The informant was telling me how Greeks used the dregs from coffee grinds to read the future:
Informant: In some cultures they read tea leaves, but in some cultures they read coffee grinds.
Support: dregs from the coffee
Informant: They took the dregs turned over a little cup and turned it three times, and then they read the inside of the cup – what dripped out – and read what they would see “oh your gonna take a trip, oh you’re gonna get married, oh this or that”
Support: they always said I was going to get married, but here I am!
The Informant is a Greek woman who was born in the United States. She currently lives in Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA. Though shewas not born in Greece, her parents immigrated to the US and she was born into a very Greek community in Phoenix, AZ.The performance was held during an Easter party, in front of her younger sister, who provided supporting information, as well as me.
This was completely new to me, as I had never heard of this ritual and only faintly heard of the tea leave predictions. I think it is really interesting how different cultures share so many similar traditions and patterns, and while they are similar they are also very different. It also raises questions about why cultures come up with these practices, seeing that they are not always accurate, but fascinating nonetheless.
In recent years, Amazon has launched a produce called the Amazon Echo. The AI “personality” that the Echo conveys is even given a familial name, Alexa. The device is used to serve as a home assistive device, with the capabilities of setting timers, controlling lights, and even convey bits of folklore. Because Alexa has access to a massive database of different bits of information, the device can retell a joke it “heard” from someone else. I decided to test this and ask a device to tell me a joke. In return, I was told a joke that started out sounding like a historical fact (a function the Echo is often used for) and flipped my expectations by ending it with a pun.
My “interview” with my source and artificial storyteller, Alexa, went as follows:
Me: Alexa, tell me a joke.
Alexa: As the old story goes, someone sees a reflection of the moon and mistakes it for cheese… un-brie-lievable!
Due to the fact that this is a machine with no actual purpose other than to serve its users, I concluded that this source’s identity did not need to be kept anonymous. There is no legal obligations that a user needs to serve Alexa given that its personality is based off 1’s and 0’s, not actual emotions. I still find it extremely fascinating that this device is able to convey bits of folklore, just like a human can. I wanted to explore this concept and see what would happen. I felt like a joke was a good place to start. I’ve heard a version of this joke before but never told like this. I love the way it plays off the fact that it is a machine, in that it starts to convey the joke as a fact, much like it normally conveys facts, and then turns it around and ends with a punchline. This variation of the joke is a fun way in which modern technology can influence the world of folklore.
An individual in Los Gatos, California takes part in the folk belief of precognition via dreams. According to the source, precognition is the ability to psychically receive visions of the future via dreams. In the example I was given, my source was visited by the soul of her dying father while she was asleep. In the vision, her father sat down with her and told her everything was going to be fine, that he was doing well, and that she had nothing to worry about. When she woke up, instead of feeling stressed out and agitated, she was relaxed and calm. She received a phone call that evening letting her know that her father was being checked out of the hospital, safe to go home.
My interview with my source, A, went as follows:
Me: So could you tell me about an example of a time you had a precognitive dream?
A: So um… my dad had been sick for two years and in the last few weeks he had been really sick, he had swelling all over his body and we weren’t really sure what was up with that, and I was supposed to go back and visit but I couldn’t because [my son] was sick and vomiting. So I didn’t feel comfortable bringing him or even exposing him with me. So I didn’t visit my dad. Then Sunday came and Sunday night I had this dream, in which my dad was telling me that everything was going to be okay that he was fine and that he was really happy. And so I woke up feeling very relieved about the whole thing and then later that evening my mother called to let me know that they were checking out of the hospital and that he’d made a miraculous recovery.
The belief is an interesting take on why we dream. At some point, I feel like most people have sought to make sense of why exactly they dream. For many, it’s the idea that we as humans can predict the future. It’s instances like these in which the belief is reinforced in someone. While correlation does not equate to causation, there is technically no evidence that what took place was not an occurrence of precognition.
For another view on this belief see: Aristoteles, and J.I. Beare. On Divination in Sleep. InteLexÂ®.
An individual in Los Gatos, California describes her family’s experiences with astrology while living in India. According to my source, her family strictly believed in the folk belief of astrology. The practice involves determining a person’s future based on the alignment of the stars and planets. My source recounts a story that was passed down to her about her grandmother taking both her children to an astrologer to discover their future. The real intention of their visit was to get information on the oldest son. Instead, the astrologist only commented on the younger daughter. When confronted about not talking about the son, the astrologer refused to reveal anything about his future. He continued on about the daughter claiming she had a bright future and was going to move away to a far off land. The family left the astrologer. When the older son was 18, he passed away. The daughter later went on to move to America and eventually brought in the main source of income for their family.
My interview with my source, A, went as follows:
Me: Could you give me an example of a time when astrology was practiced in your family?
A: Hmm… So when my mother was like 8 or 9 maybe 10 years old–In India they believe in astrology, right–so her mother took her and her brother to an astrologer and she really specifically wanted to look at her older son’s astrology map. The astrologer would not look at the oldest son, only looked at my mom. He kept saying she was going to move to a far away country, and she was gonna help the family out and bringing everyone there and their mom kept saying, “No what about the oldest son what about the oldest,” and he would not talk about him. So she kinda just blew it off and said, “okay whatever” and went away. On a later date… my mom’s oldest brother died. He was around 18 or 19. My mother did end up coming to this country.
I’ve seen astrology be practiced quite a bit in America. In those instances, however, horoscopes and predictions came via a publication such as a magazine or a post on social media. I find it very interesting that in Indian culture, astrology is conveyed via someone who studies individuals rather than a broad prediction of everyone born on a certain date. The fact that there are experts who specifically practice this one on one during appointments gives a much more authentic feel to the predictions being made rather than finding one in a publication.
The informant, my friend, is a 20-year-old college student. All of the informant’s grandparents immigrated to the United States from South Korea, but both of her parents have lived in the United States their whole lives.
While we were in line to order at a local Chipotle restaurant, I asked the informant if any specific traditions or customs related to her South Korean heritage have stood out to her the most throughout her life. She hesitated for a moment, and at first failed to answer my question. A few minutes later, she began to describe a coming-of-age ceremony that was held for her as a baby.
“Traditionally in South Korea, when a baby makes it to 100 days it means that they’re going to live a long life. So at 100 days the baby’s family holds a ‘100 Day Party.’ The babies wear a traditional South Korean outfit and there is a whole feast for the family. During the ceremony there are a lot of different bowls, and each one contains something different like a dollar bill, different types of food, some thread, or a pencil. The baby is set in front of the bowls and whichever ones it puts its hands in are supposed to represent what type of life it will have. So if you choose the pencil you’re supposed to be intelligent, the dollar means you’ll be rich, and the thread means you’ll have a long life.”
This ceremony marks the point at which a South Korean family truly celebrates the life of their new child without hesitation or worries of health complications leading to a premature death. It seems to be a remnant of the lack of healthcare and prevalence of childhood mortality that existed across the globe several centuries ago, since in recent years child mortality rates in developed nations like South Korea and the United States have fallen drastically as a result of increasing knowledge in the health sciences as well as greater availability of medicine and healthcare services. I asked the informant if she remembered what was in the bowl that she picked on her 100 Day Party, but she did not. For the informant’s family, then, the party served more as a celebratory event than a true predictor of their child’s life trajectory, since her lack of knowledge with regards to the object that she picked had no bearing on the personal and career choices she has been allowed to make throughout her life. I also asked the informant if she plans to hold a 100 Day Party for her children, if she has any, and she responded that she does. It is realistic to say that this folk tradition will continue to exist for future generations, as it is a fun and exciting event that many would have no moral hesitation holding for their child.
Oh, Hafez from Shiraz, you are the keeper of all secrets. By the devotion that you have to your lover, I beseech you to answer my wish.
Hafez was a Persian poet, and his work has become extremely influential in Persian culture. Although it is authored work, his poems and sayings have become a part of the daily lives of Persian people, becoming almost like folklore. The ways in which his work is now used is particularly striking, and these uses have become folkloric in that they are ritualized and have become traditional. Many Persians will recite the Call to Hafez out loud, express a wish or desire, or even ask a question in their mind, and then open to a random page of poetry in the collection, Odes of Hafez. The performer will then read the poem and interpret its meaning, which they view as an answer or response to the desire or question they expressed. The informant made it very clear that this tradition has existed for several generations, as she remembers her father doing it with his friends when they lived in Iran. Furthermore, she made it very clear that this tradition cannot be distinguished by social or economic status either, and is a tradition practiced by all kinds of people. I found it particularly interesting when the informant insisted that I perform this tradition and ask Hafez a question. After asking a question and opening to a page, the informant became very excited and read the poem aloud, asking if it provided any insight into the question I asked. After stating that I was unsure, I revealed that I asked Hafez if I would be able to find employment after college. According to her analysis of the poem, my future is optimistic. Her excitement at not only performing this tradition herself, but also in sharing it with me, exemplified its role as a social activity, or game, that is fun and entertaining. It also exemplifies that people of all cultures have long tried to predict their futures and fortunes, often through astrology or entertaining traditions like this one.
Book of poems used: Odes of Hafiz: Poetical Horoscope (translated by Abbas Aryanpur Kashani)