USC Digital Folklore Archives / April, 2018
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Ben Stout 19: Blue Ghosts

“A friend of mine, his grandma could see ghosts, and he too could see ghosts. He said they were blue see through people. Nigel was his name.”

Context: I collected this folklore from Ben in our Folklore class. Ben is an American with roots in the American midWest. Ghosts are a fairly common belief in America, and is one of the most common supernatural sightings in this country. Everyone has their own rendition of what ghosts look like and how they haunt a place. This description is interesting because in Nigel’s account, the ghosts are blue. This is uncommon for a ghost account, as they are normally depicted as gray.

Analysis: Ghosts are partially peoples way of dealing with the concept of death. They validate the idea of an afterlife, which is central to many people’s belief in America. As majority Christian country, the afterlife is an important element for a lot of people. Ghosts are a supernatural belief that do not directly contradict that idea.

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Tok Thompson 51: Dynamite Log

“There was a story my dad told to me, they’re probably somewhat true. My hometown was a Russian Native outpost. My dad moved there slightly after WW2 and he talked to a lot of people. Back then, he had a little cabin and everyone had to cut their own wood for fire. One day he noticed that someone was stealing his wood, so he invited the whole town over for a party. This was a small town so nearly everyone showed up. He was trying to figure out how to catch the thief, so he came up with this idea. They had food drink or whatnot. He casually mentioned it that someone is stealing his wood and he said oh don’t worry I took care of it. All the towns people where like what do you mean you took care of it did you find the guy? And he said no no I took care of it. I hollowed out one of the logs and stuffed it with dynamite so pretty soon we’re going to hear an explosion. Then he waited and a few minutes later one of the men said he had to go and he sees him running as fast as he can home. And that’s how he solved that mystery.

Context: I asked folklore professor Tok Thompson if he could share one of his favorite stories with me and this was one of them. He heard it from his father, who lived in an Alaskan village. This takes place slightly after WW2, before the rise of significant technology.

Analysis: This story is extremely funny, which is probably why it is of interest to share with people. It also has an element of justice: good vs. evil where good triumphs.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Tok Thompson 51: The Bear

“There were many encounters that people had with bears back in my hometown. My dad told it to me as if it were true, but it sounds kind of traditional so I have to wonder. So this guy was out somewhere and this bear starts chasing him. To escape, the guy climbed a tree. The bear didn’t want to leave so he was waiting for him under the tree. The bear didn’t want to go away and the guy didnt know what to do. When the bear rushed at him what the guy did was he started peeing right on the bears face, and the bear got so annoyed that he left. So that’s how the guy escaped from that situation. In case you ever need to know how to escape a bear.”

Context: I asked folklore professor Tok Thompson if he could share one of his favorite stories with me and this was one of them. He heard it from his father, who lived in an Alaskan village. This takes place slightly after WW2, before the rise of significant technology.

Analysis: This story is extremely funny, which is probably why it is of interest to share with people. It is a case of a man outsmarting another entity, which seems to be a popular theme people like to share.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Reed Kaplan 19: Spilling Salt

“So the reason why when you spill salt. You have to throw it over your left shoulder is because the right side is the path of god and the left side is the path of the devil and you have to throw salt at the devil to counteract the omen my spilling salt.”

Context: I collected this story from Reed at the University of Southern California. Reed is an American Jew with roots in Louisiana.

Analysis: In Louisiana, occult religious beliefs are common alongside with the Vodun religion. Because of this, Christianity has also been mystified in a lot of random traditions, this being one of them. In Christianity, the left is often associated with the devil as “ it was thought that the Devil baptised his followers with his left-hand and there are many references in superstitions to the “left-hand side” being associated with evil.” That is why there are phrases like: “do the right thing”. This belief may stem from the fact that most of the population is right handed, so there would obviously be a mistrust of left handed individuals.

https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/20464/are-left-handers-servants-of-the-devil?utm_medium=organic&utm_source=google_rich_qa&utm_campaign=google_rich_qa

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Reed Kaplan 19: Sneezing

“When you sneeze the reason people say bless you is because your soul momentarily leaves your body and if someone says bless you it makes your soul go back in.”

Context: I collected this story from Reed at the University of Southern California. Reed is an American Jew with roots in Louisiana. He heard it for the first time when he was a kid and heard it numerous times since.

Analysis: I have heard this story a number of times and have heard a number of variations. One theory that was discussed in my folklore class is that sneezing is a signifier of getting sick, which is an element that people have no control over. This is why they continue to pass on the story. Another variation is that your heart stops when you sneeze and you have to say “bless you” because you actually died momentarily.

Myths
Narrative

Alyena Koehler 18: Adam and Eve

“The reason why men have one missing rib is because god created Adam first and he made Eve from his rib.”

Context: Alyena told me this story at the University of Southern California. She is a student at Santa Monica Community College. She was born and raised in Agoura Hills California, and is not religious. She heard this story from her family and from her peers all her life.

Analysis: Alyena heard this story even though she did not grow up in a religious home. The fact that she still knows this information from word of mouth is a testament to our highly religious American society. This is also an indicator of how patriarchal American society is, that a woman stems from a man’s rib. This was probably partially the intent behind this mythology: to depict women as inferior to men.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Alyena Koehler 18: Tobacco

“The Native Americans have sacred tobacco that they used to bless their fire with and when the Americans came they used it for smoking to dis them. Now the Americans are dying because the spirits are spiting then with cancer.”

Context: Alyena told me this story at the University of Southern California. She is a student at Santa Monica Community College. She was born and raised in Agoura Hills California, and is not religious. She heard this story at a Native American sound bath one week prior to the recording of this folklore.

Analysis: For Native Americans to be telling stories of how their colonizers are dying with cancer is telling about their sentiments towards what happened to them. The Native Americans were brutally colonized and still never received the justice they deserve for their mistreatment. For them, a story like this serves a little bit of justice for what these people did to them.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Ben Elimelech 18: Tiny people story

“There’s a story my father used to tell me about these tiny dwarf people that would come out when people were not looking. Whenever anything was missing or misplaced around the house, he would say it was the tiny people who moved it. They were always causing mischief and would hear you when you came to disappear really fast. They had a peaceful community though and we were always trying to catch them to see if we could see them.”

Context: Ben is my brother, and he told me this story at home. He heard these stories growing up and throughout his childhood. My father heard the story from his parents, and it is passed on from generation to generation. My father is from israel originally. These stories represent an element of childhood that is comforting to remember. It recalls the connection of a father and son, which is what the story means to ben.

Analysis: This story was probably used to explain all of the misplaced items that exist around a house. This type of havoc is often unexplainable, which would prompt people to create a story centered around it.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Hila Moverman 42: Shakshuka

“Shakshuka is a middle eastern food that consists of two eggs cracked over some sort of tomato sauce. It can be spicy but it doesn’t have to be. Typically, it is served in the pan and is supposed to be eaten with bread.”
Context: Hila Moverman was born and raised in Israel, and moved to the United States when she was 19.
Analysis: Food often unites a culture and makes one feel as if they are connected to a group of people because they eat similar foods. For Hila, she feels that this food connects her to her homeland and reminds her of memories of her mother cooking this food.

Folk Beliefs
general

La Llorona

Folklore:

This story is well known throughout general Mexico and is titled La Llorona which translates to the weeping women and is a ghost story. The story focuses on an indigenous women who marries a Spaniard and has three children. However the husband leaves the woman and marries a wealthy Spanish woman. In the indigenous women’s anger she kills her three children. Right after she kills them she regrets killing her children, so she drowns herself. In the end her soul cannot move on so she roams lakes and rivers at night calling out “mis hijos” which translates to my children.

Background and Context:

This story was told to me in a casual setting in middle of the evening on a weekend. The informant is a Sophomore at USC and is Mexican American but grew up in Southern California. She was told this story by her mother in her teenage years. My informant also told me it is a ghost story and it is believed that anyone who hears the wailing woman is destined for bad luck, it is also told to children so they won’t wander outside at night.

Final Thoughts:

This was not the first time for me to be hearing this story so I believe this story is very popular and has many different variations. I also agree with the notion that this story is used to prevent children from wandering out at night, it would be effective because it would scare the children in fear of receiving bad luck by hearing the wailing women. I do not believe in ghost but I  do believe ghosts are a possibility so this story would deter me from going out at night as a child.

 

 

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