Tag Archives: magic

We Are A Circle- A Pagan Chant

Background: My informant (M) shared with me her experience with a song we learned growing up. We attended a daycare, which was run by our grandmother, from infancy to 5 years old, and would frequently stay there during summer breaks. She shared with me her perspective on a ritual we performed daily. Neither of us had ever thought too much about this ritual until we got older, but talking about it now we could tell there was probably more to this chant than we realized as kids. Our grandmother always talked about the importance of being kind to the Earth and thanking it whenever we took something from it, like food. As kids, this was just part of growing up, and the chant was part of our daily routine, we agreed that we never thought about the words or meaning until we got older.

M’s Perspective on The Ritual: 

M: “I guess it was a way for all of the daycare kids to come together and bond and be calm. We would sit in a circle with a candle in the middle and we would sing childhood songs and tell nursery rhymes. At the end of the “circle time,” as our grandmother called it, we would have a closing ceremony of sorts where we would stand up and join hands and we would sing this one song. She played it on a CD, but we all knew all the words and we would look at each other and sing. There were a couple of verses to the song that I don’t remember very well, but during the chorus, we would all sing loud and join hands and walk in a circle. Then it would be another verse and we would stop walking. The verses all had to do with the elements, you know fire and wind and stuff. And with each new chorus, we would walk faster and faster until it got a little crazy and we were screaming this song (laughs). I don’t think she does it anymore because it started getting a little aggressive. But anyway the closing line had something to do with coming “FACE TO FACE” and we would all get really close to each other- you know face to face- and we would throw our hands up and someone would blow out the candle and that was it (laughs and pauses).

And we did this for probably ten years or more. It was a little strange now that I’m thinking about it, like what was that even about? We never really anything else that I can look back on as being out of the ordinary.         

Main Text:

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

You hear us sing, you hear us cry

Now hear us all you, spirits of air and sky

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

Inside our hearts there grows a spark

Love and desire, a burning fire

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

Within our blood, within our tears

There lies the altar of living waiter

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

Take our fear, take our pain

Take the darkness into the Earth again

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

The circle closes between two worlds

To mark this sacred space where we come face to face

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

Analysis: I looked up this song to find the lyrics we remember from our grandmother’s. I also wanted to see if I could find an explanation for it. What I found was the song has strong ties to paganism and Wicca, relating to a spiritual bond with the Earth and magic. The song is written by Rick Hamouris in the 80s so I’m not sure when or where our grandmother learned it. It seems like it’s been adopted by Wicca and other pagan religions and some say it is a song for festivals or a full moon chant. The book Casting Circles and Ceremonies by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart explains how circle chants like this one are effective for “casting circles” and “calling quarters.” These terms refer to creating the circle, which is the safe and sacred space and utilizing the Earth’s quarters-the four elements and the four directions. 

You can read more about this here: http://www.egreenway.com/wands8/envoke1.htm

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit

Context:

I received this tradition and superstition from my mother, who grew up in a white suburban household in Colorado during the late 20th century. She learned it from her father, an English professor, who read it in a student paper about superstitions. When I was younger, she used to practice this little act of magic, but she does not do it anymore.

Text:

If the first words you say in the month are “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit,” you will have good luck for the whole month.

Thoughts:

Rabbits symbolize good luck in various cultures. I have seen rabbit foot keychains, which are intended to endow their owners with good luck. The word comes in threes, another example of the primacy of the number three in American folk belief. This piece of folklore was transmitted through the written word and stuck in my own family. To attach a special incantation to the beginning of each month gives the start of the month some special significance. It helps to mark off the months as distinct from one another, each as an opportunity for a new beginning, a renewal of luck. Rabbits are also associated with procreation and fertility, so their evocation at the beginning of each monthly cycle could signify renewal, new birth, and fecundity. This incantation is a way to be ‘reborn’ each month, as if to say: “no matter how difficult or painful last month was for me, here’s a chance to start one anew.” This little act of superstition can help people to maintain their faith in the future and retain a spirit of hope and growth going into each new month.

Burning Salt

Context: The following is an account of a ritual told by the informant, my paternal grandmother. 

Background: My father’s youngest uncle was sick as a baby, so the consensus was that he must have received the evil eye. In order to find out who gave it to him, this ritual was conducted. This same thing was repeated when one of my father’s brothers got sick and died as a baby.

Main piece: 

To find out who gave the child the evil eye, a solid chunk of rock salt was but in a burning fire. As the salt burned, those watching would carefully observe the fire to see what shape the flames would make. If they formed the shape of a person, they were the source of the evil eye. In my father’s uncle’s case, it was determined from the flame that a woman from one of the neighboring houses gave it to him. In his brother’s case, an odd inhuman shape was formed, leading people to believe it was jinn.

Analysis: It is not clear where this practice originated, but it seems to have come about as a result of people not wanting the cause of their child’s death to remain a mystery, so as to attach a name or face as to who was responsible. That being said, it is unknown from my conversations whether there was any confrontation with the person who was seen in the fire, and there was almost certainly no action taken on that basis.

White Rabbit, White Rabbit, White Rabbit

“White Rabbit, White Rabbit, White Rabbit” is an expression used when people are sitting around a campfire. It is used to get the smoke out of one’s face and by repeating these words, the smoke will change direction. The concept is that the smoke is made up of hundreds of minuscule white rabbits. They only go in your face because they don’t feel appreciated and want attention. By saying white rabbit three times, you acknowledge their presence and therefore, will leave you alone.

The informant learned this folk expression through Boy Scouts. It is exactly the type of silly thing that would be made up by kids. The informant heard it from an older scout while away at camp. They still practice it to this day because it shows a fun, non-serious side.

It seems to me that it is a childish solution presented for a childish problem. Many kids enjoy camping or at least are forced to participate in it. Kids are very focused on the moment, so something like smoke in their face would upset them greatly. This “solution” turns this problem into a fun game that holds, in theory, real-world significance.

Uneaten Food goes on the Husband’s Face

Main Piece:

Informant: Maybe another one is that it’s like if I didn’t finish all the rice grains on my bowl then like everything I didn’t finish would end up on my husband’s face. So essentially I’d have, like, an uglier husband, if I didn’t finish all the rice off my bowl.

Interviewer: Wouldn’t a husband with rice on his face, be like a good thing because it’s food?

Informant: It’s not just rice. It’s like any leftover food so I think the idea would be, like that would be like acne. So it’s more to promote not wasting food.

Background:

My informant is a friend and fellow student at USC. She was raised in the LA area but her family is ethnically Chinese and immigrated from Vietnam so she has multiple East Asian influences in her life.

Context:

I had set up a Zoom call with my friend because she said she had some examples of folklore that she could share with me. This sample was shared during that call

Analysis:

This seems like a fairly straightforward superstition to me. Parents want children to finish their food so there’s the motivation. So if a child does not finish their food, it will be transferred to their husband’s face. Even though there is not a strong emphasis, to my knowledge, on the beauty of the groom in traditional Chinese marriages, everyone would prefer a more attractive partner. The idea that it is rice (standing in for acne) that would appear on the husband’s face makes sense as rice plays such a central role in the Chinese diet.

Sending Someone the Evil Eye

EA: The ojo (eye) is that people do believe that there are other people that have the ability to. If they have something that belongs to that other person like a picture or something they can with bad things upon them. It is called “hiciste ojo”(“gave the eye”). For example, if someone wants some harm to come to someone else they will take a picture of that person to that individual and they will say I want them too whatever. There is the belief that there are people than have that ability to I guess curse them with bad things. You like a form of voodoo because it is kind of like you have an alter for them. You have a picture of them, you have their hair. You have some thing that belongs to them 

Interviewer: Where did you hear this?

EA: I heard this from my parents and like people, aunts. You know when a lot of bad things are happening to you it is common for people to say “ay, alguien me hiso ojo, necessito una limpia!”(“someone gave me the eye and I need a cleaning”). Then you go to someone that does the good and they take that curse away from you . 

Context

EA is my mother who was born in Southern California, but whose parents are both from Mexico. She and her whole family are Catholic. However, she is not as religious as the rest of her family. She is a Human Resources manager at a small manufacturing company in the San Fernando Valley. The information taken from a casual conversation I was having with my mother about any folklore she had for me while my sister was also present.

Analysis 

It is surprising to me how much magic is involved in this considering how religious many of my family members are. Magic is normally frowned upon in the church as God is the only one that should be able to do things like see your future and change your destiny. However, getting the evil seems to be something that many people in Mexican culture are afraid of. The trope of the witch or “bruha” character that many are afraid of even portrayed through their entertainment, and I’m sure people talk about who they feel practices this dark form of magic. It is also similar to many other forms of contagious magic where you need something of the person in order to curse them, since our belongings and images are extensions of ourselves. 

Dandelions

Context: The informant is my older sister (LC) and the following text is transcribed from our phone conversation. She reflects on a good luck ritual she used to do with her friends that was taught to them by their parents.

Main Text (LC): “The belief or myth behind the meaning of the Dandelion is that if you make a wish and blow on one, and the seeds all go everywhere, your wish will come true. And I think that’s the myth everyone knows about them. But now, to me, they mean something else. They show up in this book about activism and social justice that I read and the book states that the dandelion is a metaphor for change. The book says that just like the dandelion, only one seed is necessary to spread great change, and I find this message very powerful.”

Analysis: The belief or ritual that blowing on a dandelion grants your wish has been commonplace in the United States for a long time. This practice reminds me of how a child blows out a birthday candle and makes a wish. I think it is interesting how the dandelion is used as a different metaphor in the book my sister read and demonstrates how an object’s symbolism can change over time and garner new meanings.

The Warlock

Context: The informant is my father (DM) who told me about the existence of an ancestor that was accused of being a warlock during the Salem Witch Trials and who was ultimately killed. My father heard about this story from his mother. The following quote is a retelling of the story my father heard from his parents with added information from his online research.

Main Text: “Samuel Wardwell was a wealthy ancestor of ours who was hanged in the Salem witch trials after being convicted of witchcraft. He had a lot of land and we suspect that his neighbor accused him of witchcraft in an effort to steal his property. He was noted as an ‘eccentric but harmless individual who sometimes told fortunes, played with magic, and perhaps in jesting moods even claimed supernatural powers.’ He and his family were pressured into confessing and although he did, he took it back and claimed innocence until his death. Apparently, witch hunters used his hanging as a warning against those who planned on taking back their confessions.”

More can be found about the life and death of Samuel Wardwell here: https://www.geni.com/people/Samuel-Wardwell/6000000001650662249

Analysis: This story interests me because it demonstrates how hard it was to avoid a charge of conviction. Wardwell was pressured into confessing, as were those closest to him. It also seems as if there were ulterior motives behind the witch trials; people used them as a way to improve their societal and financial status. People believed in these superstitions because of the lack of scientific evidence against them and the pressure from the witch hunters to convict innocent people who were forced into confessing. His tendency to perform tricks and his affluence were his downfalls because people feared what they did not understand and were jealous of his status.

The Legend of The Lindworm

Performed Piece:
Once upon a time in a far off kingdom there ruled a king and queen, who were plagued by a terrible sadness. They mourned the fact that they could not have a child. One day the queen went for a walk in her garden. There she sat and cried. A witch appeared before her, hearing her sobs and asked ‘why are you crying, my dear?’ the queen explained that she was sad that she will never be able to have a child and the kingdom would be left without an heir. The witch then told her, ‘come back this evening and place the smallest teacup you own upside down at the bottom of the garden. The next morning, before anyone else wakes up, return to the cup. Underneath you will find two roses, a red one and a white one. If you eat the red one you will have a boy and if you eat the white one you will have a girl.’ And with that the witch disappeared. 

The queen did as she was told and when she returned to the bottom of the garden she did indeed find two roses. ‘If I have the red one, I will have a strong boy but one day he may go off to war and die. But if I have the white one, I may be with my daughter for her youth but I know she will one day have to marry someone and I will never see her again.’ Eventually she decided to eat the white one, but the flower was so sweet that she ate the red one too to combat the taste. The queen instantly became pregnant and went back to the castle to tell her husband the good news.

A few months later the queen went into labor and, to the shock and horror of the many handmaids present, gave birth to a scaly Lindworm. It hissed at the queen and slithered out the window. But the queen gave birth to a second child, a perfectly healthy baby boy. That night the queen and her maids agreed to not tell a soul about the first child. Years later and the boy grew into a young prince and eventually told his father that he wanted to find a wife. His father agreed and sent his son to a neighboring kingdom. 

However, on the ride there, the prince’s path was blocked by a large Lindworm. It hissed at the prince ‘a bride for me before a bride for you.’ The prince was confused so told his entourage to take a different path, but his path was blocked by the Lindworm again as it repeated its message ‘A bride for me before a bride for you.’ The prince tried a third time with the same result, and so returned to the castle to tell his parents of the strange beast. The queen went pale and explained to her son that the Lindworm was indeed his older sibling and in common practice the eldest must marry first. So the king sent a letter to a nearby kingdom, asking for it to send a princess to marry one of his children.A princess arrived and was horrified to see her groom to be: the Lindworm, but it was too late. The morning after the ceremony, the maids went to check on the Lindworm and his bride. They found the Lindworm but the bride was nowhere to be seen. He had eaten her.

The young prince set off later that day to find himself a wife only to find the Lindworm on the road again, hissing ‘a bride for me before a bride for you.’ The prince rode home immediately and told his father. The king sent another letter to a different kingdom and the Lindworm was married again. The next morning came with the same results as last time, the Lindworm had eaten his bride again. The prince set off as early as he could but the Lindworm still stood before him hissing ‘a bride for me before a bride for you.’ The prince rode home again and told the king, but the king shook his head explaining a war has been started between two kingdoms over the princesses. While thinking of what to do the king went walking and eventually stopped by the home of his swine herder, where he saw the man’s daughter. He asked the swine herder to give his daughter to marry the Lindworm. While the man objected he eventually relented. His daughter was horrified and ran to the nearby woods and cried. A witch appeared before her and asked “why are you crying, my dear?’ The girl explains her situation to the witch and tells her “tonight before you enter the bedchamber, wear 12 shiffs, bring a tub of lye and milk, and as many switches as you can carry. By this method you will rid yourself of the Lindworm.’

So on the night of the wedding, the Lindworm said to the girl ‘fair maiden, shed a shiff.’ and the girl responds ‘Lindworm, shed a skin.’ The Lindworm is taken aback, ‘no one has ever asked that of me.’ ‘Well I ask this of you now,’ says the girl. The Lindworm sheds his skin and the girl sheds a shiff, but before anything else happens the girl scrubs the Lindworm’s raw skin with the lye and milk. After she finishes bathing it, the Lindworm asks her to shed another shiff and the process repeats late into the night.

In the morning the maids come to check on the couple and when they look inside, they find the girl, unharmed, in the arms of a handsome prince. The kingdom celebrates and has the wedding anew for the happy couple.

Background: My informant learned this story from a children’s book that she used to read to her children and grandchildren, however she does not remember the title of the book.

Context: My informant and I were discussing my childhood with her and how I used to love a few specific stories. This was one of them and she tells it how she remembers.

Thoughts: I wonder if she is still telling the story as it was originally written, or if she changed it through re-remembering and re-telling it. I remember phrases repeating only three time instead of 12, and the reason why the Queen ate both flowers being a bit more selfish, like she wanted both a son and a daughter.

The Red Paper

There is an old Caribbean myth that says if you write a person’s name on a red paper and stick it in your shoe, they’ll stop giving you trouble.

H: “When someone is causing you trouble you can write their name on a red paper and put it in your shoes. In red ink pen because red represents victory and the blood of Jesus.

H: “Because his blood was shed it symbolizes victory. You walk on the paper and it breaks down negativity. You do this until you see results.”

It’s a way to manipulate the problem in your favor so you can get back on your feet. According to the informant, this myth was passed down from Great grandmothers and Elders and it gives them a sense of protection. This practice is also clearly rooted in religion (Catholicism) which, in itself, provides a sense of security for those who practice it. The red ink and red pen symbolize Jesus’ sacrifice and the victory that followed. But perhaps, this myth compels people to give their problems time to digress which teaches us to pick our battles wisely.