USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘American’
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Protection with Holy Water

This is a tradition in which the user drops a little bit of blessed water from a Church around the entrances of their homes in order to keep bad spirits away. This tradition comes from Veracruz, Mexico. The water is supposed to basically cast a protective spell over your home, especially during times of hardship.

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Ruby is a young Mexican-American woman who truly connects to her Catholic roots and leads her way of life through that method. She is also a single mom who works at a Non-Profit feeding the homeless of Los Angeles

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Broncollin Remedy

Broncolin is a all natural herbs and honey folk remedy that is used to treat colds and congestion in its folk method, but it’s actually a diet supplement. You apply the honey under your tongue and after that you give a small massage around the Adam’s apple area and you are supposed to wake up healed.

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Juan is a Mexican-American from Mexico city. He works demolition, but is super into his religion of being a Jehovah Witness. He has been passing down his traditions to his kids, just how they were passed down to him by his dad and grandpa

Folk Beliefs
general
Humor

9/11: The TRUTH

Context: I was chatting with my roommate about his time in marching band in high school, and the following is one of the encounters he had during one of his festival trips.

Background: My roommate is a psychology minor, and one of the aspects of the subject he’s always been interested in is the part of the human brain that induces paranoia. Because of this, he’s been invested in conspiracy theories for a long time.

Dialogue: (Note: C denotes myself, B denotes my roommate)

C: So what about the van?

B: Oh, 9/11!

C: 9/11, tell me about 9/11!

B: OK! First of all, inside job. Second of all, I was in Victoria, British Columbia on a band trip, and, um, we were getting ready to march in this parade, and we saw this van driving around the– the– I guess the Parliament building? Um, and it said on the side of it, “9/11 was an inside job.” It was like a 9/11 truther van. And I thought, “Why… do you care? You’re in Canada… 9/11 did not happen in Canada.” I just thought that was interesting. I had a lot of questions, first of all… “What?” Second of all, um, like like like are these Americans doing this? Uh, if so, why are they in Canada, why are they in Victoria, British Columbia? Um… you know you’re not even near New York at this point!

Analysis: I actually debated with myself over what to categorize this piece as. The central bit of folklore revolves around a conspiracy theory regarding what “really” happened on 9/11, which is a tragic day in American history. However, the countless people who insist that 9/11 was an “inside job” (AKA a disaster orchestrated by the US government itself) have put such ridiculous and unreal theories out there, that it’s nearly impossible not to laugh at something like a “9/11 truther van” driving around. Because of this, and because of the fact that this theory is a belief shared in online communities without consideration for reality, I decided to categorize it as both Humor and as a Folk Belief.

Annotation: My roommate’s encounter is not nearly the first instance where the “9/11 was an inside job” belief popped up. In fact, in the same conversation, my roommate mentioned the documentary Loose Change as a good place to go deeper into the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11.

Folk Beliefs
general
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

No Dancing in Texas/China

Context: I collected this from a high school friend when we were on a camping trip together over Spring Break.

Background: My friend was originally born in Texas, where his father is from, before moving to California as a child. His mother is an immigrant from China.

Dialogue: Yeah, um, again, I wrote a paper for dance history class that was in freshman year, about my personal experience with dance, and the professor gave me 100%, pulled me out of the class, and said, “Hey, I really enjoyed that paper, it was really cool, and I really appreciated the way that you opened up in the paper about your experiences,” because I wrote about how I have absolutely NO personal cultural experience with dance, like, in my life… Um… And that was due to the fact that my father was from the Deep South, and there, uh, at least for men, dance was seen as… something that was highly effeminate, and, like, if you danced it would somehow make you gay, um, and being from the Deep South he didn’t want me to be gay… So, I just NEVER danced as a child! And, then, on my mother’s side of the family, I had no cultural experience with dance because… uh, she was from China, but she was born under the Mao regime, and, um, during that time, a LOT of forms of art were actually pushed, um, out of the cultural sphere… And so there wasn’t really any dance except for this one dance that they did was like, “Hail the Might Mao” or whatever. Um… And, most forms of art were pushed out, so I had no culture of dance from that side either.

Analysis: I debated whether or not to check this under the Folk Dance category, but went against it because there isn’t actually a dance to be learned or performed. It’s interesting to compare these two different types of censorship, and see how much they’re based on the same kind of ideals. While the Maoist restriction of dance and art forms in general is more a complete totalitarian regime, the Deep South’s stereotyping and discrimination against gay people is more focused and specific. Yet they’re both based on the idea of controlling what people do through the use of villainization (against art and homosexuality, respectively).

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Unitarian Universalist Church

Context: Gathered from one of my roommates once he found out about my collection project.

Background: My roommate has never had a set religious background, and was always in something of a melting pot of faiths when he went to churches like the one described here.

Dialogue: So, I don’t know exactly how Unitarianism, like, started, but… At some point it was just this sort of culmination of, like, various Christian sects, like Episcopalian or Protestant or whatever was around Massachusetts going on. Just a bunch of them sort of, like, coalesced into one group that’s like… “You know what, Trinity or Unity, doesn’t matter! We all have spirit!”

Analysis: The intereseting thing about this piece of folklore to me is how much is blended together in a church like this. It’s not only a mixing of various religious sects, either: at one point, my roommate sang a song he was taught as a kid, about the “Seven Guiding Principles of Kindness.” He remembers only these lines:

One, each person is important
Two, be kind in all you do

The song, interestingly enough, is set to the tune of “Do-Re-Mi” fromthe mucial The Sound of Music. So we have a mashup of popular culture, religion, and folk belief, all in this single church.

general
Legends
Narrative

The Legend of Pecos Bill

The legend of Pecos Bill.  He was from– I think he was from… Kansas or Missouri or something?  Somewhere in the midwest, middle of the country  and he was famous for riding broncos.  He could ride any bronco you gave him.  He would just never fall off, incredible… So he was like, “Bring me your wildest creature and I can ride it.”  He could ride lions and tigers… and any bucking bronco, camels, anything crazy… he could ride anything.  He was just a huge cowboy, bronco rider.  And then somebody, then um, that area, Kansas and Arkansas and all that area– maybe that’s why I know this story– is, you know, famous for tornados, and cyclones, same thing.  And sure enough a cyclone came along, and it was gettin’ ready to wreck a town, and the townspeople said, “Hey Pecos Bill, can you ride that cyclone outta town?  Can you tame it and ride it out of town?”  And he said, “Well, I’ll give it a try, I’ve ridden everything else.”  And, um, so he hops on the cyclone, on the tornado, and it crashed him around and spun him around everywhere and everywhere… and he kept on it for miles and miles and days, ya know, a whole day of ridin’ it.  Um, and it was just nuts for him,  going all around in circles.  But he stayed on it, and, ya know, he had the tail and he’d whip the tail, ya know, how a cyclone is kinda triangular, like a cone.  And he’d whip the tail of it, tryna tame it and everything and he rode it all the way to…. Arizona.  Up in the sky, ride it all the way to Arizona, and it, um, finally just fell out in water.  All came down in water, and they say it rained really hard and, uh, it rained so hard it formed the Grand Canyon.  Rained so hard it drove it all the way down.  And then he fell off so hard that, um, he made… what is it?  Death Valley I think?  Or something like that.  I can’t remember, but that’s supposedly how those things were formed. Death Valley.  Which is the lowest part, you know, the lowest sea level, lowest part of the country I think.

 

Conclusion:

 

This story was told to me by my Aunt Susan.  It’s a classic folktale employing a legendary, mythic figure with supernatural abilities.  I like how the story ended with the explanation of how the Grand Canyon and Death Valley were formed.  It’s cool when stories seem to be relatively narrow and focused and then, at the end, open up to cover some part of general, well known history..

general
Legends
Narrative

John Henry

 

“John Henry.  Back in the railroad days, railroads were king, and that’s how you would get around the country, and um, and ya know, so railroad workers were really celebrated and there’s this one huuuge guy who could, um, drive a railroad tie, ya know how you have to put the pins in the railroad tie?  His name was John Henry, and um, he was huge, and soo strong, and he could drive railroad ties faster than anybody– he was legendary for doing that.  And um, so, but with time, machinery caught up and technology and everything, and a steam driver was made and everybody was like, “Ohh nobody can beat John Henry.  So I don’t care what kinda machine you make, he is just amazing.”  And he was like, “I’m not gonna let any machine beat me.”  And so he, um, they had a contest, they brought the steam tie driver out, and they went right alongside each other, steam driver and John Henry, and um, it was crazzy, never seen anyone work as hard as John Henry.  And he, uh, just kept drivin’ em in with his huuge sledge hammer, just one after the other, he could do it in one hit, ya know just drive the whole tie down in one hit.  And he, uh, he beat the steam– he beat the contest, he beat the steam driver.  And I guess he was a real guy, but I guess it’s a legend that he beat the, uh, the machine, the steam driver.  But he worked so hard, sweated so much, put so much out of uh– just gave his whole self to beatin’ the steam driver that he, he had a heart attack.  Just too much for his heart.  And he died.  But everyone was so impressed cause he did beat him, he did beat the steam driver.  I think they made a statue, I always heard the story, I’m sure there’s books and things out there.”

 

 

Conclusion:

 

This was told to me by my dad’s buddy, Evan Rennie.  I had actually heard this story when I was young, but it was nice to get a refresher.  This tale follows the track of a typical legend.  The main figure possesses a mythic power (strength in this case) and is determined to succeed.  I thought John Henry’s death at the end of the tale presented an interesting twist.  If anything, his death helps grow the legend even more.  He went out doing what he loved to do: driving railroad ties.

 

general
Narrative

MOBY DICK

The two interviewee’s will be denoted through the initials ER and FK.

 

ER: “Mr. Keaton, remember when were up at Shawtown, and we’d go in the boat, and we’d go over to the other lake and we’d go under that bridge, and you would always say: “Mooobbby Dick”

 

FK: “Yea, well, Moby Dick, cause when you kids were all small, especially the girls, and we used to go over, ya know, from our lake, down the river, and go under the bridge.  And we called it Moby Dick’s bridge…  And I told the kids “When you go over there, you can look around that bridge” and I says, “Moby Dick lives there.”  They says, “Whose Moby Dick” I says, “You know, Moby Dick, the one in the story.”  “Ohhhh”  So they’d come back from that little lake, I says, “Did you see Moby Dick?”  And they says, “No we looked all over Mr. Keaton, we couldn’t find him.”  They were all looking for Moby Dick”

 

ER: “Yea it was pretty funny, I remember thinking “How could a massive whale live under this little bridge?”  But you told us he did and we believed you.  Everytime we, uh, went under that bridge, we’d make our voices real low, low as we could, and say “Mooobyyy Dick”.  And now everytime I go under a bridge in a boat I still say it.  And I’m 56 haha.

 

Conclusion:  This is a funny little story that has remained firmly in the mind of Evan (ER), a buddy of my Dad’s.  Frank (FK), a friend of my grandfather, was always playing little tricks on the kids and telling them stories like this.  I thought it was hilarious that Evan, who boats frequently in the waters off of Cape Cod, still makes his voice real low and says “Moooobyy Dick” every time he boats under a bridge.  Pretty funny habit/superstition to have as a 56 year old guy.

general
Legends
Narrative

The Watermelon Boy

“So I used to go up to camp every summer for like two weeks at a camp called Camp Belknap.  It was in New Hampshire, in Wolfeboro, right on Winnipesaukee.  Fun time, it was an all boys camp.  Did all the typical camp things like play sports, shoot bow and arrows, go swimming, boating, sailing– all that stuff.  And then of course we would tell stories at night when we were back in the cabins.  My first year at the camp I was like 11.  I’m already missing home, and mom and dad and all that, and one night my counselor, who was probably like 17 or 18 tells us this crazy scary story about this Watermelon boy.  He had gone to Camp Belknap back in like the 1920s.  They called him watermelon boy cause he had a huge head.  Big dome, shaped like a watermelon.  So my counselor tells me that the kid used to get bullied cause he was a little weird, looked funny, wasn’t that good socially.  Finally one day, the kid had enough.  Took a rifle from the rifle range and shot a bunch of other kids.  Now this is tough to hear for me cause I’d already been to the rifle range a couple times and really had a good time shooting at targets and shit and what not.  So after the kid does this he runs into the woods somewhere near the highway that runs past the camp.  They never found him.  Now the story goes that he lives in a little shack in the woods and comes out to terrorize little kicks in the camp.  Just this guy with a massive head and really long fingers.  The story scared the shit out of me,  couldn’t sleep for like the last two nights I was so scared.  The worst part was, they had all these pictures of all the campers that had ever gone to the camp.  So me and some of my buddies go to check the pictures out and sure enough, in one of the pictures from the 1920s, one of the grainy, black, and white ones, there’s this kid with a massive head scowling in the first row.  We totally thought he was real.  It’s funny I was recently talking with one of my buddies who i went to the camp with and the story came up and he said it’s banned at the camp now cause it scared too many kids haha.  Crazy.”

 

Conclusion:

 

This is a classic, campfire story designed to freak out little kids.  It clearly did it’s job with my friend, Jack.  When he told this to me, I was surprised an 18 year old counselor would tell this grisly, violent story to a bunch of 11 year olds. I guess that was the kind of camp that this one was.  During the recitation, it was interesting to see Jack recall the horror that he once found in this story.  You could really tell it used to rattle him as an 11 year old.

Legends
Narrative

Slenderman

According to my younger brother, he heard about an internet ghost story that was meant to scare people. About 4 years ago while on a YouTube site he saw that a reference was made to a “creepypasta” page about the Slenderman story that was made into a game. Slenderman was a faceless tall skinny figure with tentacle arms. When he first saw the picture of Slenderman, he did not think it was scary, however the game had many jump scares and fast action that did make it frightening or at least surprising to the player. In the “creepypasta” story the pictures of Slenderman always showed children playing unaware while back in the background within the shadows of the woods there would be slender figure appearing to be watching them. The game did not add any additional info about Slenderman but the story in the “creepypasta” site made it seem that the children he was photographed with would disappear without a trace, leaving some to speculate that they were kidnapped maybe even taken into a different dimension. Two “idiots” girls “allegedly” bought into the story of Slenderman believing they had to become proxies of Slenderman in order to protect their families, it ended up with one of their “friend’s” being stabbed 19 times but survived. My brother made air quotes with his fingers when referencing the words “Creepypasta”, “idiots” “allegedly” and “friend’s”. He says he know Slenderman is completely fictional although he kind of understands the fascination with the image because it is usually shrouded in the shadows letting your mind to fill in the blanks. He says that maybe because of the girls attempted murder of their “friend”, parents seemed more disturbed buy Slenderman than actual kids.

Analysis: Slenderman became an internet meme and started to trend on the internet about 5—6 years ago but I paid no attention to it since the demographic was skewed for some reason to younger viewers (preteens). Creepypasta sites in general have no real interest to me because the stories always seemed written by a mentally unstable person. However, the concept of photographic pictures showing mysterious paranormal orbs or other unexplained phenomena has been around since photography was invented and the first double exposure was seen as a ghostly reflection. Slenderman is just a continuation of that tradition that can now use advance technology like Photoshop to get just the right amount of mystery. The over reaction by parents also made Slenderman even more popular because the forbidden, will always be more attractive.

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