USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘omen’
Legends

The Albino Squirrel

Text: RB: So, squirrels are kind of famous on the UT campus because they try to get as close to you as possible, they will eat out of your hands, and stop in front of cars and dare people to run them over. Basically they are so used to people that they’ve gone crazy. But there is one albino squirrel, the only one in all of UT. And if you see the albino squirrel right before you take a test, you’re gonna get 100% on that test. Or if you see it right before finals week, you’ll pass all your finals.

AT: Have you ever seen this squirrel?

RB: I’ve never seen the squirrel. It’s really sad.

Context: RB is a freshman at the University of Texas studying aerospace engineering. During orientation, she heard a lot of folklore about the campus, including the piece above. The stories told to her at orientation continue to be confirmed and retold during interactions with current students. The interaction above took place in a living room while we were both home for spring break from our respective universities, swapping campus legends.

Interpretation: This legend is interesting because is encompasses a lot of possible distinctions that exist when examining legends. For one, the albino squirrel itself is a legendary creature that serves as an omen of good fortune and engages with themes of luck. Also, the legend described above can be categorized as a local legend, for it is situated in one spot; the University of Texas at Austin’s campus. Additionally, though the legend is still a legend in that its truth value remains questionable, (the effectiveness of said squirrel sighting can not be confirmed by the informant) the existence of an albino squirrel in a place famous for the propagation of squirrels does not seem too far-fetched.

I also find it interesting that the folk beliefs associated with this legend/legendary creature correlate so strongly with things related to specifically college campuses such as good grades and squirrels. UT serves as the perfect breeding ground for this legend, regardless of whether or not if it is backed up by actual sightings. It would be very easy to believe. Lastly, the use of magic is often employed in situations where people feel a lack of control. The fact that merely laying eyes of this squirrel will magically gift you with an A+ seems fitting in situations that involve test taking, where students often experience the sensation of a lack of control over their future.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Dreams Predict Death

VG: Ok, so you said you have a superstition?

AM: I am 99% sure I know how I’m gonna die and when.

VG: Uh-how?

AM: Once a month, I have the same exact dream where I’m driving in a car during the rain and ss- what is it- we end up hydroplaning and falling on train tracks and not um having enough time to get off the car and getting hit by a dream. What is it- every month the dream changes just a little bit, but it’s always us driving, hydroplaning, and then ch- hitting a ditch.

VG: So you believe in the power of recurring dreams?

AM: Yes. Every month for the past three years.

VG: Do you know the specific day?

AM: No. All I know is is it’s raining really bad and we’re on the highway.

VG: Wow…who’s- you say we, whose in the car?

AM: Usually, my dad, my mom, and me.

VG: Wow…have you told them about it?

AM: Nope..not yet.

 

Background:

Location of Story – Variable, Southern California

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context:  This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore. This story came after a few others from a friend in response to the prompt “weird beliefs.”

 

Analysis: This a great example about the folklore and folk belief in reoccurring dreams because it offers such a precise description of what AM experiences in the dream. This precision is most likely because of the recent development of this recurring and very consistent dream. I also think it is interesting to note the absence of supernatural elements of this story. Frequently, people have monsters, paranormal activity, etc. in their dreams, so the fact that this story is based in reality effectively conveys the idea that this could be an omen – it is much closer to things that could actually occur. Possibly, the realistic narrative of the dream is related to the recent development of this dream. AM is a college freshman, so this dream could reflect feelings of fear about growing older and separating from the family. 

Additional reading: Kaivola-Bregenhøj, Annikki. “Dreams as folklore.” Fabula 34 (1993): 211-224. This article offers a great explanation about dreamlore as well as the relative novelty of its performance.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Black Crow Superstition

LP’s (the informant) family is originally from Mexico. Apparently her entire family believes in the following idea about black crows being a bad omen, but her mother is especially superstitious about it. She’s the only one who actually goes outside to scare them away whenever she sees them. This is a superstition regarding bad luck that can come from crows around your house specifically.

“Whenever you see a black crow coming towards your house it will bring you bad luck. So my mom goes outside and will yell at the crows in Spanish and get them to go away. She scares them off because they will bring bad luck if they stay. If they actually get in your house…well…you’re done for. But if they’re in the street, you have to be respectful because it’s not your property, so you don’t scare them off. According to my mom, she was seeing a lot of crows around my house before the fire (a portion of her house caught fire about two months ago) but she was too lazy to scare all them off. So she was convinced that since she didn’t make them go away, my house was cursed and that’s why it caught fire that one day.”

I have heard about similar superstitions with crows, but more so black cats. I know birds can always represent different types of omens, and ravens are especially symbolic of death and other negative connotations. I think it’s interesting how her mom truly believed that the fire in their house, which was actually due to a power surge, was a result of not scaring away these crows.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Some Cherokee beliefs about incoming storms

When my friend told me she was part Cherokee Indian, I was curious to hear what kinds of traditions and pieces of wisdom were passed down to her. The following is what she had to say.

“So, my grandma, her mom is a Cherokee Indian, and some sayings that she passed down that my grandma always says is that, if the pine tree has a bunch of [pine]cones at the top of the tree, then that means it’s gonna be a really tough winter, and if animals have really thick pelts, then that also means its gonna be real hard because the animals have to fatten up I guess. And if you see the backs of the leaves, then that means a storm’s coming.”

I have heard several folk beliefs about when people think there might be a storm coming, or other types of natural occurrences. Native Americans seem to be particularly in tune with nature, and my friend told me that she thinks the above folk beliefs are true because so far she’s witnessed them to be true.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Black Moths

The informant is a student from my folklore class, and we ended up meeting and exchanging stories and superstitions one night.


Script

“It’s really bad luck to kill a black moth, especially the large ones that will land on the wall. They are a sort of bad omen , since the seem to attract death. If you see one in your house, just leave it be and don’t try to scare it away, because it is the spirit of someone who has died, or who is going to die, and the appearance of the moth is either a premonition of a death, or a sign that a death has occurred.”

I asked whether the moth was necessarily a bad spirit, or just a bad omen if you were to mess with it.

“One time when my mother was thirteen years old, she saw a black moth land on the wall of her room. She didn’t disturb it and just left it there, since her mother had told her the same omen. Literally an hour letter, they received a phone call saying my uncle died in a motorcycle accident.”

I asked if the moths visit someone that has a relationship with the spirit.

“Yeah, it kind of solidifies the idea that the moth is supposed to symbolize.”

I asked if her mom knew about the moth’s significance before the encounter described previously.

“No, and then coincidentally enough the death happened. But I’ve encountered moths and I just leave them be.”

Background & Analysis

When I asked if other colored moths are also bad omens, the informant said it is only the black ones, since the color black is associated with death. Also, she described them as somber creatures that always travel alone, and tend to be very frightening and intimidating since their size is so tremendous.

The informant’s mother is from a small, secluded town that is surrounded by mountains called Monjas in Guatemala. Although the town has become more modernized over the past few decades, many of the traditions and superstitions still circulate. The informant is from Boston, MA, but attends USC, and she often travels to Guatemala to visit family.

Present in folklore across many cultures are animals or other figures that represent death. Death is universal, and even though cultures and traditions can be very different, one of the things that binds everyone together is the cycle of life. Over time, humans have become more and more obsessed with death, whether it be the fear of it or the fascination with it. The black moth is just another example among countless others.

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