Informant KJ is a sophomore studying cinematic art at the University of Southern California. He is of French-Canadian descent from the region of Quebec. Here, he discusses traditional Canadian folklore that has been known in his family for several generations:
KJ: “So there’s this other French-Canadian legend called “The Devil at the Dance” and it’s about this young couple who fall in love with each other, but they have opposing religious beliefs and the girl’s parents refuse their daughter to be involved with him because he is a Christian and they’re not. The daughter professes her love for the Christian boy, but her parents refuse to accept their daughter’s claims. The mother even says that she would rather have her daughter associated with the devil himself rather than a boy like hi. Then one day, the devil knocked on the family’s door. The family was so afraid that they asked a priest to convert them to Christianity. Once the family and the daughter were officially converted, the Christian boy and the young girl got married, both now as official members of Christianity.”
How did you learn about this legend?
KJ: “It’s just another French-Canadian tale that I’ve heard over the years from my grandparents.”
In what context would you share this legend?
KJ: “Well, my grandparents would share this story with me and other cousins mostly when I was younger and it was usually at our family gatherings.”
Does this legend have any significance to you?
KJ: “Um ya kind of because it was something that was always told from older members of my family like my grandparents and they made it fun, so ya it does.”
This French-Canadian tale exhibits the influence the devil had in the reinforcement of Christian ideals by scaring the non-believing family into converting into Christianity. The image and representation of the devil is quite common among French-Canadian tales, as he is known to make deals and to trick people. The devil is a prominent ancestral fixture in French-Canadian folklore and continues to be in modern society.
Primary Language- Spanish
Occupation- Factory Worker
Residence- Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance- 3/11/16
One night when it was raining, a few days after your uncle marisio was born, your grandmother heard a strong knocking on the door. Your grandpa was still out working so she was uncertain if she should open the door. The baby was sound asleep and the knocking did not sleep so she decided to go see who it was. When she looked out a window, she saw a tall man with a black hoodie and coat getting soaked outside right in front of the door. When she went around to ask who it was, the man said “Let me see you baby”. Your grandma became frightened and said “No!”. The man then said that if she did not let him see the baby, in 18 years she would pay severely. The man kept knocking harder and then Marisio began to cry. Your grandma made sure the door was locked and ran to comfort Marisio. He would not stop crying and the man would not stop knocking. After a few minutes your grandma heard a horse hooves walking around the house. After half an hour of circling the house with a horse, the noise was gone and the baby stopped crying. 18 years later, your brother became mentally ill and has never recovered since then.
The person who told me this story was my mother. She is from Honduras and currently resides in Los Angeles. She learned this story from my grandmother who told her because she says it actually happened to her. Her brother has been ill ever since he turned 18. She believes that a reason he is “sick” is because it has something to do with the devil. Either because of this event or another possible reason that has to do with witchcraft. This is important to her because it taught her how evil and powerful the devil is and to always confide in God because he is where all good resides. She also learned that she should not ever open the door to any stranger, to always look through the window first, because you never know ehn the devil may be knocking. To my mother, it is an answer to an unknow. When my family in Honduras did not know why or how this happened to Marisio, they simply blamed it on the devil and realized it was a sane answer. She has had several spiritual rituals performed on him but to no avail, making her think that it is too late and the devil it too powerful.
The context of the story was serious, mysterious, but calm. Her tone was not with an intent to be ominous or scary because that was not the point of the story. She told me in broad daylight, in our living room when i asked her how did my uncle get sick. Her objective was to tell a story and give me a lesson, not just to scare me.
When my mother first told me the story, I was frightened. I was only 10 years old and the thought of the devil almost coming in contact with my family was crazy. I made sure to never open the door unless I knew who it was or if it was safe to do so. It also made me fear the devil and what he could do. When I turned 13, my mother was so cautious because of what happened that she gave me pills that would smoothen out my puberty process. She believed that it may help me and prevent anything similar to what happened to Marisio happen to me. Of course back when I turned 13 i thought that her methods were unorthodox but i could not really debate against her since she was my mother. Nothing terrible happened to me but it made me realize how religion and faith could really affect someone’s thoughts. I realized that with a lack of knowledge, people can become very afraid of the unknown and turn to their religion or God for answers. In Honduran culture, people believe that the devil rides with a horse and has unbelievable power and that anyone who is sick or evil is under the control or influence of the devil. Stories like these increase their beliefs because sometimes they have nothing else to believe in.
I collected this piece of folklore from my dad while he was visiting. We ended up just sitting in the car in a parking lot while he shared some more Chilean folklore with me.
Dad: “When we were little, my mom and my dad were very busy, so they left the Nana with us. The empleada.
Dad: “And she used to sit with us and tell us all these scary happenings, like, she used to say there were sometimes babies abandoned in the middle of the road at night, and you walk and you hear this noise, a crying baby, and if you hold the baby, the baby is so sweet, and you get, ‘Oh! Poor little baby!’ But in reality, it was the Diablo (devil). The Diablo, who became a baby, to catch your attention and get out goodness out of you, and you feel compassion and then, a lot of bad things start happen to you if you hold that baby. Then the baby disappear and you cannot explain what happened, and then in one way, the baby choose, make you fall down in that trap, and because you became good with the baby, but the baby was bad. Then a lot of bad things start happen to you like, you can lose your job, your income, some relative dies, you know, all of this stuffs.”
Me: “It’s a bad omen. Can you reverse the omen?”
Dad: “The omen?”
Me: “Can you reverse the bad luck?”
Dad: “Ah, I guess, you know, the religious mentality show you that if you carry a cross with you, you are free of this devil, bad things that can happen to you.”
Me: “Oh, so the point is to try to get everyone to wear crosses.” (laugh)
Dad: “Exactly, well that is the idea.” (laugh) “Kind of. So in reality, a lot of Chileans without education, well even with education, you believe that a cross, that mean Jesus Christ, keep all this bad energy far away from you.”
Me: “So it’s to keep people in the religion?”
Dad: “Yeah, well, it’s probably an idea to keep everyone scared, and then if it doesn’t happen…”
Background and Analysis
My dad was raised in Rancagua, Chile, which is a city outside of Santiago in the 1950s and early 1960s. Back then and still today, religion has a very strong presence in Chile. When he was a young boy, my dad’s Nana would tell him and his brothers these stories, and at that age they believed it all, of course.
Going off of the legend, my dad also describes how, as a child, he was always told that when anything bad happened, if you just wore a cross or made a cross, everything would be okay. But to him, it’s all mostly psychological. This is very true, in that if you believe in something, it probably will happen. If you envision bad things happening, they will happen to you. If you envision good things happening, they can occur as well. What the legend is pushing is that religion can save you, even from the devil, but the mind is just as powerful a weapon.
*Note about informant: Laura Zucker is my mother. She grew up in New Jersey.
INFORMANT: “So I grew up in Highland Park, New Jersey, and in the southern part of the state of New Jersey, there’s a place called the Pine Barrens, which is a big expanse… uninhabited expanse of pine trees and forest. And there has, for … 200 years been this legend of something called the Jersey Devil that lives down there. And the story is… I mean, it’s kind of like a Bigfoot/Sasquatch thing, but … um, it’s said to be this creature with the head of a horse or a goat and bat wings, and it emits this shrieky… loud, scary, shrieky sound. I don’t know if it eats people or just scares the pee out of them, but it’s, you know, why you don’t want to stay in the Pine Barrens alone by yourself at night.”
COLLECTOR (myself): “Who told you about it?”
INFORMANT: “You know, it was just one of those things that you grew up knowing about. I don’t remember anybody telling me, it was just sort of part of the world that we swam in because we lived in New Jersey.”
Before I posted this, I saw that a student from last year’s class had published a post also called “Jersey Devil,” so I gave it a look and wasn’t entirely surprised to find that my mom’s version of the story and the other informant’s version were pretty different. Some elements stayed the same, like the bat wings and goat/sheep/horse head, but the back stories and the informants’ opinions on the underlying message were very different. While the other informant had a detailed back story about a promiscuous woman, my mom’s version has no such back story – the creature simply exists, and that’s the way it’s always been. The other informant saw the Devil as a warning to women not to be promiscuous, while my mom saw the Devil as a warning for children and others not to spend time alone in the Pine Barrens. I thought it was interesting that the other informant had a more detailed back story, because if I remember correctly, that informant was from Delaware, not NJ. You’d think that my mom, as a Jersey local, would have a richer understanding of the legend than an outsider.
The Jersey Devil is a great example of folklore because the origin of the story is absolutely unknown. My mother can’t even recall a person telling her the story – she says it was just part of the general context of her hometown and her growing up, that it was almost known and understood by default because it was so ingrained in the local lore.
Informant (“M”) is a 52 year old woman from Bogota, Colombia. She moved to the United States in 1992, at the age of 30. She has two kids, a boy and a girl, who she raised in the United States. She has four siblings, two brothers and two sisters, she was the second born. She has a 102 year old Grandmother. Collection was over Skype.
“M: Cuando nosotros uh… youngers, uh…. younger? Okay and we lied, my mom said to us when you go to sleep tonight… that was scary… the devil is coming and grab you from your feet and taking you with him. Usually we went to sleep and we covered our feet very well, and wore socks, and the next day sometimes we lost one of ours socks. She would say the devil took the socks but didn’t grab us from our feet.
Me: So what this supposed to happen when you were in bed?
Yeah, because we was wearing socks and took our socks instead.
Me: Did he like stay or live under the bed?
M: Yeah! I believe he did, he was under the bed or under old blankets. Later we’d find the socks lost sometimes and believe “oh god the devil was here”. We’d later find the socks sometimes.
Me: So she said that only happened when you lied?
M: It’s only when we lied, ‘’I know you’re lying tonight and the devil will come get you from you feet’’ [imitation of mother].
Me: Was there any way to stop him, like could you confess that you lied or pray to stop the devil?
(Did not address question as I interrupted)
M: That was like 40 something years ago, I believe that was similar in the United States in the 50s. I don’t think it a very funny way to teach to behave.”
The monster pulling you under the bed by your feet piece of Folklore appears to exist in the United States, as was noted by “M”, often tied to the boogeyman. There are multiple references to the ‘under the bed monster’ and in American popular studies journals being cited in one article as “…so universal that we no longer stop to think about their origins. “(Shimabukuro, 2014). As identified by “M” at the end of the transcript, it was used as a method to convince her, by her mother, to tell her if she had been lying. This could be used to scare the truth out of a child, or if the child would not tell no matter what, as a way to negatively reinforce such behavior.
“M”s use of socks to protect her from the devil living under the bed appears to be used as a protection charm from the devil, similar to when children hide their heads under the blanket. It was also used as an indicator of the devil’s presence, as the disappearance of the socks may have indicated to “M” that the devil had tried to grab her and grabbed her sock instead.
Shimabukuro, K. (2014). The Bogeyman of Your Nightmares: Freddy Krueger’s Folkloric Roots. STUDIES IN POPULAR CULTURE.
The informant’s family had been a traditional Mexican family then they moved to America and expanded their culture here. His parents were born and raised in Mexico and learned many cultural forms of folklore with the informant who was born in America. He shared some of the folklore that he was told that stuck with him as he grew older and more wise and mature.
“Their was a woman in Mexico who wanted to go to this dance but her parents told her no you cant go, but she really wanted to go so she snuck out at night to go. So she went out to the dance and she was having a really good time. Some point while she was at the dance she met a guy and he seemed really cool, he was good looking, and well dressed. She started dancing with him and the party went on around them it was raging and exciting and a typical dance environment. The party progressed and my grandma described it to me that they were ballroom dancing. She looked around and noticed that there was no one there but her and the guy. She realized that they were just dancing alone and by this time it was late into the night and every one had been gone. She thought it was strange and looked back again and it was just her standing there and the guy was gone. She realized that she was just dancing by herself the whole time and she was alone the whole night. Frightened, she ran out of the dance place because she was so freaked out by what had happened and where the strange man came from. When she ran out, there was a black dog who chased her all the way to her house. The mom came to the door just as the girl was about to get there and said ““where the hell have you been its 2 o’clock in the morning!”” The girl was screaming crying that a dog was chasing her so the mom beat the dog with a broom, scratched it on the eye and the dog ran away. The next day in the town there was a weird creepy man. The creepy man had a patch on his eye and it was bruised up pretty badly. The story infers that the creepy man is supposed to be the Devil.”
The informant also stressed, “the message it is trying to get across is you better listen to your mother because you might end up dancing with the devil or doing the devil’s work.”
The informant said that this wasn’t necessarily meant to have any meaning behind it, but once his grandmother told him this he was put on the right path and was so freaked out that he would be home every night by ten o’clock, or he wouldn’t talk to any type of stranger. This story was creepy enough to the point where he wanted to listen to his parents when they said no.
I was able to collect folklore information from two Latina descendants. In this culture it seems common where the stories are created for the children to get them to get on the right track. The legends, myths, tales, and family tales all have a way to persuade the children to act the way the parents want them to ask whether that is a scare tactic or giving the children a saint to look up to. In the culture I’m use to, it is common where stories are told to direct children in the paths that their parents want but it is more common where the legends, myths, or tales are told to confuse the older generations. We talk about the existence of aliens, Bigfoot, vampires, werewolves, or any other strange tales that are told to our older generations. It is interesting how the folklore is geared to attract different age groups of people.
Informant S is 21 years old from Boise Idaho. He is a Philosophy major who also plans on attending Medical School. He is half Columbian and half American. His grandmother is an older Colombian woman lives in Bogotá. She has a strong religious background as a Jehovah Witness.
S: My mom had certain superstitions like if you clear your mind the Devil will get into your head and um when I was really young my mom wouldn’t let me collect anything “demonic” or um anything with horns like Pokémon cards, Digimon. Anything that indicated a tie to Satan. Her mother, or you know my grandma, was a hard-core Jehovah Witness so she sorta reinforced that in my mom. I found it incredibly annoying but it sorta scared me when I was a kid too.
Me: Do you have an example of something you tried to collect but your mom said no?
S: No but my sister did. My sister got this dollar store um crystal ball and it came with a set of really shitty cheap um foreign made tarot cards, yeah they’re like these um cards tied to paganism, they represent like if I remember correctly sort of essentialistic aspects of human culture, no its not Paganism its Hermeticism. Honestly I’m not 100% sure. But they’re the pack of cards you see in like movies where a fortuneteller flips them around and they say things like death, Prince, God, and the fortuneteller ties them together and tells you your fortune. Jehovah Witnesses are hard-core into researching Christianity’s origins and when the Roman Empire split there was supposed to be a fusion between a lot of Christian and Pagan themes in the eastern Roman Empire. So they tried to avoid those sorts of things in their religious practice, the Pagan ones. So when my grandmother saw that she bought that set she freaked out and gave my sister like a 30-minute tongue lashing about how she brought the Devil into our home. It was kind of terrifying to see how livid it made her.
Analysis: Here S talks about how his religious grandmother has superstitions especially about the Devil and how that came into conflict with something his younger sister had bought. For his grandmother these beliefs are very important, but they are less important for S and his sister. For him, the most terrifying was his grandmothers reaction to the cards rather than the superstitions themselves, mostly because S is not religious with a strong belief in the Devil, but it shows how important it is to keep the Devil and anything associated with him out of the home for his grandmother. He says although he finds this grandmothers religion annoying, it also made an impression on him and scared him too.
When I asked my roommate if she had any folklore from New Jersey she replied “Yes, New Jersey has a devil.” This is an urban legend that tells of a woman who gave birth to a devil like creature that disappeared into the swamps immediately after being born. The creature has the head of a goat, the body of a kangaroo like creature and bat-like wings.
My roommate did not have any personal stories about the New Jersey devil but noted that it was where the state basketball team gets its name. She also compared the creature to other mythical animal creatures like the Sasquatch.
This story is interesting because it is very similar to myths like the Chupacabra and Big Foot, but unlike those myths it is specific to New Jersey, which builds a sense of pride in the people who are active and passive bearers of this piece of folklore since they are bonded together by identity.
This piece was collected from my friend who grew up in New Jersey. To her, it wasn’t a very important part of her life, but it was well-known where she was from because it’s one of the most popular pieces of folklore from New Jersey.
This is how she explained it to me:
“I’m from New Jersey, and there’s a southern part of the state called the Pine Barrens, it’s filled with trees, it’s a very forest-y area. And for years and years it’s been said that there’s the Jersey Devil that lives in the pine barrens, hence the name the New Jersey Devils, the hockey team… there’s ben songs written about it…stories written about it. There are lot of versions of what it actually is. Some say it’s an actual devil or it’s more like a beast, like an animal. It’s kind of like a yeti or something, to this day people still say they see when they go to the pine barrens. I think I learned about it honestly in school when we learned about New Jersey myths, I’m pretty sure it was mentioned, and the only way is just through word of mouth”
Even though the Jersey Devil is very popular, there’s still not a consensus on what it looks like (or even what it is exactly) So, the legend can be interpreted differently by each person. However, it has been incorporated into things like sports teams, where it might become less folkloric because it would be portrayed in a certain way and would probably be trademarked. Also, the informant described it as a New Jersey myth, however, it would more accurately be categorized as a local legend or folk belief.