So when you eat the fish, you don’t, um flip it over; you have to pull off the spine and just continue eating it.”
This is an example of homeopathic magic, where like produces like. As we discussed in class, professions where chance plays a large role tend to have a lot of superstitions. This particular case is interesting because the informant and their family are not fishermen, and neither are most of the people that does it. Whether their boat would flip over is of little actual concern to them. Having said that, I think it became more of a habit for people than anything.
The informant shared this piece when I told them about this project and asked if they knew any folklore. The setting was casual, and the informant is of Taiwanese and African descent.
Can you explain the superstition behind breaking noodles?
“Um… when you’re cooking noodles, it’s bad luck to break them. Because, um in like Asian cultures… noodles represent longevity or long life so… if you break them, you’re cutting your life short so to speak.“
Variations of this superstition can be found across multiple cultures. For example, an old Chinese food superstition is that cutting, or biting off noodles as you eat them during the New years is bad luck for the same reasons as noted above. One can also draw connections to the Fates of Greek Mythology, where life is represented by a string; the third sister cuts the string to mark when the person will die.
An argument can also be made that this is representative of homeopathic magic, as the noodles represent life.
Araceli Del Rio
“I’ve got a bottle of cura-lo-todo my family keeps under our cabinets. Which means cure-all, or “cures everything”. My parents used to soak cotton swabs in it and stick it in our ears when we used to have earaches. So it’s pure cane rubbing alcohol, the Mexican kind, and alcamfor, rue, and marijuana. It’s a liquid- you can soak it in something and then leave that on an area that’s in pain, like a tincture. It helps with arthritis. And alcanfor is a derivative of the camphor laurel.”
Context: This is a folk remedy that is used in the family to treat a variety of illnesses and pains.
Analysis: Family remedies, and folk remedies, have been used long before and long after formal science-based medicine came about. This is a tincture that uses fairly typical ingredients that are used for folk healing- rubbing alcohol and marijuana, and also rue and alcamfor for their spiritual associations and scent. The use of marijuana in the household by a family is interesting, and departs from the traditional association of it as an illegal, recreational drug. Here, Araceli’s family truly believes that it is a strong healing agent to be used for arthritis and other aches.
The informant is a college student born and raised in Denver, Colorado. While the informant and I were studying in the library together, I asked him if he or any of his friends had any traditions or superstitions that were unique to Denver. He described a folk belief that children engaged in when hoping school would be canceled for a snow day.
“If a large snowstorm is predicted or if it is snowing lightly before bed, you have to flush an ice cube down the toilet in hopes that there will be a snow day and school will be cancelled the next morning. The more kids that flush an ice cube down the toilet, the more likely it is that there will be a snow day.”
The belief is most prevalent during one’s elementary and middle school years, but many people continue to carry out the tradition of flushing an ice cube down the toilet throughout high school. The superstition goes that flushing a single ice cube down the toilet will ensure a snow day. The informant was not sure what the significance of the single ice cube was, but said that he has always thought it has to do with the fact that ice cubes and snow both require below freezing temperatures. I followed up with a friend from New York City to determine whether this was an isolated folk belief, and she confirmed that kids at her school did the same thing. Growing up in California, I had never known anyone to engage in this practice. The belief in this sympathetic folk magic, then, is most likely concentrated in areas where snowfall is common. It is a fun and harmless way for children to try to get out of school, and probably continues to be spread among children rapidly because of the idea that each child must do his or her own part to make it snow, and so it is very likely that when one child hears of the supposed magic properties of flushing an ice cube down a toilet that they will tell their friends to do it as well.
The informant is of Chinese descent, and was another attendant of an assembly meeting. The atmosphere was very relaxed and informal, and while we were waiting for it to start, I brought up this folklore project.
What sort of meanings do the numbers six, eight, and nine have in Chinese culture?
“Cause there’s a lot of homophones in Chinese, and so they have like homophones associated with positive words. Let me see… six sounds like- it’s like the word for “to flow” it like relates to luck, so… Eight relates to… let me see… to a word that means prosper and wealth. And then nine is just the number of heavens. So like, a lot of the times, the Emperor would have like nine dragons and stuff like that.”
What catches my attention about this is that the Chinese cultural associations behind the numbers six, eight, and nine are debatably less common of a trivia fact compared to the Chinese cultural associations behind the number four. If I had to guess, I would say that it is because negativity stands out more. Also, in this specific case, the fact that “four” in Chinese sounds like Chinese for “death” is a trivia bit that fits in well with American holidays and special days like Halloween and Friday the 13ths. As such, it has a slightly higher degree of relevance whenever these days come around.
Besides being an example of number superstition, this piece also aligns well with homeopathic magic in general. Following the idea that “like produces like,” the appearance of six, eight, or nine in nearly any context would be viewed favorably. The specifics of how these blessings of luck or wealth would be applied is left unclear, but a driving sentiment seems to be that it is nice to have them than to not, and that it is certainly better than a four.
Okay so like, if people get like a knee injury, a really big thing is to, they’ll take raw eggs and they’ll crack the eggs and rub it on someone’s knee, for pain, and then they’ll wrap it for like two days. And apparently it really works.
Do you break the egg on their knee?
I think they just break it in a bowl, and then they put it on their knee and then they’ll wrap it. That’s a big one that I’ve seen a lot.
So is this for any injury?
No it’s not just like for any injury, I know it’s like your knee, maybe your elbow, and they’ll wrap it, I guess it’s for like a joint, just for joints.
Isn’t there also a ritual with eggs when someone gets a new car?
Oh yeah, okay so if you get a new car, I don’t know if it’s Persian or if it’s just a Jewish thing, I don’t know, it might be Persian… Okay so there’s two things, one of them is they’ll put like, eggs under each wheel, and you have to drive over the eggs, that’s like maybe to keep bad eyes away or something like that. And then another one is like, so when I got my car my mom would like, when I was gonna drive away for the first time they would pour water. Okay wait that’s what they do when they’re going on vacation, like a really big trip. Like when I was leaving for Italy, before I left, my mom or somebody would have to like, once you drive away, pour a glass of water behind you. I don’t know what it means, I think it’s just for safety and to have good luck or something like that, to have a good trip.
What do you think driving over the eggs is about? Like breaking new ground or something?
I don’t know, that would make sense, yeah like a new beginning or something like that, and it could also just be like having a positive entrance, like keeping bad eyes away. They’re really big on the evil eye.
These are rituals enforced by superstitions, mainly surrounding keeping bad luck and evil forces away from you. There is symbolism with breaking the egg, although the informant is not quite clear on what that is. It could be speculated that the inside of an egg resembles the evil eye; or it could be as simple as the fact that eggs break easily; or could have something to do with eggs being a fetus or a new thing in development, like a new car bursting into the world like a chick would burst out of an egg. These are protection rituals and good luck rituals.
Informant- Obviously they didn’t have any vacuumes back in the day, its all sweeping right, you had to sweep the whole house if you wanted to clean it, umm… if you needed to sweep at night.. you couldn’t just sweep at night .. what you had to do ..you had to spit on the broom.. to make sure that it wasn’t cursed and once you did that then you were free to sweep at night.
Collector: why is that?
Informant: i don’t know
Collector: is there any correlation between water and spitting?
Informant: ” Well like i know another story.. this doesn’t count.. but to give an example of spitting. but i remember we were walking in this mall and they have like horse drawn carriages or whatever in southern california.. and the horse.. the horse pooped..right as we were passing by.. and my mom was like you have to spit.. you have to spit at it to reject it’s evil it gives you when it does that.. she was joking obviously she doesn’t believe that..
Collector: the evil that the horse pooped?..that hilarious.
Informant: yea yea Spitting kinda wards off those spirits.. so it goes with the broom.. you have to spit on the broom make sure there are no spirits on the broom.. and you are thus not cursing your house by sweeping it.
This story comes from sam’s family, his mother specifically. His family is from Cairo but his parents parents are from the south of Egypt which is the “hicks ” of Egypt. he claims that the south is where more traditional folklore and superstitions come from. His family are Coptic Christians. Sam believes that these superstitions are neither christian nor Muslim but actually developed in ancient Egypt.
This custom contradicts western culture. I find it interesting that we tend to believe spitting is a bad thing, a disgusting thing that people without etiquette or education do, but spitting is natural and necessary to take out unwanted things from our mouths. As Sam’s account tells us, the people that share these beliefs in Egypt Spit in order to protect themselves, I wonder how this practice is seen in public, whether some find it gross or socially acceptable because of its protective meaning. Maybe the spirits themselves are disgusted by the spit and decide to leave because of it.
The informant heard this particularly sinister and magical ritual from a Swedish friend from Malmö when she was studying abroad a few years ago in Europe.
The pseudo-pagan ritual of Årsgång, which, when translated to English, means Year Walk, was meant to reveal visions of the future to a person willing to perform the walk. In order to perform the ritual, the walker would have to make several sacrifices and meet multiple requirements. The first requirement was that the ritual be performed on a certain night, most often Christmas or New Years’ Eve, sometimes at the winter solstice, but always at midnight. For an entire day before taking the Year Walk, the walker must sit inside a dark room, and is not allowed to eat or speak. This was meant to disconnect the walker from the physical world, and open them up to the spiritual world before the ritual. The walker was to emerge from the room exactly at midnight and head to the town church, where he or she would walk counterclockwise around the building. The walker would then go up to the door of the church and blow into the keyhole, renouncing their faith temporarily. This would fully open the walker up to the world of the spirits and visions of the future, but it also invited great danger. Year Walking was full of risks.
One could expect to encounter many terrifying Swedish entities, such as the brook-horse (bäckahäst) and the huldra. The brook-horse took the shape of a normal horse, and it would invite children to ride on its back. Each time a child mounted the brook-horse, its back would lengthen to accommodate yet another rider. When the horse felt it had enough riders, it would jump into a body of water, drowning all of its riders and taking their souls for its own. The huldra was a deceptively beautiful female entity, who often had bark and treelike features growing on her back instead of skin. Said to be the forest guardians, they would lure people to their homes to either marry them or kill them. Either way, the victim would be lost forever.
The walker’s ultimate goal was to look into the windows of the church (or to reach the town cemetery, depending on the locale) in order to receive visions of the future. If the walker encountered any of the Swedish entities, including the two mentioned above, the walker could escape with his or her life if he or she was able to resist the entity’s temptation. Visions of the year to come would appear in the cemetery or in the windows of the church, and the things the walker saw would symbolize the events to come that year. The Year Walk would end once the walker made it back to the church to reclaim his or her faith.
Årsgång was more commonly performed centuries ago, when magical beliefs ran much deeper in Scandinavia. The ritual was a feared one; not all walkers returned with their lives, and others went insane upon returning from the walk. Of course, the steps of Year Walking vary, as it’s a very localized ritual, mostly passed down by word of mouth.
In his doctoral dissertation on magic in Swedish black art books, Thomas K. Johnson, Ph.D. briefly discusses the ritual of Årsgång. I found a PDF version for free online directly at this link: http://media.proquest.com/media/pq/classic/doc/2030700591/fmt/ai/rep/SPDF?_s=mheSU7Ogp7e1UoKhtmSNlGL9Lao%3D
A and I met at our favorite vegetarian cafe, Good Karma, to discuss my most recent crystal healing class based out of a small shamanic practice in Santa Monica. She and I have spoken about our spiritual and homeopathic practices many times before, but soon our conversation turned to meditation. We both had taken the Science of Happiness class at USC and enjoyed mindfulness exercises for strengthening willpower and mental toughness. A’s parents aided her growth as a shaman as her father used to own a medical practice, but eventually made the transition into a shamanic healer. Her mother is a psychologist, however, she relies heavily on meditation as a mechanism for self-preservation. A learned the figure 8 meditation from her mother, who learned it at a spirituality retreat. After lunch, A took me to a secluded outdoor sop where she walked me through the meditation practice.
A: We all have those people in our lives with whom we do not get along with. They’re the toxic and draining individuals who you cannot bear to be around, but you don’t necessarily know why. They seem to infuse your presence with unwanted negativity and require much more effort to remain happy in your relationships. When I was really young, my mom would sit down with me on the floor of our living room and help me go through these mental exercises so that I could separate myself from all of those negative people. These energies come from people you constantly see, but receive negative vibes from. You want to cut yourself completely off from them, that way their energy does not affect yours and thereby taint it. Imagine that person (the one you cannot stand being around) is sitting or standing across from you. Visualize a wall of light that envelops their energy and your energy in a figure eight, where each person is centered in the open space of the figure. This wall goes through the ground and reaches the sky; it keeps you separated energetically from them. By sitting in this tube of light, there isn’t any interconnection. Essentially it boils down to you are in your space and I’m in mine, so you won’t affect me as negatively or badly.
It took me a while before I got rather comfortable with this process, but after extended periods of time sitting with my mom I ended up becoming much better at it. I still use it today whenever I have someone in classes or at work who just somehow sends me negative energy. Once I focus on this practice, I feel much safer.
L response: I have heard before that the wall of light functions as an insulator to keep your energy within you when you’re doing healing work. With crystal healing, you have to set an intention for everything and make sure that these energies do not mix otherwise your healing tends to go amiss. I haven’t used it for a mental exercise, but rather as a precaution against negative intentions and conflicting vibes.
A grew up primarily in New York with an American mother interested in herbal and spiritual based medicines as well as a Brazilian father. As I am moving to New York, I visited her and her father in Manhattan. When we both came back to Los Angeles, I had actually cut my hand on her door frame from a splinter. This prompted her to tell me a story about how since she was small, her father has always taken care of her cuts.
A: Here let me get a piece of garlic.
L: Wait, what?
A: My dad always did this. It’s a Brazilian thing. Whenever I had an open wound like a small cut he would go to the kitchen and chop up a large piece of garlic and rub it on my cut
L: Did it help?
A: I don’t know, but it was his way of showing me he cared while bringing in his Brazilian tradition. I don’t know where he learned if from, but it definitely came from his time in Brazil