USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Folk Creatures’
Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Magic
Myths
Narrative
Protection

Golem

Background:

My informant is a twenty-two year old student at USC. She is originally from Pennsylvania and came to LA to study screenwriting. As a writer, she makes it her business to be familiar with a variety of legendary creatures; she is ethnically Jewish.

Performance:

“I heard this from a rabbi, I think, when I was pretty small. I’ve read about it a lot since, so I’m sure a lot of what I think I know about this story comes from books and I just filled in the details later on…but from what I remember, a golem is this mythical creature in Judaism that is completely made of inorganic materials…99% of the time the story says clay but I’ve also heard about stone and mud, definitely mud, maybe not stone…so yeah, golems are these giant clay warriors that come alive by magic and protect the Jewish people when they’re in danger. Warrior is a good word for it, I think. There are a ton of stories about them, some more famous than others. But I’ve always thought it was so fascinating, these giant inanimate pieces of art coming alive to protect their creators.”

Thoughts:

This is not a story I was previously familiar with, and one that I decided to research more thoroughly. The Wikipedia page is fairly in depth: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem#The_Golem_of_Che.C5.82m as well as on a number of Jewish sites, like: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/golem/. The second page says that the name “golem” comes from the Hebrew word for something “incomplete or unfinished.” It’s interesting that something that is, by name, unfinished would be called upon as a warrior or protector. The article also includes an ending to the story that Kieryn didn’t include: the golem’s power slowly grows out of control and the creator is forced to destroy its protector. It seems to speak to the idea that violence breeds violence, and perhaps isn’t quite the answer to conflict.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative

Changelings

Background:

My informant is a twenty-two year old student at USC. She is originally from Pennsylvania and came to LA to study screenwriting. As a writer, she makes it her business to be familiar with a variety of legendary creatures from different regions and cultures; she is ethnically Jewish.

Performance:

“This is one of my favorites. There was that Angelina Jolie movie about it, and everything, but that kind of sucked (laughter) so I first heard this from my grandmother sometime in high school, just kind of like, a scary story or something. But I’ve done more research and the basic story shows up across a bunch of different cultures and whatnot. So basically, we think of fairies as like, Tinkerbell, right? Well in most old cultures, fairies were not that fucking benign. Like, at all. Fairies were these sort of horrendous creatures that would sneak into your house and steal your babies and drive you crazy. Like, parents would hang iron over their baby’s crib to keep fairies from getting in and taking their kids. This whole legend grew up around that idea; when people were wondering if their kid was their kid or the fairy replacement, they’d call them ‘changelings.’ Basically, what a fairy leaves behind to mimic your child while the real thing lives on in the fairy realm. Some stories say that these changeling kids were kind of brutal, monstrous little things, and others just say they’re sort of…off, I guess? There’s a lot of variety, which makes it a cool story to build stories off of, if that makes sense. A lot of wiggle room.”

Thoughts:

This legend seems almost mythic, in the sense that it’s a story that was created as a means of explaining and understanding the world around us. As Kieryn mentioned, the changeling story appears in a variety of different traditions; it appears here: https://www.britannica.com/art/changeling-folklore and http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/scanchange.html and elsewhere across print and digital resources. Nowadays, you hear stories about a child one day “changing” and becoming “someone else;” all of a sudden, an otherwise sweet baby grows disobedient or angry or difficult. We would usually go straight to an autism diagnosis or some other psychological explanation, but this offers a more spiritual explanation. According to one of the articles above, there were myths about how to have your child returned from the fairy world, many of which included torture. This story in particular speaks to mankind’s understanding and treatment of mental illness and disability.

Folk Beliefs

The Tokoloshe

Interview with informant:

“Okay, so this is from South Africa. The tokoloshe is this creature type thing. The way it works is he’s like this creature thing and it rides on this bicycle, or no it’s like this unicycle. And, like, you’ll just be like walking down the street and you’ll see a unicycle with just like shoes on it, like going down the street. Like the shoes themselves are pedaling the unicycle, and it’s weird as shit. And that’s the tokoloshe, right. And it’s this thing that no one can describe how it looks, you know, it’s invisible, it just has shoes or whatever. And, uh, it appears to children who put hot pap, which is like grits, but like not really. It’s like slightly different, it’s like, you know, cornmeal-type stuff. But if you put it—and it’s hot—you put it under your bed the tokoloshe will appear to you the next day or some shit. And he comes up to little kids and he’s like ‘Hey do you want to play marbles?’ and he starts playing marbles with them, right? And if you say yes, you want to play marbles, then, uh, you know, you’re never seen again. And that’s it.”

Very weird folk creature from South Africa, likely used by many parents to frighten children. Cautionary tale type stuff used to discourage unwanted behavior, whether it be playing with marbles or perhaps other frowned upon activities. Putting hot food under the bed to attract it could mean food is supposed to be eaten entirely. Like, hiding part of a meal causes the Tokoloshe to seek retribution. As to the invisible unicycle aspects, I haven’t the foggiest. Something very sinister about an empty pair of shoes.

Annotation: The tokoloshe gets several mentions in the 2003 film The Bone Snatcher, a British-Canadian horror movie. Though the creature in the film isn’t explicitly a tokoloshe (but rather a swarm of ants that join to form a body using the bones of their victims) but it is referenced, which is to be expected as the director, Jason Wolfsohn, is South African.

 

Legends
Narrative

Soukouyas

It’s a witch. A witch that sucks blood, almost like a vampiric witch that flies. They kill cattle, they suck the blood from the cattle. People will wake up and find their sheep, or cattle, or goats or whatever dead. And the soucouyas are typically associated with women, typically not men. And they supposedly remove their skin…and when they turn into the soucouya, then they have the power to fly. But they have certain weird traits, almost like their kryptonite. (laughs). Their krypotonite is stuff like salt. You can stop them in their tracks by putting a pile of salt and they have to stop and count the salt. You know, you hear stories, as my mom said she’s seen people flying, some people who got it by practicing some kind of witchcraft. Or obeah. We call in obeah. But people do believe there are people like this. Also, and there was a person, apparently, and I heard this from my cousin, because her sister was actually a nurse, a major nurse at the general hospital in Dominica. And there was a woman who came in, and they said she was a soucouya. She had removed her skin, right? But what happened was somebody hid her skin – you can hide it or you could put something on it so they can’t get back in it. So after they finish flying around and they try to go back in their skin, either it’s hidden or it’s made unsuitable for them to put on. It’s what they put on it. I’m not sure if it’s salt or pepper or what. And she couldn’t get back in her skin. And they die if they can’t get back in their skin. So she ended up in the hospital, just dying and I think she died in the hospital. So that was a documented case. Now again, I’m taking this from my cousin, and she wouldn’t have a reason to lie, and neither would her sister, but who knows, maybe the women was a burn victim or something, but they said all of her skin was gone, which is a very unusual burn type case, you know? Not like a burn case which is typically where part of your body has some skin off, but your entire body had the skin removed? How is that possible? So it seems like that is a credible documentation on someone who had their skin completely removed which does support the soucouya concept. So sometimes I’m like, well I don’t know, I’ve never seen one, but I can’t say they don’t exist, partly because of people who say that they do exist.

 

My mother has told me about this legend several times. The soucouya, as my mother calls it, is also known as a soucouyant, soucriant, soukonian, a true Loogaroo, and Ole-Higue in different parts of the Caribbean and in some cases, the south of the United States. I’ve heard variations on the tale where the soucouya is always an old woman who lives on the edge of a village and exchanges blood she collects from people and animals for magic powers with a demon, sometimes the devil. In some tales she specifically sucks blood from babies, an example of the monstrous mother archetype that Warner discussed in Six Myths of Our Time. Clearly, not only is the soucouya an explanation for livestock dying from unknown sickness or perhaps starvation, but it also reflects misogyny in Dominican and other West Indian cultures. An autonomous woman who lives on her own is viewed as stepping outside the gender norms; thus she is a labeled a witch, unnatural, a threat, and in this case, a soucouya.

 

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