USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Familial Legends: Dreaming of the Devil

Every family member on J.R.’s father’s side has experienced the same DREAM.

J.R. – “Every single person in my family on my dad’s side, as far back as, like, 4 generations, has had this terrible sleep paralysis at least once in their lives, and during this nightmare they see a manifestation which they believe to be the devil.”

Can you describe the dream?

“So essentially, uh, they – well, really, it’s not a dream, it’s that; when they come to, they’re completely frozen, and usually there’s a window or a door for some reason, and by the foot of the bed.  So what my father saw was a foot-tall figure, usually completely shadowed, has appeared on their bed and walked towards them with blood red eyes.”

“As soon as it gets really close to them, it goes black, and they wake up.”

“My grandmother’s was slightly different than my father’s: she was passed out on her bed, a similar situation to my father, and it appeared.  And the staple of this figure is definitely it’s blood red eyes.”

When you think about the possibility of that happening to you as well, what crosses your mind?

“I’m intrigued, especially because of my father’s family’s interesting relationship with religion.  My dad was a mormon at one point, but now he’s not even religious . . . my grandmother had some issues which kinda drove her away from religion . . . in my eyes, I wouldn’t put it past anything – just for me, I’m not super religious.  I don’t necessarily believe in that stuff, but I don’t think my dad ever has ever, and so I’m intrigued to say the least.”

 

This is fascinating to me.  The person who told me this story is a close friend of mine, and I would have known by now if he was in any way overtly religious.  I’ve known, in fact, that he isn’t particularly religious at all, and neither is his family.  So, it shocked me to hear this from him of all people, because I would never have imagined something so spiritual, so saint-like, could have happened to that family in particular.  Subjectively, I think think that this is a prime example of spiritual fluidity, going through all members of one family.  It’s also interesting to hear what this person, who had not yet had this nightmare, has to say about the possibility of it’s occurrence.  I’d be terrified, as I often am, although he seemed so cool about it.

 

Childhood
Folk speech
general

“Ich bin klein”

Main piece:

Ich bin klein

mein Herz ist rein

darf niemand drin wohnen

als Jesus allein.

 

Informant’s English translation:

 

I am small,

My heart is pure,

So no one will live in my heart but Jesus alone.

 

Context: The informant (DB) is a first generation immigrant from Germany; her mother is from Silesia, Germany, and her father is from what was previously known as East Prussia, so she is fluent in both German and English. She was raised Christian but does not consider herself very religious. DB grew up in Orlando, Florida, has two kids, and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Our conversation took place while eating quesadillas for lunch our home in Atlanta. The informant heard this nursery rhyme from her mother, who heard it from her mother, who heard it from her mother. She values it because it’s “such a simple yet sweet prayer that any child can understand.” DB remembers “Ich bin klein” as the one solitary moment she shared with her mother before bed; despite their busy life and large family, they were always able to regroup and return to each and God at the end of the day.   

Personal thoughts: Popular Christian prayers tend to involve long sentences or invoke complex biblical concepts, which can be especially confusing for children. Take the Lord’s Prayer, for instance – one line reads: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” An 8-year-old has no grasp on temptation or evilness. Although these kinds of prayers are touted to be family friendly, many times children will simply recite them word-for-word without actually being able to fully understand what they are saying. The beauty of the “Ich bin klein” prayer is that it begins by reinforcing the innocence and simplicity of child (“I am small / my heart is pure”), which are words a child can easily grasp, and ends with an affirmation that the child reciting the prayer loves Jesus (“So no one will live in my heart by Jesus alone”). Bam. Easy. No mumbo jumbo about debts and trespassing – just an affirmation of a child’s purity and love for Jesus.

Legends
Narrative

The Mountain of el Espiritu Michoacan

So where my dad lives, el Espiritu Michoacan, there’s a big mountain with a large cross that is visible to the naked eye at the top. I don’t know how long it’s been there, but they say that religious groups took it there on horseback. The wood used was so big that they needed a lot of people and lot of horses to move it or transport it. There’s a story that after it was built, many people were at the top of the mountain and I guess praying or worshipping… and because it’s at the top of the mountain, they got dizzy when they were staring at the cross. They thought that the cross was falling or that the sky was falling and they began to run, and some people maybe got hurt and fell down because it’s steep. They also say that the people might have been partying, so they could have been drunk or intoxicated or something. You know, your depth perception isn’t great under those circumstances. So they were being punished by God.

Context: The informant’s father is from Michoacan, and he has visited the state almost yearly since his childhood. He heard this story from his father.

Interpretation: This story has a cautionary element that warns audiences not to mix worship with intoxication for fear of punishment. It also seems reminiscent of Judgment Day, where worshippers are evaluated as the world appears to end (i.e. the sky is falling). It also suggests the power of religion, both in that it brought people together to build and transport the cross and that it is powerful enough to send a large group of people falling down a mountain. The fact that this story is widely spread in the area shows that the people of el Espiritu Michoacan value religion and are dedicated to spreading the word of Christianity (more specifically, Catholicism).

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.

 

Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Magic
Material

St. Joseph Figurine

Title: St. Joseph Figurine

Category: Folk Object/ Ritual

Informant: Kurt A. Gabbard

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: Upper 50s

Occupation: Princeton Seminary—Vice President of Business Affairs/Financial Consultant/CPA/CFO

Residence: 5031 Mead Drive/ Doylestown PA, 18902 (Suburban Home)

Date of Collection: 4/08/18

Description:

The St. Joseph figurine is used primarily by Catholic home owners when looking to sell their house. The figurine is buried at the corner of the property and must be buried upside down facing the entrance to the home. The figurine is often sold along with a prayer card which the user must say the prayer on the card after burying the figure and then everyday after until the home is sold.

The figurine is meant to bring good luck and will help to sell the property faster if used correctly. After the property sells, the miniature sculpture is dug up and placed on the mantle of the next home the person moves into. The figurine should be kept on the mantle until the next home is meant to be sold and the ritual repeated.

Context/Significance:

The Saint. Joseph figurine is a Catholic saint that is known in the religion as the patron saint of workers. Saint Joseph figurines (approximately the size of 3” tall) are sold in St. Joseph home-selling kits and are sometimes even included by realtors along with “for sale” signs and newspaper ads.

The figurine and ritual grew in popularity in the late 1980s and 1990s due to the housing crisis and re-arose in popularity during the 2008 housing crisis as well. People who participate in the ritual claim that their house that had previously been on the market for months or years, sold within weeks or even days after burying the saint.

Personal Thoughts:

My family has participated in the St. Joseph figurine ritual in every occasion where we’ve sold our house. My family is Catholic Christian and my father is the main family member who instills our religious traditions and practices. During my lifetime, my family has sold two houses, but moved six times. In both of the times that we’ve sold houses, my father has planted St. Joseph figurines and our properties sold within a month or two of the figurine being buried. My father and mother both believe strongly in the ritual and we have the figurine sitting on our mantle beside our family clock and horseshoe.

Annotation:

For another version of this practice, see:

https://www.catholiccompany.com/getfed/mystery-st-joseph-home-selling-kit/

MLA Citation:

Rabiipour, Nick, et al. “The Mystery of the St. Joseph Home Selling Kit.” Get Fed, 6 Aug. 2015, www.catholiccompany.com/getfed/mystery-st-joseph-home-selling-kit/.

Game

Underground Church

 

 

Underground Church by Lee Thibodeau

 

There’s a group of 15 people, or ten people, you have to pick one priest and two guards. The guards will outnumber the priests in a one to two ratio. So basically, the priest is chosen and the two guards are chosen and everybody in the group will know who is guards and who is the priests and they’re selected randomly. Everyone starts in a set location. You need a big field. You could actually play in an area with a lot of objects like trees or cars or somewhere where there’s actually like structures. The priest and the guards will leave and the priests will be able to choose what their jail will be, the object or the area will be the Underground Church. And the two guards will leave and they’ll pick their own area that will be the jail. And then the rest of the people who are not chosen will be some civilians, or townsfolk and they have to wait in the area where the game started, which is preferably in the middle of the field or area where the game is taking place.

After about a minute, when the priest and the guards have picked their Underground Church, the game will start. How the game works is – the priest wins if he gets, or the priest and townsfolk because they are kind of on the same team, the priest wins if he gets all of the civilians into the Underground Church. The guards win if they capture the priest. So the guards will constantly be on patrol trying to capture the townsfolk and if they can tag them fast enough, they are dragged off to the jail and they are stuck into the jail until another townsfolk sneaks in or the priest comes and everyone gets out of jail at the same time. So- if you’re in the Underground Church, you’re safe. The guards cannot capture you there and that also includes the priest. If the priest is in the Underground Church, the guards cannot take you out. So it’s this kind of battle between people getting stuck in jail and you having to send townsfolk out to the point where the priest has to go out himself, because there is too many people. So- the game can go on for quite a while and if it takes too long, to where the priest or a lot of townsfolk is in the jail, eventually the guards will win. So, basically the priest does not want to get caught.

 

A lot of times when I would play the game, we’d play at this park and there would be a forest. Typically someone would choose a tree and when you’re near the tree, that would be the church or you are touching the tree. And then the jail would be like this. There’s like this gravel structure and it was kind of like a square, on the park and that would be the jail. We often change things around because we don’t want to let the guards to actually know where the Underground Church is ‘cause some of them may hide out and try to catch people trying to get to the church. To save someone basically, someone has to run into the jail, grab someone else who’s in the jail already and then they get 10 seconds of immunity. Just basically run away. As soon as the priest gets caught, the guards win. As soon as all the citizens go into the Underground Church, the priest wins.

 

1. What is being performed?

A field game: Underground Church

 

2. Can you give us some background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?

This is a game we would play with groups of friends back in Washington. I learned it first from a friend who lives in my neighborhood.

 

3. What country and what region of that country are you from?

Informant: Washington State, the United States.

 

4.  Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?

It is of Christian relations, relating back to Roman times, when Christianity was not an accepted religion. I belong to Christianity.

 

5. Where did you first hear the story?

From a friend.

 

6. What do you think the origins of this story might be?

Roman times.

 

7. What does it mean to you?

It relates back to those Roman times. To me, it reminds me of the ties I have with the friends who taught me.

 

Context of the performance- Late night in the dorm, from a friend

 

Thoughts about the piece- You have to be there in the moment to play this complicated game and understand the strategy. It sounds like a mix between tag, hide and seek and a religious story, a way to collaborate and compete.

Other indoor versions, vocabulary (“centurians” for guards) and team building at

http://www.youthpastor.com/Games/index.cfm/Underground_Church_344.htm#.WO-LU7vytsM\

http://www.jubed.com/view/Underground-Church

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Joshua the Apocalyptic Prophet

Context: When I told my roommate about how I was collecting folklore, he offered to talk about some of the stories he’d heard over the course of his life.

Background: This is something my roommate heard in his religious studies class this semester.

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

B: …And I think especially the Jesus story is folklore.

C: Based on what your professor told you.

B: Yeah, um… He told me — not me personally but he told my class, uh, because we were studying the origins of Christianity at the time — that there was a man living somewhere in the Fertile Crescent, I think, name Joshua bar Joseph, and he [the professor] was like, “Joshua bar Joseph was an apocalyptic prophet,” meaning, he went around saying that the end was near, and that if people didn’t follow him, that they will die, and they would be s— very sad, and their life would be over. BUT— Wait did I say “if?” Sorry. If they didn’t follow him, they would die die, damnation, whatever. But if they DID follow him, uh, they would go to Paradise when they died, y’know. “The Apocalypse is coming, but, if you follow me, you’re gonna go to heaven.” Um, and then he’s [the professor] like, “Does this sound familiar?” and we’re like, “YEAH IT’S JESUS” and he’s like, “EXACTLY, Jesus was just an apocalyptic cult leader!” Um, and I’m like, “Well THAT makes sense.” So, yeah, that’s what my professor told me. But, I guess that means the Bible’s folklore.

Analysis: This is a really good example at how religion is deeply tied with folklore. From my roommate’s perspective and the perspective of the professor who gave him this narrative, the Bible is considered the alternative way of telling their story, where it would be commonly thought of as the “correct” way of telling the stories contained within. The fact that the story of Jesus allows for such variations—I’ve personally also heard the names “Joshua ben Joseph” and “Jeshua ben Joseph” ascribed to Jesus outside of Biblical context—attests to the fact that the Bible can be seen as merely another, more popular form of  a certain folk belief.

Customs
Foodways
Proverbs

Lazy Grace

KM is a third-generation Japanese-American from Los Angeles, CA. She now lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and 18-year-old son.

KM was raised in a Christian household, where her family said “grace” before dinner every night:

“I have four siblings and we always ate dinner together with our parents. We’d sit around this big round table and every night, we would take turns saying grace before eating…we were supposed to come up with something original, like something that had to do with the day or different events going on in our lives, but usually my siblings just defaulted to ‘God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.” I always tried to have an interesting one, but I think everyone else just wanted to eat.”

I asked KH if she still says grace in her family, or if she and her siblings carried their religious traditions on in their new nuclear families:

“Ultimately I was unsuccessful in getting my kids to go to church. My husband grew up in a Catholic family and now wants nothing to do with the church, and I couldn’t get my kids to show much interest either. I don’t think anyone else in my family still goes to church…except my parents. They’ve been going to the same church since they met.”

My analysis:

Religion is one of those things that can either define a family, or be irreconcilable when two families come together. In KH’s case, religion’s importance started to waver amongst her and her siblings, despite the traditions of their parents. The “grace” prayer in her family shows one generation trying to pass on their beliefs through a ritual, and the next generation participating half-heartedly, or just to please authority. Eventually as they started their own families, her siblings decided the tradition wasn’t particularly important to them, and refrained from instilling it in their own family. More broadly it seems to symbolize the diminishing importance of their religion, and maybe a certain progressive movement amongst families to not force it on their children.

Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Scattering Ashes at Sea

The informant, AA, is from a Vietnamese family. While she was born in California, her parents are first generation immigrants who escaped the Vietnam War. While she is Christian herself, many of her family members are Buddhist. AA describes a funeral tradition that combines elements from both religions:

“So when my grandpa passed away, we followed Buddhist funeral traditions as well as our own. My grandpa was Buddhist, and so was my grandma- my older relatives were all Buddhist. In Buddhist tradition, you’re supposed to cremate the body and put the ashes in an urn. So we did that. And a week afterwards, we went out to sea on a boat, and a pastor was there. He delivered a sermon and we all said prayers as we were spreading the ashes into the sea. Basically it’s meant to symbolize this idea of- taking souls across the sea into another world, the afterlife so to speak.

It was just a way to mourn and respect my grandpa. I think that for my parents it was a great relief to be able to spread his ashes and let him be free. They didn’t want to keep him an urn. It was a very liberating gesture.”

Is this specific tradition particular to your family or is it commonly done?

“The spreading of ashes, I think, is commonly done in a lot of traditions. It’s definitely common for Buddhists. What’s special about this funeral is that we incorporated some elements from our own religion- Christianity- with my grandparent’s old Buddhist beliefs. There was a bunch of different people at the funeral. It was a very mixed group.”

 

My thoughts: This personal account shows how religious practices can take place outside of the established church doctrine and combine many aspects from different religions. There are some recognizably Buddhist practices that took place at this funeral, such as the scattering of the ashes in the sea. The idea of having a pastor and a sermon, however, appeals to the Christian members of AA’s family. They have created a completely new funeral tradition that is a composite of different faiths and is ultimately unique to this family. Every family expresses their faith differently- there is no one standard way to be a Buddhist or a Christian.

 

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