USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘christian’
Legends
Narrative

Robert Johnson: Deal with the Devil

Main Piece
You know the story of Robert Johnson, right? He traded his soul to the devil to play guitar. So the idea is that the devil never holds his side of the bargain, so this is why you never make a deal with the devil. So this is like the most famous rock and roll lore, so basically this was back in the 1920’s, and he was a struggling African American guitarist, and he wanted to be famous, so the story goes he met the devil at the crossroads, and told the devil “I wanna be famous, I wanna be a famous musician, I wanna be successful”, or whatever. So the devil told him, “If you give me your soul, I will make you famous for 10 years and you will live as a celebrity and be successful, so he accepted the deal, and then recorded one album, there was just one album, and then what is spooky is the album has guitar progressions that people don’t know how to replicate even today, but the devil doesn’t hold up his side of the deal, so he died like 8 months after the recording of the album. So he released this song, its called “Hellhound on my Trail”, and its this very spooky, scary song about someone who thinks they are being hunted down by this supernatural malevolent force. Super interesting song, highly recommend you check it out, but the idea is there that the devil will not hold up its side of the deal, and will kill you, destroy you, and make you suffer forever if you make a deal with him. So basically, its telling you, don’t ever make a deal with the devil because he will destroy you.

Background
The informant played in a worship band as a kid, and is therefore informed on both guitar-player lore as well as Christian lore. The tale seems to be a combination of both, but the informant was not sure where exactly he learned the tale.

Context
The informant is a 25-year-old man, born and raised in Southern California. The information was provided to me outside his family home in Palm Springs, California, on April 20th, 2019.

Analysis
I found this tale to remind of me other proscriptive tales, especially in terms of the “deal with the devil” aspect. I totally remember being told other stories as a child relating to the reasoning behind why you never make a deal with the devil, but had never heard this exact story. I do like how part of the story is based in fact, with the song being able to be looked up, but research shows me that the informant is slightly incorrect with his telling of the tale, although that is common in folklore, due to the nature of multiplicity and variation. I learned that the song actually hails from 1937, and does actually exist. It is interesting to me that the informant claims this to be one of the biggest pieces of rock and roll lore, yet I had never heard it before!

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Setting an extra plate during Christmas

Content and Context:
Informant -“I remember my mother did this several times. At the Christmas meal, my mother would set an extra seat and an extra place setting. Now the tradition is in case someone shows up, but I always associated it with the people who weren’t with us. That’s how I like to think of it.”

JK – “The people who aren’t with us. Does that mean people who have died or people who just aren’t there?”

Informant – “Either way. When I say prayers at home now, I always add that I ask god to take care of those who aren’t with us. That means your dead grandparents and those who are away.”

JK – “Did the Christmas tradition lead to this added prayer?”

Informant – “Maybe the thought did. Not consciously. It just seemed to me that our meals couldn’t possible be complete without recognizing the absence of those who couldn’t possibly be there.”

Analysis:
It’s interesting that the informant did not carry the tradition forward, but rather his interpretation of the ritual. While his mother wanted to be prepared for unexpected guests, the informant wanted a reminder of guests that weren’t coming.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Material
Narrative
Protection

Saint Christopher Medallion

Content:
Informant – “When I was being raised, Saint Christopher was an important saint. All of us, the kids, got medals, little medallions that we wore, that were Saint Christopher medals. Saint Christopher was the patron saint of travelers.
Now Christopher means Christ carrier. And the legend is that he was a big person, almost a giant, and he came upon a little boy on the bank of a stream and the little boy asked him to please carry him over to the other side. And so Christopher said sure and proceeded to carry him on his shoulders across the river, and as he went further and the water got deeper the boy got heavier and heavier, and it took all his strength, and when he finally reached the shore, exhausted, he asked the child ‘My gosh how could you weigh so much?’ And the child revealed that he was really Christ and that he was carrying the weight of the world. And then he disappeared.”

Context:
Informant – “I grew up with it. And while I was growing up, Christopher was touted as being a real person, but more recent research has found that there is no real record of his existence. The first mention of him was like 3 centuries after he supposedly existed. So they say he’s pretty much a legend.

JK – “What were the medallions for?”

Informant – “It was really a religious good luck charm. It was supposed to protect us from the travails of travels and journeys and all that.”

Analysis:
There is an interesting connection between the medallion and the story. One wears a medallion around one’s neck. You feel the weight at the back of the neck – the same place where you would feel the most weight if you were carrying someone on your shoulders.

Proverbs

Biblical Proverb

The following was recorded from a conversation I had with a friend marked HL. I am marked CS. She shared with me a proverb she was told growing up from her Grandmother.

 

HL: “My mom always told me a biblical proverb. It was ‘to he who much is given, much is expected.”

CS: “Can you explain to me what this proverb means?”

HL: “Well I was raised in a Christian home, and it reflects the environment I was surrounded by the way I was brought up. This proverb has religious context, obviously, and I think it’s from a specific passage from the Bible but I can’t remember. The proverb basically means that because God has given me so many gifts and talents, like I shouldn’t waste them, you know what I mean? Someone shouldn’t waste their talents that were gifted to them.”

CS: “Makes sense. So does all of your family agree with and follow this proverb?”

HL: “Yeah my mom told it to my brother and all almost throughout like our entire childhood.”

 

Background:

HL is currently a freshman at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Mission Viejo, California in a family with a strong Catholic background.

Context:

An in person conversation at a local coffee shop.

 

Analysis:

I enjoy this proverb, namely because it is so relevant to many other kids my age and sounds similar to some of the sayings my mom also told me growing up. I think it’s important for these proverbs to reflect one’s heritage or culture in that these are the values one’s parents are instilling into them. They are words to live by and hopefully pass down again one day.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

Active Angels

This friend of mine has always mentioned that his family is very Christian, while he himself is more secular. He believes in God, and prays regularly, however he is a bit skeptical in terms of miracles happening here on Earth. Having grown up in San Diego in close proximity to his grandparents, who are even more religious than his parents, he often shares stories from his childhood, many of which involve church or some other religious attribute. Though he attends Mass somewhat regularly here at USC, college has made him even more of a skeptic than before.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Is it okay, if this is like, religious? Alright so, it was like evening. It wasn’t dark, it was almost dark. That time between five and six pm. You know what I’m talking about. So I’m at Torrey Pines Cove. Er, no that’s not a thing. La Jolla Cove. But it’s near Torrey Pines, anyways so. I’m there, and I’m climbing on the cliffs. I started off on just little ones, but then I got to bigger ones, and it was sort of like, more dangerous. My mom was talking to my dad, and like, just, they were walking around and stuff. And they didn’t see that I had moved on to more dangerous areas. And, I am afraid of heights, I don’t know if you know about this. But I don’t like being up high ever. I can’t look down if I’m higher than like a story. A third floor freaks me out. So anyways, I’m at a cliff – I can’t remember how far it was, but when I was a kid it felt like really really really far. You know? Like a giant gap. So I look down and I’m like way high up. And I look down and am like, holy shit? How am I gonna get down? And I didn’t know. My mom saw me at this point, and she couldn’t climb that high up, she was freaking out. She wouldn’t climb that. She was like, ‘oh my God, he’s up there, you know, he’s gotta climb down or something’. I was just frozen, I was there the whole time, and then. This guy was at the top of the cliff, and went and like helped me down. Like, I don’t – he didn’t, okay. This is hard to envision, but he went and like walked down and helped guide me down the rock face. And then, like. And then he was like, ‘there you go’, and then walked away. And then my mom was like, ‘that was an angel. A guardian angel’. Because we didn’t see any guys up there, like – it didn’t look like. She didn’t recall anyone being up there, and he just showed up. And then got me down. And then left. And my mom was like, ‘that’s a guardian angel up there’.

“My grandmother used to tell me stories about what my guardian angels looked like. And it was really like, it was a way for me to bond with my grandmother on a deeper level. Sort of supernatural, like, are there really angels out there that are everyday people? She would make up the stories. She was like – this was like what guardian angels would do. Like if I had a big test coming up, she was like, ‘the guardian angel is watching. He’ll help you with the answers,’ or I don’t know what it was. Help you study – that’s more ethical. So, but yeah. She was a big believer in angels, like active angels. Not ones that were just up there. She was like, ‘nah, they’re out there. They’re helping people’. And I always thought that was just good Samaritans. People that were like, ‘yo, this kid’s on a cliff face. I need to help him out.’ You know? And we just didn’t see him. That’s what I think happened. But my mom has a different take that that was my guardian angel like stepping in. Like, ‘this kid’s about to die’.”

This story fascinates me, as I never really think of angels as walking among us. While I, myself, believe in a higher power with a sort of spiritual-hierarchy of subservient deities (aka God with His angels, a Creation God with Nature Spirits, something along those lines), I’ve never really pictured them as being physical incarnates that interact with us one-on-one. Though my friend claims to have interacted with one face to face, he still is a skeptic that it was, in fact, an angel. It beautifully illustrates the sharp generational divide in beliefs, even if those beliefs share a common root.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

The Parking Lot Angel

This friend of mine has always mentioned that his family is very Christian, while he himself is more secular. He believes in God, and prays regularly, however he is a bit skeptical in terms of miracles happening here on Earth. Having grown up in San Diego in close proximity to his grandparents, who are even more religious than his parents, he often shares stories from his childhood, many of which involve church or some other religious attribute. Though he attends Mass somewhat regularly here at USC, college has made him even more of a skeptic than before.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Another angel story, my grandmother says there’s a parking-lot angel that she has that follows her car around. And every time she’s gone to places to park she just always manages to find a spot. And she would tell me that every time. She went to like parking lots and stuff, and she used to tell me stories.”

This story is just so innocent and sweet. A little old grandma who has come to the conclusion that the reason for her exceptionally good luck when it comes to finding parking spaces is her very own guardian angel. Everyone I’ve told it to since I’ve heard it has smiled and said, “hey, that’s not such a bad explanation”. Perhaps the parking lot angel is busier than we know.

 

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Posadas

I interviewed my informant, Brianna, in the study lounge of the band office. Because of her upbringing in Mexican culture, she was able and eager to share a lot of folklore and folk traditions. One thing she wanted me to document was Posadas, which she learned about from her grandmother and her mother. The following is the information she shared with me during the interview:

 

Posadas are special events leading up to Christmas. It’s a movement of the community or church that happened once a week a few weeks leading up Christmas day. The community members follow someone dressed as Mary and Joseph to someone’s home. The home welcomes them in, and they have a big party.

 

My informant made sure to note that in her mother’s village, they put the woman portraying Mary on a live donkey for added effect.

 

She used to do it in her neighborhood back home (San Siro, San Luis Potosi). Everyone was invited for food and a party. A portion of the people were invited early for food, usually close friends and family. Then the whole town is invited after the dinner for the party and music.

 

This all leads up to Christmas day. On Christmas, everyone celebrates at home — which is where everyone celebrates the birth of Jesus. A certain ritual also involves putting a doll figure of baby Jesus in a manger. My informant noted that her grandmothers was 10X bigger than the other dolls because it’s the most important thing in the display.

 

I asked my informant if she had any other thoughts, to which she responded: “The first time I did it, I was in Mexico, so it was pretty wild.”

 

Analysis

I have never heard of such extravagant pageantry to celebrate the Christmas season. This festival in particular is very important because it brings the community together and affirms their identity. It’s unclear whether everyone partakes in the celebration because they are Christian, or just because they are part of the community. Regardless, Posadas is obviously a very important annual event that encourages synthesis through performance.

 

Childhood
Musical

One Child of God

This is an Indonesian church song that the informant’s mom used to sing when she was younger. Her mom grew up Christian and went to a Catholic, all girls school.

Translation

“‘One child of God goes to church, and then he brings a friend, and they go to church.’ And then it starts over, it’s like, ‘Two children of God, one of them brings a friend, and they go to church.’ All of them go to church together and it’s like this growing…”

Background & Analysis

The informant’s parents are from Indonesia, however the informant herself was born in the U.S., but is fluent in both Indonesian and English. The informant and I live in the same residence hall, and for this folklore collection, we got pizzas together and just sat down and ate them in my room while talking and sharing stories.

The name of this church song is “Satu Anak Tuhan” which mean “One Child of God.” When I asked the informant if this song is sung more in youth groups, she said she had absolutely no idea, but that it was just one of those little songs that you learn when you’re younger. This reminds me a a children’s song that most latin or hispanic people know, and that I myself learned from my dad who speaks Spanish, called “Un Elefante se Balanceaba.” The song begins with one elephant balancing on a spider web, and when he sees that it holds him, he calls over another elephant, and then they are both balancing on a spider web. This song can continue indefinitely. Just as with “One Child of God,” it is mostly children who learn and sing this song, and both were probably created to pass the time on long car rides, or to teach numbers and counting.

Protection
Signs

God be with you

Yes, I always say “God be with you” whenever I say goodnight to you guys. And then, make a cross with my thumb on your forehead.

I think I started doing that when Vince was in Kindergarten. But actually, I first learned it from Sister Carolyn. At some meeting with parents at St. Joan, she told it to all of us, and said her parents said it to her.

And I liked it, so I started saying it, too.

Context: I specifically asked my informant, my mom, about this and she told me one one one.

Thoughts: Sister Carolyn, who the informant mentions, was the principal

 In our family, we say this so often now that we don’t even really think about it’s meaning. I say it to my dog. We use it interchangeably with “Good night.” or usually in addition to it, and we text it to each other a lot. But I think the informant, truly means it every time she says it.

general
Magic
Myths

Sleep Paralysis and Devils

Sleep Paralysis

The Informant:

My friend, was born in Diamond Bar, CA. He is the son of a pastor whose church is in Diamond Bar. He lives with his parents and three younger siblings, a sister and two brothers. His father is Chinese and his mother is Korean.

The Story:

The first time that this happened to me was when I was either a sophomore or a junior in high school. I was lying on my bed, obviously in the middle of my sleep, when all of a sudden I realized I couldn’t move. I couldn’t move my body, I couldn’t scream, there was no air in my lungs. I tried to scream but couldn’t and I started to freak out. All of a sudden… I felt super cold, from top, my head, down, to my feet. I don’t remember if I was outside the blankets or inside but regardless I felt the wind. Suddenly I felt a heavy weight on my chest, as if something was sitting on it, and a shadow on top of me. I don’t really remember what happened after that. All of these instances blur together after a while. This was the first time it happened. After that it happened on a weekly basis for at least a year. There are times when I know it’s coming. You just feel like you’re getting really tired, or sometimes you can just sense something is off, as if there’s something in your room with you. I’ve never seen anything in my room though, and it always happens at night. There’s nothing I could do except wait for it to pass… and I’m always alone when this happens.

The Analysis:

This is a different occurrence of the scissor lock that my other friend experienced. We talked about this in his room, and a couple other friends were present. As he continued to tell his story, our other friends slowly became quiet, and then silent. The way Trevor spoke was genuine and even though such an occurrence would be questionable, there was no doubt in his voice that this was true. In Trevor’s instance, this happens on a semi-regular basis, with the last one occurring a couple months ago. Before that, it happened once a week or once every other week. There is no basis for why he goes through the scissor lock so often, but his actions showed that he doesn’t get used to it, even though it’s happened numerous times. It is creepy that this has happened so many times that they all seem to blur into one for him. One aspect that was interesting is that he is a pastor’s kid. This was one difference I noticed between him and my other informant on this same topic – it is probable that his stronger faith or adherence to Christianity has an affect on these continual occurrences. Whether it is due to faith or not, I wondered if it was the devil’s doing, and led me to question the existence of the devil and it’s many forms.

 

Researchers have attempted to examine the causes of the scissor lock, dubbing it generally as sleep paralysis: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FB%3ADREM.0000005896.68083.ae

A different version of sleep paralysis from someone not religious can be found at: http://kerryonian.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/the-experience/

[geolocation]