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

Chinese Red Ink Superstition

Informant:

E, a 22-year-old Chinese-Taiwanese female who was born and raised in Los Angeles. She is currently a senior at the University of Southern California.

Background info:

E’s first language was English, but because her parents were immigrants, she quickly learned Mandarin as well. Her parents are proud of their culture, and thus they often participated in many Taiwan and Chinese traditions, and believed many of the superstitions, as well. This is one of the superstitions E’s mother believed.

Context:

Late at night, a lot of weird conversations happen. Because E is on a project with me, we were working together at around 2:00am when we started discussing superstitions. When she knocked on wood, it brought this conversation up. The following is a transcript of the conversation I had with E. (I will be represented with a J.)

Main piece:

J: “Are there any other superstitions that you experienced growing up? With your family or friends? School, even?

E: “Another superstition that my parents had was red typically meant death or pain, so we would never write someone’s name in red, because it was almost like… wishing that upon someone.”

J: “Are there any other implications to the red ink?”

E: “Yeah! So, because the red ink represents that negative energy, it’s seen as rude or threatening to write letters in red. Even email or texts being red is seen as almost… taboo? Like I wrote an email to an older Chinese relative, and accidentally left some of the text red from something I had copied into the email, and she called my mom to tell her about it!”

J: “Do you think that this is more of an elderly superstition, or would you say younger people believe or participate in this as well?”

E: “Well, it definitely is an older people thing. But, because respect is such a large thing in both the Chinese and Taiwanese cultures, the young people try to observe these things. Like there are many superstitions like this that don’t necessarily make sense to the younger generations, but they still observe them in order to not upset or unintentionally insult the older generations.”

Thoughts:

The superstition is interesting on its own, but I think the conversation around whether young people believe it was the most interesting part of this conversation. I think that it is nice to be respectful of older generations’ traditions or superstitions, despite not believing in them. However, I got the vibe that E did not think that there was credibility to superstitions. I think every generation has their own traditions or superstitions, but it is still important to recognize and document the previous generations’ folklore.

 

Legends
Protection

Clubbing and Needles Urban Legend

Informant: “From what I was told is that at clubs or music events there are some really crappy people who make it their mission to infect people with HIV with syringes that have the blood of an infected person. So, like, you are dancing and someone comes up to you and stabs you with a needle and boom, you are infected. I don’t know if this ever happened, but it seems possible I guess, and because it’s possible I don’t mess around with any sketchy clubs.”

Context: The informant is the brother of the collector and spoke about this legend during a discussion about parties. The informant said that they first heard of this legend from their girlfriend at the time in high school at an LMFAO concert at the Orpheum.

Informant Analysis: When he analyzed what this legend means, he said that it is most likely some warning of “sketchy clubs” and that people shouldn’t take drugs from people they do not know. He noted that even though he does not necessarily believe this legend is true, it is entertaining and scary enough to have made him tell others about it.

Collector Analysis: While I believe this legend may be some sort of protection warning to any person attending music festivals or clubs while also serving as an entertaining horror story, it also may stand for other fears young people may have at party events. In particular, when we are speaking of needles and partying, it is possibly that this legend is in reference to certain hard drugs that can be shared at these events. In any situation where needles are involved or being shared, there is great fear of contracting something from someone. This fear may have inspired the legend. It may also be analyzed from the angle of the danger of being unaware in a party atmosphere where people let their guard down and are preyed upon unexpectedly. We can also analyze why the legend refers to HIV in particular and not some other disease or drug. This legend may serve as a warning to young people having intercourse with people they do not know who may have HIV. We can see that there is an insidious perpetrator who infects a victim while the victim is enjoying themselves, which may closely relate to a warning of having many unknown sexual partners. Lastly, it should be noted that in clubs or music events there is a large grouping of unknown people who are, while at the event, in a sort of forced community and friendship. The fear of being hurt by an unknown person who is supposed to be a friend is a great use of the idea of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Old age
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mexican Novenario

The majority of Mexico follows the Catholic religion, and in doing so, the rosary is an integral part of every day life, bringing about the goodness that only Divinity is able to bring. When someone feels that their death is near, family members and friends go to their home every day and say the rosary, praying together for some sort of miracle. If it is perceived that the person is bound to pass, they pray for their peaceful passing. Once a person has actually passed, they participate in what is called the Novenario. Through the Novenario, family and friends bring their rosaries to pray for nine days, as it remains a crucial aspect of that person’s ascension to Heaven. At the end of the nine days, it is customary to eat a final grand meal to thank the life of that particular person and all those who participated in the prayers. Traditional dishes include tamales and mole. Once this is complete, the person is expected to be in the hands of God.


 

The interlocutor has taken part in many Novenarios because of her relationship with her Mexican family members who have passed, mainly extended family members that she was connected to but did not have an intimate relationship with. She mentioned that the most excruciating Novenario she witnessed was the one that was in service of her own mother. The Novenario transpired as usual, but the interlocutor mentioned that this was an especially unique Novenario because the entire house was filled with many more people than it was designed for. Many women cried as they clutched their rosaries, muttering prayers amid the clamor of food preparation. In this aspect, the interlocutor felt immense comfort despite her sorrow. She mentioned that the Novenario, while integral to person who has passed, serves to comfort the living in their sadness.

The myriad religious connotations through the Novenario illustrate the reliance on religion during a time of loss and reflection. It is the backbone in which the Novenario is based, proving that many pious Mexicans rely on religion for comfort and peace of mind through their unwavering faith. The nine days spent praying acts as a sort of watch for the spirit, keeping the person company on their difficult journey from the physical to the divine. They protect and help guide the spirit that would otherwise get lost, utilizing prayer and presence to aid their passing.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Macbeth in the Theatre

Context: Subject had worked Theater production in high school and had been exposed to many superstitions surrounding ideas of bad luck, prevention, and reversal methods.

Informant:

[Speaking face to face in a lounge while studying for classes]

“The whole Macbeth rumor… where if you are in a theater and you say the word ‘Macbeth,’ you have to leave the theatre and… is it spin backwards in three circles, or forward…?”

“Um… I feel like it might be backwards”

“I think you have to spin in three circles backwards and like… spit or something. Um, and basically, people are very superstitious about it, even if it’s not… even people who aren’t generally superstitious or worried about it. Like my friend who studies stage management at Syracuse… um… was like… complaining to me about some kid who said Macbeth in the theater and refused to do the circle thing and their play went horribly… And she legitimately believed it was his fault. And in a way, it’s interesting because just since you think it’s going to ruin the play, like you subconsciously ruin it yourself… so that’s interesting.”

Introduction: The informant was introduced by fellow theater crew members when they joined stage production in high school.

Analysis/Interpretation: This is interestingly, a common phenomenon seen within the theater community. Given that I hadn’t been exposed to theater until becoming employed at one, I hadn’t been exposed to any theater folk beliefs or customs. As of recently, I have come to see more commonalities between theater-based folklore. Specifically, regarding Macbeth, it seems as though much of what is actively practiced and reinforced within the theater community, consistent amongst even the most different regions is contingent upon ideas of prevention of bad luck from pursuing during a production.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Narrative
Proverbs
Tales /märchen

Two Wolves

So, there’s this story I heard one time  –or maybe I read it in a book, I don’t remember. But it’s a Native American parable. Like, a Chief was teaching his grandson or a Chief was teaching a young warrior. Anyway, he says, “A fight is going on inside you.  It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger and cruelty, ego and regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, insecurity, guilt, resentment, shame, etc..”

“The other is good – joy, and love and compassion, kindness, hope, love, generosity, faith, peace.  The wolves are always fighting inside of you.” The grandson/warrior thinks about it for a bit and then asks, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Chief replies, “The one you feed.” For me, this story is about how you get more of what you concentrate on. Like, where you put your energy is where things grow, so it’s a little warning, a reminder, not to let yourself dwell in the dark places in your psyche. The thing I think I say to my clients the most is, “No positive change can come from a harsh place of judgment.” Like if you feed the Harsh Judgment Dog, you just get more harsh judgment. In my clients, this often translates into paralysis and perfectionism.

 

Context & Analysis: This piece was collected from a 54 year old white woman who lives in Austin, Texas. She is a therapist by trade, hence the references to clients. I think her interpretation of the tale is spot on, and I like her addition of the Harsh Judgement Dog. If she propagates this legend, maybe naming one of the wolves the Harsh Judgement Dog will be one of the oikotypal variations.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Material
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Rocks on Gravestones

Context:

The subject is from Israel, and is a freshman at USC. Throughout my time of knowing him he has shared many jokes and proverbs that are specific to his home country. For this reason, I decided to interview him for the database.

 

Piece:

Subject: Something else, which I’m not sure is tied just to Jews or not, is we put rocks on gravestones. So instead of flowers, or chocolates, I don’t know, we put rocks there, like a pebble or a bigger one.

Interviewer: That’s really interesting, do you know why?

Subject: I think it’s just a symbol of strength and firmness, and that’s what we want our relationship with the person to be remembered as.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that this is quite a common practice, although different cultures have different explanations as to why they carry it out. For thousands of years, people would place rocks on tombs in order to stop scavengers, or keep evil spirits out of the world. In addition, it would also be to stop the deceased from rising up.

In Jewish cultures, placing a stone or a pebble is customary, as a form of respect for the deceased, and to let them know that you have visited.

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

Right Foot First – An Ice Skating Superstition and Ritual

The following informant is a 22-year-old student who competed in ice skating throughout her childhood and well into her teenage years and continues to ice skate recreationally now. She is describing a common superstition she and some of her teammates have. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: One superstition that I have always had when I used to ice skate was that I always used to put my right skate on and tie up the laces before putting on my left skate. I made sure I always did that.

K: What would happen if you put your left skate on first?

S: I just had this belief that if I put my left skate on first, then I would not have as good of a skate, or I would mess up and risk hurting myself. I always thought oh my god you have to put your right skate on first

K: Were you the only one to have this superstition or did your teammates also share it?

S: I’m not sure if other people shared my superstition specifically, but some of my other teammates had similar superstitions. Like my friend J, when she steps on to the ice, she always puts her right foot down first and never the left first for the same reason I put my skates on right first. I, and a lot of the other girls, also followed her superstition as well. Which is probably where I got my superstition about skates.

K: Would you only do this before a competition or anytime you put on skates and stepped on to the ice?

S: Oh, every time I put on skates and went on the ice. I’ve been doing it for years now that I don’t have to worry about accidently putting my left skate on first because I have trained myself to always put my right skate on first and step with my right foot first.

S: One more thing, I am not sure why my superstition has to do with the right-side, maybe it’s because I’m right handed… but that doesn’t really make sense because my friend J is left handed… I honestly don’t know

Context:

This conversation took place at a café one evening. The informant brought up superstitions and I asked if she would like to participate in the folklore collection project. The conversation was recorded and transcribed. Although she only acts out the ritual when she ice-skates.

Thoughts:

I find her superstition about always doing things on the right side first very fascinating, along with her reasoning, that she later disagrees with. But maybe she is not wrong, It seems pretty obvious that if you are right-hand dominant that you would consider your right side to bring good luck and your left side to bring bad luck. But how would this explain her friend. Or maybe in our everyday life we tend to go from right to left, like reading English, her first language, you always read right to left, reading left to right just would not make sense.

Folk speech
general
Homeopathic
Legends
Magic
Protection

Bless You

The following informant is an 8th grader. In this account she is explaining the phrase “bless you”. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as SA and I am identified as K:

SA: So bless you, um… , so basically when you sneeze someone should tell you bless you because back when the plague was around, they thought sneezing was a certain death, so they said “god bless you” and that was like a prayer over it, so when you say bless you to someone you are praying for them

K: how did you hear about this

SA: From my mom, she used to tell us that when we were younger and now I always say bless you to people

Context: She told me this while at my house one weekend.

Thoughts:

This was something I also heard growing up, and like the informant it became drilled into my head to always say bless you. Our moms are sisters, so maybe they heard it from each other, but even growing up I heard it from my other friends. What I find most interesting is that this version, along with others I have heard over the years, its sound very religious, yet people who are not religious say it. It’s become such a common manner that you might not even realize you are blessing someone.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Protection with Holy Water

This is a tradition in which the user drops a little bit of blessed water from a Church around the entrances of their homes in order to keep bad spirits away. This tradition comes from Veracruz, Mexico. The water is supposed to basically cast a protective spell over your home, especially during times of hardship.

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Ruby is a young Mexican-American woman who truly connects to her Catholic roots and leads her way of life through that method. She is also a single mom who works at a Non-Profit feeding the homeless of Los Angeles

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Candles

You are supposed to light up a candle, so that the spirit of a recently passed family member or loved one can be guided to heaven. The candle is supposed to keep away the bad demons and evil itself from guiding the spirit away from the path to heaven. If the candle gets blown out, you need to restart the process and pray so that the spirit can also use your voice as a guide to “the light.”

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Ruby is a young Mexican-American woman who truly connects to her Catholic roots and leads her way of life through that method. She is also a single mom who works at a Non-Profit feeding the homeless of Los Angeles

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