USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘luck’
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Get on the plane with your right foot: travel superstition

Context:
AW sits with her daughter preparing for the second night of her Passover Seder, the room is bustling with activity as people get food prepared for AW’s many relatives. AW’s Daughter chimes in every so often to ask questions
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Performance:

M: You have a very particular travel superstition is that true?

AW: Yes, I have more than one, but yes

M: could you elaborate

AW: Ever since I got on the plane since I was a little girl my mother would remind us to start every new venture, not just the airplane…the first day of school, when I walked down the aisle…

[AW gets absorbed back into seat planning for the seder]

MW: Ohhh that’s why you tell me to do it on test days

AW: Exactly, every time you start something new you do it with your right foot, it’s good luck.

AW: The first time anyone in the history of our family did it, my grandmother got onto the ship that took her to America, she did it with her right foot and my mother reminded me, so I remind you.
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Meaning to the informant: AW: First of all it reminds me of my recently departed mother, and it’s kind of a talisman, like a rabbit’s foot. It can be a bit of a ritual. I’ve done it as long as I can remember.
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Analysis: The association between the right foot and luck is well documented and speaks to a general insecurity regarding new ventures. As one crosses a threshold into a new space, as AW did when she walked down the aisle, or any time she boards an aircraft. This step ensures that transition happens smoothly. Other examples of this can be throughout the archive as seen [here] and reflect an overarching anxiety about the unknown. In addition to providing luck the action adds a familiar element to an unfamiliar circumstance, a location with which the actor can situate themselves to provide comfort when encountering something new. For another example of travel superstition surrounding the right foot see Southbound (Paniker 174) a journal of Indian Literature

Paniker, Ayyappa, and Chitra Panikkar. “SOUTHBOUND.” Indian Literature, vol. 39, no. 4 (174), 1996, pp. 127–156. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23336198.

Legends

The Albino Squirrel

Text: RB: So, squirrels are kind of famous on the UT campus because they try to get as close to you as possible, they will eat out of your hands, and stop in front of cars and dare people to run them over. Basically they are so used to people that they’ve gone crazy. But there is one albino squirrel, the only one in all of UT. And if you see the albino squirrel right before you take a test, you’re gonna get 100% on that test. Or if you see it right before finals week, you’ll pass all your finals.

AT: Have you ever seen this squirrel?

RB: I’ve never seen the squirrel. It’s really sad.

Context: RB is a freshman at the University of Texas studying aerospace engineering. During orientation, she heard a lot of folklore about the campus, including the piece above. The stories told to her at orientation continue to be confirmed and retold during interactions with current students. The interaction above took place in a living room while we were both home for spring break from our respective universities, swapping campus legends.

Interpretation: This legend is interesting because is encompasses a lot of possible distinctions that exist when examining legends. For one, the albino squirrel itself is a legendary creature that serves as an omen of good fortune and engages with themes of luck. Also, the legend described above can be categorized as a local legend, for it is situated in one spot; the University of Texas at Austin’s campus. Additionally, though the legend is still a legend in that its truth value remains questionable, (the effectiveness of said squirrel sighting can not be confirmed by the informant) the existence of an albino squirrel in a place famous for the propagation of squirrels does not seem too far-fetched.

I also find it interesting that the folk beliefs associated with this legend/legendary creature correlate so strongly with things related to specifically college campuses such as good grades and squirrels. UT serves as the perfect breeding ground for this legend, regardless of whether or not if it is backed up by actual sightings. It would be very easy to believe. Lastly, the use of magic is often employed in situations where people feel a lack of control. The fact that merely laying eyes of this squirrel will magically gift you with an A+ seems fitting in situations that involve test taking, where students often experience the sensation of a lack of control over their future.

Customs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Driving on Eggshells

Context: Following a conversation I was having with my father about warding off the evil eye, I asked him about another ritual we often performed – specifically, whenever one of our family members got a new car. 

 

Background: Persian culture often uses different foods, herbs, or spices as symbols. The egg often represents fertility, rebirth, or something new. In this case, the egg is used to celebrate the new while simultaneously keeping away the evil eye for that new endeavor. This ritual is a different way of warding off the evil eye, practiced in instances of large purchases.

 

Main Piece: “Persians are very superstitious and sensitive when they talk about anything very good happening or having something expensive. They are nervous about other people judging them or cursing them. So any time one of you gets a new car, I take out the eggs and I start drawing the circles. The circles are supposed to represent an eye, or the evil eye I guess. I think in my head to myself of anybody I can think of off the top of my head that would look at us with a negative energy because of our purchase. I draw as many as I can in place of those people, and say their names while I draw the circles and say a prayer that the new car won’t bring a bad fortune. After I finish drawings, I put the eggs in a paper bag and I usually have you drive to a different street from our house, put the eggs in front of the wheels of the car, and tell you guys to drive over it. It sounds a little silly. But the idea is that you shatter any possible evil eyes that would come your way for getting this car. It’s for precaution, just to ensure protection and good luck.”

 

Analysis: The notion of the evil eye is particularly sensitive for the Persian community. Persians have a number of different rituals that they perform to ward it off depending on the circumstance and situation. This one in particular ties to significant purchases. Some others are burning sage, hanging an evil eye charm in the vehicle, or keeping prayer books within the car.

 

Initiations
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Greek Wedding Ritual

Context: My informant – identified as N.D. – and I were on a FaceTime call. She is of Greek and Peruvian decent, and goes to school in Manhattan, New York. While catching up, I decided to ask her whether she maintains her cultural traditions while at school.

 

Background: N.D. explained that she was going home to Miami in the coming week to celebrate her eldest sister’s wedding. She and her other four sisters planned to perform a traditional Greek bachelorette ritual, that had been done in her family for years. It’s a generations-old ritual that my informant’s family, relatives, and friends, all perform, and it is deeply rooted in Greek culture.

 

Main Piece: “The night before the couple’s wedding, all of the single friends of the bride usually do this thing where we come together and decorate the couple’s future marriage bed. A few of my sister’s friends will be there, but it’s me and my sisters that are going to be doing most of the work. Basically you put a bunch of flowers all over, and put rice all around the room and on the bed, and also leave out coins and money. The idea is that it promotes prosperity, fertility, and love for that couple. My family is very into these little traditions and it’s a fun way for all of us to get together before the wedding and celebrate the bride. Rice is used in a lot of ceremonies like this in Greek culture, and Peruvian culture too actually. Even though it’s such an old tradition, it still has a lot to do with the typical American bachelorette party activities. We’re planning on doing that too, but this is a different way of celebrating that also takes us back to our roots a little bit.”

 

Analysis: I found it interesting how the idea of rice is intertwined in such a large number of cultural customs, especially in regards to weddings. In other cultures, the throwing of the rice at the end of the wedding ceremony symbolizes rain, which is thought to be a sign of good fortune and prosperity. In the case of Greek culture, the rice is placed in the most intimate part of the couple’s life.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Warding off the Evil Eye

Context: One night at home I decided to ask my dad for an explanation behind a cultural ritual he had performed almost every single week for as long as I can remember, and was preparing to perform that night. It’s a process using a spice called Esfand.

 

Background: In Iran, Esfand is used to ward off the evil eye. This is a generations-old ritual that has been passed down for hundreds of years. The idea is to burn the spice, and the smoke and popping sounds from the burning are said to burn away the evil eye.

 

Main Piece: “Persians are very superstitious people. Iranians have always been very successful for the most part and it’s a little natural for us to think someone would want to curse us if we are doing well or better than them. Most of your friends from growing up are Persian too so I’m sure they know all about it too. Persian people are a lot of the time looked at as being very flaunty or extravagant, and they are sometimes, but as a culture most people are very conservative about sharing achievements or very exciting news. It’s looked down upon to brag about good fortunes that you are having. I don’t think you even notice but sometimes when our family is out or at parties and someone was giving you or [your siblings] a certain look or a compliment me or mom would say a little prayer until we could get home and do Esfand. I think it could be a myth that there are people that really have an evil eye. But I think there are definitely people who act a certain way but inside don’t mean well for you, or give off a very negative energy that you shouldn’t have around you. So you burn it away. I put the esfand in my hand and I start with a prayer. I circle it around my head, mom’s head, and all of your heads a few times, chanting the same prayers asking for protection. I wave it all around the house. Then I take the foil and put it over the stove, and I put the esfand from my hand on it, and I let it burn until it’s done. It burns the negative eyes and thoughts from others.”

 

Analysis: The concept of the evil eye is definitely not tied specifically to the Persian culture. It’s interesting to look at how each culture or religion carries out their ritual against this superstition. Some knock on wood, some throw salt, some wear evil eye jewelry, but Persians choose to physically burn it away.

 

Annotation: For more on the notion of the evil eye in Persian and Middle Eastern culture, reference to:

Spooner, B. (2004). 15. The Evil Eye in the Middle East. In Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (pp. 311-320). New York, NY: Routledge.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Material

Coin in the Cake

Context: My informant is a 21 year-old student from New York, who recently moved to Los Angeles to attend USC. She wasn’t able to go home for Easter this year, as she usually does, but she described a tradition that her family practices every year on Easter.

 

Background: She explained that this tradition normally takes place in Greek tradition on New Year’s Eve, but that her family celebrates it on Easter instead, as she and her siblings usually spend New Year’s with friends.

 

Main Piece: “So this is usually done on New Years, but we always do it on Easter since that’s one holiday Greek Orthodox people take very seriously, so we’re almost always all together as a family. We’re always separated on New Years so this is just the best time to do this tradition I guess. Basically, my mom or grandma will bake a cake, and they bake a gold coin into the cake itself. They put it in the oven, take it out, and then they cut it all up and serve it. The person who gets the piece with the coin in it is supposed to have the luckiest year out of everyone else. Essentially it’s going to be like their golden year. It kind of defeats the purpose that we do it in April of every year, but Easter also represents rebirth and whatnot so I guess it kind of works when you think about it.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to see how much a culture’s folklore can be taken into interpretation. The meaning remains the same, but the tradition is made flexible. I found it compelling how many different traditions there are throughout cultures to ensure a lucky or prosperous year ahead.

Folk Beliefs

Whistling and Snakes

Context:

The informant is a student currently attending Pierce Community College. He recounts a Korean story told to him by his parents when he was younger and giving his parents a tough time.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

continuing from another conversation about superstitions

S: Also, there’s another one that goes: If you whistle at night, snakes will appear.

 

C: That’s interesting. Can you give some reasons why people might believe that?

 

S: The whistling is more about not to disturbing others and to keep to yourself during the night.

 

Analysis:

Superstitions have a long-standing place in folklore around the world. Each culture imparts their own belief about what they deem important. This superstition about whistling at night draws on the idea that doing so will summon snakes – a symbol often associated with evil or bad. It is interesting to see how many areas share a commonality in symbols.

Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Signs

Black Cats Superstition

Main Piece:

“Black cats are bad luck.”

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 19-year-old female. I asked my informant if she knew of any superstitions people live by.  To this, she responded,  “black cats are bad luck.” My informant does not remember when she first heard this superstition, but she thinks it was around the time of Halloween. She claims she also saw it in a tv show she watched as a child called, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. In the show, the black cat was friends with the witch. The informant states that a black cat is a sign that something bad is going to happen. For example, if you are going somewhere and you see a black cat it means something bad will happen in the near future. The informant recalls,

“One time I was driving in the car with a friend and her dad, can’t remember who it was, but we saw a black cat crossing the road and my friend’s dad turned around and drove the other way. My friend says that every time her dad is driving, and he sees a black cat he has to turn around and take an alternate route.”

The informant says she does not believe this is true and feels bad for black cats because everyone thinks they are evil.

I too have heard this superstition that black cats are bad luck. It is interesting to note the association with color. The color black is often used when referencing fear, mystery, evil and death. All of these themes are common around the time of Halloween, so it makes sense the informant believes to have heard this superstition around that time. One also wears black to a funeral to represent the mourning of a loved one. Therefore, seeing a black cat by the color alone can imply death. Death is a mysterious subject terrifying for many people. The black cats’ color can be enough to make people fear the superstition. Cats are also animals that hold a lot of mystery. Often it is said cats have nine lives. This makes the superstition that black cats are bad luck even more fascinating because if the color black is associated with death, and cats have nine lives, could this have some sort of implication that cats can take lives? An intriguing relationship to note.  When looking into this superstition I also found a reference to it in the book Fearful, Spirits, reasoned follies the boundaries of superstition in the late medieval Europe by Michael David Bailey. He also speaks of the association cats have with demonic beings and magical connections.

Bailey, Michael David. Fearful Spirits, Reasoned Follies the Boundaries of Superstition in Late Medieval Europe. Cornell University Press, 2013.

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection
Signs

Track Team Superstition

Context: The informant had been speaking of memories with her track team in high school.

Piece:

Informant: Yeah so, there was this like consp.. I don’t even fucking know… okay so basically my coach said that if you ever like dropped the baton, like the relay baton during track practice that like that for sure you were like you were like… I don’t know something about the relay… and the actual race was gonna get super messed up. And so if you dropped the baton you always got severely punished on the team and one time this girl Maya dropped the baton and then the coach made the whole team run two miles because she like takes it super seriously and apparently that’s the only way to cancel it and uh. The weird thing was that it wasn’t even that if you dropped the baton during practice you were gonna drop the baton during the actual race it was just that something is gonna go wrong like nobody knows what. Usually it was about somebody being injured or like someone going down and have an injury if the baton was dropped in practice.

Collector: Um so did you like…

Informant: So I never dropped the baton before but it was always really scary and I knew the punishment was gonna be something really ridiculous if someone did it um and plus um because of the fact that our coach believe that if your dropped the baton it resulted in someone being injured, everybody would be on edge for the track meet after a practice where someone dropped the baton. So it was kinda like an extra pressure added. So it made it that I was on the relay team freshman year and we never dropped the baton.

Background: The informant, a 19 year old USC student, ran for the track team in high school. This piece reflects the beliefs she shared with her team. This belief also helped push her as an athlete and created a sense of camaraderie within her team.

Analysis: This superstition is a homeopathic superstition, as it follows the “like produces like” ideology. If the baton is dropped (which is considered bad) then a team member will get injured (also considered bad). But once they run laps (which is good for athletic ability) then the predicted injury is reversed (also good). This belief amongst her track team is a piece of shared knowledge that connected the team. This idea provided standards for the team and brought the team together through the common goal of safety. This also is a sort of preventative measure against injury, which is incredibly important for sports. What is particularly interesting is that the coach enforced this shared superstition through punishment. Superstitions typically are an individual choice, but in this case the team felt obligated to do so and almost forced into believing the superstition. This piece shows the power of sharing beliefs with others and how it affects an environment/group of people. It also enforces a core value of American society which is success, and by believing and following through with this superstition, the team is led to success.

Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Oyster stew on Christmas

Text

 

INFORMANT: We had a nasty tradition growing up that I absolutely hated.

 

ME: What was it?

 

INFORMANT: Well papa was really German and, I guess, proud of his German heritage, and it’s an old German tradition to eat oyster stew at big meals, so he made us all eat the stew at Christmas dinner even though none of us liked it. I don’t even think he liked it at the end of the day.

 

Background

The informant’s father’s grandparents were the ones who raised him and were from Germany. This close line to Germany made the informant’s father extremely proud of his heritage, especially because of the immense respect he had for his grandparents.

 

Context

The informant currently lives in Dallas but grew up in the small town of Garner, Iowa (population: 2,000 people).

 

Thoughts

Tradition plays a crucial part in how one identifies one’s self. The informant’s father clearly identifies heavily with his german heritage, and wants to hold onto all German traditions, even if he does not necessarily like the tradition itself. These traditions give him some sense of being apart of a group and, therefore, being apart of something bigger than himself.

 

[geolocation]