Category Archives: Folk Beliefs

The Jersey Devil

Background: 

My informant, NK, is 19 years old and of South Korean descent from both her mother and father’s sides of the family. Her grandparents live close to her, so she spends a lot of time with them. She is very passionate about cooking. Even though she is majoring in biochemical engineering at UC Berkeley, she has always been, and remains to be, extremely interested in conspiracy theories. While she may not necessarily believe them, she enjoys hearing lore from across the world. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance:

NK: So, there’s this urban legend in New Jersey, called the Jersey Devil. I’ve heard about it from different like conspiracy shows or websites, and just word of mouth. Um, and it’s one of those things like Bigfoot. The myth goes that there’s a woman – there’s some variations obviously – but she had one kid or thirteen, depending on who you ask, and she had a pact with the devil or hooked up with him, or something. And so either that one kid or the youngest one was born deformed, so he had like wings and a beak and was human-like but also bat-like. He grew up to huge sizes, and then would be seen around New Jersey, I’m not sure which area. And then there’s been sightings, I’m not sure when the first one was, but there were a lot in the 20th century. I wanna say it’s similar to Mothman: big wings, red eyes, part human. 

SW: Do you know anything about the origins of the story?

NK: I’m not sure, but I think there were some sightings that were hard to explain, so people kind of made up the lore to explain them. 

Thoughts:

I love urban legends. As NK pointed out, like many urban legends, it’s safe to assume that the legend of the Jersey Devil developed in response to some unexplained sightings in an effort to make sense of them. There are a few different variations of the Jersey Devil legend. Most seem to identify the woman NK mentioned as Mother Leeds, as Leeds was one of the first settlers in New Jersey, and family with the name Leeds can still be found there today. There have been numerous accounts and sightings of the Jersey Devil, many of which can be found all across the internet. For more background on this urban legend and personal sightings of the Jersey Devil, see “The Jersey Devil.”

Annotation:

“The Jersey Devil.” Weird NJ, Weird NJ, 13 Jan. 2017, weirdnj.com/stories/jersey-devil/.

Don’t Walk on the Michigan M

Background: 

My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

AK: At Michigan, we have this huge letter M in the center of campus. And the rule is, like, if you step on it, you fail your first blue book exam. It’s like at any other college.

SW: I’ve never heard that before.

AK: Really? Yeah, it’s like a big deal here. And apparently the only way to reverse it, is to like run from the clocktower one side of campus, to the other side, and then back to the clocktower and get there right as it chimes midnight. And you have to be naked the whole time. But that’s impossible because the clocktower doesn’t chime past 10pm, and it’s illegal to be naked. So it’s best to just not step on the M in the first place and avoid the bad luck all together.

Thoughts:

While I was not familiar with this specific superstition, I know most schools have some sort of similar superstition in circulation. A lot of them have to do with disgracing or disrespecting the school or campus in some way, which then brings bad luck in the form of bad grades or other things. I’m guessing these came to be as a way of keeping respect for the school. I think there’s something alluring, too, about feeling like you’re in on something. You feel special when you know your school’s superstitions, because you feel like a true member of the institution, and not an outsider. 

Facebook Senior Names

Background: 

My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

AK: For as long as I can remember, it’s been tradition at our high school to make a fake name on facebook for senior year. Everyone would make a pun based off their name, referencing a movie or celebrity. When it first started, it was to protect people’s identities, so that of prospective colleges looked up students on facebook, they wouldn’t find their page. By the time we were seniors, there wasn’t really a need to do this because it was general knowledge that colleges didn’t really care, but our grade kept on with the tradition anyways.

Thoughts:

It’s interesting to understand where some aspect of folklore comes from, and to see how its meaning has changed over time. What started as a superstition morphed into a tradition that stood to be a rite of passage. Kids as early as freshman year would begin to think about their senior name, anxious to be done with high school and on their way to college. Senior names were a way of expressing yourself, while also engaging in a unifying experience across the grade.

The Ritual Game: The Midnight man

Informant: It’s some ritual that was apparently used to punish bad people somewhere in Europe. The ritual starts at 3 AM and you need a candle, a piece of paper, and your front door. You write your name on the piece of paper then put it outside the door under a lit candle. Knock on the door 12 times and make sure it is EXACT, and make sure to get the last knock to stop at 3AM. Then open the door, pick up the paper and the candle and the game has begun. It lasts until 6 AM, so it’s only three hours but you have to keep your candle lit for all that time. The Midnight Man will try to blow out the candle or scare you into dropping it. Your candle is your only source of light so it’s pretty easy to get super scared. If your candle goes out and you cannot relight it within 5 seconds then surround yourself in a circle of salt and sit there until morning. Do not under any circumstances turn on a light! Both of these things are ways of forfeiting the game but that doesn’t mean the Midnight Man leaves. He haunts you until you complete the game.

Interviewer: So what do you get for winning the game?

Informant: I think you get to make a wish and it will comes true.

Interviewer: So what happens if you lose?

Informant: He kills you, obviously. [laughs]

Background: My informant had done research into different dark ritualized games such as this for a film projection she was doing. She did not end up using this game as the final inspiration for her movie.

Context: My informant and I were staying up late on the night of the 19th, just finishing playing video games together. We were walking through the house in the dark and she tried to scare me with this scary ritual, saying that she was going to do it.

Thoughts: I imagine the combination of sleep deprivation, lack of light, and the general atmosphere of being in an empty house would make for a fun time. Apparently this can be played with multiple people at one time so you could probably mess around with each other a great deal. With that in mind, I suspect this actually could have been a punishment ritual, though I am unsure where it would be used. The game could be turned into a form of psychological torture to get people to confess to crimes by making them think a demon was coming to kill them anyway.

Memorate of Racism and Corona Coughing

Informant: My editing partner told me about how she started having a coughing fit in class and the teacher actually asked her to leave. Like it wasn’t even the cough associated with Covid, it was a wet cough that she had been suffering from for a while. Everyone in class was freaking out even after she left.

Interviewer: She actually left the class? Do you think there was any racism as a part of it?

Informant: Oh it was racially charged. To say that it wasn’t racially charged would be f***ed. She’s f***ing asian.

Background: My informant and I were discussing the fear that was taking over the university campus and she brought up this story she heard from a friend.

Context:

Thoughts: The reason why I had to ask a clarifying question was because I suspected the student in question was Asian. At the time a lot of Asian students were facing racists slights such as this. It makes me wonder if the informant’s friend still would have been asked to leave the class if she wasn’t Asian.

The Legend of The Beast of Bodmin Moor

Informant: In the 1970s there was a rumor, legend, whatever, that there was a beast on Bodmin Moor in Devon. The moor was isolated and creepy and people became afraid to go there because of this beast. You need to know there were a lot of sheep on the moor that had been found mutilated and chewed by something. And there were reported sightings of a huge panther like thing with yellow eyes and a big black cloak. Then in the late 1970s people said somebody found a huge cat like a lion or a tiger or something. The rumor said it had been released from a nearby zoo or private owner, someone like Jo Exotic.
Other people said it was some sort of paranormal beast. Nobody ever got a picture of it. But THEN, and I think it was the late 1970s, somebody found a tiger or a panther skull on the moor.

Interviewer: So wait there actually way a panther on the moors?

Informant: Ah but! They sent it to the museum in London and it was indeed the skull of a panther, but the way it was detached from the rest of the body it looked like a rug. It turned out somebody had chucked out an old ratty rug and it rotted away leaving only the skull. So the mystery has never been solved.

Interviewer: Do you think it could have been someone just wearing the rug as a costume and messing with people?

Informant: Might have been, yeah. Could have been.

Interviewer: But I don’t know how they would have disemboweled the sheep like what you described.

Informant: Yeah. There weren’t wolves around there in 1978, I don’t think, so it couldn’t have been them. But it might have been foxes or natural wildlife, or a big dog.

Context: I asked my informant about what stories she knew about as a kid growing up in England. This was the first thing that came to mind.

Thoughts: There are pictures of a black cat when one searches for the beast which definitely coincides with my informants description of the creatures. I wonder if once upon a time there was a large cat in the area or if it really was just a large dog.

Vapuru. A Hispanic home remedy to cure Sinus Issues

Abstract: Vapuru, also known as Vaseline is the first line of defense whenever someone has a sore throat or a stuffy nose. This petroleum jelly frequently came up in J’s household as a kid especially since he grew up with allergies. His parents always rubbed the jell on his nose when it was stuffy or his throat when he was coughing a lot or had a sore throat. This cream meant for skincare was exploited and used for many other uses that J claims work like a charm and always helped him out. 

Background: JP is a Mexican America from Florida who takes pride in the traditions he’s received from his family as a child and continues to practice them with his children. He believes that his grandparents are the origin of this practice but also notes that a lot of Mexican families may share these same traditions and feels its part of the morals of a Hispanic household. This conversation came up while we were discussing what similarities we’ve experienced when we were younger.

Transcript:

P: Did your family ever use Vaseline for you as a child or even recently to help with your allergies or when you couldn’t sleep at night? 

J: haha yes they did! I always had some issues with coughing or with a stuffy nose so my parents would just say a quick positive saying that basically means feel better today and then rubbed on the nose or on my neck and then I would feel the Vapuru warm-up and then my throat started to feel better. As I got older I learned up Vapuru to buy for myself and I found out the jelly is meant for skincare so it was awkward asking a pharmacist where the petroleum jelly is for curing nose congestion or a sore throat. I guess this magical medicine is only used in a Hispanic household (laughs).

Interpretation: 

This Vaseline/ Petroleum Jelly is a huge hit in Hispanic families as I also grew up using it when I was sick or had some sinus issues. J mentioned that this method has been around since his parents were young which shows its a growing tradition that’s been around as long as the petroleum jelly’s been produced. The jelly’s alluded powers are what seem to assist these conditions because it clearly wasn’t designed to relieve congestion or throat pain thus the real magic behind this item is the number of times it’s been said the jelly curies these symptoms. The petroleum jelly seems like a fluke but it symbolizes how a conventional item from a market can be turned into a powerful curing substance that’s influenced many Hispanic families.

The Catholic Cross and its Influence

Abstract:  

Background: H is a student at the University of Southern California who’s experienced this traditional ceremony from her transition into womanhood. She’s lived in California her entire life and is a first-generation American and her family keeps many of their traditions from Mexico alive in her life.  She believes that the way her Quince was conducted is very traditional but also has a few twists that are uncommon to the format. The topic was brought up during lunch while discussing our family roots and how important religion is to their family. 

Interview:

H: Continuing on with the religion in my household above my bed and the bed of parents which is the holy cross which is a great symbol for us especially the religious part. Its another reminder of religion to us and we sometimes pray with them or pray while facing them. 

P: Are they blessed or have you taken them to a church? 

H: Yes, we took them to the church where I was baptized to get them blessed by the priest of the church who is a nice friend of ours, and then we hung them where we did. It’s a nice symbol because it also gives us a lot of hope when we’re down and shows us there are better days ahead, especially during this lockdown. 

Interpretation:

From this, it seems that this cross has the ability to bring families together and connect them through faith almost a magical power. This Folk Item represents the Hispanic ideals of carrying the catholic faith and continuing to practice it even in the home. The fact she mentions they blessed the cross as well shows the blending of a folk item and magic since the blessing requires an enchantment or a prayer to be said to be blessed. This folk item holds a lot of significance since it’s in multiple rooms and it was mentioned that this item is taken down and used when prayers are said especially prayers for a lost one or for one to feel better. This powerful item is a clear part of their family’s traditions and will continue to be for future generations. She also mentioned that the cross in her mother’s room belonged to her great-grandma so it been around for a while.

The Jewish Penicillin

Abstract: The Jewish take on Chicken Soup which is said to be a powerful substance when you’re not feeling well or you’re going through lows in health. This tradition has gone on for a few years but its actual origin is unknown. This remedy isn’t restricted to those of Jewish faith as well as it was mentioned that Christians and protestants use this remedy as well either for illness healing or for the enjoyment of eating soup.

Background: SD is a Jewish-American who attends the university of southern California who’s lived in Arkansas. He’s been living a somewhat Jewish household that holds on to a few of the secrets and traditions celebrated by Orthodox Jews. The Jewish Penicillin is a fancy name to describe chicken soup however this chicken soup apparently has some extra zest which makes it more effective than regular soup. This topic came up while we were discussing some home remedies which our families used to help when we’re ill.  

Transcript: 

P: Ok so I told you about my traditional medicine, give me something you’ve relied on. 

S: So its really simple, its just chicken soup but everyone calls it the Jewish penicillin-like when some I knew had back surgery we got the chicken soup and they were excited we brought them Jewish Penicillin. 

P: Is it like part of the religion to use Jewish Penicillin whenever you’re not healthy?

S: This tradition seems to extend outside the Jewish religion because it’s known about by other religions. Like my mom always told me while I’m at college if I’m sick to go and buy some chicken soup from the store before buying medicine. She really believes it’s extremely effective and honestly so do it. 

P: So what’s the twist? What is the traditional way to prepare this Jewish penicillin?

S: The difference is we use a kosher chicken and sometimes people put in matzo balls which is way different than regular chicken soup but I believe the rest of it is pretty similar to regular chicken soup. 

Interpretation:

It’s interesting to hear that it was labeled Jewish Penicillin yet everyone was using it as a method to feel better. It seems like the chicken soup was over-exaggerated when it comes to its effects but I feel it not about the soup but the lore behind it. The soup carries with it a lot of history and lore which is where the effects come to play. People for a long period of time have been believing in the idea that the new soup carries a lot of mystical powers and through this belief, the effects of this soup are increased. It is noted as well that this soup also has a second use that is able to heal the mind and restore you to a calmer state. 

S doesn’t know the origins of this Folklore but he believes its outlasted a long period of time at least beyond the life of his grandparents. He mentions that he believes the concept is passed down from each generation so it is a significant remedy that is kept alive by many families of Jewish and non-Jewish generations due to its alluded powers of healing. However, S does make a note that not every group makes it the same and there might be some adaptations to the recipe depending on the religious group. 

Saci: The Brazilian Prankster

Abstract: A description of a Brazilians view of the character known as Saci-pererê. He is a one-legged short creature with dark skin who smokes a pipe and wears a red hat. He is the Brazilian prankster who is said to cause chaos when he teleports in and out. One of the key iterations told is his red cap is said to have a bad scent with doesn’t fair well. Other aspects that were mentioned about the trickster is his willingness to cause little harm to day to day life such as teasing dogs, releasing farm animals and cursing essential items such as chicken eggs to prevent them from hatching.

Background: MC is a Brazilian currently living in Florida and is a student at the University of Southern California. She’s an advocate for Brazilian culture and expresses it by speaking highly of their myths and legends and even partaking in the semi-religious activities such as wearing bracelets with powers to grant wishes to the wearer. She describes one of the few stories heard from parents when she was younger and details it below.

The legend

P: So tell me a legend that’s been with you to this day

MC: Ok so there is this character that I remember known as Saci and he was like a mischievous little guy who always wore a red had only one leg which I thought was so weird. He also had this red hat which when he wore it allowed him to disappear and then reappear and the thing was every time he did this, he caused a small tornado to appear like a dust devil I guess. 

P: So he’s like brazils version of the Norse god Loki? 

MC: Yeah exactly he’s like the Loki in the marvel movies except he bothers all of the locals and enjoys it too. Like what I heard is he tends to mess with your crops and stuff and ruin your day so people try to catch him and contain him to keep him from annoying the hell out of you 

Interpretation:

My understanding of this character really came down to the parallel between Loki and Saci. It seems like he was a character commonly referred to when things went wrong in brazil such as MC made the comment that there was a phrase people said where it went like, “Saci must’ve been here again.” He seems like a great example of a Brazilian Oikotype seen this type of personality has been interpreted into other cultures like Norse Mythology or the Brazilian version of a Leprechaun. It was also mentioned that the story of this character was told by slaves and adapted in a way to scare both the children and fellows members. It seems like this character was a great influence on the culture as a way to explain certain phenomena which they had no explanation for so Saci was a great answer to the question of who released my animals or why there are small tornados across the land.