USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk Beliefs
Folk Beliefs

The Folk Belief of Fairy Cycle/Ring

Main piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.

Informant: When my sister and I was little, my friends told us these things called Fairy Cycles. And so essentially what a a fairy cycle is this ring of mushroom that show up in the yard often after it rains outside or just been the weather is a little off. What it signifies is that there’s been a fairy there. However, there is also like a tale that if you go inside of the fairy ring and you sit in the middle of it, you will be possessed. So like if you go inside, the fairy will capture you, just do something bad.

Interviewer: So when you go into the ring, are you being blessed or possessed?

Informant: I don’t really know what it means. I was really little when I heard that and it is just like being possessed by a demon or something haha. Yea, so my sister and I were very interested in fairy and we would also built little houses out of flowers and sticks and natural materials to attract fairy or something.

Interviewer: So do you ever go inside?

Informant: No, we try not to, because apparently there are some evil power or something if you go inside haha. I honestly don’t know.

Interviewer: So do you just watch them grow?

Informant: Yea, they are just there. A lot of the time, if it rains outside, you will see a circle of mushroom under grass, like it could be like just ten or twenty. Sometimes they are bigger mushrooms, and sometimes they are little. And it is said that it is caused by fairies dancing.

Background:

My informant heard this piece from her friend when she was little. And because she and her sister were super into fairy, they were always excited when they saw fairy rings appeared. They even built flower houses to attract fairies. The story behind the fairy cycle adds fun experience to her childhood memory.

Context:

This piece was collected in a causal interview setting. My informant and I finished our class and were talking as we walked to the USC village together. We then sit in an outdoor space and collected some folklore from each other.

Thoughts:

A lot of kids are drawn to fairies. Part of the reason is that there are many fairy tales for kids to read. When thinking of fairies, they are often linked to natural settings like flowers and nature in general, which makes sense for kids to believe mushroom ring is caused by fairy dancing. Often time when talking about folk belief, there are a lot of things that people should not do. For this case specifically, kids are not supposed to sit inside the cycle but rather stay outside. However, if someone accidentally steps into fairy rings, she or he can run around the ring nine times to reverse the penalty.

For more solution to reverse the curse, please see:

Leafloor, Liz. “Do You Dare Enter a Fairy Ring? The Mythical Mushroom Portals of the Supernatural.” Ancient Origins, 28 Aug. 2018.

 

Protection

坐月子:Postpartum Confinement

Main piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.

Informant: In China, there is a big culture of “坐月子(zuo yue zi)”, literally means “sit on the month “, but just refer to like postpartum confinement, like the month after woman deliver their child. Usually it’s one month, but I think my mom did two month. Anyway it just a really big stage of your life, you know, delivering the baby, and then people in China believe that it’s a big event for the body too, so women need to aware of a lot of things for the month following delivery. For example, they should shower less. I mean if it strict, they should be showering at all, but you know in modern world, who can not shower for so long. Anyway, it’s like showering less, brush you teeth with warm water instead of cold, don’t touch cold water, drink warm water all the time. Rest a lot definitely, like that why it’s “Sit on the month” you know, not like “run on the month”. Avoid wind, if it’s really windy outside then don’t go out side, because they think the wind and the cold is easier to get into the body at that period of time. And also you know food is big part, like they have certain food to eat to one on hand help with milking, and help body get nutrition on the other. They will consider some kind of food has a cold character (寒性- han xing) and some kind of food is hot character(热性-re xing) and something in between. So you need to choose food character according to your body type. Like for example, if you have ulcer in your mouth that means you body is getting too hot, so you will need something that has a colder character like green tea.

Interviewer: How do you define cold or hot for food?

Informant: Ummm…Good questions. I honestly don’t know. You just grew up learning their character from you parents. It’s like if I eat too much mango all at once, my mom would say something like: “your body will be getting too hot.” or something like that I don’t know. So yea, I think older generation definitely have more restriction, but I don’t think younger generation follow it as strict, they kinda do a little modification according to their needs.

Background:

My informant was born in Beijing, China. She knows about this tradition because almost everyone practices it in China and her mom does it too. She will definitely practice postpartum confinement by the time she delivers a baby because she thinks that it is such an important phase of woman’s life and she needs to take the time to take care of her body. She always believes that giving birth to a kid in a way is a rebirth of that woman as well. And because the body undergoes such a big incident, the body is recovering itself too. So with proper care, it helps the body to recover better and even takes away some existing illness.

Context

My informant is my roommate. She finished high school in China and came to the States after. I invited her to have a brief interview session with me to talk about Chinese folklore in general because I feel there is lot of interesting folklore in China that is very different from the rest of the world. And this conversation was conducted when we were cooking for dinner, so both of us are pretty relaxed.

Thoughts

“Sitting the month” is definitely a huge culture difference between China and America. I know that a lot of people in the United States go right back to work within ten days after delivering the baby, which sounds crazy to Chinese people. Though there is some debate on whether it is scientific of postpartum confinement, most people still practice it because it is a tradition that has been around for thousands of years. As my informant mentions, the stricter rule in the past is minimal shower times within a month after delivery, and that is because in older time period, the condition is pretty bad, so people are more likely to catch a cold when showering, especially during winter time. Nowadays, with technology getting better and people living on a higher quality life, more rules are bent towards favor, but the cultural of “sitting the month” still applies.

Folk Beliefs

Chicken Wishbone

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.

Informant: Remembering my mom used to make chicken when my sister and I were younger, if she was making chicken, she would take out the wishbone and set it to the side. And we would have to let it dry, or hollow out for a day. And next day, my sister and I, we would each pull one of the sides of the bone, and whoever got the larger piece would have good luck. And it is based on how it snaps. If it snaps with a bigger side, that’s what signifies luck. I am not really sure why, but yea…

Interviewer: How do you feel about this activity?

Informant: Umm, so my sister and I would always be excited when we were younger, we don’t really do it that much anymore. It’s just a big part of our childhood. I would always lose.

Interviewer: Is it because she pull harder?

Informant: I think it might just been… I guess one of the leg of the bones, not really a leg, is thicker and my sister would always get the first pick. So…

Interviewer: Is she older or younger?

Informant: She’s older.

Background:

My informant was born in San Francisco and moved to Virginia when she was four. She came back to the west coast for college and she felt the culture is really different. For this piece, she knew from her mom, and she and her sister were always excited to practice it when they were younger. For them, it is a way to get lucky, but more importantly, this activity reminds them of their childhood. Though my informant always loses because her older sister gets to pick first, this activity reflects my informant’s caring personality and her family relationship.

Context:

This piece is collected in a causal interview setting. My informant and I finished our class and were talking as we walked to the USC village together. We then sit in an outdoor space and collected some folklore from each other.

Thoughts:

It reminds me of some similar belief in China. But instead of chicken bone, we flip a fishbone, and if the tip stays on the top, it represents good luck. This activity usually takes place during family dinner and is viewed as a fun competition among kids. The chicken wishbone activity mentioned above, not only brings fun and excitement for kids, but also stimulates better bonding among siblings. Although sometimes some kids lose and get disappointed, it is still an important part of their childhood memory. A lot of the times, I find that people practice certain activity not because they truly believe it, but because it adds fun to life, or it makes them feel better. For the case of my informant, even she is not fully convinced that wishbone brings good luck, she still gets excited when she is a child.

 

Folk Beliefs

Don’t Place Your Head Pointing North When You Sleep

Main piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.

Informant: One thing I always do is like I never place, like when I’m sleeping, whenever I move into a new room, and I never sleep on the side where my head is facing north. Like my head is pointing north. Like if I sleep this way, that part can never be north. Like any other direction but north.

Interviewer: Why is that?

Informant: North is just really bad direction for us. Ummm, I think it’s cuz it symbolize coldness, coldness or like winter, or just like, I think ghost as well. Just like all the bed thing situated at north. It just like a bad connotation. South is like, sunny, warm, you know, but north is like cold. So if you play with color, north is like white, grey, blue, darkness. Or south is like, you know, red, orange, yellow, you know what I mean? So like it’s not like such a big deal but I never point north when I am sleeping. So I always check direction when I move to new apartment.

Interviewer: If you sleep with head pointing north, what will happen?

Informant: It just like bad dreams, you won’t sleep well.

Background:

My informant was born in Osaka, Japan. Both of her parents are very Japanese. So, although she immediately moved to Hong Kong after she was born, she learned Japanese and Japanese culture from her parents. She learns this folk piece from her mom. Whenever they move to a new house or place bed in a room, her mom will always check the direction and make sure the bed does not point north. Growing up with this believe, my informant also practices it, and never sleeps with her head pointing north.

Context:

She is a good friend of mine since we both lived in Osaka for a while. This piece was collected as we had lunch at the USC village. I invited her to talk about her culture and we were sharing thoughts while waiting for the food. The conversation was conducted under a relaxing environment and we both feel pretty comfortable sharing our childhood experience.

Thoughts:

I feel in Asian countries, people are really aware of the directions, especially when they buy houses. For example, in China, people like their houses or rooms face south because of more sunshine time. And they say the room temperature in a room that faces south tend to be warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer compares to other rooms. There is also a price difference in the apartment that faces south and others. If the apartment faces south, it will be more popular and sell at a higher price. However, even selling with a higher price tag, the ones that face south are usually the first batch to be sold out. After I come to America, I realize that people do not put such value on direction, which is one of the big differences I discovered between east culture and west culture.

 

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Magic

Shungite Crystal Healing

Context:

The informant – LF – is a 20-year-old female from the Seattle, Washington. She currently is a sophomore in the USC Thornton School of Music. Her parents are part of a small sect of Islam, Sufism, and often lead meditation retreats that teach the meditation techniques of George Gurdjieff. Here, I asked LF about some of the spiritual healing methods used by her parents.

 

LF: She, like, aligns these crystals up in fashions, kind of. And there’s this one specific crystal called a shungite rock, I think, and she makes you hold it in your hand if you, like… I don’t know what it does. But literally when I held it – I’m not even kidding – it felt like my whole body was vibrating. It was whacko.

 

Me: What context did she tell you to hold it?

 

LF: I was feeling sick. It’s an energetic thing – it holds really powerful energy I think.

 

Me: So if you’re feeling sick, your mom would…

 

LF: Yeah, she’d be like, “Honey, take your crystals…” (Laughter) Yeah, I was vaccinated with crystals, haha.

 

Analysis:

I couldn’t find much on a relationship between Gurdjieff’s teachings and using crystals in spiritual healing, so I believe that the two could be unrelated. LF seemed to find the methods somewhat humorous, often making jokes about the methods, but also believed in the potential power of the crystals. It’s unclear exactly why LF’s parents use crystals in their healing methods/which, if any, tradition they’re drawing upon, though using crystals in spiritual healing seems to be a fairly common tradition among many different people.

Folk Beliefs
Folk Dance
Folk medicine
Kinesthetic

Gurdjieff’s Movements

Context:

The informant – LF – is a 20-year-old female from the Seattle, Washington. She currently is a sophomore in the USC Thornton School of Music. Her parents are part of a small sect of Islam, Sufism, and often lead meditation retreats that teach the meditation techniques of George Gurdjieff. The following is from a conversation about the meditation retreats hosted by her parents.

Piece:

LF: On the retreats, they go out to an isolated place – like a retreat center. And their daily routine is, they wake up for 6am meditation. So you have to get up and be there before that. After breakfast, there’s practical work. For practical work, they do some sort of physical labor, wherever they are. At the retreat center they’ve stayed at, they’ll re-roof a building, or build a deck, for example. It’s not like charity: the work itself is a meditation; you’re getting in your body, and you’re being really physical.

There’s not a lot of talking. There’s this idea throughout the retreat of staying collected, which is, kind of like, maintaining sensation throughout your body. And it’s kind of like meditating – it’s not super talkative or out of your head. You’re supposed to, like, stay really aware. And my parents actually met at a meditation retreat, and these are traditions that have been passed down from this Turkish dude named Gurdjieff… I don’t know, he just has a lot of these philosophies and shit like that.

But after the practical work, they have these things called the Movements, which are these dances, kind of, but they’re like, derived from the whirling dervishes. It’s from this religion they associate with, Sufism. But it’s more derived from the mystics from, like, the Quran.

Me: So what is the purpose of the Movements?

LF: It’s like a meditation, and they’re really hard to do, so they take a lot of concentration and focus and intention.

Me: Do they know the moves beforehand? Did you grow up knowing them?

LF: No, my mom teaches them. She knows all of them, because she’s been doing this shit for hella long. And I don’t know them – I was always too young to participate in the retreats. But then as I got older, I would play the piano to accompany them.

Me: Do the meditations each serve a particular purpose?

LF: Yeah, they’re kind of like overcoming different physical… It’s all about the struggle. That’s the thing, is they’re enduring the struggle, and the struggle is good. And you breathe through it, and you get through it.

 

Analysis:

Like LF said, it seems that Gurdjieff’s movements and the whirling dervishes, while part of a religious tradition, transcend religion, and are ultimately meditations that allow the participant to reach a transcendent state by persevering through physical and mental struggle while maintaining a meditative mental state. Though the practices are part of the religious tradition of Sufism, the meditations can be used – and are used, evidently, by participants in LF’s parents’ retreats – for anybody wishing to strengthen their mind through meditation.

 

For more information regarding Gurdjieff’s Movements, see George Adam’s (1998) Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and his Teaching, Nova Religio, 2(1), 161-163.

Childhood
Game
Humor
Magic

Childrens Magic Trick: The Disappearing Bracelet Knot

Background: The performance is a magic trick, a form of slight of hand that uses a hair scrunchie or similarly elastic bracelet, the informant (RW) learned it on the playground from one of her friends.
RW: It’s so cool!
MW: What do you like about it?
RW: When you do it right everyone gets really excited!
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Context: Informant(RW) is a 12 year old student who’s interests include spending time with family, and riding bicycles. RW shared this particular magic trick with multiple members of her family during their annual Passover Seder, in this case RW, her sister, and I were getting paper from the garage so that RW’s father could teach us to make paper airplanes when she asked to show me a magic trick.

Performance:
RW: Ok, ok, so first you twist the rope like an 8 on your wrist
RW: You do that and you see this part? [RW points to the loop formed by her bracelet]
RW: The under part [she gestures to the under side of the bracelet], and you pull that part into the little circle but not too tight.
RW: If you flick it really fast the knot disappears!

Steps to reproduce:
1)Twist a section of the bracelet into a loop
2)Take the underside of the bracelet a pinky length away from the loop and pull it through to make a knot, loosely
3) Flick the end of the bracelet that sticks out of the knot and it disappears
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Analysis:
The trick is a way to “get one over” on one’s peers and even adults. Thus the child demonstrates “magic” that they know to be a reflection of their own knowledge. The informant’s pride is the key marker here, this piece of folklore is a performance passed from person to person for the benefit of the people around them. Likewise this is a display of trickery, the goal is to fool, and thus in harmless deception traverse the social taboo of lying. This gives the performer the space to engage in a behavior that is generally seen as wrong in a way that will actually net them praise.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Get on the plane with your right foot: travel superstition

Context:
AW sits with her daughter preparing for the second night of her Passover Seder, the room is bustling with activity as people get food prepared for AW’s many relatives. AW’s Daughter chimes in every so often to ask questions
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Performance:

M: You have a very particular travel superstition is that true?

AW: Yes, I have more than one, but yes

M: could you elaborate

AW: Ever since I got on the plane since I was a little girl my mother would remind us to start every new venture, not just the airplane…the first day of school, when I walked down the aisle…

[AW gets absorbed back into seat planning for the seder]

MW: Ohhh that’s why you tell me to do it on test days

AW: Exactly, every time you start something new you do it with your right foot, it’s good luck.

AW: The first time anyone in the history of our family did it, my grandmother got onto the ship that took her to America, she did it with her right foot and my mother reminded me, so I remind you.
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Meaning to the informant: AW: First of all it reminds me of my recently departed mother, and it’s kind of a talisman, like a rabbit’s foot. It can be a bit of a ritual. I’ve done it as long as I can remember.
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Analysis: The association between the right foot and luck is well documented and speaks to a general insecurity regarding new ventures. As one crosses a threshold into a new space, as AW did when she walked down the aisle, or any time she boards an aircraft. This step ensures that transition happens smoothly. Other examples of this can be throughout the archive as seen [here] and reflect an overarching anxiety about the unknown. In addition to providing luck the action adds a familiar element to an unfamiliar circumstance, a location with which the actor can situate themselves to provide comfort when encountering something new. For another example of travel superstition surrounding the right foot see Southbound (Paniker 174) a journal of Indian Literature

Paniker, Ayyappa, and Chitra Panikkar. “SOUTHBOUND.” Indian Literature, vol. 39, no. 4 (174), 1996, pp. 127–156. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23336198.

Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Holidays
Magic
Material
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Peruvian New Years Tradition: 8 Grapes on Years

AS is a USC game design major who’s family hails from Peru, she enjoys spreadsheets, Dungeons and Dragons, and spreadsheets about Dungeons and Dragons.
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Interviewer(MW): So you mentioned earlier that in Peru some holidays are celebrated differently?
AS: okay so I guess I’ll start off with New Year’s so there’s like two weird holidays that occur on New Year’s for Peruvians for some reason

AS: We do the normal thing where it’s like you used to stand by you wait until you know the countdown starts and you drink the champagne you do all that jazz.

AS: But the things that you do is after you drink the champagne you down like 12 grapes in the champagne each one’s supposed to be a wish so down your champagne you eat individual grapes as quickly as possible

MW: I’ve spent New Years in Lima, I know they have some interesting New Years Practices, so are there things that do you have any particular set things that you associate with the grapes like there’s some things that you’re supposed to wish for?

AS: There isn’t anything you’re supposed to wish for I think, like generally it’s stigmatized in Latin Society for good health to be a thing or like wish your family good health like general well-being.

AS: I guess would be something that people would would generally stick towards at least want to do one or two wishes to be around there

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Analysis:
The use of champagne as a marker of the new year exists across culture but using fruit as a conduit for wishes ties the sweetness of the fruit to the hope for a sweet new year, this invokes a similar tradition to the Jewish Rosh Hashanah practice of dipping apples in honey for a happy new year. The wish too carries meaning, like a birthday the new year is full of promise and marks a transition and making a wish is a way to codify that promise in a fun and festive way. Likewise AS’s note that there’s a focus on well-being represent anxieties about that transition, the bitterness of the alcohol in the wine might invoke this anxiety, tinging the sweetness of the grapes with a fear of the unknown and the challenges that the new year will bring.

There are 12 wishes as well, this factors into the cyclical nature of the tradition as well as each grape likely represents a month of the year thus the wishes are meant to carry the participants through the entire year.

Customs
Earth cycle
Game
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Peruvian New Years Tradition: Run the Suitcase Around the Block

AS is a USC game design major who’s family hails from Peru, she enjoys spreadsheets, Dungeons and Dragons, and spreadsheets about Dungeons and Dragons. AS grew up in Texas after her family moved there from Peru.
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AS: My family had a lot of traditions for New Years, I’ve heard a lot of people do this one though

AS: We fill like a like a suitcase of some sort and we run it around the block and that’s supposed to represent like good luck in traveling and like safe travels and all that stuff.

AS: So my mom makes me do it every year cuz you yeah gotta have that good luck

MW: Do you have any particular attachment to this?

AS: I mean I would still do it if I didn’t live in South Central LA and that’s dangerous

AS: I guess it’s it’s it’s kind of just like a superstitious thing to me

AS: Or it’s just like it’s a cute tradition that makes New Year’s feel different than what like normal people celebrate even it doesn’t have like a very deep impact I guess it also fills me with nostalgia for things you did as a kid so you feel like you should do it anyways.
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Analysis:
The symbolism of running around the block mimics the cyclical nature of the calendar year and separates it from the idea of linear time. The suitcase is also filled, meaning that the carrier takes home with them when they travel and provides a direct connection to home and family life. Likewise, the fact that you run around the block and return to the starting point sort of carries the message that no matter where you go you can always return home, this centers the importance of home even in a tradition that’s all about travel. The desire for safety also reveals anxieties about leaving the home. Travel to new places is scary, a journey into the unknown thus the hope for good luck works in combination with the carrying of the known with you and the promise of a safe return to that known space.

[geolocation]