USC Digital Folklore Archives / Contagious
Contagious
Game
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Baby Blue

Context: I was teaching a class of sixth graders for the Joint Education Project (JEP) in a middle school near USC.

Discussion

Instructor: So, after learning the differences between myths, tales and legends, can anyone give me an example of a legend that they have heard of? (A number of different students interjected to corroborate to the first student’s story, they have been given aliases to protect their identities)

Angel: Baby Blue! (Announced loudly)

Instructor: What or who is Baby Blue?

Angel: It’s like uhm you go into the bathroom and look into the mirror and uh fold your arms, and if you feel a weight in your arms its Baby Blue and you gotta drop it!

Maria (interjecting): No no no, you gotta go into the bathroom by yourself and turn the lights off and cradle your arms like you’re holding a baby and say ‘Baby Blue’ in the mirror three times. If you feel a weight in your arms like you were holding a baby, you gotta pretend to drop it in the toilet and flush it before it gets too heavy.

Instructor: Or else what happens?

Maria: The baby will haunt your family.

Daisy (interjecting): No if you don’t flush the baby, her mom will turn up behind you and scream at you to give it back and kill you if you don’t. (Other students nodded along or exclaimed ‘yeh’ as if her version was the most well-known)

Instructor: So, who is baby blue?

Maria: Its like a evil baby that will haunt you if you don’t get rid of it I think.

Instructor: And who is the women?

Daisy: Some kinda evil spirit I guess.

Instructor: Have any of you done this?

Daisy: I tried it once with my big sister.

Instructor: And did the woman show up?

Daisy: No but I felt a weight in my arms and through it in the toilet so maybe I did it before the baby grew too big.

Instructor: Was it a scary experience.

Daisy: Yeh I guess, me and my sister ran outta the bathroom straight after flushing the toilet.

Analysis

This is a very interesting legend. It is very much like Bloody Mary accept with a baby involved. After some research I discovered that some people think that the mother who appears is Bloody Mary and that Baby Blue is her child that she murdered. The legend seemed fairly well-known throughout the classroom of thirty students but some new it better than others. It is clear that Angel was more of a passive barer of the legend and had not participated in the legend quest. Those that did had a better knowledge of the backstory to the legend, which was usually learned from older relatives. The students did not seem to be overly scared of this legend and approached it as more of a game. They were adamant that there was a right way and a wrong way to do this pseudo-ritual.

There are theories that the Bloody Mary legend is related to young girls’ oncoming period cycle. The legend is most common with girls aged 8 to 14 and takes place alone in a bathroom where you see a bloody woman appear behind you. This could be some kind of folk ritual, beyond the knowledge of the participants, to prepare girls for the oncoming changes to their bodies’ which takes place near this age range and usually alone in a bathroom. This intense bodily change might be more easy cope with when compared with the extreme of seeing a creepy woman covered in blood behind you. I think that the Baby Blue legend is a continuation of this theory. It is in someway ingratiating girls to the idea that if you feel a baby growing heavy in your arms (which are cradled at your stomach) that you should somehow get rid of it, or else it might haunt you for the rest of your life. This seems to be suggesting to the girls that take part in this pseudo-ritual, on a deeply subconscious level, that if you get pregnant at a young age (as pregnancy tests usually take place in the bathroom alone) that you should somehow get rid of the baby before it stays with you forever. If this is the case, this legend has an extremely dark aspect to it. Obviously because of the fact that this deeper meaning operates on a subconscious level, boys take part in the legend too. This is for the surface reason that it is scary and thrilling which is probably why the girls do it too but it may be communicating a deeper message to them specifically.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Magical Properties of a Giant Confederate Flag

“So, my uncle moved to Tennessee, and he lives down the road from this guy who has a giant confederate flag in front of his house. It covers his whole front porch. And they believe that it—like, if you pray to it—it will bring back the confederate soldiers… like Jesus raising the dead. And when you walk past it, I swear you can see a pair of eyes watching you from under it, but this guy doesn’t have a dog or anything.”

This story came from a classmate with whom I exchanged lore. Although it is short, it contains two clear, separate pieces of folklore. The first is an observation of a folk belief and ritual. Although likely embellished slightly by every teller, it essentially describes a kind of worship. The religious analogy “like Jesus raising the dead” draws a clear connection to the religious nature of the flag-worshiping practice, although it would technically be sacrilegious, it being a “false idol” and all.

The second piece of folklore is a contemporary legend. The sightings of the eyes imply a haunted nature of the flag, furthering its folk power. I could not get my informant to say for certain whether she had seen anything herself, but they way she told the story, it certainly seemed like a memorate. She personally experienced some sort of unusual sighting, which was then shaped by her knowledge of the worshippers and other people’s stories of also seeing glowing eyes, into a scary story.

Both pieces of folklore here clearly reflect a my informant’s uncle—and thus her, too, when she visits him—feeling like an outsider in Tennessee. These stories are fantastic exaggerations of the otherness of the locals around whom he now dwells, likely created to cope with his own sense of unwelcomeness.

Contagious
Magic
Protection

Chinese Jade

Interviewer: Do you have any cultural beliefs or superstitions?

 

Informant: Well in Chinese culture, jade is in a lot of the jewelry that we wear.  It is supposed to be worn for good luck and protection.  But the most common forms that jade comes in for a lot of people is in bracelets or necklaces. There are various colors that jade comes in is green, orange red and purple but green seems to be the most popular.  It is also really important that the jade is real and not just a fake or an imitation.  My mom has a jade necklace and a jade bracelet that she never takes off, never.  The jade is supposed to be for protection and also it channels one’s chi or energy.  And typically jade is really vibrant, but my mom’s jewelry becomes really dull when she wears it but my aunt had jewelry that she wears it doesn’t fade or go dull.  So it’s kind of weird because when my mom gets a new bracelet the old one will become vibrant again once she takes it off, so it’s almost like she’s using the magic in it, like she’s draining it.  I don’t know if that’s very common but I have only seen it happen to her.

 

Interviewer: Are there any times when the jade actually protects someone?

 

Informant:  Well I have heard this story that one of my grandmother’s friend was wearing a jade bracelet and she one day took a really bad fall.  And when she looked at her bracelet it had shattered but she walked away with no injuries.  It was also very important for my grandmother that when I went away to school, I had a jade bracelet to protect me.  So even if I don’t wear it I always have it with me somewhere.

 

Interviewer: so do you believe in its powers?

 

Informant: I think that growing up and being told that jade is protection and a source of good luck has made me believe in it.  But I also don’t believe in the tradition of having to wear it for it to protect me.  I don’t wear mine often, but I keep little pieces of jade everywhere.  Like in my car there is a piece hanging from the rear view window and in my wallet there are pieces of it.  But I don’t actually wear it most of the time because my taste in jewelry is just different but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in its power.  I think it would be very weird for me if my family members stopped wearing their jewelry or took off their jade.  It is also more of a practical choice because I am in a lot of science classes and they are often really careful about what we wear and I don’t want it to get damaged or get chemicals on it.  So I do believe in the tradition and the magic but I don’t practice it in the same ways that my elders do, and I should probably be doing it but I just haven’t recently.

 

Interviewer: Great thanks for sharing!

 

Background:  The informant is a Junior at USC studying human biology.  She is half Chinese and half Italian but spends more time with her Chinese family and has more beliefs and practices based on her Chinese ancestors.  For the informant, this piece became a form of self-reflection about her own beliefs and how she lives them out in her daily life.  It also served as a reminder of where she came from and the people who are supporting her while she is away.

 

Context: This interview was done during a discussion in a dorm room as the informant and interviewer are roommates.  The informant first experienced this belief and practice as a young child and was given her first piece of jade upon birth.  Though the informant is unsure where the belief originated, it is understood throughout most of China as a folk belief and has traveled with people who have immigrated to other parts of the world.

 

Analysis:  This belief is evident throughout a lot of mainstream culture and exemplified in many Chinese practitioners.  It was interesting to understand the meaning behind the practice and the stories that reinforce the belief. I have seen many people wear jade but it was more meaningful to learn about the power and strength of having this cultural symbol always with you.  In a way it made me related to my own pieces of jewelry that I do not take off and what they mean to me.

 

 

 

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Narrative

Chimney Sweeps are Good Luck

My informant, an Irish-American male, grew up immersed in Irish culture. He was excited to share his stories with me — especially because sharing stories and poems is an important part of Irish social culture. I collected this story from him while we sat on his couch:

 

“So one Christmas, we had a chimney sweep come over. We called him and asked him to come over to clean out our fireplace. And he comes over — and our door bell has not worked in and years. Like since I’ve been at my house, the door never once worked once. Like the wires are cut, you know, like it was significantly broken. So, the chimney sweep presses the doorbell and it rings. It fully rings! And we were all very confused so we just kind of sat there for a hot second. And then we heard it again– and it rang again! And we were like what is going on? And my mom was like, “Oh my God! It’s a chimney sweep!” And she asked him how he rang the doorbell, and he responded– he was just like, “I just pressed it and it rang.” And then my mom pressed it– and it worked one more time and then after that it stopped working again. And it hasn’t worked since– but it worked when the chimney sweep came over. So that’s really weird.”

 

Because this story is from his personal experience, I asked him to explain how he knew about the folk belief that chimney sweeps bring good luck:

 

Killian: “It came up a lot. It’s pretty much common knowledge in Ireland. I don’t remember a specific person it came from.”

 

I then asked my informant if he knew where the folk belief came from or when it developed:

 

Killian: “I mean, there’s not much rhyme or reason to Irish superstition. I dunno, maybe it’s good luck because they clean out your fireplace so your house doesn’t burn down?”

 

Analysis:

I have never heard of this folk belief, but I think it fits with my other knowledge of Irish folklore. This collection is also fascinating because it comes with a story of personal experience that fits within the folk belief. To me, it’s similar to a ghost story but it fits with Irish legends rather than local legends.

 

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.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic

The Luck of the Draw

Informant Info: The informant is a 21-year-old male who was born and raised in Chanhassen, Minnesota. His parents both moved to America from India when they were in their twenties. He is currently a student at USC studying Electrical Engineering.

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: As a student, have you ever had any lucky objects or rituals that have helped you succeed?

 

Interviewee: Ya know — I had a lucky pencil last year, that I lost in October… and it was the saddest day of my life… I failed that midterm. But I had it the entirety of freshman year and used it for every test, and I always passed. I don’t know why it was lucky… It just was really nice. But fear not — now I have a lucky pen. It’s a space pen!

Interviewer: Has it replaced your pencil?

 

Interviewee: No never, that pencil was sacred. It got me through all my classes. This is just a nice pen. I won’t test with it, but I carry it with me everywhere.

Analysis:

In this case, the informant seems to be very attached to his pencil, but the superstition that it was lucky seems rather loose. He just happened to use it for everything, and so he grew a bond to it. Losing the pencil likely wasn’t the reason he failed the midterm, but it would be ironic if it was.

 

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic

A Cheerleader’s Lucky Socks

Informant Info: The informant is a 20-year-old female who was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. Her mother is Caucasian, and her father is Hispanic. She currently lives in Orlando, Florida and works for Walt Disney World.

 

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: I know that you were a cheerleader. When you were on the team, did you have any traditions or lucky items or phrases during games and competitions?

 

Interviewee: So, I was a competitive cheerleader for almost 10 years and at every single competition since I was 8 years old I always wore the same pair of socks. They were white with neon yellow stripes from American Eagle. I got in trouble every single time I wore them because they weren’t “in dress code” but I felt all the more confident in them. We didn’t win every competition when I had them on, but I threw all my skills and landed them. It was more of a superstition and comfort thing for me, but I like to believe they’re the reason we won many competitions (and not because we were actually good)

Analysis:

This superstition is common among sports participants. It is interesting that she acknowledges herself that she knows it is a superstition and that it served as comforting her, but still considers them as “lucky” socks. Yet, maybe the socks were indeed lucky, because by making her feel more comfortable, she was indeed more likely to perform more confidently.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Game
Magic

Soccer Streaks

Informant Info: The informant is a 26-year-old female who was born in raised in Hickory, North Carolina. For the past 3 years, she has lived in Orlando, Florida and has worked for Walt Disney World as a Status Coordinator. For the pas

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: I know you played soccer pretty much all of your life until you graduated college. Did you ever have any fun traditions associated with it?

 

Interviewee: For soccer in high school, we always gave everyone the option to dye a strip of red in the back of their hair (red was one of our school colors) right when the season started. It was like a team bonding thing we did, and it helped bring us closer together as a team (even though it was kinda dumb) because it was just something we all experienced together

 

Interviewer: Did you start the tradition, or was it already existing? Do you know if it still starts today?

 

Interviewee: Yeah, we started the tradition in my sophomore year, which was 2007. I’m pretty sure the team still does it, but I’m not fully certain. Either way, I think it was a good way to bring us together, show school spirit, and to intimidate the other team.

 

Analysis:

The informant became an active-bearer by starting this tradition among the team. I wouldn’t classify this as a superstition of luck, but rather a tradition to, as the informant said it best, “bring the team closer together.” If you can get along and be close with everyone on the team, then the team is more likely to succeed by sharing improved communication while on and off the field.

 

 

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Magic
Signs

Happily Ever After – Server’s Edition

Informant Info:   The informant is a 26-year-old female who was born in raised in Hickory, North Carolina. For the past 3 years, she has lived in Orlando, Florida and has worked for Walt Disney World as a Status Coordinator.

 

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: You’ve worked for Disney for the past 3 years, almost 4 now. Have you ever encountered any traditions within locations that are outside of the realm of general work operations?

 

Interviewee: Well, I think I have one for you. When I was at Be Our Guest, there was a giant mosaic at the entrance of the restaurant. Every morning when opening, we would follow general opening procedures and then have the normal pre-shift meeting that all locations have… not that you would know since you were always closing at Satu’li (laugther)! Anyways, the mosaic, in case you don’t know, is one of the scenes of the Happily Ever After between Belle and the Beast. After pre-shift, we all had to walk outside to greet guests and drop the rope. But before doing so or starting any shift, every server would walk up to the mosaic and touch it. To them, it was like a good luck charm. In order to have a good shift, they needed to touch it and by doing so they would get lucky and have their own happily ever after by getting good tables and tips. Otherwise, without touching, they would likely have a bad shift. It sounds stupid, but it’s something I always witnessed them doing!

Analysis:

It seems almost natural that workers (or cast members, as they are called) are deriving their own superstitions off popular folklore. The mosaic that she is referring to in the story reflects the ending scene in Disney’s version of The Beauty and the Beast. It is a depiction of the ballroom scene of Belle and the Beast dancing, and the red rose blossoming in the background. This scene in the movie symbolizes the happy ending for the two, as the Belle and the (now) Prince can spend the rest of their lives together after the curse has been lifted. The superstition among the Disney servers just reflects variation on this by, as Kim points out, serving as a lucky charm for their own happily ever after… by the method of good tips!

BeautyBeast

 

Citations: Trousdale, Gary and Kirk Wise, directors. Beauty and the Beast. Walt Disney, 1991.

Photo from Google Images

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