USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk Beliefs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Drama Cat

The source is a fifth-grade student who has acting in the Seattle Country Day School’s school plays for the past three years.

Can you tell me about the drama cat?

The drama cat is a statue. We worship it before each show, on the opening night of the show.

How do you worship it? 

Well the 6th and 7th graders lead it. And they teach it to the kids in my grade. We do a chant, we have to say “All hail the drama cat” and we build a new shrine for the drama cat each—every time there’s a new show.

Why is it important to worship the drama cat?

It’s really really bad luck if you don’t do it. Or if just one kid doesn’t do it, you’ll have a bad show. So it’s really important that we get everyone to do it. Even if they don’t want to [laughs]

Does [your drama teacher] know about the drama cat?

Yes, he knows about it. He’s friends with it. But he does think it’s distracting if we make the worship too long. Like last show [the drama teacher] got mad at us for doing the drama cat worship too long and not setting up the props.

Will you continue the drama cat when you’re a 6th grader.

Yes I will. I’m going to keep it going and teach it to the next people.

Folk medicine

Football Folk Medicine – Pickle Juice

Knowing sports are highly ritualistic and superstitious I ask my informant, a football player of many years if he had any experience with folk remedies. This is what he said.

“For football, we all drink pickle juice before a game or in the middle of it because it stops cramps, like we fill Gatorade cups full of pickle juice. The salt helps absorb water because of the salt. Or eat mustard, it has the same effect. Our trainer has us do it. Cramps will make a player come out of the game, it sucks to come out, so we try to prevent them or make them go away so we can get back out there. Cramps are a stupid way to leave the game so yo drink pickle juice. You get used to the taste, it’s not great, but you chase with gatorade, but it’s worth it. It also works, I mean if it’s between taking a shot of pickle juice or not playing we would all take the pickle juice because paying is important. And it works”

Analysis:

Usually folk remedies turn into scientific remedies and vice versa. Or often they are placebo effects, and people believe that what they are doing will cure them. Neither are truly the case here. This is simply a long standing practice in sports where there is a lot of quick actions and muscle cramps are common. Salt does help reduce water in a body’s system, but it is unclear whether it truly helps reduce cramps. It may just all be in the mind or it may not. However, the players believe it, the trainers believe it, so it works. It’s a folk remedy that works for this team and many, but is not a part of conventional western medicine. However, someday it may evolve into western medicine or some medical product may be on the market for muscle cramps, but this team uses pickle juice. Pickle juice isn’t sold to reduce cramps, in fact just pickle juice isn’t sold, pickles are sold then the juice is re-appropriated for medical use.

 

Folk medicine
Homeopathic

Rosemary Herb as Medicine

In the following interview, a energy worker and herbal and flower essence specialist explains the significance of the rosemary herb:

Interviewer: “What is one of the main herbs you suggest to your patients?”

Informant: “Rosemary is an herbal staple.  It’s a grounding herb that helps your spirit stay connected to your physical body especially during stressful and challenging situations”

Interviewer: “How do people use Rosemary?”

Informant: “You can rub the herb on any part of your body to make you feel more grounded, especially the forehead and in the palms.  Rosemary can also be ingested which will have the same effect”

Analysis: I have used rosemary and believe it works.  I feel more grounded and able to control my own body when either ingesting or touching this herb however I understand that there is a lack of scientific evidence to back up this claim.  I first heard about this homeopathic method from the informant who heard it from her teacher who prefers to remain anonymous.  She does energy work on both humans and animals and has had great success with her controversial methods.  Using the Earth’s resources as medicine has been around since the beginning of time and the informant is building off of their ancient work to discover more about the undiscovered field.

Folk Beliefs
Narrative

Coyote Creates Human Beings

According to the Nez Perce legend, a long time ago, a coyote created human beings.  My old history teacher still teaches this story when he teaches Washington State History and in an interview he retold the story:

Interviewer: “How did Coyote create human beings?”

Informant: “Before there were people on Earth, there were animals.  Until one day, a huge monster ate all the animals in sight.  Coyote was the only animal left on Earth and wondered where all his friends went.  Upon hearing the tragic news, Coyote became infuriated and vowed to stop the monster and rescue his friends.  So Coyote went across the Snake River to the highest peak in the Wallowa mountains and tied himself to the mountain with rope.  He then challenged the monster to try to eat him.  The monster tried but the rope was too strong and the monster panicked and tried to befriend Coyote because he could not eat him.  After building more trust between the two of them, Coyote asked to go inside the monsters stomach to see all his friends.  The monster agreed and when in his stomach Coyote saw all his friends were safe and plotted to free them.  Coyote then used his fire starter to start a fire in the monster’s stomach and took his knife and cut the monster’s heart down.  The monster died and all the animals escaped.  Coyote decided that in honor of the event he would create a new animal, a human being, so he cut up the monster into four pieces and flung them into the four winds to create tribes of Native American people.  He then washed the monster’s blood off his hands and proclaimed, ‘here on this ground I make the Nez Perce.  They will be few in number, but they will be strong and pure'”

Analysis: The origin story of man according to the Nez Perce also serves as the origin story of the Nez Perce tribe.  Their origin story tells much about their people as they are exactly how Coyote describes them as few in number but strong and pure.  This is one of the most important pieces of folklore to the Nez Perce people because it tells their story.  Most tribes have their own origin stories of their tribe and mankind which tells more about the tribe and their culture and beliefs than it does about how the first man was created.  Common Native American motifs are present in this piece of folklore including the presence of animal characters all named their animal names, and how it tells the story of creation.  I particularly enjoy this piece of folklore because I heard it in middle school and again in highs school taking Washington State history.

 

Another version of this same story can be found here: http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/CoyoteCreatesHumanBeings-NezPerce.html

general
Legends
Magic

El Familiar

The following Argentinian urban legend was told by my old high school history teacher:

“There are many urban legends in Argentina, my favorite being El Familiar.  According to the legend originating in the sugar plantation in Salta, Tuchman, and Jujuy, the Argentinian government was struggling economically which meant the sugar industry would take a big hit. However, the titans of the sugar industry found a way around their economic misfortune, by partnering with the Devil.  The Devil promised to protect the sugar industry from the failing economy in return for a yearly human sacrifice.  The sacrifice would be selected by the sugar industry and then dragged to the Devil in Hell by a decapitated black, rabid dog dragging a chain around its neck.  Legend has it, the dog still rabidly wander the sugar plantations searching for its next victim”

Analysis:  Although this is only a legend, it has increased religious practices of protection in the northern areas of Argentina.  The eminent threat of the Devil leads Argentinians to use rosaries or blessed crucifixes for protection.  This is one of my favorite pieces of folklore because I am very interested in urban legends.  Although they are never true, they have a great impact on the communities and culture around them.  In this case, the old urban legend has decreased unwanted activity in sugar plantations and increased religious faith in northern Argentina.

Folk medicine
general
Homeopathic
Protection

Stone Circle Flower Essence as Medicine

In the following interview, a energy worker and herbal and flower essence specialist explains the significance of the stone circle flower essence:

Interviewer: “What are some of your favorite flower essences?”

Informant: “I find the stone circle flower essence to be quite powerful.  It places an aura of solid protection in the energy field so that one does not take on any unbalanced energy from the environment”

Interviewer: “Who do you recommend this essence to?”

Informant: “People and animals under a lot of stress that need balance in their life.  Especially people or animals who are ultra sensitive to the energy around them and therefore have a higher risk of getting hit with negative energy.  They have to be protected.”

Interviewer: “Who is an ultra sensitive”

Informant: “Your sister, for one.  She is very effected by her environment and the littlest thing could throw her off balance.  For example if a big storm came with a bunch of negative energy that could mess up her balance as well as if she got in a big fight with her parents or is stressed about school work.  Anything out of routine could potentially upset their balance.”

Interviewer: “So how should people like my sister take this flower essence?”

Informant: “I make it at home and it comes in a little dropper bottle.  It’s a liquid that can either be ingested or rubbed on the skin or hair”

Analysis: The informant learned all of her practices from her teacher who would prefer to remain anonymous who learned them from a teacher before her.  This folklore is especially important to me because it pertains to my sister.  I have first-hand seen the effects of this flower essence and how it has completely changed my sister’s personality.  She is more patient now and in control of her emotions.  Although there is a lack of scientific evidence, this remedy that has been passed down for generations seems to work at least in the informant’s experience.

Legends
Magic

Kiamuki House and the Kasha

The following urban legend was told by a Hawaiian native that she learned from her auntie:

“Theres this creepy looking haunted house on the corner of 8th and Harding that they just tore down last summer but they’re trying to rebuild….they shouldn’t. It’s home to a kasha.  A kasha is a demon that feeds on human corpses and there’s one probably still living on that plot of land.  The kasha first started inhabiting the house after a man killed his wife, son and daughter in his house and buried their bodies on the property.  The bodies of the wife and the son have been found but the daughter’s body is still missing…because she’s now the kasha that haunts the Kiamuki house.  She tried to claim her first victim in 1942.  The police received a desperate phone call from the woman who lived in the house in 1942 claiming that her children were being strangled by a ghost.  The police responded to this call and were terrified at what they saw at the house.  According to police reports, they witnessed the two children being thrown around and strangled by an unseen entity.  After about an hour and a half the policemen were finally able to save the children from the kasha and evacuate the family from the house never to return…but that did not stop different people from moving in. After the family moved out, three women moved into the house and one night the kasha violently grabbed one of the women’s arms.  They quickly called the police and they responded and offered to escort the women to another house for the night.  On their drive, the kasha reappeared and started choking one of the women.  The car pulled over and  the two other women struggled to get the kasha off of their friend.  The policeman also pulled over and tried to help the women but was restrained by what he describes as a ‘large calloused hand.’ Finally he was able to break free and get the kasha off of the woman.  He offered to drive the women to the house but when they got into his car it wouldn’t start so the women returned to their car and all of a sudden both cars worked again.  As they drove down the road the policeman recalls seeing the car door get ripped off of the car and thrown into the road by an unseen entity which then continued to drag one of the women out of the car and strangle her to death while her friends and the policeman watched helplessly”

Analysis: This terrifying ghost story might be more than an urban legend with detailed police reports that are still unexplainable, after all how do you explain someone being choked to death by thin air?  The informant sounded utterly terrified of this house and claimed she will always take a longer driving route if it means avoiding that neighborhood.  The common ghost story motifs are all present in this chilling story because the kasha is a young girl who was tragically murdered who’s purpose is now to inflict harm to others.  However, this goes further than a common ghost story because there are detailed police accounts and multiple accounts of attacks on the property.  This story has been passed down to generations of Hawaiians as a tale of caution to always avoid the Kaimuki House.

 

Folk medicine
Homeopathic

Scarlet Monkey Flower Essence as Medicine

In the following interview, a energy worker and herbal and flower essence specialist explains the significance of the scarlet monkey flower essence:

Interviewer: “Which herbs or flower essences help with emotions?”

Informant: “Scarlet monkey flower essence is one of my favorite flower essences because it addresses the fear of repressed strong emotions, especially those of anger and powerlessness.  It helps one communicate clearly and directly with emotional honesty.”

Interviewer: “Who would you recommend scarlet monkey flower to?”

Informant: “Well your mom currently takes scarlet monkey flower.  She has expressed and I have observed that she struggles with accepting her emotions so she has been using this flower essence for a few months now”

Analysis: My mother claims this flower essence works and has improved her quality of life significantly as she is happier and more in tune with herself and her spirit.  I agree as she has been much better at communicating with me when she is feeling angry or upset instead of just letting her emotions brew until one day she explodes.  This flower essence has been passed down for generations from the informants teacher to her and now to my mother who excitedly tells anyone willing to listen about the miracle essence.  Although the flower essence is ancient, the informant is finding new uses for it in the ever adapting world.

Folk medicine

Cold Remedies

Main Piece:

The participant/interviewee is marked as MG.

MG: “No salgas con el cabello mojado.” (Don’t go out with wet hair)

“If you wet you feet, you have to take a shower.”

If you go to the beach you have to take a shower…a lot of sayings have to do with getting sick.

LJ: When do you get these? Are their remedies?

MG: They’re about getting…catching the cold or a fever. Um…my mom usually gives me some “vaporu” (Vapor Rub). Hahaha. And like, and then again, because I’m really sick and I didn’t listen the first time, I shouldn’t go outside. And then if I DO go outside, I have to cover up, especially the nasal passages.

Ohhh! There’s like certain things. One of the most recent things that my mom told me, she probably learned it from the radio. Its vinger…apple cider vinegar. If you do garggles, then that kinda clears up your throat.

LJ: Do they make you feel better?

MG: Mmmm….it’s not really a quick result. So if you keep doing it, it helps. Hahaha But it might just be that over time you get better.

 

Context:

Participant and I were walking at night on the way to an event. This conversation was recorded then.

Background:

Marisol: The participant is a second year student at the University of Southern California. She was raised in Santa Ana, California in a Mexican/Catholic background. She has two older siblings and lives in a two parent household.

Analysis:

There are many Mexican sayings about how to avoid being sick. MG touched on a few of these. However, she received all of them from her mother. Indicating that perhaps her mom is the more caring parent or the one that spends the most time with the children.

Within the interview, MG mentioned “vaporu” an American-made topical gel intended to help with minor diseases, like the common cold. It is common remedy within the Mexican community. There are several articles/memes about how often it is used. The participated acknowledged understanding the context of it by laughing.

Although the participant takes these remedies, she also sees that they may only be helping her mentally–as a placebo affect. This is a way in which traditional/folk knowledge intersects with academic/scientific knowledge. What she has learned as a student in the United States, allows her to question the validity of these remedies.

Humor
Narrative
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
Tales /märchen

The Cook and the Cowhands

There was a joke that my grandpa used to tell. It’s a little off color but not so bad. But he told the story, and then my mom told the story, and I haven’t really told it but I can tell it to you so you can hear it. It’s a little bit racist but you can take the race out of it and it works just the same. This is a story that my grandfather’s older brother and father told him. So there was a ranch in the West somewhere, probably Colorado or California. There were cowhands, and they were working all day on the ranch, and they had a cook named Wong. They thought they would play some practical jokes on him. When Wong was sleeping, the cowhands they would tie his shoes together with lots of knots. The next day they waited for a reactions, but nothing happened—he just fixed his shoes and didn’t mention it. The next day they put thumbtacks on his seat. They waited to see his reaction, and when he sat down he kind of grimaced, but just swept them away and didn’t really care. The next day they either short-sheeted his bed or soaked his sheets with water—I don’t really remember. They waited for a reaction, and no reaction. So they finally decided to talk to him. “So Wong, you’ve been a really good sport, tying your shoes in knots and putting thumbtacks on your seat, and messing with your sheets, so we won’t do that to you anymore.” In a different voice; “You no more put knots in my shoes?” “No, no more knots in your shoes.” “You no more put tackies on my seat?” “No, no more tacks on your seat.” “You no more soak my sheets in water?” “No, we won’t soak your sheets in water anymore.” “Good, well I no more pee pee in your soup.”

This story is important to the informant because of its history, and it having been passed down for multiple generations. It reminds him of how different the world used to be regarding the treatment of minorities, and their portrayal.

I find it interesting that the racist aspect of this narrative isn’t actually essential to the story– it could be told just about the same, without making stereotypical voices or mentioning the races of the characters.

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