USC Digital Folklore Archives / Contagious
Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic

Race-day Rituals

Informant Info: The informant is a 22-year-old male who was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and comes from a Catholic family. He currently is a senior at USC and is very into half-marathon and marathon racing.

 

Interview Transcript:

 

Interviewer: I know you run a lot of races pretty often. Do you have any pre-race rituals or lucky items you contribute to your success?

 

Interviewee: Before my very first race I made a pesto pasta, with broccoli, onions, and peppers the night before. In the morning I always had a small bowl oatmeal a cup of coffee, and like 3 Glasses of water. I did really, really good, so I consider it my lucky meal and make it before every single race I run, and only before races. And I always wear the same socks when run my race and I only wear them when I race. Ummm….And what else?

 

Interviewer: Why would you contribute is like a lucky meal or socks.

 

Interviewee: I would say the socks… well I would say the meal is one that’s like where I feel like…decent. And then…. But all of them were like I just I want to kind of keep it… because a lot of changes and… No matter what changes in my life, whether I change my race, or I get a different this or that or whatever I want to keep some things the same and the meal is something I enjoy it and it makes me feel good and also, I’m like I did well the first time I did it. I did really well uhh or had like a good race and so after that I was like I don’t really want to change it or kinda looked back at my what I did, and I was like: What do I want to keep, what I want to change, and I decided I wanted to keep the meal. Ummm…and, so I would say really well, and I was like I’m going to keep this and hopefully somehow it contributes. And for the socks, they’ve been the same pair of socks that I’ve worn every time I set a PR. And whenever I don’t wear them, I seem to do worse. So better safe than sorry, you know?

 

Analysis:

In folklore, this idea of a “lucky item” can be fit into the genre of superstitions/folk beliefs. There is no way to prove that it’s the meal or socks that actually help him in his races, but to him, they consistently do. The informant mentions this himself by stating that he considers them as his lucky meal and lucky socks because he has done well every time. By doing so, he doesn’t explicitly call them lucky, but rather he seems afraid to risk changing them and not having the same performance. It could be a simple coincidence that his lucky socks just so happened to be the one’s he was wearing when he set his PR’s, but it could be further analyzed by seeing if the socks have better cushioning or compression that help him maintain his speed. In this particular case, the belief in luck seems minimalistic.

 

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Magic

Mexican “Gaze” Superstition

Leah Perez studies Latin American History at the University of Southern California. She was born in Gardena, California and moved to Torrance, California once she began school. Her parents are both Hispanic; her father is Puerto Rican and Mexican, and her mother is Mexican. Leah’s entire extended family speaks Spanish, and while Leah grew up speaking English, she has gained some fluency in Spanish by communicating with her relatives. Her immediate family observes Mexican traditions and has imparted many of these values to Leah and her siblings. In the excerpt below, Leah describes some Mexican superstitions regarding babies:

Leah: “Something that’s weird… I don’t know if it’s a Mexican thing, or if its just my family… but, you aren’t supposed to look at a baby while its sleeping, because it takes their beauty away apparently.”

Isabella: “Does this apply only to newborns?”

Leah: “Just like a sleeping child… maybe until they’re like, a toddler. So you can look at them, but not for a prolonged period, I guess. So, a quick glance is okay… like, to make sure they’re still breathing.”

The superstition Leah describes here is unique in that it violates normal parenting techniques. One might expect a new parent to observe their newborn as they sleep, so as to ensure that they are breathing properly, or to simply look at them in appreciation of their beauty.

The superstition also reveals some values; it emphasizes the importance of beauty and warns against any action (i.e. gazing at the baby for too long) that could compromise a child’s appearance. In a society that disregards outward appearance, one would not expect to find a superstition like the one Leah describes here.

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Russian “Foot-stomp” Tradition

Melanie Holpert studies History and Film at the University of Southern California. She is originally from Chicago, Illinois but now lives in Los Angeles, California while she attends university. Her parents are both Russian and practice Judaism—they have strong ties to Russia and are very committed to preserving their heritage. As such, Melanie’s parents and extended family imparted a number of Russian traditions to her and her older sister. Of these, Melanie most vividly remembers the superstitions. Below, she recounts one of the conversion rituals she learned as a child:

Melanie: “Well, I’m Russian… and especially Russians Jews are like this… if somebody steps on my foot, well if its in a big crowd I won’t do this… but I have to step on them with the same foot that they stepped on me with.”

Isabella: “What happens if you don’t reciprocate the gesture?”

Melanie: “I have no idea. Nobody really knows, but it’s supposed to be bad luck.”

Here, Melanie describes a conversion ritual that is supposed to preemptively prevent bad luck. Though Melanie admits to not understanding why she practices this tradition, she practices it nevertheless and feels uneasy if she does not reciprocate the gesture.  There is often an inexplicable quality to superstitions and this conversion ritual typifies that aspect of them.

This particular conversion ritual is interesting because it has the potential to evoke poor reactions from people that are unfamiliar with it. One might be upset if their foot is stomped on, simply because they made a mistake and stepped one someone else’s foot. Unlike other conversion rituals, this one demands participation from both parties involved.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic

Russian Whistling Superstition

Melanie Holpert studies History and Film at the University of Southern California. She is originally from Chicago, Illinois but now lives in Los Angeles, California for school. Her parents are both Russian and practice Judaism—they have strong ties to Russia and are very committed to preserving their heritage. As such, Melanie’s parents and extended family imparted a number of Russian traditions to her and her older sister. Of these, Melanie most vividly remembers the superstitions. Below, she recounts one of the superstitions she observed while growing up:

Melanie: “You can’t whistle indoors because it’s considered bad luck.”

Isabella: “Why is that?”

Melanie: “I’m not entirely sure, but I was always yelled at if I whistled while I was inside. There wasn’t any kind of remedy if I did whistle inside, but I was warned not to do it again.”

Here, Melanie describes a superstition that she does not entirely understand. This inexplicable quality underlies many superstitious beliefs; most practitioners do not understand why they observe specific superstitions, but they do so nevertheless just “to be safe.”

In the transcript, Melanie also notes the absence of a conversion ritual. There was no compensatory gesture that Melanie could use if she did whistle inside; instead, she just had to endure whatever bad luck she brought upon herself.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Protection

Russian Injury Superstition

Melanie Holpert studies History and Film at the University of Southern California. She is originally from Chicago, Illinois but now lives in Los Angeles, California while she attends university. Her parents are both Russian and practice Judaism—they have strong ties to Russia and are very committed to preserving their heritage. As such, Melanie’s parents and extended family imparted a number of Russian traditions to her and her older sister as they grew up. Of these, Melanie most vividly remembers the superstitions. Below, she recounts one of the superstitions she observed while growing up:

 Melanie: “If I’m describing an injury, or like an illness to another person, I can’t show it on my own body.”

Isabella: “Why is that?”

Melanie: “They say it’s going to happen to you if you describe it using your own body. You can only describe it verbally.”

Here, Melanie describes a superstition that warns against discussing injuries. This superstition implies a great concern for physical health in Russian culture, or at least a particularly strong aversion to sickness and injury. It also suggests that Russians view injury as something that is controlled by other forces (i.e. the Gods, the universe, etc.). The superstition described above serves as a way to avoid any unnecessary injuries or sicknesses.

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Magic

Rocking an Empty Cradle: Mexican Superstition

Leah Perez studies Latin American History at the University of Southern California. She was born in Gardena, California and moved to Torrance, California at a young age. Her parents are both Hispanic; her father is Puerto Rican and Mexican, and her mother is Mexican. Leah’s entire extended family speaks Spanish, and while Leah grew up speaking English, she has gained some fluency in Spanish by communicating with her relatives. Her immediate family observes Mexican traditions and has imparted many of these values to Leah and her siblings. In the excerpt below, Leah describes a superstition that discourages expecting parents from rocking an empty cradle:

Leah: “You can’t rock an empty cradle… its bad luck.”

Isabella: “Why? What are the implications?”

Leah: “It’s just bad luck… I think like, bad luck with your child… if you haven’t given birth yet. Like, if you have a nursery that isn’t inhabited yet. It might cause complications during the pregnancy.”

This superstition provides insight into Mexican values. It suggests a degree of anxiety surrounding pregnancy; and from that, one can infer that childbirth and reproduction are important hallmarks of life. This relates to the strong Catholic influence present in many Latin American communities. Catholicism recognizes the importance of reproduction and encourages its practitioners to have children as often as possible. Many of Leah’s family members have large families, which they regard as a symbol of prosperity.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic

Lucky Bracelet

“I had this bracelet that I got from a gas station, and it had a little four-leaf clover, and for some reason – well, I was really young when I did archery, like 10 – I was like, ‘This is good luck, and if I ever don’t compete in it, then I’ll lose,’ and, for some reason, every time before I’d shoot I’d rub it once and them pull my bow back. [The superstition] was so strong. I was like, ‘this is my good luck charm,’ but [the competitions] were small. Well, it was a state competition, but there weren’t that many archers at the time, and so I kept winning – I guess I was good at it but whatever – and I was so convinced. One day I lost it, and I was like, ‘oh my god,’ I was so stressed, and that was that.”

Background Information and Context:

“I guess I picked it up because the four-leaf clover is supposed to be lucky, but it being in the bracelet in my favorite color and being the only one at the store, it felt like fate (she said the word in a mocking tone).” As the informant said above, she bought the bracelet at a gas station while on a road trip, and the ritual of rubbing it was done while competing in archery, just before shooting. I had asked her to share another pre-competition ritual to follow up one about cheerleading that she’d shared in a prior interview.

Collector’s Note:

Athletes and competitors having tokens of good luck is certainly nothing out of the ordinary, but I found it interesting that the informant kept pointing out how illogical the idea was (e.g. by using a mocking tone or adding “for some reason”). Tokens of good luck are so interesting because the power they hold lies largely in the owner’s beliefs and personal associations with the object, and suggesting that the object is mundane can be a huge insult. It is also interesting to note how symbols travel. Although the symbolism of the four-leaf clover comes from folk tradition to which the informant does not have a personal or inherited connection, it has become something of common knowledge.

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Humor
Magic
Protection
Signs

PUTTING YOUR BUTT ON YOUR PILLOWCASE AND SLEEPING ON IT WILL MAKE YOU GROW TREES OUT OF YOUR FACE

PUTTING YOUR BUTT ON YOUR PILLOWCASE AND SLEEPING ON IT WILL MAKE YOU GROW TREES OUT OF YOUR FACE

 

Main Piece: (rough English translation)

 

Do not put your butt close or near or touching the pillow because if you do and then you sleep on it your butt is dirty so your pillow is dirty sleeping on it will make you grow trees and brances out of that side of your face that you put it on.

 

Do not do this because your pillowcase is for your face and it should be clean you don’t do dirty things to your face like that.

 

Background Information:

Why do they know this piece?

This is something that my mother and friends would tell me growing up.

 

Where/Who did they learn it from?

I learned this from my mother and my friends.

 

What does it mean for them?

Don’t put your butt on your pillow case it can be dirty. This is how some kids get pink eye.

 

Context of Performance:

Talking to mother through the phone.

 

Thoughts:

I never thought much of this – it is very comical to me and I do not put my butt on my pillowcase regardless because that’s just a dirty thing to do.

 

But what’s interesting is that there is this “tree man” in Indonesia who is famous because he has “tree/root like tumors” all over his face and skin…not sure if this is related but very eerie and interesting….lots of videos of him up on YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmVseKdB6So

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Signs

DON’T PEE IN NATURE WHILE IN BALI…YOU CAN PEE ON A SHRINE AND HAVE A CURSE ON YOUR GENITALS

DON’T PEE IN NATURE WHILE IN BALI…YOU CAN PEE ON A SHRINE AND HAVE A CURSE ON YOUR GENITALS

 

Main Piece: (rough English translation)

 

There are a lot of shrines here in the jungles/wild/forests/beaches of Bali. Sometimes you do not know whether or not a place is sacred and there are a lot of tourists or people even (natives) who would just go to a bush and pee there – but then they would pee on a sacred space, like a shrine or part of a temple and then spirits of that temple/shrine would get very mad and curse them – their genitals.

 

Their genitals (penises) would get very swollen (in a very bad way), like purple or blue, for a very long time, until they would go to a witch doctor/shaman, and do what’s necessary for them to heal.

 

Background Information:

Why do they know this piece?

It is important to know things like this when you are going through the jungle/forests/beaches/the wild because it is important to protect yourself from bad situations like this.

 

Where/Who did they learn it from?

Friends, family accounts of tourists, taxi drivers.

 

What does it mean for them?

Do not go around peeing anywhere/everywhere when you are in the jungle.

 

Context of Performance:

Talking to mother through the phone.

 

Thoughts:

My mother told me this when I was in Bali and I did not pee anywhere in the wild just to be safe. Always used a bathroom.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Myths
Protection
Signs

JINNS

JINNS

 

Main Piece:

 

Jinns are spirits. Usually they are the bad ones, or the malicious ones.

 

When your father was very young he would be able to see ghosts, all the time. He would see them when he was in the bathroom, walking around, and eventually when he was driving/riding out.

 

It would be very hard for him because sometimes, especially when he is driving he would not know whether or not this body or that is a spirit or not (that randomly appeared in the middle of the road).

 

Your father would astral project his spirit out of his body a lot, especially when your mother was in Indonesia and he was in America, and he would tell her about what she was doing, what she was wearing, the next day (due to the time differences) and he would get them right everytime.

 

I warn you not to do this a lot or at all because when you do and the spirit leaves the body momentarily a window opens and jinns or other spirits can enter your body.

 

Your father also used to go to graveyard in the middle of the night when he was a teenager and raise the spirits there to battle each other. I think he had some kind of gift over them that allowed him to control them to fight against one another.

 

Fortunately your father never saw ghosts again after your mother finally got him to convert to Christianity (baptized perhaps?).

 

Background Information:

Why do they know this piece?

Raising your father who saw ghosts all the time I would talk to him about this to help him.

 

Where/Who did they learn it from?

Parents, friends, family, this was a part of our Indonesian Culture.

 

What does it mean for them?

That these are things to watch out for and not mess around with.

 

Context of Performance:

Talking to grandmother over the phone.

 

Thoughts:

This was a bit spooky for me because I heard of these kind of stories from my mother before but finally hearing all of this from my grandmother in full detail made me uneasy.

 

There was a period after my father passed away that I constantly had sleep paralysis and some sort of hard, jutting, out of body experiences. I told this to my grandmother and it was then that she started to warn me about the dangers of “opening this window.”

 

I don’t really have these things anymore.

 

But what was really interesting was that when my father did “astral project” himself from America (while he was sleeping at night) and go visit and watch my mother when she was up and about in the daytime in Indonesia – and when he recited to her what she was doing, what she was wearing, down to the jewelry, he would always get it right everytime. This was back then before smartphones, etc, internet, etc.

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