USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘magic’
Magic
Signs

Brujo

This is a true story about magic:

“Your great uncle was a brujo (Witch). And he had killed someone. It was from my mom’s side of the family, I don’t know. My mom was small and lived with the mother of the uncle. The uncle had a fight with a neighbor, and killed them. The police were looking fro him at this point. He went to go visit my Aunt Rosa. She asked him what he had done. He asked if he could stay there for awhile. The police came looking for him. They asked if a man had entered the house. The police entered the house to search. My aunt responded no. He was in the kitchen and there was a bunch of bananas. He had transformed himself into the bananas. My Aunt asked where he had gone, and she saw him fall to the ground as bananas and transform into a man and leave.”

My informant is a service coordinator. She likes to help people. She also migrated from El Salvador to the United States. Most of her stories are from her mother or personal experiences.

I talked to my informant over coffee in our house.

It is interesting to hear a story explaining how our family comes from a line of witches. Another interesting thing is how the story changed from the last time I heard it. I have always wondered why my great uncle would turn into bananas. It is always interesting to learn about your family history.

 

Magic

Born with a Spirit

My informant is the Lebanese father of my best friend. He grew up in the town of Yaroun, Lebanon before migrating to America. This story is a true story of an encounter his sister had in Lebanon.

My sister got married, and every time she delivered a baby they used to sometimes live one week, one month, one of them lived one year one time. And then they get sick, they get really sick. It was like a weird situation. the doctor checks on them and their face turned blue. They’re like suffocating. Like something is suffocating them. It is a true story, my sister. And they used to die. And when they used to take the kid to the hospital. The doctors were amazed. The doctor was one of the best doctors, got so like shocked that he couldn’t, that he didn’t know how diagnose them. He didn’t know what was wrong with them! And the end we found out that it was some bad spirit that was born with my sister. That she choked them to death. And so we didn’t know. There was one year where she had a boy like one year old and she delivered another boy and both of them died in the same week. I was like probably seven eight years old. At that age you remember. We were so sad. The oldest sister was very aware. Because the doctor said its not something medical. So automatically she knew it was something spiritual. So my sister what she did, even though she didn’t have a lot of money, she found money and went, she traveled all the way, we are next to Syrian and Iraq,. She went and she was looking and looking and traveled all through the Middle East. But at the end someone mentioned a lady. She lived closed to us, in the city called Teir.   So my sister wen to there and the lady opened. She gathers the evil spirits … she has the way to gather them. She gathers them and talks to them and after asking my sister what her name and the mother name. Once she knew what her name and the mother name they could locate, they know who she is. They told her exactly that she was born with a bad spirit that kills children, we call it erini, it’s like a partner. This women I don’t what she did, but she wrote part of the Koran to ward of the spirit.

I gathered this piece from my informant in his house while he served me food.

The interesting part of this folklore, is that every so often he would emphasize that this was a true story. It always interesting to hear a person’s personal story with the supernatural. It was also interesting to see that the idea of a supernatural force at work only came after other more “legit” means were exhausted.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Aya

Translates to “sentence”

It is a sentence to ward of evil found in the Quran. By combining certain sentences other, it can accomplish something, like spells. These sentences can be used for good or evil.

My informant is an immigrant from Lebanon. He lived in a small town called Yarun. Hid family was very poor and lived in a rural area. He had many brothers and sisters.

He states that a lady used ayas in order to help his sister get rid of an evil spirit that was born with her. Because the lady used these ayas to help his sister, this is why my informant believes in magic and in bad spirits.

I gathered this piece from my informant in his house while he served me food.

This piece was interesting because I had never heard about how the Quran could be used for magic. It also goes hand-in-hand with the belief that words have powers. This kind of reminded me of how certain religious pieces are used for different purposes.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Magic
Myths
Narrative
Protection

Golem

Background:

My informant is a twenty-two year old student at USC. She is originally from Pennsylvania and came to LA to study screenwriting. As a writer, she makes it her business to be familiar with a variety of legendary creatures; she is ethnically Jewish.

Performance:

“I heard this from a rabbi, I think, when I was pretty small. I’ve read about it a lot since, so I’m sure a lot of what I think I know about this story comes from books and I just filled in the details later on…but from what I remember, a golem is this mythical creature in Judaism that is completely made of inorganic materials…99% of the time the story says clay but I’ve also heard about stone and mud, definitely mud, maybe not stone…so yeah, golems are these giant clay warriors that come alive by magic and protect the Jewish people when they’re in danger. Warrior is a good word for it, I think. There are a ton of stories about them, some more famous than others. But I’ve always thought it was so fascinating, these giant inanimate pieces of art coming alive to protect their creators.”

Thoughts:

This is not a story I was previously familiar with, and one that I decided to research more thoroughly. The Wikipedia page is fairly in depth: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem#The_Golem_of_Che.C5.82m as well as on a number of Jewish sites, like: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/golem/. The second page says that the name “golem” comes from the Hebrew word for something “incomplete or unfinished.” It’s interesting that something that is, by name, unfinished would be called upon as a warrior or protector. The article also includes an ending to the story that Kieryn didn’t include: the golem’s power slowly grows out of control and the creator is forced to destroy its protector. It seems to speak to the idea that violence breeds violence, and perhaps isn’t quite the answer to conflict.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic

The Witches

Background:

My informant is 52 years old and has lived in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts for her entire life. Beverly is next to Salem and was part of the original settlement until 1668. She has remained close friends with many of the people she grew up with in town. Many of the children she grew up with still live in town as adults an have also chosen to raise their children there.

Performance:

“We didn’t really tell this story a lot because…well, it’s sad, I guess…but also because I knew Cory back then and I didn’t want to…I don’t know. You knew Mrs. Smith* (gestures to me), she was like the mother of the whole town, really. She did girl scouts, all of that. We’d always play in their stream. The Smiths were descended from Rebecca Nurse, who was one of the witches who was hanged during the trials and stuff. Anyway, you remember, Mrs. Smith had two different colored eyes: one blue, one brown…it might have been kind of scary if she weren’t so nice, but everyone always said that that was one of the signs that she was a witch…or maybe it wasn’t that she was a witch, but that she was descended from one…I’m not sure, but I can’t really imagine anyone thinking she was an actual witch…anyway she had six children, and her youngest was a daughter named Lucy* who was maybe three or four when all of this happened. Lucy had her mom’s eyes: one blue, one brown. I was in high school, so maybe fifteen? It was the winter, and Mrs. Smith was inside cooking while Lucy was watching TV in the other room. She heard a loud bang and when she ran in and saw that Lucy had pulled the TV onto herself and unfortunately she passed away. The very next day the blizzard of ’78 rolled in…it was…just brutal. The worst storm I’ve ever seen. Rumor was, it happened because Lucy died. Funny thing is, when Mrs. Smith died almost forty years later, a red tide rolled in the next day…couldn’t go in the water for almost two weeks. No fishing, nothing. People…well, I don’t think anyone had too many questions after that. Tell that story to anyone who didn’t grow up in Essex County and they’ll just laugh at you but to people here…I mean, how can you not believe it even just a little?”

*To protect the privacy of the family in the story, my informant chose to change the names during her performance. I respected her choice in this transcription.

Thoughts:

This story is interesting because it uses local history and folklore as a scapegoat for natural phenomena. The Smith’s were a direct link to the town’s heritage and their lives became a part of a greater mythology. From the tone of her story, I didn’t get the impression that the Smith’s were personally blamed for either the blizzard or the red tide; rather, the magic itself was to blame. It’s a much more holistic, “natural” magic than the powerful dark magic at the center of Salem Witch legends.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic

Witch Woods

Background:

My informant is 87 years old and has lived in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts for his entire life. He attended a nearby boarding school and Harvard University, where he studied history under famed professor Samuel Eliot Morrison. He has taken a lifelong interest in local history, artwork, and lore. 

For context, Beverly Farms is a small village within the larger city of Beverly. Beverly is adjacent to Salem, and was a part of the original settlement until 1668. Beverly Farms is much more rural than Beverly proper, and is closer to the neighboring town of Manchester-by-the-Sea than it is Salem. With the exception of the Witch Woods story, Beverly Farms has very little folklore or history that relates to the Salem Witch Trials.

Performance:

“My parents weren’t from here so I heard this from the other kids at school. Some of their families have been in town for, oh, I don’t…hundreds of years, I suppose….you know, the Hale’s, the Conant’s, the Cabot’s…Mostly I just heard that the witches were coming to take us from our beds but as we got older the story got more complex…So as you know, back in the 1600’s, Beverly was still a part of Salem. But since it didn’t have a church, it wasn’t quite as inhabited as it was over in Salem…well, everyone knows this part, but people over in Salem got it in their heads that there were witches in town and started hunting them down and killing them. Stoning, hanging, all of that. Soon as the witches realized they were being hunted, most of them…well, most of them were smart enough to get out of there…so they took off in the middle of the night, all of them, and crossed the river to come over here. They ran until they hit the woods and then kept going…all of the way up here, right down on Common Lane. It’s why you get the shivers when you drive down there at night…you know, roll your windows up and such. They’re all still there, you know. All the witches.”

Thoughts:

Growing up in the area, this was a common ghost story in my household. I remember asking if the witches were real and my grandfather telling me that, yes of course they were, and if I knew what was good for me I’d lock my windows at night. Unlike many scary stories told to children, I don’t recall their being any lesson or imperative behind it. This story seemed to be more about local pride than reinforcing or discouraging certain behaviors.

Magic
Tales /märchen

Prince Lutin

17) Prince Lutin

Once there was a prince named Leandre, and he lived in this big palace. Another prince also lived with him, and his name was Furibon. Furibon was born deformed, but even more so, he is mean and nasty, and he has an insane mother.

As time went by, everyone loved Leandre, but hated Furibon. Furibon, out of hatred and jealousy, eventually tried to harm Leandre, and thus Leandre sent him away to live in the countryside to be safely away from Furibon.

While living in the countryside, Leandre was happy and free, but he was lonely. Once when he was out hunting, he was almost attacked by this grass snake; after defeating the snake, he decided to save it instead of killing it. So Leandre kept it in his house and raised it. After a few years, Furibon decided to attack Leandre again, and having found out about this, Leandre decided that he need to travel and get away. It is just then he found out that the grass snake is no longer a snake, but has turned into a fairy named Gentille. To thank Leandre for saving her life, Gentille promised Leandre one wish. She turned Leandre into a Lutin (imp) and gave him a red feather hat. When Leandre put this hat on, he can choose to have the power of the Lutin where he can choose to hide or reveal himself whenever, and he can choose to cross and borders, and he can choose to return to his original self whenever.

Having this power, Leandre first went to the palace and took revenge on Furibon and his mother. Then he went on several adventures where he experienced treasures and unrequited love, till he eventually ended up saving these 3 maidens. He found out from one of them that they are fairies from the Island of Quiet pleasure. This island was made by an old fairy who, after being hurt in love, created this island of only women where she replaced the guards with amazonian women. Leandre used his power to go check out this island out, and he eventually fell in love with the fairy princess. He devised himself as the voice of the parrot and from time to time tried to convince her that it is okay to trust men sometimes. Furibon at the same time, sought to invade this island for its riches and for the beautiful princess. Leandre devised a plan and in the end he killed Furibon successfully, protected the island, gained power and riches, and ended up winning the heart of the princess he loves.

Once again, Cami told me this story. This story seems a lot more like a Rumpelstiltskin style tale. According to Cami, every kid in France knew of this story. When she performed it it was a lot more lively and fun.

This story reminds me a lot of stories like the Iliad or Sinbad’s adventures.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic

How Cubans Find Lost Objects

Original Text: “Si pierdes algo, amarra un trapo negro a la pata de una silla para que San Dima te ayude a encontrarlo.”

Transliteration: “If you lose something, tie a cloth black to the foot of a chair so that San Dima can help you to find it.”

Translation: “If you lose something, tie a black cloth to the leg of a chair so that San Dima can help you find it.”

 

The source says that Cubans have many different superstitions for finding lost items, but this is the one she’s heard of the most.  She said San Dima is the patron saint of finding lost things. When I tried searching more about Saint Dima, though, I was unable to find anyone by that name. I also asked what the significance of the black cloth and the chair were. Apparently, it’s a black cloth because the item is lost somewhere it can’t be found, somewhere “dark” to the finder. She didn’t know exactly why it’s tied to the leg of a chair, but she speculated it had something to do with being close to the floor and how lost things are usually on the floor.

This belief sounds like it stems from Santeria, a Latin American religion that combines witchcraft with Christian beliefs.  The original practitioners of Santeria were African slaves that had been taken to islands like Cuba and whatnot by the Spanish. In order to protect themselves from being punished for practicing their native rituals, the slaves exchanged the names of African deities for Christian saints. As such, many of the deities’ abilities were carried over to the saints. It’s possible that San Dima received their power for finding things from whatever African deity their name was used to replace. While Santeros aren’t the only ones who practice this belief, it seems very likely that that’s where it stemmed from.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends

Succineers

These creatures are typically females who have sold their souls to the devil in exchange for power and earthly rewards. They shed their human skins at night and fly around as balls of fire. Often, they practice various forms of black magic and are generally evil beings. However, they are not immortal, and during the day cannot be distinguished between you and me. A way to kill them would be to find their human skins late at night, and put copious amounts of salt in them. The logic in this is that the salt would burn their flesh, and since they cannot exist as balls of fire in the day, the act of putting their skins back on would cause so much pain that they’d die as a result.

My informant heard this from her grandmother and her mother, who were both first generation immigrants from Trinidad. According to her grandmother, their neighbor in Trinidad was one of these creatures. One time, she told my informant’s grandmother that she had red roses from the Queen of England’s garden and then proceeded to produce to two red roses. While this might not be strange by itself, roses were not native to Trinidad and could not be found anywhere during that period of time. Additionally, when my informant’s grandmother was pregnant, she saw one in her room, trying to suck on her blood. However, they could not stand people who were associated with God and spat the blood out and left.

There are many things that skirt the edge of belief and this is one of them. This is an example of binary opposition in more agricultural/hunting cultures that exists in those islands. Note the Christian influences in this story. As learned in class, the idea of God and the Devil spawned from the missionaries that came to the various places that they spread the word of God. The missionaries tended to place a God vs. Satan spin on most of the folklore and culture that they touched and is evident here.

Contagious
Digital
Game
Humor
Magic

Love By Chainmail

Chainmail is a fairly well-known form of folklore, and has been around for a long time. Chain mail letters can be anything from handwritten letters to emails to texts and are typically sent to a group with some sort of either beneficial or warning message attached, as incentive for the person on the receiving end to pass the message along to more people.

An example of such a message is one my roommate shared with me that had passed around our sorority. The message read:

“You have been visited by the ghost of Helen M. Dodge! Pass this on to ten sisters in the next five minutes and she will give you good luck for the rest of the week!”

 

Thoughts:

Chain mails seem to fit into the category of contagious magic and involve belief a great deal. They are contagious in that in order for the receiver to either alleviate any harm that may come, or to ensure any benefit, from having read the letter, he or she must pass it along to X amount of people. The magic of the letter passes along with it and integrates into the daily lives of those who receive it, or it at least claims to do so.

 

Chain mail letters are really interesting in their relation to belief because I would bet that if you asked a large group of people if they believe in the power of chain mail letters to affect their lives in either positive or negative ways, the majority would say no. However, these letters are constantly passed around. They can be fit into the category of superstitious as well as contagious magic—perhaps it is the fear that chain mail letters may in fact have some power, some magic, that drives people to continue passing them along.

This particular chain mail letter doesn’t run the risk of being harmful to the person receiving it in any way, but perhaps the receiving individual may feel that they are to be at a loss if they don’t pass it along.

Or, perhaps chain mail letters get passed around as a way of continuing community. They are a means of reaching out to 5, 10, 15 friends who you haven’t talked to in a while. Or the particular chain mail letter you have received is funny so you want to share it with three of your friends you think would find it hilarious. Chain mail gets a pretty bad rap, yet its continued existence makes me think there is some part of its communicative, outreaching nature that people like.

For another example of chain mail letters, see Dan Squier. The Truth About Chain Letters, 1990, Premier Publishers.

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