USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk Beliefs
Folk Beliefs
Narrative
Signs

Time Myth

 

Informant:

Brandon grew up in Saccremento California to a practicing Jewish family. He is an only child and works as a financial advisor at a back in New York City.

Original script:My father always used to say that if you are in a group or someplace where people are talking and everyone goes quite at once and you look at your watch it will be 20 past the hour.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: The informant has a strained relationship with his parents. It’s interesting to me that his father uses this time related myth as a way of explaining lulls in conversation.

Context of the Performance: When there is a lull in the conversation.

Thoughts about the piece: I had never heard this before but it is a good way to break the awkwardness in social situations. Like a lot of tales, proverbs, and other folkloric things it helps people in social situations.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Descarnada

-La Descarnada (El Salvador)

Original script: “my grandfathers friend had a chilling experience with a beautiful and sensual woman who appeared in the desolate roads asking for a ride. When he asked where she was headed she said a few kilometers. Then she got in the car and began to touch and kiss him then something dreadful happened; the skin from her body fell off! He was found in a total state of confusion and a lot of people said La Descarnada is a bad spirit of a bad witch.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Her grandfather believes the woman to be the witch “La Descarnada”

Thoughts about the piece: A lot of the Myths and tales from this area of the world seem to center around women and the evil behind there seductive powers. Perhaps they serve as tales of caution not to mess around with lose women or maybe deep down they express a fear of women.

 

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.

general
Protection

Workplace Tradition

Subject: Event Planner Traditions (Workplace)

Abby:

Original script: “We always carry an emergency case with us, literally think like a magicians magic hat. We have EVERYTHING in it, from shampoo to protein bars, and it is only in a little clutch! It has saved our lives a dozen of times! And we use it for everyone! The brides, the clients, us, the vendors, it does come in handy. In fact I don’t know an event planner that doesn’t carry one of these kits with her. “

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Abby says “I have been working with an event planning company for a couple of months and love it. I can say throughout these moths these emergency kits have come in handy DOZENS of time. They are literally the best things ever. “

Context of the Performance: The Emergency kit it used during wedding celebrations.

Thoughts about the piece: The wedding kit is a piece of occupation folklore that no one outside of the wedding planning business would be aware of. Because of Abby’s work ethic, and because she works for a professional company, the wedding kit is essential knowledge and an essential tool for preforming the job correctly and avoiding any major disasters.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Magic
Protection

Mashallah

Informant :

Haifa grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to a progressive family. She is a Professor at the King Saud University in Riyadh and considers 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:                                                                                                                 

ما شاء الله

Phonetic (Roman) script: Mahsallah

Transliteration: Mashallah

Full translation: As god wills.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Mashshallah is said to ward off any bad or evil eye from things. When you say something is nice like “you have nice hair” you have to say mashallah after it of you may unintentionally give someone the evil eye. My mother still yells at me if I don’t say mashallah after I say something nice and will even tell strangers to say mashallah if they are complementary or her kids.

Context of the Performance: Said to ward off the evil eye from a person, home or object and used throughout the Arabic speaking world.

Thoughts about the piece: Like a lot of traditional Arabic saying and myths this blends superstition with religion (Islam). While the saying involved the belief that only god can make something happen, it still is used to ward off evil created by humans.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs

Shoes always facing outward

My informant is a student who was originally from China but came to study in US since high school.

“There is one habit that I’m still afraid to break even now, which is to place my shoes facing inward to my bed. People in my country, well, maybe mostly in my family, that if you let you shoes facing inward, it’s like welcoming the ghosts to wear on your shoes and step onto you at night. Well, I don’t really believe in it that much, but I would still avoid doing that anyway haha.”

I think it’s very interesting that sometimes even though people don’t really believe in the reason behind certain behavior, they still make the decision to do that anyway. It could be a inner fear of those ambiguous things, like “what if they really happen? it’s always better to be safe.”

 

Childhood
Customs
Festival
Homeopathic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Red pocket money under pillow

My informant is a student who was originally from China but came to study in US since high school.

“You know, red pocket money is one of the biggest tradition during Spring Festival in China. But in my family, not only we get red pocket money from people much older than us, we also put them under our pillow at night. It’s like really coordinating with the word “压”(push down) in “压(push down)岁(age)钱(money)” (red pocket money). And my grandparents would also put ivy leaves inside there, just for good luck.”

“I know they are many superstitions from Chinese family, especially my family haha. But we still do that, I don’t think the truth matters that much in this case, I like these traditions.”

I think it’s really interesting that in both asian and western culture we have this kind of gift thing for kids during important festivals. Hoping for good luck with ivy leaves inside red pocket money that placed under their pillow to Chinese children, waiting for christmas gift to be put inside the christmas sock for western children, they both serve as a good method to give them hope and believes; as well as for better sleeping quality since they all happen during bed time.

 

Folk Beliefs
Foodways

Soul Food

My informant is an African-American from Dallas, Texas.

“We have soul food. I think only African-American have this term to use on food. Sometimes they’re not healthy, but we love them. Other people could make those food with same names, but I like the ones we made with special recipe. like those macaroni with cheese, creamed corn…they’re very different from what we have at school dining halls. My grandma always makes them for me during holiday. But I can’t cook haha.”

I think this is a really sweet and proud thing that black people have their own favorite recipes on certain food that have been handing down for generations, which could also become a pretty identical thing for each family.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Material
Protection

Kitchen Witches

My informant is an American from Minnesota, who has ancestors from Czech republic and Sweden, back to 1880.

“The other thing that Sweden has, we have the kitchen witches. So hang a witch in the kitchen and they protect the kitchen. I still have kitchen witches, I have several.  It’s like a little figurative witch on a broom, but they go in the kitchen, they’re called kitchen witches. They protect the food in the kitchen. So it’s a very Scandinavian sort of thing. It may have different looks in each family, but it has to be a witch, and you hang it in a kitchen. It keeps you up from messing up your kitchen.”

She is very proud of this specific object that they keep in Sweden culture, even though she has been immigrated to US for a long time. I think it’s very lovely that in many Scandinavian cultures they believe in magic and magical creatures, and sometimes they really work when you believe in them. In this case if you do believe in the kitchen witches can protect you from messing up your kitchen, and hang them there, you may really become more cautious while cooking.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic

Chopstick in rice bowl

My informant is a student who was originally from China but came to study in US since high school.

“In China we are not allowed to place our chopsticks perpendicularly into rice bowl while eating. It is very inappropriate to do that there, because it would look like you are worshiping dead people.”

This is a common habit that parents always forbid their kids to do on the dining table since their very young age from decades to decades. My informant says that she still keeps that rule in mind every time she eats with chopsticks now, even though she no longer thinks about the reason behind it anymore.

It is quite interesting to me that there are many homeopathic folk beliefs like this in Chinese customs, which I think more or less relates to their hieroglyphic language that allows them to randomly connect two things that share similar features together.

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