Background: E.M. is an 18-year-old student at USC studying Cinema and Media Studies. She is Salvadoran but as lived all over the US, so she has picked up folklore and customs from a lot of different places. For a while, E.M. lived in Kentucky and this is a story that she heard there.
E.M.: So when I was living in Kentucky, I… one of my friends… when we were young children… one of my friends said that um said that she knew that one of my neighbors did snake uh would do snake rituals in church and that she heard that from her parents. So she was kind of scared of this lady, um, and when I asked my parents about it, um, I I found out that that lady was a Pentecostal, and that basically in her church they believed that snakes couldn’t hurt them or that that the venom of the snakes couldn’t hurt them, if they believed in God. Um so they would use the snakes during sermons, even, they would handle them quite dangerously, and that even people would get sick or get hurt I guess, but it was an important part of their religion because they said that in the Bible, it says that if you’re a true Christian, snakes can’t hurt you and they belong to you to use them as you see fit.
Q: Did you ever see this practice live?
E.M.: I didn’t ever see it in person. It’s not something commonly done, but it belonged to this particular church that was a very old church, and they had been doing it for a really long time. I heard it from the other kids, and it kinda became a rumor or a scary story we would tell each other that turned out to be true. We were scared of it because it was very different from our own religious practices, like this would never happen in our own churches or anything like that.
Q: Where did you live in Kentucky?
E.M.: I lived in Louisville Kentucky, but this lady was from… I, I believe she was from Appalachia and she had moved there and there were rumors about her, showing there was this big divide between city life and country life in Kentucky.
Performance Context: In Pentecostal churches in some areas of Kentucky.
My Thoughts: I think it is interesting how people interpret the Bible in different ways though they all read the same words. In particular, it is intriguing how people make folklore and folkloric practices out of religion. However, the folklore is an extension of the religion and not a true part of the religion itself. Many subtleties in the Bible are interpreted by different sects of Christianity to mean certain things, however, they are never explicitly told to perform these practices (such as snakehandling).
For more information, please see Chapter 3 (Religious Folklore) of Elliott Oring’s book Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction, in which snakehandling is mentioned.
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.
“‘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.
“Okay, so, I’m Greek Orthodox, um, and there’s a number of, like, traditions in the Greek Orthodox church that, um, are not found in a lot of other Christian churches. Um, Greek Orthodox is very similar to Catholicism, um, maybe a litter stricter, um and on Easter… First of all Easter is not with the Western Calendar, um, they go off of a different calendar, um, and so their Easter is not, um, always the same Sunday as, um, regular Easter, I guess, or what most people think of… the Western Easter. Um, or the Easter found in most other Christianities. Um, and so it’s normally, like, 3 or 4 weeks after, sometimes it’s before, a couple times it’s, like, coincided, um, but so you– we have lent and everything, similar to Catholicism, um, but you’re not supposed to eat meat at all, there’s no meat at all, it’s not just a no-Friday thing, uh, and, um, so, during the week of— I guess during Holy Week, leading up to Easter you’re supposed to… So Easter is always on a Sunday. But the Orthodox Church does their Easter service on Saturday night and it’s normally at, like, ten o’clock Saturday night and it goes to about 12:30am, um, sometimes later, um, and afterwards at the Church there’s normally, like, a big feast. Because you haven’t eaten meat the whole time and you come at, you know, one o’clock in the morning and everyone’s eating and has the big, like, breakfast celebration. Um, and then the next day you’ll, like, get with your family and have another big, massive feast with a lot of meat, um, so that’s fun. And normally the services, like the Mass services, last at least two hours, um because its different in, like, Catholicism the, the priests have to, um, they prepare all the communion stuff beforehand, before everyone gets to mass. Um, in the Orthodox Church, they do it in front of you. So when you get there, you’re watching the priest set up and they have a lot of little, like, rituals they have to do um in order to prepare the communion, um, so that’s why it lasts so long. Partly because in the beginning, it’s just a lot of rituals and things like that and a lot of people come in, like, halfway through the service so it’s not uncommon to see people coming in like halfway through um and then normally the homily is a little longer than it would be in a, um, Catholic church.”
My informant is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, a faith she inherited from her mother’s family. My informant is well versed on the practices in the Catholic Church as she attended a Catholic high school. Her understanding of additional branches of Christianity can be contributed to her father’s Protestant faith. My informant feels most connected to the Greek Orthodox Church and remains connected to her faith, even on the USC campus.
As a student who also attended Catholic school, I find it interesting that religions who are very closely related belief-wise have so many differences in practice. The manifestation of faith is as diverse as the people who practice it.
The calendar that my informant was referring to is actually two calendars. The Greek Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar.
Read more about the calendar of the Orthodox church here:
“When you, like, leave your shoes somewhere, if they are facing upwards… so the sole of your shoe is facing upwards, you have to go turn it over. Um, so it, as if—so the bottom of your shoe is the dirtiest part and you don’t want that facing up to face God. Um, so you always turn it back over so that the top of your shoe is facing upward. Um, even if it’s on the side, normally you’d flip it to the– flip it down, so that the bottom doesn’t face up. Um, other things like that….
You never cross your legs in Church. Um, I mean, like, possibly you can do your ankles if it’s- you’re just really uncomfortable, um, but normally you’d never, ever, really cross your legs. Men or women, can’t cross their legs. Um, it’s just a sign of respect, um, things like that.
Also, a lot of, it’s much more common now for any churches, you can kind of go in very casually dressed, um, maybe, you know, look a little nicer, but in the Orthodox church, you get dressed up every week. So you see a lot of people with heels, like women with heels, um, or nice dresses all the time. Um, if you don’t you kind of stick out. Um, you know the men always wear, like, a nice shirt and khakis and things like that, um, Sunday best definitely applies.
Um, and it’s different also with communion. Um, I know a lot of protestant churches don’t have communion every week, Catholic churches do, we do have communion every week, um, but its not, like, you don’t have to have a first communion for it, you don’t have to have, um, any sort of like training or preparation for it. Um, they’ll give it straight to, like, infants, um, and also it’s not grape juice, like a lot of churches use, it’s wine. Um, and there’s also a tradition, I don’t know if this is true in the Catholic Church or not, um, but if there’s any leftover wine, or communion, you can’t just get rid of it, um, you have to drink it. The priests always drink it, so in the back of the church it’s always a little funny to just watch the priest, like, chugging bottles of wine.”
My informant is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, a faith she inherited from her mother’s family. My informant is well versed on the practices in the Catholic Church as she attended a Catholic high school. All these small details are things my informant picked up from her mother and grandmother as she was growing up. She says that she is always aware of how shoes are lying on the floor, even in her college apartment. The rest of these details are only important when she is in church.
The following are the informant’s exact words:
“This is a story that my grandmother tells. It’s a pretty popular story, umm… that involves that… Juan Diego, a young man’s name… a peasant and a Mexican. And when she tells it, it is that he is walking one day, uhh… and the Virgen di Guadalupe appeared to him and said, “I’d like you to build me a church, here.” It was a particular hill I believe. And uhh… and he was like, “Well okay, I guess”. And ummm… then he goes to, I believe, the power that be, the kinda Catholic Church, the bishop. And he says, “Okay well we need to build this church because the Virgen di Guadalupe appeared to me and said she wants a church.” And, uhhh, the bishop, because of, you know, the lowly statues of this peasant, Juan Diego, said, “Well you know, why should we believe you, you need to have some proof, you need to find some proof.” So he’s kinda turned away. And the next day, or I don’t know, a week later I suppose, he’s walking by the same place, but he actually tries to go a different way, he’s kind of trying to avoid her I think (laughs), but she appears again! And she’s like, “Hey, why are you trying to avoid me?” You know. And he proceeds to tell her, ummm, you know, “They don’t believe me, you know, there’s no proof.” And she says, “Well, climb up on this hill and uhhh pick some roses, and uhh pick these roses umm to bring to this bishop.” And umm so he does that, he picks these roses. And he carries them in his ‘thilma’, in his shirt, uhh kinda like this, like makes a kind of pouch with his shirt and carries them. And then goes to the bishop and says, “Okay, she appeared to me again.” And uhh the bishop’s like, “Well where’s your proof?”And so he, he drops the flowers from his shirt. And you know, he’s thinks like, here’s my proof, the flowers, the roses. But actually, the roses, being carried in the shirt, had stained his shirt, his ‘thilma’ and there was an image of the Virgen di Guadalupe. And then the bishops all got down on their knees, because this is a holy thing, you know, and imagine this miracle, ‘milagro’, and so he got down on his knees. And there’s a church there today, right this is a church, a famous church, and that’s the story of that church.”
The informant said that his grandmother told him the story when he was much younger. The informant is half Mexican, and he included several Spanish words in his retelling of the story. The story seems very personal to the informant, because he learned it from a cherished family member and it ties back to his heritage. However, he said that he could not remember the name of the church, though he knew it at one point. Thus, the story meant more to him as a tale in itself, tying back to his grandmother, his Mexican heritage, and his religion, than a tale about a specific church. When he was telling it to me, his voice became more excited towards the end of the tale, when Juan Diego’s proof succeeds in convincing the bishops to believe him and build the church. The informant believed in the tale and regarded it highly.
Many narratives have meanings beyond the literary plot. This narrative has ties to heritage and religion. The informant, living in Los Angeles, doesn’t often get to celebrate his unique heritage and religion, and narratives like this help to reaffirm some of his beliefs. The story venerates both the Virgin of Guadalupe, the new Catholic church, and the efforts of a poor peasant man following the will of God. Thus, it is held dearly by a religious common-man. I found the tale interesting, more so because of the informant’s enthusiasm and emotional connections to it. I don’t know if I believe that the roses stained the shirt in the form of the Virgin, but I believe that something similar could have happened, or that the stain could have looked similar to her form. In any case, the connotations of the story are more important that it’s actuality. I think this legend is a good example of the strength of Mexican heritage and familial ties, the prominence of Catholicism in Mexico and its emotional power, and the tendency of legends to connect with the common-man.
It should also be noted that I didn’t know how to spell some of the Spanish words, specifically “thilma”, and I couldn’t find it online. I spelled it phonetically.
My informant grew up in the small, rural town of Hanford, California. Her family owns a mill and is quite comfortably wealthy; she is very close with her parents and younger brother, and drives home from USC (where she attends school) frequently.
My informant has a strong faith in god though when she is at school she does not attend church services. When in Hanford however she attends the Lakeside Community Church, which conducts non-denominational Christian services. She was very close with her pastor there for many years, until his recent death.
Lakeside Community Church (slogan: “Come as you are”) is a small congregation with very relaxed services. The church-goers all know each other, and everyone helps out with the church’s potluck dinners and car washes, which are held to raise money for charity. These charity events are the largest events that the modest church holds.
The church does not require baptism, but does like to be involved in events like births of members’ children. So to commemorate the birth of a child, a rose is placed on the pulpit. I asked my informant if any announcement would be made during services, and she said no. Perhaps something might be put in the community newsletter at the request of the parents, but otherwise the only sign is the rose. The rose remains on the pulpit for about a week.
My informant told me that there was only one time that the rose commemorated something other than a birth, and that occurred this year. A rose quietly appeared on the pulpit on the birthday of the beloved pastor who had died the year before.
The adoption of the rose tradition to honor the loss of a loved one in the community touches me. Though I am not religious myself and I cannot know who decided or why it was decided to use the rose in this way, on some level I like to think that the gesture was an encouragement not to think of the pastor as gone, but reborn to a new form of life. It’s a comforting image in any case.
My informant told me of an old Irish belief that he knew called the Promise from Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque:
“If you go to Mass and Communion on nine successive first Fridays of the month you will be allowed to repent your sins on your deathbed.”
My informant made a point of making sure that I knew that Margaret Mary was “Blessed” and not a “Saint”. He told me that he personally had never done what the belief said, but that he still has some time left to do so before he plans on dying.
Again, the connection between Irish superstitions/beliefs and religion is very clear. This, like many others, is also linked to fear. In this case it is the fear of dying and not being forgiven for your sins.
A version of a similar belief in which going to church nine fridays in a row will grant you the ability to repent your sins appears in authored literature in:
Kippley, John F. A Catholic Prayer Book. Lulu, 2005. Print.
April 9, 2012
Folklore Type: Joke
Informant Bio: Billy is my uncle on my mother’s side. He is a Methodist Pastor, and a hilarious and friendly person and/or kid. He recently did a sermon series using Dr. Seuss. I have recently discovered he could be considered the family story teller because he learned all of my grandfather’s stories, jokes, and songs.
Context: During this past summer of 2011 my grandfather on my Mom’s side passed away. Then recently my grandfather on my Father’s side passed away, and my Uncle Billy stayed with us and did the funeral service. He, my parents, and I were all talking. Then all of a sudden he tells this joke his father used to tell.
Item: These two women see each other in church and they can’t figure out where their third friend Mable is. (in Older Southern Church Woman accent) “Where is Mable?” And one says, “Oh honey, she is in bed with Artheritis.” The other comments, “Oh, those Ritis boys are bad, and that Arthur he’s the worst one.”
Informant Analysis: Let me see which one. I hear a certain word and it always kinda reminds of the punch line of some of those jokes. And he was always telling us those kinds of jokes. Well I think part of the deal was, 1 dad came from a big family. He was not the oldest and he was not the youngest and so between the eight of them they told lots of stories. They didn’t have a TV or anything and his dad was a good story teller. And people stopping through getting gasoline and that’s where you would hearthe latest story or gossip. Of course he was also in the military and that’s notorious for hearing all sorts of things. The last thing is work in the oil fields and he didn’t realy work in the fields well I guess at first he did. And workin in the fields you get lots of jokes. And there were still lots of racism. Lot of the jokes centered around African Americans, Hispanic, and even Cajun. What made me think about it was dad work in the oil fields was corpus and they were with a lot of Hispanic and Mexican Americans. It would be a racist riddle.
There’s two or three things. It certainly helps me have a joyful smile and just helps my dad stay with me. I had a sense that papa was with me with just the sense of things. I had a friend where my dad used to write me handwritten letters and when I read them I can still hear his voice. For these little rhymes or jokes I can hear my dad. I also think of family and how it came from my dad and his family and his dad. As silly as they are I’m a part of something much, much bigger than myself. I’m not the first to think it’s funny. It’s funny but at the same time there’s some depth to it. You know a lot of people have items that they pass on to people and special objects and what not, but the silly things we are talking about now they don’t ever get lost or deteriorate. You know now I try to pass them on to my kids, and some things they find funny and some they don’t. I think Julie finds some funnier now than when say she was Lawson’s age.
Analysis: I think my Uncle Billy definitely knows where the jokes come from and what they mean to him. This joke in particular he did not touch upon as much. There is a certain understanding needed about older southern church going women especially the kind that my grandfather probably knew. Older church going women are good Christians that are well mannered and generally tell everyone else how they should act, which means people should act like them. This is the stereotype. However, some of these women definitely have or had a wild side once upon a time. This joke makes fun of that fact. It also plays with the ideas of young and old, and what is associated with them. Old people are associated with Arthritis and being bed ridden while younger people are associated with sexuality. This joke brings up that older people can still be sexually active as well as mixes other usually oppositional themes.
Los Angeles, California
University of Southern California
ANTH 333m Spring 2012