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

Albanian Broom Superstition

Informant: The informant is Mrika. She has lived in the Bronx, New York for her whole life. She is eighteen years old and is a freshman at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. She is of Albanian descent.

Context:We sat across from each other at a table at a diner in Yonkers, New York during our spring breaks from college.

Original Script:

Informant: So, if someone accidentally hit you with a broom while they were sweeping, it would be bad luck. If they hit your feet, people would say that you wouldn’t get married. It seemed like an allusion to slavery. Brooms deal with the ground and the dirt. You had to get rid of the bad luck. To do that, you have to spit on the broom.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: I learned about this while I was on vacation in Albania, so it reminds me of that culture. I must have been eight years old. This is the one superstition that makes me remember the month I spent in Albania when I was growing up.

Personal Thoughts: I find it interesting that not only did Mrika explain the piece of folklore, but she also had developed a sense of the potential meaning behind its reason. Usually, people do not really know where the folklore they follow comes from or its meaning, yet Mrika, as she got older, was able to infer why getting hit with a broom is considered bad luck.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Protection

Protection Against Compliments and the Evil Eye

Informant: The informant is Aliki, an eighteen-year-old young woman who grew up in Yonkers, New York. She is a freshman at Concordia University in Irvine, California. She is of Greek descent.

Context of the Performance: We sat on the floor of my dorm room at the University of Southern California when Aliki visited me during her spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: So, in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, they make fun of this, but it’s kind of true. In Greece, we believe very heavily in the evil eye and that its disease very easy to get. If you receive a lot of compliments, and you don’t do this one superstitious thing, you can get the evil eye. Everyone, or at least every Greek, knows that one person who died from the evil eye. Honestly, maybe he or she died from cancer, but there’s always that one grandmother who believes the death was because of the evil eye. Basically, when you get complimented, someone will warn you that you will get the evil eye. If a family member complimented me, for instance, then someone would probably say that he or she is giving me the evil eye. Then, I would have to make a spitting noise three times. Sometimes, someone else can do that for you. Also, sometimes people compliment you but say that you don’t have to do the three spitting noises. They will explain that they are just stating a fact and not complimenting you in an envious way. Some people give compliments out of jealousy or resentment, but if they don’t and say that they don’t, then you don’t have to make the spitting noises. If you do make the spitting noises in front of someone who complimented you, they will not take offense to it. Also, people can walk up to you and make the spitting noises three times  and say that they did it just in case someone compliments you today. People will not stop complimenting you. You just have to do this to avoid the evil eye. Everyone in Greece does this. I learned this from my mother when I was really little.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: It’s important because I don’t want to get the evil eye! Actually, one time, one of my cousins had a friend who died when she was little. She told me that it was because of the evil eye, and it really freaked me out. I asked my mom, and she told me not to believe that too heavily but to always follow the superstition to be safe. Once, in high school, I got a really bad headache for days. My mom asked if I had been doing the spitting noises, and I hadn’t for a while, so I got back to doing that. Also, sometimes when my mom gets lightheaded, she blames it on that. It’s all in our heads, but in the back of our minds, we think it’s possible.


Personal Thoughts: I really enjoyed hearing about this piece of folklore because I never realized how seriously Aliki, and Greeks in general, take the evil eye. What is also interesting is that this piece promotes those receiving compliments to take caution. In a sense, it keeps them from being conceited and just accepting compliments, which is admirable.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Albanian Superstition

Informant: The informant is Mrika. She has lived in the Bronx, New York for her whole life. She is eighteen years old and is a freshman at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. She is of Albanian descent.

Context of the Performance: We sat across from each other at a table at a diner in Yonkers, New York during our spring breaks from college.

Original Script:

Informant: So, it was kind of like a superstition. Most Albanian superstitions are about luck, and they think that when you have bad luck, you’re not going to get married. As a kid, whenever I would hit my head on someone else’s head, people said that I was giving someone bad luck. To remove that bad luck, I’d have to bump heads again with that person. Then, it would go away. My grandma taught me this.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: It’s important to me because as a kid, I knew that the whole thing was dumb, and I didn’t believe it, but it’s something you hold onto. Someone older than me taught that- my grandma. It would always remind me of her. It was something that seemed like a game.

Personal Thoughts: This piece reminds me of the connection folklore gives people to other people. This superstition connects Mrika with her grandmother and her siblings and cousins with whom she spent time growing up. This piece also has a bit of humor to it, which helped Mrike to create childhood memories.

Folk Beliefs
Foodways
general
Holidays
Magic
Protection

Carrulim

My friend from Paraguay told me about this special drink which wards off illness.

Me: What is it?

Friend:”Carrulim is a drink that’s made from sugar cane alcohol, lemon, and some other herbs and spices. It started with the medicine men in the Guarani tribe, which is the tribe of people native to Paraguay before the Spanish arrived.”

Me: When do you drink it?

Friend:”Well I don’t drink it, I think it’s mostly old people and people who live in the country. But it’s only for the first day of August, because August is the month where the weather is worst and a lot of people get sick. There’s a saying that goes: August is the month when skinny cows die.” So yeah if you drink it, it’s only in August.”

Me: Have you ever tried it?

Friend: “Yeah. It’s a disgusting drink. I thought it sounded good but it tasted so bad. I probably will like it when I’m an old man- then again, I’ll “need” it when I’m an old man so I make it through August!”

Analysis: This custom harkens back to a time when people were worried about the harsh weather and how it would effect them. Today, we can control our living conditions with a button (at least in more modern countries) but back before this, people had to ward off illness any way they could. Today this custom serves more as a protection or good luck charm for older people. Perhaps it is psychosomatic– if you drink this, you will believe you won’t get sick, and if you don’t drink it, you will worry about being sick.

Legends
Narrative

Zhong Kui

Sophie is an international student from Taiwan. She is pursuing a B.S. in Computer Science at the University of Southern California. She hopes to find a career in computer security and plans to stay in the United States, specifically Los Angeles, to work. She enjoys watching anime and learning; from USC-sponsored workshops, she has learned how to code and create chatbots.

Original Script

There’s this guy in ancient China in Tang Dynasty. Actually, um, he’s a really smart guy and he went through this test to be a government official, and at that time, the test was taken in pen. So, um, they don’t know how the guy look like when he takes the test, and then the person grading test assigned the guy to be in first place. And then he went to the emperor and the emperor saw him and the emperor thought the guy was so ugly. He couldn’t be a government official because he was so ugly. And then the guy was really sad because he was so smart, but because he’s too ugly, he got rejected to be a government official so he killed himself in front of the emperor. And then the emperor felt sad too because he killed a guy by calling him ugly. So, the emperor put the guy’s face and everything on chūnlián, which is the red paper we put in front of temples and houses in New Year’s, so the guy could scare off bad spirits with his ugly face.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant read about this legend from a book when she was small. She remembered the story of Zhōng Kuí because she found it very amusing. Both the emperor’s reaction to Zhōng Kuí’s suicide and the fact that the man’s hideous appearance was the cause for the tragic end to his life were so ridiculous to her that it was funny.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in a study room at Parkside IRC.

Zhōng Kuí is a legendary figure in Chinese mythology. He is widely regarded as a vanquisher of evil who commands a force of 80,000 demons. His image is often publicly displayed on household entrances for protection, due to his disfigured appearance and fearsome reputation.

My Thoughts about the Performance

Although I knew about the legend of Zhōng Kuí, I was surprised to hear from the informant that many Taiwanese people place Zhōng Kuí’s face on red paper to repel evil spirits on Chinese New Year’s. In contrast, most Chinese attach ménshén, or door gods, to entrances to protect themselves from evil. However, both countries plaster chūnlián on walls for luck and protection on New Year’s. Even though China and Taiwan share some similarities, I find the many cultural disparities or variations between the two very interesting.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Magic
Myths
Narrative
Protection

Golem

Background:

My informant is a twenty-two year old student at USC. She is originally from Pennsylvania and came to LA to study screenwriting. As a writer, she makes it her business to be familiar with a variety of legendary creatures; she is ethnically Jewish.

Performance:

“I heard this from a rabbi, I think, when I was pretty small. I’ve read about it a lot since, so I’m sure a lot of what I think I know about this story comes from books and I just filled in the details later on…but from what I remember, a golem is this mythical creature in Judaism that is completely made of inorganic materials…99% of the time the story says clay but I’ve also heard about stone and mud, definitely mud, maybe not stone…so yeah, golems are these giant clay warriors that come alive by magic and protect the Jewish people when they’re in danger. Warrior is a good word for it, I think. There are a ton of stories about them, some more famous than others. But I’ve always thought it was so fascinating, these giant inanimate pieces of art coming alive to protect their creators.”

Thoughts:

This is not a story I was previously familiar with, and one that I decided to research more thoroughly. The Wikipedia page is fairly in depth: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem#The_Golem_of_Che.C5.82m as well as on a number of Jewish sites, like: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/golem/. The second page says that the name “golem” comes from the Hebrew word for something “incomplete or unfinished.” It’s interesting that something that is, by name, unfinished would be called upon as a warrior or protector. The article also includes an ending to the story that Kieryn didn’t include: the golem’s power slowly grows out of control and the creator is forced to destroy its protector. It seems to speak to the idea that violence breeds violence, and perhaps isn’t quite the answer to conflict.

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection
Signs

Nursing Superstitions

Background:

My informant is a twenty-one-year-old college student in Boston, Massachusetts. She is studying to be a nurse and has worked in the emergency room at both Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Performance:

“I’m not technically a nurse yet so I’ve only really seen this stuff happen…but you kind of catch on. The biggest one I think is to never say that you’re having a “quiet” day, because that’s when everything like, blows up in your face. I’ve had nurses seriously freak out at each other for saying that. That’s the big one, I think…there are also a few nurses, no one that I know really well, but some people say that if you tie a nurse in a patient’s sheets they’ll live through your shift. They’d only do it to the really sick people — you know like bad accidents, or kids, or something. I don’t know if it works, necessarily, but I will say that when we think we’re keeping our patients alive, we’re working a lot harder and people tend to stay alive just a little bit longer, if that makes sense.”

Thoughts:

The never-say-quiet superstition makes a lot of sense, though I’m not sure if it’s specific to nursing. I remember at my high school job scooping ice cream, we had a similar rule about not saying that the store was “slow” because that would mean a rush was imminent. The superstition about the knot, however, it interesting. It’s like the nurse is trying to create a bond between their patient’s life and the physical world; like they’re trying to keep the patient physically tied to their life. Though a simple gesture, it speaks to how seriously nurses take their work. They’ll do anything to keep their patient’s alive, even if its as simple as a knot in a bed sheet.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

The Bad Eye and Arab Folk Beliefs on Protection Against It

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting.

Informant’s Background: 

Piece and Full Translation Scheme of Folk Speech:

Original Script:

ما شاء الله

Transliteration: masha’allah

Translation: whatever the will of Allah (or god)

Piece Background Information:

The evil eye, or the bad eye- it’s like f you’re bragging or saying something like “ Oh I won something or did something good”, then there’s another person looking at or listening to you. They would give you the bad eye, in envy I guess like they want to take this away from you. You would get into trouble, or lose your money, or something terrible would happen to you cause you talked about it or showed it to people. So sometimes, ’til this day, for example if I get a really good grade, or high GPA, and were to take a picture and post it to Snapchat or something, my mom would come to me and say “don’t do that” or “take that away” because she doesn’t want something bad to happen to me. It’s very true, and a lot of people believe it.

In our culture, it’s very connected to religion and there are certain religious ways you can fight that and treat it or deal with it. In our culture, in school we are taught that you shouldn’t believe in like wearing a bracelet or something physical that will protect you from evil. It’s all very spiritual and it’s all in your head. You have to say certain things and believe in certain things, and that will protect you better than wearing something. There are particular phrases you should say if you feel you have the bad eye, in Arabic such as “masha’allah” which if I already gave you the bad eye, and then I say this, it’s kind of like taking the bad eye away and reversing it in a way. Also, you guys have the bible, we have the Quran, which is the holy book for us. You would read certain pages of the Quran on the person who feels they have the bad eye, and that is supposed to cure them or take the bad eye away.

We would learn this from my parents,you know, from home, and also from school. Thinking about it, I probably believe most of the things I just told you. I live my life believing that. I adopt all these beliefs until this day. 

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Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in the informant’s apartment adjacent to USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece:

The informant believes in the evil eye strongly and thus takes the three word phrase for curing the evil eye seriously noting that it is especially useful when said by the person who is the source of the evil eye. The informant shared his beliefs on the evil eye, which was heavily enforced by not only his parents, but by school and religion too. I found it very interesting that there is a disparity between protections against the evil or “bad” eye as he preferred to call it in his culture and in others where physical objects or charms are not thought to be protective against it. It fits with the informant’s overarching theme in the pieces he shared with me (see: Arabic Folk Speech to Handle Fear/Bless and see: Ramadan and the Ritual Celebration of Eid Alfutr) that emphasizes the Muslim ideal of strengthening their connection with Allah through exercising self control, thereby cleansing their minds, bodies, and spirits.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Gujarati Protection Against Evil Eye

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

I’m from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India.

Piece:

So my grandma always did this thing, where she had this belief where if people see success too much, they give you the stink or evil eye, trying to wish you bad luck. So what she would do and say to do is to make a black mark somewhere you cannot see it- so take a little bit of like eyeliner, or mascara, and put it like right behind the ear or something to ward off evil spirits, and people’s bad visions. It’s the same way either way for males and females, but females do it generally.

Piece Background Information:

Informant already mentioned within piece that their grandmother taught them this folk belief on protection against the evil or bad eye.

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Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in Ronald Tutor Campus Center on USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

Upon further research, it is commonly believed in India that the main source (i.e. givers) of the evil eye are women, which is why they generally use this protection against the evil eye.  The black mark is meant to cast or ward off negative energy and evil spirits. I could not find significant meaning as to why it is a black mark, or behind the ear, but I found this protection against the evil eye very interesting.

Festival
Myths

Golem

19) Golem

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.

 

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