USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk Beliefs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Life cycle
Magic
Signs

Moroccan: Tino Moths and Rebirth

Informant (AH) Is a 22 Year old USC Narrative Studies student interested in user research for games, we traded stories over a podcast we record together.
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Interviewer(MW): You said you had folklore from your grandmother?
AH: Yeah, so my grandma is from morocco, there’s a lot of folklore culturey stuff and I didn’t realize it was like that until I moved away from her and was like “oh you guys don’t do that here?”
AH: But like one thing in particular is you know Tino Moths
MW: Like the plant? (Interviewer thinks AH has said Tino Moss)
AH: No the bug
MW: OHhhh Moths
AH: yeah, some people when they get into their house you think “Oh I gotta kill it or take it out of the house” but at my grandma’s house you don’t touch the moth you just admire it…because in her culture moths are kind of like ghosts when one of your family members dies they come back to you as a moth, so that was yeah.
MW: We don’t have that in my religion, but that rules
AH: Yeah, it’s sort of comforting you know, to think that the people you love are still around and stuff
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Analysis
Insect rebirth symbolism allows the departed agency and a fleeting return to the lives of their loved ones, this is reflected in the chance, almost random nature by which the moth ends up in your home. This belief offers a comfort in the wake of loss and serves to temporarily sate the low-level pain that comes with the loss of a loved one, that stays for the rest of your life. Likewise the respect for the moth constitutes a respect for the dead, because those two beings are intertwined. Likewise this piece of folklore serves to connect AH to his grandmother, so that every time he sees a moth he sees her, allowing her to transcend death and remain with him, a part of his life, as her loved ones did when the story lived with her.Thus here, the moth becomes a symbol for death, it’s ephemeral nature makes contact with it fleeting and therefore more valuable, as it carries the soul of the departed onward to wherever it goes next.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

La Bête: A French Monster Legend

Context: CW, with a mug of hot tea sits, on my couch after an afternoon of doing homework and recounts stories from their childhood. CW is a USC Game Design Student who loves the macabre, and the morbid.
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CW: So I know one French story… that I don’t remember what town specifically

CW: But there was a town, and a beast that kept eating people’s sheep and…

CW: I think also sometimes people, and they just called it the beast.

Interviewer(MW): What was that in French?

CW: La Bête

MW: Cool

CW: I’m pretty sure a farmer girl went and found it and killed it and now it’s an attraction in the town.

MW: I actually think I’ve heard a version of this before

CW: So a lot of people are like “oh, I saw the beast”

MW: Yeah, I think this is where the Tarrasque comes from in D&D

CW: Interesting…

MW: Were there any visual qualities that the Beast had that you know about

CW: It was like…a really big wolf but like real big

MW: Where did you hear this story originally?

CW: My middle school French class

MW: Why do you like this story?

CW: Cause monster stories are cool, and monsters are spooky, and also feminism.

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Analysis:

This story conveys an obvious historical anxiety, rural communities were searching for an explanation for their missing sheep, it suggests that communities are looking externally for problems assuming the supernatural rather than suspecting other members of their communities, or regular actual wolves. It speaks to the desire to know why something has gone wrong, and when that problem is found to be seemingly unsolvable, help comes from somewhere unexpected. When the beast is slain by the farm girl, who would likely have been seen as weak in the conditions a story like this emerged in. This story teaches fear, but likewise empowers rural French communities, if now as a tourist attraction a way to share their culture and turn a profit from it. It likewise empowers non-men, given that the hero of the story, someone who conquers a beast known to eat people, is a woman. This version of the story presents this conquest as a slaying as well which situates this unexpected hero as physically powerful as well, providing agency to a group that’s often denied that.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

The Ursuline Casket Girls Of New Orleans

Storyteller:

“Okay, so there’s this convent and off the top of my head I don’t remember it but if you google like “New Orleans Convent Vampires” you’ll find like a version of it. So that’s when New Orleans was being like built into a new city and there were all these traders and fur trappers or whatever. So women, so they has women brought over from Europe who were essentially going to be mail order brides for these men. So there are crude jokes of it being like early human trafficking and the women were like exposed to the sun on the trip over on the boat so they got like severely sun burned so the men like freaked out when the women got off the boat and rejected them. So they took the women in at the local convent and they like turned the top floor into the places for them to stay. But somehow because it’s New Orleans and this is what happens, people started saying that the women up there can’t be exposed to sunlight, they must be vampires…and it turned into this whole legend about the vampires of the convent. So like if you go on the voodoo tour in New Orleans, you will go to this convent and be told the story.

Me: That is so interesting, wow.

Storyteller: It is crazy! I mean the stuff in New Orleans…like who thought that was true and you know…it’s New Orleans so who knows if it’s true…you never know there.

Background: The storyteller is from New Orleans so she had a couple stories to pick from but decided to share this one. She told me that although she couldn’t remember the exact name of the story (I later looked up the real name and titled this post with it), she knew that because of the weird history of New Orleans, an ancient event turned into a creepy legend.

Context: I asked her if I could interview her for this project. I knew that she was from the south and after collecting a couple stories from people who grew up in the south, I was fascinated with them and wanted to hear more. She gave me a few stories…one is this legend. I drove back home to meet her for some coffee before diving into the interview (along with another storyteller who is interviewed in a different post).

Thoughts: I have come to realize that there are many legends and ghost stories that come from the south. The reason for this is probably because of the south’s horrible history especially with slavery and the general mistreatment of black people and women. I think that whether or not this legend is true and the women actually were vampires (even though it seems unlikely), it is interesting to me how easily skewed a simple story can become in New Orleans. It seems like the city has a rich culture and likes to accumulate as many interesting stories as it can. It makes it unique.

Folk Beliefs
general
Narrative

Great Grandmother’s Murder House

Storyteller: “So my mom’s entire family is from New Orleans, which is essentially the most haunted city in the world…like there is so much tragedy and everyone…like if you grew up there you kind of believe in ghosts? Like you pretend you don’t but you do. No city can have that much tragedy and death and not have stuff wandering around. So my great grandmother had this really nice house. And I remember like being…sort of with it enough as a kid to be like ‘we are not rich, how did she afford this really nice house.’ And it was because it used to be a brothel and there was a murder there and so my family got it really cheap. So it was a murder house right? So the story was that one of the women that worked int he brothel was married. And her husband came in and dragged her up to the attic and they had a huge fight and he killed her. And there were these dark stains on the floor up there that everyone said was blood stains…that would not come out. Whether they were or not I don’t know, but that’s what I know this story was. So, basically they would always tell us that ‘Herald’, essentially, used to live in the attic because it’s where he killed his wife. And we were like ‘yeah whatever. Ha ha. Very funny.’ So my cousins and I are upstairs one day and we are playing in the attic and all of this weird crap starts happening. Like a door slams and a window that like…things like open and not a problem open and like weird weird stuff. And so we were like ‘oh you know what it is. It’s uncle M, he’s trying to scare us…because my uncle was notorious for scaring the kids all of the time. So we were like, ‘it’s just him.’ And then we were like ignoring it and then I looked out the window and my uncle M was downstairs. And we literally screamed and ran downstairs as fast as we could [laughs]. And to this day…NO explanation for what was happening in that attic. We were like ‘maybe it was like the uncle? or whatever…’ but could never prove that it was another human in our family.” [seeing my disturbed face she adds] “Yeah…it’s very upsetting! [laughs] I did not enjoy that! But yeah, that is the story of my great grandmother’s murder house.”

 

Background: The storyteller is from the south (specifically New Orleans) and she got to spend a lot of time growing up there. As a result, she not only has a lot of knowledge on the stories people told about the city, but she also had her own personal experience with a ghost in her great grandmother’s murder house.

Context: I asked her if I could interview her for this project. I knew that she was from the south and after collecting a couple stories from people who grew up in the south, I was fascinated with them and wanted to hear more. She gave me three stories…one of them included this first person narrative of her experience with what she still to this day believes was a ghost. I met up with her and another storyteller for coffee to go over the details.

Thoughts: Like the storyteller already pointed out, New Orleans is famous for being one of the most haunted places in the world. There really is so much tragedy that has occurred in that city throughout the years that it is not hard to believe that there are many ghost stories and legends that derive from it. It is scary to hear and see things out of the ordinary especially when we cannot figure out the realistic cause of it. Many people refuse to believe in such things as ghosts and live in denial with the fact that they may be real. Some things that cannot be explained frighten us.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Civil War Ghost of Brighton, Michigan

Civil War Ghost of Brighton, Michigan

The following informant is a 19 year-old USC student from Brighton, Michigan. They attended the Interlochen Arts Academy for 2 years before moving to Los Angeles. Here, they are describing a ghost story they recall hearing about a Hartland High School friend; they will be identified as S. The subjects of his story will be identified as O and D.

S: There was this kid that I used to know in high school, his name was O, he was two years older than me, and he had a brother that was a year younger than me, and they lived on a farm. They lived on a farm, and their house was built in a, a long, long time ago, I think during the Civil War, actually.

We lived in a suburb, but he lived in, like, the farm, farmland part of Brighton, which is tractors, cows — he even had sheep, one was named Luigi. Anyways, no, since the house was so old, the owner, or someone that either lived in the house or was involved in the house, they just, obviously died, and Logan always said this type of “spook” just lingered, it was always there. It wasn’t a harmful, or like, it wasn’t harmful, I’ll leave it at that.

But it was, like, the typical things would be found out of place. Apparently it used to definitely linger around D [his brother] more. It would be, like, they — D would clean in his room, or whatever, and the closet door would be shut, and then they would leave, and then they’d come back from going to the store, or from playing outside, or something, and then the closet door would be open and some things would be out of place.

Just a sense of someone’s in the room with you but when you know you’re alone, just like eyes are on you, and hairs on your neck stick up, and it’s kind of like a cold presence. Something is in the room with you, some spirit or something. That’s the “spook” of S’s house.

Context

The informant is my younger sibling, and O was a friend of mine in the same class. I don’t recall hearing this story, but the informant was relatively close with the individuals described in the story. The performance took place in our apartment a few blocks away from USC, and I was the sole listener. Not to take any sort of credence away from the informant, but it would seem a noteworthy amount of emphasis was placed on the term “spook” during the telling, as if this alternative (and less common) term for “ghost” or “spirit” was the reason behind their remembering of the account.

My Thoughts

The area of Brighton, Michigan (where we were primarily raised) is an interesting one — there are plenty of Civil War artifacts and graveyards, and the town’s buildings retain an “old fashioned” style. Lots of our friends’ houses (those we would often visit) were older houses, and, as is characteristic of the houses in Brighton and its bordering areas, most had large yards surrounding them.

This combination surely lent itself to many paranormal interaction stories that were told as we grew up. I am less inclined to believe this story, purely based off of the informant’s performance, due to the lack of evidential exposition; perhaps a parent moved the objects, or closed the closet door. I’m sure a memorate influenced this narrative.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Dogman in Traverse City, Michigan

Dogman in Traverse City, Michigan

The following informant is a 19 year-old USC student from Brighton, Michigan. They attended the Interlochen Arts Academy for 2 years before moving to Los Angeles. Here, they are describing an urban legend they recall hearing about a dog creature while attending high school in Northern Michigan; they will be identified as R.

R: A popular urban legend is a, this creature called the Dogman, it’s right where we went to high school in Traverse City. This dog-creature, it wasn’t a werewolf and it wasn’t bigfoot, it was like a hairy many with the head of a dog.

But, no, you’d see him roaming around the woods in the north, it was said this, like, DJ in the 80s said, “I made up the legend as an April Fools joke,” but there’s definitely incidents found from the 30s and 1800s — it’s just, there’s been a tax? I don’t know if there’s videos. Obviously there’s going to be people that fake this, but the guy claimed it’s a joke, but there’s been actual, actual records behind it, and that is Dogman.

Context

The informant is my younger sibling, and the two of us attended the same boarding high school in Northern Michigan (near Traverse City in a town named Interlochen), though not at the same time. The performance took place in our apartment a few blocks away from USC, and I was the sole listener. The school was built on top of Native American burial grounds (there were many signs around campus providing a history of the land), and many paranormal encounter stories are told.

My Thoughts

Traverse City is much different than Brighton, Michigan, where the informant and I grew up; it is much more dense in forests, and simply sounds different, in part due to the many surrounding lakes and Great Lake. I am sure that this has an effect on the local folklore, as much of the stories I recall being told as a kid in Brighton involve farmland and the Civil War.

I never heard this story, but it sounds like a typical urban legend. Many of the creatures described in these sorts of Michigan legends involve animals — this may very well be a result of the woods, forests, and wildlife that are a part of everyday life.

The informant heard this story while attending high school near Traverse City; this story fits into the type of stories I remember hearing and exchanging at night time after classes on campus, especially while sitting with friends near the surrounding lake and enveloped in the ambience produced by the moving water, wind blowing through trees’ leaves, and wildlife (particularly the large population of loons that inhabited Green Lake).

Customs
Humor
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Stamp Out the Name

One tradition of the Jewish holiday Purim is to take measures to stamp out the name of Haman, the man who tried and failed to kill all Persian Jews in the Purim story. This manifests in other little traditions but one of the most literal involves people writing Haman’s name (in English or Hebrew) on the sole of their shoes so then they walk about stamping out the name throughout their day. Sometimes this is even paired with secondary events to maximize stamping such as a footrace.

While never personally observed by this folklorist (my synagogue doesn’t do this) this tradition stands out as a humorously obvious interpretation of the idea to stamp out the man’s name and ergo very believable. It’s an ancient, international holiday; someone has to have done this. The humor is assuredly intentional and adds to the joyous vibe of the rest of the holiday.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Pasadena and the “Suicide Bridge”

Pasadena and the “Suicide Bridge”

The following informant is a 25 year-old who was born and brought up in the San Fernando Valley of California. Here, they are describing a local urban legend that they had heard about a specific bridge in Pasadena; they will be identified as J.

J: There’s a bridge in Pasadena, where a ton of people commit suicide. Apparently it’s haunted. Google it, it’s a thing. I think the legend spurred people to commit suicide there, so the legend kind of fed itself. It’s definitely a thing.

Context

This interaction took place at a family gathering for a friend that I had been invited to; the informant is the cousin of the friend who invited me along.

My Thoughts

I tried looking up this particular urban legend online, with much luck. There is truth behind the Colorado State Bridge being the site of numerous suicides. There have apparently been “thousands” since 1919. There are also numerous well-known ghost sightings and haunting stories that can be easily accessed. I find it interesting, though, how the folklore behind the bridge has potentially spurred people to commit suicide at its location.

For more information, visit:

Weiser, Kathy. “Suicide Bridge – Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena, California.” Legends ofAmerica, May 2017, www.legendsofamerica.com/ca-suicidebridge/.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

Fourth Floor in Chinese Culture

Fourth Floor in Chinese Culture

The following informant is a 21 year-old musician from Seoul, Korea, currently residing in Los Angeles. Here, they are describing a Chinese belief regarding the number 4 and its connotations that continue to be passed down; here, they will be identified as F.

F: In China, in hospitals, they have no fourth floor, because four means death. Lot of Korean culture is adopted from China, lots of Asian countries are adopted from China, because it was so dominant. We have characters, and one word, depending on pronunciation, can mean a thousand different things. So, number four could also mean death. Different characters, though.

Context

This interaction occurred on USC’s campus — I am friends with the informant, as we occasionally perform together in musical settings. While it took place in a public space, this performance, as opposed to my other collections, did not occur in the presence of many additional individuals; as a result, there were not many validating reactions in addition to my own. They provided me with two other topics in my collection.

My Thoughts

I did not know of this belief prior to speaking with the informant. Still, it is similar to the lack of 13th floors in the U.S. However, there is no clear distinction between the usage of a 13th floor in hospitals and non-hospitals; my old dormitory, for example, lacked a 13th floor. While I find this additional layer interesting, upon researching the prominence of the number 4 in Chinese culture, it would seem that the lack of 4th floors goes beyond Chinese hospitals.

I also found that Chinese license plates often avoid ending in the number 4 — this concept is wholly new to me. It is also interesting how such beliefs, initially disseminated by way of colonization, still permeate separate cultures and are passed down from generation to generation. Here, Korea maintains this folk stigma of the number 4 largely due to China’s language (I also found that, in Korea, if a building is to include the 4th floor, the letter ‘F’ will often be substituted in place of the numerical character).

 

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Okinawa Gargoyles

Text: We had gargoyles in front of every house in Okinawa because people claimed that they were the strongest animals and that without them guarding your house, spirits could get in.

Context: KT was born in Okinawa, Japan and lived there with his Japanese mother and British father for the first nine years of his life. Though memories of his time in Japan are fading as KT ages, he still remembers specific things about life in Japan that were ingrained on his young mind during his early years. The folklore above was shared over lunch one afternoon during which I asked KT if he thought he had any folklore he could share with me from Japan. Most of the material he remembers is because he either got in trouble for going against the superstition or his involvement in the practice scared him.

Interpretation: The objects that KT is referring to are called shisa, statues of mythical creatures that are a crosses between lions and dogs. These stone guardians often found placed in pairs outside an area’s entrance and are used to ward off evil spirits. A majority of Okinawan households use the shisa to protect their homes, the gargoyles therefore being a significant part of Okinawan tradition, culture, and identity. However, this type of gargoyle is not specific to Okinawa, but can be seen throughout East Asia. Multiplicity and variations can be seen in the specific designs of the figures. Whether or not the male or female statue sports an open or closed mouth can communicate different functions of the shisa. For example, if the female’s mouth is open, it communicates that she is in charge of spreading goodness. If her mouth is closed, she is in charge of keeping the goodness in the home of who she protects.

 

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