USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘possession’
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Magic
Protection

Disease as a result of Possession

Text:

BH: “So when I got chicken pox in like 7thgrade, no wait 10thgrade, yeah, and I remember we came back from the doctors’ with medicines and everything and my mom called my aunt and said “she has chicken pox”, which implied uske andar mata aa gayi hai [she’s possessed by the mata] so for the first three days, I was only allowed to have sponge baths and on the fifth day, the uh fourth day or the fifth day, a pandit [priest like figure] came and he put some oil and coins in a [bowl] and did something – I don’t fully remember but he performed some sort of ritual, uh he touched that oil on my feet. And then – uh it was only then that I was allowed to fully bathe in proper water. Before that I wasn’t allowed to bathe, and they all just saying “uske andar mata aa gayi hai” which like I don’t even know what that really means. And I asked my mom, and she didn’t really have an explanation either.”

BH: “Oh yeah, and I also wasn’t allowed to have onion or garlic because that is what apparently what you do when the mata [possesses you] and I wasn’t allowed to eat non vegetarian food also.”

BH: “I was only allowed to eat all this after 14 days when I wasn’t contagious anymore.”

BH: “The person [affected by the disease] is already in isolation – the family members are already treating you like some sort of untouchable and you’re basically being discriminated against at that point of time – it’s just not a good headspace to be in because you can’t go meet people, and people who visit you can’t come close…And on top of that you hear these terms that you don’t fully understand but seems negative so it just makes you feel even more low. I mean if there was some scientific basis, I would understand, but I just wish there was better terminology for it than using such words.”

 

Context:

The informant is a college student from India. The conversation was in response to my question about any odd things that happened in the informant’s past that she did not agree with but had to partake in anyway. The informant is also bilingual so the conversation happened in a mix of English and Hindi. I have translated the relevant Hindi parts to English as per my own interpretation and in an attempt to retain the meaning as best as possible. Certain key terms have been Romanized and their translations or explanations are given in brackets. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.

 

Interpretation:

It is interesting how even now cultural practices and beliefs like possession as an explanation of a disease like chicken pox, which is pretty well understood scientifically, persist. The informant talks about the feelings of isolation and prejudice she faced from her family which put into perspective the harmful effects of such folk beliefs when they are forced on people who don’t understand them or do not want to partake in them. Her confusion also arises from the fact that even the people around her whole seem to truly believe in this tradition don’t have an explanation for it. Often, folk beliefs are so integral to identity that they are not questioned by people who are involved in them.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Gestation, birth, and infancy

Ghosts Affecting Crying Babies

Context:

The informant and I are sitting in the USC Gould Law Cafe around 3:00 pm. She is a Chinese American student at the University of Southern California who was born and raised in Shanghai until she came to America for high school in Maryland. She is describing Chinese beliefs about crying children and how there is a belief held that babies cry the most loudly when they have a ghost that is connected to them. 

Body:

J: “So ya know when babies cry really loud during the night? This is blamed to ghosts. Because what they say is that babies are really vulnerable since they are just born and this is kinda like a life stem. When a baby is born, it’s like a small stem then they grow into a tree later. So it refers to their life as a stem and when they are first born, they are really vulnerable so little things like the wind can hurt them so that’s why babies sometimes can see ghosts because they’ve just been born and are more likely to see ghosts than adults.

So when they see a ghost, they can’t say it because they don’t know how to talk. So sometimes when a ghost haunts them in the night, they start crying and crying and crying and some kinds of ghosts will stick to the baby so that they baby will cry for a long time. Like every night they will cry. So what they do is some ritual ceremonies to get it out. Because a lot of babies tend to cry, but only a certain amount of babies cry really loud at night…every night. They have a certain name for them. **See image below for Chinese characters** So that’s the name.”IMG_1342

A: “So that’s for children that cry a lot at night?”

J: “Yep, like during the night some people will hear a baby cry at night and they will call them this.

A: “So to calm the babies at night then, they perform rituals to calm them down?”

J: “Yep”

A: “Have you ever heard of this happening in your family or friends lives?”

J: “One of my mom’s friends actually. But he is kinda old and my grandpa’s age. His grandson would always cry during the night. It didn’t happen after the day he was born but it actually would happen when he was two years old then he would always cry at night. So our friend actually found someone to perform the ritual and he stopped crying at night! It’s weird!”

Takeaways/Thoughts/Analysis:

This contribution that babies cry loudly during the night due to a ghost “sticking” to them can be seen as rational especially since babies don’t know how to communicate what they are seeing or experiencing except for them to cry. This can also be seen as more credible due to “FOAF” (Friend Of A Friend) where the informer had a family friend where the ritual was a success to calm the crying child! The ways of ridding the ghost seem to be rooted in ancient teachings and practices that were passed through from generations. The child’s crying can also be associated with a ghost because a child’s cry can be very aggravating as I am sure it would be to have a ghost possessing your body. To stop the crying and thus, “rid the ghost,” performing such rituals to make it go away would help the child sleep better and thus the care takers as well.  

 

Life cycle
Magic
Narrative
Protection

Skullkeeper

This was the time that mom… she was telling me the story about the time when one of her elder …I don’t remember if it’s the distant aunt or just a very close friend of the family had passed away. And the person that was very dear to that deceased, she decided to keep the skull of the deceased, and instead of cremating the whole entire body she kept the skull. A couple of days later another family member… and she said whatever happened to her she has no memory of it, but she was possessed by the deceased who came to the village looking for her skull and she said in Thai to the woman who kept the skull in her same mannerism… everybody knew how this person was before… she sat down in her usual spot and started looking at everybody because this person was possessed in trance like state “Ni (the person’s name) give me my skull back” in rude, old Thai, in an olden way. In a very… um… not so nice language. And everybody was shocked and of course … somebody who was possessed … had kind of pointed out to the person who took the skull and said put it back in its rightful place. Everybody was shocked. And then I think after that moment the possessed person just collapsed and she woke up from this trance and could not recall anything. She just remembered she was on the bus and then she was here with the family.

 

Background: My aunt knows this story because her mom told it to her, and she remembers this piece specifically because it is so creepy. To her it symbolizes the need for respect for those who have passed away and the need for people to let them go instead of holding on to them, whether it be literally (with the skull) or figuratively. I conducted this interview in person, live at my uncle’s house. I think this is such a creepy piece yet such a good piece of folklore as my aunt and her mother (my great-aunt) both claim it to be true.

Game

One Person Hide and go Seek

According to my friend, Japanese people are very interested in horror. They believe that spirits exist and may sometimes be harmful to people. They are very mischievous and have no intention of leaving once they have latched onto someone they love to fool around with. This story in particular was not too significant because he does not believe in the occult. However, it was a little past midnight when he told me the rules for playing this game, and the lights were off. It was slightly frightening. He learned this from other students who normally play with the occult, whether it’s through Ouija boards, séances, or Kokkuri-san, another version of an Ouija board.

There are many things that you must prepare for this ritual. You need a stuffed doll, and it must have limbs. You need enough rice that you can fill the doll with it. You need a needle and thread that is red in color. You need a nail clipper and a very sharp object such as a knife or whatnot. You need a cup of salt water, and you need to have a bathroom that has a bathtub. You also need a hiding place, such as a room. It must also have a TV in there.

You are supposed to open the doll and take out all the stuffing. There must be nothing left, so scraping the doll’s insides may be necessary. Once all of its stuffing is removed, it must be filled with rice. This is meant to represent innards, and will attract ghosts to possess the doll and allow it to live inside. You must clip off a few nails and then put them inside the doll. You sew the tear you made to open the doll up with the crimson thread. The stitches should be relatively clumsy. When you are done sewing up the thread, you are to tie the doll up with the rest of it. The red thread is actually supposed to represent blood vessels and will manage to hold the spirit inside the doll. You have to go to the bathroom and fill the bathtub with water, and then return to your hiding place with the cup of salt water.

In playing it, you have to give a name to your doll. It can be any name, as long as it is not yours. At 3 AM, you are to tell the doll “your name is the first it” to the doll three times. You are to go the bathroom and put the doll into the water-filled bathtub. You turn off all the lights in your house and go back to the hiding place and switch on the TV. After counting to ten, you return to the bathroom with the sharp tool in hand. You are supposed to go to the bathtub and say to the doll “I have found you, <name that you gave to it>.” You are to stab it with the edged tool, symbolizing that you are setting the spirit inside free. Then you’re suppose to say, “You are the next it, <name that you gave to it>.” As you take the doll out of the bathtub, you leave it on the counter. You run back to your hiding place and hide very well.

You are supposed to pour half of the cup of salt water in your mouth and you are not to drink any of it. This is supposed to keep you safe. If you do not, you might encounter a wandering spirit in the house which may harm you if you are not careful. You cannot see it, so the only way to know if something is getting closer to you is to watch what is happening to the TV in your room. You should have turned it on at this point in time. Get out of your hiding place and look for the doll. It may not be in the bathroom where you left it. No matter what happens you must not spit out the salt water because that is what is keeping you safe. When you find the doll, you’re supposd to pour the rest of the salt water from the cup that you had over it. Then you spit the salt water in your mouth onto it as well.  Then you say, “I win” three times and the ritual is done.

After this, you must dry, burn and discard the doll.

Honestly, this game was ultimately very creepy. I do not like dolls to begin with, and knowing that this doll could potentially harm you because it was even worse. I found it hard to understand why people would be so into horror, but I believe it just represents the people group as a whole in terms of their spirituality. It is explainable because they do believe in ghosts and malevolent spirits and whatnot. I would not perform this ritual, but other people might. I suppose it would take a brave person not afraid of ghosts and spirits to actually go through with the ritual. It would also require some belief in the occult as well. Again, it sounds somewhat like a stereotype of the Japanese people.

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