USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘bad luck’
Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

Right Foot First – An Ice Skating Superstition and Ritual

The following informant is a 22-year-old student who competed in ice skating throughout her childhood and well into her teenage years and continues to ice skate recreationally now. She is describing a common superstition she and some of her teammates have. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: One superstition that I have always had when I used to ice skate was that I always used to put my right skate on and tie up the laces before putting on my left skate. I made sure I always did that.

K: What would happen if you put your left skate on first?

S: I just had this belief that if I put my left skate on first, then I would not have as good of a skate, or I would mess up and risk hurting myself. I always thought oh my god you have to put your right skate on first

K: Were you the only one to have this superstition or did your teammates also share it?

S: I’m not sure if other people shared my superstition specifically, but some of my other teammates had similar superstitions. Like my friend J, when she steps on to the ice, she always puts her right foot down first and never the left first for the same reason I put my skates on right first. I, and a lot of the other girls, also followed her superstition as well. Which is probably where I got my superstition about skates.

K: Would you only do this before a competition or anytime you put on skates and stepped on to the ice?

S: Oh, every time I put on skates and went on the ice. I’ve been doing it for years now that I don’t have to worry about accidently putting my left skate on first because I have trained myself to always put my right skate on first and step with my right foot first.

S: One more thing, I am not sure why my superstition has to do with the right-side, maybe it’s because I’m right handed… but that doesn’t really make sense because my friend J is left handed… I honestly don’t know

Context:

This conversation took place at a café one evening. The informant brought up superstitions and I asked if she would like to participate in the folklore collection project. The conversation was recorded and transcribed. Although she only acts out the ritual when she ice-skates.

Thoughts:

I find her superstition about always doing things on the right side first very fascinating, along with her reasoning, that she later disagrees with. But maybe she is not wrong, It seems pretty obvious that if you are right-hand dominant that you would consider your right side to bring good luck and your left side to bring bad luck. But how would this explain her friend. Or maybe in our everyday life we tend to go from right to left, like reading English, her first language, you always read right to left, reading left to right just would not make sense.

Tales /märchen

El Siblon: A Latin Tale

I discovered this tale while researching and reading about interesting Latin legends, myths, and tales. This one is titled “El Siblon,” which translates to “The Whistler.” Below is quoted material from the website, explaining the story and its few variations.

Tale:

“The story always starts with a son killing his father. One version states that this son returning home one day found his father abusing his beautiful young wife. This so angered him he killed is father. Another, more disconcerting version states this son was a “spoiled brat” whose every wish was catered to by his parents. One afternoon he demands his father hunt for a deer—his favorite meat. But when the father does not find a deer and returns empty handed his son kills him and cuts out his heart and liver. He then has his mother cook them for dinner. The mother finding this meat is tough starts to suspect something amiss. She discovers these organs are her own husband’s innards and curses her son for eternity. At this point most versions of this story become similar. The mother fetches a male relative—in most versions the grandfather—and he ties the son to a tree—he then whips him—he finishes by rubbing lemon or hot peppers into the son’s wounds. The grandfather then unleashes a vicious dog and orders it to go after the grandson. This dog pursues the son relentlessly. His mother’s curse transforms the son into a ghost. He is condemned to wander the plains carrying a sack of bones on his back. Some versions state these are the bones of his father, other state these are the bones of his victims. His ghost is described as being disproportionally skinny and extremely tall. He towers over treetops with his bag of bones slung over his back. The vicious dog chases him constantly nipping at his heels. He wears a tattered white suit and a wide brimmed hat. It is said that few people who have seen him have lived to tell about it. His ghost is known as The Whistler because of a tune he is heard whistling—the basic seven notes, do, re, me, fa, so la, ti. He whistles these notes slowly and draws each one out. A warning given is his whistle is deceptive. It is said that when people hear his tune up close they are actually safe for this means he is far away but if they hear him from afar they best beware for he is actually close by. It is often mentioned his ghost hunts down cruel men who cheat on their wives. His ghost also attacks drunks when they are fast asleep. A gruesome detail shared states his ghost uncovers their belly buttons and then sucks until the alcohol comes out of them.”

Analysis:

This tale stood out to me because it was fascinating reading of the slight variations of the story, without knowing how or why these variations came to be. It is purely a folk tale because of this multiplicity and variation, ranging from both the most specific to the broadest change in the narrative. I think it is especially important with tales, myths, and legends, to understand and take note of these variations, seeing how the story has evolved over time and hypothesizing how it came to vary and multiply.

Website Citation: For a more thorough analysis of this specific tale, go to the URL: https://seeksghosts.blogspot.com/2014/06/el-silbon-whistler.html

 

Childhood
Legends
Narrative

Asuang

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (CS) and I (ZM).

ZM: Do you believe in ghosts?

CS: Aha! Bitch. Ha! I believe in ghosts hella! Do you? Look at that scratch. Look at that scratch. Look at those DOTS! (Shows me several marks on her arm) Where did these come from?

ZM: Your nails. (She has long nails)

CS: What nails make four dots that look like that?

ZM: That is weird. I don’t know. You should look at astrology, like…

CS: I’m haunted. Um, there’s like a Filipino ghost that I’m like lowkey scared of.

ZM: What do you mean?

CS: His name is Asuang. It’s fucking scary. So, um, what I was told was that, he eats children that stay up late, but it’s like a real thing.

ZM: Asuang? Does it mean anything or is that just a name?

CS: No, it’s just like they named it that. And, (lowers voice) Asian people really like, like scary movies and I’m just really fucked up about this. But, um, so, it’s like a, like a shapeshifting monster that like if you’re out past your bedtime, like if you disobey your parents, they’ll like leave you out in the cold and he’ll… He like has… Like what I was told, is that he has like a giant tongue and that he’ll like creep up on you. You’re not supposed to… He’ll like knock on your door, you’re not supposed to answer it. If you answer it, he’ll like… sort of like an anaconda, just like… get you. What is…? Not anaconda.

ZM: Oh, it’s like… um constrictor. Boa constrictor.

CS: Yeah! Like a boa constrictor with his tongue. And he like appears as like different things cause he’s a shapeshifter. So if you do anything bad, or like you disobey anybody, or like you’re just like sinning, he’ll like, he’ll befriend you in normal life. And then he’ll HAUNT you AT NIGHT. Cause he’s a SHAPESHIFTER! And it’s literally, so scary. Ugh! It’s so scary. (Pulls up a picture) LOOK! LOOK AT THAT TONGUE BITCH!

ZM: Ohhh no.

CS: LOOK AT THAT TONGUE BITCH! They love children, Hoe. They love children.

ZM: Asuang?

CS: No, yeah, so my ass stayed in the house. Past ten o’clock? I didn’t leave. I didn’t even go downstairs. I stayed in my room. I was literally. fucking. petrified. And like, my dad would like joke around with me, like he would literally like, we’d be upstairs in our room in the Philippines, cause like they (Asuang) don’t come to America. They’re only in the Philippines.

ZM: Asuang?

CS: Yeah. Like, it’s only there. They only haunt the Philippines. So when I was… I used to go a lot. Umm, my dad would play. He would be like… I would be upstairs in my room. Cause I have a room there. Cause I was there a lot. And I’d be in my room, chillin, in bed, 9:45, I’m out, like I’m not going downstairs. I’m not going in the dark. You got me fucked up if you think I’m gonna go downstairs and fuck with that demon. And my dad went, “Go get me ice cream, from the kitchen.” I’d say, “No. No no no. You can go get yourself ice cream.” And then he’d leave, close the door, and he’ll leave and start banging on it. Or he’d like make really loud footsteps, or he’d go like this (rapidly scratches table) He would really fuck with me. He really like… He didn’t like me. (laughs) He tried to kill me. Like I swear to god. I was like shivering.

ZM: So is it only kids? Like could he (the dad) go down and like totally be fine?

CS: No, yeah. He only, he only eats kids. Once you hit like, teens, you’re good. So I’m not scared anymore. But, they’re real.

ZM: No longer scared of Asuang (laughs)

CS: THEY’RE. REAL. No, cause like the thing is, I used to have nightmares about this. Like, I imagined Asuang as like…giant white tongue, and like sort of like Slender Man, like black everything like super like nondescript figure except very distinct white tongue that would just come and then like wrap around you and take you away and eat you. And like thing about it is like, they eat your heart first. They go for the heart. And then they just leave you to die in the forest.

ZM: Dang. I’m scared of Asuang.

CS: But yeah, that’s the shit that I was scared of. Asuang fucking murdered my whole childhood. No, like I would legit… Like if I was in the Philippines I would have like nightmares because I wasn’t the greatest kid. Like, I’m not kidding you, my grandparents, if we would go shopping and there was glass around. Like if we were in like the food section, I was the only child who was mandated to walk like this (folds both arms behind her back) I wasn’t allowed to touch shit. Like, and I was… Me and my brother were the only ones. We had to…If there was anything breakable, we’d have to walk in the store like this. So, I wasn’t a great kid. So they said, “Asuang’s gonna get you.”

ZM: They told you all the Asuang stories.

CS: They told me all the time! They were…Every night, they were like, “Oh you better behave. Go up, go to bed by your bedtime tonight. Do you want to die?” And, yeah. So, that’s how my childhood was ruined by my grandparents, and my parents, and my older cousins, and everyone who wanted to fuck with me. Cause I believed that shit. And I still believe that shit. But, I’m too old now. They can’t get me. I’m 20. I’m 20 bitch. I’m invincible now. (laughs)

ZM: (laughs) Asuang comes and gets you…

CS: (laughs) Don’t. play. I’m not a kid anymore! The thing is, the younger they are (children) the more they (Asuang) like them. So like, they’re more pure. So like, fetuses… That shit’s good. They like fetuses.

ZM: But they’re innocent tho… So, isn’t that like kinda counterintuitive?

CS: I think, I think it’s also part of the reason like why like miscarriages, like it was… Sort of like…

ZM: Like Asuang came and got their…

CS: Like the parent did something. So like if you’re a parent whose caring for a child and you fuck up… You’re kinda fucked. But, they can’t punish you. So, they punish your kids. Fuck that, right? I’m not having kids. Cause my kids…Aha! Dead. I won’t get through one pregnancy, Hoe. (laughs) But, yeah. So, the younger they are… So I was like five. Prime time Asuang hunting season. I was between the ages of like three and six. They love that age. Soooo…. Clllkk. I was almost dead. I swear to you, I almost died. Fuck, Filipino culture’s kinda wild.

 

Context:Over the weekend I visited CS at her home and noticed gold coins laying around on various coffee tables and such. A few days later I asked her about them and this continuation of the conversation was recorded then.

 

Background: The performer is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is first generation American and her parents came from the Philippines. They are Roman Catholic.

 

Analysis: The story of Asuang was pretty terrifying. I can’t imagine being told this as a child. From the use described by CS it was mostly used by parents to keep their children in line. I was fascinated by how even though CS acknowledges that it was a story of manipulation used by parents and that she is now too old to be eaten by Asuang, she is still very afraid of him. Unlike other horror stories that kids usually grow out of later and realize that they’re made up stories, she still firmly believes in Asuang. His mythical characteristics do not shake her belief, it only makes her more afraid of his capabilities.

 

 

 

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Chinese New Year

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (HH) and I (ZM).

ZM: What do you do for Chinese New Year?

HH: Umm… In terms of when I’m here in college or when I’m back home?

ZM: When you’re at home.

HH: When I’m home um my parents would clean the house, like um frantically because we need to be clean for the new year and we also can’t wash our hair on the first day of New Year’s too because if you wash your hair, you’re washing your luck. Yeah. Very interesting. Um, it’s nothing really special, it’s just being with your family, um… The whole day you um… Do you know what Yum ta is?

ZM: No.

HH: Like going out for morning tea, like with dim sum…

ZM: I’ve never heard of that. I don’t, I don’t know.

HH: Okay um so uh we do yum ta, which is like going to um a local, um a nearby restaurant around our house and inviting all of our relatives and…

ZM: Is that New Year’s day?

HH: New Year’s day yeah. Um, and all of our relatives will come and we exchange um red envelopes with money inside and um its umm… If you’re married you give, you give a red envelope to the kids so…As long as I’m not married I can still receive them.

ZM: But you don’t give any?

HH: I don’t give any until I’m married. Yeah it’s a perk. (laughs) Uhhh yeah and then um on the day, or like… Chinese New Year goes for like a few days like up to fifteen days. It depends on how long you want to celebrate it. Umm, like the first few days um either relatives and friends come to your house or you can go to their house and you bring gifts like oranges or like crackers or whatever to uh to bring to their house and you get to exchange gifts, and you guys talk and drink tea and all of that.

ZM: Do the oranges have any significance? Like why oranges or…?

HH: Umm… I feel like they do, but I don’t know (laughs) Uh that’s pretty much what we do. And um we eat chicken. It’s for a reason, but I don’t know why also. But, chicken is like a good kind of meat like… Um you always want um, like for dinner you always, for like the first few days, my brother’s in-laws and us we all eat together as a big family. Like a sign of um, a union. Um, so we have like up to ten dishes for like not even ten people. Like, um it’s very lavish dinner with like chicken, umm duck, fish, all kind of veggies, noodles, noodles really important as a sign of longetivity in life. So, yeah.

 

Context: This is from a conversation I started with HH about her Chinese culture.

Background: HH was born in China and raised in Oakland, CA. Both of her parents are Chinese, and they speak limited English. She is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California.

 

Analysis: I thought it was interesting that you only begin giving red envelopes when you are married. Even if you are an adult and you are not married, you do not have to give the envelopes, you only receive them. But, if they’re married and they don’t have kids to give envelopes to they exchange red envelopes between husband and wife. While marriage and adulthood would’ve previously been equivalent, in today’s society they can be very separate, and this changes the tradition a little bit.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Protection

Cemetery Etiquette

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (HH) and I (ZM).

HH: When we go to the cemetery to visit our dead relatives. You, you can… well I feel like this is American too. You can never step on the tombstone of another person. And I did that once and my dad…

ZM: Uh oh.

HH: No, no I didn’t stepped on her tombstone, my hat flew on her tombstone and my dad threw away my hat and he made me apologize to the dead person.

ZM: Just your hat?

HH: Yeah. And he literally threw it away. Like, you touched dead, you touched someone’s… like a dead person’s tombstone.

ZM: But like, if it was like your relative that you’re visiting and you like touched it like in an endearing way…Is it still bad to touch the tombstone?

HH: I don’t think so… No, like if it’s an endearing way then not. Like it was just like me, like it was a stranger like…It was me sort of like disrespecting the dead and I literally had to… He literally had to um make me apologize to her like… He was saying like, “She’s just a little kiiiid. Don’t haunt us.” Like that kind of thing. Like, when you go to cemetery you don’t want the dead to follow you back.

 

Context: This is from a conversation I started with HH about her Chinese culture.

 

Background: HH was born in China and raised in Oakland, CA. Both of her parents are Chinese, and they speak limited English. She is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California.

 

Analysis: I thought this practice was kind of extreme. I understand not wanting to disrespect the dead by stepping on their graves, but just a hat hitting the tombstone doesn’t seem like enough to cause harm in my opinion.

 

 

 

 

Folk speech

Four

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (HH) and I (ZM).

HH: We don’t like the number four. Four means um, in Cantonese, like translates to “die.” So, um… Fourteen is like um, “You will die.”

ZM: Oh noo

HH: Yeah, it’s really bad. So, we don’t like that number.

 

Context: This is from a conversation I started with HH about her Chinese culture.

 

Background: HH was born in China and raised in Oakland, CA. Both of her parents are Chinese, and they speak limited English. She is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California.

 

Analysis: I have heard that four is similar to the word for death in Chinese, but I had not heard about fourteen. It makes me wonder about all other numbers that include “four.” I previously thought it was just the “four” by itself that was negative, but now I am not sure.

 

 

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

La Llorona

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (KM) and I (ZM).

ZM: Any legends? Is there like a New Mexican legend that you…?

KM: Oh! Yes. Indeed. So, there’s this legend. I can’t pronounce it for the life of me.

ZM: Could you spell it?

KM: Yes. So, it’s “la,” like la and then space, “ll.” Actually…it’s on my phone. (laughs) lemme… Okay, so it’s “la,” space, “llorona,” like La Lallorona or something like that. They roll their r’s or something that I can’t do. So, basically there’s this um, legend that this woman, um, took her kids (chuckles) This is scary. So, uh she took her kids like from her house and like drowned them in the river. Yeah. So, and that like… her kids and were like screaming the whole night and like… OH NO NO no. I think it’s… Her kids were screaming so much that she like took them to the river and drowned them. So, the legend is when you… like um… The winds in New Mexico, in the spring, are like really bad, like they’re like fifty miles an hour. Like crazy. And so the legend is, when you hear the like really fast wind. Like the scream from the wind, it’s the scream of her kids. And um, stay away from rivers. So, like the whole thing is like if you’re near an arroyo, which is what we call a ditch…

ZM: (obviously lost)

KM: You know those ditches that like…

ZM: On the side of roads?

KM: Not really. They’re kind of like… um… They’re like where rain water goes, but they’re like pretty deep.

ZM: But they’re not on the side of roads?

KM: Sometimes they are, but not necessarily.

ZM: Are you talking about like natural ones?

KM: Yeah. Like natural ones.

ZM: I’m sorry. Florida doesn’t have much… variation in… (laughs)

KM: So, I have one behind my house and it’s basically like… it’s lower in elevation so all the water goes there and then it goes under the road. So, I guess it’s kind of near the road. And it like drains to like a river.

ZM: whaaaa. hunh

KM: So, it’s kind of like a stream, but it’s only when rain…

ZM: I feel like this is a language barrier. It’s like a land barrier. Like, I’m not exposed to these land forms.

KM: But anyway, so when you go to like an arroyo and you hear the wind scream. It’s like La Lallorona is coming for you and you have to like go in your house or she’s gonna kill you.

ZM: Is that just kids or is that everyone?

KM: It’s mostly just kids. Like, parents tell their kids these stories so they won’t be near the arroyo at night.

 

Context: This is from a conversation with KM about her New Mexican culture.

 

Background: KM is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California. KM was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

 

Analysis: I thought it was interesting that this version still contained the classic “Stay away from rivers” message, but also more specifically to stay away from arroyos at night. This is a geographic marker because arroyos are only found in arid and semi-arid climates.

 

Myths
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

White Lighters

Main piece:

A superstition that bikers have? Well, first one comes to mind is white lighters. Bikers hate that shit. First of all, they just look… weird, right? There’s somethin’ about ‘em that looks just a little off.

But one lighter in a group? Whole group is cursed. Whoever brought it is asking for trouble for the whole gang he’s ridin’ with. In fact, one time out on the way to Sturgess… I think it was in ’92 or ’93… I saw two guys on the side of the road. We stopped to give em a hand, and some jackass on a Honda bobber is sitting there with no oil left in his bike. No drain plug in the pan, burned the whole engine right up. And there in his shirt pocket, lookin’ right at me was a white lighter.

And honestly he probably got lucky! His buddy sure did – what if he’d hit him as he locked out? Yeah. All kinds of bad luck with white lighters. For everyone.

Context:

Stew has been riding motorcycles since the age of fifteen. He is a thirty-five year member of Glen Ellyn’s volunteer fire department, and is a Vietnam War veteran.

Background:

This myth is also perpetuated by marijuana enthusiasts. Often, it is tied to the myth of the 27 Club, a group of actors and musicians who died at the age of twenty-seven. Four of the most well-known of these actors – Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain – are alleged to have been carrying a white lighter at the time of their deaths.

Analysis:

This superstition is similar to a Jonah myth – in which the presence of someone or something turns ill the will of God and causes strife for members of a group. In this case, the group is a group of motorcyclists.

 

For more on white lighters, see Jack Pendarvis’ Cigarette Lighter.
Pendarvis, Jack. Cigarette Lighter. London: Bloomsbury, 2016. Google Books. 28 Jan. 2016. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian Superstition: Rue

Folklore:

This is a Persian superstition that involves rue also known as espada the spice. When people start staying too many positive things about one person they will burn rue to not jinx the person they are complimenting. Someone will burn the rue and circle it around the person’s head. An example my informant gave me of this folklore is herself at a family reunion. At the reunion her family talks about how well she is doing during college and to not jinx her they’ll circle burning rue around her head.

Background & Context:

My informant is Persian-American and she has grown in Southern California. She is currently a senior at USC. I collected this piece of folklore in a casual setting one evening. For her this tradition is not something she uses in her daily life as she does not keep rue in her apartment at USC and nor is it something she necessary believes in nor disbelieves in. However when she is with more traditional family members, like her grandparents they will use rue as they believe in this superstition.  

Final Thoughts:

My final thoughts on this piece of folklore is that it is interesting and similar to other traditions. The similarities it has to other traditions is burning herbs or spices to ward off evil spirits or bad vibes. I also believe it is interesting how the mixing of two cultures affected the informant’s belief on traditional cultures that others in her family strongly believe in.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian New Year

Folklore:

Persian New Year is an important holiday in Persian culture. Unlike American New Years which happens always on January 1st Persian New Years takes place in mid March. A tradition during Persian New Years is jumping over a bonfire. Jumping over the bonfire is a symbolic ritual. By jumping over the bonfire you are giving away bad vibes from the previous year to the fire, while the fire is giving you good vibes to start off the New Year.

Background & Context:

My informant is Persian-American and she has grown in Southern California. She is currently a senior at USC. I collected this piece of folklore in a casual setting one evening. She takes part in Persian New Years occasionally, she says that while the ritual of jumping over the bonfire holds symbolic meaning many including herself do the ritual for fun and reminicines from their childhood.

Final Thoughts:

I have slightly more information on this tradition as I have taken part in it before with a different Persian-American friend although I am not Persian. When I took part in this ritual I did not hear about any of the symbolic meaning and only found out collecting this ritual from my informant. This New Years tradition is similar to other traditions as New Years in other cultures based on having a new start and leaving behind negative aspects of the past year. Fire is also something that is prominent in other cultures in getting rid of negative energy. Overall this ritual is similar to other traditions around the world.

 

[geolocation]