USC Digital Folklore Archives / Contagious
Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Evil eye

Subject: Evil eye inoculation

Informant:

 Haifa grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to a progressive family. She is a Professor at the King Saud University in Riyadh and conceders herself a religious person, but does not believe in a lot of the superstition behind some of the stories. She grew up, and works, around all different kinds of people that shared with her different traditions and folklore of which she has shared some of her favorite.

Original script: “a lot of Saudi superstition is based around the evil eye. One really prevalent practice is the ingestion of another persons spit…it sounds disgusting but this is how it works. If you have a guest and fear that they may have eye eyed your house or family you take either the water they have drank or you wash the cup they have been drinking coffee or tea from, wash it and drink from the water you wash it with. It is believed that if you do so, you take a trace of that persons essence and therefor inoculate yourself against any evil or malice that comes from them.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Most of Arabic myth and superstition surrounds the evil eye and it’s affects on people and how to protect ones self from its negative affects.

Thoughts about the piece: Saudi’s often employ what would seem to be superstitious practices probably left over from a time before Islam. However, like all good folklore, the myths, practices and superstitions have evolved with the spread of Islam to involve Islamic themes such as using prayer and the name of god to proceed the ritual.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

A Perfect Game (Superstition)

 

My informant is Lewis or “Luke” . Luke is 22 and was born and raised in Darien, Connecticut but now attends Chapman University in Orange, California. He is of Irish and Russian descent.

 

Luke: “So the superstition is, in baseball when someone is pitching a perfect game, anyone on the team of the person that’s pitching the perfect game cannot mention it or bring it up at all or it will be ruined. They just have to act like nothing’s happening. My sophomore year we were playing Taft and Jerry Silvey was 5 innings deep into a no-hitter and I turned to my friend not realizing and asked “Is Jerry throwing a no-hitter?” and my friend looked at me like are you kidding me and I kid you not he struck out the net batter then got a homerun hit off him immediately after.”

When was the first time you heard this superstition?

Luke: “I probably first heard it like third or fourth grade when I got into baseball”

And you believe in it?

Luke: “Oh I definitely believe in it”

 

This superstition, like many others, revolves around sports. In sports, when playing or watching, it is common to have some ritual whether it be small like wearing the same shoes or abiding to certain superstitious laws of the game. In this case it is the ladder and this superstition is widespread in American baseball. It is common knowledge to those who have played of the existence and partaking of this general rule. Luke even went against the superstition and mentioned the perfect game and he blames the eventual failure of the perfect game on his actions.

 

 

 

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Bury the Broken Glass

Main piece:

I did theater growing up, all through elementary, middle, and high school, and my theater teacher was a character. She basically spoke exclusively in proverbial terms, or in, I don’t know, sayings and quotes, and very very superstitious as well. And so, this one time we… we were a part of a competition play where different high schools from my state would travel to one high school to perform and we’d be judged based on how we performed. And, we did not do that well, we- well, our performance was really, really good. I think it was one of the best performances I’ve ever been in; it was an absurdist play. But, it didn’t make it through. And earlier that day, a cast member had broken a mirror in the dressing room. She found out about it later, and she was livid. She was really, really upset that we didn’t tell her about it, and I guess she went back to the dressing room and grabbed the mirror, and took it with her home, and brought it back later, maybe a week later or something to bury it at the high school where we broke the mirror because I guess she heard somewhere that you need to bury the shards of the mirror to reverse the curse of the seven years, uhm….. So she’s pretty crazy, she’s awesome, I love her, but definitely… pretty wacky.

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

Oh, she told us, yeah. She told us, like, the next day, “I went back and I buried the mirror… in the ground of the high school. It just reminds me of her character, and uh… I think, I don’t believe in superstitions, and this is kind of out there, but… yeah. It doesn’t mean anything to me especially, I don’t think there was a curse and that’s why we lost, I just think that they either didn’t understand the play, or didn’t like it for whatever reason, and I don’t think it was reversed once she buried it or anything like that. I wouldn’t bury a mirror… definitely not.

 

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

You bury shards of a mirror… when you break it. Whenever you break it- it’s not exclusive to performances or anything.

 

Personal Analysis:

This superstition is not directly linked to theater, though the informant refers to it as if it were specific to the stage because that was the only time he had heard of it performed. Mirrors are often the source of folk belief, thought of to posses magical powers. Breaking a mirror in many cultures is considered bad luck, though I had never before heard a remedy to this curse. The informant also mentions a 7-year curse. I assume that to be associated with the breaking of the mirror itself- if it shatters, the curse –whatever it may be– lasts for 7 years.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Signs

The Calvert Middle School Ghost

Calvert Middle School Ghost

Origin: Prince Frederick, Maryland, USA

Story: When I was in middle school, I was told this by my friends. This middle school used to be a high school, and there was access to the pool in the basement. There were two guys and a girl who skipped class and went to play by the pool. They all were koking around when one of the guys fell into the pool and hit his head. Both his friends let him in the pool when they saw the blood. Now, his ghost haunts Calvert Middle School, and is looking for his friends who left him. Every time the doors open in the school randomly and no-one is standing there, it is said the ghost has entered the room. When a door slams closed, it is said the ghost has left.

 

Analysis: This is an urban legend told amongst children in the playground, so it is childrens folklore. It serves as a message against disobedience by ditching class, as an explanation for opened and closed doors, and against disloyalty to one’s friends above all. This reflects the values that children hold, and the pervasiveness of the ghost story means that dying from betrayal from your friends would be a significant enough emotional trauma to result in a ghost.

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Signs

Magpies and Baby Teeth

Context

Instead of giving them to the tooth fairy, Korean children that shed their baby teeth used to toss them on top of roofs, hoping for a magpie to take it and bring back a new, permanent tooth. But as South Korea rapidly developed itself, the surge of high buildings inevitably modified the context in which the tradition was performed, creating difficulties in its practice.

Informant Information

The informant is my mother, who first learned of this custom during her childhood from her maternal grandmother.

Informant: “…so when I showed grandma my tooth, she scolded me, telling me that I should throw it [onto the roof] so that I can ‘get my new tooth from the magpie’. The idea of not having my tooth grow back scared me – I didn’t want to be toothless like an old person! I ran off to the yard and threw my tooth as far up the roof as I could.”

Collector: “Is this still a thing? I think I read that story from an old book, but I don’t remember any of my friends doing it.”

Informant: “Probably not, since traditional tiled rooftops are only in expensive traditional housing – all we get are apartments nowadays…”

Collector: “Fair enough. Why the magpie though? Why not some other bird?”

Informant: “Because magpies symbolize the coming of spring and good luck.”

Analysis

The ubiquitous nature of folklore pertaining to baby teeth in contemporary societies can be explained by the necessity of certain rites of passage in traditional societies. Since the eruption of baby teeth begins around the age of 6, the first loss of teeth marks the physiological change to adolescence. But also, by giving away one’s own baby teeth (one’s former juvenile self) for good luck, the child ritualistically readies oneself for an adolescent life with greater responsibilities such as helping out with family work or starting school.

Nowadays this superstition is seldom practiced in urban Korea. Formerly practiced on Korea’s once common one-story homes, contemporary Korea and its forest of buildings over ten stories high forces the tradition to contextualize itself to the world of tall buildings or be left with an “expiration date” of sorts.

Contagious
Digital
Magic
Protection

Chain Emails

Chain emails are emails that are sent to several recipients so that more people eventually receive the message. They appear while individuals are checking their inboxes. Often, these emails contain messages contain requests asking recipients to forward the email to others. These can manifest in many ways. For example, one may offer a funny joke and ask that it be shared with the recipient’s friends. Others threaten recipients with bad luck unless they share the story included with someone else. Some may even offer monetary rewards in return for passing the email along.

The informant, Ian, is a 21-year-old university student who considers himself a gamer and internet enthusiast. Ian initially received one of these emails soon after creating his first email account while in middle school. He feels that most of these emails are frustrating scams, since they often ask for private information and the email addresses of others so that the senders can have more victims to spam. He was taught this idea by his parents, who had been using email accounts for much longer than he had. Over time, Ian has programmed the junk inbox in his email account to detect and delete these messages, since they are impossible to predict and completely avoid.

This phenomenon is fascinating because it represents a negative aspect of the internet that we have become accustomed to. Because so many of us have come to expect these emails, we have learned to simply accept them as an unavoidable nuisance, even though the true intentions of the senders can be quite nefarious in nature. The internet is not that old, so it is interesting to see that so many have accepted its unpleasant features without attacking their sources head on in order to end them.

Examples of Email Chains can be seen here: http://www.units.miamioh.edu/psybersite/cyberspace/folklore/examples.shtml

Imler, Dan, Ben Nagy, TaraLyn Riordan, and Asmeret Tekeste-Green. “Examples of Chain Letters.” Folklore and the Internet. Miami University, 11 Mar. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Magic
Protection

Keyn eyn-hore and Wearing Blue

According to the informant, it is traditional for young newborns to wear clothing and accessories that have the color blue on them for about the first two years of their lives. The idea is that by wearing blue, the weak and helpless infants would be protected from the evil eye, which in Yiddish is known as keyn eyn-hore. This blue protection can come in many forms, including blue clothing and blue jewelry.

The informant, Reyna Babani, is a 71-year-old Mexican Jew who lives in Mexico City. Because she grew up in such a close-knit community, Reyna considers herself an expert on Jewish culture. Although she does not remember who taught this idea to her or when it was learned, she claims that it is a staple of Yiddish culture because everyone she know participated in it. She enjoys this tradition because it helps her feel that the newborn children are safe, especially since they are at such a vulnerable stage in their lives. She also acknowledges that other colors, like red, have been known to work in the past.

What is strange about this tradition is that the color blue has been chosen out of all of the colors that humans can see. Why was blue chosen to protect these children? Why is red not used universally? What other colors are used around the world for a similar purpose? These are questions that would be quite interesting to research.

For more research on the evil eye and Judaism, look here: Brav, Aaron. “The evil eye among the Hebrews.” The Evil Eye: A Casebook 2 (1981): 44-54.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Protection

The Leper Tree

PP: There’s the Leper Tree in Malawi, we used to go there when I was younger. Well we went to the park it was in– I have to look it up, what it was called–

TK: Liwonde? I just googled it.

PP: That sounds right. It was this big tree with human skulls, skeletons in a kind of pit at the base of the roots, and we would have to look at them. If I remember right it was because one of the tribes that was living in the area had an outbreak of leprosy and they would put them in the tree, tie them up and make them stay there until they died.

TK: When was this?

PP: Honestly I think it was pretty recent, definitely in the last century. Maybe the 1930s? The worst part was they had a justification for doing it, they didn’t have the medicine or healthcare available to treat the disease and it was very contagious, so it was like this horrible quarantine where they said they were protecting the healthy people. It was for the sake of everyone else. But it was still a terrible thing to do.

THE INFORMANT: The informant is a woman who lives in America now, although she grew up in Africa and Ireland. While growing up in Africa with her family in the 1960s, because her father was a missionary doctor, they were often exposed to subpar living conditions, local legends and true stories like the one about the Leper Tree.

ANALYSIS: The Leper Tree is a very real place, not a legend, but has become part of the folklore of the country due to the gruesome nature of its existence. Visitors to the park who come for the wildlife and beautiful natural settings are often brought to the tree and asked to look down upon the skeletons of those who were trapped in it as recently as the 1950s. It is commemorated by a plaque on the trunk that says simply, “The Grave For People Who Suffered From Leprosy in the Past.” Burial and the proper disposal of bodies has always been a cultural hallmark– many cultures develop incredibly specific rituals around burial rites, which makes things like the Leper Tree stand out and be recalled even now for how barbaric and unrelated to traditional notions of respect for the dead it is.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Signs

Witches in Nicaragua

Original Script: “So…basically…my mom told me that, I don’t know…that maybe back in the 1970s or 80s there was a huge earthquake in Nicaragua that like killed a ton of people because a volcano exploded. And like it had huge sinkholes…like a bunch of sinkholes in the country. So people would fall into the sinkholes and they were never found. So basically, my mom said that a bunch of witches were the cause of the Earthquake because it happened a day or two after Halloween…So my mom and a lot of people in the country think it was because of witches that came around the world and I guess like, Nicaragua is one of the most international spots for witches…like Santeria and Voodoo, and like all the dark magic kind of thing and they came around the world and all the negative energy that came with them from being there caused the earthquake. So they think that is the reason why a lot of people died. I mean witch thought it very common in Nicaragua….Like there is a story about the president’s wife, Rosario Murillo, because they think that she is a witch.

So the president has been the president for maybe like four terms, like he did two terms before, than there were other presidents, then he became the president again. I mean he changed the constitution of Nicaragua was to say that you can have unlimited terms so basically like a dictatorship…like a communist country. They say that the reason how is life is because of his wife. Because his wife has a really strong influence over him, like, she is a super intelligent woman, like she studied in Switzerland at this boarding school…and she speaks like twelve languages. And she knows a lot of people in the world, like diplomats, really powerful people. They think she is a witch, because the way the country is set up. For example, there is a Christmas tree in the middle of the capital that is there all year round and it is always lit up, and its like, its really weird. When I went there I was like what the hell. Why is there a Christmas tree in the middle of summer? And it’s even more insane during Christmas time…like everyone think she is really weird and brainwashes her husband. Like during, presidential meetings that are broadcasted she is always speaking, or speaking over him, or even cutting him off, and it is just weird because even though he is the president. In Latin America, even though woman are equal they still have that role of being submissive, so the fact that she is controlling the president that is kind of a big deal. And everyone think that she is crazy and that she casted a spell on her husband to make him do whatever she wants, so she is really the one controlling the country. And, like whenever something goes wrong she is the one that gives the public speech. I don’t know…she even dresses really weird. She looks like a witch with her dress and long skirts mismatched, and her creepy hands…and her facial structure, hollow bone cheeks, big nose, her eyes even look scary, her evil face! Like she’s a witch! Everyone is afraid of her because they think she is going to cast a spell on them!”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Kamilah and her mother have always been spiritual people. The belief in witches, demons, and angels is strong to Kamilah’s mother however, it is even more so in her home country—Nicaragua. While Kamilah did not particularly believe in witches as her roots from Nicaragua do, the case with Rosario Murillo, really made Kamilah a strong believer in them.

Context of the Performance: Talking about the Dictator’s wife and strange occurrences; speeches, Rosario Murillo, makes in accordance to presidency issues.

Thoughts about the piece: Interviewing Kamilah Lopez was one of my favorite interviews thus far. I had never met someone with such an interesting story about witches and them causing natural occurrences, which was very thought provoking to me. This legend is incredibly remarkable especially because it is one of the legends that made Kamilah believe in witches.

To begin with, the witches’ causing an Earthquake was a collisions of two oppositions: witches and a natural disaster (Earthquake), which fits the category of a legend perfectly: it is something that can happen in the real world (Nicaragua). Kamilah had mentioned that Nicaragua was still in an old-world type mind-set. Which is fascinating considering that the people of Nicaragua, including Kamilah’s mother, believe that the witches caused an Earthquake that killed hundreds of people. It is noteworthy, that the people of Nicaragua have an old-mind set, because it was a mind-set that came before “science” was established, thus, a natural disaster, which ended up killing hundreds of people, could be contributed to “witchcraft.” However, I wonder what could be said about the Earthquake if it had not killed as many people, but still followed days after Halloween.

Furthermore, it is also important to note that Voodoo and Santeria—which Kamilah had mentioned that the negative energy from the meeting of witches caused on Halloween the Earthquake—are, indeed, attributed to negative attributes, which these qualities mostly revolve around death. As noted by Kamilah and her mother, Nicaragua is a center ground for such witchcraft practices, thus, the people of Nicaragua attributing the deaths from the earthquake to Voodoo and Santeria is correlated with the background of the two practices and the mind-set of the people makes perfect sense. Additionally, Santeria is associated with paganism, which correlates with the Christmas tree mentioned by Kamilah that Rosario Murillo keeps all year long. Hence, the people of Nicaragua believing that Murillo is a witch, creates an eerie parallel between Murillo and Santeria. For more information on Voodoo and Santeria please see Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism by Lilith Dorsey.1

Moreover, the people of Nicaragua creating a comparison to the devastating Earthquake and Murillo being a witch is not only eerie but thought provoking. It brings into the common question of the personification of witches being attributed to the masses fearing a person—particularly a woman. Because Murillo has such influence in not only Nicaragua and over her husband, but the world because of her connections, people fear her and her capabilities. Especially because of the established quasi dictatorship in Nicaragua, people start to question what she can really do and the negative affects she can bring—for a prime example the earthquake that killed hundreds of people. Additionally, there is also the stereotype of having physical characteristics that makes one look like a witch. As Kamilah had mentioned: “and her facial structure, hollow bone cheeks, big nose, her eyes even look scary, her evil face! Like she’s a witch,” thus, the stereotypical dress and physical appearance of a witch becomes prominent in the people’s belief of why Murillo is a witch. For more information on Rosario Murillo, please see Dictator’s Handbook by Randall Wood and Carmine DeLuca.2

In conclusion, it is not so hard to see why the people of Nicaragua believe in witchcraft and why Murillo could be a possible witch. Because of the association with Santeria and Voodoo, the negative affects the country has been experiencing can all be contributed to their belief in witchcraft along with the fear of Murillo.

1 Dorsey, Lilith. Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism. New York: Citadel, 2005. Print.

2 Wood, Randall, and Carmine DeLuca. The Dictator’s Handbook. Place of Publication Not Identified: Gull Pond, 2012. Print.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Protection

The Devil’s Curse in Guam

Original Script: “Okay so this is crazy…but basically my friends dad is in the marines, and he is usually based in Guam or San Diego like at the Marine base. So, she was born in San Diego and lived their the majority of her life, when her dad would be deported she would stay with her grandparents. Anyway, while in Guam, her dad would go to bars with his friends when they had some time off… Well one night they were bored…or something, so they all went to someone’s house and there was a Ouija board and they started playing with it. And they were all drunk too so that made it worse. So, they asked a couple of questions and actually did work, so they got freaked out and wanted to get rid of it and they ended up throwing it away. But the friend had gotten the board from someone that lived there. Like the Island is still an old world nation so they still have a lot of old cultural things and they believe in demons attaching themselves to a living person. A couple days later he found it under his bed and thought, ‘who the hell is playing tricks on me it must of been one of my friends or whatever.’ So he went to throw it in a dumpster far away from where he lived because it still freaked him out a little bit and so nobody could find it and put it under his bead again. However, a couple of days later he found it under his AGAIN, and he was like, “No this is bullshit,” so he burned the Ouija board because he didn’t want to mess with it anymore. A couple days later, he found it under the bed, AGAIN. It literally unburned, like how the hell does that happen? And he got so freaked out he went to priest, the priest had to keep in the church because the Ouija board was possessed and had to close the portal that created the bridge between the spirit world and the living—so spirits and demons couldn’t come into where they were living. The priest had to go to all of the people who participated in the Ouija board and had to bless where they were all living. However, I don’t know if it worked because at her house she was possessed, like I’m not friends with her anymore because she acted that way…like her family is haunted, cursed! I would never mess with a Ouija board, that stuff brings in bad shit.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Kamilah and her mother have always been spiritual people. The belief in witches, demons, and angels is strong to Kamilah’s mother however, it is even more so in her home country—Nicaragua. Kamilah has always believed that spirits and demons haunt Ouija board and had repeated multiple times that she would never participate in the practice of the Ouija board in fear of letting a devil haunt her and her family.

Context of the Performance: Ouija board usage in Guam

Thoughts about the piece: As a firm believer in never using a Ouija board, I have to say this story chilled me to the core. The legend of the demons in Guam is an interesting one. In this account of a Ouija board, the unexplainable—like the board ending up under the father’s bed and the board being mysteriously unburned—becomes prominent. This legend shows the prominent cultural influence of Guam and their old-world mindset. It also shows their belief in the demons and spirits not only attaching themselves to a Ouija board but also these entities attaching themselves to the living.

However, what fascinated me the most was the extent of the curse of the Ouija board. This curse of the girl’s father, travelled over seas to San Diego, where inevitably the whole family ended up being affected. Even though Kamilah was not a first account of the story happening in Guam, she was the first account of how the curse had affected the entire family, to the extend where it terrified her so badly that she had to cut ties with them. I believe this example of the legend of the Ouija board is relative to not only the Guam culture, but also the American culture. Even though, the people of Guam were terrified of the Ouija board, for example the priest having to lock it up in the church so that he could seal it properly, it also shows how an American, Kamilah, even I, were chilled by the story of the board. Perhaps, it is because of the unknown that scares us, but the aftermath experienced by Kamilah was what led her to believe that the family was cursed. Nevertheless, I do wonder who gave the father’s friend the board, for if the people of Guam were so afraid of them, was it considered an act of revenge to give the board to someone else? Nonetheless, this story demonstrates how legends can transcend upon different cultures, affecting them the same way—instilling a feeling so powerful that it influences people—in this case the feeling was fear.

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