USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘folk object’
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Evil Eye Talisman

For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has kept an Evil Eye talisman hanging from the rear-view mirror of her car. During a celebration for my mother’s birthday, I pulled my grandmother aside and asked her the Evil Eye’s significance, following which she explained:

“Many years ago, two of my friends spent some time in Turkey. When they came home, they brought me an Evil Eye as a gift. All over Turkey, they put them outside of their door or inside of the car, and it is meant to ward off spirits by scaring them away. The superstition is that you cannot throw it away after someone gives it to you, that would be like inviting the evil spirits in. I have been in my car before and had people stop me and give me praise for keeping the Evil Eye visible, then show me where they keep theirs.”

I was somewhat familiar with the superstition surrounding the Evil Eye before talking with my grandmother, and knew that belief in the protection offered by one was prevalent in Greece. Hearing that her Evil Eye is from Turkey and that many other Americans have commented on the object (the informant, my grandmother, is from northern California), leads me to believe that this superstition is present in a great deal of cultures. Offering the object to someone as a gift encourages them to engage in the superstition surrounding it, because the object will remind the receiver of the giver while also supposedly serving as protection. Even if the owner of the Evil Eye does not necessarily have a deep-rooted belief in spirits, the object is significant in that it can offer a sense of comfort for the owner to suppress any worries that the spirits do exist, without the owner having to do anything more than keep the talisman somewhere close by. I myself am considering asking my grandmother for one to keep in my car, just in case.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Soul Pole

Piece:

It was this wooden stick–kind of like a paddle, kind of like a stick–whenever someone was out of line the prefect (a senior who had authority) would threaten to get the “Soul Pole” and beat them with it. This is no longer a tradition.

Informant & Context:

My informant for this piece is a student at the University of Southern California who graduated from the boarding school (Cate) from which this folk object originates. His knowledge of this phrase dates back between 3 and 11 years ago, though it is reasonable that it has existed for longer. He said that the use of the folk object had been discontinued after it was discovered by the schools faculty.

The object references social periods in which a room was occupied by seniors and underclassmen, in which the seniors had direct authority over their younger peers.

 Thoughts:

This is a folk tradition in which older students beat up younger students for disobedience. This was a sacred object used to conduct an act of hazing that could only occur at the school given the confinement into the school’s campus of the students and lack of adult supervision. The result of these circumstances was apparently the rise of a new hierarchy with a strict judicial system in the fashion of Lord of the Flies.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Material

Claddagh Ring

“Part of our Irish heritage is the story of the Claddagh ring, and that was originated in a little place near Galway, Ireland and uh the Claddagh ring is generally made of gold or silver, it has a heart in the middle, with a hand on either side holding the heart, and there is a crown on top of the hear, and it symbolizes love, loyalty, and friendship. And uh, many people in Ireland use the Claddagh ring as a wedding ring, both for men and women, and uh its also a lovely gift to give people you love, and so for me, I have given Claddagh rings to my granddaughters, all three o them, and I think they like them very much, and I think its just a wonderful tradition.”

 

Informant: the informant was born in Chicago, and attended high school and college there, graduating with a degree in English. After marrying and having one child, she moved to Dallas, Texas where she raised three children with her husband. She is of Irish descent, her father being from Ireland, and her mother was born in Wisconsin after her parents moved from Ireland, and her heritage and tradition are very important to her. She is a grandmother of five children.

 

Analysis:

Something that is very dear to the informant is her Irish heritage. She feels great pride for her Irish descent, and does her best to demonstrate this by practicing several Irish traditions. I believe that the tradition of passing along the Claddagh ring to her grandchildren exemplifies this wish to preserve Irish traditions while showing how much she cares for her grandchildren. Despite the traditional sense of using Claddagh rings as wedding rings, in using it as a gift to her granddaughters, she is exhibiting her promise of love, loyalty, and friendship to them, as well as passing on a tradition, most likely in the hopes that her granddaughters will pass it on to their daughters or granddaughters.

The time in which the informant gave her granddaughters Claddagh rings is also significant. She gave the rings when each of the granddaughters had been confirmed in the Catholic Church. This is significant because the Irish are historically Catholic, thereby making Confirmation in the Catholic Church an important initiation ceremony. Because the granddaughters were “officially” and “fully” Catholic upon receiving their rings, they were also more Irish, in a sense, due to the emphasis of the Irish on Catholicism. This is because of the tensions between Irish Catholics and British Protestants, tying religion to nationality in this aspect.

Also, this highlights a certain aspect of folk objects. In Ireland, many tourists are attracted to the Claddagh rings. They are sold in many stores, especially those aimed specifically at tourists, which demonstrates how folklore can make quite a bit of money. The popularity of this item comes from the enchanting legend that surrounds its making. The story of the love of a blacksmith for his lover was supposedly prompted him to make this ring while he was working on a pirate ship, for he had been kidnapped and taken from his love. It is a powerful story of love that encourages people everywhere to buy this gift for those they love. This widespread story led the production of the Claddagh ring to expand outside of Ireland itself.

This practice also brings up the question of authenticity. Some may consider buying the Claddagh ring in America inauthentic. The informant also made sure that the rings she gave her granddaughters came from Ireland, which from her perspective was what constituted an authentic Claddagh ring. Despite where the ring was made, however, its meaning is transcendent, because through the action of giving this ring to a loved one in order to demonstrate love, loyalty, and friendship, the legend of the Claddagh ring is commemorated and passed on despite the heritage of the giver or the land in which the ring is made. Overall, this tradition has become very popularized, and it means a great deal to the informant as it passes on Irish tradition in the promises of love, loyalty, and friendship.

Customs
Festival
Foodways
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Coming Together of Matzo Ball Soup

Original Script: “Every year…even to this day, we made Matzo Ball Soup for high holidays. It is basically, the chicken soup of the Jewish people. It is my favorite traditional Jewish dish and the recipe has been passed down for generations…Every year, I go to the grocery store and get everything I need: the chicken—the whole thing cut up—, the celery, carrots, onions, fresh dill—none of that pre-packaged crap—celery salt…Then I go home and take out a huge soup pot that can hold 12 gallons. I put everything in the pot…have my kids, and husband help…it is a long process that can take up to seven hours. After it is cooked I let it cool and I make the matzo balls and add it to the soup. The next day, when it is time celebrate, I heat them both up together and it is delicious! It is usually always eaten to the bottom of the pot, but if there is a left overs I freeze the soup to heat up for later. My family, my kids, my nephews and nieces, love it. It is something everyone looks forward to when we get together. I don’t only make it for high holidays, there is always an excuse to make it…when I am sick, when my kids are sick, when my husband is sick, hell, when I just want to eat it, I make it.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Cheryl grew up in a predominately Jewish household in Skokie, Illinois. Her stepfather’s, Obbie, mother had witness the holocaust and he had also lost a sister to a concentration camp, which concentration camp is unknown. Very proud of his Jewish heritage, Obbie, Cheryl’s mother—Riki—, Cheryl’s siblings—Victor and Hope—and Cheryl grew up a very conservative Jewish family—celebrating all of the Jewish high holidays such as: Yom Kippur, Shabbat, and Passover—as well as attending Synagogue every Sunday.Cheryl had learned the recipe from her mother, and has been something that has been passed down through the generations of their family. To Cheryl, she not only loves the Matzo Ball Soup because of its taste, but she also enjoys the fact that it is something from her whole family enjoys and is something the family can do together.

Context of the Performance: High Holiday food—a food usually made in correlation with Jewish holidays.

Thoughts about the piece: After interviewing Cheryl, and having a Jewish heritage as well as tasting her Matzo Ball Soup myself, I can understand her fondness for the soup. However, I believe the soup is also associated with the coming together of a group of people with the same religious background and is associated with a group identity. The preparation of the soup has become a family tradition as it is performed over many years—thus it became a tradition that celebrates the heritage of the Jewish people. It is also interesting to note that those performing and the audience are the same people—the family, albeit that more of the extended family is associated with the audience as well. The cooking of the Matzo Ball Soup can also be associated to that of a ritual that is in the beginning of a sequence of events for a festival. (It can also be observed that the freezing of the Matzo Ball soup can be considered the closing ceremony. What is interesting is the fact that is traditional meal is something the family makes when someone is sick, or they just want to eat it. Perhaps, performing the cooking of the soup after the time and place of festivals make the family reminisce on being surrounded by family—which in turn makes them feel better. Thus, Matzo Ball Soup becomes a folk material object.

Customs
general
Material

Homemade Russian Scarf

Russian Scarf

The informant’s parents are both from Russia, having grown up in a small town outside of Stalingrad. Though Rachel was born here, the recentness to which her parents moved has caused them to enrich her life with lots of Russian culture. In going to her house one weekend, I noticed several of the scarves like the one above laying around and inquired as to what they were. She explained that they were head scarfs her mother made that women often wore in the countryside of Russia. When I asked her why, she explained that the Orthodox Church is a very big part of Russian culture and women were required to wear them to Church. She also said that they symbolize that a woman is married.

She then showed me other scarves that her mother made. I thought this was really cool, as in America there are very few things that people make besides the occasional knitted item a mother or grandma might create. The informant told me that her mom would go out and buy special fabrics then knit the fray on the edges of it to give it a more decorated look. She further explained that her mother learned this from her grandma, and that girls in Russia would always learn from their grandmas and mothers how to make scarves and clothing items such as these. The scarf is still a big part of Russian culture in the countryside, and its very common to see woman wearing them when at work on a farm. I asked if the informant knew how to make these, but she explained that her mother has yet to teach her, though she’d like to learn at some point in her life. I really liked my friend showing me this part of her culture and thought the designs of many of the scarves were beautiful.

 

Legends
Material

Athena and a Bow and Arrow

Informant A is a 17-year-old Sophomore at USC studying Biomedical Engineering with an emphasis on Neuroscience. She is ¼ Greek Cypriote, ¼ German and ¼ Argentinian but she strongly identifies with the Greek side of her. She spent 9 years in Greek school and goes to Greece every summer. She speaks Greek with her grandparents.

A: Let me think of some good legends that I’ve grown up with…mostly the Greek myths. We would, um I knew them in English when I was younger because we got introduced to them in elementary school, and then I told my grandparents I was really interested in them and so they actually found me a Greek version so that I could read it in Greek and solidify my learning there. But we would talk about, um well mostly the PG ones, you know Greek mythology. And one of the ways children were often entertained in Greece was to tell them these myths and stories. These stories were used not only to pass time, but to also carry down values.

The one, I think the one that we would talk about the most is Athena. So Athena, the Goddess of wisdom, but also the Goddess of war, and her affinity is the olive branch, but also the bow and arrow. And my grandparents have always been like, ‘You’re a little Athena! You like to learn, but you’re also really feisty, so you got the war in you’ and to actually perpetrate that, my grandfather once actually went to our backyard and cut a little branch off of an olive tree and made a bow and arrow out of it for me. Kind of a fake one because you couldn’t actually shoot with it, but he like sharpened an arrow, like not sharp enough to kill an animal, but sharp enough to hit a target. And we had that fun together making that, because he’s an engineer so he like makes random stuff. He taught me a lot like how to measure batteries, and play with a solder machine, so I had a lot of fun sharing that with him and learning about what I could do. And actually too Athena is the goddess of weaving, which is why I knit with my grandmother, it’s a fun way to create with her and connect, which is how you leave a legacy, by creating something meaningful.

Me: So do you still have this bow and arrow?

A: Oh gosh I think I left it in Cypress. I’m sure it’s in a closet somewhere with my name on it. I must have been like nine or ten so it’s been a while.

Me: So you talk about how your family prized you for being like Athena, would you say that this is prized in the larger Greek community? Like you say Athena has the wisdom but also like the fire behind it.

A: Absolutely. I think that’s something that really encompasses all the women in my family. My family is mostly women. Although the ‘take charge’ role in mostly cultures is dealt with by men, in my family it is the women who are the strong ones. My family mostly grew up in the Cypress villages farming though which is why they value me going to school so much, and starting early, and are so amazed by how much I know and how I wanted to learn more, just like the values Athena prizes.

 

Analysis:

Here informant A talks about some of the values that her Greek culture prizes and how her family compares her to the Greek Goddess Athena. The Greek legends and myths are extremely important and popular to them, so much so that the Greek stories and their values will come up within conversations in her family. She also talks about the folk item, the bow and arrow, that came out of the conversations with her family and also emphasizes how important these values of strength and wisdom especially are to them, enough so that her grandfather would take the time to make a bow and arrow for her.  She also explains a bit about how unlike most cultures, the Greek myths, like Athena, have influenced her family to prize strong women rather than only strong men.  Her grandfather was proud to show her bits about engineering and then encourage her to be an engineer, instead of some culture where this might be frowned upon.  These stories also helped tie together the informants family and connect the generations.

Childhood
Customs
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Touch Stones

 

Touch Stones

Personal Background:

Alaina is a sophomore studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. She is originally from Washington, a small town about an hour away from Seattle. She has been a camp counselor for many years, and for many different age groups.

Camp Rituals:

Osprey Camp is a small independent camp in Washington. It is an educational camp that is meant for sixth graders, and it is a camp Alaina went to when she was in sixth grade. She has been a counselor for it for a few years noe. One thing she mentioned the campers did was have a friendship circle at the end of every week the students were there. A friendship circle is when the students sit in a circle and talk about the great things the other people did throughout the week. The last week of camp is special though because that was when they received their touch stones. Touch stones are something the couselors make for the campers when they come to the end of camp. It has been a tradition since Alaina has gone to camp there. Touch stones are basically little rocks made of clay that has the thumbprint in it. In the final friendship circle, the kids pass around their touch stones and the kids touch the part that has the print in it. It is a way to say goodbye and keep a memory of the camp.

Alaina was able to actually make the touch stones the second year she was a camp counselor. She remembered enjoying it when she was camp, but seeing the kids react to them was even better than she remembered. She loved seeing the different groups of kids interacting with kids they might not have if they were not at camp. She also enjoyed being able to touch some of the stones of the kids who had been her cabin. For her, it was a way to prove that the barriers could be broken of the kids at this awkward age where changes are occurring with new schools, as well as new friends. Since the campers and counselors were not able to keep in contact after the camp ended, the touch stone was a good reminder of all the people at camp.

Analysis:

This is a perfect example of a ritual and well as a folk object. It has the repition, as well as focuses on a certain culture, which is the campers culture. It is not something people would be doing all the time, and it has a special meaning for the people who have gone through it. It is almost as a right of passage, or a coming of age for the kids. It is a positive way to end a camp and start a lot of new friendships with people they might not have originally been friends with. It gives them that physical stone as well that have after camp ends.

To me, it was a great way to have the piece after the kids left the camp. Having that physical folk object once the ritual was complete is something that the can keep and have fond memories of for the rest of their lives.

Customs
general

Pledge Fraternity Paddle

The informant describes the importance of the paddle during pledge’s semester pledging and the time beyond that semester.  The informant explains he learned of this tradition immediately after getting accepted into the fraternity.  He has close ties with this tradition because he has many memories of getting signatures for his paddle and feels as though it was his way of being fully accepted into the fraternity.

At the beginning of the pledge semester, all of the pledges need to get a paddle and put their name on it.  The paddle is typically made out of wood and has the fraternity’s letters on it.  The paddle also has the pledge class year and semester and the pledge’s last name.  And over the course of the semester you’re supposed to earn paddle sigs or paddle signatures from all the actives in the house.  The signatures are put on in black sharpie on all different sides of the paddle.  Older members of the house are allowed to sign signatures on the front of the paddle, while younger members may not.  The paddle gives you an opportunity to get to know the active members of the house and the active members of the house to know you. A paddle signature is an active’s acknowledgement of wanting and accepting the pledge into the house.  This tradition has been a part of his chapter since the beginning.  Getting paddle signatures involves hanging out and getting to know the active better. The paddle signatures are your way of earning your spot in the house – it is a sign of approval. The point of the paddle is that by the end of the semester you have every actives signature and this indicates everyone saying they want you in the house and it allows everyone to get to know you better.

I find role of the paddle for the incoming pledge class to be a great example of a folk object that represents the liminal period the pledges of the fraternity find themselves in.  The pledges have received bids from the fraternity indicating that the active members have interest in them and want them to become full members. The paddle acts as a form of their growth and transition into a full member.  The paddle, as stated by the informant, serves the role to spur interactions between active and pledge members and acceptance from active to pledges.

Childhood
Customs
Kinesthetic
Material

Candy Wrapper Doll

Contextual Data: I had a bit of a cough over Spring Break and so I ended up working my way through a packet of cough drops. One day my mother saw me crumpling one and tossing it aside and she mentioned that when she I was little, she had taught me how to make a doll out of those wrappers. I didn’t remember it, so she explained it to me again. Her step-by-step explanation is paraphrased and illustrated with images below.

1. Fold the paper back and forth into thin strips (“like an accordion,” she explained.)

2. Flatten the resulting thin strip.

3. Tie a knot in the strip, not quite halfway through it, but offset (about two-thirds of the way down). The resulting shape should be a sort of triangle.

  

4. Fan out the smaller top section to create a head and the larger bottom section to create the doll’s skirt.

5. Twist the edges of the smaller portion to create two little ponytails.

After she finished making the doll, I asked my informant where she first learned about it and why she did it. The following is an exact transcript of her response.

“Uh…In school, when we used to get candy. Uh, we… Like how you guys get muffins when there’s somebody’s birthday—the person brings muffins for the whole class, we used to get hard candies wrapped in that foil. So after we’re done eating with the candy, we would play around with it and that’s what we would end up making… It was just something passed around, I guess. From friends.”

My informant attended school in India. When I asked  if the boys did anything like that with the wrappers, she mentioned that she attended an all-girls school. Overall, there doesn’t seem to be any particular symbolism to the little craft — they never really grew attached to these dolls; they would throw them away after they were done with them and nobody ever collected them or anything like that (possibly because they were so common and easy to make, and therefore not anything rare or exciting). In general, this therefore just seems like a fun little way that friends played with one another, and it just kind of conjured up everyday memories from my informent’s childhood school days.

Customs
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tradition: Luminaras

Note: the informant was originally from New Mexico

 

Christmas Luminaras

This tradition is primarily a New Mexico. Before Christmas my informant’s family sets up luminaras around their house. Luminaras are made of paper bags,sand, and candles. Generally brown paper bags and wax candles are used although some people use electric lights in lieu of candles. They do not have to be decorated. To make them you just fill a bag with sand and place the candle inside. According to the informant this is a very collaborative process, the whole family (her nuclear family) gets involved, they take turns doing different steps and they all put the luminaras outside. They place several hundred outside the house. On Christmas Eve the informant and her family go out and look at the neighbor’s Christmas lights and luminaras. Then they drive to Old Town in Alberquere, a plaza where a lot of people gather to look at the luminaras. 

In this case the time the family spending time together is the most important part of this tradition than the object itself. The emphasis is about preparation because that’s a collaborative process. Its fairly similar to other Christmas traditions (well h=the ones I’ve experienced) where the traditions like putting up a tree and opening presents are more about spending time with the family.

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