Tag Archives: iranian

Persian Tale of The Chick and the Kitten

The tale of the chick and the kitten told verbatim by informant:

“My mother and my grandfather told me this as a child and still remind me of it sometimes in Farsi, but I don’t know how exactly how to tell it. It’s a story about this baby chick and its mother hen and the baby chick always asks, ‘Why can’t I go play with that baby kitten over there?’ and the mom always tells it, ‘Don’t go playing with that kitten, don’t go play with the cats,’ doesn’t really explain why but she’s lecturing her chick and the chick goes against her wishes and plays with the cat and gets eaten. So the moral of the story is don’t go and associate with people or mix with people who are your opposites… because they can change you they can get you in a vulnerable environment, like you’re not familiar with, like they can destroy you and they can be bad influences on you and take advantage of you and basically corrupt you as a person.”

I think this märchen is another instance where the authoritative nature of parents towards their children come into play within the Persian culture. There is question from the chick without explanation from mother hen, which is no uncommon to parenting, but since the chick still doesn’t listen and gets eaten (fairly scary for a child) there’s the implication that you shouldn’t every question your parents but simply obey—for your own good. That at 22 years old my informant is still reminded of the lesson from this tale is fascinating because she is first generation American. Since she is in the melting pot of America, surrounding by people who are different in her in so many ways, she needs to be that much more careful with who she surrounds herself with. Though I don’t believe the chick and the kitten are opposed in any formal way, the cat can be understood as a natural predator in most respects. The chick is not just killed, but eaten, which is a whole other level of destruction, or corruption as my informant suggests. Either way the notion of the Other is clearly established and made out to be something to be cautious with, but seemingly avoided all together (if taken more literally).

Esfand and Sage Burning: Persian Cleansing

Esfand and sage burning practices in Persian culture cleanse houses, bodies, and objects that may be occupied by evil spirits, spirits of the dead, or may be afflicted by the evil eye.

Described verbatim by informant:

“Esfand is basically these dried herbs that, every Persian household has them. And say um a lot of bad things have been happening like your car broke down, you got a bad grade, your boyfriend broke up with you, someone died, you know, so people feel like it’s obviously like it’s evil spirits literally are around your house and around your car and they’re around you so when you burn the esfand you walk around and its smells horrible and you walk around and you just you do it over everyone’s head you do it over even like around your pets head you do it around your car um everything you um walk through the room cuz you’re killing things by burning the esfand cuz it smells so bad and that like gives it’s like a cleansing to get rid of the bad spirits that are causing the bad things. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be evil spirits it can just be like people evil eyeing you and wanting bad things to happen to you. Negative Vibes.

Sage is kind of a similar process it’s just to clean whatever was in the house previously to be gone, it’s a fresh start, cuz you don’t know what happened someone could’ve died in that house, you know? Crazy things. So if you want a fresh start in a new home you can do that.”

Esfand to my knowledge is unique to Persian culture and this cleansing ritual. Ritual burning of herbs is common to many cultures, especially burning with sage. The idea of smoking out spaces and people for purification is something I know to be relevant to a lot of Native American tribes, Mesoamerican cultures, Aboriginal tribes, and countless others around the world. Though smoke is considered polluting and dangerous to many people, burning and beginning anew is a process found in nature, ie wildfires. This has since been observed by humans and emulated in swidden or slash-and-burn agriculture across the globe. Perhaps there is some root to the notion of burning and cleansing there, though that connection seems unlikely in the context of the Middle East, unless the practice of burning herbs was learned or brought in by some other influence (perhaps by trade ie along the Silk Road). This theory is purely speculative, though, as ritual burning could have begun in the Middle East or spontaneously come about for all I know.

I later got an email from my informant saying she wasn’t sure if she explained esfand and it’s relation to the evil eye well enough so she sent me a link to a website that she felt explained it well:

Esfand & The Evil Eye

“After a lot of laughing always comes some crying.”

A Persian saying described verbatim by informant:

“I can’t remember the Persian translation of it but in English its becomes like ‘After a lot of laughing always comes crying.’ They would say that to me when I was a kid. Say I was like laughing a lot at a joke cuz in the culture you’re supposed to be like very modest conservative, like kids are supposed to be quiet I had a really loud personality so if a kid was every misbehaving and being really hyper and laughing they’re like ‘Okay your laughing your laughing your laughing’ but soon like you’re gonna get smacked in the face and you’ll start crying cuz you’re being obnoxious. And that’s a thing they always say to little kids. My parents definitely said that to me, all the time. I would definitely say it to my cousins, I would say it to my cousins, but I would joke I wouldn’t actually like smack them but its like after a lot of laughing be prepared to experience the opposite of that.”

I find it interesting that my informant has turned this oppressive proverb into a joke she can share between her cousins, who are also first generation Iranian-American. The Persian culture from her description basically suppresses joy in the name of obedience and conservatism, which in her personal experience has been one of the biggest points of contention with her Iranian parents. The fact that this is a commonly said to children points to subjugation and authority which is core to the clan and family dominated culture. By turning the proverb on its head and saying it to her grown cousins in a joking manner she can softly criticize the strictness she struggles with.

Ritual— Iran

The practice as described by Tara:  “If you feel like the evil eye is near you, you burn this weed called esfand (laughs).  It’s different in other parts of Iran but my mom’s Turkish so she has to say this prayer thing in Turkish.  And you let the smell of the weed take over the house, and it kills the evil eye.”

Tara said she learned this tradition from her mother, who burns esfand often.  She said that most people she knows do this in Iran on important occasions like on the date that their children are being circumcised or if their children are sick.  However, her mother does it for more common occasions.  For instance, if someone gives Tara or her mother a lot of compliments, they burn the weed because it seems like someone is really interested in them and they might be getting jinxed.  Tara’s family moved from Iran to the United States almost ten years ago, but they still perform this ritual in their house in Los Angeles.

Tara said that she doesn’t understand the practice exactly but she likes to burn the weed because it smells really good.  She also said that people probably do this because it’s a tradition and gives you a true sense of comfort.  She said that she does believe in the evil eye even though she knows it’s illogical.  She says it might sound stupid to other people (this is why she laughed in embarrassment while explaining the tradition, which she did in a room filled with Americans uninformed about the evil eye), but she still likes burning esfand because it makes her feel good.

Tara’s analysis seems accurate.  Even though many people believe that the evil eye couldn’t logically exist, they still fear its power because they grew up learning about it.  The evil eye is a common fear among many nations and groups of people, so this seems like yet another way to prevent it from causing harm.  Superstitions like this one have been a part of Tara’s life since she was growing up, so the practice of burning esfand provides a consistent sense of comfort.