USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Narrative’
Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Joshua the Apocalyptic Prophet

Context: When I told my roommate about how I was collecting folklore, he offered to talk about some of the stories he’d heard over the course of his life.

Background: This is something my roommate heard in his religious studies class this semester.

Dialogue: (Note: C denotes myself, B denotes my roommate)

B: …And I think especially the Jesus story is folklore.

C: Based on what your professor told you.

B: Yeah, um… He told me — not me personally but he told my class, uh, because we were studying the origins of Christianity at the time — that there was a man living somewhere in the Fertile Crescent, I think, name Joshua bar Joseph, and he [the professor] was like, “Joshua bar Joseph was an apocalyptic prophet,” meaning, he went around saying that the end was near, and that if people didn’t follow him, that they will die, and they would be s— very sad, and their life would be over. BUT— Wait did I say “if?” Sorry. If they didn’t follow him, they would die die, damnation, whatever. But if they DID follow him, uh, they would go to Paradise when they died, y’know. “The Apocalypse is coming, but, if you follow me, you’re gonna go to heaven.” Um, and then he’s [the professor] like, “Does this sound familiar?” and we’re like, “YEAH IT’S JESUS” and he’s like, “EXACTLY, Jesus was just an apocalyptic cult leader!” Um, and I’m like, “Well THAT makes sense.” So, yeah, that’s what my professor told me. But, I guess that means the Bible’s folklore.

Analysis: This is a really good example at how religion is deeply tied with folklore. From my roommate’s perspective and the perspective of the professor who gave him this narrative, the Bible is considered the alternative way of telling their story, where it would be commonly thought of as the “correct” way of telling the stories contained within. The fact that the story of Jesus allows for such variations—I’ve personally also heard the names “Joshua ben Joseph” and “Jeshua ben Joseph” ascribed to Jesus outside of Biblical context—attests to the fact that the Bible can be seen as merely another, more popular form of  a certain folk belief.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Going to Hell in High School

Context: I collected this from a high school friend when we were on a camping trip together over Spring Break.

Background: My friend and I were part of our high school’s marching band.

Dialogue: (Note: C denotes myself, J denotes my friend)

J: When I first went to CV [high school] they— We did the tour thing with the band, and they were like “This is the stairs to Hell! There’s a bomb shelter down there.” Which… fuck knows.

C: There’s a bomb shelter?

J: Yeah, apparently there’s a bomb shelter in CV. It was built in the 60s, it makes sense, y’know. I’ve never looked at the blueprints.

C: I was never told there was a bomb shelter.

J: Um, but I don’t know where that is. I’ve always assumed it was down in Hell, um, but… A couple years after that, uh, I was told by… someone, that a hobo used to live down in Hell and just kind of… slept there, cuz y’know, shelter I guess, and that one day administration found that hobo dead in Hell. So that sucks— Well it’s not really in Hell, cuz Hell you get to from the inside of the auditorium, you gotta go down the stairs from the Jazz Cave, but this was like— you know the stairs behind the auditorium, that go down and are like, sketchy and dark?

C: The spiral ones?

J: N0, the spirals are in the Jazz Cave. The ones that are, like, if you’re going from the Band Room up to the quad, and instead of going up the stairs you go around the stairs, and then there’s stairs down. If you go down those stairs.

C: Okay.

J: That’s where I was told that the hobo died.

C: Oh! Yeah, yeah.

J: And it’s like dark there and shit, so… it would make sense that no one found him there for a while.

Analysis: This is almost my own piece of folklore too, since I went to high school in the same place and knew about the same locations. In this instance, however, comparing my own knowledge about “Hell” (a basement area underneath our school’s auditorium) to what my friend knew showed some variation: I had never heard of the bomb shelter existing before, nor did I know that the specific staircase my friend had spoken about was supposed to be an “entrance to Hell,” as we would have put it back in the day.

Folk Beliefs
general
Myths
Narrative

Japanese Creation Myth (As Told by a Scot)

Context: Gathered from one of my roommates once he found out about my collection project.

Background: My roommate had heard this story from somewhere he couldn’t remember, and thought it would be interesting to see how it reflects the “real” Japanese myth.

Dialogue: I would  love to refresh myself on, like, exactly the history and, like, what the names are and stuff, too, but… I think basically, the gist of it was, there are these gods, or like deities at least, in heaven, in like the spiritual realm, um, and two of them one day, I think by order of, like, the elder gods or whatever, um…. There were two of them who were ordered to go down, or maybe just decided, to go down to Earth, the kingdom of Earth, and basically, like, start humanity, like they would do a little pole dance and then everything was born. More on that in a second! So they go, they go down to Earth…. um, it’s like a male god and a female god… They go down to Earth, they’re like descending this crazy cool pole or whatever, and they like do this dance around the pole, um, and like all of life was born, and then they realized, “Wait a minute… Everything’s shitty! None of this… is good.” And, uh… Wait a minute, I’m trying to remember… The order of the speaking is important here, but I don’t remember the order of the story structure, so… Yeah. I’m about to get it though, I’m about to get it. Anyway, point is, they finish their dance, they gave life to everything, and the girl was like… “Great! We’re done!” And the guy was like, “WOAH, that’s weird, that you talked first, hold on! Let’s start EVERYTHING over.” So they go back up to heaven, and they do the dance again, and the guy says, “Hey, that’s great, we made life!” and then the woman was like, “Yeah, right!” and he’s like, “Okay, awesome, everything’s good.” So that’s Japan’s explanation eternally for, uh— Not explanation for misogyny but just a justification, I guess.

Analysis: Two parts of this stood out to me. The first was what my roommate mentioned, the fact that his version of this myth would most certainly be different from the “real” or “official” one, and how interesting it would be to compare the two versions. There were a good amount of pieces of the myth that my roommate left out, including the name of the deities (Izanami and Izanagi) and how the land of Japan came to be specifically, rather than simply “they gave life to everything.” He also added the element of a “pole dance” to the myth, which isn’t present in any other version I’ve looked through.

The other part of this narrative that stuck out to me was the fact that my roommate saw the myth as a justification of misogyny, rather than simply as a pre-science explanation for how Japan and the world came to be. This is what stood out to me as the main difference between hearing the myth told by someone of Japanese cultural heritage and someone (like my roommate) who is not.

Annotation: I looked up more “official” versions of the creation myth, and found that there was a progression from one version to another to the one that my roommate eventually recounted to me. The most similar version to the one above can be found here. The version being credited as taken directly from “Kojiki, the Japanese ‘Record of Ancient Things'” can be found here.

Customs
general
Humor
Legends
Narrative

The Family Car Story

Context: I collected this from a friend on a trip over Spring Break, after he’d heard me talking about folklore with another friend I was collecting from.

Background: This is a story my friend’s father like to recount at family gatherings or parties they host.

Dialogue: A large part of my family comes from this one place in Wisconsin called Steven’s Point, um, and, for a while they were… uh, I think, one side of my family was a— uh, was pretty wealthy and lived there for a while, and so, I think, when cars started rolling in across the country, um… So in the 1930s, I think, or, uh, the 1940s, my… great-grandmother, uh, she, moved to Steven’s Point, Wisconsin, uh, and, I think she was, she was starting to get kind of old, and she had to go renew her driver’s license. Now… there were only two cars in Steven’s Point at that time: the one she was driving, and the one she crashed into.

Analysis: The fact that my friend’s father likes to regularly tell this story at gatherings/parties convinced me to mark this in the Customs category, since it’s a familial custom for him to tell it. And while it’s not the most universal story in the world to tell, it feels very important in the legacy of this particular family. So it works as a more personal piece of folklore that way.

Legends
Narrative

Croatian Cemetery Legend

Informant FV is my grandfather who was born and raised in Split, Croatia. Here, he describes a Croatian legend from the city of Split that was about a courageous man who was dared by his friends to visit a cemetery alone at night. This legend has long been told over generations:

FV: “There were a group of guys who were one night hanging out with each other like they normally do after work. They started talking about daring each other to go to the cemetery by themselves. No one out of the group would immediately volunteer because they knew you’re not supposed to trespass. Well, there was one guy in the group who eventually volunteered himself to go. He volunteered because he wanted to prove to his friends that he was brave enough to go alone to the cemetery. Then they all agreed that he would go to the cemetery at midnight with a knife. And this was during the wintertime. They told him to put the knife on top of the grave and to leave it there. And that’s what the brave man did. He followed the instruction to place the knife on top of a grave and to leave it there to be found the next morning. Well, when his friends came the next morning to pick the knife up, they couldn’t find him anywhere. So they proceeded into the cemetery at the break of dawn looking for their friend. Once they ventured into the cemetery, they saw a man passed out over one of the graves. Turns out their friend who was dared to enter the cemetery late at night to put a knife on top of a grave died. The man ended up getting tangled up on his long coat. Because it was pitch black and you couldn’t see anything, he thought someone was grabbing him by his coat, which caused him to have a heart attack. He died on top of a grave from a heart attack. Now, people say that they see the man’s silhouette or ghostly figure roaming around the cemetery looking for his friends.”

How did you learn about this legend?

FV: “Well it’s a story that is told over the years while growing up. I heard it from my grandfather when I was a young boy. My friends also heard about the story from their grandparents as well. It’s meant to scare the young kids in town and for entertainment purposes. But there are people who truly believe that the man who died that night still exists within the cemetery, so people tend to tell the same legend. It’s an old legend that is known in Split and is still told today.”

Why do you like sharing this legend with other people?

FV: “Well, it’s a story that lives on over generations and it’s fun to tell for fun, but I know some people who have shared with me that they have seen the apparition of the man themselves so there is a spookiness to the story.”

What context or setting would this story be told in?

FV: “Well, this story has been told at gatherings like parties or other events mainly to entertain those who are listening.”

Does this legend have any significance to you?

FV: “I enjoyed telling this story to my children when they were young and to my grandchildren because it was a legend that was passed down to me by my family, so I like to do the same and share it with my family.”

Analysis:

There are many legends and myths within the Croatian culture and this is one example of a legend that has been past down generation to generation by word of mouth. This legend is told for entertainment purposes during parties or gatherings to compel the audience with something interesting. It has been said that those who have visited this cemetery in Split have seen the same man walking through as if he was alive. Legends like this are often shared in the Croatian culture to amuse the young children.

 

Legends
Narrative

Connecticut Ghost Story

Informant EM is 18 years old and a freshman at the University of Southern California. Her major is cinema and media stories. Here, she discusses her ghostly experience as a freshman in high school in Connecticut:

EM: “For my freshman year of high school, I went to boarding school in the middle of nowhere in Connecticut. It was kind of an isolated community so we had to tell each other stories to keep us entertained for the most part and a lot of those stories involve the founding of the school and the legacy of the people who founded the school. So I got the luck of moving into the oldest dorm on campus that had been around since the 1800’s and it was a scary place. It was drafty, it was cold, it was falling apart, so naturally we had a bunch of ghost stories about it. The most memorable one was the story of the ghost of Maria Bissell Hotchkiss who was the founder of the school. Legend had it that if you went out at night to the hallway and you went to the back staircase of the dormitory, which was named after her by the way, you would see a woman dressed in white in a Victorian costume, like very old fashioned clothing, walking back and forth throughout the hallway and she would go down the stairs and if you tried to follow her, she would disappear. A lot of this has to do with the fact that back part of the dorm used to be her home when the school was originally founded. It’s kind of like the idea that she is looking out for the students. She’s been known to be a benevolent ghost, nothing really scary about her, but it was still creepy and there were definitely tons of sightings. I remember in particular when we had a blackout, because we were snowed in, there was this horrible blizzard. I actually feel like I might have seen something. I like to think that there is a rational explanation because like again it’s an old building, but I heard footsteps out in the hallway and I had the room closest to the back staircase and there wasn’t anyone with me. My roommate was back in my room but she heard the footsteps too, but she didn’t see what I saw. I saw someone in the dark who was dressed in white and this figure was opening the back door to the staircase and going in and you know there could be many explanations obviously, but it definitely made me think and it was kind of a fun story to tell other people after.”

How did people react to your experience?               

EM: “Well there was this girl who was a daughter of a teacher and she lived in the house adjacent to the dorms, and she said that all throughout her childhood before even knowing who Maria Bissell was, she had actually seen the ghost in one of the rooms, which when we later went upstairs to look at it, it turned out to be my room because it is the closest to the back. So we were thinking that maybe this used to be Maria Bissell’s room when it was a house, so maybe that explains why she keeps going there. But the girl said she wasn’t scared of her as a young child. She said that she got the impression that this spirit was kind to children. She started a school so maybe she is still around just to keep looking out for her students to make sure that they are OK.”

How or from whom did you learn about your school’s history?

EM: “Well before I saw it with my own eyes, I had the background because it was a popular story to hear around Halloween from the older students. It was kind of like an initiation thing like I would hear it from like the girls who were proctors and were seniors and you would hear it from the faculty. But I remember that they would make this little ritual out of it on Halloween where they would take us to a graveyard. They would take us out on Halloween night to the grave of Maria Bissell. It was just to scare us and it was part of the initiation process. It was a big part of the school culture and especially the women who are a part of the school. The boys never heard about this kind of stuff that went on, only the girls were involved.”

Did any of the girls ever share this with the boys?

EM: “Never. No, actually it was very exclusive. I don’t know if it had to do with that the dorm was a girls dorm, but it was definitely women who passed it on to other women.”

Does your experience have any meaning to you?

EM: “Well I’m not sure, but I like to keep my mind open. I like to think of it more as a lucky encounter or a positive thing, almost like a good luck charm more than it would be like something that is very scary because it was a way in connecting with the history of the place and also it’s nice for a change to have like a mascot ghost that isn’t out to get you. It was definitely a positive experience.”

What context would you share your experience in?

EM: “Well it makes a great story for stuff like Halloween, but I feel like it’s probably easier to explain to people from my same background. So if I were to meet another girl who went to Hotchkiss, I would probably ask her if she heard about Maria Bissell and ask her of she experienced anything similar. Everyone has their own story on Maria Bissell, which kind of defines your belonging to group of Hotchkiss girls. It would definitely be a bonding thing.”

Analysis:

EM’s experience with the ghost of Maria Bissell Hotchkiss is a large part of the schools initiation process and part of the tradition of passing those experiences onto the new class of girls who are coming in. It represents belonging within the community and the spirit of Marie Bissell Hotchkiss is portrayed as a benevolent spirit who is a reminder that the girls of this community a part of a tradition that was upheld for decades. The shared experiences and stories brought the community together. It solidified the bond between the girls of the school. It also established a sense of identity for the girls who went to Hotchkiss. Many girls came from all over the U.S. and the world to earn an education at this school and through the many experiences of encountering Maria Bissell over generations brought a sense of community and a shared belief system that all the girls could relate to and understand.

 

For another version of this legend, check out this article written by Stephanie Thomas:

http://www.hotchkiss.org/abouthotchkiss/hotchkiss-today/last-bissell-halloween-walk/index.aspx

Citation:

Thomas, Stephanie. “Origins of the Bissell Halloween Walk.” The Hotchkiss School. N.p., 2014. Web. Apr. 2016.

 

 

Legends
Narrative

Menehune- Mischievous Hawaiian Spirits

Informant CT is in her third year as a neuroscience major at the University of Southern California. CT is Hawaiian and is from the island of Oahu. Here, she describes a well-known Hawaiian legend about mischievous spirits who play tricks on those who visit the Hawaiian Islands:

CT: “Menehune were natives of the Hawaiian Islands and were really small in stature. They have been known to look like little elves or fairies, but not really fairies, more like trolls and they lived deep in the forest away from civilization. They have been known to trick and mess with the tourists who come to the islands for vacation, like they tend to play practical jokes on the tourists like they would misplace your things while on your stay or they would pull you hair. They would also pinch or poke you. Mostly just silly stuff.”

How or where did you learn this legend from?

CT: “Well, my grandparents would always share this story with me and my sister when we were little. They’ve told us that the Menehune were like the first people to come to Hawaii and live on the islands. My grandparents would always say to us that whenever me and my sister did something bad or went against our parent’s rules, that is was the menehune that made us to it, that they influenced us to do it, like in a playful way.”

So the Menehune were not scary or meant to scare anyone?

CT: “No not at all. They, from what I have been told when I was little is that they are just playful spirits that mess around with young kids. It was never a scary thing or something to be afraid of. Nothing in that nature.”

In what kind of context would you share this Hawaiian legend?

CT: “Um well I guess you would share this legend to those who are going to Hawaii on vacation. Like I’ve made a joke about it before to my friends who were going to Hawaii during the summer. I would tell them to watch out for the Menehune while they are there because it’s been known in my culture that they mess with the tourists and their things so its just something fun to share with other people and kind of make them aware of this legend.”

Does this legend have any significant meaning to you?

CT: “Um, well it does in the sense that it is part of my Hawaiian culture and that it’s been shared and passed down through my family and it’s pretty well known. Like my friends and their families have spoken about it, mostly in a fun and joking way.”

Analysis:

These mischievous spirits have been known to pull pranks on those who visit the Hawaiian Islands for leisurely reasons, especially in more remote areas of the islands. Although there is no official record of a Menehune siting, legend has it that their spirits still live on and play on the minds of those who visit the Hawaiian Islands.

 

Legends
Narrative

New England Ghost Story

Informant EB is a senior at the University of Southern California majoring in political science. EB is originally from Boston, Massachusetts, but he has spent the majority of his youth in Connecticut. Here, he shares a ghost story known to a town in Connecticut called Dudley Town.

EB: “So Dudley Town is a famous old colonial town in Cornwall, Connecticut, and most people who are from Connecticut know of it as a spooky, old ghost town. Back in the mid to late 1700’s, Dudley Town was mostly farmland and it was used for farming purposes only. But because other businesses were opening up and it was located on an area that was not ideal for farming, the agricultural production suffered and eventually closed down. So the story is that there was a doctor in this town who killed all of his patients when he would go visit them at their homes. He would poison his patients by giving them the wrong medication. This doctor was known to be a Satanist and that he believed that if he followed and did what the devil instructed him to do, he would be rewarded with a rich and fruitful afterlife. So he did this for years and years up until he hung himself in the middle of town. It has been known that his dark, evil spirit haunts the remains of this old town and that no one will really go near it because of all the strange things that have happened. I think it is even closed off to the public today.”

Where did you earn about this legend?

EB: “Um well I heard it while going to school when I was younger and it is a story that is talked about in school by our the older classmates. I have heard variations of the story over the years, but it is something that has been talked about among friends and schoolmates for generations.”

Does this legend have any significant meaning to you?

EB: “Uh kind of in that it is was talked about in school as a way to warn the students to not venture over to that town because of what happened, but it mostly freaked me out when I first heard in school.”

What context or setting would you share this story?

EB: “I have shared this legend to other people when it has been close to Halloween, but I feel like if I were to run into someone who is from Connecticut, they would have a better understanding of the whole ghost story thing and we would be able to relate to it better. I feel like most people who aren’t from Connecticut would look at me weird because they may not know the historical background of old colonial towns like Dudley and or they might now believe in the supernatural. But it’s also a fun story to share for entertainment purposes too.”

Analysis:

Connecticut is a New England state that is prominently known for its coastal cities and its mysterious rural areas. The remains of an old colonial settlement, Dudley Town is known to be cursed. Plagued by hundreds of unexplained deaths and tragedies, this town is now prohibited to the public and has been reclaimed by the surrounding forest. The remains of this eerie town are now fully covered by trees and wildlife. I found it interesting how the informant learned about this legend in school while he was a new student and how it is tradition each year to share this legend with the younger incoming students.

Folk speech
Humor
Narrative

“Whatever you do, don’t step on the cracks”

Informant AB is a 23-year-old male who is from the East Bay in Northern California. He is a student at the University of Southern California in his third year as a civil engineer major. Informant AB was taught by his grandfather as a child to not walk on the cracks on the sidewalk to avoid bad luck:

AB: “When I was little, I would visit my grandparents on the weekends with my younger brother and we would sit in the family room all together after dinner. My grandfather would tell us all kinds of stories of when he was a kid growing up. He told us that his father would always tell him to never walk on the cracks on the side walk because it will give you bad luck for 7 years.”

How did your grandfather’s father learn about this type of lore?

AB: “Well, I asked him one day about the meaning behind the story and he said that his father learned it from a buddy of his when he was a kid. He said that his friend heard it from the neighborhood kids. My grandfather said it was mostly to be meant as a joke, but some of kids took it seriously, like my grandfather.”

Does this folklore have any significance to you?

AB: “Ya it’s pretty funny how it actually does mean something to me. Ever since my grandfather told me and my brother this story, I have been very conscious to walk a certain way to avoid the cracks in the ground. I know it’s mostly a joke and not meant to be taken too seriously, but just knowing the idea of the potential bad luck that can come from stepping on the cracks makes me more aware to avoid them. It’s pretty funny how seriously I take it sometimes.”

Have you shared your grandfather’s story with anyone else?

AB: “Ya I’ve told my buddy NC and a few other friends growing up about the story and it’s pretty funny now I have them doing the same thing. We know it’s not meant to be taken too serious, but I think it’s funny how much of an impact it made on all of us. Even at our age today we are still very mindful of the bad luck that can happen if we step on any cracks.”

Have your friends carried on this folklore in any way?

AB: “My brother and my friend NC have definitely shared this story with their friends just to mess with their minds in a joking way. They find it entertaining to make people feel that bad luck can happen if you step on cracks. It has become a running joke between all of us and it has managed to freak other people out.”

Analysis:

The informant’s example of oral folklore shows just how a story can cross boundaries between different groups of people and influence their everyday lives. It began with AB’s grandfather’s father who initially carried on the story, but now AB and his brother have continued to pass the story along to their group of friends. I find it interesting how this story has turned into an inside joke between friends, but how it also had such an impact that it managed to make them aware enough to avoid any chances of being struck with bad luck.

 

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Legend of La Llorona

“I remember my mother always warning to be cautious at night when coming home from a friends or if I was late from school when I was growing up in Chihuahua, Mexico. She would constantly warn that La Llorona was out there, ready to take children wandering at night by themselves. I never really knew who La Llorona was until I asked my mom, and she looked so nervous when I asked her. She was supposedly a lady who wanted to marry a rich landowner, though he would not accept her two children as his own. Eventually, the woman drowned her kids and when she told him what she had done, he was horrified and wanted nothing to do with her. She then realized what she had done and was overcome by grief and spent her time looking for her kids near the river. She then drowned herself and her spirit constantly is on the lookout for other children, wanting to drown them out of jealousy for her own missing children.”

The informant grew up in a rural town outside of Chihuahua but moved to Los Angeles in high school. Because he lived in the countryside, he felt people tended to believe in Mexican legends more than those who grew up in a city. I asked him at lunch this week if he remembered any Mexican folklore from growing up, and this story was the first thing that came to mind for him. He remembers always being afraid of being alone outside, due to his mom constantly warning him about La Llorona, which translates to “the crier.” When he was seven, he finally learned from his mom who she was and grew even more afraid of walking alone outside and made sure to always have friends with him if he had to go somewhere.

Though he never asked his mom point blank, the informant strongly believes that his mom regards the legend as true, due to her nervousness when explaining La Llorona’s story. His mom had learned about La Llorona from her mom, but the informant also heard other versions of the story from his classmates later on in elementary school. Some said she wore a black dress instead of a white one while some said she drowned her children for a different reason than that mentioned above. I think the story is creepy, and if I were the informant and heard about the story at such a young age, I would have probably believed it and be deathly afraid of walking outside by myself, especially at night. For another version of this legend, see Rudolfo Anaya’s novel La Llorona: the Crying Woman.

Anaya, Rudolfo. La Llorona: The Crying Woman. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2011. Print.

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