USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Protection’
Folk Beliefs
Myths
Protection

The Red String

Context: I noticed a friend had tied a red string tied around their wrist. As a Jew, I knew that many people who visit Israel usually come back with red strings from Jerusalem. However, my informant does not identify with any religion, so I was curious to ask how he came across one. In the piece, my informant is identified as K.G. and I am identified as D.S.

 

Background: The red string is a part of Jewish and Kabbalah folk traditions surrounding the idea of Ayin Hara, or the evil eye. It’s historically believed that tying the red string on your wrist will ward off bad luck or negative fate. The string is worn to protect many different things. In some instances, it’s used to protect the fertility of a woman, protection in times of war, and others use it to make a wish. Despite the circumstance, it is to be worn until it falls off naturally.

 

Main Piece:

DS: “How did you get the red string? I always get those when I’m in Israel”

KG: “Honestly I ordered a bunch of these online, there’s a Rabbi from Jerusalem that sells them in L.A.”

DS: “But you’re not Jewish, what inspired you to get one of these?”

KG: “Yeah, I know, but you know it’s never about religion for me. I got it for all the evil eye stuff and all that but it has a different meaning for me. There’s a lot of bad habits I have. I feel like I talk badly about people a lot and gossip, among other things. When I look at it or feel it on my wrist it’s a little reminder for me to do better. To stop engaging in these tendencies I have that I absolutely hate and want to change. I definitely wanted it as protection especially now that I’m doing really well at work, but it’s also for myself and to remind me to be better and do better, so that I can be the best version of myself and put my bad habits behind me”

 

Analysis: While the red string has an ancient and historic ritualistic tradition behind Jewish folklore, I found it very interesting that someone who has no tie to any religion was using it for his own purpose. I found it refreshing for someone to take a piece of another culture’s folklore and adapting it to make it their own, especially as an aspect for self reflection and improvement.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Homeopathic
Protection

Salt Balls From the Dead Sea

Context: A friend of mine had missed about a week of school, so when she finally returned, I visited her at her apartment in Downtown to catch up and hear about what had been happening.

 

Background: My informant explained that she had been falling victim to a string of bad luck for about one month. She was very sick and decided to spend a week at her parent’s home in Beverly Hills to recover. While at home, her mother instructed her to take a bath with salt balls that she brought back from the Dead Sea in Israel. Salt from the Dead Sea is known to have different forms of healing power, both internally and externally. She believes that this ritual has the power to heal, as well as dissolve negative energy. 

 

Main Piece: “For the last month it was just thing after thing coming my way. I was feeling pretty down overall. I kept getting sick over and over again. I had a couple of ruptured ovarian cysts. My family was fighting a lot and it was getting really heated and out of control. I kept losing things, I was doing poorly in school. It was just so much negativity surrounding me and I was losing my mind. So I go home and I was just miserable so my mom gave me these salt balls she brought back with her from Israel. The gist of it is like you can either use them in the bath as a bath bomb or something, or you can use it as a scrub in the shower and just scrub it all over your body until it dissolves into your skin. The salt in general is a healer, it heals physical cuts and wounds and it’s supposed to help your skin. But a lot of people think it heals internally too. It’s really renewing and cleansing both inside and out. My mom always tells me that it dissolves the negative energy, the illness, just the bad all around. She says it’s purifying and yeah it cleanses the toxins out of your body, but it’s supposed to really boost your energy and stamina too. I sat in the bath with it for like an hour a couple of times and I honestly felt so much better. There’s definitely things I’m still dealing with, but I swear afterwards I just felt completely cleansed. I felt at peace with a lot of things, I just felt the negativity clear from my mind. It could have been some placebo effect type of thing, but it helped regardless.”

 

Analysis: People from all over the world visit the Dead Sea, and revel in the salty pool of water. It attracts tourists for its’ power to make the body completely float, and for the physical healing power of the salt. What I found interesting was this interpretation of its’ power to heal internally – to heal energy, to erase negativity, and to cleanse the body and the aura.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative
Protection

Brian O’Donnell

The following is a story about an Irish legend.  The informant is represented by the letter S, and I am represented by the letter K.

Piece:

K: Tell me more of the Irish folklore you know about.

S: So, uhm, another story I’ve heard is – uh – about a man named Brian O’Donnell and uh, it was Halloween night, which is called Samhain, and that’s when the fairies uhm, move from their winter homes to their summer homes – or uh, their summer homes to their winter homes, sorry.  And uhm, when- when they do this- the trouping fairies- when they do this, they’ll usually take somebody into their fairy fort, so that they can make them dance for them, basically.  They dance and dance until the kind of, fall over and die, I don’t know. So, uh, the story goes that- uhm, Brian O’Donnell was wanting to see the fairies or something and uh- uhm he sees them – No!- he sees the fairy fort and he hears them and he goes in and he sees fairies talking about the night of drinking and dancing they’re gonna have, uhm, after they- they bring this girl back. Uhm, so he knows that he can’t just sit around and wait, so he goes and he waits outside the fairy fort for the fairies to come with the girl and when he does, he grabs- he grabs the girl from the fairies and he holds her and he’s saying, “God bless you! God bless you!” ’cause the fairies won’t come near you if you say “God bless you.” Uhm, but one of the fairies turns and slaps the girl, and uhm, gives her the fairy stroke, so from that point on she couldn’t talk. So she couldn’t tell Brian where she lived or where she came from. So, he took care of her for a year, and then, uhm, he knew that the next Halloween, he would have to do something. So he went back to the fairy fort, and he hears, uhm, the fairies talking and saying, remember that night of drinking and dancing we were gonna have, but that Brian O’Donnell, took that fun away from us. Uhm, but we gave her the old fairy stroke, so she can’t tell him anything anyway. But then, he hears them say, “if she only had three mouthfuls of that food on the table right there, she’d be- she’d be telling him everything.” So, he doesn’t hesitate and he runs, and he grabs the food, and he gets out of there and he takes the food back to his house and uhm, the girl takes a mouthful and she starts laughing. She takes another mouthful, and she’s laughing more.  By the third mouthful, she’s able to fully talk and so, uhm, she starts telling him where she lives and how to get there and so, they set out on foot, they didn’t have any horses. And it was about a 2 day walk to where she lived, and uhm, they knock on the door and her dad answers the door, and he passes out from shock because they thought they lost her, but eventually after, he hears the story, and he says, “Brian O’Donnell, you obviously love my daughter very much and uh, I would like to give your blessing for marriage.” So, they end up getting married and there we go.  The end.

Context:

We were sitting at a dining room table on Easter Sunday.  We had just eaten dinner and celebrated the holiday.  We were sitting around and just talking and sharing stories and folklore that we knew about.  The informant is my friend’s younger sister, so she lives at the home we were at and she was sitting with her friend, with me, her brother, and our other friend sat across from them.

My Thoughts:

This legend acts as a kind of heroic model for children, in my opinion.  In a lot of tales, we see characters being brave and heroic which is meant to inspire kids to grow up as courageous young adults.  I think this legend is similar in idea.  One thing I thought was really interesting, in terms of context, is that when the informant was telling me this story, her brother was sitting nearby and before she told me the legend, he said he didn’t think she should tell me because he thinks it’s a real story.  This made me think of the discussion about how different legends are so much more believable depending on where you come from.  I remember discussing that to a lot of Americans, aliens are 100% real, but in other cultures, they’re a complete myth.  In Irish culture, fairies and leprechauns have a large number of believers, but in America, fairies and leprechauns are mythological creatures.  I thought this was so interesting to witness first hand.  Regardless of whether this legend is real or not, though, I thought it was super interesting and definitely serves to act as a model of bravery with hidden religious undertones, which we see with the “God bless you” acting as a safety technique against fairies.  Another piece of context that actually kind of freaked me out a bit was right before the informant got to the part where she said, “God bless you,” one of the other people sitting at the dining room table sneezed, which was super coincidental, but kind of weird in terms of the context.

general
Humor
Signs

Bellarmine College Preparatory Seal

Context:

My informant is a 21 year old student from the University of Southern California.This conversation took place in a university dining hall one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, and the informant’s significant other was present and listening to the conversation, as well. The SO’s presence, is the most likely reason that the informant was much more dramatic and told the legend quite jokingly, as if for the purpose to get laughs out of both me and the SO. In this account, he explains the legend of the reason why his school puts ropes around his school seal at the center of his high school campus. This is a transcription of our conversation, where he is identified as A.

 

Text:

A: I attended Bellarmine College Preparatory for 4 years as part of my 12 years of Catholic education, which in retrospect, I would not do.  [laughs] So Bellarmine is an all boys school, a little bit of toxic masculinity there… One of the most prideful traditions was… our symbol was the “B” for “Bellarmine,” and so we had in the main quad, uh, imprinted on the quad was maybe a 6×6 rounded print of our logo on the quad.

What the school told everyone–and what we told ourselves–to fit into the standard was that no one could step on the “B,” so everyone walked around it. No one could step on the “B” because it was too disrespectful. Um, and so we do things like try to jump over it, you know like if you’re really risky like I did freshman year, but then one day near the middle of my freshman year, we showed up to school and Bellarmine literally put up ropes around the B. 

No one knows why the B was suddenly roped, but I guess someone must have stepped on it or maybe graffitied it or maybe defaced it? But there’s been stories, my favorite being that, our rival, St. Francis… one of their fine gentlemen defecated on the B. [laughs]

So now our tradition is enshrined, now instead of like a, uh, proverbial “hey don’t step on the B,” now it’s “hm, why does this area look like a crime scene?” It’s because it was a crime scene, probably because that man defecated on our prideful school symbol.

 

Thoughts:

The way Bellarmine treats its school seal is an oikotype of how many schools choose to treat their own school seals. Schools seals are usually incredibly sacred, and touching it (especially before you graduate) can bring you bad luck or be seen as a sign of disrespect towards your school. To maintain school pride, many schools protect this sacred symbol of their school, especially from rivaling schools, who also follow the tradition of trying to deface their rival school’s seals. USC’s rival with UCLA also reflects this type of folklore: during the week of the rivalry football game, USC duct tapes and guards Tommy Trojan 24/7 to ensure that UCLA is unsuccessful in painting Tommy Trojan blue and gold. Similarly, UCLA builds a cage around their school’s bear statue to protect it from USC’s attempts to paint it red and gold.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Muslim Traveling Superstition

Main Piece (direct transcription):

Mom: Before dad and I went on our honeymoon to Madrid, dad’s mom held up the Quran, and so did his grandmother, and we actually had to walk underneath the Quran to prevent anything evil from happening to us in our travels.

Me: It wasn’t just for the plane; it was for all of your travels?

Mom: Well, they didn’t state it, but I felt it was like their way of confirming that our trip would be as safe as possible.

 

Context: The informant, my mother, is a pharmacy administrator living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  She was originally born in New York but moved to New Mexico with her family at a young age.  Her father, a playwright and artist, was invested in his Native American heritage.  From her travels around New Mexico, moving from place to place when she was young, and also hearing stories from her father and my father, who is from Iran, she has gathered a variety of folktales.  My dad is originally from Iran, and all his family members are also from Iran, so my mom and I were talking about Iranian superstition and folklore that my mom has experienced while being married to him.  Since my grandmother is heavily Muslim, and is a very superstitious woman, my mom has learned about most Iranian superstitions through her.

 

 

My Thoughts: This is interesting because it is my mom’s, who is American, viewpoint on Iranian superstition.  Even though my grandma and my great-grandma did not explain to my mom why they wanted them to walk under the Quran before their travels, my mom was able to guess the purpose of it.  Although different cultures have their own superstitions, I feel like many feelings of superstition and fear are universal.  This superstition made me think about how different individuals express different feelings of things such as fear, excitement, and happiness.  People in America might say, “Have a safe flight!” or “Safe travels!” before a major trip such as a honeymoon; however my Iranian family wanted my parents to walk underneath a Quran to express this sentiment.

Childhood
Customs
Game
general
Humor
Magic
Protection
Signs

Drawing Game — Pig Protector

Text

The following information was collected from a seven-year-old Caucasian girl from South Haven, MI. The girl will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “Daddy sometimes will draw pigs on our hands when we are sleeping.”

Collector: “What does it mean?”

Informant: “Um…haha…I don’t know. It’s funny because we don’t know who did it.”

Collector: “Does he do it to you and your sisters?”

Informant: “Yeah haha…He will draw it on my hand and then on my sister’s hand. And we wake up and he pretends he didn’t do it…Umm haha… But we know he drawed it.”

Context:

            The Informant picked this up from her father. He would draw pigs on the Informant and the Informant’s sisters’ hands when they were sleeping. Then they would wake up with a drawing on their hand he would pretend he hadn’t done it. It became a game of who could find him and get him to admit he drew it first. The pig looks like a smaller circle inside a larger one, with two ears, four legs and a tail. It is the same drawing every time. The Informant remembers because she finds it funny and enjoys playing.

Interpretation:

            I found this piece to be very intriguing. I understood it to be a sweet little game played between a father and his young daughters. But while searching for a deeper meaning, I’ve come to another conclusion, one that is hardly obvious to a seven-year-old. I believe this game to be a way a parent can make a child feel like he or she is always watched over and cared for, even in sleep. It reminds me of the childhood comfort of falling asleep on the couch, only to awake in your own bed, tucked in and warm. I imagine that waking up with this drawing on your hand, a sign that someone who loves you is with you even when you are unaware of it, would be a huge comfort and affirmation of the love that you feel from that parent.

Childhood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general
Protection

Lemon Juice and Salt Water — Healing

Text

The following piece was collected from a thirty-year-old Mexican-American woman. . She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “Mi mama used to tell me us to squeeze lemon juice onto cuts my brothers and I would get.”

Collector: “To clean them?”

Informant: “Si. She said it hurt because it was cleaning. She would make us put salt water in mouth when throat hurt.”

Collector: “Did it work?”

Informant: “No se. We did it because she said.”

Context

            The Informant learned this unique way of healing small ailments from her Mexican mother. The Informant remembers because she would always try to hide some small scratch or sore throat from her mother so she wasn’t forced to pour lemon juice on the cut or gargle salt water. She never liked it, but she believed they worked, mainly because from a young age, her mother would tell her they would.

Interpretation

            When I first learned of this method, I was reminded of another method of helping small hurts. I was once told to rub mud on a bee sting to make it stop hurting. While I believe that the lemon juice and salt water have more legitimate healing properties, I think that the intent behind both practices is similar. I think the purpose of these processes is that within the application and resulting sting of lemon juice and salt water, the hurt is more in that moment of application. But following the short but intense sting, the pain itself has lessened. More than simply helping because healing properties they both may have, they are used as a distraction method, a way to lessen the pain in the long run.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Folk speech

Folk Medicine — Face is red, raise the head

Text

The following piece was collected from a fifty-two year old Caucasian man from Chicago, Illinois. The man will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “My father was a doctor, he was always bring home doctorly advice for us kids.”

Collector: “What did he say?”

Informant: (laughing) “I remember, probably his most common medical phrase, a simple solution to seemingly every ailment, went like this: ‘Face is red, raise the head. Face is pale, raise the tail.’”

Collector: “What does that mean?”

Informant: “Just what it sounds like. If you’re face is red, stand up so some of the blood leaves your head. If your face is pale, you need more blood to flow to it, so you raise the bottom half of your body. But sometimes, he’d say it when no one was sick. Sometimes, I think he meant it in a whole other way completely.”

Collector: “What other way did he mean it?”

Informant: “He never said, but I always thought he meant that sometimes there was an easy…a simple solution to something. Like I was overthinking something, and he would tell me to ‘raise the head’ and I would go with my gut. The easiest solution.”

Context

The Informant learned this saying from his father, an orthopedic surgeon. He informed me that his father was constantly weaving his career into his everyday life, and one of his most common ways of doing this was by informing his children of his many medical insights. The Informant remembers this phrase, tells it to his own children, for its simple effectiveness and its complete ability to be applied to countless scenarios.

Interpretation

I agree with my Informant: the simple solution within the phrase is an easy way to fix a small ailment. Similarly, I really enjoy the thought that it can be applied to other situations, ones that do not involve a physical ailment. Meaning behind simple phrases or sayings always seems to me to reveal so much more.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese New Year Doll (Tu’er Ye)

Informant:

M, a 21-year-old, Chinese male who grew up in Beijing until he turned 17 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Los Angeles, California, and attends the University of Southern California with his girlfriend who is from Southern China.

Background info:

M’s first language was Mandarin. His family spoke Mandarin and he only learned English before moving to the United States. Because he grew up in Beijing, he believes himself to be fairly knowledgeable about the folklore that every day people participate in. This is one of the Chinese traditions in their household.

Context:

This is a Chinese tradition that M’s family would participate in during the Lunar New Year in Beijing. Because he was close with all his family, he and his younger sister would often have to do these traditions twice a year, once with their mother’s side of the family and again with their father’s side. This was told to me during a small get-together at his house. The following is a transcript of the piece as told by M.

Main piece:

“This is also about Lunar New Year. Lunar New Year like spans for two weeks. By the end of that… this is specific to Beijing… you’ve got something called Tu’er Ye (in Chinese: 兔儿爷). Basically, this means uhh… ‘lord rabbit’… Um, so essentially, it’s like a little doll made from porcelain… a porcelain doll… and the tradition is that you are supposed to get one at the beginning of the year and get rid of it at the end of the year. Essentially, it is still like a paganism folklore thing that is supposed to serve as protection for your family. I remember that in the traditional folklore, you needed to like break or shatter the doll at the end of the year, but we don’t really do that anymore, we just get rid of it and get a new one. We would never really do this as a family, you would sort of just know it was there. It’s always the same chubby rabbit who is like riding on a tiger. It’s kind of weird, but people still do it. I think people would break the doll to represent kind of breaking all the bad fortune from the previous year, and you get a new one to have a fresh start.”

Thoughts:

I found it interesting that the tradition involved breaking the glass/porcelain doll to dispel bad fortune. In a lot of other folklore that I have seen, the breaking of something as fragile as glass is considered bad luck. One example of this is the folk belief that breaking a mirror will result in seven years of bad luck, a popular belief that I heard numerous times as a child. Doing a little more research on this topic, I found that Tu’er Ye is actually related to moon worship, and he is considered to be the moon rabbit of the goddess Chang’e. The keeping of a porcelain doll visible in the house all year reminded me of various scary stories involving dolls that came to life. Because the Tu’er Ye doll is supposed to represent, or shield from, the family’s bad fortune, I can see a slight connection behind the horror story dolls being an embodiment of evil.

Folk Beliefs
Foodways
general
Homeopathic
Magic
Material
Protection

Chinese Fish Eating Superstition

Informant:

M, a 21-year-old, Chinese male who grew up in Beijing until he turned 17 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Los Angeles, California, and attends the University of Southern California with his girlfriend who is from Southern China.

Background info:

M’s first language was Mandarin. His family spoke Mandarin and he only learned English before moving to the United States. Because he grew up in Beijing, he believes himself to be fairly knowledgeable about the folklore that every day people participate in. This is one of the Chinese traditions in their household.

Context:

This is a Chinese superstition that M and his girlfriend’s families believe in, despite having different recounts of what the superstition is. Because they are both close with their families, he and his girlfriend would often have to change how they behaved depending on who they were around at the time. This was told to me during a small get-together at his house. The following is a transcript of the piece as told by M.

Main piece:

“Something that is pretty interesting that is a distinction between Northern and Southern China is that… when you’re eating like a fish… You know how when you eat a fish, they’ve like roasted or cooked the whole fish, right? And they’ve got some sauces or marinate on them. So when you eat a fish, it’s like laying this way *shows a horizontal motion* and you eat one side until there’s the fish bones. And then below that there is another side of meat, right? In Northern China, like in Beijing where I am from, people will flip the fish over to eat the other side and it means like. ‘Oh, if I’m flipping the fish over, it means that I am flipping away all the bad luck and starting fresh.’ But in Southern China, that is a big no-no. You can’t do that because if you do, it means that your fishing boat is going to turn over. It’s going to get blown over. I think the reason for this superstition is because in Southern China they were very reliant on the fishing industry for food in like the olden days. So doing something like flipping a fish over would mean that the next fishing trip would be dangerous. It’s weird because doing the same thing has two very different meanings in such close proximity, so like… my girlfriend is from Southern China, right? So when our families cook fish for events or uhh… holidays… there’s this almost contention between us over how to eat it. Though it is mostly just the older people who still believe this superstition.”

Thoughts:

I have been out to eat with M before and never seen him do this, so it is interesting to learn that he and his girlfriend follow different traditions based on who they are around. In Northern China, they believe that flipping the fish over is getting rid of all the bad luck and starting fresh. This is very similar to the English phrase of “turning over a new leaf”, as many view that to mean one is starting fresh and discarding whatever bad things were in the past. I do not know of any physical embodiment of that phrase in American culture, but it’s interesting that, in Beijing, people must do a physical action rather than just a saying. The distinction between Southern and Northern China over the same action also showcases how local industries can influence traditions or superstitions. Southern China’s belief that the flipping of a fish will mean that a fishing boat will flip over, there is almost a voodoo vibe about this superstition. The lack of participation or belief in superstitions or traditions by the younger generation also shows that the beliefs are waning, and new ones are being formed.

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