USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk Beliefs
Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

Right Foot First – An Ice Skating Superstition and Ritual

The following informant is a 22-year-old student who competed in ice skating throughout her childhood and well into her teenage years and continues to ice skate recreationally now. She is describing a common superstition she and some of her teammates have. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: One superstition that I have always had when I used to ice skate was that I always used to put my right skate on and tie up the laces before putting on my left skate. I made sure I always did that.

K: What would happen if you put your left skate on first?

S: I just had this belief that if I put my left skate on first, then I would not have as good of a skate, or I would mess up and risk hurting myself. I always thought oh my god you have to put your right skate on first

K: Were you the only one to have this superstition or did your teammates also share it?

S: I’m not sure if other people shared my superstition specifically, but some of my other teammates had similar superstitions. Like my friend J, when she steps on to the ice, she always puts her right foot down first and never the left first for the same reason I put my skates on right first. I, and a lot of the other girls, also followed her superstition as well. Which is probably where I got my superstition about skates.

K: Would you only do this before a competition or anytime you put on skates and stepped on to the ice?

S: Oh, every time I put on skates and went on the ice. I’ve been doing it for years now that I don’t have to worry about accidently putting my left skate on first because I have trained myself to always put my right skate on first and step with my right foot first.

S: One more thing, I am not sure why my superstition has to do with the right-side, maybe it’s because I’m right handed… but that doesn’t really make sense because my friend J is left handed… I honestly don’t know

Context:

This conversation took place at a café one evening. The informant brought up superstitions and I asked if she would like to participate in the folklore collection project. The conversation was recorded and transcribed. Although she only acts out the ritual when she ice-skates.

Thoughts:

I find her superstition about always doing things on the right side first very fascinating, along with her reasoning, that she later disagrees with. But maybe she is not wrong, It seems pretty obvious that if you are right-hand dominant that you would consider your right side to bring good luck and your left side to bring bad luck. But how would this explain her friend. Or maybe in our everyday life we tend to go from right to left, like reading English, her first language, you always read right to left, reading left to right just would not make sense.

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.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Fruits of the New Year

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (CS) and I (ZM).

ZM: Okay so, when I was at your house, you have grapes? over the…

CS: Mhm

ZM: What are those about?

CS: So um, it’s like a, I think it’s an Asian thing, it might just be a Filipino thing, but it’s like um…At the beginning of every year, fruits are like symbols of like Mother Mary and her bearing the fruit of Jesus. So, it’s sort of to bring good luck. So, you always have like before the new year comes in, in every, like, living space, you have to have a bowl of twelve fruits. So, in the kitchen, in the living room, you have to have a big bowl of twelve fruits. Twelve different fruits.

ZM: Why twelve?

CS: Each month of the year.

ZM: Okay.

CS: And then above each entry into a room you have to do twelve grapes to symbolize like the same thing. So like, it’s supposed to bring you like good wealth and good luck into the new year and it’s like a symbol of Mother Mary and like how she was blessed because she was gifted with like the fruit of the womb of Jesus or whatever.

ZM: That’s cool.

CS: Yeah. So my mom always has to go out and buy like twelve different fruits. It’s a struggle.

ZM: Yeah, how do you get twelve different fruits.

CS: We have grapefruits in the backyard, lemons in the backyard. Sometimes if she can’t find more, she cheats and she gets avocados. (laughs) It’s always like melons, like she’ll get a watermelon, a cantaloupe, and a honeydew. And then like, apples, peaches, and then the ones in our backyard, and then like, if she’s really tryin’ it she’ll like get a lime and a lemon.

ZM: Do you leave the fruit up all year?

CS: Yes! And it gets DIsgusting. Absolutely gross. Like one time, the grapes started falling on the one over, like going outside to the patio thing, like, the atrium, back there. We have one over there, and I was like “The grapes are falling. Like, you need to fix it.” My mom grabbed saran wrap, and then she like (laughs) she like made a saran wrap bag and then pinned it there and then when I was taking them down towards like… You usually change everything towards like, Thanksgiving/Christmas. So you don’t do it like right before the new year. You like start preparing for the new year around like, after Thanksgiving, like before Christmas. As we were changing them, I took down the bag and it’s like MOLDY, cause like usually they’re just out in the air. So it’s like, they just turn into raisins, but like this one had a bag because she was keeping all of the ones that fell and it was literally wet and moldy and it was like green and white mold, and I almost vomited, and I was like “This needs to never happen again.” Yeah you keep it the WHOLE year. If it falls down you HAVE to keep it up there somehow.

 

Context:Over the weekend I visited CS at her home and noticed fruit hanging from the doorways. A few days later I asked her about them and this conversation was recorded then.

 

Background: The performer is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is first generation American and her parents came from the Philippines. They are Roman Catholic.

 

Analysis:I thought this was a very interesting tradition. I have heard of fruit being a sign of fertility, but mostly in spring, but this tradition takes place around the new year.

 

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Humor

Family Storytelling Tradition

Main Piece

“If you’re in the middle of telling a story and someone drops something, someone sneezes, anything like that, then you say “the truth” because the universe was conspiring to have that thing happen in order to tell you that that thing that was about to be said is the truth.”

Background

Informant Details

Nationality: Italian–American

Location: Staten Island

Language: English

The informant enjoys this tradition because it reminds her of her family and fun family gatherings. To them, it is a reminder of the influence of chance on everyday experiences, like telling a story. The informant learned the piece from their family, and only engages in the tradition when around her family.

Context

The piece is only performed during family gatherings. All members of the informant’s family are from Staten Island, New York.

Notes

I have never heard of a family tradition like this before, and I find it to be very interesting. It seems to me that it has potential to create rather comedic situations if the thing being said is intended to be a joke or is sarcastic, such as “You know me, I am the dumb sibling.”

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Musical

Prayers (Grace) at a Catholic Retreat Center

Main Piece

“We do a lot of singing because it’s like…centered a lot around kids, preteens, mostly that and younger. When we do graces before meals, we have them to the tune of things, like spongebob and we will rock you and stuff. The Edelweiss one is traditionally the for first meal of the retreat and the last meal of the retreat and they’ve been doing it for so long, little kids know it but also much much older people [know it].”

The following is the grace, which is sung to the tune of Edelweiss from the film The Sound of Music:

“Bless our homes, bless our friends, come o lord and sit with us, make our hearts, grow in peace, bring your love to surround us, friendship and peace may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever, bless our homes, bless our friends, bless our families together”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Long Island, New York

Language: English

The following is a quote from the informant, which I believe demonstrates her feelings about the grace and the general experience at the camp.

“[When you hear the grace] You know you’re there, and you’re around people who are so loving and so warm…no responsibilities except to care about yourself and your family, but you know it’s sad because you’re about to leave.”

The informant, upon singing the grace to me, began reminiscing about her time at the retreat center. She certainly looked upon it fondly. On the importance of the grace to the retreat center:

“It’s on one of the walls in the dining hall, one copy written in sharpie and another really old cross stitch…hand stitched on a thing. The other graces are on signs but that one’s [the Edelweiss grace] obviously a permanent installment.”

Context

The grace is sung at a Catholic family retreat center in Kate May, New Jersey, which the informant attended once per year. However, someone else in the room during my interview with the informant actually knew the song, despite not having attended the same retreat center.

Notes

The influence of secular media on religious life is not really something I had previously considered, but such an influence is clearly possible and relevant. Some of the young children who learn the grace might not ever have seen The Sound of Music and yet they will learn a song from it, albeit with different lyrics. For comparison, I know there is a grace called “The Superman Grace,” which is also an example of of secular media influencing religious life.

 

Folk Beliefs
Magic

The Virgin Mary and Weather

Main Piece

Religious tradition

“I heard about it when i was in like 4th grade and we wanted our field trip to the Bronx Zoo to not have bad weather. My 4th grade teacher told us about this thing…where you put the Virgin Mary statue facing out in a window. Supposedly it makes…like…good weather, for the next day or something.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Long Island, New York

Language: English

The informant doesn’t think that the practice actually has an effect, but she thinks you should continue doing it as a “trope.” The informant is deeply religious; she said that she believes that, if God wants it to rain, it will rain regardless of anyone’s actions. The informant has never had a Mary statue but has been given them as gifts, she just never kept them or used them. The informant said that she doesn’t feel as strongly as other people do about Mary.

Context

The informant attended a coeducational Catholic school where she learned of the practice.

Notes

The conflict of institutional and non–institutional religious beliefs is an interesting contention. Folk practices such as this are indicative of the importance that people place on different religious figures, like the Virgin Mary, who are perhaps underemphasized by the church. Furthermore, the informant learned the practice from a teacher, but not from the institution itself, which is an interesting distinction to make. When is one acting as part of their employing institution, and when is one not?

 

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I began by simply asking, “What do you know about astrology?”

The informant first heard about astrology around the age of 6 or 7, when her family told her about the Chinese Zodiac signs.
Informant: “Astrology? Umm, you mean, like… star signs and stuff? Um… base level, a bit. Like, know, I know there’s like twelve signs and all that, and… um… I d- I don’t know what, what I would say. I know a little bit… The twelve signs, there’s, like, personalities assigned to each of them, and…”

Interviewer: “Do you know those?”

Informant: “All twelve?”

Interviewer: “Any of them.”

Informant: “Uh, Pisces, Aries… Aquarius…”

Interviewer: “Do you know the traits associated with any of them?”

Informant: “Uhh, like, Pisces is a dreamer, super, no super emotional. Cancer is also super emotional. Aries is, like, the, ‘Yeah! I’m awesome!’ self-confident sort of person. Um… Libra is a balanced person… [smacks lips, thinking] Mmm…………. I don’t, [sighs] I feel like I’m going to get Leo wrong. Le- I, I think Leo’s also another very self… not self-important, but, like, self-inflated one. They’re like… ‘Me first, I’m awesome. Let me be courageous and help.’ Um……………… [Quietly, in thought] Yeah Cancer’s super emotional, just like, ‘Ha! I’m here.’….. Yeah I don’t know a lot about all of them, I just know that they exist and there’s a connection between them all [laughs].”

Interviewer: “Do you know what your star sign is?”

Informant: “[Quickly, excited] Uh Pisces!”

Interviewer: “Do you know anything else about it? What it means? How you get it?”

Informant: “Mmmm… It’s- I know you, you- It’s assigned based on the months. Like approximately one per month, but it’s actually shifted over a little bit. I can’t remember if it’s forward or back, like… M- It’s February 28th to March 18th for Pisces, I think, and it’s the last one, so accordingly, Aries would be after that. Umm……. I don’t remember where it originated; I used to know. I used to be a lot more into this stuff [laughs]. Uhhh…….”

Interviewer: “When did you first hear about it? Why did you used to be into it, and not anymore?”

Informant: “It was a middle school thing, I was very, like… I was at that sorta phase where I was like, ‘Ooh let me just get on Google and research a bunch of stuff.’ I did a lot of weird stuff like Googling – specifically the stars. A lot of, like, research on black holes and… that led to astrology cause astronomy is connected to it.”
This informant knows only a little about astrology, but like others, knows about her own star sign. Like some others, she connects astrology to the Chinese Zodiacs.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I began by simply asking, “What do you know about astrology?”

The informant first heard about astrology around the age of 7, most likely from his parents when he became curious about star signs.
Informant: “Um….. Well… I personally don’t believe in it. I do know it uses, like, uh, you know, the idea is that if you look at the stars, you can predict what’s going to happen in the future, and that, you know, it’s like a combination of the positioning of the stars and the various star signs and that kind of thing, and then the alignment of the planets and that kind of thing. And you use that to predict other things, like, depending on what month you were born in, for, like, whatever your star sign is, it changes what the meanings are, and, you know, generally, generally, you know, like… like… like with a lot of, like, that kind of stuff it’s just very, very broad statements that you can sort of apply to anything, which means that you always feel like confirmation bias-wise that, um, you know, whatever you’re being told is correct.”

Interviewer: “Do you know what your star sign is?”

Informant: “I’m born in November… and I’ve always forgotten whether I was Sagittarius or if I was something else. I don’t remember, but…”

Interviewer: “Do you know what the traits for each sign are?”

Informant: “No idea… [Sudden realization] I was born in the year of the ra- no was I born in the year of the rat? I think I was born in the year of the rat… But I’ve forgotten what that means as well.”
This informant does not know much about astrology; He is not even sure what his sign is. His understanding is that it is mainly used to predict the future. He also, like some others, connect astrology to the Chinese Zodiac.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I began by simply asking, “What do you know about astrology?”

The informant first heard about astrology from his teachers when he was in elementary school, around 6 years old.
Informant: “Ummm, I’m trying to make sure I don’t get it mixed up with astronomy, cause I know there’s a difference, but I don’t know exactly much about it, so… I know it’s not astronomy, right?”

Interviewer: “If I said it has to do with stars and star signs, would you know?”

Informant: “Ooooh that makes s- yeah okay, that’s… Well I know there’s like, a lot of people have the Zodiac sign thing happening? Where they’re, like, ‘Oh this is, like, I’m a Leo,’ or, ‘I’m a Sagittarius,’ or, ‘I’m a Cancer,’ and they can, like, find out where, what the constellation looks like and sometimes it relates back to, like, the calendar, like, kinda like personal, like, type that you are and what you’re about.”

Interviewer: “Do you know what your sign is?”

Informant: “I am a Leo.”

Interviewer: “Do you know what traits match up to each sign?”

Informant: “Not really. Like I think there’s some kind of, like, confidence or leader thing to it? But I don’t take that seriously. Mmmmm… Somebody said Leo’s don’t get along with other Leo’s, and that’s all I got.”
This informant does not know much about astrology, but does know his star sign, as well as some of that sign’s traits. He, like some others, somewhat connects astrology to the Chinese Zodiac, but he is adamant that it is different from astronomy.

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic

Psychic Abilities

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I originally asked the informant about his experience with ghosts, or the supernatural, but the conversation quickly shifted when he mentioned that his great grandmother was apparently a psychic.

The informant has deep Jewish roots, with ancestors having fled from Germany during World War II, and has a deep interest in the paranormal, and other odd subjects.
Informant: “I have never seen a ghost. Um… I have heard stories of people who have seen ghosts, and my family maintains that my great grandmother was a psychic.”

Interviewer: “Your great grandmother was a psychic?!”

Informant: “Yes.”

Interviewer: “What can you tell me about that?”

Informant: “Um, so there – we have two stories. Um, so my great grandmother was a holocaust survivor, and the story goes that, um, they – she and my great grandfather, who I’m named after – lived in Berlin for a long time. Um, like, as things were getting worse. Um, but before it was immediately obvious that every Jew in Germany’s life was in imminent danger. But my grandmother had a dream, and she told my great grandfather, ‘We need to get out of Germany now.’ Um, and so they go – like it wasn’t, it still wasn’t easy for Jews to get out of Germany at that time, and there’s a follow up story that is not supernatural about them getting out of Germany, but that’s the first one. And then the second one, um, is someone in my family was going through a particularly painful birth, and, um… and she had – she heard her grandfather’s voice in her head saying, ‘All will be well. Do not worry.’ Um, and the bir- and after that, like almost immediately after she started screaming that she heard her grandfather’s voice, the birth started going better and the next morning, they got a call from the funeral worker, er, from the cemetery worker that her grandfather was buried saying that the tombstone was cracked.”

Interviewer: “Wow. And so do you believe that she was psy-”

Informant: “[Said immediately and with a lot of conviction, interrupting me] Yes.”

Interviewer: “Okay, do you have anything else to add about that?”

Informant: “Um, I mean [laughs] the only reason I think she’s psychic is cause I also sometimes have weird dreams that are either deja vu or the future [laughs]. Um, like, I think the best example of that is when I was in fourth grade, the night before we got assigned to our reading groups, I had a dream that accurately called [laughing] which students would get put into which reading groups. And I just maintained, ‘Oh, that’s weird. I don’t know what to do with that [laughs].’”

Interviewer: “Has anything else like that happened?”

Informant: “Um, a couple times, but they’re all harder to remember than that, because that one was just, that was the first time it happened to me, like, every so often, I’ll, like, I’ll run into something and I’ll remember, ‘Oh wow that, I’ve seen that before.’”

Interviewer: “Is it kind of like, ‘Oh I’ve seen that in a dream,’ or…”

Informant: “[Adamant, perhaps defensively] No, it’s like I know I saw that. Like it’s a definitive, ‘I’m, like, remembering a series, like, a really specific series of events that I had already seen hap,’ like, cause I could – When it happens I could almost always pinpoint when I remember seeing it, but, like, I don’t know?”

Interviewer: “But you can’t think of it in advance?”

Informant: “No… I feel like it’s prob – if if if it is anything, and I don’t know if it’s anything, it’s probably a That’s So Raven-type deal [An older Disney Channel show about a girl - Raven - who has visions of the future] where the thinking about it is what causes it to happen?”

Interviewer: “Was the fourth grade thing something that you dreamed about and then remembered later when it happened, or… ?”

Informant: “I remember, so I remember having the dr- so I had the dream, and in the morning I talked to my family about the dream, then went to school and it happened. That one, that’s like, that’s the why that one stuck out to me, cause I remember, like, there distinctly being a dream, a conversation about the dream, and then the events unfolding. Yeah that one, that one’s wild.”
I have met multiple people in the past who claim that they are somewhat psychic, yet their “psychic” moments sound exactly like deja vu, a phenomenon that almost everyone, myself included, experience. The informant seems to be one of these people who thinks these to be physic moments, though he won’t claim anything as truth. However, his case of him having a dream, describing that dream to his family, then it occuring is indeed an odd coincidence, if it is just a coincidence. I cannot say whether he is psychic or not, but including the incidents with his great grandmother, psychic abilities may be hereditary, if they exist.

[geolocation]