USC Digital Folklore Archives / October, 2010
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Folk Ritual – California

Welcome to the Club:

Getting your prescription

- Folk Ritual

“A growing ritual exhibited by many California smokers has become the journey to acquiring a club card.  Essentially, this card allows you to legally purchase and possess marijuana.  This is made possible on the grounds that it is for medical use only.  Access into the clubs which sell the weed requires the possession of the card.  The only way to get the card is to go and see a weed doctor.  What most people don’t know is that getting this card is an incredibly easy process.  There’s a myriad of ways to trick the system.  You can pretty much give a symptom that sounds right, and if the doctor believes you, you usually get a prescription.  It has become a ritual amongst pot-smokers.  A journey that all experienced smokers must make. Groups of friends often travel together when visiting the doctor.  The illnesses that I’ve most often heard used are insomnia, back pain, and anxiety.  I even heard one instance in which a girl complained that high heels made her feet hurt.  She still got the prescription.” (MR)

Informant Analysis:

“I first learned about this last year when I heard from a friend that his dealer was buying medicinal marijuana.  Ever since then, I feel like everyone that would want the card has gotten it.  Now so many of my friends have made the journey and have joined the ranks of legal pot smokers… This ritual is performed within the context of travel and bonding.  Personally, I think it’s hilarious! It is funny to see whos getting cards and what excuses they used.  I don’t personally have a card, but if I considered myself to be a legitimate smoker, I definitely would get one.”  (MR)

Personal Analysis:

It seems to me that this folk ritual exists as a form of ethnic folklore.  It helps grant its followers a sense of identity and belonging.  Access to the medical facilities is not granted without the card; this alone serves to limit membership into this niche group.  Additionally, those that carry a card can not only identify themselves as patients, but also as members of the upper echelon of California smokers.  Furthermore, I find it interesting that the medical marijuana distribution facilities are referred to as, “clubs”.  A club tends to be a selective and limited group.  This defines the situation well as being a patient actually allows access into this select group.  Only members of this group are welcome inside the facilities.  Yet, upon acquiring the card, it is if you are initiated into the group.  It is no wonder that people go to the doctors and to the clubs in groups of friends.  Thus, it can be seen that card bearers gain access to “the club” both literally, and figuratively.  These advantages are certainly contributing to the growth of this ritual.

general
Legends

Urban Legend

The Legend of G13

- Urban Legend

“Well have you heard the story about G13?  Basically, I heard that G13 was a hybrid strain stolen from the CIA back in the ‘70s.  Apparently it was leaked from some government facility out in Mississippi.  They say that it tests at 27% THC, which is pretty fucking ridiculous.  But I mean hey, I doubt there’s any way of knowing just how strong it really is, but I think they even referred to it in American Beauty.  Kevin Spacey bought it from the drug dealer guy… I forget his name, but it was sold at like a thousand dollars or two thousand dollars for just one eighth! That being said, I’m sure you can find it for cheaper out of the clubs around here though.” (JV)

Informant Analysis:

“I was actually first told this from a friend back in high school.  But since then, I’ve heard it numerous times.  Personally, I doubt it was truly stolen, but there is no way of knowing.  The growers might have just spread this story to bring publicity to the strain.  And 27% THC is way more than average.  I don’t know necessarily what context this rumor is explained within and I don’t remember the exact context of the time when I first heard it.  I suppose it is a story that is just passed amongst friends while chilling.” (JV)

Personal Analysis:

It seems difficult to discern between fact and fiction with this particular legend.  My knowledge on the subject is weak, but based on what I have gathered and heard from various informants, I would guess that this legend is pure fiction.  The informant, who wishes to remain anonymous, is probably right in assuming that this story was created by the growers in order to bring attention to the plant. Perhaps the name G13 itself helped inspire the stories.  The “G” in G13 could easily stand for “Government”.

Surprisingly, examples of the urban legend show up in popular culture.  As mentioned by the informant, this strain of Marijuana was in fact addressed in the Academy Award winning film, American Beauty.  One of the films protagonists, Ricky Fitts, refers to it as extremely mellow with no paranoia.  He then sells a small bag of it to Lester Burnham for two thousand dollars.  Most interestingly, he claimed that it was engineered by the US government.  So regardless of the variation surrounding G13, it is clear that the government tends to be the focal point of the legend.

Annotation: An example of this urban legend can be found in the film American Beauty.

American Beauty. Dir. Sam Mendes. Perfs. Kevin Spacey, Wes Bentley. Film. DVD, DreamWorks SKG, 1999.

general
Myths

Mythology

Cannabis and Hinduism

- Mythology

“References to Cannabis in the Hinduism religion can be found throughout all of the major Hindu publications.  For example, it can be seen in the Artharvaveda, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Rig Veda. Marijuana is most often used to reference the Lord Shiva.  It is believed that the plant was Shiva’s greatest gift.  However, stories also point to a plant known as Soma.  The exact ingredients of this plant are often disputed, but most believe that it contained cannabis.  Soma was mentioned in many scriptures and was commonly referred to as the “nectar of the Gods”.  Some creation stories point to the falling of Amrita, the drink of the Gods, as what first allowed cannabis to grow.  Still, others refer to cannabis as Vijaya meaning victory, because it was only after the Gods defeated the demons that they were given marijuana.  In the fourth book of the Vedas, the Artharvaveda, Bhang is said to be one of the five kingdoms of herbs, and it is thought of as to release us from anxiety.” (R.A.)

Informant Analysis:

“I heard some of these stories from my older sister when I was a sophomore in high school, others I had heard from my grandfather.  I have never actually seen Bhang, but I have heard it referred to on numerous occasions.  I feel the main point to be gathered from these stories is that regardless of Western perceptions, in Hinduism, the ganja is holy.” (R.A.)

Personal Analysis:

It seems to me that although most often associated with the Lord Shiva, ganja references in India can be found literally anywhere.  This plant is very common in India, and it is used most often by religious devotees.  Their use of marijuana transcends that of medicinal purposes, but instead functions on a spiritual level.  It is used to help them find God.  In fact, it is used to help them almost become like God, and live in the image and grace of Shiva.  This is of particular interest to me, solely in that the Hindu view of cannabis contrasts quite significantly with that of America.  It is amazing that one substance can be hailed in so many different lights.

Interestingly, the concept of ganja being used to get closer to God was explored in Emilio Estevez’s popular film, Bobby.  Ashton Kutcher plays a drug dealer, and in one scene, he asks two clients why they like to get stoned.  He answers for them by stating, “Because it’s our way, of getting closer, to god.” Although rarely seen in American culture, I suppose this exists as one example of the spiritual uses of cannabis in Western society.

Annotate: Bobby. Dir. Emilio Estevez. Perfs. Emilio Estevez, Ashton Kutcher. Film. DVD, the Weinstein Company, 2006.

Game
general

Games

Blowing Os and the French Inhale

- Games

“A lot of smokers like to try and blow smoke rings.  They usually refer to this as blowing Os.  There is a significant amount of variation when it comes to the techniques used while playing this game.  I’ve seen some people tap the side of their cheek continuously to help the air flow into O like shapes.  Other people try and just cough the rings out using their lungs.  Ummm lets see… the object of the game is usually to blow the biggest ring.  Hmm, another technique used when smoking is the French Inhale.  Basically, the object of this game is to slowly let the smoke escape from your lips.  You should try and push the smoke upwards.  Then, the key is to inhale the smoke from your nose, creating what looks to be an inverse waterfall of smoke falling from your mouth to your nose.  It looks pretty cool, but people do it with cigarettes too.” (J.T.)

Informant Analysis:

“These games tend to be played amongst experienced smokers.  You usually smoke with the same group of people when you’re smoking weed.  So groups of friends that usually toke together sometimes play to see which one of them is best at it.  In one way, it makes the overall smoking experience more pleasurable.  In another, it allows you to show off and display your smoking talents thus granting you credibility as a smoker.  The bigger O that you can blow, the more credible you look.  Same thing goes with the French Inhale.” (J.T.)

Personal Analysis:

The informant does a great job at summarizing both the context and the meaning of these games.  It seems this game is really more of a trick that smokers use to make the experience more playful.  It gives the smoker something to do other than simply exhaling.  However, I would imagine that not only would these games be played amongst groups of friends, as the informant describes, but also when smoking with new friends or with utter strangers.  If you’re seen blowing large smoke rings then you’re making it clear to the rest of the group that you are a highly experienced smoker.

The act of blowing smoke rings is also commonly done amongst cigar and cigarette smokers.  Cigars provide a thicker smoke, thus making it easier to blow rings, while cigarettes tend to have a thinner smoke, thus making it harder to do than with cannabis.  Blowing rings can be seen all throughout popular culture, especially in films and television shows.  In the film, the Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, for example, Bilbo Baggins blows a perfect circular smoke ring when smoking with his old, wizard friend, Gandalf.  However, Gandalf is quick to win the competition, in that he blows a huge ship fashioned purely out of smoke strait through Bilbo’s smoke ring.  It seems the director, Peter Jackson, is poking fun at the smoke ring competition.  A ship is clearly impossible to blow with smoke, and it is thereby monumentally more impressive.

Annotation: Blowing smoke rings is also documented as early as in J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit.  It is mentioned by Gandalf in the first chapter of the book.

J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit. Ballantine Books, New York. Copyright 1937, 1938, 1966. p. 7-8.

general
Legends

Legend

For the King

- Legend

“The kings in Rwanda loved weed. Weed in Rwanda was considered as something that was reserved for the kings and the royal families.  So… uh. In Rwanda there are, they say there are three ethnicities.  Twa, Tutsi, Hutu.  The working class was the Hutus.  Hutus was not an ethnicity.  They were the working and lower class.  In my language, Hutus is not really an ethnicity but the working class.  Umutunzi are the bourgeoisie, the rich class.  People who have money. Umutunzi means wealthy, rich.  This later became Tutsi because the colonists could not say Umutunzi.  The colonists wanted to turn it into ethnicities.  And the Hutus, they measured their nose, and said you are different because you have a big nose, you know?  Bullshit you know?  Yeah man, that’s how it is.  Yeah.  And that’s why there was a majority because every Tutsi had like ten Hutus to work for them.  But even still, the Tutsi only smoke tobacco, weed was supreme.  It is for royal family.  It was not something to joke with.  The Twa people don’t give a shit.  They smoke marijuana.  They live in a weird way.  They still hunt things and put it on top of fire, roast it you see.  Stuff like that you see.  They live in a very ancient way you see.  They live in the forest, they never come to town.  They don’t like modern things.  They live in the bush and in the trees like animals.  They say that in Rwanda they know so much about the plants.  One day, they brought weed to the king as a present.  Its good herb that makes you relax. They rolled it for him, then they lighted it, and gave it to him.  Once the king was really happy, and he made a deal with them.  He said he would give them 10 sheeps in return for a months worth of weed.  It became a huge ceremony where people would dance for the King, and then give the weed.  If it was good, he would keep it, if not, he would send it back.  The Twas would line up for the king in a line to give him weed.  If he liked it, they would get sheep’s.  In Rwanda, the king would only eat cows and goats.  And maybe chickens.  But sheep was for the poor people.  So they used to raise sheep’s only for the Twas in order to exchange for weed.” (D.C.)

Informant Analysis:

“This story just tries to show how…it shows how different the views are in my country than here when talking about marijuana.  Even though it is illegal now, you know, it was no joke in Rwanda.  It was a ceremony. It was a way of life for the Twas.  They traded it for food, for sheeps. It was the plant for royalty, not for the Hutus or the poorer people.” (D.C.)

Collector Analysis:

Casa does a fantastic job in analyzing his story.  It is truly incredible to note how different the perceptions of weed are across time and culture.  This legend recounts the tale of the forest dwellers and their journey to the king.  Although these people, the Twas, were poor and uncivilized, they possessed something that the King wanted but did not know how to provide for himself.  The Twas used this to their advantage, and maintained the good favor of the king with the use of songs, dances, and ceremonies.  In exchange for their precious plant, the King provided sheep.  Interestingly, the king had no use for the sheep other than to trade for cannabis.  Also, it should be noted that despite the clout and esteem of the Tutsis, even they were generally unable to smoke marijuana.  They were instead limited to tobacco.  Thus it would seem that in Rwanda, cannabis exists as the plant of kings, and the herb of royalty.

general
Legends

Urban Legend – United States

WARN ALL WOMEN
Bottled water in your car…..very dangerous, woman!!!!
This is how Sheryl Crow got breast cancer. She was on the Ellen show and
said this same exact thing. This has been identified as the most common
cause of the high levels in breast cancer, especially in Australia.

A friend whose mother was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The Doctor
told her: women should not drink bottled water that has been left in a car.

The doctor said that the heat and the plastic of the bottle have certain
chemicals that can lead to breast cancer. So please be careful and do not
drink bottled water that has been left in a car, and, pass this on to all
the women in your life. This information is the kind we need to know and be
aware and just might save us!!!! The heat causes toxins from the plastic to
leak into the water and they have found these toxins in breast tissue. Use
a stainless steel Canteen or a glass bottle when you can!!!

Let every one that has a wife/girlfriend and daughter know please.

Karen sent this message to me via email.  It was forwarded to her on the social networking site Myspace by several of her friends.  The message was titled “Warn all Women” and people who got it were asked to send it to every woman in their lives to protect them from possibly getting cancer.

The urban legend reference site Snopes.com has a few variations of the email on their website.  It has apparently become so widely circulated that it landed in the “Hottest 25 Legends” on the website.  The site contends that after all their research; they have come to the conclusion that the legend is false.  One version of the legend states that reusing water bottles will cause one to ingest carcinogenic compounds that seep into water.  Another states that the bottle releases these chemicals specifically when it is left in a car.  Some of the versions claim that a celebrity is responsible for the sudden public knowledge of the subject, while others claim that someone closely related to the individual visited a doctor who imparted the information upon them.  All of the versions that I read specify that the cancer in question is breast cancer.  One version went so far as to name the specific carcinogen, diethylhydroxylamine, which is produced.  A Google search of this chemical confirms that it is used in plastics, but there was no mention of carcinogenic properties.  It is also not the chemical used in the plastic from which water bottles are made.  That chemical is diethylhexyl adipate, which has been proven not to be carcinogenic in humans.

Annotation: “Bottle Royal.” Snopes. 25 June 2007. 15 Feb. 2008 http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/petbottles.asp.

general
Legends

Urban Legend – United States

Sad Wal-Mart Story

A sister and her brother were inside a new Wal-Mart. The sister at eight years of age and the brother seventeen years of age. The brother was wanting to buy a present for his little sister because her birthday was coming up. As they were about to leave, she had to go to the bathroom. Her brother showed her where the restrooms were and he began looking at earrings he thought she might like for her birthday. As he started o buy the earrings, he saw people running from the end of the store screaming and yelling with fear. In the next moment he smelled smoke and saw flames. He ran to his little sister as fast as he could but when he got to the bathrooms the fire was already blazing. He knew he had  to make sure help was coming. When the fire trucks arrived it was already too late. They assured the family that there were no survivors. Two days later the family got a call from the hospital. They told them that they had someone there by the name of Sandy. They asked, ‘How did you get this number?’ The hospital replied that the little girl had a purse clutched in her little hand with a card that gave her name and number on it. The family drove to the hospital to see their little angel. While they thanked God for her survival, they noticed her arms were burnt so severely they were both amputated and her face was burned and she needed surgery. The family didn’t have any health insurance and very little money to cover the bill. This family needs our HELP!
NOTE:Every time someone reposts this story, YAHOO will take $2.00 off the hospital bill. DO
NOT DELETE! MYSPACE IS TRACKING THIS! Please forward this ‘Sad
Wal-Mart Story’. God knows who you are. Karma knows it could happen to you!

I actually received this message several times.  Janee forwarded this message to me on the social networking site Facebook.  She had received it from a friend.  The message follows the format of many similar email forwards claiming to tell the story of lost, injured, or otherwise impaired persons who will receive money for each time a message is forwarded.  All of these messages are false for several reasons. First of all, there is no way that these companies can track these emails or forwards because they do not have the technology to do so.  AOL also states on its restrictions/limitations page that it does not give money to individuals.

This specific email can also be found on the Snopes website, but it is still forwarded often by people meaning to be good Samaritans.  The money donated in the message has been attributed to AOL, Myspace, and in later versions to Facebook. It has apparently been circulating as far back as August of 2003.
Annotation: Mikkelson, Barbara. “Wal-Mart Fire.” Snopes. 17 Aug. 2007. 17 Feb. 2008

<http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/children/walmart.asp>.

Folk Beliefs
general

Superstition – Nigerian

“A woman cooking Moi-Moi on her period must twist a piece of foil into a line, knot it, and drop it into the boiling pot of water, or the dish will stick to the bottom of the pan, and the food will not be edible because it will not set.”

Moi- Moi is a Nigerian dish made from mashed black eyed peas, corned beef, onions, tomatoes, and peppers.  The ingredients are combined and rolled into foil.  This is then placed in a pot of boiling water for about an hour.  When the mixture is done cooking, it is removed from the pot and left to cool and set.  Afterward, it is cut into patties and served.

As a child, I often cooked this dish and several others with my mother.  Not long after I began menses, I was making the dish with my mother and she asked if I was menstruating.  When I replied that I was, she told me that I was to take a piece of foil and roll it into a wire.  I was to then twist it into a knot and drop it into the pot.  When I asked her why we did it, she could not give me an answer about its origin.  She told me that she learned it as a young child in Lagos, Nigeria from her maternal grandmother.  I later witnessed several of my aunts and my grandmother do the same thing when preparing the dish for a large family gathering.  I have not witnessed anyone perform this ritual when making any other dish.

After researching many superstitions involving menstruating women, I found several that relate to cooking.  These include:

– Fruits canned by a menstruating woman will spoil in the can

–  mayonnaise made by a menstruating woman will curdle

-Wine made in the presence of a menstruating woman will turn to vinegar

– Bread made by a menstruating woman will not rise

-Butter churned, or jelly/jam made, by a menstruating woman will not set

I personally believe that these superstitions derive from misunderstandings and curiosity about menstruation.  Many societies feel that blood is an impure substance, and the fact that most often when blood is pouring from an individual it means that an injury has occurred or death is soon to follow makes the process of menstruation unnerving.  This is probably why it was thought that unless some sort of ritual was performed to prevent it, a menstruating woman touching an item could contaminate or ruin it.

Annotation: Mikkelson, Barbara. “Monthly Taboos.” Snopes. 14 June 2005. 21 Apr. 2008 <http://www.snopes.com/pregnant/menses.asp>.

Folk Beliefs
general

Superstition – Nigerian

“The menstrual blood of a woman put into a man’s food can cause him to fall in love with the woman who the blood belongs to.”

As the first born female child of Nigerian parents, I was often responsible for several household chores.  One of these chores was cooking dinner for the family when both of my parents were at work.  On one particular occasion, I told my mother that I was going to hire a chef when I was an adult so that I would not have to cook.  My mother looked at me very seriously and told me that it was necessary for me to learn to cook.  She told me that I should never hire a cook or maid because she might try to steal my husband.  She gave several means by which this might occur, but the story that stuck with me was of a woman who she knew who claimed that the reason her husband had divorced her was because the maid was putting blood in his food.  He was indeed married to his former maid, but I can’t really decide what to attribute that to.

In the realm of folk belief, blood is often linked to passion, strength, death, life, and courage.  Many cultures believe that blood (particularly menstrual blood) has curative properties, and many more believe that a woman’s menstrual blood holds the power to captivate a lover.  It has been said that a man who ingests the menstrual blood of a woman is bound to her forever.  It is considered the most potent substance for love potions.

These beliefs are still regarded as true by certain groups around the world.  Growing up in a Muslim family in a large city in Nigeria, my mother would probably never have been exposed to these ideas had it not been for the village children who attended boarding school in the city.  She learned this superstition from her peers as a youth.  Many who use menstrual blood in spells claim that the use of menstrual blood in rituals was very common before the fear of blood borne diseases arose.  They contend that one can surmise this from the root of the word ritual, because it is derived from the Sanskrit word meaning menses.  Other scholars argue that rtu simply refers to any regular order in nature.

Buckley, Thomas, and Alma Gottlieb. Blood Magic. CA: University of California P, 1988.

Sternbach, Ludwik  Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 98, No. 2 (Apr. – Jun., 1978), pp. 195-198  <http://www.jstor.org/sici?sici=00030279(197804%2F06)98%3A2%3C195%3ARISL%3E2.0.CO%3B2-H&cookieSet=1>

Folk Beliefs
general

Religious Superstition

“Jinn reside in restrooms and one must keep the bathroom door closed to prevent them from entering the home.  One should also recite [“Oh God! I seek refuge with You from male and female devils”] when entering the restroom.”

[Allaahumma innee a`oodhu bika minal-khubuthi wal-khabaa'ith]

Afeez heard this superstition from his mother.  As a child he was frequently chided for leaving the bathroom door open.  He does not know whom his mother originally heard this superstition from, but he noted that he also heard it from a former ethics teacher when he went to a Muslim school.  She told him that the shaiyateen (Jinn who harm humans) live in the bathrooms of homes.

This very likely derived from the times when restrooms were simply holes in the ground.  There is a Hadith (a saying which Sunni Muslims attribute to the Prophet Mohammed) which states that one should not urinate in a hole because it is the residence of the jinn.  When modern toilets and restroom facilities were created, it is likely that the superstition followed from the former belief.

The wider belief in jinn as spirits that antagonize humans is an old Middle Eastern belief.  Many words, such as genie, derive from this and are used to describe spirits that can usually not be seen by humans yet can have an effect on outcomes for humans.  The Jinn are purportedly created from smokeless fire and have the ability to conceal both their physical form and truths from humans.  This gives them a great advantage which they use to create mischief amongst humans.

There are several classes of jinn, and they are responsible for various acts of evil amongst humans; however, jinn are said to lead lives similar to humans.  They are said to marry, have families, die, follow religions, and have free will.  The class of jinn that would reside in bathrooms is among the most abundant and longest lived.  Shaiyateen are said to dwell in deserted, dirty places, some of them are said to have been alive as far back as the seventh century.

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