USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

Lazy Grace

KM is a third-generation Japanese-American from Los Angeles, CA. She now lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and 18-year-old son.

KM was raised in a Christian household, where her family said “grace” before dinner every night:

“I have four siblings and we always ate dinner together with our parents. We’d sit around this big round table and every night, we would take turns saying grace before eating…we were supposed to come up with something original, like something that had to do with the day or different events going on in our lives, but usually my siblings just defaulted to ‘God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.” I always tried to have an interesting one, but I think everyone else just wanted to eat.”

I asked KH if she still says grace in her family, or if she and her siblings carried their religious traditions on in their new nuclear families:

“Ultimately I was unsuccessful in getting my kids to go to church. My husband grew up in a Catholic family and now wants nothing to do with the church, and I couldn’t get my kids to show much interest either. I don’t think anyone else in my family still goes to church…except my parents. They’ve been going to the same church since they met.”

My analysis:

Religion is one of those things that can either define a family, or be irreconcilable when two families come together. In KH’s case, religion’s importance started to waver amongst her and her siblings, despite the traditions of their parents. The “grace” prayer in her family shows one generation trying to pass on their beliefs through a ritual, and the next generation participating half-heartedly, or just to please authority. Eventually as they started their own families, her siblings decided the tradition wasn’t particularly important to them, and refrained from instilling it in their own family. More broadly it seems to symbolize the diminishing importance of their religion, and maybe a certain progressive movement amongst families to not force it on their children.

Folk Beliefs

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Informant is a 19 year old female who was born in Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is my roommate.

Informant: So there’s this bedtime prayer and it goes like “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take.” When I was younger, I had a doll and every time I squeezed her, she would say that. And when I went to bed, my mom would squeeze the doll, and the doll would say it and I would say it, and then it became a ritual that we would have. And in my mind, as a child, I didn’t think that it was scary until it started being incorporated into American horror movies. So when I was 10 or 11, I remember watching a horror movie, and this very scary doll saying the same lyrics. So now, it’s a common prayer that started to be associated in multiple horror movies, and the origins are definitely from the bible, but it’s not a typical religious saying. In my generation, it was common that stuffed animals or dolls would say it. But now they don’t really sell these things anymore, because it’s turned into a creepy symbol in American culture, and it scares people.

Collector: Who gave you this doll originally?

Informant: My mom gave me the doll. I just remember having it. In my mind, it was like a protection spell, like it protected me in my sleep. Like in my mind, it never registered as something that was scary, until I started seeing it in horror movies, because of the way that they made the dolls say it. It was in such a creepy manner. It still exists in some parts of culture. I’m not saying it’s completely a horror movie thing, but in my perception I’m very scared of it now. The earliest version was from 1711 I think, like it dates back that far. It technically is a prayer, but it turned into this ritual between my and my mom when I was a kid. And I know other of my friends who had that said to them, when they were kids, mostly because I was also raised by a Christian family and went to a Catholic school.

Collector: Does this particular piece of folklore have any special significance to you?

Informant: It has meaning to me because it’s a big representation of my youth. That like, when I was younger, it was this comforting thing to me, and it’s shown me like how, as I got older, my perceptive of the world has changed.

For another version of this myth, see “Standard Publishing Editorial Staff. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. N.p.: Standard Pub, 2011. Print.”

Because I have personally never watched a horror movie, I cannot say that I find this particular phrase creepy. However, I can see why it has been used in multiple scary stories, as it is very suggestive of death. I think it’s interesting how people actually manufactured and bought dolls with this saying inside of them, and I think that might have been something that contributed to the rise of this saying in horror movies. When I actually think about the prayer though, it makes sense as a protection spell, and really isn’t scary at all. Basically, it asks God to protect your soul while you sleep, and if anything were to happen to you at night, then to at least bring your soul to heaven. I think it is the particular phrasing and word choice of the prayer that has made it such a creepy horror icon today.

Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Prayer Before Performance

“The Rangerette Prayer was a very special prayer to our team, and we said it before every performance on the football field or dance competition or wherever we were or whatever we were about to do. We would get in a circle, and um cross our arms, right over left, and hold each other’s hands with one foot pointing toward the middle, facing the middle. Um and basically the um seniors and juniors would sing like uh the first part of the song and have the freshmen and sophomores imitate the second part, and essentially we had to learn it that way, we learned the song from the seniors and juniors. And the prayer was the Lord’s prayer and we sang it in a more dragged out kind of tone, and we were never really taught the tune, we just sort of had to pick it up from the juniors and seniors. We also had like a special ending that was, “In the name of the Father who created us, the spirit who sanctified us, and the son who redeemed us,” or something like that and then we all said Amen. It was kind of funny because the ending we all did not know very well because the seniors and juniors said it so quickly that we didn’t even really know what we were saying until much later.”


Informant: The informant is a nineteen-year-old college freshman from Dallas, Texas. While in high school, she was a member of the Jesuit Rangerettes Dance and Drill Team. She attended the all-girls Catholic high-school, Ursuline Academy of Dallas, the sister school of Jesuit Dallas (an all-boys Catholic school). She began dancing when she was three, performing ballet, jazz, and lyrical styles of dance, which eventually led her to the high-school drill team. She currently attends Oklahoma State University.



The Rangerettes Dance and Drill Team is an extracurricular activity unique to Texas and a few other southern states. The team performs at the half-time of football games on Friday nights, as well as at basketball, soccer, and rugby games. They wear leotards with fringe skirts, fringe and sequin overlays, gauntlets, a belt, white cowgirl boots, and sequined cow-boy hats. The season does not end with football season; rather, the team continues to perform at Jesuit events and participates in two dance competitions in the spring. Because this team is a year-long commitment, there are many extenuating traditions that serve to unify and “bond” the members of the team, in order to foster a spirit of sisterhood.

I think that this practice exemplifies the bonds that the members of the Rangerettes are supposed to have. Because members of the team attend an all-girls Catholic school, there is an emphasis upon prayer. By holding hands in a circle and singing a prayer, the bonds of the team are exhibited through this practice. The holding hands in a circle solidifies the bonds that hold a team together, and also represent the sisterhood that is supposed to be in place. A team cannot succeed if they are not unified, and by demonstrating their unity before a performance, they are striving to succeed in their performance. Also, if this ritual is not practiced before a performance, there is a possibility of failure or bad luck when the team performs. This once again reinforces the need for the team to be unified as they are dancing as one team and must be on count.

In addition, the manner in which the team members learn the prayer is representative of the way in which the team works. The older, veteran members, always juniors and seniors begin the prayer. This demonstrates their “seniority” and their authority on the team. They have been there before, and understand the importance of this ritual, and are in turn passing it on to the next generation of team members. As the younger, new members, always freshmen and sophomores, echo the seniors and juniors, they are reflecting their need to learn from the older members in order to become fully part of the team so that they might continue to pass down this tradition over the years. It is also interesting how the juniors and seniors never formally taught the prayer, but rather expected the new members to simply pick it up.

This may not be unique to simply the prayer ritual on this team, but could also extend to the rest of the ways in which the new members are expected to become acclimated to the team. The veteran members expect the new members to simply “pick up” what they already know, without overtly telling them. This could be concordant with rituals that decide who is “in” and who is “out” when it comes to members of the team, as well as the attitudes that older members generally had toward the new members. The idea that the older members were wiser due to their experience might have been carried out not just through this prayer ritual, but through other practices on the team as well.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Folk speech
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Burning Esfand (Persian Rituals)

Do you have any traditions or rituals that your family does?


Okay yeah, superstitions and stuff, it’s similar to the salt thing, my mom will burn sage on a stove, I think it’s sage, I’m pretty sure it’s sage. And like it’ll still be in the little pot, and they’ll put it over your head just like to keep bad eyes away from you. Like if you were at a party, and all these people are like, ‘Oh my god your daughter’s so beautiful, or like, they’ll say all these things and…It’s not always a compliment, but they’ll think like, if all these people are complimenting you, they’ll take it weirdly, like people are gonna have an evil eye on you. They’re just superstitious, so they think if a million people are complimenting you, one of them is gonna have like, one of them is gonna be fake, they’re not all gonna be true and real.


So your mom has done this to you?


Yeah so after like a big party, if all these people went up to her and were like ‘oh my god, your daughter is so beautiful,’ they’ll just give me compliments. And she’ll come home and it’ll be like two in the morning, she’s done that before! Once we get home from the party she’ll just burn sage, oh it’s called Esfand! In Farsi. She’ll burn it and kinda like, circle it over your head for like 5 seconds. And from what I know it’s not a prayer, but she’ll just say like, “keeping bad eyes away from you” or something like that, in Farsi.


So she burns the leaves in a pot?


Yeah, like a special little pot.


Oh so there’s a special pot for doing this?


Yeah there’s like a specific kind of pot for it. It’s just tiny, it’s not like a huge pot, it’s small, it’s not metal, maybe it’s ceramic.



This is a superstitious belief and accompanying ritual intended to keep bad intentions or bad spirits away. There is also a clear emphasis that parents or older family members do this to younger family members to keep them out of harm’s way. There is a sense that this ritual, also involving a gesture, incantation or prayer of some sort, and a physical, material tool, can undo or ward off evil, even if it’s already intended for the young person, but there is a sense of urgency, that it must be done as soon as possible for the most protective power.


Dear Heavenly Father …

Shirley Turner Jean grew up in Rialto, California.  She graduated from Dwight D Eisenhower high school I 2004.  From there, she pursued a bachelor’s degree in physical education at Cal State San Bernardino.  Shortly thereafter, Shirley obtained a Masters Degree in Kinesiology from Azusa Pacific University.  She has sense obtained a number of credentials from Azusa Pacific University.  She currently lives in San Bernardino, California and teaches at Synergy Middle School in Los Angeles, California.  She is a PE teacher.

My husband and I pray together every night.  After we have finished our day and are getting ready for bed, we take a minute to hold hands and pray.  Our pastor always says that a couple that prays together, stays together so we try to make sure that we do this every night.  So, we get on our knees next to our bed, hold hands, and pray.  We thank God for all of the things that He has provided for us and our family and friends.  We thank him for blessing us and we ask that He continues to bless us.  If any of the people we know are travelling we ask for Travelling Grace for them and we ask for Him to intervene in the lives of anyone that needs His help. … I don’t know how else to explain it.  We just have a conversation with God.  After that, we lay down and sleep.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

An Irish blessing

Every Saint Patrick’s day, Christmas, and Easter, Joey and his family have family dinner. His dad recites a specific Irish Blessing before they eat that goes as follows:
“May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sunshine warm upon your face
The rain fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again
May god hold you
In the hallow of his hand”

The blessing is said in order to bring good luck to everyone in the family. It is a prayer as well that provides protection for the family. The blessing is written and hung in multiple places in the Jones household. Joey’s grandma originally gave them the Blessing, and taught them the tradition of saying it on Saint Patrick’s day.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Queens Prayer

When Kula and his family would have big family gatherings, they would all say a prayer before they ate their meal. The prayer was called the Queens Prayer and went like this:

Ho’onani ka ma kua mau
ke keiki me ho’o na me no
Ke akua mau ho’omai ka’I pu
Ko kea au ko kela au

Praise God from whom all blessing flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

The prayer was similar to saying grace before a meal. However, it is not solely said before a meal. It is used as an initiation to something important. Hawaiians would say the prayer to start chapel service or at the opening of a new restaurant or business or before a surf tournament. In whichever case the prayer was used, everyone involved would join hands while one person, usually the head of the family or event would say the prayer. Everyone else would quietly say the prayer along with the orator.


Family dinner prayer

My informant comes from a Christian household, and she told me about the prayers she and her family said before meals together:

“So what it is, is we have a family prayer that we say before every meal, but specifically dinner, when we’re all eating together. Um, and it’s something I learned from my parents because they both growing up as kids had their own family prayers that they said before meals, so when they were raising my brother and I, they came up with their own for our family. So my mom typed it up and cut it out with these fancy scissors so it looks nice, and she put it in a frame and hung it up right by our dinner table. So, whenever we sit down to have dinner, we always say it before we eat. And we say, ‘God is great, God is good, and we thank God for our food. Amen.’ And that’s something that when we get together with our other relatives—with our extended family—it’s something that they now say as well, because it’s been a tradition for our family so it carries over. And they have their own prayers that they say that we all say now too, so we have like, three small prayers that we go through as a huge family before we eat.”

Christianity was very important to my informant when she was growing up. She went to church every Sunday, and she says religion was extremely influential on her worldview and morality. Since coming to college, she actually stopped going to church. She is part of a Christian youth group on campus, but she says that her religiosity has waned since high school. Even so, when she returns home from college for vacations, she and her family still recite this prayer before every meal they eat together. She appreciates that they have this tradition. It not only reminds her of her Christian foundation, but also of the closeness of her family. This short prayer is a way for my informant’s family to give thanks for what they have and reflect on what they see as God’s impact on their lives. It also commemorates the beginning of a special time: family dinner. Because of all these reasons, this simple tradition has great significance for my informant. One thing that intrigued me about my informant’s account is that she says it’s a prayer that her parents thought up together before spreading it to their children and other relatives, as well as whoever joins them for dinner. Yet despite my informant’s assuredness that this prayer is entirely her parent’s creation, I remember hearing something very similar to it before. One of my good friends used to say a prayer much like this one before she ate with her family. My informant’s parents might have gotten the idea for their prayer from other similar variants, and then made it their own by writing it down and spreading it to their own family. The development of this prayer is one that reminds me of the way other folklore spreads: it is learned from one or more sources, and then spread in a slightly new way.

Folk Beliefs

Sardinian Catholic Prayer

“Okay, this is a prayer, a Catholic prayer, that I have learned from my aunt, she’s my mum’s sister. Well in Sardinia, people recite the usual prayers, you know, our Father, Holy Mary, and others. But there are specific ones that are in Sardinia, and they have similar concepts of course. Umm this one describes like a bed, and says, ‘My bed has four corners and four angels sit on there’ and then I don’t remember a part. But anyway then these angels say, ‘Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid of evil things…ummm….. Don’t be afraid of a bad hand.’ The angel Sara… I don’t know how we say it in English, its a kind of angel. Serafino. And the white angle will help you, amen. (Then the informant recited the prayer in Sardinian) Go in peace, I forgot, that’s the end. Um probably, probably I’m thinking this might be a prayer to recite before going to sleep, because it will kinda be like, you know, kinda like warding off the evil spirits and you know, seeking the protection of the angels and they are comforting and telling you, don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid because you are protected by us.”

Here is the poem in Sardinian:

Su lettu meu est de battor contones
e battor anghelos si bi ponen,
duos in pêse e duos in cabitta,
Nostra Segnora a costazu m’istada
e mi narat: «Dormi e reposa,
no eppas paura ‘e mala cosa,
no eppas paura ‘e malu fine».
S’anghelu Serafine,
s’anghelu biancu,
s’Ispiridu Santu,
sa Virgine Maria
totu siant in cumpagnia mia.

Here is the translation:

My bed has four corners
And four angels sit on it,
two by the feet and two by the head,
Our Lady is beside me,
and she tells me: “Sleep and rest,
don’t be afraid of bad things,
don’t be afraid of a bad outcome.”
The Seraphine angel,
the white angel,
the Holy Spirit,
the Virgin Mary,
may all be with me.

The informant said that he learned this prayer from his mother’s sister when he was a child. He doesn’t remember it completely because he has not recited the prayer in awhile. He said that he was raised Catholic, but that he converted to Buddhism about twenty years ago. However, he still has respect for Catholicism and this prayer. According to the informant, this prayer is unique to Sardinia, especially because there are very unique dialects that vary by region on the island of Sardinia. There are other similar prayers that are normally said before bedtime, but this version has aspects that differ from those versions.

I was not raised Catholic, so I can’t relate to saying prayers before bed, especially about angles. However, I think the prayer is very pretty, especially in Sardinian. There is something a little scary about going to bed, because it’s dark and uncontrollable. When you’re asleep, you could die, which is a fear some people have. Thus, it makes sense that people want to pray before bed. It also can help relax them, which can make falling asleep easier. The main message of the prayer is “don’t be afraid” because you are protected. It serves to  reinforce the power and love of God.

Folk speech

Allah ey adim illy fee al qhar- “God bring what is best closer.”

Allah ey adim illy fee al qhar- “God bring what is best closer.”

My informant has known this saying as long as he can remember. His Syrian family uses it frequently. When having a serious conversation with someone about what to do, what is going to happen, etc. the conversation will almost always end with this phrase. This is because if two people are discussing something that is out of their hands, it ends the conversation with a little prayer to God asking for the best-case scenario to play out, whether or not the person knows quite what that is. It also signifies that this scenario may play out bad right now but best overall. You just can’t see it.