USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘fertility’
Life cycle
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Peach Boy in Hawaii

Main Piece

Informant: “A story that I heard a lot growing up was about this boy who was born from a peach. They called him Momotarō. He was considered a blessing to this older couple, who had not been able to have kids, but had always acted humble and hardworking. They got the child as if they were being rewarded, and it’s explained that the Gods sent him to be their son.”

Collector: “That reminds me of a lot of stories, especially religious ones, too.”

Informant: “Yeah, that premise isn’t the most unique, but the peach makes it memorable. He grows up and then decides to leave and go fight some Oni, which are a type of demon. He has some animals that help him on the way, and I think one of them is a duck….Yeah. There are a dog, a monkey, and a duck. They stop the demons and then get to take their treasure.”

Collector: “Who told you this story?”

Informant: “My mom would tell me it, but I think most people in Hawaii know it. It’s Japanese, but there are books and a lot of stuff for kids based on it.”

Analysis

The story of Momotarō seems very easy to compare to a lot of other stories in Western culture, be it Superman or Moses. The popularity of it seems easy to comprehend, given the good values and morals that it is supposed to set forward for young children. The fact that the informant learned this story growing up in Hawaii exhibits how strongly connected those two geographical places are, and how the culture of Japan affects the state to this very day. It fascinated me that the  work generally is told the same in Hawaii, and that not many oicotypes were known to the informant. It can be assumed that the printed version of this book that popularized in the 1970s for the Bank of Hawaii’s 75th anniversary played a large part in the spread of this story in the same variation. The authored Momotaro: Peach Boy declares itself  an “Island Heritage book” that promotes its impact on Hawaiian culture.

Folk medicine
Foodways
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Material

Fertility Charms

Context: I was interviewing a 50-year-old female informant from Memphis, TN, who is a registered nurse. She grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household that kept strict kosher dietary laws and regularly attended temple. I was in her home and explaining to her the many different categories of folklore, so she would have a good idea of the type of information that I was looking for. When I mentioned the category of folk medicine, she seemed very intrigued and asked me what types of things could be considered folk medicine. I listed off a few examples, and she said, “Ok, then I definitely have a piece of folklore that is good.”

Piece: “Many years ago, about 21 or so years ago, me and my husband wanted to have our first child. We attempted to do so for a while but had a very difficult time conceiving. We, of course, sought out help from a medical professional, but for a while, many of our friends and relatives who knew we were having trouble having a baby came to us with personal and family items that they claimed would help us conceive. I did not take any interest in any of these offers. I remember one of my older relatives offered my husband and me a family blanket which she told us would definitely give us a baby if we lied under it during intercourse. Obviously, we turned that offer down immediately; it made us pretty uncomfortable. One of my closest friends at the time was very spiritual and worldly; she traveled a lot and spoke multiple languages. She came to me with something that was given to her by another friend when she was trying to have a baby. It was this small stone idol. I do not remember exactly what the figure looked like, but I think it was just a regular woman. It was held in this small stone box that could fit in my hand and the box had a detachable lid. My friend told me that when me and my husband were having intercourse we needed to put the stone container on our nightstand with the figure in it. And we also needed to take the lid off. We were eventually able to conceive and I became pregnant. This all happened soon after we used the fertility god, so who knows, maybe it helped some. After you are finally able to get pregnant, you are supposed to pass the idol to another person to help them have a baby. There was also something else that my mother gave me to help with conception. It was a pie made out of the citron fruit, which is similar to a lemon and used during the Jewish holiday Sukkot, during which it’s called an Etrog. I don’t think you’re really supposed to eat the fruit because it tastes terrible, but my mother insisted as she said it was sure to help. The citron pie definitely did not help.”

Analysis: There are surely many examples of folk medicines that do actually have effective medical benefits; however, there are also surely examples that have no medical benefits whatsoever. There is a category of folk medicine that does fall in between the aforementioned effects, and that is things that bring health through the placebo effect. This is when a subject experiences a response to something, usually a medicine, but only because they expected that thing to produce that result. The fertility god and the citron pie that the informant spoke about definitely do not work based on this effect because, of course, you cannot experience pregnancy unless you are actually pregnant. However, I do find it interesting that she only became pregnant after she used the folk medicine to which she did not have any objection but not after using the medicine which she very much did not like. While there is no way of knowing if a fertility god can actually help someone become pregnant, it can still functions as a ritualistic folk item.

 

Adulthood
Holidays
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ivan Kupala

“Ivan Kupala, which is celebrated on a midsummer night, celebrates the young women of the community. The girls wear flower wreaths on their heads, though at the end of the night they let them float down the river. Everyone, especially the girls, sing happy and innocent songs all day, and they do not sleep for fear of demons or witches that arrive in the night. A bonfire is lit to symbolize purity and renewal as well. Eventually, everyone goes through the forests in search of a fern flower. When you find it, you make a wish and the flower has the power to grant your wish.”


 

The interlocutor has visited Russia multiple times, and due to her frequent visits, she has become close friends with a particular native Russian. The folklore that she has shared with me is derived from her native Russian friend. The interlocutor stated that of all the holidays unique to Russia, she enjoyed the concept of Ivan Kupala the most because of its positive imagery and perspective on femininity. She laments that she does not know of any event that celebrates femininity in the way the Ivan Kupala does, and she hopes to receive a flowered wreath or herb wreath on her next visit to Russia during the summer. However, she does not know if she could last through such a long event, especially as it lasts through the night.

A prominent theme throughout this holiday is the celebratory sentiment regarding the budding fertility of women. The flowers represent their nascent ability to bear fruit of their own, yet it is not a shameful or ascetic acknowledgement, but one of commemoration and joy. This goes for the fern flower that is sought after as well; its special capacity to grant wishes also symbolizing the power that women have through their fertility.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Cats Can Harm Fertility

“My mom believes that cats have these…well I don’t know….but if you have a lot of cats, it just affects women’s ability to have kids. I don’t know why, she just says that. I think it has to do more with cat litter. Something about the chemicals in the litter can harm your fertility. It’s not necessarily the presence of the cats themselves, but they’re linked in a way. When my friend brought over her kittens to my apartment, and my mom saw pictures I posted, she freaked and thought I bought cats. She said that I would need to get rid of them and deep clean the apartment. I mean, they weren’t my cats, but I don’t believe in her superstition so I didn’t really care.”

The informant was born in Ventura, CA but her father is from Mexico City and her mother is from Guadalajara. She is bilingual in Spanish and English and partakes in many of the Mexican customs.

She originally heard this superstition from her mother. Apparently, her mom’s friend owned a bunch of cats when she was growing up and later when she wanted to have kids, she couldn’t. Her mother figured it was because of the cats. Therefore, she has never allowed her family to own cats, but they have had dogs before. 

I personally don’t believe in this at all. I myself own two cats. It’s possible that cat litter has chemicals that aren’t very beneficial to one’s health but if you’re not ingesting it, I don’t see it as a problem. Many people are afraid of cats as well, and think they are generally causes of bad luck. This could be the case as well, as seen with the black cat superstition.

 

Context:


My thoughts:

Adulthood
Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Dance
Game
Holidays
Life cycle
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Midsummer (Sweden)

And then we have our Midsummer…which is the biggest drinking holiday in the world I would say. It’s the Friday of, that’s the closest to the summer solstice. And the origin is, that way back when we were pagan, we would pray to the gods for a good harvest. So…we would raise a maypole…which is a big penis…directed into the ground, to fertilize the ground to have a good harvest. And we would dance around this penis, you know, it’s a big thing you have to do. And that night, if you’re a woman, you have to pick seven different types of flower, out in the wild, not in the store. You have to go out in the wild and pick them from a field, seven different ones, put em under your pillow, when you sleep that night you’re gonna dream about the person you’re gonna marry. It’s all about fertility! It really is.

 

So you danced around the maypole?

 

Oh yeah! We do it every year.

 

What was that like?

 

It’s, I mean now it’s more of a fun, family, keeping the tradition…it’s not so much a pagan ritual anymore. But the actual like, you carry the maypole in, all the men in the village or society help raise it. And the women have spent the whole day decorating it with small flowers. And then traditional music is still playing…

 

And everyone’s drinking during this?

 

Everyone is drinking all day. So this is the progression. Usually you have lunch, where you eat herring, herring and potatoes, that’s when you start drinking, you have some schnapps. And beer obviously with your lunch. Then you go to the area where the maypole is. And usually it’s organized, your society or village, if you’re a bigger community there are several spots so you can walk there close from your house. And there’s musicians, that play music so that you can dance to… There’s usually games of different sorts… and you know, if you’re too drunk at this point you just enjoy coffee, and you know. So it’s basically sort of desserts, but like thicker desserts, so you have coffee, you have cinnamon rolls, that kinda stuff. And you sit on the ground, on blankets, everyone brings there own blankets around this pole. So everyone dances, and then they’ll take a break, there’s some raffle stuff… And then after that you go home, and if you’re a bigger society you go home and then you have games, like seven or ten different games that you compete in against each other. And usually it’s by teams, and if you’re fewer people it’s individual. So you do that closer to where your home is, and then there’s a barbecue, and you keep drinking. And I mean you keep drinking throughout the whole day, like you start drinking at 11am in the morning, and then you keep drinking. And because it’s in the middle of summer the sun never sets, so you’re up all night. So you have your barbeque, you keep drinking, and then 2am, the sun is still up, you go skinny dipping…and then…you know……and then you pass out. And then you have sex in a bush. Everyone has sex, nine months after Midsummer there’s a lot of babies being born. Because everyone has sex, outside, you just pick a bush and have at it. You would love it. And that’s how you end your night. You easily drink…..probably a liter of schnapps per person. And probably uh….depending on how much of a beer drinker you are but let’s say you’re going with beer…probably drink about 3 gallons of beer? You know. So it’s a fun holiday.

 

So when specifically does it happen?

 

End of June. Cause harvest is in the fall for us.

 

What is the age group of people that are dancing around the pole?

 

Anything from one year olds that can hardly walk, to 85-year-olds. It’s a whole family thing. Usually what happens is, eventually after the barbeque, if you’re still a young teenager, you celebrate with your family, and then you head out to a party somewhere. But once you get old enough, like if you’re past 18, like you can still do it with your family during the day, you’ll have lunch and the celebration around the maypole with your family, and then you’ll hit the barbeque party, you’ll have dinner with your friends. And then party all night long. And if you’re doing it extra special, if you’re out in archipelago, you might leave…because everyone is off Friday, except like, firemen, policemen, hospital people. Everyone else is getting fucked up. So Friday’s always off, you’ll start Thursday, you’ll fill your car up with alcohol and food, take your boat out to your summer place which is out in the archipelago on an island, and you stay there the whole weekend. And midsummer’s on the Friday, on Saturday you wake up and…start drinking again! And then Sunday, you have a couple of beers just to…mellow out. And then you go home. It’s a lotta fun. And I mean, it’s a pagan ritual. That’s what it’s from. So that’s one of the ones that’s not gonna go away…ever. That one will definitely stay around.

 

ANALYSIS:

This is a common spring festival throughout Europe, traditionally occurring in Germany, England, and Sweden, according to The Festival Book by Jennette Lincoln. This is a spring fertility festival, both about fertilizing the ground for a good harvest, and also about the young generation reproducing and starting a new generation. There are many rituals with symbolic (phallic) imagery, and games and celebrations in which families come together and also young people from different families. Flowers are a big symbol, as the pole is decorated with flowers, the girls have to collect flowers and put them under their pillows, etc. Girls both ‘come into bloom’ in this liminal pre-adulthood stage in which they become able to bear children, and are also ‘deflowered’, two symbolic meanings in relation to flowers. Alcohol is clearly a big part of the festival, both in celebration of plenty and abundance, and probably also as a way for the young people to loosen up, party, and “interact” – which seems to be expected and even condoned by the adults and families. People copulating outside in nature also has a connotation of fertilizing the earth for a good harvest.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Magic
Signs

“If you eat a double cherry when you’re pregnant, you’ll have twins.”

The informant, then twelve years old, first heard this phrase from her uncle, whose wife was pregnant at the time.  Her uncle and aunt were gathered with the family and announced their pregnancy.  Later after dinner, the family was eating cherries together and was discussing whether the baby would be a boy or a girl, when the topic of twins came up.  The informant’s uncle saw her aunt eating a double cherry and said, “Did you know that if you eat a double cherry while you’re pregnant, you’re going to have twins?”  My informant doesn’t really believe that this is true because she does not believe in superstitions, although it is a superstition that everyone in her family likes to joke about, because it also happened to come true.  Her aunt ended up giving birth to twin girls six months later.  This is why the informant likes to retell the tale, because it makes the superstition much more mysterious and believable when it actually comes true.

I believe this superstition is highly unlikely to be true because the events are completely separate, and that the informant’s story just happened by coincidence.  However, superstitions are always driven by the chance occurrences that happen to confirm them, making some people believe that they’re true while they may completely be random happenings.  I believe the informant tells the story only to joke around, poking fun when pregnant women are around.  The superstition is so seemingly arbitrary that people tend to believe that nobody could possibly create such a fantastical story up, so it must have some sort of truth behind it.  This is how the superstition of double cherries is spread and dispersed.

Adulthood
Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Life cycle
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

豊年祭り (Hōnen Matsuri) — Japanese Penis Festival

豊年祭り in Japanese literally translates to “harvest festival,” though it is more commonly and colloquially known as the “penis festival.” It is a fertility festival celebrated on March 15th in Japan, celebrating the blessings of a bountiful harvest and all manners of prosperity and fertility.

My informant is a student in Nagoya, Japan, and attended the festival this year with her friends. The celebration started in the morning, when Shinto priests playing musical instruments paraded down the streets amongst booths selling phallus-shaped food items and souvenirs.

“There were penis-shaped lollipops, corn dogs, chocolate-covered bananas, ice cream, rice cakes, head coverings, and this rubber penis thing that you could attach to your nose, and this hopping penis figurine thing, and other things I can’t remember, but it was ridiculous. Everyone’s so casual about this too, just like little kids licking penis lollipops like it’s no big deal. It’s funny, because usually Japanese people are so polite and proper and stuff, and then they go out and have something like this, you know? [Laughing] But it’s nice to focus on something that’s so taboo normally, like hey, even if we try to ignore it, it still exists, you know. Penises exist! Sex exists!”

Everywhere, there are huge plaster and plastic statues of penises–tourists and other observers can often be seen climbing on top of them and taking pictures of themselves. The highlight of the festival is a massive wooden phallus carried from a shrine called Kumano-sha Shrine to another shrine called Tagata Jinja. On the way there, passerby are encouraged to touch the phallus for good luck, while Shinto priests trailing behind the phallus impart blessings and prayers. At Tagata Jinja, the phallus is spun furiously, and then set down again for more prayers. After that is the mochi-nage, whereupon observers are showered with small white rice cakes, an act evocative of ejaculation.

This festival obviously originates from an earlier era when bountiful harvests were vital to the survival of a Japanese community. It has since become more about personal fertility, what with Japan’s slowly decreasing fertility rate, with people going to the festival oftentimes for good luck, perhaps with the hope that Japan’s population will begin to pick up again. Nowadays it is also somewhat of a tourist attraction, with curious foreigners and people like my friend, who want to see a show of something so taboo, a strange phenomenon in Japanese society, which is generally so restrictive.

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