USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘forest’
Folk speech

Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäume nicht

“Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäume nicht.”

“You do not see the forest for the trees.”

Context: The informant went to school on a military base in Weisbaden, Germany, and spent the majority of her childhood there. She heard this proverb from her friend when she was upset. She continues to think of this proverb in stressful situations.

Interpretation: This proverb is meant to help people when they are wrapped up in small problems. It teaches the audience to see things from a broader perspective rather than focusing on specific issues that will not matter in the greater scheme of things. It also works to soothe people who are upset or overwhelmed.This proverb also tells the audience about Germany’s environment. One-third of Germany is covered in forestry, so it is fitting that a well-known German proverb utilizes the forest as a symbol.


Tales /märchen

Goldentree and The Nature Spirits

About the Interviewed: Jakob is a senior at Calabasas High School. His family is half Isreali-Jewish, and half French-Canadian. He’s about 18 years old.

Jakob told me a tale his father told him when he was very little about the woods they lived in.

“Once upon a time there was a fairy named Silvertree, and she had a beautiful daughter named, Goldentree. Silvertree was jealous of Goldentree’s beauty. She wanted to eat her daughter’s heart because that’s what fairies do when they’re angry.”

“Silvertree was married to The King of the Forest. One day the King noticed that she was upset and asked what he could do to end her troubles. Silvertree demanded that the King bring her Goldentree’s heart.”

“The king, shocked by this turn of events, buried Goldentree away in the soil where she would be safe from her evil mother. He gave Silvertree the heart of a chicken, which fooled her for many years.”

“Many years later, Silvertree was walking through the forest when she stumbled across the most majestic looking oak tree in the whole forest. It was Goldentree, who by her father’s magic, had turned into the most beautiful creature of all. Struck by jealousy, Silvertree withered away, until she was nothing but a mere weed.”

Jakob noted that when his father told the story, he pointed to the oak tree that was on their front lawn, to indicate that Goldentree was always there.

It amazes me the power that stories have on us as little children. Jakob was only six at the time and yet he remembers it pretty well. I have stories stored in my mind that I don’t think I’ve heard since I was a child. We get to pass those stories on to the next generation, only maybe a little different than from when we first heard them.


The Jersey Devil

This piece was collected from my friend who grew up in New Jersey. To her, it wasn’t a very important part of her life, but it was well-known where she was from because it’s one of the most popular pieces of folklore from New Jersey.

This is how she explained it to me:

“I’m from New Jersey, and there’s a southern part of the state called the Pine Barrens, it’s filled with trees, it’s a very forest-y area. And for years and years it’s been said that there’s the Jersey Devil that lives in the pine barrens, hence the name the New Jersey Devils, the hockey team… there’s ben songs written about it…stories written about it. There are lot of versions of what it actually is. Some say it’s an actual devil or it’s more like a beast, like an animal. It’s kind of like a yeti or something, to this day people still say they see when they go to the pine barrens. I think I learned about it honestly in school when we learned about New Jersey myths, I’m pretty sure it was mentioned, and the only way is just through word of mouth”

Even though the Jersey Devil is very popular, there’s still not a consensus on what it looks like (or even what it is exactly) So, the legend can be interpreted differently by each person. However, it has been incorporated into things like sports teams, where it might become less folkloric because it would be portrayed in a certain way and would probably be trademarked. Also, the informant described it as a New Jersey myth, however, it would more accurately be categorized as a local legend or folk belief.


The Haunted Forest

Parin Patel

Los Angeles, California

March 8, 2012

Folklore Type: Ghost Story

Informant Bio: Parin Patel is a friend I met when we both went on an archaeological excavation in Rome the summer of 2011. He is a Junior and double major in Archaeology and Business at the University of Southern California. Parin is Indian and thus interested in Indian Archaeology and stories, particularly of the supernatural sort. He is actually interested in spirituality and the supernatural in general.

Context: There were several Archaeology majors and one Visual Anthropology Graduate student sitting around drinking after a long day of survey at Catalina Island. We were there for the weekend as a Directed Research Experience. Parin was the only guy in this group hanging out. We were talking and laughing in general. We played Never Have I Ever, and then Parin says, “Guys, guys let’s tell ghost stories.” About four or five people shared some sort of real life encounter that they heard from a friend or relative. Parin told two stories. This was the second one he told.

Item: So here’s the next one. (which burial ground? Then we can talk.) um my uncle is an engineer and a developer in India, uh he lives in Gujarat. But he basically takes land and from like forested land and just like chops it down and builds entire sub-divisions. So he took this forested area and uh built up the land and built houses and stuff. And built uh my other uncle, his brother, a house there as well. And so they’re living there. My cousin uh one day this was um back in 2002 or so. He’s in, he’s like in the bathroom uh just like uh taking a shower or whatever. And he like. First of all his house, his house is kind of scary anyway ‘cause he has this photo of this woman with no face like posted up right in the hallway when you enter the second floor. When you walk up the stairs there’s this woman with no face. So like every time I’m there I just run through, but that has nothing to do with this story. Um so my cousin’s in the bathroom, he just got through taking a shower and he looks out of the window ‘cause he hears, hears something, something or somebody and he looks out of the window. And all of a sudden like the entire area’s just forest. Like all he sees is like trees everywhere. And this whole place is like built with houses. There’s no trees around. Um it’s just entire forest and he sees a woman scream, and he hears her scream like as loud as like… (stammer) uh if somebody’s next to you screaming. He looks out of the window and he sees her running through the forest with like a white gown on. And he just freaks out he just runs downstairs. He’s like, “did’jou guys hear that? Did’jou guys see that?” And nobody heard about it. And they like did their research or whatever, and it turns out like a girl was like raped and killed in that area… twenty or thirty years before that. (so creepy, murmurings, o my god) And he’s, he’s not one to believe in ghosts or anything and that’s the first time he’s ever had that kind of experience. (that’s horrible).

Informant’s Analysis: Parin trusts his cousin because as he said his cousin is not the type to believe in ghosts. Parin said that he believed in the supernatural and was very interested in it. He believes the story to be true based on his trust in his cousin.

Analysis: Everyone that shared a story was sharing a second account of a personal experience, and everyone that night agreed that they believe in the supernatural on some level. Yet, we are all a major that is grounded in material data and theory. Sharing and believing in the ghost stories fulfills a need for an explanation that in most circumstances is impossible in Archaeology. Although material culture is available the answers to Archaeological questions are mostly theory with no way to truly know if the theory is correct. The supernatural provides an answer that is acceptably unexplained, which could provide comfort to Archaeologists that it is all right that their questions may also never truly be answered. The story itself reflects a clash between old occurrences on specific land and modern changes to said land. The area used to be a forest, and then it got disturbed by being torn down and turned into houses. In many ghost stories the correlation of modern people disturbing the land is fairly common. Older ideas of spirits living within the land or the land being alive come out in these stories of modern change to an old area.

Annotation: In the film An American Haunting there is a scene of a girl running through a forest, she has been raped, rape is a central issue in the film, and there is a reference to the Bell Witch which is the other story Parin told that evening. There is also a house that burns down and connection between the past and present through the story in a journal which relates two similar tales of rape in the past and present of the film.


Alex Williams

Los Angeles, California

University of Southern California

ANTH 333m   Spring 2012