USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘magic’
Childhood
Game
Humor
Magic

Childrens Magic Trick: The Disappearing Bracelet Knot

Background: The performance is a magic trick, a form of slight of hand that uses a hair scrunchie or similarly elastic bracelet, the informant (RW) learned it on the playground from one of her friends.
RW: It’s so cool!
MW: What do you like about it?
RW: When you do it right everyone gets really excited!
——————————————————————————————————————–
Context: Informant(RW) is a 12 year old student who’s interests include spending time with family, and riding bicycles. RW shared this particular magic trick with multiple members of her family during their annual Passover Seder, in this case RW, her sister, and I were getting paper from the garage so that RW’s father could teach us to make paper airplanes when she asked to show me a magic trick.

Performance:
RW: Ok, ok, so first you twist the rope like an 8 on your wrist
RW: You do that and you see this part? [RW points to the loop formed by her bracelet]
RW: The under part [she gestures to the under side of the bracelet], and you pull that part into the little circle but not too tight.
RW: If you flick it really fast the knot disappears!

Steps to reproduce:
1)Twist a section of the bracelet into a loop
2)Take the underside of the bracelet a pinky length away from the loop and pull it through to make a knot, loosely
3) Flick the end of the bracelet that sticks out of the knot and it disappears
——————————————————————————————————————–
Analysis:
The trick is a way to “get one over” on one’s peers and even adults. Thus the child demonstrates “magic” that they know to be a reflection of their own knowledge. The informant’s pride is the key marker here, this piece of folklore is a performance passed from person to person for the benefit of the people around them. Likewise this is a display of trickery, the goal is to fool, and thus in harmless deception traverse the social taboo of lying. This gives the performer the space to engage in a behavior that is generally seen as wrong in a way that will actually net them praise.

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.

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Game
Holidays
Magic
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Goodluck Dumplings

My informant shared a piece of Chinese culture she practices with her family during the Chinese New Year:

Informant: Ok so for Chinese New Year, we make…the tradition is to eat Dumplings…and then we will hide one coin in one of the dumplings and whoever eats that dumpling will have good luck.

Context:

I was talking with a group of friends while we were working on a class project and some of the group members wanted to share pieces of their traditions with me. It was a very casual setting and the performance took place in front of three other individuals.

Background:

The informant is from Hong Kong, China, but attends school at USC. This practice is something she normally does with her family during the Chinese New Year.

Analysis:

I found this really interesting because it reminds me of how in New Orleans, the baby is hidden in the Mardis Gras cake. Whoever finds the baby will receive good luck for the year. While these two traditions use very different foods and tokens to spread luck, they are surprisingly similar.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Myths
Protection
Tales /märchen

The Fair Folk

Context:

The informant is a 35-year-old Caucasian male of Irish and Polish descent. He will be referred to as DB. The Folklore piece came to him from his father’s side of the family which is his Irish side. The story was shared by his grandmother and is told in his own words:

Main Piece:

The Fair Folk (or Fae) were fairytale creatures that lived “under” Ireland in what was known as a Faery Raft. They loved humans, loved tricking them, and loved marrying them or trapping them. If you fell asleep, you could be lulled into the Faery raft. You NEVER ate or drank in the presence of the Fae. If you ate or drank anything from the Raft, you were trapped there for 100 years. Little kids were usually taken because the fae loved them and loved raising them in the raft, and then letting them go hundreds of years later when they got tired of them as children. They also loved wagers, and could be tricked out of things like magic, gold (leprechauns), and favors if you could best them at things. They loved riddles, they were the reason you would lose mittens or socks or your favorite things, and they were most active under a full moon.

Background:

DB was told this story of the Fair Folk by his grandmother who enjoyed telling him these stories when he was a kid. DB finds the story important because he isn’t connected to his Irish roots and this story is a way to stay connected to them as well as to his grandmother. He doesn’t believe in the Fair Folk however, but he feels the tradition of passing on the story is important, and he believes in that.

Notes:

The story of the Fair Folk seems to be a tale told by parents to their children. Like many other creatures in stories shared from other countries, these fairies are known to be tricky or mischievous. The story seems to be a warning to protect themselves from their tricks. They also serve a purpose as an explanation for missing things. When something in one’s home goes missing, this is a way to explain why. People need to have an explanation for things to put them at ease. When something cannot be explained, it creates more questions, so it seems like these creatures are made to explain what can’t be. Talismans made from steel or iron are used to protect against fairies and their negative magic as they are unable to touch or be near these metals.

 

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Protection

Red String: Mexican method of Warding Off Evil (The Evil Eye)

Tell me about the Red String in Mexico.

A.H. – “Um, it depends on the person; but, people who are superstitious and use the whole red-string-fending-off-the-evil-eye put these strings around their babies, like, as soon as they’re born – literally.  So like, even before they’re before they’re competent, they already have this red string around them.”

And this red string repels the evil eye . . . That is what’s being repelled?

A.H. – “Right.  It supposedly does.  And I think it’s used even more on kids, because they can’t really defend themselves, and/or are less conscious of their surroundings.  Now that I think of it, adults definitely use it, but I definitely see it more on kids and babies.  In Mexico.  So, it’s really interesting what’s considered to be the evil eye itself; it can be even someone just looking at your kid on the street, and it’s obvious that they think they’re cute, or something, and I think people just have a lot of malice in them; the parent will assume like – and it’s not even always a bad thing, it can be a jealousy thing too, like someone could be threatened by some cute-ass baby . . . obviously not that that person wants to be the baby, but that they’re jealous in some way or another.”

A.H. – “If someone does see that, they have to be cleansed of that.  If not, then you’re affected by the eye, supposedly.  And I don’t really know where the egg thing comes from.”

Egg?

A.H. – “Yeah.  You’d grab an egg and rub it all over the kid’s body, and supposedly the egg absorbs the evil.  But, it’s weird – I feel like people who aren’t very superstitious still do that.”

Let’s go back to what you said about malice and the people.  Do you think that . . . the vibe, at first thought, when you have your child wearing one of these, is: you would assume that the first thing someone else would think about your child isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but is something like jealousy, or envy, 0r anger, or just a want to ruin what’s been given to you?

A.H. – “Yeah.  Whenever I ask my mom about this – because she’s the one who told me about this in the first place – It’s not even just if somebody gives you a bad look.  It’s like, you can’t really trust people, strangers- if someone’s looking at your kid, you assume it’s because they’re going to do something to them . . . I don’t know.”

So at it’s base, in it’s most rudimentary form, it’s just “stranger danger?”

A.H. – “Yeah.  It does the job of fending off the eye, as well as reminding the wearer of the dangers of what the evil eye can be.”

Would you say that if you were to see somebody wearing a red bracelet, you’d wonder why? 

A.H. – “Yeah.  For instance, a friend of mine always wears a red string bracelet and I always think about it, even though it’s probably not for the same reasons.”

And what does it make you think of?

A.H. – “I guess just what my mom told me.”

How else can you repel this evil?

A.H. – “It’s actually interesting, if some parent were to see some stranger giving their kid the evil eye, the instinct would be to ask that person to touch the child.  So once that happens, the evil is absolved, regardless of whether or not that child is wearing the red string.  At it’s roots, it’s another example of the dangers of voyeurism, I feel like.”

 

This example of the Red String vs the Evil Eye is perplexing, as it is both completely similar to and totally the opposite of another cultural superstition; that of the Turkish evil eye.  The dichotomy of cultures, as well as parallels in those same cultures, are exemplified here perfectly.  It’s funny, even, that the very thing which keeps Turkish families safe is that which is being repelled by the red string.

Folk Beliefs
general
Homeopathic
Magic

Haitian Voodoo

Context: Informant’s father is from Haiti and grew up in an area where Voodoo was practiced. Though it may not have been the majority, there was still a presence and the practice was perceived as dangerous. Because of this, he would need to come back into the house from playing at a certain time in order to avoid being caught up in any practices in his neighborhood area.

Informant:

“The thing that keeps coming to mind is like Voodoo… which isn’t like… I don’t know. I just remember my Dad saying that like… he would play stuff… he would like play outside, and at a certain time, you would like, have to go inside because like… the Voodoo people would just like, come around the corner and do their thing and leave at night. But one day, he was like playing too late and he could hear sounds like around the corner, around the mountain or whatever, from around his house and then he saw them and they were in all white… and like, yeah.”

KA: And what is the “Voodoo people” specifically? Like, this was in…

“In Haiti.”

KA: Okay.

“This was like, when he was a kid in Haiti. Um… I mean, for my family specifically, we don’t have to like… really do anything related to Voodoo, but you shouldn’t like… not believe in it just in case anything comes true. It’s like you shouldn’t… I don’t know… I guess like… speak against the gods or like Loa or something like that. I’ve also started researching Voodoo, ’cause I thought it was interesting, but I don’t know. It’s not something that… it’s not really a thing that a lot of Haitians like… do? But it’s also like… not a thing that a lot of Haitians DON’T believe in.”

KA: So why would your Dad have to run inside and not be out?

“Because they’re also like… I mean it can be dangerous.”

Introduction: The informant was introduced to Voodoo through their father.

Analysis: I found this extremely interesting. I feel like people acknowledge Voodoo but don’t fully understand it all of the way. Growing up, I’d hear about Voodoo a little bit from my dad, but it was never an overwhelming presence in my life. The interaction I did have from him was caution though. Through the years I feel as though I’ve been exposed to it the most through popular culture which can morph the reality of it in a way, so I think it would be extremely interesting and beneficial to learn more through a lens that isn’t just one meant to entertain.

Humor
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Three Men in A Bar

Subject: Narrative joke.

Collection: “Alright, so, uh, one night these three friends you know they’re out-they’re out being buddies, they’re out drinking, going to bars. And uh, one bar, its late at night, they’re already pretty drunk, and they find a magical beer bottle and they are totally mind-fucked. There drunk, it’s a magical beer bottle behind a bar. Why were they there? I don’t know. They were peeing, throwing up, something. So, they find the magical beer bottle and there’s a genie inside of it. And the genie has the power to fulfill three wishes. Um so since there’s three friends, each friend gets one wish. So, uh, they do they’re business meaning the whole peeing and vomiting thing, and the wish making and when they each get what they want, they enter the bar. And, um, these guys, all the other bars they walked into earlier in the night, nobody noticed them, they’re kind of losers. But when they walk into this bar, um, they’re- everyone- they’re turning heads. Um, but they don’t mind. They’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re turning heads’. So, they sit down and one of them goes up for the first round of drinks. Ans the bartender sees this guy coming up and he’s like, ‘Oh snap, this is a very, very impressive man’. Um, he’s got uh like, uh these- ya know, he’s wearing a tuxedo, he’s got a gold monocle, he’s got an ivory cane with gold inlay engraved in like swirling patterns and on top of it, this huge pink diamond. And it’s so big, it’s like- you know that one that the British people stole from Africa. Like it’s bigger than that… But, like this pink diamond, gigantic. Um, an- and the tuxedo it looks so soft, and it looks so suave. It’s perfectly tailored. It’s sleek and plush, and to top it all off, he’s got a top hat. Um, so he’s just 100%, he’s like a caricature, he’s like the monopoly man, he’s like a gazillionaire. And um, and the bartender’s like, ‘This is cool but something’s off. What’s off about this guy?’. He knows something’s off, he can’t put it together, but he’s just like, ‘Alright, whatever’. So, uh, the guy reaches him, the bartender, and the bartender’s like trying to be impressive, you know. He wants to sound smart. So, he goes, ‘I couldn’t help but notice your fine array of accouterments’. And- and he goes, ‘Can I ask, what is the secret to your success?’. And you know, they guy just laughs, um and he explains that he was piss drunk, peeing in an alley, and found a magic beer bottle and wished to be the richest man in the world. And the bartender’s like, ‘Oh, alright that- that’s kind of disappointing. Um, I wanted to be rich but whatever’. Um, so the, the f-the guy takes his drinks, and you know, goes back to his table to share them with his friends. And, so the bartender is disappointed because he’s not going to be rich, but he knows he’s in for like some night, you know. And, he- he’s waiting for those other two friends to come up, because you know it’s not every day that you get three people… and um, and where was I, let’s see. He knows he’s in for a night. So, second friend, comes up. And the bartender sees, or rather doesn’t see that this other man is, also, very impressive. And what I mean by doesn’t see is that he’s just surrounded by women and the bartender cannot see him. But, like, he’s surrounded by women, that’s very impressive… Um, so the bartender just kind of like hands the three drinks into the crowd. And then somewhere from the crowd, money for three drinks comes back. And uh the bartender’s like, ‘What’s going on here?’. Um he doesn’t know what direction to talk in, so he just kind of yells and says, ‘I couldn’t help but notice the crowd’. And he doesn’t really expect the guy to hear him, and he doesn’t really expect a response, but very faintly, he hears, ‘I’m sure you have met my friend, the rich guy and that he explained what happened out back with the magical beer bottle. But did you ever wonder where all of his gold diggers were?’. And the bartender’s like ‘Ah-ha! That’s what was off about the rich guy, there were no gold diggers, like what was up with that?’. And the shouting man continues that his wish was to be the most attractive man in the world. Um, and the bartender was like, ‘Nice… Good shit’. Um, uh, so the crowd ya know starts to disperse as you know the life of the party’s going back to his seat. And the bartender’s like, ‘Alright, what a  couple wishes. Like I wonder what the third guy could’ve wished for. You know to like out do the other to. I- I hope I don’t get let down’. Um, and when the third friend finally comes up to get the third round of drinks, what the bartender saw was just nothing that anyone really could have expected. Um, you know, the bartender kind of noticed that like the first two friends, their wishes wer- were kind of obvious, you know. Like, if you dressed all rich, you wished to be rich. If you’re surrounded by women, you wished to be the most attractive man in the world. But the third guy, it- it was- not obvious at all, if you’re even in your right mind. Uh, and when the third guy comes, there’s no crowd about him, you know, but there’s this swagger in his step, as if the genie had fulfilled for him a combination of his two friends’ wishes, as if he were the richest and most attractive man in the world. Um, that was not the case. Uh, never the less, he was… still impressive. As impressive as the other guys, but not in the same way, it wa- it was kind of a negative sort of impressive, you know. The bartender’s kind of, he- he’s really appalled, but he’s also intrigued and overall, he’s just totally taken aback. He’s going, ‘I can’t even begin to imagine what had gone through this guy’s head, if he even had a head before, because now, what is this protrusion springing from his neck? I- uh, uh, it cannot be dared called a head, you know’. And the bartender decides maybe it’s best not to mention it at all until the guy reaches me which he did. And he orders his drinks, ultimately, casual like. And he’s trying to make small talk with the bartender as if there was just nothing up. It was just awkward because… he was never a cool guy to begin with. You know, when these guys found these beer bottle, they were like the three nerdiest guys, and he was the nerdiest out of all of them. So he’s just trying to chit-chat like there’s nothing up, he’s a terrible conversationalist, and he looks funny. Um, and the bartender jus- he can’t take it anymore. So, he goes, ‘Listen bub, you’re friends with those two guys who found the magical beer bottle, right’. And the guy goes, ‘Yeah, of course’. And the bartender screams, ‘Well what the hell did you wish for?!’. You know, he finally snaps, everyone in the bar turns, and looks because this bartender has lost his shit, he’s screaming at the man, um he- he’s even got a little voice crack in there It-it’s comedic, you know. This is a joke. Um, and he totally is off the wall because he cannot just, he can’t process this guy’s giant fuzzy orange head, he’s in total disbelief. Um, but you know the guy who’s being yelled at, he just totally remains calm and he says, ‘I wished for a giant fuzzy orange head, obviously’.”

Background Info: M. Takla is currently a sophomore at the University of Southern California pursuing a degree in Computer Engineering. He is from Foster City, CA.

Context: M. Takla told me this joke over dessert, sitting outside around dusk. I challenged him to a joke off, through which we both learned each other’s best narrative jokes. I then asked to record him telling this joke for my collection.

Analysis: This joke subverts the expectations for a typical punchline while employing traditional narrative elements on which the narrator is free to embellish. The build-up for the joke appears to be growing more and more extreme, which, in many way, it is. However, the absurdity of the joke (magic beer bottles, genies, and the gaudy fulfillment of the men’s wishes) comes to a head when the man reveals he wished for the giant fuzzy orange head. In a way, the story was so absurd that an even more absurd ending, or climax, is expected. The joke mocks itself and the genre of the typical tale by casually employing elements such as the Rule of Three and magic that are found in traditional tales. The combination of these factors lends the joke its success and aesthetic pleasure.

Folk Beliefs
Magic

Wealth Mirror: Folk Belief

So in a lot of Asian cultures we believe in Feng Shui -um- which has a lot to do with balancing and good fortune or things that can cause uhh bad luck or harm you and, my family particularly, we have a mirror hanging above our front door from- on the inside side and the point of the mirror is that it reflects all the good wealth or good fortune that could be trying to leave the house and keeps it inside.

 Something really similar to that is we believe that -um- houses that are shaped triangularly, that are built right in front of a window or a room is bad luck so, for example, the house across from me from my bedroom has a triangular roof and my mom put a mirror in my window in the corner to ward off evil spirits. So mirrors can be used both ways, but its more meant to keep out the bad spirits and good spirits in.

The Informant is Vietnamese. She was born in the US and grew up in Garden Grove, a city in Orange County. She is an Economics and Mathematics student at UCLA. The Informant, my girlfriend, taught me about a use for mirrors aside from vanity in many Asian cultures as I distracted her from her own schoolwork on 4/22 at around 2:30am. Her entire house is set up to maximize energy flow. Although she doesn’t believe in the full power of Feng Shui (Qi as the lifeforce), she believes in the power of Qi.

Feng Shui dictates the placement of various items to correctly direct vital energies (Qi) to maximize happiness, health, wealth, etc. There are many directives with Feng Shui and most involve the use of mirrors to either amplify good energies or reject bad energies.

The cardinal sin of mirror placement is to position a mirror facing a door. This reflects Qi that enters right back out the door. The Bagua mirror, an octagon with wooden backing and an individual symbol on all eight sides. The concavity or convexity means the world; a concave mirror will absorb bad energy while a concave mirror will reflect it away. If a Bagua is placed inside the house, it must be concave.

I grew up with light influence of Feng Shui. My mom was always moving furniture around and reorganizing photos on tables to “improve the Feng Shui,” but I always thought it was an aesthetic thing. I’d be hard pressed to believe that a mirror can increase my wealth and good fortune, but if I run a cost-benefit analysis, there’s nothing to lose.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection
Signs

Friday the 13th

Informant Info: The informant is an 18-year-old from St. Louis, Missouri. She is currently a freshman studying Public Policy at USC.

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: With it being Friday the 13th, do you have any fears or superstitions regarding it?

 

Interviewee: I don’t like superstitions like Friday the 13th, because 13 is just another number. But, I will say I do believe in other superstitions, and I couldn’t tell you why.  For instance, I refuse to walk under ladders, I think I would curl up in a ball and cry if I broke a mirror, and I always throw salt over my shoulder if I spill it. Again… I don’t know why, but I guess just because we grow up with these superstitions all around us and it’s better to be safe than sorry in my book!

Analysis:

 The informant names many of the common superstitions in America, even though she started answering the question be saying she doesn’t like superstitions. Her response seems to be properly in line with many individuals who question the truth/logic behind superstitions by stating that “it is better to be safe than sorry.” A similar response is often found in Ireland when people are asked about the fairy folk.

general
Magic
Signs

Precognition Through Dreams

BACKGROUND:

An individual in Los Gatos, California takes part in the folk belief of precognition via dreams. According to the source, precognition is the ability to psychically receive visions of the future via dreams. In the example I was given, my source was visited by the soul of her dying father while she was asleep. In the vision, her father sat down with her and told her everything was going to be fine, that he was doing well, and that she had nothing to worry about. When she woke up, instead of feeling stressed out and agitated, she was relaxed and calm. She received a phone call that evening letting her know that her father was being checked out of the hospital, safe to go home.

INTERVIEW:

My interview with my source, A, went as follows:

Me: So could you tell me about an example of a time you had a precognitive dream?

A: So um… my dad had been sick for two years and in the last few weeks he had been really sick, he had swelling all over his body and we weren’t really sure what was up with that, and I was supposed to go back and visit but I couldn’t because [my son] was sick and vomiting. So I didn’t feel comfortable bringing him or even exposing him with me. So I didn’t visit my dad. Then Sunday came and Sunday night I had this dream, in which my dad was telling me that everything was going to be okay that he was fine and that he was really happy. And so I woke up feeling very relieved about the whole thing and then later that evening my mother called to let me know that they were checking out of the hospital and that he’d made a miraculous recovery.

MY THOUGHTS:

The belief is an interesting take on why we dream. At some point, I feel like most people have sought to make sense of why exactly they dream. For many, it’s the idea that we as humans can predict the future. It’s instances like these in which the belief is reinforced in someone. While correlation does not equate to causation, there is technically no evidence that what took place was not an occurrence of precognition.

For another view on this belief see: Aristoteles, and J.I. Beare. On Divination in Sleep. InteLex®.

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