USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘fear’
Folk speech
Proverbs

The Cat that Got Burned

Do you have any sayings that you would like to share?

“Oh my god, my… my father-in-law always… one time told us that, uhh… something, when something bad happens to you, you get so scared, when you see anything, and then he told us whole… uhh… saying, that when the little cat got burned, just to see anywhere some ashes, he’s run away. He gets all scared. [laughs] Is one of them.”

 

Analysis: This is a short and straightforward proverb that’s supposed to be humorous. It lambasts the tendency of people, in this case represented by a small cat, to be overly cautious and afraid of something that they may have a negative association with, like fire. It seems that the informant’s culture really values wisdom learned through experience and risk-taking, as the proverb would appear to criticize those who are too cautious to the point of paranoia or excessive fear.

Folk speech
general

Arabic Folk Speech to Handle Fear/Bless

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

I’m from Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia.

Piece and Full Translation Scheme of Folk Speech:

Original Script: 

بسم الله

Transliteration: Bismillah

Translation: In the name of Allah (or God)

Piece Background Information:

I’m from Saudi Arabia and in this country the culture is heavily influenced by religion. For example, we are taught from a very young age to say “bismillah” every time something scares or frightens us. Till this day, I automatically say “bismillah” whenever I get startled. It is also generally used whenever you start something to give it a holy blessing.

My sister taught it to me, she would always remind me about that- she’s my older sister. Whenever I get startled or scared of something, like a dog or something when I was little, I would start screaming and jumping and doing crazy things. She would just say “be calm, you shouldn’t be scared of things”. So it kind of just stuck with me and to this day, it’s kind of just a reflex. Sometimes I’m sitting or hanging out with Americans, and I say that, and they’re just like “what the fuck was that?”

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Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in the informant’s apartment adjacent to USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

This piece emphasizes the Muslim ideal of strengthening their connection with Allah through exercising self control, thereby cleansing their minds, bodies, and spirits and also lends itself to this informant’s other accounts such as not believing in wearing a physical/tangible object for protection against the evil eye and instead focusing on the mind. It fits in with this informant’s overarching theme of this informant’s shared accounts with me (see:The Evil/Bad Eye and Arab Folk Beliefs on Protection Against It and see:see: Ramadan and the Ritual Celebration of Eid Alfutr).

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

The Devil will pull you under the bed by your feet

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.

 

Transcript:

“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.”

 

Analysis:

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.

Work Cited

Shimabukuro, K. (2014). The Bogeyman of Your Nightmares: Freddy Krueger’s Folkloric Roots. STUDIES IN POPULAR CULTURE.

Legends
Narrative

La Llorona: Kid Killer

The informant is a 18-year-old freshman studying biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Shafter, CA but is now living on campus at USC. She grew up in a family of Mexican descent. I asked her if she had any urban legends she would like to share and she told me her version of La Llorona.

La Llorona was a story used to scare her and the younger members of her family to not go out at night when they were still children. La Llorona means the crying lady. The story behind it is that there was a lady in Mexico, a housewife, with two children and a husband. The husband worked a lot at an unspecified job. My informant had heard versions of the story where the lady was crazy and versions where the lady was just extremely jealous of the attention her kids received from her husband but leaned towards the lady being very jealous of the attention her children received. When either her insanity or her jealousy overwhelmed her, she drowned her children either in the bath or in a river. After she realized what she had done, she killed herself in the same manner. Her ghost/spirit now wanders around wailing for her children and attempting to find other children who happen to be outside. When I asked why she needed to be avoided, the informant said that La Llorona would kill the kids she did find while she was wandering, even though the story was being told in Shafter, CA and was removed geographically from the story’s origin.

This story was first told to her when she was around 6 or 7 years old, when she was old enough to understand the story. Though she did not seem entirely convinced that the tale was true now that she is 18 years old, she was very much scare by it when she was a young child. Though she does not regularly tell the entire legend, she does make references to the story and understand what people are referring to when they mention it. The story places an emphasis on the struggle between loving your children and having to share the love from your husband with them. This type of jealousy is taboo as mothers are “supposed” to give up everything for their children, including the affections of their husbands if need be. Though the children this is meant to scare probably do not immediately pick out this theme, it is certainly understood by the mothers telling the story.

La Llorona is the subject of many authored works, including a 2007 movie called The Cry (directed by Bernadine Santistevan). There is a lot of variation between different versions of La Llorona, but the general idea of a woman drowning children and stealing children that are not their own is pretty consistent throughout the different versions, including both the version I collected from my informant and the version presented in The Cry. 

Childhood
Customs
Kinesthetic

Alley Murderer

Item:

Informant: “Mhmm the murderer would come back and  jump out and kill the girl if she walked down the alleyway.”

Me: “Wait didn’t the murder occur, like, several decades earlier?”

There is an alleyway that school kids, including the informant, passed by every day coming home from school. The alley was a very convenient shortcut to get home. However, it was told among the kids that years before, a girl walked down the alley and was then murdered. The murderer got away. Now, only boys walk down the alleyway, and all the girls avoid it. They say that if a girl walks down the alleyway, the murderer will jump out and kill her too. So, instead of taking the shortcut, girls would walk about an extra 5 minutes around the large block and meet up on the other side.

 

Context:

The informant recalls this being an occurrence common in early middle school. The murder apparently took place several decades beforehand and the criminal got away. The boys didn’t pay much attention to the story because it was assumed that only girls would be targeted. He said that as they got older, it was talked about less, but the girls still avoided the alley.

 

Analysis:

The concept of a specific place, especially a route, being associated with death or murder is really interesting in this context. Kids at any point in elementary through middle school are beginning to deal with the realities of both death and violent crime. By creating a story (or perhaps propagating a fact) around the alley, they’ve drawn a connection between murder and a specific location and scenario: the alley, a girl, an un-captured murderer. To a certain extent, it’s an example of boys and girls segregating at the early stages of puberty. Perhaps it’s a rare opportunity to have just the boys talking in one place and the girls talking in another for 5 minutes after a day of school. Even more so, it’s almost an empowering way for kids to deal with death. By the girls avoiding the alley, they are effectively cheating what they associate with being killed. And for the boys, it’s almost a courageous act because they are confident they won’t be the victims, so they take the convenient route. It’s also worth noting that for something that happens on a daily basis, 5 minutes extra on a walk is sort of inconvenient. The story was obviously taken seriously enough to convince girls they should take the long way home.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Signs

Yes/No Pencil Ritual

Informant Background: The informant is originally from Hong Kong. She now lives permanently in the United States but travels back once a year to visit her relatives in Hong Kong. She speaks both Cantonese and English. Her family practices many of the Chinese traditions, folk-beliefs, and superstitions. She celebrates many of the Chinese holidays through cooking of special “holiday food.”

 

Many grade school children play this game with a pencil. You can only use pencil. No mechanical pencils or pen. So first you would write on a piece of paper: “yes” and “no.” Then you put the paper on the table and then put the pencil in the middle of the paper. There are usually four people at each corner of the table. Then you call on the spirit into the pencil…After that you can ask the spirit questions about your life…you know something like: does he like me, will we be together, how long will we be together, am I going to pass this test, etc… But you can be cursed to die if you ask about how the spirit died or who the spirit is. It is okay to ask about their past life but never ask for the name or how he/she became a spirit. Sometimes more specific things can be written on the paper for different situations…I heard some news in Chinese newspaper where people die from this game because they ask the question they shouldn’t.

The informant stated that she played with her friends in middle school in Hong Kong, though she said that many adults play this game as well. She said she did it when she played the game nothing happened but she and her friends got very scared that she tore the paper into many pieces, broke the pencil, and ran away from the room as fast as they could.

 

I think this game challenges the idea of beliefs and the origin of ghosts and spirits. As seen by many other ghost stories, spirits usually arises from untraditional death or improper burial. In this case it is taboo and deathly to find the origin of the spirit. This game also reflects how people are unsure about the status of their lives; also trying to find answer to unanswerable questions in life. Not being able to ask how the spirit came to be also reflects the unknown origin of how ghost came to be.

The use of the pencil shows how the idea of ghost is most of the time associated with objects with no modern technology; how they are paused in certain time period.

The paper and the pencil reflect the idea of contagious magic how an object can possess power after certain rituals. In this case the informant and her friends destroyed those objects because they perceived those objects as having power after the rituals performed.

This dare is also similar to the idea of children folklore where there are underlying meanings, in the case the fear of the unknown. Similar to how female children conduct their Bloody Mary dare in groups as a bonding experience, this dare has a similar underlying purpose. It is a group bonding experience under the shared fearful experience, or bonded under the same curse. Similar to the Bloody Mary dare, the truth value is not as significant as the actions performed.

The dare as a ritual then turned into a legend through unofficial and official storytelling. The news about death from this game is then a memorate for the legend and keeps the ritual as an existing and ongoing legend.

Folk Beliefs
general

Body of Christ

My mother was told – and believed- that if she bit the uh Eucharist wafer or whatever, it would bleed forever and that you would drown in the blood. Like it would just fill your stomach. I guess you wouldn’t drown, I don’t know what would happen if your stomach was just forever filled with blood, you’d probably get sick.

 

My informant was told this by his mother who heard it at church as a girl. What’s interesting is that this could have multiple purposes. Maybe another kid told it to her just to scare her within a religious setting as a form of children folklore backlash against an establishment and ritual associated with parents. Perhaps she was told this by an adult who believed that biting the communion wafer was disrespectful, because it represents the body of Christ and biting it might represent mutilating it, thus s/he scared my informants mother into not biting it.

 

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative

Jehovah’s Witness Dungeons & Dragons Legend

It’s supposed to be a warning tale. Basically the story is that back in the seventies, there were some kids that were Jehovah’s Witnesses that got really interested in Dungeons and Dragons and played it a lot. They got the idea that it would very cool if they could trap a demon themselves. So they decided they would glue a bunch of Watchtower magazines to this box and the walls or something – they were in a garage. And then they would do a summoning incantation to summon the demon…and they happened to summon a demon, but it wasn’t as easy as catching the demon in a box. And the boys were stuck in the garage for a long time, like quite a few hours, umm…but when their family finally got them out, one of the boys was dead and two of the other ones were like insane basically, and they were never okay after that.

I’m not sure how far outside of California this story goes, but there are different people I’ve talked to that have kind of said that story or some version of it that those people were alive in the seventies and stuff. And I got to hearing it because, you know, there are different card games and stuff that you grow up with that are usually kind fantasy based like, every generation seems to have them now. So when I got interested in certain card games, that was a kind of story my dad would tell me to get me to not play or throw it away or why he would throw it away. Funny thing, like, he liked Lord of the Rings a lot, but he kept it really hidden, really quiet cause he didn’t want other people in the church knowing, because it was satanic. It had magic in it and it had monsters and stuff like that.

 

It’s pretty clear by what my informant said, that this legend is meant to scare kids, and probably adults too, away from anything associated with the occult, magic, monsters, or anything deemed unnatural and dangerous by the congregation. My informant heard this legend from multiple people, particularly his father and stepmother as well as people who claimed to know the congregation where the legend occurred. The purpose of legends like this, with their essences of possibility and truth, is to keep people in line and keep them obedient. I’m skeptical of all organized religion, but particularly those that foster a culture and lore of fear to keep the followers “faithful.”

Initiations
Legends

The Elephant Walk

So this is an initiation ascribed to no fraternity in particular retold by a informant who neither experienced it as a pledge nor heard it from a direct participant.

“Everyone gets in a circle

And then you have to put your thumb up the guy in front of you’s ass. And it’s like…brotherhood.

I heard this from a friend. He was like, ‘Don’t do a frat man, they’ll make you do the elephant walk.’ ”

Although my informant maintained that this story “had been well documented” I suggest that even if it is true its indiscriminate spread is more than anything an attempted deterrent for joining fraternities.  Despite the fact that they are supposed to be secret, many stories circulate about initiations and other greek system rituals. Some of these contribute to a greater sense of mystery and lore that attracts many people to the system. There are also definitely dedicated to warning about ever joining. Stories of initiation such as this one are great at revealing what people may have to endure during hazing, whether or not it is true. However, the most important reason for telling it is not a truthful depiction but voicing a disapproval of joining to others.

[geolocation]