USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk Beliefs
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Salt for bad spirits

My informant is an American from New York, whose family originally came from Poland 100 years ago. His grandfather was a baker and his grandmother was a peasant girl.

“She used to take salt with her when she went to new places, put them at corner and drive away bad spirits.”

“I think it’s their superstition from their peasants’ logic 100 years ago.”

I’ve actually heard this mystic belief of connection between salt and bad spirits in more than one cultures. To me it sounds very random and arbitrary, but if this activity could comfort the people who believe in that from anxiety and insecurity, I don’t think it should be criticized as superstition in a harsh way.

Digital
Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

王八蛋 Son of a bitch

A “wángbādàn 忘/王八蛋” is the offspring of a woman lacking virtue. Another meaning of 王八 is 鼈 biē, fresh-water turtle.[4] Turtle heads reemerging from hiding in the turtle’s shell look like the glans emerging from the foreskin, and turtles lay eggs. So a “wang ba” is a woman who has lost her virtue, and a “wang ba dan” is the progeny of such a woman, a turtle product, but, figuratively, also a penis product.

This profanity term has actually been widely used in China for many years, and it is a pretty offensive one to use. I find in both western and eastern culture, it is considered to be very offensive one when the subject is related to close family members.

 

Digital
Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

看颜值 Score of Face

“2016年人丑就要多读书,体胖就要多跑步,又丑又胖的童鞋们,读书和跑步这两项运动似乎都不大适合你,狗带吧!2016年讲段子也得看颜值了!”

“In the year of 2016, READ more if you were ugly, RUN more if you were a fat-ass. For those who are both ugly and fat, stop wasting your time, just GO DIE! In the year of 2016, you have to look good even for telling this kind of joke!”

The popular culture in China nowadays has an unusual spotlight on people’s face, and there is a standard look that pleases the majority people. Ironically, that standard is based on the look of western people. Many people there have spent lots of many to do the surgery in order to look more “beautiful,” which are stereotyped into big eyes, high nose, small face… This almost became a “must” standard for the majority to judge on others, they call it “Score of Face.”

I think this is a funny, ridiculous and creepy phenomenon that people want to fit the arbitrary standard of beauty, and eventually they almost all look the same.

 

 

 

Reference:

http://lizhi.shangc.net/a/201601/12159.html

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general

Energy Healing with water

Informant is a water based energy healer. In the healing practice that informant is a part of, you submerge the crystal into water during a healing session. You submerge it in water to dispel bad energy. She learned this from shaman teacher.

Her friend is a fire based energy healer and they burn their crystals which is considered extremely negative by water healers.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Rakija-Croatian Brandy that burns like Hell

Informant FV is my grandfather who was born and raised in Split, Croatia. Rakija is a type of fruit brandy that is popular in Croatia and in other surrounding nations. As a young boy, FV grew up in a traditional Croatian family who upheld their culture through a variety of cuisines and spirits. Growing up, he was taught that Rakija is a natural remedy that kills any kind of bacteria, relieves stomach or muscle pain, and helps disinfect wounds:

“Rakija”or “Rakia”

What kind of drink is Rakija?

FV: “Rakija is an alcoholic beverage that I would say is an equivalent to brandy. It generally has a fruity taste to it.”

What areas are known to have Rakija?

FV: “Rakija is a very popular drink that is served primarily in Croatia, but also in neighboring countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, and Montenegro. It is usually served with ‘smokve,’ which are dried figs at the beginning of a meal. One of the most popular flavors in Croatia is called “šlijvovica,” which is made of plums. I prefer šlijvovica (shlivovitza) because it has a sweeter taste to it and it goes well with the dried figs or mixed nuts.”

When did the belief begin that Rakija could be used as a medical aid?

FV: “Oh who knows exactly when that came about. Ages and ages ago, but it has been a long known belief that it has helped heal certain types of pain if used correctly.”

What could you use Rakija for besides drinking?

FV: “Well, if you have severe stomach pain or the flu and you take a shot of it, the ingredients within Rakija help subside the pain. If you have an open wound and you rub a little bit of Rakija onto it, the Rakija will act as a disinfectant. It burns like hell but it gets the job done.”

Where did you learn this trick about Rakija?

FV: “Oh you learn about these remedies from family members and friends. It is a pretty common thing to know in Croatia. I learned about because I would always be doing something that consisted of me getting hurt, whether I was out playing with my friends or getting into some kind of trouble. Those who use Rakija for medical purposes agree that it does help with certain medical issues if used properly.”

Does Rakija have any importance to you specifically?

FV: “I enjoy drinking Rakija on special occasions, like on Christmas or Easter with figs or nuts. It’s a strong drink that is meant for certain occasions. Even though it is a type of spirit meant for drinking, it has serves as a medical aid. This belief that Rakija can cure certain things has been going on for ages and will continue to go on as it has shown to work.”

What context or situation is Rakija normally used in?

FV: “Well Rakija is a alcoholic beverage served at special occasions like parties, festivals, or on holidays. It is an iconic Croatian spirit that people enjoy drinking at these events. Rakija also comes in a variety of different flavors, one being “šlijvovica,” which is the plum flavor. This one you’ll find in a typical party setting or household.”

Analysis:

It isn’t a party until there is a bottle of Rakija on the table. For most Croatians, Rakija is a popular spirit used at parties or special gatherings. Not only is it a common spirit that is accompanied by dried figs or nuts, it is known in the Croatian culture as a medical aid. If you have not tried drinking Rakija or putting it on an open wound, then you are not at all Croatian.

Folk Beliefs

Penny in a Purse

Informant AV is my grandmother, who was born and raised in Florence, Italy. She was taught by her mother to always put a penny inside a purse or wallet if it was being gifted.

How did you learn to put a penny inside a purse or a wallet as part of your gift giving traditions?

AV: “Well, I was taught by my mother that you never gift a purse or wallet without placing a penny inside. It is supposed to assure the pursing who is receiving the gift to have good luck and it is to ensure that the person who receives the gift will not be without any money.”

How did your mother learn about this belief?

AV: “This was a tradition that was upheld within my Italian family for generations. My mother learned it from her mother. Once I became old enough to understand the value of a dollar, my mother shared this tradition with me. I think it’s a nice little addition of positivity that accompanies a gift. My friends over the years have asked me why I put a penny inside certain items like a purse or wallet and I just explain to them that it was just something I grew up with as a young girl that I have carried along with me and to help ensure that the gift that I am giving provides positivity and good luck. It’s funny, now some of my girlfriends do the same thing as I do ever since they asked me about it.”

Does this have any significance to you today?

AV: “I would say so because it was a tradition that my mother and my grandmother passed down to me and my sister and it is something that is still very much a part of my traditions. I have also taught my daughter when she was little the same gesture who has now taught her two daughters. I think it is very special that my traditions that I have learned growing up are continuing to be passed down to the next generation.”

Analysis

My grandmother identifies with this tradition because it helped her to understand the importance of money at a young age through the teachings of her mother and grandmother. It was a tradition that was sustained in her family for generations that still holds value and serves as a tool to pass on good luck to others. As her granddaughter, I have learned to follow in the same tradition.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Gestures

Baseball Rituals: “When in Doubt, Tap the Hip”

Informant AB is a 23-year-old male who is from the East Bay in Northern California. He is a student at the University of Southern California in his third year as a civil engineer major. Informant AB also plays club baseball at USC:

AB: “I play baseball and it is my favorite sport to play. I have been playing since I was 5 or 6 years old and I am still playing on the club team at USC.”

Do you have any particular rituals or customs you perform prior to a game?

AB: “Yes I have two main rituals that I do in baseball. So I play “infield” and when you’re in the infield you are always taking your one-two step to get ready for the ground ball before the pitcher hits so that you are ready to field it, which is pretty common for everybody, but one thing I do just kind of on top of that before every pitch is that I take my glove and I kind of almost tap it on my left hip ever so slightly to just shift the glove in my hand so it feels better in my hand. It’s just something that makes me more comfortable, maybe more confident in feeling grounders and being ready for the potential play coming my way. I also wear the same pair of baseball sliders that I never wash. I’ve had them for years and years and I wear them at all my practices and games. They make me feel more positive about each game or practice because of all of the great wins and experiences I’ve had while wearing them.”

Who did you learn these rituals from?

AB: “My dad actually played baseball for most of his life and when I was little I would watch him play. I would see that he would do the same gesture I do today. I remember asking him one day why he would tap his hip with his glove and he said it would help him to focus and center himself during the games. When I started playing in little league, that’s when I started doing the same gesture my dad did. I guess watching him as a little kid, I picked up on some of the things he did while he played. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

What do these rituals mean to you?

AB: “Well, growing up watching my dad play and learning my ritual from him holds a special place in my heart. I really looked up to him when I was little. I just think it is something special. It brought us closer together.”

Analysis:

Informant AB’s baseball rituals were passed down by someone he looked up to as a young child and is something that he continues to do as an adult. As America’s favorite past time, there are countless folk beliefs in baseball that surround good and bad luck such as rituals being practiced during the seventh inning stretch, to verbal lore being performed during the game. I think it is interesting how as a young child the informant noticed the rituals his father would perform while out on the field and how much of an impact his father had made on him growing up. Their passion for baseball and their father-son dynamic depicts how rituals can be passed down to the next generation through a strong familial bond.

 

Folk Beliefs

“Živa istina!”

Informant AV is my grandmother, who was born and raised in Florence, Italy. She moved to Croatia as a young adult and speaks Croatian and Italian fluently. “Živa istina” is a phrase used in the Croatian culture when someone sneezes while speaking the truth. It solidifes that the truth is being spoken as the person sneezes:

Živa istina!”

“Truth alive!”

“The truth is alive!” or “The Living Truth!”

What kind of context is this phrase used in?

AV: “This phrase is used in the context of a spirited conversation where a person is trying to speak their truth about a very significant point. If a sneeze occurs while the person is making his or her point, then it is used as a substantiation of the truth.”

How did you learn about this phrase?

AV: “It’s a common phrased that has been used in my family for many many years.”

Does this phrase have any meaning to you?

AV: “Yes it does in that I say it ever time I or someone is trying to make a point in a conversation after they sneeze.”

Analysis:

This is a unique Croatian phrase that is used in cases where people are interacting with each other through discussion. It is believed that a sneeze during a conversation proved the truth of the statement.

Folk Beliefs
Legends

Alamo Folk Stories

TO is a junior at the University of Southern California, originally from San Antonio, TX.

Growing up in Texas, TO had lots of folk stories to share about the Alamo:

“Everyone in the Alamo died because they were slaughtered by the Mexican Army, but they chose to stay anyways and didn’t surrender…and then at the Battle of San Jacinto which ended the Texas Revolution, there was a kid there that was fighting, and I guess he was supposedly at the Alamo but he didn’t die because he was a kid and they let him go…the Mexican Army was losing this battle so they were retreating and this kid came upon a soldier, and obviously the Texans were shouting “Remember the Alamo!” And the Mexican guys were all shouting “me no Alamo,” trying to say they weren’t at the Alamo, and this kid who had escaped looked at one of them and said “me Alamo” and killed him.

Another one was about the Mexican surrender and the end of the revolution…the leader of the Mexican Army, Santa Anna, got shot in the foot. They were obviously losing so he put on a foot-soldier’s uniform, and was captured with the other foot soldiers. So he was trying to get away with just being a normal soldier, except then the other soldiers started calling him ‘el presidente’ – the Texans figured out who he was and eventually forced him to sign over Texas and retreat.”

My analysis:

These stories about the Texas Revolution aren’t necessarily found in the history books, and their origins aren’t clear, but they give Texans some great folk heroes to refer back to when talking about the Revolution. A lot of times the stories about battles and wars that are repeated aren’t necessarily true, at least not exactly the way they’re told – no one can really verify some of the stories about Paul Revere in the American Revolution, and often the real origins just aren’t as exciting. Folk stories like these about important events give the descendants a more lyrical way of sharing history with the next generation, and in general are just more exciting to tell.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Gestures
Signs

Deadly Chopsticks

KM is a third-generation Japanese-American from Los Angeles, CA. She now lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and 18-year-old son.

KM gave me some insight on chopstick etiquette that was passed down from her Japanese parents:

“So in Japan, when you’re eating rice with chopsticks, or really anything which chopsticks, you NEVER rest them by sticking them straight up in your food. It looks like the number 4 spelled out, and in Japanese culture 4 is a very unlucky number – it means death. If you go to Japan you’ll never find anything grouped or sold in 4s, it’s just superstition, like how in America people are scared of the number 13. Also, you never point your chopsticks at people, like if you’re talking at the dinner table. It’s rude, and a little threatening.”

My analysis:

Many cultures have different traditions surrounding food and table etiquette, and this folk belief offers insight into utensil practices many American might not be familiar with. While Asian cuisine is not absent here, it’s often transformed over time by the influence of other places, or even other Asian cultures (like common Japanese-Korean fusion). People from all over use chopsticks, but it’s important to be aware of protocol observed by those whose heritage is more authoritative.

Apparently, chopsticks stuck straight-up in rice also imitate incense sticks on the altar at a funeral, another symbol of death or bad luck. Oftentimes people avoid mixing their foodways with death imagery, compounded by the prevalence of rice in Japanese meals.

I also think it’s interesting that the subject is Japanese-American, and three generations removed at that. Seeing which customs are continued when a family emigrates shows both their cultural and individual values, or superstitions that for some reason or another “stick” in places where they’re not observed.

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