USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Religion’
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Burying St. Anthony in my Backyard

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): None

Age: 35

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 12, 2017 (telephonically)

 

Ethan is a 35 year old man, born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who is employed as food vendor at a local food market. He is a College Graduate iand majored in Business Administration. He is 4th generation American

 

Interviewer: Good Morning. You mentioned that as a child you remember a family ritual. Would you mind sharing it with me?

 

Informant: Of course, I would be happy to.  So anytime anybody would move into a new house it was my grandmother on my Dad’s side, the Catholic side of the family, not the Jewish side, um there is a patron saint I believe St. Anthony which is the Saint of lost things or something like that. And she would give us a little doll; and we would bury it in our backyard and that way if we lost anything we would just pray to Saint Anthony then that object would be found. And I am not sure about the origins but I know that I buried that St. Anthony in my backyard

 

Interviewer:  Did you ever find anything that you lost?

 

Informant: “I once misplaced my favorite batting glove and could not find it.  And ah a few weeks later my grandmother was visiting and she took out of her purse the glove. She asked if it belonged to me. She told me that she took it by mistake when she was bundling her clothes.

 

Interviewer:  Did you attribute this to St. Anthony?

 

Informant: Well I remember being so excited, I think I must have been 10 at the time or 9 cause I was in the 4th grade, when I received the glove from her and I said to her that I guess St. Anthony found it and um all I can remember having the greatest smile I ever saw from her

 

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

 

Informant: Um not much other than it was a nice little touch that it is a nice little tradition that my grandmother passed down that I was happy to continue forward. While I doubt it worked, this tradition makes me think about my grandma.

 

 

 

Thoughts about the Piece:

Anyone who has lost something has “prayed” to find it but Catholics pray to a specific individual for help. For the text of the prayer see: http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=150  Other stories of St Anthony novena anecdotes can be read here: http://www.holysouls.com/stanthony.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

general

Trip to Dun Huang

The informant went to Dun Huang China in the early 2000s for her dissertation work and upon entering various old caves that contained Buddhist arts, she had a very supernatural phenomenon happen to her.

Informant: The first time I went there, I stayed in Dun Huang for a month. Then, that was a seminar for several professors and mostly graduate students in art history. Dun Huang caves have over 15 centuries of caves, until the 13th century. Over 400 caves there. For the first few weeks, we went through a few hundred caves. The earliest cave we went and did a review of it. During the last week, we went back from the earliest week as a review. Went back to one of the earliest caves there. 4th or 5th century. (refer to the picture). Painted on top of the door. So, it meant that it was the first thing you see when you look up.

When we started reviewing, the morning we went to the earliest caves and went over the significance of it. After lunch time, I did not go to nap though. I followed 2 nuns instead to the souvenir shop instead, and those 2 nuns were studying at the University of Arizona in religious studies. I didn’t buy anything, but they were looking at paintings of buddhas/bodhisattvas. Then, after seeing that picture you saw, it kind of reminded me of 四大天王, like guardians of the sacred/heaven. I saw that I was really drawn to the painting, so I decided to buy it. Then, I went back to my room and took a nap. After the nap, we went back to those caves and went back to a certain cave. The teacher wanted to show me something rare. The vegetable pigment was not that stable, so the pigments change color faded over time.

Then, the rare thing they used was that the white was from lead/minerals. However, after the lead has been exposed to the air for too long, it becomes black. It takes a few centuries for it to change in color due to oxygenation. So, it looked all blackened out because of the white lead became black from all the oxygen.

But in one special cave, one area of the walls was peeled off, we could see the inner layer of the wall. So, we could see the original painting would look like without the color tarnished. Because in the cave it was dark, the darkness of the cave would make it even darker for the paintings. The cave was incredibly small, a few of us stood there and talked while some of us were still outside waiting to see. Suddenly, there was a something like a sandstorm, but because it rained very shortly last night, the humidity was higher. So, because of the rain made it more humid, the walls were old and gained moisture, something fell off from the ceiling. All the student left, but because I was talking to the professor, we were not wary of the painting falling. And because I realized what was going to fell on my head. One of the nuns that went to the souvenir shop pulled me out and tried to dust off the painting. But I said that it was a national treasure so I told them not to ruin the treasure that was all over me.

The painting that fell off? It was the painting that I bought. The other nun then walked up and told me to do more studying on Buddhism, had I done my research I would not be asking stupid questions. I guess it was something that Buddha was telling me, “Go do your research!”. Almost creepy for me.

 

After hearing her story, I personally thought it was a very supernatural experience. In her case, it felt like it was a wake-up call from above to take her studies seriously! Not only was that the case, but the sudden feeling to purchase that specific painting from the souvenir shop and leading to the pigment of the same painting to fall on her head was definitely not just a coincidence, but also a very significant symbolic sign.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Joshua the Apocalyptic Prophet

Context: When I told my roommate about how I was collecting folklore, he offered to talk about some of the stories he’d heard over the course of his life.

Background: This is something my roommate heard in his religious studies class this semester.

Dialogue: (Note: C denotes myself, B denotes my roommate)

B: …And I think especially the Jesus story is folklore.

C: Based on what your professor told you.

B: Yeah, um… He told me — not me personally but he told my class, uh, because we were studying the origins of Christianity at the time — that there was a man living somewhere in the Fertile Crescent, I think, name Joshua bar Joseph, and he [the professor] was like, “Joshua bar Joseph was an apocalyptic prophet,” meaning, he went around saying that the end was near, and that if people didn’t follow him, that they will die, and they would be s— very sad, and their life would be over. BUT— Wait did I say “if?” Sorry. If they didn’t follow him, they would die die, damnation, whatever. But if they DID follow him, uh, they would go to Paradise when they died, y’know. “The Apocalypse is coming, but, if you follow me, you’re gonna go to heaven.” Um, and then he’s [the professor] like, “Does this sound familiar?” and we’re like, “YEAH IT’S JESUS” and he’s like, “EXACTLY, Jesus was just an apocalyptic cult leader!” Um, and I’m like, “Well THAT makes sense.” So, yeah, that’s what my professor told me. But, I guess that means the Bible’s folklore.

Analysis: This is a really good example at how religion is deeply tied with folklore. From my roommate’s perspective and the perspective of the professor who gave him this narrative, the Bible is considered the alternative way of telling their story, where it would be commonly thought of as the “correct” way of telling the stories contained within. The fact that the story of Jesus allows for such variations—I’ve personally also heard the names “Joshua ben Joseph” and “Jeshua ben Joseph” ascribed to Jesus outside of Biblical context—attests to the fact that the Bible can be seen as merely another, more popular form of  a certain folk belief.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Unitarian Universalist Church

Context: Gathered from one of my roommates once he found out about my collection project.

Background: My roommate has never had a set religious background, and was always in something of a melting pot of faiths when he went to churches like the one described here.

Dialogue: So, I don’t know exactly how Unitarianism, like, started, but… At some point it was just this sort of culmination of, like, various Christian sects, like Episcopalian or Protestant or whatever was around Massachusetts going on. Just a bunch of them sort of, like, coalesced into one group that’s like… “You know what, Trinity or Unity, doesn’t matter! We all have spirit!”

Analysis: The intereseting thing about this piece of folklore to me is how much is blended together in a church like this. It’s not only a mixing of various religious sects, either: at one point, my roommate sang a song he was taught as a kid, about the “Seven Guiding Principles of Kindness.” He remembers only these lines:

One, each person is important
Two, be kind in all you do

The song, interestingly enough, is set to the tune of “Do-Re-Mi” fromthe mucial The Sound of Music. So we have a mashup of popular culture, religion, and folk belief, all in this single church.

Customs
Foodways
general
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

French Food Traditions for The Epiphany

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:

My name is Keveen. I grew in the South Western part of France, a little town called Brive located between Toulouse and the coastal city of Bordeaux.

Piece:

The last one I remember was the epiphany, early January. It celebrates the Three Wise men visiting Jesus. In France we eat the “galette des rois”, a pastry cake, made with almond paste, with a “fève” placed inside. With all the family around the table, you split the cake in as many shares as there are people plus one representing the “share of the poor” that will be offered to someone later on (a friend or a homeless person). Whoever has the share with the “fève” becomes the king of the day (or queen) and can pick his mate (queen or king) ; you also get to wear a paper crown that is sold with the cake.

Piece Background Information: 

Growing up atheist but with a catholic Grand mother from Paris who ended up raising me while my parents were working, I took part of a few religious traditions specific to the French culture, each region having their own interpretation of them.

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Context of Piece Performance: 

In person, during the day at informant’s house in Highland Park, Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

The concept behind the galette des rois, that is – a cake with a prize (typically a baby trinket) inside that allows the recipient of the slice with the prize to have special privileges shows up in many different cultures. Other variations include King’s cake eaten in New Orleans during Carnival season and rosca de reyes in Spanish speaking countries and lends this tradition to Dundes’ definition of folklore that it must exhibit multiplicity and variation. As a result, I have also participated in this similar tradition and actually have a plastic baby on my desk. It is definitely interesting and cool that a tradition like this can bridge such different cultures together.

Customs
Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

French Candlemas

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: 

My name is Keveen. I grew in the South Western part of France, a little town called Brive located between Toulouse and the coastal city of Bordeaux.

Piece:

Another tradition that I remember celebrating every year is “La Chandeleur”, French Candlemas. An early February commemoration of the presentation of Jesus at the Temple that French culture embrace by making Crepes and lighting the house only with Candles, that day being called as well the day of the light marking the end of the Christmas period. I remember making crepes with the family during that time, until I moved out of the house after High School. The tradition of crepes comes from the fact that being round they represent the sun (day of the light), easy to make and cheap, required a bit of agility (flipping them and succeeding at it means the household will be prosperous for the rest of the year. My Grandma never did that but a lot of families keep one crepe, place a coin in it and leave it in the closet for the rest of the year to bring money to the household. Also if you’re able to flip the crepe 6 times in a row you will get married that year.

Piece Background Information: 

Growing up atheist but with a catholic Grand mother from Paris who ended up raising me while my parents were working, I took part of a few religious traditions specific to the French culture, each region having their own interpretation of them.

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Context of Piece Performance: 

In person, during the day at informant’s house in Highland Park, Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

Upon further research, I found that French Candlemas, which takes place in December, is generally supposed to utilize the remainder of the harvest from the year on the crepes to symbolize completion of the cycle of the sun (as noted by the informant himself- the roundness of the crepe is similar to the roundness of the sun). I consider this folk belief to fall under homeopathic magic as there are thought to be real world effects (a great harvest in the year to come) due to the similarities between the crepes and the sun. Additionally, this ritual falls within/ is coordinated with the Earth cycle too.

Holidays

Easter Tradition

Informant:

Pat is a junior chemical engineering major from Southern California.

Piece:

Alright so for easter my family, as opposed to celebrating the religious side of it, just focuses on coming together as a family and like bonding with each other. And we all go to upstate New York where my grandparents live and have like this massive four hour feast. And we have all these different courses and food and half way through there is a break to go change to the next pant size up and then come back and eat more. It’s a lot of fun every year.

Collector’s thoughts:

For the informant, Easter is more about family than it is a religious holiday. Rather than celebrate the religious aspect, Easter is used as a justification to gather as an entire family and share a meal with each other.

Folk speech
Game
general
Life cycle
Musical

Jewish Day Camp Traditions and Songs

The informant is from New York City and told me of his summer camp experience.

“Okay so I went to a Jewish Day Camp, so like you’d go, everyday you’d go to a bunch of different bus stops and then you go to the campground and do whatever camp shit you’d do and then come back like, so it was a Jewish camp and we celebrated Shabbat, and we even like one of the activities would be like, so every friday you’d celebrate Shabbat and then alongside the other activities like archery, ceramics, we would sing Jewish songs, so there’s like um, oh man, oh there’s “who knows one” and it’s like, i think it goes up to twelve and there’s like different hebrew or like old testament things like, or like, definitely like “nine” is the months of a -, I don’t remember but it’s like “Who knows one?” “I know one!” “one is the da-da-da-da-da-duh” “who knows two? I know two! Two is the da-da-da-da-da-duh.” And I know like one of them is like, twelve is the tribes of Israel, um, I think nine for whatever reason is the months a woman is pregnant? Um, uh, and just like seven is like the days of the week that god made, and all these other Jewish songs of like um, wait ok, so there’s who knows one, and there’s like, uh, I don’t remember anymore. But like the main part about the songs that’s pretty funny is that like seventy-five, no maybe like two-thirds of the camp were like black and hispanic, and were like not Jewish, because it was like, a somewhat cheap day camp in, like Manhattan, and they had a lot of bus stops in like Harlem, so like we made these black and hispanic kids eat Challah and drink grape juice and like sing these Jewish songs, and they were like kinda into it, none of them were like, “why are we doing this?” all of them were like “okay””

Analysis:

What is most interesting is that the songs were of religious connotation, but that many of those who attended the camp were not of that religion (Jewish). So they were learning all these songs and stories that did not directly affect them at all, opening up Jewish ceremonies to the wider world. It is also interesting to see how these “children’s songs” deal with adult themes such as pregnancy, which as a child did not really comprehend until much later.

Customs
Foodways
Proverbs

Lazy Grace

KM is a third-generation Japanese-American from Los Angeles, CA. She now lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and 18-year-old son.

KM was raised in a Christian household, where her family said “grace” before dinner every night:

“I have four siblings and we always ate dinner together with our parents. We’d sit around this big round table and every night, we would take turns saying grace before eating…we were supposed to come up with something original, like something that had to do with the day or different events going on in our lives, but usually my siblings just defaulted to ‘God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.” I always tried to have an interesting one, but I think everyone else just wanted to eat.”

I asked KH if she still says grace in her family, or if she and her siblings carried their religious traditions on in their new nuclear families:

“Ultimately I was unsuccessful in getting my kids to go to church. My husband grew up in a Catholic family and now wants nothing to do with the church, and I couldn’t get my kids to show much interest either. I don’t think anyone else in my family still goes to church…except my parents. They’ve been going to the same church since they met.”

My analysis:

Religion is one of those things that can either define a family, or be irreconcilable when two families come together. In KH’s case, religion’s importance started to waver amongst her and her siblings, despite the traditions of their parents. The “grace” prayer in her family shows one generation trying to pass on their beliefs through a ritual, and the next generation participating half-heartedly, or just to please authority. Eventually as they started their own families, her siblings decided the tradition wasn’t particularly important to them, and refrained from instilling it in their own family. More broadly it seems to symbolize the diminishing importance of their religion, and maybe a certain progressive movement amongst families to not force it on their children.

Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Scattering Ashes at Sea

The informant, AA, is from a Vietnamese family. While she was born in California, her parents are first generation immigrants who escaped the Vietnam War. While she is Christian herself, many of her family members are Buddhist. AA describes a funeral tradition that combines elements from both religions:

“So when my grandpa passed away, we followed Buddhist funeral traditions as well as our own. My grandpa was Buddhist, and so was my grandma- my older relatives were all Buddhist. In Buddhist tradition, you’re supposed to cremate the body and put the ashes in an urn. So we did that. And a week afterwards, we went out to sea on a boat, and a pastor was there. He delivered a sermon and we all said prayers as we were spreading the ashes into the sea. Basically it’s meant to symbolize this idea of- taking souls across the sea into another world, the afterlife so to speak.

It was just a way to mourn and respect my grandpa. I think that for my parents it was a great relief to be able to spread his ashes and let him be free. They didn’t want to keep him an urn. It was a very liberating gesture.”

Is this specific tradition particular to your family or is it commonly done?

“The spreading of ashes, I think, is commonly done in a lot of traditions. It’s definitely common for Buddhists. What’s special about this funeral is that we incorporated some elements from our own religion- Christianity- with my grandparent’s old Buddhist beliefs. There was a bunch of different people at the funeral. It was a very mixed group.”

 

My thoughts: This personal account shows how religious practices can take place outside of the established church doctrine and combine many aspects from different religions. There are some recognizably Buddhist practices that took place at this funeral, such as the scattering of the ashes in the sea. The idea of having a pastor and a sermon, however, appeals to the Christian members of AA’s family. They have created a completely new funeral tradition that is a composite of different faiths and is ultimately unique to this family. Every family expresses their faith differently- there is no one standard way to be a Buddhist or a Christian.

 

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