Tag Archives: family

A Friendly Ghost

Context: While sitting with my family for our weekly Shabbat dinner, I decided to ask my family members if they’d ever had experiences with the supernatural. My mother shared a rather lovable encounter that had stuck with her for the last 29 years.

 

Background: The story takes place in 1989, about one year after my sister – her first child – was born. Her younger brother had suddenly passed away in 1985, one year before her wedding.

 

Main Piece: “She was almost 2 I think. Dad was always leaving really early in the morning and would work until late at night, so it was always just the two of us alone together in our old apartment. I was always so nervous around that time, I was scared to be alone with the baby because I had no idea what I was doing. That night I finally got her to go to bed after she was crying and crying for hours. Right after I put her down I was sitting in the rocking chair in her room and I was just thinking about [her brother], and I just thought to myself, I wonder what it would be like if he was here, I wonder if he would think I was a good mom. I kept thinking of what it would have been like if he had met her and seen me as a mommy. I remember I started dozing off and started imagining him standing with me and holding her in his arms, and at that exact moment, [my sister] started saying ‘agha, agha’, which is man in Farsi, and started pointing to the corner of the room. She only knew how to say a few words at the time, and I just remember I had goosebumps all over my body. It was as if she and I saw the same picture that I was imagining in my head. Or maybe he came to visit the both of us. I can’t tell you what happened that night, all I know is that there was no one else in that room, but it didn’t feel like it was just the two of us.”

 

Analysis: While this was not a typical “ghost story”, it definitely qualifies as some supernatural encounter. My mother has always been a very spiritual person, but always tried not to talk about death or the afterlife, and usually deflects when talking about her brother who had passed. It’s interesting to hear that individuals can still feel a supernatural presence. 

Salt Balls From the Dead Sea

Context: A friend of mine had missed about a week of school, so when she finally returned, I visited her at her apartment in Downtown to catch up and hear about what had been happening.

 

Background: My informant explained that she had been falling victim to a string of bad luck for about one month. She was very sick and decided to spend a week at her parent’s home in Beverly Hills to recover. While at home, her mother instructed her to take a bath with salt balls that she brought back from the Dead Sea in Israel. Salt from the Dead Sea is known to have different forms of healing power, both internally and externally. She believes that this ritual has the power to heal, as well as dissolve negative energy. 

 

Main Piece: “For the last month it was just thing after thing coming my way. I was feeling pretty down overall. I kept getting sick over and over again. I had a couple of ruptured ovarian cysts. My family was fighting a lot and it was getting really heated and out of control. I kept losing things, I was doing poorly in school. It was just so much negativity surrounding me and I was losing my mind. So I go home and I was just miserable so my mom gave me these salt balls she brought back with her from Israel. The gist of it is like you can either use them in the bath as a bath bomb or something, or you can use it as a scrub in the shower and just scrub it all over your body until it dissolves into your skin. The salt in general is a healer, it heals physical cuts and wounds and it’s supposed to help your skin. But a lot of people think it heals internally too. It’s really renewing and cleansing both inside and out. My mom always tells me that it dissolves the negative energy, the illness, just the bad all around. She says it’s purifying and yeah it cleanses the toxins out of your body, but it’s supposed to really boost your energy and stamina too. I sat in the bath with it for like an hour a couple of times and I honestly felt so much better. There’s definitely things I’m still dealing with, but I swear afterwards I just felt completely cleansed. I felt at peace with a lot of things, I just felt the negativity clear from my mind. It could have been some placebo effect type of thing, but it helped regardless.”

 

Analysis: People from all over the world visit the Dead Sea, and revel in the salty pool of water. It attracts tourists for its’ power to make the body completely float, and for the physical healing power of the salt. What I found interesting was this interpretation of its’ power to heal internally – to heal energy, to erase negativity, and to cleanse the body and the aura.

 

Red Eggs on Easter

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, but goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: While discussing the upcoming holiday of Easter, my informant described a generations-old Greek Orthodox tradition that she has practiced with her family for years. Her father’s family participated in the tradition in Greece, and she and all of her relatives have continued the tradition after having moved to Miami.

 

Main Piece: “The night before Easter Sunday my parents always dye the eggs red. We used to do it all together when my sisters and I were little, but as we got older we got a little less involved but they always kept it going. My dad and his entire family have been doing this for years in Greece and since his family is very religious it’s really important to him that we keep the tradition going. The red dye on the egg symbolizes the blood of Christ that was on the cross ‘for us’. Then the morning of Easter when we’re all sitting together, we start cracking the red eggs, and that symbolizes Jesus’ resurrection, because the egg represents his tomb, and it also represents new life. Since I moved to New York for school this is one tradition I haven’t kept up with on my own and neither have any of my sisters. Our family definitely isn’t that religious even though my dad is Greek Orthodox, things like this are just traditions we would do as a family to spend quality time and celebrate together. It also kept us really entertained when we were younger.”

 

Analysis: This Greek tradition is an interesting take on the symbolism of eggs on Easter. Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus emerging from his tomb, but most cultures, especially in America, choose to decorate the eggs in colorful patterns to celebrate the coming of spring. This Greek Orthodox take on the deeply-rooted tradition is one of great solidarity with Christ, in order to remind oneself of the sacrifice he made.

 

Lentils and Pork on New Year’s Eve

Context: My informant is a 22 year-old student of Italian descent. The piece describes a traditional New Year’s custom for Italians, which is thought to bring good luck and prosperity.

 

Background: My informant has practiced this custom in her family for as long as she can remember. Her family participated in this tradition while still living in Italy, and she and they all continue to practice it after having moved to Los Angeles.

 

Main Piece: “Every year the family spends New Year’s Eve together whether we’re in L.A. or visiting family in Sicily. My dad and his 4 brothers are all chefs so food is definitely a very important aspect of our daily life. On New Year’s Eve, they all prepare a big meal together and we sit down and eat with the whole family, it’s always like 40 or 50 of us. At midnight, we all come back around the table and eat lentils and pork sausage. Lentils symbolize good luck and the pork symbolizes prosperity and good fortune. Eating those foods at midnight is supposed to bring you a year filled with good luck and prosperity, so it’s really important to my dad and uncles that we all take part in it. Food in Italian culture has a lot of symbolic meaning.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to hear how important food is in so many different cultures, and the symbolic meaning it holds. In another interview, an informant explained a Peruvian custom, which requires eating lentils, also to bring good luck and prosperity.

La Pasquetta

Context: My informant is a 22 year-old student of Italian descent. She and I were discussing the upcoming holidays – Passover and Easter – that we planned on celebrating with our families. She mentioned an Easter tradition celebrated exclusively among Italians.

 

Background: The tradition described below is called La Pasquetta or, Easter Monday. My informant explained that the tradition is deeply rooted in Italian history and culture. She was not sure how it began, but it’s been celebrated in her family for generations.

 

Main Piece: “The day after Easter has always been my favorite part of the holiday for me. For Italians, Easter day is more reflective and has a somber vibe to it, but the Monday after is the exact opposite. My dad usually invites his family over, which means like 50 people at our house and we have a big barbeque, him and his brothers cook another feast, and we spend the day outside in the sun. I think the point of having La Pasquetta is to rejoice after a day of mourning. In Italy everyone celebrates it. My dad says everyone would take that day off, go to the park and have picnics. It’s a day to celebrate Easter in a happier way, but also to celebrate spring and being surrounded by family. It’s kind of a staple in Italy and my family definitely hasn’t let go of it even after moving to America. The holiday definitely has some historical aspects to it, but I’m not 100% how or where it started. All I know is that my family has celebrated it forever.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to see how one religion’s holiday is celebrated in so many different ways across cultures. In American culture, Easter is typically a happy day, celebrated with family. In Greek and Italian culture, it’s a more somber day, usually spent in church. To compensate for a day of mourning, Italians choose to have their celebration the day after.

Cutting the Ham

Text: “This story was passed down as if it were the true in my family. But I have heard it told by others as well. My mom was preparing a ham for Easter and she cut the end off the ham before putting it in the pan. When I asked her why she cut the end off the ham she said, ‘because Grandma always cut the end off the ham.’ So we decided to call Grandma and ask her why she cut the end off the ham. When she answered the call she replied, ‘I always cut the end off the ham because Great Grandma always cut the end off the ham.’ So we went to go visit Great Grandma in the nursing home and we asked her about it and she said, ‘oh well I always cut the end off the ham because my pan was too short.’ The moral of the story is two generations of women were doing something because of the way they had always seen it done but in reality there was no need for them to do it.”

 

Context: This story was told to me by a 45-year-old white woman from Denver, Colorado when I asked her if she knew of any folklore that was passed down within her family.

 

Interpretation: I assume that this story was told in the informant’s family for two main purposes. The first is for entertainment, since it is simply a funny story that I imagine most people who hear it would find humorous. The second is to give advice to its listeners because it has a moral to it, as the informant stated at the end of her text. One could reword the moral she stated as don’t do something just because someone else does. This story reminds me of a longer version of a common saying that is said to children that goes something like, “If (name) jumped off a bridge, would you?”.

 

University of Texas’s Reappearing Ghost Face

Context:

My informant is a 18 year old student from the University of Southern California.This conversation took place at a cafe one evening. The informant and I were in an open space but sat alone. I know that my informant really loves horror movies and ghost stories but often says that she is unfazed by them, so I asked her if there were any ghost stories or urban legend back from home that she was familiar with or believed. In this account, she tells the story of a ghost that resides in the University of Texas, something that was told to her by her friends in middle school. My informant laughed a lot throughout our conversation, most likely due to the fact that she doesn’t believe in ghosts and thus found this story a bit ridiculous. In this transcription of out conversation, I am identified as K and she is identified as A.

 

Text:

A: So, I’m from Houston, and so obviously there’s the University of Texas, and there’s like this story about the Ewing Wing. So, um, the University of Texas, the property that they own now was once owned by a guy that would threaten to haunt his children when he died if they ever sold his property, but after he died his daughter sold the property anyway and it became Ewing Hall at UT, and so when it was finished, a face started to appear on, like, one of the floors and there are actually photos of it, and it kind of resembles the owners, and it’s real creepy and that’s that.

 

K: What do you think this story represents? Why do people continue to tell it?

 

A: Well, there is this part of the story I left out [laughs] where the wall… the face keeps showing up, like they kept repainting over it and sandblasting it, but the face kept coming back. Even when they removed that chunk of the wall to another floor, the face still came back… I think people keep telling this just because it’s creepy, you know? Creepy ghost persistence…

 

K: How did this affect the people around you?

 

A: I mean, my friends, or like people I know that do believe in ghosts think it’s kind of cool or they think it’s like creepy and they don’t want to go near the Ewing Wing.

 

Thoughts:

I ended up looking up this story and, as it turns out, this ghost is well known throughout Galveston, Texas. It resides at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) campus, and the story that I found is quite similar to what my informant told me. Legend says that the building is haunted by the ghost of the former land owner; while he was still alive, UTMB offered to purchase his property, but he refused. Before he died, he made his family promise to never sell the family land and to make sure the land is passed on for many generations. However, once he died, his family betrayed his dying wish and sold the property, which is what began the construction of Ewing Hall.

Ghost stories, and other various types of legends or folklore,  are told because it’s a way for people to provide an explanation for something that they cannot understand. Furthermore, the telling of a ghost story reinforces remembering the events of the past, reminding us of specific people and places. So, what is the explanation for the ghost’s face that keeps reappearing, in spite of the efforts to completely get rid of it? It’s to remind us of the man who owned the land and instill guilt in us, the family who sold the land, and even the people of UTMB because they betrayed the owner’s wish. His reappearing face is a literal reminder of his existence, and it also serves as a warning function. Often times, ghost stories are told to shoo people away because most people choose not to live or be in a place that has a reputation of being haunted. We can see this as being true, for my informant admits that though many of her friends that believed in ghosts thought that this story was cool, it still made them fearful and not want to go near the Ewing Wing where they thought they could encounter the ghost.

 

Presents in Shoes During Christmas

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student from the University of Southern California, and serves as a Residential Assistant at USC McCarthy Honors College.This conversation took place at McCarthy Honors College one evening. The informant and I were alone in a private space, and, out of her collection of folklore, this is one that she chose to share with me. In this account, she is describing a tradition that she experienced when she celebrated Christmas in Mexico with her family when she was a young girl. This is a transcription of our conversation, where she is identified as E and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

E: Um, ok, so, the folklore that I am talking about is, ummm, connected to most of my extended family. Um, most of my extended family on the one side of my family still lives in Guadalajara, which is a state in Mexico. And although I don’t go down as much as I used to, one time when I was about eight years old we were there around Christmas and one sort of tradition that they have in Mexico that is pretty common is that instead of using stocking—the way that a lot of, um, American households use to hold presents—they instead use shoes. So if you, um, put your shoes or your boots in front of the fireplace, then the next morning that’s kind-of where your Christmas gifts and presents will be.

K: When exactly, like, did this happen?… Like what year?

E: Ummm, I think the year… Ok, so I was in 4th grade, which means I was ten, which means it was ten years ago, which means it was 2009. Actually I think it was 2008, let’s do 2008.

K: Have you like heard of this tradition outside of your family?

E: Yes, because it’s like pretty commonly done… I think it’s not only in Mexico, though, like I’m pretty sure people do it in Europe, too? I just don’t know that it’s like… Or I haven’t heard about it as widely like in the U.S.

K: Um, can you just set up the context of when this would happen? I know you said it was during Christmas, but can you be more specific?

E: Um, ok, so kind of like the idea is that… like… on any Christmas morning, instead of like kind of the more conventional U.S. version of kind of waking up to like stockings with presents in them, it’s like boots or shoes with like smaller presents in them. But it’s kind of like akin either way.

 

Thoughts:

I thought that the concept of putting Christmas presents in shoes was quite intriguing, and I wondered if there was a legend, myth, or tale that created this tradition of putting presents in shoes. Though my informant never mentioned a reason why this became a tradition in her family, she did mention that she knew that it was not just something that occurred in Mexico, but in Europe, as well. I did some investigating and found that in the days leading up to December 6, which is St. Nicholas’s feast day,  children in Europe put their shoes or a special St. Nicholas boot out in front of the fireplace at night to find them filled with presents the next morning. Some differences between this tradition and my informant’s experience is that my informant put her shoes out on Christmas Eve day rather than in the many days leading up to Christmas, and also the mere fact that she celebrated this in Mexico rather than in a European country. Perhaps the reason there is such deviation between the way it is traditionally celebrated from the way my informant celebrates it is because Mexico is so far from the origin of the tradition,  which allowed for the tradition to take its own form and adjust to its new culture (as folklore should).

 

Dreams Predict Death

VG: Ok, so you said you have a superstition?

AM: I am 99% sure I know how I’m gonna die and when.

VG: Uh-how?

AM: Once a month, I have the same exact dream where I’m driving in a car during the rain and ss- what is it- we end up hydroplaning and falling on train tracks and not um having enough time to get off the car and getting hit by a dream. What is it- every month the dream changes just a little bit, but it’s always us driving, hydroplaning, and then ch- hitting a ditch.

VG: So you believe in the power of recurring dreams?

AM: Yes. Every month for the past three years.

VG: Do you know the specific day?

AM: No. All I know is is it’s raining really bad and we’re on the highway.

VG: Wow…who’s- you say we, whose in the car?

AM: Usually, my dad, my mom, and me.

VG: Wow…have you told them about it?

AM: Nope..not yet.

 

Background:

Location of Story – Variable, Southern California

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context:  This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore. This story came after a few others from a friend in response to the prompt “weird beliefs.”

 

Analysis: This a great example about the folklore and folk belief in reoccurring dreams because it offers such a precise description of what AM experiences in the dream. This precision is most likely because of the recent development of this recurring and very consistent dream. I also think it is interesting to note the absence of supernatural elements of this story. Frequently, people have monsters, paranormal activity, etc. in their dreams, so the fact that this story is based in reality effectively conveys the idea that this could be an omen – it is much closer to things that could actually occur. Possibly, the realistic narrative of the dream is related to the recent development of this dream. AM is a college freshman, so this dream could reflect feelings of fear about growing older and separating from the family. 

Additional reading: Kaivola-Bregenhøj, Annikki. “Dreams as folklore.” Fabula 34 (1993): 211-224. This article offers a great explanation about dreamlore as well as the relative novelty of its performance.

Wart treatment

Text

If you have a wart, cut an onion in half, rub it on your wart, and bury it in the backyard on a full moon.

 

Background

The informant learned this remedy from her mother and said that it was a very common one that she fully believed in when she was a kid. She said that not only did all of her friends know about this trick, but her husband who grew up on the other side of the country knew of a very similar remedy growing up. She believed it when she was much younger and practiced it frequently as she struggled with warts, but as she got older, she realized that it didn’t actually do anything

 

Context

The informant is a woman in her mid forties who grew up in the small town of Garner, Iowa (population: 2,000 as of 2018). She attended public school and grew up in a very rural area where she worked on the farm that her parents owned.

 

Thoughts

Warts are certainly unsightly and could even be embarrassing for a young child. Children can be mean and a child may be teased for having something that made them stand out in a negative way like a wart. Warts are also something that happen for seemingly no reason at all and are uncontrollable. Freezing off warts is possible, but the informant may not have had access to a doctor who provided this service being from such a small town. Because of all of these reasons, it makes sense that the informant practiced this remedy even though there seemed to be no scientific reasoning behind it. It gave her a feeling of control over this fairly uncontrollable blemish.