USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘god’
Narrative

Panchatantra = Indian comic book

Main piece:

“Panchatantra is a folktale comic book for kids created to teach morals and important life lessons. In one of the stories, there is a god/deity, who is disguised as a poor female street beggar. She goes to a rich family household and asks for food and money. They say no, so then she moves on to the village and goes to a poor couple’s house. The couple has like no food or anything but she asks for food and water. They give her one roti (which is like tortilla/bread) and water even though they had none for themselves. So then when the rich family and poor couple wake up, their lives are switched.

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

Informant said she got her Panchatantra from her aunt on her 4th birthday as a gift but it was very common and every kid owned it. Informant said that the story shows that no matter how much you have- a lot or a little- you should share with people. It teaches people to not be selfish and greedy.

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

It is read by kids as a comic book in India.

Personal Analysis:

The Panchatantra is like Aesop’s fables. It is a good way to combine something fun and educational. It is not education in a literal or academic sense, but it is one way that India teaches kids how to be generous. It shows the values of the nation that cares about giving rather than receiving.

general
Myths

Creation Myth of the Shiva Linga

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a Hindu creation myth to me (AK). This myth is somewhat taboo, and for obvious reasons is not really brought up much in Indian society due to its graphic depictions of sex.

KM: Shivji used to walk around naked, but he had this problem where he couldn’t finish. He was having a lot of sex, but he could never finish. Priests were getting annoyed cause their wives kept leaving them to have sex with Shivji. But this was a recurring thing and this became so bad that the ground was breaking apart. But the world was going haywire because Shiv would just not finish. So finally, he found Parvathi, and the two of them had sex and he finally finished. So the world became a better place and this was memorialized in the form of the Shiva Linga. So the Shiva Linga became a thing that goes through the Yoni, which means vagina. And that’s how the Shiva Linga was created and became such a big moorthi which is worshiped.

AK: Good story haha, so why do you like this story?

KM: I think it’s interesting because it makes Hinduism look realer and more sexual in a sense. And uhh.. it’s taboo not everyone talks about it.

AK: So people don’t talk about this freely?

KM: No one talks about this freely. People don’t teach their children this story. People know the linga is a penis but don’t know why. Everyone worships penises but since it’s taboo no one wants to say anything about it.

AK: So then why was this story even written?

KM: I mean it’s real. I can’t say why it was written. The real question is why was this monument of a penis created. So I searched it up and I found this story on my own. In fact, people even pour milk on it as if to show him finishing.

AK: Why is this important then?

KM: I think it’s a big part of Indian history. With the Kama Sutra and all, it’s a remnant of how liberated India used to be in contrast to how it is now.

Initially, I was shocked to have heard this story. I have seen the shiva linga monument before, but I never really knew the story behind it. In retrospect, it is easy to see its relation to a phallus, but I am shocked that this came out of Hinduism. Through this piece, I learned that at one time, India was a very sexually liberated society; however, over time, it became more and more conservative. As KM mentioned, this creation myth is very taboo and not really passed on by parents.

general
Myths

Birth of Ganesh

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a very common Indian folktale to me (AK).

KM: Shivji and Parvati are married. Shivji is the God of destruction and one of the top 3 gods of Hinduism. Parvati is a big goddess and she’s an embodiment of the Indian God Devi. Parvati is showering and she wanted to be protected while she was in the shower, so she used the dirt of her skin to make Ganesh. And Gan, these men, are like little minion kind of looking things that stand outside the door, so Ganesh was standing outside the door. Then Shivji came, and it’s not really sure why and Shivji got really pissed and out of anger he cut Ganesh’s head off. Parvati got pissed, and she threatened to — like tear the world apart if Shiv doesn’t fix the situation. So Shivji went and decided to cut the head off the first thing he saw which was an elephant, and he placed it on the Gan’s head.

For reference (Ganesh):

Ganesh

AK: Woah… that’s a crazy story, anything else you wanted to add?

KM: Yeah, actually what’s controversial about this story is that the idea of her taking the dirt off her skin was the product of adulteration, or it wasn’t Shiv’s child which was why he was so pissed.

AK: Cool, similar questions again, where did you hear this story from?

KM: I heard this from multiple people, my grandma, mom, dad, and I’ve read about it.

AK: What does it mean to you?

KM: I like this story because it shows people as flawed, even Gods.

I personally enjoyed this story because I was very well acquainted with the God Ganesh, but I never knew his creation myth. For this reason, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece because I learned something very relevant to my own life. Obviously, I could have just researched his creation on my own, but it was very nice to hear the story verbally.

general

One True God

“The one true god, Nicolas Cage. His light guides us away from the temptation of John Travolta, and saves us from our bees. His known prophets are Stephen King, who controls the mind, and M. Night Shyamalan, whose endings are always unforeseen. Follow their instructions, and you may achieve Mitt Romney, a state of eternal salvation and peace. He is a sworn enemy of Xenu and his minion Obama, and fights against the aliens with the help of the FSM, commander of pirates.”

 

This piece of cyberlore/jokelore is essentially the creed of those who worship actor Nicolas Cage as the “one true god.” This form of praise for Cage is entirely sarcastic, and it has been extremely popular on the internet because of Cage’s notoriously bad acting. It’s not clear why Nic Cage was chosen to be the subject of this faux-worship, but it seems to just have caught on and stuck for years, and it is pretty hilarious for some reason. I’ve been aware of the one true god for a while via my frequenting of the website Reddit, whose users have a particular penchant for Cage.

 

Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Myths
Narrative
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Feminist Interpretation of Adam and Eve

The informant and I live in the same residence hall, and for this folklore collection, we got pizzas together and just sat down and ate them in my room while talking and sharing stories.


“Women are equal to men, because when God made Eve, he took a part of Adam’s rib. If He had taken a part of Adam’s head to make her, that would have meant that she is above him, because she cam from the highest point of the body. If He had taken a part from Adam’s leg or his foot, that would have meant that she was below him, because she came from a lower part of the body. Since God had taken from the rib, that makes them of equal status since the ribcage is sort of a midway point of the body.”

Background & Analysis

The informant’s parents are from Indonesia, however the informant herself was born in the U.S., but is fluent in both Indonesian and English. The informant’s mom grew up Christian and went to a Catholic, all girls school. Nowhere in the actual bible does it mention this interpretation of Adam giving rise to Eve. When I asked whether the informant thinks that Indonesia has more gender equality, she said no, however in this particular scenario, since her mom had grown up in an all-girl’s school, they were more likely to learn variations on Bible scriptures that undermined the original intent of the Bible.

This particular interpretation of a very well known story, gives me a bit of hope for the future. Obviously gender inequality has gone down over the past years, however with popular culture and strict interpretations of the bible, our society will never make it to the desired endpoint. With folklore coming into play however, I see a trapdoor opening up.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Signs

Don’t Step on Books/Paper

The superstition: “If you step on a book or piece of paper, then you have to touch it to your forehead because otherwise it’s disrespectful. It’s because books are like instruments of learning which is next to God and practically sacred so to put it to your feet shows disrespect so you put it to your forehead, which is a sign of respect, to counteract that.”

The informant is Indian American. Her parents are both from India, but she was born in California. She’s not very religious, but she considers herself culturally Indian. She grew up hearing this superstition from her parents, so she has always followed it.The gesture of putting to your forehead to negate it seems similar to another Indian superstition, that people can’t step over you, and they have to reverse their step to negate it. Although the informant isn’t religious, she still follows this religious superstition, since she is still rooted in Indian culture. I imagine education is very important in India and in Hinduism, since learning instruments can be likened to God, and sacred. Both of the informant’s parents are doctors, and she herself is studying engineering and computer science, does a lot of research, and tutors children; so I think it’s fair to say that she takes education very seriously herself. This may also be another reason she follows this superstition.

Childhood
Game

Mafia

A group of people sit in a circle and close their eyes.  Someone is selected to play God.  God is the narrator of the game, and always someone who has played the game before.  God walks around the circle two times.  The first time he walks around he selects who will be the mafia by tapping a player once on the shoulder.  The second time around he selects the angel by tapping that person twice on the shoulder.

God then says “Mafia wake up?”  The mafia then chooses who they would like to kill by pointing at them. God then says “mafia go back to sleep”.  Then God tells the angel to wake up and asks “Angel who they would like to save”.  The angel can save anyone in the circle including themselves by pointing at them.  God then tells the angel to go back to sleep and the townspeople, which consists of everyone, including the mafia and the angel, to wake up.  God then tells a fictionalized version of the nights “events” where someone was murdered.  The person who was murdered is now out and no longer has to go to sleep when God tells the rest of the townsfolk to, so they learn who the mafia is, but must keep this information a secret.

If the angel chose to save the same person the mafia chose to kill, God will add on a twist ending where the person does not die.  God then narrates a town summit where the townspeople meet to arrest who they believe to be the mafia.  Everyone accuses who they believe to be the culprit and the town takes a vote.  After the vote the person who the town believes to be the mafia “put to death” in a narrative told by God and the townspeople are told to go back to sleep.

The game then repeats from the beginning with God telling the mafia to wake up, then the angel, then the townsfolk.  If the townspeople chose the actual mafia, no one is dead in the morning and the game is over, but if they chose the wrong mafia, another person dies and they rehold the town summit.  The game repeats until the true mafia has been put to death.

My friend used to play the game when she was in high school and they had substitute teachers but it was also a staple game at camps and in any large groups.  The target age are generally adolescents as the subject matter is much darker than other children’s games.

The game is very different from most other folklore that deals with mystery and death in that it turns the sinister topic into a game and makes it fun.  A town plagued by the mafia is not a light subject matter but in the contact of this game if becomes something fun.

Folk Beliefs
Protection
Signs

Good Luck Candles

The informant is a 23-year-old undergraduate at the University of Southern California. She moved a lot when she was younger, but spent her high school years but spent her high school years in Colorado, and still returns there to visit her dad on occasion. Her family is Mexican (though only partially) and Catholic, but her grandmother is Spanish (though her family has been in America for several centuries) and is a lot more Catholic than the rest of her family. I asked the informant about anything related to luck and she told me about the closet of candles her grandmother has.

Her grandmother has a closet full of the “Mexican candles” that are unscented candles in tall glass jars that usually have some sort of religious figure, like Jesus or a saint, printed on the outside. (These are also called “novena candles”). The informant says that she cannot remember a time where her grandmother did not have these candles. Her grandmother would keep at least one lit at all times, even when the grandmother is out of the house and, as the informant put it, “created a fire hazard.” Though the informant and other members of her generation (siblings, cousins, etc.) would tease the grandmother for being so obsessive over these candles, they would help her make sure that one was lit when they were around her house. Her grandmother believes that if she keeps these candles lit, it signals God to watch over her family.
There was one instance where the informant and her cousins decided to blow the candle out as a joke. Her grandmother did not find this entertaining, and was very upset that the candle that she thought was connected to God had been blown out, meaning God was no longer looking over her family. Shortly after the candle was blown out, the informant’s grandfather called  and explained that on their way to Idaho, their car had almost flipped and crashed, which had been, unbeknownst to him, the time period that the candle had been blown out. This reinforced the grandmother’s belief that the candles actually did something, and the children were discouraged from blowing out the candles ever again.

The candles physically symbolize the connection to God that is sometimes not easily felt. By using the flame of a candle to signify this connection, a simple glance at the candle can reaffirm the connection if the feeling itself is not there. This can also show the connection to others without having to actively discuss it.

general
Magic
Myths

Sleep Paralysis and Devils

Sleep Paralysis

The Informant:

My friend, was born in Diamond Bar, CA. He is the son of a pastor whose church is in Diamond Bar. He lives with his parents and three younger siblings, a sister and two brothers. His father is Chinese and his mother is Korean.

The Story:

The first time that this happened to me was when I was either a sophomore or a junior in high school. I was lying on my bed, obviously in the middle of my sleep, when all of a sudden I realized I couldn’t move. I couldn’t move my body, I couldn’t scream, there was no air in my lungs. I tried to scream but couldn’t and I started to freak out. All of a sudden… I felt super cold, from top, my head, down, to my feet. I don’t remember if I was outside the blankets or inside but regardless I felt the wind. Suddenly I felt a heavy weight on my chest, as if something was sitting on it, and a shadow on top of me. I don’t really remember what happened after that. All of these instances blur together after a while. This was the first time it happened. After that it happened on a weekly basis for at least a year. There are times when I know it’s coming. You just feel like you’re getting really tired, or sometimes you can just sense something is off, as if there’s something in your room with you. I’ve never seen anything in my room though, and it always happens at night. There’s nothing I could do except wait for it to pass… and I’m always alone when this happens.

The Analysis:

This is a different occurrence of the scissor lock that my other friend experienced. We talked about this in his room, and a couple other friends were present. As he continued to tell his story, our other friends slowly became quiet, and then silent. The way Trevor spoke was genuine and even though such an occurrence would be questionable, there was no doubt in his voice that this was true. In Trevor’s instance, this happens on a semi-regular basis, with the last one occurring a couple months ago. Before that, it happened once a week or once every other week. There is no basis for why he goes through the scissor lock so often, but his actions showed that he doesn’t get used to it, even though it’s happened numerous times. It is creepy that this has happened so many times that they all seem to blur into one for him. One aspect that was interesting is that he is a pastor’s kid. This was one difference I noticed between him and my other informant on this same topic – it is probable that his stronger faith or adherence to Christianity has an affect on these continual occurrences. Whether it is due to faith or not, I wondered if it was the devil’s doing, and led me to question the existence of the devil and it’s many forms.

 

Researchers have attempted to examine the causes of the scissor lock, dubbing it generally as sleep paralysis: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FB%3ADREM.0000005896.68083.ae

A different version of sleep paralysis from someone not religious can be found at: http://kerryonian.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/the-experience/

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Lightning Is the Devil Getting Whipped

Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major.  He is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.  His family is from Sudan and they are Muslim.  Both he and his twin brother were educated in international schools.  He speaks Arabic and English.

 

Context: I was talking with the informant about traditions and rituals his family has.

 

Item: “Any time there is thunder during a lightning storm, every time you see a lightning crack it is the Devil getting whipped.  I don’t know why that is or where it came from, it’s more a, ‘don’t get scared by lightning, it’s just the Devil getting whipped’ kind of thing’.  My mother is the one who always says it”.

 

Analysis: This is an instance of people assigning meaning to a physical phenomena that they cannot explain.  It makes sense that an older figure (the mother) is the one who says this, as it is meant to comfort the children by using familiar (and acceptable) imagery.  It also allows people to feel a sense of connection and intimacy with God, as, lightning is a common and natural phenomena and for God to appear that many times implies he is watching over everyone.

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