USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘myths’
Folk Beliefs
Myths
Signs
Tales /märchen

The Owl: A Native American Bad Omen

Context:

My grandmother M is Native American and would often tell me stories about her life on a reservation in Arizona. I asked her about any stories that she carried with her as a child or even in adulthood that relate to her cultural background. She shared this story with me about her experience with an owl.

Main Piece:

The story I remember most is not of her life on reservation however a story that happened to her as an adult. My grandmother once told me that the owl is considered a negative omen in Native American culture. She also told me that she experienced this negative omen first hand and has since hated owls. Molly had seven sons and one of her eldest had purchased a motorcycle. He was in his twenties and was of age to purchase the bike but had never ridden one before. My grandmother told me that one day she had noticed an owl out during the day perched on a tree near her bedroom window. She found this very odd because of the time of day, and because she lived in East Los Angeles where seeing owls would be rare. The owl spoke a name to her, and she was very unsettled. The owl had spoken her son’s name. Her son had been home but was about to leave on his bike to hang out with his friends. My grandmother stopped him and told him to stay home because she had a bad feeling about him leaving. She didn’t tell him about the owl for fear that he wouldn’t believe her and would probably think she was crazy. That night, my uncle was in an accident on his motorcycle and died. To this day, my grandmother regrets having kept the owl from him.

Notes:

Stated by Native-languages.org, many Native American tribes consider the owl an omen of death. Hopi however, consider the owl a symbol of authority and wisdom. It is interesting that my grandmother didn’t look at the owl as a sign of wisdom given that her own tribe sees them that way. Possibly it was a sign of wisdom in that it gave her the warning signs and she was left to her own devices to solve the problem. My grandmother has never shared stories with me regarding anything supernatural. I don’t think that was something that they talked about because I don’t think they believed in it. Given that my father also had an experience regarding the death of my uncle and he is very logical and not easily swayed without proof, I believe there is truth to it.

 

 

For more on Owls in Native American folklore:

http://www.native-languages.org/legends-owl.htm

https://www.owlpages.com/owls/articles.php?a=64&p=2

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Back When Tigers Used to Smoke: The Origin of Korea

Context:

The subject is a college freshman, born in South Korea before moving to the United States when they were 12 years old. I wanted to get to know more about any folklore they might have experienced growing up, so I conducted an interview with them to find out.

 

Piece:

Subject: You know how most fairy tales start with, like, “once upon a time”?

Interviewer: Mhm.

Subject: The, uh, Korean version is, “back when tigers used to smoke.” Like cigarettes. Back when tigers would smoke tobacco basically. I don’t know the exact origin, but there are old Korean paintings depicting a tiger with like a little ancient Asian-Korean pipe. Koreans love inserting that sh*t, like so, I guess no one knows where it actually came from, but a lot of stories begin, “Back when tigers used to smoke tobacco.” Assuming they don’t anymore.

Interviewer: That’s so interesting, that’s the literal translation?

Subject: Yup.

Interviewer: Is it something to do with like, the legend of how Korea started with a tiger and a, uh lion?

Subject: A bear.

Interviewer: A bear, yeah, is it something to do with that?

Subject: Tiger is like, America has an eagle, Korea has a tiger.

Interviewer: Makes sense.

Subject: Like Korean wild tigers have gone extinct after Japanese occupation, cuz they would hunt tigers as like sport. So I don’t think there’s any tigers left in wildlife Korea. But Koreans pride themselves, um North Korea claims they have tigers, I don’t know they totally could. But like, yeah tigers, the quintessential Korean animal. Do you know the fable of how Korea started?

Interviewer: Not really.

Subject: It’s super simple, God basically came down and found a tiger and a bear who both wanted to be humans. So God told them to like, “okay if you go live in a cave, only live off garlic and warm wood for 60 days or 100 days or something, then you will be a human.” The tiger left because it was impatient, but the bear survived, the bear became a woman and had the child of the God. So the human woman, who used to be a bear, got pregnant from God, and gave birth to an egg. Out of that egg was Korea’s first king, supposedly, like King Arthur type thing. That was like 50,000 years ago I guess.

 

Analysis:

As you can see, our conversation led to much of what this analysis section would talk about. The tiger is a very prevalent and defining symbol for Korea, and as they were once given human characteristics in old fables to explain the origins of their country, it makes sense why fairy tales would begin with a description of a time when tigers would be human-like. Maybe setting the story before the God came down, or during the first settling of humans in the country.

Specifically, the tigers in Korea are Siberian tigers. It brings luck, and embodies courage and absolute power.

 

Myths

The Myth of Persephone

The following was recorded from a conversation I had with a friend marked EAL. I am marked CS. She shared with me a religious myth she grew up learning in school.

 

CS: “So how did you learn this myth?”

EAL: “I was really into Greek mythology as a kid and my mom bought me like a big book of Greek mythologies and we’d read them together as bedtime stories when I was really young.”

CS: “Can you tell me the story?”

EAL: “So basically Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, the god of harvest. She was very carefree, beautiful, and like vibrant. And so Hades, who is the God of the underworld, who is like dark and depressing, saw her and said he wanted her to be his wife. So she was playing in the field and his chariot comes up out of the ground and he abducts her and takes her to the underworld. And then because she was in the underworld and Demeter was so upset, winter came because she was heartbroken about the abduction of her daughter. And while Persephone was in the underworld she ate six seeds so like she has to stay in the underworld since she ate the food of the dead for six months, so that kind of explains the seasons. So the summer she can be with Demeter and its like the harvest season, and then the winter she has to be with Hades and that’s why it’s winter.”

CS: “Did you ever hear varied versions of this myth?”

EAL: “Yeah I’ve heard it before, maybe without the season aspect, so I think there’s definitely variations that leave that out. In others they’re married, but in the version I’ve read she doesn’t love him at all and is just kind of stuck with him.

 

Background:

The participant is a freshman at the University of Southern California and was raised in Chicago, Illinois with a strong Christian religious background. Her mom introduced her to mythology, mostly Greek and Egyptian, at a very young age.

Context:

An in person conversation recorded while walking to an event.

 

Analysis:

I found this myth really captivating because I also used to love Greek mythology and was an avid reader of myths such as this one. I hadn’t heard this version before in regards to how that is where seasons originate. I believe when I used to read Greek mythology it was from a children’s book so it makes sense why details such as that would be left out. It is interesting to see how folk myths, even when tied to religion, still have variations from one to the next.

 

general
Legends
Myths

Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary

When my informant was little, she had heard about the legend of Bloody Mary. At her elementary school, one of the girl’s bathrooms was supposedly haunted by the ghost of Bloody Mary and those who were brave enough could go in, turn the lights off and then spin around three times yelling out her name. If they did this correctly they would see Bloody Mary dressed in white in front of them in the mirror.

Bloody Mary is a classic folklore figure amongst youths. I know that I had heard about Bloody Mary when I was in grade school as well and my friends and I would all go into the bathroom together to try to see her. Although the true origins of Bloody Mary are unknown, the story my informant had heard was where a woman named Mary had committed suicide because one of her children was stolen from her. All of the stories involving Mary, however, seem to be associated with children and childbirth, which is possibly why she is “Bloody” Mary. Like we discussed in class, mostly girls knew about this myth, especially since Bloody Mary resided in the girls’ bathroom.

general
Legends

The Bunny Man Myth

“Halloween Night comes around. Nothing happens until midnight. Right before midnight supposedly a bunny or two enters the bridge. Right before midnight his soul (a dim light) walks the tracks above the bridge. When Midnight hits, his soul stops right above the bridge (dead center), and disappears, only to reappear inside the bridge. From then on it’s his soul which lights up the whole area, so brightly that you can’t even see him. That’s when he instantly kills you by slitting your throat and slashing your chest, only to hang you at the edge of the bridge. You can even see the rub marks that have worn away at the rock where the body’s were swinging. Who ever is inside the bridge ends up dead.” -Forbes

This informant grew up in Washington D.C., she would always hear about the urban legend of The Bunny Man Bridge in Virginia, which she claims was also the inspiration for the bunny in Donnie Darko. There is a very old tunnel with an overpass in Virginia. She says that in the early 19th century, an accident occured over the tunnel and it was transporting all these convicts, violent types. Some of the passengers escaped and the police were eventually able to find all of them except for one men. When they were searching for these men, they kept finding half eaten rabbits. So, they named him The Bunny Man and now that tunnel is called The Bunny Man Bridge. Also, my informant said that she heard from her friends if you go to the bridge and you walk halfway through and then turn around you will see The Bunnyman standing there. She had never tried it, but many of her friends had.

The legend of the Bunny Man is actually a very prominent legend in Virginia. The tale goes back to 1903 in Clifton, Virginia where there used to be an asylum, which was later relocated and is now called “Lorton Prison”. In Fall of 1904, many convicts were put on a bus and to get sent to the prison, but an accident happened and many of them fled to try to escape into the woods. They actually had trouble finding two of the convicts, Marcus and Douglas. However, they never found, Marcus, whom they later named The Bunny Man. Then, that October, people started seeing dead bunny’s along the roads again. On midnight Halloween night, a few kids that had gone to the bridge saw a bright light in the tunnel and then were murdered by the same kind of tool that they found in Marcus’ hand almost a year before. “Not only were their throats slashed, but all up and down their chests were long slashes gutting them” and then both guys were hung from the bridge and then the woman on the other side. This then happened for many years in the same way.

So, for this piece of folklore there was a legend component as well as a myth. My informant told me that many teens today still go and try to see the Bunny Man, but the murders only occurred around midnight on Halloween night. Some of the variations on the legend also involve the murderer wearing a bunny suit. Although this story seems farfetched, many of the articles regarding it swear on its truth. I think that these kinds of myths represent the country’s fascination with ghost stories and mysterious unknown. Also, by creating haunting figures and urban legends like the Bunny Man, it could be an attempt to stop teenagers from going to the bridge at night or partying on Halloween Night. In my research about this story, there was actually one girl who stayed away from the bridge at midnight while her other friends stayed to see if the Bunny Man legend was actually real. Supposedly, at midnight, she heard the screams of her friends and by the time she got to the bridge, all her friends were hung. In fact, she was later accused of their murders and ended up being put in an insane asylum for shock. Like other sinister figures, such as Bloody Mary, it seems like each folklore has a myth component as well as a legend behind it and they get more complex in variation as the stories get spread around.

Annotation/Additional Comments: This legend and myth can be found at this source: http://www.castleofspirits.com/clifton.html and http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/library/branches/vr/bunny/

Supposedly, the Bunny Man had been reported in a few other towns in 1973 and the Fox Family Channel series “Scariest Places on Earth” did a segment called “Terror on Bunnyman Bridge’ in 2001.

 

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