USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘bad luck’
Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic

Korean Electric Fan Superstition

Main Piece (direct transcription):

M: “Okay, so there’s this like…It’s not really a superstition, but…back when the electric fan first came out [in South Korea], there was this news article that came out saying that if you slept—or if you were just in a room with a closed door—and the fan kept running, like you’d run out of like… (laughter) clean air, or oxygen, and you’d die.  So now people don’t like sleeping with fans running.”

Me: “So it was all derived from a newspaper article?”

M: “Apparently, I haven’t actually seen the source, but like, you just don’t sleep with your fan running or you die.”

Me: “Do most people believe that?”

M: “Yeah, in South Korea, because they think you’ll die.”

 

Context: The informant, M, is a 19-year-old USC student originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Her mom is originally from South Korea and is the source of her knowledge about many Korean superstitions.  M’s primary language is English, but she also speaks Korean.  While sitting with M, I asked her if she knew any Korean proverbs, myths, or superstitions.  After a moment of thought, she told me that her mom is very superstitious, and that she knows a handful of Korean superstitions through experience with her mom in her house.  She then proceeded to tell me this superstition about electric fans in Korea.

 

 

My Thoughts: I thought that this superstition was interesting, because it originated from a popular source, such as a newspaper.  This was not rooted in any religious or sacred beliefs, as many superstitions are.  This is a fairly new superstition, yet it has seemed to take dominance throughout South Korea, and most people believe it.  I like this superstition because, although electric fans have been around for a while and are clearly safe, the majority of South Koreans still hold this fear that they will kill you if you fall asleep with one on.  I tried to think of any superstitions that might mirror this one in America, but I really could not come up with something.  This is a very unique superstition to South Korea, and I think that it’s both interesting and funny.  It is outlandish, yet superstitions are so powerful that people, although though they might not actually believe something will kill you, will still practice it because they want to be safe about it.

 

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Persian Flattery Superstition

Main Story (direct transcription):

Dad: If someone says that you are something positive, such as being pretty, young, wealthy, or successful, superstitious Iranians make a fire.  In the fire, they have some kinds of herbs that smell like oud, or incense, and they have seeds in them.  They make the fire in a coil, it’s not like a huge fire, and they throw all these seeds into it.  Some of the seeds make a big “pop” noise, and it opens, and it looks like an eye shape.  They say,

“This is the evil eye!  This is the enemy!”

Me: So why do they start the fire in the first place…?

Dad: To contradict something.  Back home (in Iran), you cannot say how beautiful someone is, or if when you have a kid, you can’t say “such a big baby!”.  Like here, in America, you can say those things, but in Iran, if you say that, it’s like you’ve jinxed it.  I remember when my youngest brother was born, my great-great aunt came home, and she was very old.  He was a beautiful baby, but when she saw him, she spit on him.  She said,

“What an ugly baby!”

She didn’t want to jinx it, so she said he was ugly.  I was so offended when she said it!  It’s the “evil eye”.  Here, when I came to this country, people were saying things like, “what a big baby, how beautiful…” and I was so confused.  You don’t say things like that in Iran because you don’t want to jinx them.  Making the fire to contradict something positive that was said is too much work, so they don’t say positive things in the first place.

 

Context: The informant, my father, is a pharmacist who was born in Shiraz, Iran.  He moved to the United States after growing up in Iran, and now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  His first language is Farsi, his second is Spanish, and his third is English.  He lived in Spain for several years before moving to the United States, and therefore has collected folklore from his time in these different countries throughout his lifetime.  My dad was telling me about different Iranian superstitions, since we were talking about how my grandma is a very superstitious woman.  I asked my dad if any particular superstitions popped out to him, or if any of them in particular were his favorite, and he proceeded to tell me this one.

 

 

My Thoughts:

I really liked this snippet about Iranian superstitions.  I didn’t know that it was negative to say something positive about someone, especially babies, in their culture.  Since my dad and his Iranian family in America have spent ample time here, I have heard them say positive things about others, and they are not as superstitious as their Iranian ancestors were.  I thought it was funny how my dad tied in this superstition to his own life, telling of how his great-great aunt actually spit on my uncle when he was a baby.  When my grandmother comes to visit next, I will be sure to listen and see if she says anything positive about anyone, especially about my youngest baby cousin on my dad’s side.  Now that I know this superstition, I think it will be fun to see how many people practice it, and how many don’t, and see whether or not there is a generational gap in those who do, and those who don’t.

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection
Signs

Track Team Superstition

Context: The informant had been speaking of memories with her track team in high school.

Piece:

Informant: Yeah so, there was this like consp.. I don’t even fucking know… okay so basically my coach said that if you ever like dropped the baton, like the relay baton during track practice that like that for sure you were like you were like… I don’t know something about the relay… and the actual race was gonna get super messed up. And so if you dropped the baton you always got severely punished on the team and one time this girl Maya dropped the baton and then the coach made the whole team run two miles because she like takes it super seriously and apparently that’s the only way to cancel it and uh. The weird thing was that it wasn’t even that if you dropped the baton during practice you were gonna drop the baton during the actual race it was just that something is gonna go wrong like nobody knows what. Usually it was about somebody being injured or like someone going down and have an injury if the baton was dropped in practice.

Collector: Um so did you like…

Informant: So I never dropped the baton before but it was always really scary and I knew the punishment was gonna be something really ridiculous if someone did it um and plus um because of the fact that our coach believe that if your dropped the baton it resulted in someone being injured, everybody would be on edge for the track meet after a practice where someone dropped the baton. So it was kinda like an extra pressure added. So it made it that I was on the relay team freshman year and we never dropped the baton.

Background: The informant, a 19 year old USC student, ran for the track team in high school. This piece reflects the beliefs she shared with her team. This belief also helped push her as an athlete and created a sense of camaraderie within her team.

Analysis: This superstition is a homeopathic superstition, as it follows the “like produces like” ideology. If the baton is dropped (which is considered bad) then a team member will get injured (also considered bad). But once they run laps (which is good for athletic ability) then the predicted injury is reversed (also good). This belief amongst her track team is a piece of shared knowledge that connected the team. This idea provided standards for the team and brought the team together through the common goal of safety. This also is a sort of preventative measure against injury, which is incredibly important for sports. What is particularly interesting is that the coach enforced this shared superstition through punishment. Superstitions typically are an individual choice, but in this case the team felt obligated to do so and almost forced into believing the superstition. This piece shows the power of sharing beliefs with others and how it affects an environment/group of people. It also enforces a core value of American society which is success, and by believing and following through with this superstition, the team is led to success.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Life cycle
Protection

German Birthday Superstition

Context: The informant was speaking about a birthday of a friend and how this belief was something she practices.

 

Piece:

Informant: One of the superstitions that like a lot of, I think it’s just German people, but like maybe in general European people, that you can’t say Happy Birthday to someone before it’s their actual birthday. It just like causes bad luck and is like a bad omen.

Collector: So in terms of this birthday thing, did you learn that from your parents?

Informant: Yeah it was just like I think like as a kid like I would say like “Oh, it’s almost your birthday” and stuff like that and they would be like oh don’t you don’t say it, you just don’t say it you just don’t say happy birthday before someone’s birthday, it almost jinxes it like you’re not gonna make it to the next birthday

Collector: Do you put this into practice?

Informant: I never say happy birthday before it’s their birthday, I usually don’t mention it until it’s their birthday.

 

Background: The informant is a 20 year old USC student of German descent whose parents raised her with German influence. She also travels to Germany often.

Analysis: This superstition deals with luck and life span. The negative connotation of prematurely wishing someone a happy birthday insinuates that because the yearly cycle has not been completed yet, that there is space for the life to be broken or ended overall. It’s interesting because in American culture, just the act of wishing someone a happy birthday is thought of as a kind gesture. But this piece shows that for German culture it is about the timely nature of when it is said. This probably reflects German ideology on being on time and doing things by the book rather then just for completetion.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic
Protection

German Cheers Superstition

Context: The informant was speaking of German traditions and remembered this piece.

 

Piece:

Informant: Another thing is this kind of funny if you don’t like look someone in the eyes when you’re like clinking your cups together you have bad sex for seven years.

Collector: Where did you learn this from?

Informant: That was learned from peers, but yeah when I go to Germany I make sure I look in their eyes and if you don’t look they call you out and are like that’s bad sex!! It’s a little bit of a joke but it’s definitely prevalent.

 

Background: The informant is a 20 year old USC student of German descent. She visits Germany often and spends time with her German family and friends, giving her insight into their cultural practices.

Analysis: This idea of creating eye contact when clinking glasses or during a “cheers” is an idea I had heard of before, but to create good luck in general. This piece focuses on the relationship between eye contact and sex. It is interesting because there is a very special sort of bond and connection created with both eye contact and sex, therefore it makes logical sense that they correlate in this superstition. The act of cheers is already a celebratory gesture, therefore the addition of the eye contact gesture adds depth to the meaning of the cheers.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Why Pineapples have Eyes – Filipino Legend

“Once upon a time, there was a hardworking woman who lived with her daughter, Pina. They were quite poor, and lived in a hut in a village. The mother worked all day and night in order to make a living for her and her daughter, but Pina never helped her mother with anything. The daughter was extremely lazy and spoiled and only played in the backyard. And whenever her mother tried to get her to do some errands, Pina always made some excuse that she could not find the thing that she needed to do it. Because of this, her mother just ends up doing the work herself.

The mother fell ill one day, so she called out to her daughter to make her some food, porridge. The girl did not listen to her and continued to play. The mother yelled again, and finally the girl stood up and headed into the kitchen. She asked her mother how to make the porridge, and her mother said that all she had to do was to put water in a pot with rice, boil it, and stir with a wooden spoon. Pina goes into the kitchen, and the mother can hear a lot of clanging and drawers banging, followed by the sound of the back door opening and closing. The mother called out to her daughter, asking Pina if she made the porridge. The daughter replies, saying she did not because she could not find the wooden spoon. The mother flies into a rage and says ‘I wish you had a thousand eyes so that you can find what it is you are looking for.’

The mother finally gets up and makes herself porridge. She cannot hear Pina playing anymore, and assumes that her lazy child had gone to her friends house. After this, she goes to bed. Days pass by, and she does not hear from or see Pina at all. She beings to think that her daughter ran away after what she said. When the mother recovered, she looked everywhere for Pina, and failed to locate her. She begins to regret the things she said to her daughter and is afraid that she will see Pina again.

One day, many months later, she is sweeping the backyard. She stumbles across a strange plant growing where her daughter used to play. She pulls it out of the ground and finds a yellow fruit that is covered in a thousand eyes. She realizes what she said to her daughter, and realized that this fruit was actually her daughter. To honor her daughter, she names this new plant Pina. The fruit began to grow everywhere and became popular around the world.”

Context: The informant, SP, is a half-Filipina American living in Rhode Island. SP was discussing various Filipino legends that aim to explain certain phenomena that are large part of Filipino culture. SP heared this legend from her mom, who is a Filipina immigrant. Her mother told her this legend when they were cutting pineapples, and it stayed with her as because it was so interesting to her. SP’s mother also commented on the fact the laziness of the daughter and how she got turned into a fruit because of it.

Analysis: This legend follows a lot of the various components and styles of folk belief. One of the important aspects of folk belief and legends specifically, is that it is a way to explain everyday phenomena. In this case, the legend aims to explain why pineapples have their famous “eye” appearance. Pineapples and other tropical fruits grow naturally in the warm climate of the Philippines, so it is understandable that folk belief will arise that involves an important part of Filipino culture. For example, there is a Native American legend that aims to give reason as to why bears do not have tails. Certain bear species are endemic to the western United States, so many indigenous Americans see these bears as having important spiritual and cultural significance, and thus many legends and myths have arisen. Certain phenomena that seem to be dissonant to the rest of nature are what is being explained by many folk beliefs and legends; they aim to bring order and explanation to an imperfect and confusing world.

Along with this, this legend also reflects the parenting style that many Filipino parents practice. Children are supposed to be extremely obedient and help their parents in any way that they can help to “repay” their parents for all they have done for them. In this case, the disobedient and lazy child causes a great inconvenience to her mother,  so she ended up being turned into a pineapple. This has a lot of significance for what disrespect towards one parents entails in the Philippines.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic

Don’t Step on the Books – Hindu Custom

“So basically, if there is like a book on the ground, you are not allowed to step on it, deliberately or accidentally. And you are also not allowed to let them [books] touch your feet, because it’s kind of like, books are seen as this sacred holy thing that gives up knowledge, so we have to give books a certain level of respect. So if you kind of touch the books with your feet or kick them, you are disrespecting the sacredness of the knowledge that the books are giving us.”

Context: The informant was raised Hindu, but is non-religious. She explained to her roommate why she should not step on her books in order to reach a high shelf. For her [the informant], this was something that was told to her throughout her childhood by her parents and grandparents. Though this custom/folk belief is rooted in religious belief, the cultural aspect of the custom is what sticks with her and impacts the way that she lives her life–specifically whether or not she is able step on books.

Analysis: I agree with the informant’s insights about this particular custom. For many superstitions and folk beliefs–especially those that are rooted in religious beliefs–they are not just about religion, but are also influenced by the culture from which the custom was derived. For example, while literacy and knowledge is influential in the Hindu religion, but I believe the Indian culture is also a large factor in how impactful this belief is on non-religious members of the culture. For Indians, intelligence, and more importantly, the acquisition of knowledge is extremely important, and the value of an education has been instilled by many parents into their reluctant children. This shows that even though some see knowledge as sacred based on Hindu belief, there is also a cultural component to the custom. This cultural component of the custom is what carries with the non-religious members of the community.

Along with this, there is a component of homeopathic magic in this superstition/folk belief. As homeopathic magic follows the principle that “like produces like”, this folk belief follows the idea that if you step on a book, then you are disrespecting that book, and thus you are disrespecting knowledge itself. Like placing pins in a voodoo doll to inflict pain on another person, placing your foot on something–which is seen as disrespectful–then there is a greater significance. Books are often placed in front of the god Ganesha, who is god of knowledge and wisdom, so disrespecting books would thus also be disrespecting this god. This is a hallmark of the “like produces like “ phenomenon.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Myths
Narrative

Chinese God of War and Wealth

“Ok, there is this famous general during the 3 kingdom of Chinese History, his name is Guan Yu, but he is more commonly known as Guan Gong–it’s a more respectful way of referring to him–and he was a king’s sworn brother, and he was famous for his courage, character, and integrity, and loved by both his enemies and friends. He did not succeed in bringing back his king’s empire, but he was worshiped as this god of war and also the god of wealth.

Nowadays, whenever you go into an old-fashioned–especially Hong Kong–restaurant you will probably see him sitting there in this green robe, holding his knife. His knife has a name, it is called the knife with which he slayed the dragon under the moonlight, yeah that is his knife. And the restaurant’s owner will have apples and oranges and candles under his portrait or statue so that he could watch over the restaurant and guarantee their business to profitable and stuff like that. He is also the god of war and courage, and is worshiped by the police and gangs the same way. If you see a group of people worshiping a Guan Gong with his knife in his left hand, then it would probably a gang member, while people worshiping a Guan Gong in his right hand would be a police officer.”

Context: The informant is one of my roommates, and we were discussing strange and absurd traditions from our respective cultures. She told me this story about a god that restaurants have an “altar” for because of his unique powers. The story is significant, according to the informant, because it shows that the line between folklore and religion is quite blurry. There are many, many gods of wealth in China that are all quite distinct and discrete. However, there is one thing in common: they all were real people. These real people became part of the folklore as their stories were passed down; people thus begin to see these historical figures as gods. There are plenty of people that see them as just role models or icons, but many do begin to worship them as if they were deities. She says that in this way, many historical figures enter folklore, and then cross-over in to more of a religious realm.

Analysis:  I disagree with this, as it seems that Guan Gong moved from a historical and legendary icon to a mythological figure. Based on this story, Guan Gong entered into the legendary realm following the spreading of his story throughout the Chinese public. His actions have spawned various stories–that may or may not be true. However, with the worship of this figure, Guan Gong also became a mythological figure that people saw as a deity. In many cultures, many people will see national heroes or cultural icons as someone that they look up to and eventually this respect can turn into worship. For example, Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun who did prolific charity work in India, was not only canonized as Saint of the Church, but is also seen as a goddess in certain regions of Kolkata, a region in India. This shift was due to the fact that Saint Teresa was one of the few people to deal directly with those with “untouchable diseases” like HIV/AIDS and leprosy, and proved to society the importance of showing compassion to all. While this is different from the story of Guan Gong as Saint Teresa was not a legendary figure, there is a common theme; the actions of Guan Gong and Saint Theresa have become the icons that they are because the things that they did in their lifetime.

This is similar to the story of Zhang Lang, who was cursed to be blind and resorted to beg following his adultering behavior. While begging, he stumbled across his former wife; after she restores his eyesight, Zhang Lang, overcome by guilt, self-immolated in the hearth. This story was told over many generations, eventually becoming one of the “kitchen gods” that protect the home and the hearth. For me, the significance of this story is that it shows how a person or story can move between disciplines in folklore, as both legends and myths are genres of narrative folklore.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Kicking the Lightpost – USC Band Tradition

“So the band has a tradition of, every time we march to the football stadium–the Coliseum–for games, everyone has to kick the bottom of the light pole as we are leaving campus for good luck. Then, we also kick it on our way back on [campus] after the game.

If we win the football game, we always play ‘Conquest’ at Tommy Trojan as, like, a celebration.”

Context: The informant, EK, is a member of the USC Trojan Marching Band (also called Spirit of Troy), and specifically part of the drum line of the band. We were having a discussion about some of the strange and somewhat rituals that the band does on game days (football) and how they affect the outcome of the games. EK feels an obligation to participate in this ritual as she is a member of the band, and fears the consequences of not participating in the tradition as it is a highly ingrained belief in the student group. The band, according to EK, relies heavily on many superstitions and traditions in order to ensure the success of the USC football team.

Analysis: For the informant, this ritual is extremely important for the band and to ensure a good outcome for the football game that they will be performing in. In this manner, this ritual is a demonstration of folk belief and superstition and how it supposedly affects the outcome of events that can be seemingly out of our hands. With this superstition, this group of performers can have a level of control over an unpredictable event.

There is also a participatory context for this superstition. If you do not participate in this ritual and kick the light pole, then if the football team loses, the band can blame the person who didn’t kick the pole. In a way, knowing and participating in the superstitions of the marching band is a way to figure out who is a member, and who is an outsider. Due to this, if you choose not to participate, or merely forget, your band members will see you as someone who is not really a member of that group anymore, and only after you resume your participation in that ritual can one resume their membership. This is mirrored in many other societal groups, from firefighters to physicians to USC students. Particular superstitions and customs are defining components of culture, and the groups that perform them claim them as a piece of their identity.

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Signs

Splitting poles

“So one day my aunt and I and were walking to this little fashion jewelry store where they sell really cheap jewelry by the way and as we were walking we came across this pole and I was about to go the opposite way so we started to split the pole. She got so upset she was like don’t you dare split that pole with me. so from that day forward, I learned it was like bad luck to split the pole with someone. and the person that’s younger gets bad luck. ”

Why bad luck and why the younger person?

“well its cause the two of us have a connection and when a pole comes between us you are letting it cut that connection so the younger person who is less wise than the older one gets the bad luck since they have had less time on this earth and just lost the connection to an older and wiser person. So they don’t get bad luck, they have to reestablish that connection and you do that by saying hi”

Context: The informant is a twenty-one-year-old student at USC she is from Tennessee. Once before she had mentioned that it was bad luck to split the pole so I asked her more about it.

Background: She heard this from her aunt and since then she has been afraid to split poles with anyone she is walking with, especially if they are older than her. She is an active participant of this superstition, always careful when she walks and has even had to say hi to strangers because she does not want that bad luck.

Analysis: Like many superstitions, it is better to participate just to stay on the safe side. Ever since she explained this superstition to me I am careful not to split any poles with her or anyone I am walking with. However, I do not go out of my way to remove the “bad luck.” I have also heard a different version where if you split the pole with someone you must neutralize the situation by saying “bread and butter.” I asked the informant if she had heard about this one and she said she had not. This shows that maybe it is a geographical difference since she grew up in the South.

[geolocation]