USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘home’
Folk Beliefs
Signs

What Trees Not To Plant in Your Yard

Context:

The collector interviewed the informant for Chinese folklores. The informant is the mother of the collector. She lives in Shanghai. She learned some of the following folk beliefs about twenty years ago from a seller, when she was buying trees for a new house she bought. Another time she learned the superstition about peach tree because she saw her new neighbors cutting down a peach tree in their front yard and asked them why.

 

Main piece:

  • Peach tree

Peach trees should not be planted in front of the house.

The first reason is related to a Chinese folk speech: 桃花运 (In Pinyin: Táo Huā Yùn, Literally: Peach Flower Luck), which means good luck of encountering love relationships. If people in the family frequently see peach flowers as they step out the door, that might bring extramarital affairs to this family, which should be avoided.

Another reason is that in Chinese folklores, weapons or charms made of peach wood are used as tools in exorcism. So peach wood is considered to be related with evil things and people don’t want them to grow near their house.

 

  • Mulberry tree

Mulberry trees should not be planted in front of the house. The Chinese name for mulberry tree is 桑树 (In Pinyin: Sāng Shù, literally: Mulberry Tree) . Meanwhile, another character with the same pronunciation, 丧 (In Pinyin: Sāng), means funerals and mourning. Thus it is not a good sign to plant mulberry trees in front of one’s house.

 

  • Willow tree

Willow trees should not be planted in the back yard. Because willow trees do not bear fruits, willow trees in the back yard are believed to signify a family without offspring. Also, because willow trees often appear in Chinese grave yards (Collector’s note: which the informant doesn’t know why), they seem ominous.

 

 

Collector’s thoughts:

There are a lot of Chinese folk beliefs based on homophony or puns, probably because there are numerous Chinese characters with the same pronunciation. The belief about mulberry trees is a very good example. Chinese people also care a lot about arrangement, decoration and surroundings of their home.

Even though people do not necessarily believe in any cause-and-effect relation stated in these folk beliefs, they always think it’s better not to violate these taboos.

The folk belief about peach trees might count as a meta-folklore because it is derived from a folk speech and belief in magic.

Folk Beliefs

The Devil in your bed

Main Text:

“My Aunt always told me that if one of us in the house did not make our beds then the Devil would come and play in them. The only way to protect ourselves from the Devil was to make our beds before we left the house.”

 Context:

I collected this piece from a hispanic male whose family is Catholic. When I asked him why he remembered this piece and why he thinks he learned it from his family he told me that he remembers it because he used to have meltdowns when he would leave the house after forgetting to make his bed and that he also thinks that his Aunt only told them this as a way to get them to clean their rooms.

Analysis:

I agree with the informant’s explanation that the reason that his family was told to make their beds was not because the Devil would actually appear in an unmade bed but as a way for the children in the family to get in the habit of cleaning their rooms and making their beds. I think that one of the reasons this is passed down is as a way to teach children their manners as well as discipline and it is done in a folkloric way so that the kids will remember and abide by it.

Another explanation for why this folk belief has been told and continues to be shared by that family has to do with religion. Many western people’s religions all agree that there is a Devil and that the Devil is someone you meet in hell if you sin and do not repent for your sins. I think that this has a very strong affect on children who are just learning about religion and beginning to attend church because it equates their uncleanliness to sin and something that they have to repent for in order to protect themselves from finding the devil in your bed. Naturally, when a child gets in trouble for doing something that they are not supposed to be doing they try to apologize and find some way to not be punished. In this case, the punishment is coming face to face with the devil and the only way to avoid this is to make one’s bed- which is a pretty dark but effective way to make children more disciplined and clean.

I would also like to analyze this folk belief by seeing the choice of diction and how this would affect kids specifically and allow them to remember it. This folk belief  does not just say that the devil will appear in your bed but that the devil will play in your bed if you leave it unmade. The word choice here is directly targeted towards children to whom the notion and action of playing was natural ever since birth and that is what they are used to doing. When they hear the word play, I feel like they connect to it in a different way than an adult would because that is what they spend most of their childhood doing so it resonated with them in a different way.

Folk Beliefs

Bedroom Arrangement Superstitions

Main Text:

HS: “The foot of your bed can’t face the door because that brings bad luck.”

Context:

HS and I were in my apartment by ourselves rearranging by bedroom so that it allows for more space and when I tried to put the bed on the wall opposite the door she told me this belief that her grandma had always told her. I responded in a sense of disbelief because I thought she was joking because I have ever heard anything like that but she reassured me that she was being serious and that her grandma really used to tell her that. She believes it was just a weird preference that her grandma had and that there is not really anything else to it but she likes to pass it along just in case something were to happen to the person that she did not tell it to. After we finished rearranging the room ( I refrained from putting the foot of the bed facing the door just in case) I had to run and get a piece of paper so that I made sure to collect this belief exactly as I had heard it.

Analysis:

Although the informants grandma moved here from England in her mid-life years, many cultures actually share this same belief. The thing that make the most sense to analyze from this piece is the why the bed cannot be placed a certain way which begs the question that a different arrangement must be better. Because this folk belief focuses mainly on the arrangement of material object I feel that it is appropriate to start my analysis relating this piece to Feng shui. Feng Shui originated in China but many different people of different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs still believe in practicing Feng Shui. Feng shui claims to use energy forces in order to make people more in harmony with the surrounding object and surrounding environment and I think this folk belief has appeared because putting the foot of your bed facing the door is against the Feng Shui because that specific arrangement does not place your bed on a spot of good qi or energy. People and cultures who believe in Feng Shui I believe continue to pass along this folk belief as a way to get people in good energy with their surroundings and as a way to spread the belief of Feng Shui as well.

Another reason I believe that people have passed along the idea that putting the foot of the bed facing the door as being bad luck is a historical one. I have heard that when someone dies in a room, they are taken and passed room to room feet first. So in a way, by putting one’s bed oriented towards the way a corpses would be removed from a room instills bad luck upon that person and symbolized that they are going to die soon.

The last way to analyze this folk belief is that people who believe in spirits are those that pass along this belief. This is because it is also said that if you orient your feet towards the door while you are sleeping, then spirits will be able to drag you out of the room in this way. Although this is another folk belief explaining a folk belief, I think it is important to understand that this explanatory folk belief ties together a group of people who will be ready and willing to pass down the folk belief being studied. This group of individuals all share a common belief in ghosts and this common belief in ghosts and evil spirits is not what only ties them together as a specific group of people but also affects the lore that they tell to other people and their reasons for telling it. If they believe in bad spirits pulling people out of a room if given the right opportunity, then it is logical that they would tell others not to orient their bad in an opportunistic manner towards spirits as a way to protect them from the bad luck of being taken by one.

 

 

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

Crows and Witch’s Home Superstition in Mexico

“When somebody’s house has a lot of crows, we say that the woman of the house is a bruja. I know your Mom is not a bruja. *laughs* She has been very kind to me. When I was younger in Mexico, nobody would want crows near their house because they did not want to be a bruja.”

Context: This piece of Mexican superstition was collected in the home of the collector by a woman who has been working for the collectors family for over 12 years. The superstition or warning was brought up due to a crow infestation surrounding the collectors house for a number of weeks. The housekeeper (who will be named RM) speaks English poorly as her second language, and she uses the word “bruja” which is Spanish for witch.

Informant Analysis: She said that she first learned of this superstition growing up in Mexico City, Mexico from her friends and family. She cannot remember when she first learned it or who exactly told it to her, but she says this was a common superstition told around the time she was a teenager. Although she viewed the superstition as not true, she still had some fear of my mother being called a witch.

Collector Analysis: Although I also agree that crows surrounding a person’s home does not signify that the woman of the house is a witch, I do believe that the crux of this folklore is remembered because alienation from neighbors or one’s community is a real fear. This superstition seems to point out the alienation of a woman in particular, which perhaps has something to do with the women tending to take care of the home and family while the men left for work. The crow in itself seems like a common theme for witches in other folklore, and seeing as though the crow can be seen as a predator that eats dead animals, the fact that crows are nearby would signify death of some sort. Put together, my interpretation is that crows announce death, and the location of crows around a home perhaps would signify the woman of the house being evil and closely tied with death.

 

 

 

Customs
Foodways
Material

Food Preparation

Every time food is prepared, there are always a variety of spices available. The mexican-cuisine culture surrounds that taste. A common tradition of Juan is too have habaneros ready at hand for every meal. This has been a tradition between his dad, and grandpa, and so forth, mostly the males of the family, in which they would spice up their food to extraordinary levels. He says it comes as a way to show that food is fought for, and the spiciness not only adds taste, but also shows that the literal sweat and tears are needed to have food on the table.

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Juan is a Mexican-American from Mexico city. He works demolition, but is super into his religion of being a Jehovah Witness. He has been passing down his traditions to his kids, just how they were passed down to him by his dad and grandpa.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Hollywood Shuffle

The Main Piece
Nile has her own family tradition which she calls “doing the Hollywood Shuffle.” Whenever she has family coming into town her family would dedicate at least a couple hours to cleaning the house. It is their own code for doing chores and “making the house presentable to the average eye.” There are chores designated for certain people, they even had a chart made for different people to know what they were doing. Being that Nile’s family is considerably large, this tradition has been passed down for generations. Each child, depending on their age and what order they were in lineup (lineup being based on order of birth), would be designated a certain task. For instance, the youngest would do the dishes, the middle child would mop the floors, and the eldest would cook the meal for the night. As they got older they would also upgrade to different tasks, sometimes multiple tasks in one Shuffle. There would also be the task of learning how to perform the job well. As soon as you were of age the younger sibling may take over the elder one’s job. At that time they would begin “shadowing the older one.” Nile’s family tradition of the Hollywood Shuffle created an organized system to prepare for guests that seemed fair and made each person responsible for a certain task.
Background Information
My informant is Nile Jones, a current undergraduate and close friend of mine at USC. She comes from a large family, thus inspiring the necessity for a tradition such as the Hollywood Shuffle. Nile first started doing the Hollywood Shuffle at the age of five years old, but did not fully comprehend the system until she was in the eighth grade. Her mother was the one who first instilled this tradition in her, although it was instilled unwillingly, she obeyed under her mother’s command. Now, she has a newfound respect for the system as she understands the necessity to clean the house at least under the occasion that there are expected guests. She plans to follow the tradition and instill it in her children as well.
Context
Nile told me about this tradition as we were preparing dinner at her place. She was reminiscing about all the chores she would have to do and how she hated having to “shadow” her older brother and sister.
Personal Thoughts
I enjoyed hearing about how larger families work. I came from a small household with only one brother so it was interesting to hear about the various chores and lifestyle Nile lead. I never would have thought of such an organized system, but I suppose it is necessary when one has such a big family. I was glad to hear her plans to keep the tradition alive as it represents not only her past experiences under the practice, but also instills it in her children.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Phallic Symbolism on Homes in Pompeii

The informant, a 66-year-old American woman (my grandmother), has frequently traveled to Italy for the past several decades. During a celebration for my mother’s birthday, I pulled my grandmother aside and asked her if any particular Italian traditions or beliefs have stood out to her over the course of her travels, and she laughed.

“Oh my, you’re in for a treat. In Pompeii, the buildings were preserved in ash. After they had been dug out, many of the doors had carvings over them that were perfectly preserved. On more than one house, large penises are carved on the door. This would signify that it was a fertile home and would help whoever lived there to continue to have children and ensure success for a family. I’ve also heard that it was a way of bragging. Hey, if I had a large penis to brag about I’d probably do the same thing.”

Since these carvings would have been made in a pre-Christian era, they preceded the more familiar carving of a fish over one’s door, which Christians would use as a symbol to signify that their home was a safe place of worship. It is interesting to consider that in the cultural context of Pompeii thousands of years ago, representations of basic human anatomy were appropriate for placement in the extremely intimate barrier to one’s home–at the liminal divide between public and private. In America today, it goes without saying that a homeowner’s association would be less than pleased at the sight of a penis carved on someone’s porch. Perhaps this change has arisen because in the contemporary United States we no longer view having a fertile home and being able to sustain a family as an extraordinary accomplishment worth bragging about, instead we see it as something rather ordinary, but thousands of years ago during the Roman period it may have been looked upon as much more of an accomplishment worth bragging about to be able to provide for one’s family and maintain a fertile home.

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