Informant AB is a 23-year-old male who is from the East Bay in Northern California. He is a student at the University of Southern California in his third year as a civil engineer major. Informant AB also plays club baseball at USC:
AB: “I play baseball and it is my favorite sport to play. I have been playing since I was 5 or 6 years old and I am still playing on the club team at USC.”
Do you have any particular rituals or customs you perform prior to a game?
AB: “Yes I have two main rituals that I do in baseball. So I play “infield” and when you’re in the infield you are always taking your one-two step to get ready for the ground ball before the pitcher hits so that you are ready to field it, which is pretty common for everybody, but one thing I do just kind of on top of that before every pitch is that I take my glove and I kind of almost tap it on my left hip ever so slightly to just shift the glove in my hand so it feels better in my hand. It’s just something that makes me more comfortable, maybe more confident in feeling grounders and being ready for the potential play coming my way. I also wear the same pair of baseball sliders that I never wash. I’ve had them for years and years and I wear them at all my practices and games. They make me feel more positive about each game or practice because of all of the great wins and experiences I’ve had while wearing them.”
Who did you learn these rituals from?
AB: “My dad actually played baseball for most of his life and when I was little I would watch him play. I would see that he would do the same gesture I do today. I remember asking him one day why he would tap his hip with his glove and he said it would help him to focus and center himself during the games. When I started playing in little league, that’s when I started doing the same gesture my dad did. I guess watching him as a little kid, I picked up on some of the things he did while he played. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
What do these rituals mean to you?
AB: “Well, growing up watching my dad play and learning my ritual from him holds a special place in my heart. I really looked up to him when I was little. I just think it is something special. It brought us closer together.”
Informant AB’s baseball rituals were passed down by someone he looked up to as a young child and is something that he continues to do as an adult. As America’s favorite past time, there are countless folk beliefs in baseball that surround good and bad luck such as rituals being practiced during the seventh inning stretch, to verbal lore being performed during the game. I think it is interesting how as a young child the informant noticed the rituals his father would perform while out on the field and how much of an impact his father had made on him growing up. Their passion for baseball and their father-son dynamic depicts how rituals can be passed down to the next generation through a strong familial bond.
Informant FV is my grandfather who was born and raised in Split, Croatia. Rakija is a type of fruit brandy that is popular in Croatia and in other surrounding nations. As a young boy, FV grew up in a traditional Croatian family who upheld their culture through a variety of cuisines and spirits. Growing up, he was taught that Rakija is a natural remedy that kills any kind of bacteria, relieves stomach or muscle pain, and helps disinfect wounds:
What kind of drink is Rakija?
FV: “Rakija is an alcoholic beverage that I would say is an equivalent to brandy. It generally has a fruity taste to it.”
What areas are known to have Rakija?
FV: “Rakija is a very popular drink that is served primarily in Croatia, but also in neighboring countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, and Montenegro. It is usually served with ‘smokve,’ which are dried figs at the beginning of a meal. One of the most popular flavors in Croatia is called “šlijvovica,” which is made of plums. I prefer šlijvovica (shlivovitza) because it has a sweeter taste to it and it goes well with the dried figs or mixed nuts.”
When did the belief begin that Rakija could be used as a medical aid?
FV: “Oh who knows exactly when that came about. Ages and ages ago, but it has been a long known belief that it has helped heal certain types of pain if used correctly.”
What could you use Rakija for besides drinking?
FV: “Well, if you have severe stomach pain or the flu and you take a shot of it, the ingredients within Rakija help subside the pain. If you have an open wound and you rub a little bit of Rakija onto it, the Rakija will act as a disinfectant. It burns like hell but it gets the job done.”
Where did you learn this trick about Rakija?
FV: “Oh you learn about these remedies from family members and friends. It is a pretty common thing to know in Croatia. I learned about because I would always be doing something that consisted of me getting hurt, whether I was out playing with my friends or getting into some kind of trouble. Those who use Rakija for medical purposes agree that it does help with certain medical issues if used properly.”
Does Rakija have any importance to you specifically?
FV: “I enjoy drinking Rakija on special occasions, like on Christmas or Easter with figs or nuts. It’s a strong drink that is meant for certain occasions. Even though it is a type of spirit meant for drinking, it has serves as a medical aid. This belief that Rakija can cure certain things has been going on for ages and will continue to go on as it has shown to work.”
What context or situation is Rakija normally used in?
FV: “Well Rakija is a alcoholic beverage served at special occasions like parties, festivals, or on holidays. It is an iconic Croatian spirit that people enjoy drinking at these events. Rakija also comes in a variety of different flavors, one being “šlijvovica,” which is the plum flavor. This one you’ll find in a typical party setting or household.”
It isn’t a party until there is a bottle of Rakija on the table. For most Croatians, Rakija is a popular spirit used at parties or special gatherings. Not only is it a common spirit that is accompanied by dried figs or nuts, it is known in the Croatian culture as a medical aid. If you have not tried drinking Rakija or putting it on an open wound, then you are not at all Croatian.
Informant AV is my grandmother, who was born and raised in Florence, Italy. She was taught by her mother to always put a penny inside a purse or wallet if it was being gifted.
How did you learn to put a penny inside a purse or a wallet as part of your gift giving traditions?
AV: “Well, I was taught by my mother that you never gift a purse or wallet without placing a penny inside. It is supposed to assure the pursing who is receiving the gift to have good luck and it is to ensure that the person who receives the gift will not be without any money.”
How did your mother learn about this belief?
AV: “This was a tradition that was upheld within my Italian family for generations. My mother learned it from her mother. Once I became old enough to understand the value of a dollar, my mother shared this tradition with me. I think it’s a nice little addition of positivity that accompanies a gift. My friends over the years have asked me why I put a penny inside certain items like a purse or wallet and I just explain to them that it was just something I grew up with as a young girl that I have carried along with me and to help ensure that the gift that I am giving provides positivity and good luck. It’s funny, now some of my girlfriends do the same thing as I do ever since they asked me about it.”
Does this have any significance to you today?
AV: “I would say so because it was a tradition that my mother and my grandmother passed down to me and my sister and it is something that is still very much a part of my traditions. I have also taught my daughter when she was little the same gesture who has now taught her two daughters. I think it is very special that my traditions that I have learned growing up are continuing to be passed down to the next generation.”
My grandmother identifies with this tradition because it helped her to understand the importance of money at a young age through the teachings of her mother and grandmother. It was a tradition that was sustained in her family for generations that still holds value and serves as a tool to pass on good luck to others. As her granddaughter, I have learned to follow in the same tradition.
Informant AV is my grandmother, who was born and raised in Florence, Italy. She moved to Croatia as a young adult and speaks Croatian and Italian fluently. “Živa istina” is a phrase used in the Croatian culture when someone sneezes while speaking the truth. It solidifes that the truth is being spoken as the person sneezes:
“The truth is alive!” or “The Living Truth!”
What kind of context is this phrase used in?
AV: “This phrase is used in the context of a spirited conversation where a person is trying to speak their truth about a very significant point. If a sneeze occurs while the person is making his or her point, then it is used as a substantiation of the truth.”
How did you learn about this phrase?
AV: “It’s a common phrased that has been used in my family for many many years.”
Does this phrase have any meaning to you?
AV: “Yes it does in that I say it ever time I or someone is trying to make a point in a conversation after they sneeze.”
This is a unique Croatian phrase that is used in cases where people are interacting with each other through discussion. It is believed that a sneeze during a conversation proved the truth of the statement.
”I guess, because of the movement of the stars or something like that, the zodiacs should actually change over time. Which is why there’s supposed to be an extra zodiac in addition to the 12. I have heard that the 13th zodiac is supposed to be an evolved form of Scorpio, something that they move to at a certain level of knowledge. Scorpios are normally fiery, dark, and very sexual. They’re high energy and masculine. How my friend (who is a Scorpio) interpreted this evolution is that Scorpios will lose the negative aspects of these traits and become a better person because of it.”
Belief in the zodiac is something that has fluctuated over time. In recent years, the belief seems to have reemerged strongly. Like all folk beliefs, the iterations and nuances of the belief change over time as they feed into new generations. The above example illustrates how some have constructed an interpretation of the fabled “13th Zodiac”. In this particular instance, some have taken to modifying an existing zodiac to fill the role of the 13th Zodiac.
This modification of the existing Zodiac may be a result of modern culture, in which ideals like enlightenment and self-actualization are held strongly. The person from whom the informant learned about this belief was himself a Scorpio, and found this particular perspective meaningful. This could be born out of a desire to retain the positive traits associated with the sign, while leaving room to grow out of or improve upon the negative ones.
”There’s a lot of different rock formations from the Earth. I guess the crystals absorb energy from the earth and are supposed to have positive effects. I have a Himalayan pink salt crystal that’s supposed to clear out bad energy, make it drop down towards the floor. It’s supposedly good for allergies and things like that. Different crystals are supposed to affect your chakras. Blue crystals are for the throat chakra, and I think green are for the stomach. Quartz is supposed to amplify your existing characteristics. Tiger eye is supposed to help with lethargy.”
Many believe that crystals have metaphysical properties, and can aid in healing or even improve one’s spiritual wellbeing. The informant had her collection of crystals on hand as she spoke about them, and we examined each one in turn. Crystals are fascinating natural constructs to many people (my grandfather loved to collect and talk about them), and I find the idea that they can have some effect on a persons physical and mental state intriguing, to say the least. Some crystals do have the ability to emit electricity when put under pressure, so while I don’t necessarily know if I place full stock in their alleged abilities, I am also entirely open to entertaining the possibility.
”The ingredients are: apple cider vinegar, lemon, garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper, honey, and hot water. About a class worth for whoever is taking it. You can use it for pretty much anything. Whenever I’m feeling sick I’ll use it; all the ingredients have really good properties, so one of them is bound to help with something. I always use it when I have the flu.”
“My mom would always tell me to drink apple cider vinegar with honey and hot water, for pretty much anything that was wrong with you. I never really liked it like that. One of my friends gave me this recipe. You’d think the extra ingredients would make it taste worse, but they actually make it a lot easier to drink.”
Home remedies are often a popular way of dealing with everyday maladies, especially those which science currently has no “cure” or treatment for. The informant stated that she uses the remedy for a wide variety of ills, with the expectation that one of the ingredients is bound to help somehow. She had originally gotten a variety of the “potion” from her mother; which is common with home remedies. As parents are often a primary source of information while growing up, people have a tendency to retain lessons or advice from them, even as they grow older.
The informant stated that she never enjoyed the taste of her Mom’s remedy, though she would still use it if she got sick. Eventually she heard of the alternate form from a friend; she stated that she liked the flavor of the new formula more, and now uses that as an alternate. This shows an interesting fluctuation in the phenomenon stated above. Though she respected and followed her Mom’s advice for the remedy, she was also willing to change the recipe slightly into one which suited her tastes better. This illustrates how folk remedies can change over time: ingredients can be added (or removed in some cases) in order to better fit the sensibilities or tastes of the new user.
Informant is a 20 year old college student at the University of Chicago. She is a creative writer, activist, and political science major. She grew up in Highland Park, Illinois with her two parents and two younger brothers.
Informant: “So here in Chicago, we have a thing called snow. It actually gets quite cold if you remember.”
Interviewer: “I remember!”
Informant: “Just wanted to remind you since now you live in sunny, always blue-skied, 70 degree Cali. Anyways, there are times that so much snow accumulates that school is canceled. Not very often, but every now and then. Usually ever year, but sometimes just once every two or three years.”
Interviewer: “I totally remember those! They were the best…”
Informant: “They were! Do you remember what we all used to do in the hopes there would be a snow day?”
Interviewer: “Sort of, but not entirely.”
Informant: “Okay, let me refresh your memory. We would put a spoon under our pillow before going to bed—some people put it under their bed, and some people didn’t put a spoon but a fork—and that was supposed to make a snow day happen. But not just out of the blue. IT had to already be pretty snowy, or supposed to snow heavily.”
Interviewer: “Do you remember who told you to do that? Or who told you that worked?”
Informant: “No specific person that I remember. I think we all just sort of knew to do it. Like everyone talked about it working, or having worked.”
I can’t figure why a spoon was the object placed under one’s bed or one’s pillow to conjure a snow day, but I do remember doing this once in the hopes of a snow day. I can’t say for sure if it was my having placed the spoon under my bed or Mother Nature, but we did in fact have school canceled the next day…
I actually googled the practice and found several articles as well as some other ways to conjure snow days! For more snow day “magic,” see http://www.grandhaventribune.com/article/strange-grand-haven/265096.
The notion of “conjuring up snow days”, talked about in the article, brings to mind Voodoo. It’s fascinating that magic or voodoo was so looked down on for so long, and even to an extent is now in the very hyper-scientific society in which we live, but that it holds such an important role for people. This again speaks to belief, and how strong it is despite changing times or new scientific discoveries.
My informant is the mother of a USC student. She is an immigrant from Cameroon and came to America with her husband and son before giving birth to their daughter.
“In my culture it is believed that a woman who has no children is considered wicked, a man, and worthless. If she is married and childless, she will be divorced and asked to return her dowry to her husband. From what we know today, infertility could be from the man. Yet, yet all the blame goes to the woman, but back then, it was only the woman. The belief is that the wickedness comes in because gods would not bless a bad person and children, children are the most cherished gift to a women. So she would be shown without a child and no man is supposed to love a woman who could produce no heir. Next to a woman without children is one who has only one child—especially if it is a girl child—or has all girls. Women are blamed for not being able to produce an heir since most believe that only the boys should inherit the family s fortune. The irony here, is that, these same people who prefer boys stand to benefit when a girl gets married through the bride price and dowry.”
Analysis: My informant learned these cultural beliefs from relatives and extended family while living in Cameroon. This piece of cultural knowledge gives a very clear picture of the gender lines and distinctions within Cameroonian culture. From even this small amount of verbal exchange the listener gets an immediate and clear understanding that Cameroon is a patriarchal country that places incredible pressure on the women to live up to the standards of men. It is also interesting to note that in many cases after having moved from Cameroon to America these beliefs do not hold as much weight. My informant’s daughter, who is a close friend of mine, acknowledges her cultural beliefs, but does not hold the belief that the importance of women should be placed underneath that of a man. This gives the impression that cultural folklore has a much stronger meaning when the folklore is being spread in an area where the majority of people hold those same beliefs.
My informant is the mother of a USC student. She is an immigrant from Cameroon and came to America with her husband and son before giving birth to their daughter.
“As a child I knew nothing about homosexuality…but there was an old wives tale I was told that, if a woman was raped by another woman, it would render the victim barren. The victim would usually dream about the encounter and the perpetrator would be confronted by village elders and be chastised.”
Analysis: Cameroon is a country that has deeply rooted beliefs and traditions, among these is the belief that people should not engage in relations with someone of the same sex. The importance that is placed on women to be child bearers and bring about heirs is part of the reason that there is so much stigma placed upon same-sex relations. Barrenness would be an ultimate punishment for a woman because her utmost purpose within that society is to give birth to a male heir. This belief further sets the societal framework for Cameroon and Cameroonian culture by making it very clear that homosexuality is not tolerated in society or by nature (as the female victim would mysteriously become barren after the rape).