The Golem is a creature created by a rabbi to serve the Jewish community when the community needed to be protected. The creature is made of soil or clay and brought to life by the use of alchemical-like formulas described in holy texts. The creature is not possessed by a spirit or ghost, but driven by the ritual to follow the rabbi’s commands and serve the community until he is not needed. The Golem is then called-off and put away. The stories of ‘Golems-run-amok’ are tales of Golems that did not stop once they were told to, but rather continued on wreaking havoc wherever they went.
Another version of the Golem story is that one would mould the Golem out of soil, then walk or dance around it while speaking combination of letters from the alphabet and the secret name of God. To “kill” or “stop” this golem, the creator would need to walk/dance in the opposite direction saying the words backward.
Once again, Max told me this story upon my request. I have definitely heard of similar storie in other culture, but more along the lines of writing magical words into a paper and putting the paper either on a doll or on someone to commend “magical” powers. I had no idea that these stories had a jewish origin though; or is the jewish version an original work or just one of the editions.
For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has kept an Evil Eye talisman hanging from the rear-view mirror of her car. During a celebration for my mother’s birthday, I pulled my grandmother aside and asked her the Evil Eye’s significance, following which she explained:
“Many years ago, two of my friends spent some time in Turkey. When they came home, they brought me an Evil Eye as a gift. All over Turkey, they put them outside of their door or inside of the car, and it is meant to ward off spirits by scaring them away. The superstition is that you cannot throw it away after someone gives it to you, that would be like inviting the evil spirits in. I have been in my car before and had people stop me and give me praise for keeping the Evil Eye visible, then show me where they keep theirs.”
I was somewhat familiar with the superstition surrounding the Evil Eye before talking with my grandmother, and knew that belief in the protection offered by one was prevalent in Greece. Hearing that her Evil Eye is from Turkey and that many other Americans have commented on the object (the informant, my grandmother, is from northern California), leads me to believe that this superstition is present in a great deal of cultures. Offering the object to someone as a gift encourages them to engage in the superstition surrounding it, because the object will remind the receiver of the giver while also supposedly serving as protection. Even if the owner of the Evil Eye does not necessarily have a deep-rooted belief in spirits, the object is significant in that it can offer a sense of comfort for the owner to suppress any worries that the spirits do exist, without the owner having to do anything more than keep the talisman somewhere close by. I myself am considering asking my grandmother for one to keep in my car, just in case.
A is an 18-year-old woman. She is currently studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. She considers her nationality to be American, but more specifically she is one quarter Greek Cypriote, one quarter German and half Argentinian. that being said, she strongly identifies with her Greek roots. She is fluent in both English and Greek, and is currently learning Mandarin.
A: Oh, you have to do the cross every time you pass a church or God will be angry. It’s a good one. Like my Grandmother will be driving and she’ll do the [sign of] the cross.
Me: God will be angry?Are there reprecussions if you don’t do it?
A: I’m unaware. Oh my God, the Evil Eye! Katherine Dupas still wears hers.
Me; Oh yeah we talked about that in class!
A: There’s an idea that if someone sends negative energy towards you and thinks ill will of you then something bad will happen to you. That’s kind of what it is. If you don’t cross yourself it’s not that you necessarily have something negative towards you it’s that you won’t be as protected by God against the negative energy and stuff from the Evil Eye.
Me: So the Evil Eye is…?
A: Other people being malicious towards you.
Me: So the Evil Eye is the symbol of that? And the cross in front of the church protects you from that?
Me: So why do people wear the Evil Eye?
A: Cause then it also protects you from the Evil Eye.
Me: By wearing it?
A: Yeah, cause the Eye looks at the other eye instead of at you.
Me: Ok, I get it now.
A: This is also why old ladies, old Greek ladies spit on babies and small children. When they’re like “ptou-ptou” it’s because there an idea that people who are attractive will incur the Evil Eye because of their beauty people will envy them, so you’re supposed to spit on them for good luck and also make them less enviable.
Me: So you do that to babies because you don’t know or because they’re young?
A: Cause they’re young and adorable, and you don’t want someone to be envious of their adorableness and send them bad vibes.
Me: Aw, who would wish terrible things upon a baby?
A: The Evil Eye works in weird ways.
A talks about
The informant is my mother, Dayna Rayburn, born in 1960 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She grew up in Tulsa, before going to college at the University of Oklahoma and graduating with a degree in nursing. She has worked at St. Francis Hospital in the newborn nursery for thirty years.
In this piece, my mom discusses the practice of not talking about your dreams before breakfast, and gives some explanation as for why we do it.
Mom: Do you remember when I would say “don’t talk about dreams before breakfast”.
Me: Yes, but why don’t you say where you heard that.
Mom: I think it was my grandmother. She must have told my mom, and I remember one day when I was really little I ran into the kitchen where my mom was and told her I had a bad dream. Before she would let me talk about my dream, she made me sit down and eat something. I think it was a banana. It didn’t have to be a full course meal: just something little.
Me: Why couldn’t you talk about your dreams before breakfast?
Mom: I don’t know. My mom just always said it was bad luck. It might be an old Indian thing. She heard it from her grandma, like I said.
Me: So why do you follow it?
Mom: I guess I believe in it? I think it’s just a nice thing to do, whether or not it stops bad luck. I think it calms you down. When I went into the kitchen, I was probably running. I still do it to this day, and I know I’ve told you and Alyssa about it.
Me: Yeah, I’ve even told Allen [my roommate] and a few other people about it. They’ll send me a text saying “I just had the worst dream” and I’ll reply back “Have you had breakfast yet?”
Mom: [laughs] They probably think you’re crazy.
Me: I mean, yeah.
Mom: Just tell them that your mom does it.
Me: I’m sure that will help.
This is an interesting belief my mom has, because we both believe in it without really knowing why we do it. I think we do it because we think we’ll be so worked up after waking up from the nightmare that we’ll just worry and put more stress on ourselves. In order to combat that, my mom tells me to eat something. This gives me time to calm down and think rationally about whatever my nightmare was, and remind myself that it was only a dream. I think the reason why we’re told to eat something is because eating is usually one of the first things we do in the morning, and it takes a bit longer than brushing your teeth, which means we have a longer period of time to cool down.
Okay so like, if people get like a knee injury, a really big thing is to, they’ll take raw eggs and they’ll crack the eggs and rub it on someone’s knee, for pain, and then they’ll wrap it for like two days. And apparently it really works.
Do you break the egg on their knee?
I think they just break it in a bowl, and then they put it on their knee and then they’ll wrap it. That’s a big one that I’ve seen a lot.
So is this for any injury?
No it’s not just like for any injury, I know it’s like your knee, maybe your elbow, and they’ll wrap it, I guess it’s for like a joint, just for joints.
Isn’t there also a ritual with eggs when someone gets a new car?
Oh yeah, okay so if you get a new car, I don’t know if it’s Persian or if it’s just a Jewish thing, I don’t know, it might be Persian… Okay so there’s two things, one of them is they’ll put like, eggs under each wheel, and you have to drive over the eggs, that’s like maybe to keep bad eyes away or something like that. And then another one is like, so when I got my car my mom would like, when I was gonna drive away for the first time they would pour water. Okay wait that’s what they do when they’re going on vacation, like a really big trip. Like when I was leaving for Italy, before I left, my mom or somebody would have to like, once you drive away, pour a glass of water behind you. I don’t know what it means, I think it’s just for safety and to have good luck or something like that, to have a good trip.
What do you think driving over the eggs is about? Like breaking new ground or something?
I don’t know, that would make sense, yeah like a new beginning or something like that, and it could also just be like having a positive entrance, like keeping bad eyes away. They’re really big on the evil eye.
These are rituals enforced by superstitions, mainly surrounding keeping bad luck and evil forces away from you. There is symbolism with breaking the egg, although the informant is not quite clear on what that is. It could be speculated that the inside of an egg resembles the evil eye; or it could be as simple as the fact that eggs break easily; or could have something to do with eggs being a fetus or a new thing in development, like a new car bursting into the world like a chick would burst out of an egg. These are protection rituals and good luck 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.
Basically, when someone talks bad about you, or someone does something to like, harm you, or let’s say like for example I’m wearing a nice dress and I come home and I’m like ‘oh mom, this lady said “nice dress, it looks really good on you,”’ my mom would be like, ‘oh, she has a bad eye on you.’ And my mom will run, and she’ll get salt, and she’ll put salt all around my head. Like she’ll start spraying it, like literally having salt fly in the air, and like, pouring salt everywhere and then she says like, ‘to keep the bad eye away from my daughter,’ she says like a little prayer in her head. It’s like a blessing of salt over your head to keep away the evil eye.
So your mom does this to you?
She did it once. She learned it from her Persian friends. I’m not Persian, but my friends that are Persian, their moms have done it to me too.
Another thing is like, I don’t know if it’s traditional but like when you get a new car or you get something new, you take eggs and you run the eggs over with the car. You put like two on the back tires, two on the front tires, and you run them all over. So it’s like good luck cause you’re like coating the tires with an egg? Not an egg but like, you break the way for the car kind of. You break the way for the car to like enter the world, the streets.
Why eggs specifically?
I, I don’t know. These are just things that I’ve seen people do. And then, what is the jumping over fire one, Nic?
(Her friend: That’s for Persian New Year.)
(Friend: You’re asking the wrong person. Ask Sogol.)
This is an interesting folk superstition and ritual that has been adopted by a family that isn’t Persian, but is Jewish, and are surrounded by a community of Jewish Persian. The informant’s mom, through interaction with her friends, has inherited or adopted this belief and practice of protection and keeping bad spirits away. One can easily see, though, how the original meaning or belief has become lost / confused/ muddled, because the informant did not grow up being as exposed to this tradition in her family. However, as her friends and her friends’ parents have done these rituals, she has been exposed to them and so participates in them, just not as fully perhaps as her friends with Persian heritage. She does know why these rituals are practiced and some of the symbolism behind the eggs, for example. It is also a sort of initiation ritual for the car to enter into the world.
“Whenever I’m tired or have a hard practice I be like, “Jesus be a fence” like be my strength…or before a hard test…or just when I have a lot to do and I need Jesus to be a fence, that’s like when I say it so…pretty much every day! Or like, “Oh Lord stop me from doing somthin wrong…” like if I’m feelin temptation…it goes from simple to extreme.”
Analysis: As a Christian, my informant looks to Jesus as a source of inspiration and fortitude in all aspects of her life. The proverb is laid out in a metaphor in which the speaker literally asks Jesus to hold them up or provide support like a fence. The proverb can be used in many different situations as a means of conveying momentary weakness and a desire for divine intervention on behalf of the speaker.
Although it is mostly used in serious scenarios or during times of legitimate distress, the phrase can also be used in a more humorous setting depending on the scenario. For example if someone was on a diet and saw a donut in a shop window they might use the proverb as a means of conveying their desire to restrain from eating the donut and their need for divine intervention to help them do so.
BE: When i was a kid i was told this legend, and i’ve heard it many times, the Lakota believe this and the other plains tribes do it too as far as I know. There is a creature called Deer woman and she shapeshifts into a woman, a human woman, and she goes to pow wows. And she’ll be at the pow wow all night as a beautiful woman, and the last dance is the rabbit dance and it’s the dance where the lady picks the man. And she’ll pick whichever young man she wants, and he’ll dance with her, and she gets him to take him home, and then when she’s going home with him she turns back into a deer. And it scares him and you know, bad things can happen. And they say that part of the lore is, when you’re dancing with a girl that you don’t know, or even a girl you do know, always check her feet, because deer woman, when she shapeshifts, her feet still remain a deer’s feet, so under the bottom of her dress, because her dress is long, if you look, you won’t see human feet, you’ll see deer feet.
Me: Cloved hooves.
BE: Yeah, the cloven hooves. And there was a guy that said that he’d gone to a pow wow, and there was a girl he met there, and he was supposed to take her home, and he decided at the last minute he wasn’t going to, and he ditched her, and left. And then when he was driving home from the pow wow – this is a true story – when he was driving home from the pow wow, a deer went in front of his car, and caused him to wreck and total his car.
Me: So just for reference, what’s a pow wow?
BE: A pow wow is a gathering where you have dancing and food and things like that. They usually compete with the dancing, it’s a Native tradition. It’s like a party.
Me: Where were you told this?
BE: Oh I wasn’t told this since I was a little kid. My dad told me this, my grandma’s told me it. It was in South Dakota, but I’ve heard it in California too, from people, but South Dakota’s where you hear it. And she follows the pow wow circuit, she didn’t have to be in the plains, but that’s pretty much where everybody – all the sightings I’ve heard of, she’s been.
Me: So do you think there’s a moral for the story?
BE: I think it’s to teach young men and women to be modest, and not to just go home with somebody. And if you do, they say to check her feet, but what they’re really saying is know who you’re going home with. That’s the moral of the story.
Me: So is this just a story told in passing or?
BE: No this is a warning that you get when you’re a teenager and you go to pow wows, especially the boys, but that’s the warning you get, is you better look out, because that beautiful girl might not be who she seems.
Me: So in what situation would you tell that story to someone?
BE: (laughing) I would tell it to SI (BE’s son), if I were taking him to a pow wow when he was young! And I’d tell people that when – honestly I’d use it for what it is, it’s a moral. But it’s also just something that you pass along, it’s something that people need to know, because if there’s really deer woman out there, you need to know that.
Me: Do you remember – since you said you were a little kid, do you remember how old you were? Like before double digits?
BE: I’m sure I was probably… about 8 or 10? I was old enough to know what they were saying, so probably 10.
Me: So did the deer woman have a name or is the name just deer woman? What was the Native name for it?
BE: I don’t remember but the name translates to Deer Woman.
Me: So is it a Lakota Sioux story?
BE: I don’t know where – but all the plains tribes believe in it, as far as I know. They may call it something else, but the Lakota call her Deer Woman, because that’s what she turns to. She’s not a nice person.
Later, BE gave me some additional details about the boy who wrecked his car after the pow wow:
The guy’s name was [H], and he was driving in his truck back from the Pow Wow. The accident happened around 1979 or 1980 when he was 16. He actually had a GF at the time and thats why he initially decided against bringing the girl home with him. [H] is a really honest type of person, so if he had just totaled his truck after the pow wow because he was drunk or something, he’d tell everyone that, but that was the story he told. I think the Deer Woman could sense he was having adulterous thoughts, and that’s why she went after [H].
“If you go to the western wall in Israel there’s always people who are there—like around there and basically, like, they give you, um, like you’ll give them money, like, if they’re like begging and then they give you a red string and then they make a blessing on it and then you can’t take the red string, like you can’t remove it until it falls off. And that’s to keep the evil eye away. Like Jews are super into that, about keeping the evil eye away.”
The informant was a 22-year-old USC student who majors in English and minors in genocide studies. Although she grew up in Santa Monica, she comes from a large Jewish family and travels to Israel twice a year to visit her older brother and other extended family there. The interview occurred when we were sitting in the new Annenberg building and started talking about superstition and related practices within her family. When I asked the informant to further explain this practice, she said, “Lot of times there’s this thing—have you ever seen, like, the hand? Like the image? So it’s called a ‘hamsa’ in Hebrew and like it’s the same thing, it’s to keep the evil eye away.”
The informant had seen this practice occur a lot during her travels to Israel and says she first learned about it from her grandmother who “would [do that] right before she died, she was super into that.” However, at the end of the interview she told me, “I don’t do that, I don’t do evil eyes and I don’t do the hamsa . . . I don’t like it because I feel like it’s idolatry, and I don’t . . . I’m not into that. But I would do the red string ‘cause it’s kind of a cultural thing.”
I found this practice to be fascinating because it seems like the greater religious/spiritual meaning of it has become somewhat divorced from the physical act. Something that started as a way to “keep the evil eye away” is still done for that purpose, but also because it has become a cultural thing that someone just does. This is revealed in the fact that an informant who is quick to assure me that she does not believe in the hamsa or the evil eye on the basis of her seeing them as idolatry would still willingly participate in this practice. In addition to it being performed for the previously stated spiritual purpose, I also think there is something to the fact that someone is given these red strings by people who are begging. Because it is now considered a normal cultural practice, it has become an expected social interaction between two people of differing class status in this part of Israel. Essentially, while giving a red string and a blessing might have been an organic way of thanking someone before, it is now almost a required act of gratitude by beggars near the western wall.