USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘mirror’
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.

Legends
Narrative

Ancestor Mirror Ghost

Main Piece:

 

The following was recorded from the Participant. They are marked as BDV. I am marked as DG.

 

BDV: So my mom thinks that ghosts communicate to her, so after my dad’s mom passed away, and we…we were the ones to clean out her house and pack away her stuff and things like that. And my mom kept insisting that every time she passed this mirror, she would see something behind her, and she thought that it was my dad’s mom and we were like, “ok whatever.” And then coming back to our own house, the same thing would happen to the mirror in our living room, and she was like-it happened for a year for her until, like, the year anniversary of my grandma’s passing.

 

DG: And you heard that from your mom?

 

BDV: Yeah, from my mom. And she says that the same thing happens to other people in her family. Like, after her dad passed away, it happened to her eldest sister. And she thinks that since my grandma didn’t have any daughters-she only had my dad-that it, like, passed to her daughter-in-law, which is, like, my mom.”

 

 

Context:

 

The conversation was recorded while sitting outside of a coffee shop at the University of Southern California. The ghost sighting was seen at the house of the interviewee’s grandmother, as well as at the house of the interviewee.

 

Background:

 

The student was born and raised in Northern California. She is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is the fourth generation to grow up in America, but is Filipino. She speaks several languages, with English being her native language.

 

Analysis:

 

I’ve heard about stories like this. There seems to be a lot of folklore concerning mirrors and ghosts, leading me to believe that mirrors are a method of communication to the other side. For example, the Bloody Mary game is played in a mirror. I personally have heard folklore about not looking into a mirror in the dark or the spirits will replace your soul with theirs, leaving you trapped in the mirror. So to me, the idea of seeing the deceased behind you in the mirror seems entirely believable, and also incredibly terrifying.

Legends
Narrative

AIDS poem in lipstick on mirror

I have a cousin who is an event planner in Colombia, Juliana, who arrived to the US in February of this year to start an intensive English program through UCLA extension. She was told in Colombia by her aunts to be careful because STD’s are rampant in Los Angeles, although none of them have traveled here. After making several American friends, one night at a party, the subject of STD’s came up and people started to tell stories. She said an American guy with dark hair was saying he had a former roommate when he was a freshman in college, who would sleep around without precautions. One night after “bagging a chick” he woke up to find he was alone, secretly he was grateful to avoid any awkwardness of kicking out a stranger. When he went to the bathroom, he saw lipstick on his mirror. Juliana initially did not understand what was written on the mirror and ask the guy to type it down on her phone so she could translate it later. It was a poem that read “Roses are red, Violets are blue, I have AIDS and now so do you” when she finally translated it, she said she was so shocked and it freaked her out a lot. One of her teachers seeing her so upset asked her what was wrong and she relayed the story, she said that her teacher started laughing really hard, this only made Juliana confused and embarrassed until her teacher explain that what she was told was an urban legend by the guy at the party and therefore not true.

Analysis: Juliana asked me three times to reassure her that the story was an in fact, an urban legend. She also asked why would anybody repeat such a horrible lie. I said that I am sure that Colombia had their share of urban legend as well but she denied that claim and said that any stories told were just to scare children into compliance. I think she was more susceptible to the legend because she was primed by her aunts. Her lack of confidence with English also made her likelier to believe someone who was a confident English speaker and storyteller. These kind of legends because of the believability factor seemed to get under people’s skin more and last longer, my cousin Patty said the same story was told to her with slight variation when she was in her 30’s when Aids was more of a death sentence than now and she stills remember the circumstances around the telling of the story.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Game
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bloody Mary (or Candyman)

Information about my Informant

My informant grew up in Hacienda Heights where he went to high school, and received his bachelor’s degree from USC. He is a game designer and is currently working for a social mobile gaming company based in Westwood.

Transcript

“If you, like, look into a mirror, and you say…something three times, usually like ‘Bloody Mary’ or ‘Candyman.’ Those are like two. Um, you like summon them. And it’s very bad. Uh…”

Collector: “Why is it bad? Do they…”

“I don’t know. It’s one of those like you don’t wanna do it, and it’s kind of scary and then you never never do it, I guess? ‘Cause you’re too scared.”

Collector: “So you don’t know what happens when they appear?”

“No, like, there could be presents. I don’t know. They could hurt you horribly; I don’t know.”

Analysis

The Bloody Mary legend is famous among children of many cultures, although it is mostly associated with young prepubescent girls and not boys. The reason being, it is conjectured, is that the Bloody Mary legend in its traditional form is a representation of the onset of menstruation that is in the future for these girls (with the constant concept of blood and with the ritual being performed in front of a mirror that reflects the girls’ own images, meaning that when Bloody Mary does appear in the mirror, she is replacing the image of the girl herself). It is unusual then that in this version that my informant provided me with, it is not only a boy who learned about this but that his version included the possible substitute of a figure called the Candyman. I myself had heard of Bloody Mary but never this male figure. The ritual is very similar, with a candle being lit and the name of Candyman being chanted  a number of times while looking into a mirror. The classic version of Candyman though, as far as I can tell, before the movie called Candyman came out in 1992, was that the Candyman when summoned would either glare at the summoner through the mirror with  his glowing red eyes before vanishing or would kill the summoner with a rusted hook. There is also now a version, which I’m not sure existed before the movie came out, where the Candyman would romantically pursue a female summoner and kill her if she spurned him. It’s interesting that the classic versions of Candyman seems to involve more malevolence (staring, killing) than the classic versions of Bloody Mary (staring, scratching perhaps), but it’s difficult to tell as both figures have been prominently featured in mass media now and their portrayals there have filtered back into the folklore.

For more information about the Bloody Mary and Candyman legends, see:

Dundes, Alan. “Bloody Mary in the Mirror: A Ritual Reflection of Pre-Pubescent Anxiety.” Western Folklore 57.2/3 (1998): 119-135. JSTOR. Web. 1 May. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1500216>.

Tucker, Elizabeth. “Ghosts in Mirrors: Reflections of the Self.” The Journal of American Folklore, 118.468: 186-203. JSTOR. Web. 1 May. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4137701>.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Keeping Ghosts out of Houses

Click here for video.

“So when I was younger, my mom told me stories about why Chinese people decorate their houses in a certain way. Chinese people believe in ghosts, so some people will put mirrors above the doorway of their house because the mirror will reflect ghosts from coming in. Also, they would have a step in front of the doorway because ghosts walk in a very flat-footed manner, so it would prevent them from stepping into the house. The last thing was that some houses were built with two walls that were not perfectly parallel with the front door because that would mean that the ghost would have to walk and then turn and then walk into the doorway, so I guess the ghosts were confused and couldn’t get in that way.”

The informant’s mother is Taiwanese. According to what I’ve heard from Professor Thompson and my Taiwanese parents, almost everyone in Taiwan believes in ghosts, so dealing with ghosts is very important. Knowing that the dead roam your house is eerie and uncomfortable. This discomfort apparently transcends cultures as “haunted houses” are not desirable in the United States and many other cultures.

It seems like the Taiwanese see ghosts as very similar to us. Perhaps even a little less capable than we are as ghosts are repelled by simple mirrors and misaligned walls. There is an element of trickery in these house design traditions, which illustrates the different attitude held by the Taiwanese and a lot of the western world. In lore from United States, ghosts are often tricksters, causing mischief in the houses they haunt. In contrast, it seems as though there is a role reversal with Taiwanese lore. Ghosts are easily fooled and the living are the tricksters, giving us power over the dead. Perhaps the Taiwanese that believe strongly in ghosts find comfort in the thought of being able to thwart the dead.

It seems like a core concept or an inspiration for these traditions is “feng shui”, which is practice of placing of objects to redirect chi, which many Taoist and traditional Chinese call the life-force of the universe. Feng shui for houses is very popular among Asian Americans. I’ve heard of a friend of a friend that spent a considerable sum getting his room redesigned to optimize his chances of getting into an Ivy League. I have not heard of the practice of putting a mirror above the doorway or adding a step, but I have heard of a variation of having non-parallel walls. The idea is that by skewing the walls a bit, good luck enters through the front door, but doesn’t have a direct path to leave and ends up being reflected around the household. It is more than likely that the tradition my informant told me was an oicotype of the tradition I heard about.

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