USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘magic’
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®.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Duppies

Panteha’s mom is from Jamaica, and taught her many legends and folk beliefs from Jamaican folklore. The following is a description Panteha shared with me of folkloric figures called “duppies”:

“So duppies are like, they’re like spirits…so there’s like good duppies and bad duppies. So like a duppy is basically like, someone’s soul that’s still stuck on earth and has been basically just like causing trouble. And there can be like, good duppies that like, they can give you good luck or whatever. But like, obviously no one talks about that; all they do is talk about the bad duppies. And my mom used to do this like, really scary voice when she was talking about it–she was like, ‘duppies sound like this! they sound like this,’ it’s like when Danny’s doing the ‘red rum’ [in The Shining]. They’re supposed to have these crazy like, nasally voices…

You know how like uh, like you have a day where you wake up and you stub your toe and burn your tongue on coffee and like, all these small little things happen? That’s supposedly like, bad duppies just like causing shit for you. And so when that would happen like, literally eating a spoonful of salt is supposed to stop that. So like, I remember like, one specific morning when I was really young, I fell out of bed and like hurt my ankle and like whatever, like burnt my tongue and tripped andy mom was like trying to force me to eat a whole-ass spoonful of salt and I was like, “no,” like I’m not gonna do that. Um and then, ugh, what else…My mom actually didn’t tell me this cause I think she um, didn’t wanna tell me cause I was like a little kid, but I heard from one of my uncles that like, you can shame a duppy or like, scare away a duppy by like, shamelessly exposing your genitals.”

Many cultures hold a belief in malicious or irksome spirits of some kind, which cause trouble for the living but can usually be warded off with certain practices or precautions. Salt often figures prominently in magical remedies for evil spirits’ acts, across cultures. In Jamaica, as in many Caribbean and Latin American countries, West African and indigenous mystical practices coexist with Christianity. Panteha’s mom is an observant Christian, but simultaneously maintains a belief in folk beliefs like that of the duppies.

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.

[geolocation]