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

Sleep Paralysis Ghost

Informant: The informant is Nabila. She is eighteen years old and is a freshman at Northeastern University. She grew up in Bangladesh.

Context of the Performance: We sat on the living room floor of a mutual friend’s house in Yonkers, New York over our spring breaks form college.

Original Script:

Informant: So basically, do you know about sleep paralysis?

Interviewer: Yes.

Informant: Basically, it’s a condition which doesn’t allow you to move or talk when you’re waking up or first falling asleep. In Asian culture, when that happens, people believe that it is a form of nightmare or that it is a ghost sitting on you. When you have sleep paralysis, since you can’t move, and you might be screaming out loud but can’t actually make any noise, people think that he’s sitting on you. Because he can’t speak, since he’s a ghost, you can’t speak either. I actually don’t believe it though. My mom told me this when I was about thirteen, but now I know that it’s actually sleep paralysis.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: It’s important to me in the sense that when it happened to me, it really scared me. I had a bunk bed, and it happened to me the first time I slept on the top bunk. So, I never slept on the top bunk again because I thought that the nightmare would happen again.

Personal Thoughts: I find this piece interesting because I have known about sleep paralysis for years now and have never heard of this type of fear of it. In fact, I, along with many of my friends, have tried to achieve sleep paralysis because you need to do so in order to lucid dream. Lucid dreaming is something so many people try to do, so it is compelling to me that Nabila and her family are so afraid of sleep paralysis.

Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends
Magic
Narrative

Psychic Grandma

The informant told me this story about her family when I asked about her influences in her writing. She told me that her family has always been interested in psychics as they believe that many of the female members of the family have psychic powers. This stems from the fact that her great-grandmother was psychic – as detailed below:

“So in the light of women in my family having psychic dreams, my great-grandma who was widely tough to be psychic, so this is in my mom’s line,  so it’s in that line still, like the matriarchy, she like, could see ghosts, and people like my aunt has claimed to see her ghost, that like she’s like a spooky figure, and i never met, and she had a dream before when my mom was born and I don’t think she had a sister yet, and my great-grandma was like staying with my grandma because she was having trouble with the pregnancy. and my great grandmother had this dream of a baby carriage rolling down this hill, and like chasing after it and not being able to stop it. And then, she told this to my grandma and she told her that she thinks that there’s something wrong with the baby and my grandma’s like no, it’s fine, and she didn’t want to worry her too much about it, but she ended up giving birth to a stillborn baby! I know, it’s that creepy? And i guess now people see her ghost and stuff”

Analysis:

The dream confirms the psychic ability of the Great-grandmother to the rest of her family. Another post that investigates dream in the informant family is “Mother’s Psychic Dream.” This shows that dreams in the female line are very important to the informant.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Native Americans and Dreams

The informant is my mother, Dayna Rayburn, born in 1960 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She grew up in Tulsa, before going to college at the University of Oklahoma and graduating with a degree in nursing. She has worked at St. Francis Hospital in the newborn nursery for thirty years.

In this piece, my mother tells me about dreams and how Native Americans use them as a way to comfort us in times of trouble or uncertainty.

Mom: Something about us Native Americans is that we really read into dreams.

Me: Yeah, we’ve talked about this.

Mom: Yeah. I think we see it as a connection to our ancestors. For example, … I guess I need to give them backstory on this.

Me: Go ahead. I got 40 pages to fill.

Mom: [laughs] Are you going to put that in your report?

Me: Hell yeah.

Mom: [laughs] Don’t embarrass the family, son.

Me: Go on with the backstory.

Mom: Okay. Well, me and Joey’s dad got married in 1982, and we started trying to have a kid a year or so later, but it just never happened. We kept trying and trying, and we started thinking that it wasn’t going to be possible for us to have kids. It was a really hard time for both me and your dad. I was even told that I only had a ten percent chance of having a child, and then, like a little miracle, I got pregnant with Alyssa [my sister]. I was so thrilled, but I started getting worried. I started having this fear that I was going to die in childbirth. It still happens, a lot of people think it doesn’t. I was really worried, and then about a week before Alyssa was born, I had a dream. I saw my Grandpa Eli, who was this very stoic Indian man. He barely said a word to me, or really anybody, but I loved him very much. And in my dream, I was walking through this… mist? It was cloudy, kind of, like Heaven, and my grandpa was there, and he looked at me and said “Everything will be alright,” and it was.

Me: I have those dreams about Pa sometimes.

Mom: I think we all do. We’re a very spiritual people. But, anyways, your sister was born maybe a week later and everything was fine. I remember when I was in labor I just kept saying “everything will be alright”.

Me: What do you think those dreams mean?

Mom: I think they mean that they’re watching over us. That they’re walking alongside us. It’s a comforting thought, isn’t it?

Me: Yeah.

Dreams have always been something my mother and I have bonded over, and I was always able to tell that she really believed that she was connecting to those she loved most. I think my mom is right in thinking they mean something, even if they’re not entirely real. She hears what she wants from who she wants to hear it from, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Personally, I’ve still been trying to decide whether my dreams carry any weight, but I do know I’ve been affected by them. She doesn’t put all of her life’s biggest choices in waiting to see what her dreams say: to her, they’re just supplementary, and will happen when you need them to happen.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Talking About Nightmares

The informant is my mother, Dayna Rayburn, born in 1960 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She grew up in Tulsa, before going to college at the University of Oklahoma and graduating with a degree in nursing. She has worked at St. Francis Hospital in the newborn nursery for thirty years.

In this piece, my mom discusses the practice of not talking about your dreams before breakfast, and gives some explanation as for why we do it.

Mom: Do you remember when I would say “don’t talk about dreams before breakfast”.

Me: Yes, but why don’t you say where you heard that.

Mom: I think it was my grandmother. She must have told my mom, and I remember one day when I was really little I ran into the kitchen where my mom was and told her I had a bad dream. Before she would let me talk about my dream, she made me sit down and eat something. I think it was a banana. It didn’t have to be a full course meal: just something little.

Me: Why couldn’t you talk about your dreams before breakfast?

Mom: I don’t know. My mom just always said it was bad luck. It might be an old Indian thing. She heard it from her grandma, like I said.

Me: So why do you follow it?

Mom: I guess I believe in it? I think it’s just a nice thing to do, whether or not it stops bad luck. I think it calms you down. When I went into the kitchen, I was probably running. I still do it to this day, and I know I’ve told you and Alyssa about it.

Me: Yeah, I’ve even told Allen [my roommate] and a few other people about it. They’ll send me a text saying “I just had the worst dream” and I’ll reply back “Have you had breakfast yet?”

Mom: [laughs] They probably think you’re crazy.

Me: I mean, yeah.

Mom: Just tell them that your mom does it.

Me: I’m sure that will help.

This is an interesting belief my mom has, because we both believe in it without really knowing why we do it. I think we do it because we think we’ll be so worked up after waking up from the nightmare that we’ll just worry and put more stress on ourselves. In order to combat that, my mom tells me to eat something. This gives me time to calm down and think rationally about whatever my nightmare was, and remind myself that it was only a dream. I think the reason why we’re told to eat something is because eating is usually one of the first things we do in the morning, and it takes a bit longer than brushing your teeth, which means we have a longer period of time to cool down.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Dreams Mean…

The informant was born and raised into the American culture and way of life. Her mother’s side of the family is in touch with their Jamaican culture and heritage and as the informant grew older she was able to become more into with the beliefs and customs of Jamaica.

Jamaican Dreams

Informant…

“In the my culture deaths and marriages are often predicted by ones close family members. It is believed that if a family member dreams about someone in their family’s wedding the person being dreamt about will die soon. I think we believe in being able to predict deaths because life and death is a big deal in our culture. Marriage is also an important aspect in my culture as well and is ritualized. When a person dreams about a family member’s death that is consider a prediction of that family member’s wedding.”

I asked the informant if she had ever had a dream like this or known someone who did and it became true. She told me that she didn’t know anyone who had ha a dream like this and she personally  has never had one. I asked where she learned this belief from snd she said that she remembers her grandma telling her about it when she was younger before she passed away.

Analysis…

Being able to predict someones death could be a blessing and a curse. Knowing that someone you love is going to die soon has to be difficult to handle. However on the other hand being able to predict a wedding is exciting. Death and Marriage are two major stepping stones in most cultures and they are ritualized because of that. Marriage you are become one with someone else and you are able to start a family, but death is the end of your life and the start of your after life whatever you believe that may be. I think that is why they are both made such such a big deal out of and ritualized with customs and rituals and why cultures have so many beliefs centered around these two major life events.

Customs
Folk Beliefs

Greek Nightmares

In Greek tradition if you have a bad dream and you tell someone before you eat anything your nightmare will come true.  However the same thing is not true if you have a good dream.  If you tell a good dream before eating in an attempt to make it come true, the gods will see through your trickery and it will not happen.

My roommate is half Greek and she learned this tradition from her mother.

This tradition is interesting because it reaffirms the power of spiritual beings as being above us.  This is humbling in a way and reinforces the idea that mere mortals should never try and outsmart the gods cause they will always be one step ahead.  The tradition is also interesting because it speaks to a very negative aspect of the culture, in this situation no matter what you do, it ends up with nothing good happening.

The tradition seems to also be related to the idea that if you have a wish and you tell it to someone it will not come true, like birthday wishes or wishes on a shooting star.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Signs

Pigs Bring Wealth

Pigs Bring Wealth

The Informant:

She was an elderly who came to the U.S. in the early 1990s. Although Christian, she says she still believes in this superstition a little bit.

 

돼지 꿈구면 행운이다.

돼지는 한국에서, 이 뭐냐, 돈이야. 옛잘에 모든 사업 아니면 일하는분들은 돼지머리를 잘라서 절을 하는거야. 절하다가 코에다가 돈 집어넣고, 입에도 넣고, 귀에다 넣고, 아므튼 늘수있는데에다 넣는거야. 

If you dream of a pig it’s good luck.

Long ago, a pig is a form of income. It is equal to money or wealth. People who ran businesses or stores would cut off a pig’s head, lay it on a table, and bow down to it. While bowing down, as a sign of worship, they would stick money in its nose, mouth, ears, anywhere on the head that they could. They did this so that they would succeed and become rich.

 

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Superstitions in India

“From India, um, there’s a superstition that if you if you- if the base of your tongue is, like, dark it’s, like, kind of black, it’s called having a black tongue and it means that like when you say something it’s more likely to come true. So my mom has a black tongue, so people will, like, call, relatives will, like, call her and say, like, ‘Hey, like, could you, like, pray me for me or do this…’ or something because like it’s more likely to come true because she has a black tongue.

And then there’s the dreaming thing, which is that if you die in a dream it, uh- according to Indian superstition, if you die in a dream, then that’s good luck for the rest of your life. Which is in opposition to what a lot of the rest of the world believes happens if you die in a dream, um, yeah. That’s it.”

My informant learned of these superstitions from her family when she was growing up. She says they are common beliefs throughout India and was surprised when she first discovered they were not common in the United States. My informant was born in India, but raised in Japan, the USA, and India.

These beliefs are not of great personal importance to my informant, other than making her feel connected with her family in India. She does not believe they hold any significant truth.

What my informant was referring to was the popular Western idea that if one dies in a dream, one has died in reality.

Folk Beliefs

“You aren’t able to die in your dreams, so if you dream that you’re dead then you are actually dead”

“You aren’t able to die in your dreams, so if you dream that you’re dead then you are actually dead”

The informant said that he heard this growing up, and so of course he developed this fear about having a dream that he was dead. He probably did at some point, whether he remembers or not, but regardless he thought this was a fact for much of his childhood. I found this belief strange, but the more I thought about it I realized in most of the nightmares I can remember I was trying to escape death or run away from something, but I had never actually died in a dream (that I can remember). This belief shows the interest we have in dreams as a society. We often try to interpret them or analyze them to get answers, so it makes sense that they would also indicate our demise.

Legends
Narrative

The Legend of Vilnius

“This is a legend about the creation of Vilnius, and everybody who lives in Vilnius knows it. I think we even studied it at school. So the story goes that the grand duke, Duke Gediminas, who lived in the beginning of the fourteenth century, was hunting. At that time, the capital of Lithuania was in a city called Trakai, which is not far from Vilnius, it’s still there. So, the capital was there, and in the place where Vilnius stands was wilderness, and he was hunting there. And the hunt ran late, so he fell asleep. And when he slept, he had a dream. In this dream, he saw a wolf; he hunted wolves, so it’s natural that he would dream about wolves. The wolf was out of iron, and the wolf was howling. An iron wolf howled in his dream. When he woke up, he asked the main priest, ‘What does it mean?’  And the priest said, ‘If you will build a city on this hill, the city will be very strong and unconquerable.’ And that’s how he decided to build a new capital called Vilnius in these hills. And his castle was built on this hill, and when I was growing up in Vilnius in the 1960s and 70s, there were ruins, and there was only one guard tower left untouched. The rest of it was ruins, and there was a museum there. And that’s what you see usually in pictures of Vilnius, this tower.

“Gediminas builds his city, and in 1325, he sent a letter to the main cities in Western Europe, like Germany. This letter said, ‘I built a new city and I invite city-folk, artisans in particular, to come and live there.’ That’s because Lithuania is a small nation, and most of them were either peasants or they were in the army. So he didn’t have much of city population. So, he invited people from Western Europe, or Eastern Europe, to come and live in his new city, and that letter is preserved, and that’s how we know, and 1325 is considered to be the birthday of Vilnius.”

Q. Did he write down his dream?

A. I don’t think so. I don’t know anything about that. I don’t know how we know about his dream. I presume that, perhaps, somebody wrote it, but I don’t know. But everybody who is educated and grows up there knows this legend. And I have no idea, maybe he didn’t have a dream, maybe the legend appeared later to give Vilnius more significance, I simply do not know, it’s a legend.

Q. Is Gediminas considered to be one of the most important people in Lithuanian history?

A. Gediminas is definitely considered the most important Grand Duke of Lithuania, and he was killed in battle, by Germans, because German crusaders tried to conquer Lithuania. They didn’t succeed, but lots of Lithuanian grand dukes died in battles with Germans, and he was one of them.

Q. Is this legend meaningful or powerful for you personally?

A. Yes. It makes me feel proud that I am from Vilnius and there is a story associated, it makes me feel extremely good. It’s like part of my identity; I came from a place which is important, which has history. And we all know that it’s like in Rome—remember Rome, also, is associated with a wolf. And I think it’s important because Lithuanians are a small nation and they always were trapped between large nations. You have Russians from the east, you have Poles and you have Germans in the west, and so, I think they always tried to keep their identity.

Q. Do you remember when you first heard this?

A. No, I just grew up with it.

Q. When would this story be told?

A. I don’t know. I just know it. I don’t remember—maybe it was told to me at school.

Q. What do you think it says about Lithuanian culture or values?

A. Lithuanians are a very proud people, and it’s very important for them to keep their heritage, so that’s why we know these stories, because it’s very important to them. It’s very important to them that Lithuania was once between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea—it’s a very tiny nation but had territory from one sea to another sea, a huge territory. They’re very, very proud of that.

Q. Did Lithuanians really resent Soviet rule?

A. They did resent Soviet rule. Before that, they were free for about twenty years—between 1920 and 1939—but before that, they were part of Tsarist Russia, as well. They had two rebellions against Tsarist Russia, which were very cruelly put down. They always were strong nationalists, very proud of their heritage, and wanting to have a separate state.

Analysis: This romantically-nationalistic legend has become a central aspect of Lithuanian identity; it unifies all Lithuanians by forming part of their common, national heritage. Interestingly, while throughout Europe, many stories that serve this same romantically-nationalistic function are the lore of peasantry, this particular legend is rooted in the story of a historical duke, who has been become a folklorized figure through the retelling of this tale.

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