USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Religion’
Folk Beliefs
Magic

The Virgin Mary and Weather

Main Piece

Religious tradition

“I heard about it when i was in like 4th grade and we wanted our field trip to the Bronx Zoo to not have bad weather. My 4th grade teacher told us about this thing…where you put the Virgin Mary statue facing out in a window. Supposedly it makes…like…good weather, for the next day or something.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Long Island, New York

Language: English

The informant doesn’t think that the practice actually has an effect, but she thinks you should continue doing it as a “trope.” The informant is deeply religious; she said that she believes that, if God wants it to rain, it will rain regardless of anyone’s actions. The informant has never had a Mary statue but has been given them as gifts, she just never kept them or used them. The informant said that she doesn’t feel as strongly as other people do about Mary.

Context

The informant attended a coeducational Catholic school where she learned of the practice.

Notes

The conflict of institutional and non–institutional religious beliefs is an interesting contention. Folk practices such as this are indicative of the importance that people place on different religious figures, like the Virgin Mary, who are perhaps underemphasized by the church. Furthermore, the informant learned the practice from a teacher, but not from the institution itself, which is an interesting distinction to make. When is one acting as part of their employing institution, and when is one not?

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

Active Angels

This friend of mine has always mentioned that his family is very Christian, while he himself is more secular. He believes in God, and prays regularly, however he is a bit skeptical in terms of miracles happening here on Earth. Having grown up in San Diego in close proximity to his grandparents, who are even more religious than his parents, he often shares stories from his childhood, many of which involve church or some other religious attribute. Though he attends Mass somewhat regularly here at USC, college has made him even more of a skeptic than before.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Is it okay, if this is like, religious? Alright so, it was like evening. It wasn’t dark, it was almost dark. That time between five and six pm. You know what I’m talking about. So I’m at Torrey Pines Cove. Er, no that’s not a thing. La Jolla Cove. But it’s near Torrey Pines, anyways so. I’m there, and I’m climbing on the cliffs. I started off on just little ones, but then I got to bigger ones, and it was sort of like, more dangerous. My mom was talking to my dad, and like, just, they were walking around and stuff. And they didn’t see that I had moved on to more dangerous areas. And, I am afraid of heights, I don’t know if you know about this. But I don’t like being up high ever. I can’t look down if I’m higher than like a story. A third floor freaks me out. So anyways, I’m at a cliff – I can’t remember how far it was, but when I was a kid it felt like really really really far. You know? Like a giant gap. So I look down and I’m like way high up. And I look down and am like, holy shit? How am I gonna get down? And I didn’t know. My mom saw me at this point, and she couldn’t climb that high up, she was freaking out. She wouldn’t climb that. She was like, ‘oh my God, he’s up there, you know, he’s gotta climb down or something’. I was just frozen, I was there the whole time, and then. This guy was at the top of the cliff, and went and like helped me down. Like, I don’t – he didn’t, okay. This is hard to envision, but he went and like walked down and helped guide me down the rock face. And then, like. And then he was like, ‘there you go’, and then walked away. And then my mom was like, ‘that was an angel. A guardian angel’. Because we didn’t see any guys up there, like – it didn’t look like. She didn’t recall anyone being up there, and he just showed up. And then got me down. And then left. And my mom was like, ‘that’s a guardian angel up there’.

“My grandmother used to tell me stories about what my guardian angels looked like. And it was really like, it was a way for me to bond with my grandmother on a deeper level. Sort of supernatural, like, are there really angels out there that are everyday people? She would make up the stories. She was like – this was like what guardian angels would do. Like if I had a big test coming up, she was like, ‘the guardian angel is watching. He’ll help you with the answers,’ or I don’t know what it was. Help you study – that’s more ethical. So, but yeah. She was a big believer in angels, like active angels. Not ones that were just up there. She was like, ‘nah, they’re out there. They’re helping people’. And I always thought that was just good Samaritans. People that were like, ‘yo, this kid’s on a cliff face. I need to help him out.’ You know? And we just didn’t see him. That’s what I think happened. But my mom has a different take that that was my guardian angel like stepping in. Like, ‘this kid’s about to die’.”

This story fascinates me, as I never really think of angels as walking among us. While I, myself, believe in a higher power with a sort of spiritual-hierarchy of subservient deities (aka God with His angels, a Creation God with Nature Spirits, something along those lines), I’ve never really pictured them as being physical incarnates that interact with us one-on-one. Though my friend claims to have interacted with one face to face, he still is a skeptic that it was, in fact, an angel. It beautifully illustrates the sharp generational divide in beliefs, even if those beliefs share a common root.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

The Parking Lot Angel

This friend of mine has always mentioned that his family is very Christian, while he himself is more secular. He believes in God, and prays regularly, however he is a bit skeptical in terms of miracles happening here on Earth. Having grown up in San Diego in close proximity to his grandparents, who are even more religious than his parents, he often shares stories from his childhood, many of which involve church or some other religious attribute. Though he attends Mass somewhat regularly here at USC, college has made him even more of a skeptic than before.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Another angel story, my grandmother says there’s a parking-lot angel that she has that follows her car around. And every time she’s gone to places to park she just always manages to find a spot. And she would tell me that every time. She went to like parking lots and stuff, and she used to tell me stories.”

This story is just so innocent and sweet. A little old grandma who has come to the conclusion that the reason for her exceptionally good luck when it comes to finding parking spaces is her very own guardian angel. Everyone I’ve told it to since I’ve heard it has smiled and said, “hey, that’s not such a bad explanation”. Perhaps the parking lot angel is busier than we know.

 

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The One Soul

Item (direct transcription):

There is a man. He has a family. He has a wife, a child, a newborn child. He’s going to work. He’s driving down the highway. Unfortunately a drunk driver hits him and kills him. He dies. On the spot. Instantly. So…um, he leaves behind a widow and his child. The widow is obviously very sad. But the man goes up into…um [motioning upward with his hands]…whereever.

He meets God. And God, so he wakes up, he sees this being around him. He assumes it’s God. He says, “Are you God?” And he says, “Yes, I am God.” Um, and then he says, “Am I dead.” He says, “Yeah, you’re dead.” And he says, “So am I going to heaven or hell?” He says, “Well, uh, not yet.” And then, um, the man asks, “What’s going to happen to my wife and my child?” And God says, “Your wife, um, she’s going to act very sad for a while, but… deep down she’s actually happy, because she’s actually been having an affair with somebody else, and this actually works out very well for her. [Laughs.] And your child will grow up having a very idyllic view of you. Um, he’ll think you were the perfect father, because you were never around. [Laughs again.] So that’s going to work out very well for him, too. But you on the other hand, you’re not going to heaven or hell.”

So then the man asks, “So what going to happen to me? Where am I gonna go?” And then God says, “You are going to be reborn as, uh… a village girl in China in the sixth century.” And this man says, “But wait! Isn’t it the twenty-first century? I died in 2018. What’s happening? Am I going back in time?” “Yes, exactly, you’re going back in time.” So the man says, “Wait, wait, wait. If I’m being reborn back in time, so how many, like, distinct souls are actually living on Earth right now?” And God says, “There’s only one soul on Earth, and it’s been you this whole time.” And the man says, “Wait, so you’re telling me that I was Adolf Hitler?” And God says, “Yes, you were Adolf Hitler. And all the Jews that he killed.” [Laughs.]

And, um, so yeah. He was basically everybody on Earth. So this obviously a very giant, big revelation to him. The man is just mind-blown and he asks, um, “So what’s the meaning of all this? Why did you create a planet? Why do I even exist?” And God says, “Um, well, I can tell you this because when you wake up as a newborn, you’re not gonna remember anything, so it doesn’t matter what I tell you. So, um, I created this world because, um, this, uh, this world is basically an egg. And you are one of me. You are basically just growing inside this egg. And one day, when you’re mature enough, you will become one of me. And when you do, you will break out of the shell of the egg and you will take your place among us.”

And then he wakes up as the village girl in China in the eighth century.

Background Information:

The informant read this tale on Quora, an online question-and-answer site. He liked the story because it “made [him] think.”

He says that the story is “as believable as any religion,” and he believes that the person who posted on Quora probably made it up himself or herself.

Contextual Information:

The informant performs the tale in order to provoke a philosophical debate. Since he claims the story is not true, yet the metaphysics presented in the story cannot be disproved, he uses it as a way of presenting agnostic beliefs.

Analysis:

This tale interesting in how it combines elements of various, usually unconnected mythologies. This eclecticism is probably by design, considering the tale’s purpose of revealing the folly of religion. At first, the story seems to be using a Abrahamic, monotheistic context, then the story later reveals a polytheistic context. The story also incorporates the concept of a “world egg,” which appears in Egyptian, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Finnish, and Chinese mythologies, among others.

See “Easter Eggs” (1967) by Venetia Newall, for more information on the place of eggs in mythology.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bible Study Prayer

Each Wednesday, I meet with a small group of fellow university students for a peer-led Bible study at the USC Catholic Center. Each week has a similar layout in terms of procedure, although in this particular meeting, the primary topic was centered and prayer for the recent passing of a close friend and classmate. Because her death greatly affected many of my fellow classmates (and needless to say, her family, who I also knew), much of the prayers given were subsequently aimed in consideration of these others.

 

The following frames the course of a typical Bible-study meeting procedure, although in the case of an exceptional incident:

 

The same eight members of the study meet in the same room, a quiet second-floor conference area, each week beginning at 6:50 p.m., and lasting for around 45 minutes to an hour. Our study’s leader, Javier, had brought me into the group the preceding year. He starts the session having already brought a dealing of snack foods (Oreos, chips & dip, etc.), seating the members around a circular table.

 

The meeting is formally started with the members bowing their heads, crossing their hearts, and reciting in unison the ‘Hail Mary’ traditional catholic prayer, which goes as follows:

 

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

 

Each member then goes one-by-one relaying their personal ‘highs and lows’ since the last meeting, followed by an ‘coming to God moment,’ meant to illustrate an incidence or realization of spirituality and faith.

 

At this point in the meeting, the leader then transitions to a pre-selected lesson, involving the reading of a particular passage of scripture that exemplifies the day’s lesson, followed by a group discussion of what in the passage stood out during the reading, what conclusions they have drawn, or otherwise. This day’s topic involved a passage from the book of Philippians (2: 5-8),  that highlights the humbled passage of Jesus through the realm of man by taking on the form of a man himself.

 

Two smaller, supplementary readings are typically held that reinforce the day’s lesson. However, the leader took the opportunity to discuss the topic of my passed friend, which I had disclosed to him earlier. The group then held a loose discussion of life and death from their various points of view.

 

Each meeting is subsequently closed with an extended prayer from the leader himself. He took the opportunity to center it exclusively on the topic of the passed friend.

 

While the circumstances did not figure appropriate to record the prayer in its entirety, the leader’s points of acknowledgment and hearkening to God included my own emotional health, that of the deceased parents and her friends/classmates at school, as well as for potential victims of suicide (given that these were the circumstances under which she passed).

 

Perhaps the most important aspect of this particular meeting to analyze is the adaptation of a group’s normal schedule to briefly accommodate and address a member’s trying circumstances. In this case, it was to provide a sense of comfort and counsel by means of spirituality, along with the personalization of holding it among people familiar with each other.

 

The leader’s extended prayer stood out to me the most, for unlike the established prayer recited at the start of each meeting, this prayer was devised entirely in the moment, lasting for a total of five uninterrupted minutes devoid of ‘ums’ or silences in thought.

 

A small, but important point that can also be acknowledged in the general scheme of the meetings is the inclusion of snacks as an attracting factor. By providing food, the study leader is able to provide an incentive for members to arrive and enjoy treats, but also to keep hands and minds from wandering or growing idle during/in between each topic of study.

Myths
Narrative

Virgin Mary

Main Piece:

 

The following was recorded from the Participant. They are marked as BDV. I am marked as DG.

 

BDV: I feel like Filipino’s in general focus a lot on the Virgin Mary… Ok, so yeah there’s this woman named Mary, she marries this man named Joseph and…because I guess you are supposed to marry virgins back then ,she was a virgin so Joseph was like “ok cool”, and then the angel Gabriel comes down and announces to Mary that she is pregnant, and she doesn’t know what to do because she’s a virgin, she’s like “how did this happen,” so she tells Joseph and instead of freaking out-well he probably does freak out-but he says “it’s ok I forgive you. We’ll just deal with this baby.” And and it’s unclear whether he believes she didn’t sleep with anyone else, but but yeah and then she goes to tell her sister Elizabeth and Elizabeth is like wow I’m also having a baby and she’s going to name her son John, because the angel also told her to name-told Elizabeth to name her son John… Um, yeah.

 

DG: Where did you hear it, like from your family?

 

BDV: No, I aggressively went to Sunday school when I was younger because my parents made me, and I-that is how they told it… No they probably told it more eloquently but they told the story. I didn’t read the bible much when I was younger.

 

DG: How old were you when you heard this?

 

BDV: Um, I would say probably 5–kindergarten.

 

Context:

 

The conversation was recorded while sitting outside of a coffee shop at the University of Southern California. The interviewee heard the story of the Virgin Mary while at Sunday School, and also later at home.

 

Background:

 

The student was born and raised in Northern California. She is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is the fourth generation to grow up in America, but is Filipino. She speaks several languages, with English being her native language.

 

Analysis:

 

This is one of the most common stories that is known about the Bible. Most people, even if unreligious, know at least part of the story of the Virgin Mary. I did actually find it really interesting, though, because although I’m no longer religious, I did grow up Christian and I had never heard the part about Mary’s sister, Elizabeth, so that was an interesting addition to the story. I also was intrigued by the participant saying that Filipino’s are often very into the Virgin Mary story-it made me wonder what about it in particular made it such an item of interest, more so than in other cultures?

Festival
Folk Dance
Foodways
Gestures
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Material
Musical
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ferias Monucipilanas

Every city, every town, has a yearly party, feria monucipilanas, and each have their own saint in which they cherish and praise during the festival. The people of the city make a big tower that you light at the bottom of the tower so then the fireworks make really colorful designs upon explosion. Alex is a Colombian native who immigrated here when he was just a little boy. His family left Columbia in response to all the violence that was emitting from Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror. In order to keep his family traditions alive, his parents constantly told him about the vast events and beauty of his homeland and people. These fairs seem like the walks that Catholics due in Los Angeles during Easter to acknowledge a saint.

Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Protection

Padre Nuestro- Blessings

Every single time when you pass by a church, or any holy site, you give yourself a blessing. Doing so, it shows respect to the Saint of the church as well as providing you protection from the sacred site as you continue in your journey.

-

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
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Paschal Greeting – Greek Orthodox

“Because I’m Greek Orthodox, we have a service the night before Easter. What we do is, the priest turns off all the lights in the church and then we have candles. And we say ‘Christ has risen and truly he has risen’ in like eight different languages. ‘Khristos Anesti. Alithos Anesti. Christ has risen. Truly he has risen.’* and all these different forms of languages for about an hour and a half. It’s just a symbolized of I think inclusivity. We just wear our church clothes. Like my mom always says, ‘Dress as though you’re going to God’s house.’ Everyone is in more ‘happier’ colors since it’s Easter”

My informant is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. She is deeply connected to her church and still practices her religion faithfully. I thought it was interesting to hear how her family celebrates Easter because I personally am Presbyterian, which is a branch of Christianity. We only celebrate Palm Sunday and Good Friday prior to Easter. I have never heard of a celebration being held the night before Easter. This service is referred to as the Paschal Greeting in Greek Orthodox custom. I really liked the idea of chanting “Christ has risen and truly he has risen” in multiple languages as a representation of inclusivity. However, I will admit having to do that for an hour and half seems extremely tedious. My informant on the other hand seemed enthusiastic about the ritual, proving her patience and loyalty to God.

 

Customs
Gestures
Signs

A Catholic Tradition Honoring My Mother

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Spanish

Age: 20

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 13, 2017 (Skype)

 

Mike is a 20 year old man, born and raised in New York, who is a mobile phone salesman in New York City. He is a high school graduate whose family is of Puerto Rican Heritage.

 

Interviewer: Good Afternoon. You mentioned that you follow a tradition your Mom taught you. Could you explain please?

 

Informant: “Ya it is like I am Catholic you know you know and we really go by this Catholic thing like every time I do the cross. Every time I pass a Church, I do the cross. And I feel if I didn’t do the cross that I would feel different.”

 

Interviewer: You mentioned you would feel different, why?

 

Informant: “Like this was a thing, you know the do the cross, that I use to ah see my Mom do every time, you know, we were passing a Church. Like it ah didn’t matter if youse was on a bus or a car or like just walking down a street, um she would always cross herself.  Then… then I was, you know older then a little kid, ah every time she crossed herself you know and if I was wit her, she would stare at me if I didn’t cross myself.  So I guess, like um I would um feel different like I wuz disrespecting my Mother, you know.  So like , I am a Momma’s boy, she is very close. And um I don’t want to, you know give her anything that wouldn’t be very respectful. Does that make sense to you?”

 

Interviewer:  Yes it does. It is a very nice thing to do. Do you do the sign of the cross even when she is not with you?

 

Informant: “Of course, it’s like so deep in my bones and mind that it is like ya I am like a robot! When I see the church, like I have to stop and do my cross, you know.  It is so beautiful cause I see my Mom smiling a lot every time ah um I do that.”

 

Thoughts about the piece:  

Devoted Catholics worldwide have been making the “sign of the cross” since the 400s: http://catholicstraightanswers.com/what-is-the-origin-of-the-sign-of-the-cross/

Here is a demonstration of how to do this movement prayer properly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpRzqXG1dhc

 

 

 

 

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