USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘gods’
Myths

Egyptian Myth

The following was recorded from a conversation I had with a friend marked EAL. I am marked CS. She shared with me a religious myth she grew up learning in school.

 

EAL: “So basically like this is one of the Egyptian myths out there and one of the most influential. So Osiris he was like a god and the king of Egypt. And his…um, brother Set, who is the god of chaos basically, imprisons him in a sarcophagus and so like Set takes the throne. And…um, Osiris’ wife Isis still has their son whose name his Horus. And basically she like protects him because he’s vulnerable or whatever. And once Horus grows up to where he’s strong enough, he fights Set and tries to take the throne back for his family and resurrect Osiris.

CS: “Does he do it?”

EAL: “Yeah so he defeats Set and Osiris becomes the king of the afterlife and restores ma’t (the order of the universe).”

CS: “How did you learn this story?”

EAL: “I read a book called the Red Pyramid Chronicles. And I also learned a lot of it through my art history class because it features a lot of Egyptian art.”

 

Background:

The participant is a freshman at the University of Southern California and was raised in Chicago, Illinois with a strong Christian religious background. Her mom introduced her to mythology, mostly Greek and Egyptian, at a very young age.

Context:

An in person conversation that was recorded while walking to an event.

 

Analysis:

I found this myth to be interesting because she has learned the story in two completely different facets of knowledge: a young adult series and an art history class. The idea that both referenced this Egyptian myth at some point in time really reflects the idea that folklore travels into all fields and this is an agreeable reason why it is always subject to variation.

Customs
general
Legends
Narrative

“It’s A Promesa”

The informant’s family originated in Cuba. Her mother was born and raised in Cuba but her father was born and raised in America. Her Cuban culture and background comes from her mother’s side and folklore that her mom picked up over the years and shared with her. The folklore from this informant comes from family stories that are shared amongst the family as lessons or as advice. 

Its a Promesa” 

The informant…

“My Abuela Nina had strange rituals that she would perform. Abuela Nina was involved with the Santeras who have beliefs that if they do different promesas then they would be given something by the Gods. Abuela Nina bagan to pull her eyelashes out at some point in her life and wouldn’t give an explanation to anyone as to why she was doing it except for “it’s a promesa”. She finally revealed that the Santeras taught her that if she never let her eyelashes grow back the Gods would do something in her favor. Abuela Nina also practiced other Santera traditions referred to as promesas as well. As her sons grew, she kept all of their hair, nail clippings, and teeth in jars. She would only give the answer “its a promesa” when asked why, but it is believed among the santeras that is someone were to get a hold of those things they could create voodoo on that person, so it was safer to keep them hidden in a jar.”

When I asked the informant what the Santeras specifically were she described them to me as witch doctors. They have strange voodoo, magic, are connected to the Gods in some way, and other traditions they practice they believe to work. I also asked her what a promesa is. She said that a promesa is translated as a promise, but to the Santeras it is a promise to the Gods or like a thing that you do for the gods. The informant also added that her Abuela Nina is said to be so weird or strange.

Analysis…

When the informant told me this stuff about her abuela Nina, I didn’t know how to respond. It was so different than anything I have heard before. The closest thing to a witch doctor that I have ever seen has been on the discovery channel so to hear about it face to face with someone who’s family knows a lot about it was interesting. Similarly to witch doctors, the closest form of voodoo magic I had ever heard about has been on movies. Hearing about Abuela Nina has expanded my cultural perspective and awareness. I think it is interesting that the informant has that in her culture and I was given the opportunity to be able to hear about it.

Myths
Narrative

Hindu Myth: How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head

Contextual Data: My family isn’t particularly religious, but my parents both grew up in India and they were raised in Hindu households, and so, over Spring Break, I asked my mother if there were any Hindu myths that she remembered particularly well—if there was one she wouldn’t mind recounting for me. The following is an exact transcript of a myth she told me about how Ganesh, the well-known elephant God, got his elephant head.

“So Shiva is the destroyer, right? So he was supposed to have a temper… or flare-ups or whatever. So Ganesh is Shiva’s son. So Shiva went away to the mountains—Shiva’s wife is called Parvati. So, and their son is Ganesh. The elephant god that everybody’s house you see in. So when Shiva went away to the forest for whatever — I don’t know what reason, but he was away for a while, and then when he came home, Ganesh was a little kid, so they — living in the mountains in the Himalayas or whatever. So Ganesh was playing at the entrance of the cave, and he didn’t recognize his father, because he must have gone away — he was a little kid and he must have gone away for a certain period of time or something. So when he came back, he wouldn’t let him enter the cave. He’s saying, ‘Who are you?’ And, you know, ‘You can’t come in,’ and that kind of thing. So apparently Shiva got angry at him. Like, ‘Who are you to tell me not to come into my own house?’ kind of… And in his anger he’s supposed to have chopped away the kid’s head [Mimes cutting across the throat]. And when the wife hears the commotion and comes out and says, ‘What have you done? This was our son.’ You know… So then to bring him back to life, he cuts a head off the nearest thing he finds, which is an elephant—cuts off his head and puts it on Ganesh’s he—this thing [Gestures to neck].”

- End Transcript – 

When I asked my informant about the significance of this, she said that it related to ideas of Ganesh as the “god of obstacles”—that he’s the figure in the Hindu religion that’s traditionally thought of as either introducing or removing obstacles from an individual’s life and from a family’s home. Many family’s hang up pictures of Ganesh as a way of honoring him and respecting these obstacles that he’ll either introduce or remove from the home. It also may speak to the perceived relationship of the son to the household—that when the father is away, he is meant to protect the household and act as a protector to his mother.

When I asked my informant where she first heard this story, she mentioned that it was just something she kind of grew up with—it was everywhere. In India, these types of myths were often rendered in comic books, so she may have first either encountered it in one of these books, or heard it from her parents. For the most part, she says there’s little, if any, variation in this story. In general though, the myth is one that people in India tend to know really well because Ganesh is so meaningful to them and because the Hinduism is an important part of the culture in many regions of the country.

Myths
Narrative

Origin of Chinese New Year

Click here for video.

“So the background story for Chinese new year is usually told to all Asian American children. Basically there was a monster called ‘Nian’ which means ‘year’ and he would prey on the villagers and eat small children and so he came every year basically. The old wise man in the village said that if everyone in the village made a lot of noise it would scare Nian away. And Nian was also apparently afraid of the color red. So that’s why every year on Chinese New Year Chinese people celebrate with a lot of firecrackers because they are very very noisy and their favorite color to string up on houses is the color red.”

In many other tellings (told to me in my youth by Chinese teachers and parents) of this piece of folklore, the monster is called the “Nianguai” most literally meaning “year monster”. Additionally, the old wise man is not a villager, but a passing god thanking the villagers for their hospitality. There are often more details about how the passing god is treated by the villagers and the sorts of celebrations that go on with the banishment of the Nianguai, but the purpose of the story stays the same: the narrative explains why Chinese people celebrate the lunar new year using copious amounts of red decorations and firecrackers.

Firecrackers and all manner of fireworks are lit during Chinese New Year because they have the elements of cleansing fire while being ostentatious and festive. Red adds to the boldness of New Year celebrations as its the most visible color. Additionally, we might place significance in the color red because it is the color our our blood. Blood gives us life, but when its visible, we are hurt or dying. Due to this association, it is fitting for the celebration of a New Year. In a New Year’s celebration, we celebrate the death of an old year and the birth of a New Year.

See:
Yuan, Haiwang. The magic lotus lantern and other tales from the Han Chinese. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited, 2006. Print. 168-169

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