Tag Archives: religious

Dayenu, a Passover song

The following is transcribed from text exchanges between my informant, A, and myself, M.

Main piece:

A: On passover, there’s this tradition that Persian Jews have, and somehow only us. There’s this song called Dayenu that you sing as part of the Passover seder, which is like what we call the food and tradition we do.

A: Passover is about Jews being slaves in Egypt and Passover is specifically about when the Jews were freed, and that’s basically the whole thing. But this song is part of it, and its about thanking God for each specific thing He did in the story. And for Persian Jews, while we sing the song we hit each other with green onions because they symbolize the whips from slavemasters. We get pretty agressive, and it looks really stupid.

M: Why just Persians?

A: I don’t know how it started or why it never made it to any other ethnic Jewish group. I didn’t even know it was a Persian thing until like late into my life, so when I talked about it with my white friends, they thought I was insane.

She later texted me that her parents told her Italian Jews do it as well.

Background: My friend is Persian Jewish from Beverly Hills. Judaism has played a large role in her life, having gone to Jewish high school and been an active participant in the community since birth.

Context: She and I were texting casually, and I asked if I could collect from her.

Thoughts:

Food is a way of communicating, and from what I have learned about the Passover ritual is that it is a very active one, almost like a play. Also that food is heavily involved. I am left curious as to why Persians specifically do this part.

“Dios en mi. El en ti, la sangre de cristo, me alibre de ti” Mexican proverb and narrative

Main Piece

Informant: My grandma tells me this story about a lady who lived three towns over when she was living in Mexico. There was a time when bulls got out and were running through the streets because they escaped, and this woman was in the streets and caught off guard and a bull was running straight towards her. And there was a prayer that she said over and over again watching the bull run over.  When the bull came up to her it stopped right in front of her, they made eye contact, and the bull  just walked away. She told everyone in town the prayer she told herself to protect her, and it spread across town and that is how my grandma heard it. The prayer went like this:

“Dios en mi. El en ti, la sangre de cristo, me alibre de ti”

It roughly translates to “God is with me. The Devil is with you. The blood of Christ protects me from you.” 

She always tells me to say this whenever I am in danger, whenever I don’t feel safe, to just recite it over and over again and now I do whenever I am scared shitless. There is nothing else to do! Haha. 

Background

The informant is a great friend and housemate of mine, and he is a senior at USC studying Lighting Design. Coming from Oxnard, CA he and his family are very connected with their Mexican roots and he has grown up practicing and identifying with many aspects of Mexican culture. He is also a very big raver, as he enjoys going to many EDM festivals and aspires to do lighting design for different raves as well. 

Context

One day the informant was driving while I was in the passenger street and we had to take a very dimly lit dirt road. When he was driving I heard him reciting a  prayer in Spanish while we were taking this road, and since I speak Spanish fluently as well I could understand it was some sort of protection prayer. After we got off of the road I asked him what he was reciting, and asked him about it once more in our interview to get more of the context. 

Analysis

Coming from a very Hispanic city and a Mexican family, the informant was taught this folk proverb and accompanying narrative through in Spanish and through word of mouth. It offers a sense of protection and security, and ties into the religious nature of Hispanic communities. Since this story was passed down from his grandmother, it also is a signifier of identity not only to his family, but to his culture as a whole.

Blessing the Grapes

“My mom says that they bless the grapes every harvest. They have a rabbi and a priest come out and bless the grapes.”

Background Information and Context:

“[They do it] to prevent curses (her voice raises like a question). I don’t know. They just do it, I guess.”

The informant is from Lompoc, CA, which she often facetiously refers to as “wine country ghetto.” Her mother works at a winery.

Collector’s Notes:

Despite wine production and wine tourism being an important part of her hometown, the informant is not necessarily knowledgeable of the traditions of the industry. This shows how one does not necessarily have to identify with local traditions. A cursory Google search revealed to me that blessing a harvest is common in vineyards across the world and that the purpose is to ensure a bountiful harvest. In many places, the blessing precedes a festival. I found it interesting that the tradition that the informant mentions involves both a rabbi and a priest, showing that it incorporated more than one religion.

For another example of a blessing of the grapes ceremony, see “Blessing of the grapes celebrates Livermore Valley’s 2017 harvest” on The Mercury News.

Dreaming of Buddha

Context: One of my roommates, when he heard me explaining to a friend about how stressful it was to try and find folklore from different sources, offered some of the stories he knew from his childhood.

Background: This is the story of an accident that happened to my roommate’s mother when she was young.

Dialogue: Um… I don’t remember how old she was, probably between, you know, 10 and 13. Um, she was playing hide and seek, and was in a two-story house, um, and she really wanted to be tough to find, so she climbed up out on the balcony, on the railing I think, and held on to the opposite side of the railing. Um… After that she accidentally let go and fell two stories and… landed on the ground, uh…

What happened after that, when she was unconscious. She had this dream where… uh, it was completely dark. She was looking around, and she could see these demons coming up everywhere, um, including the Devil I think, and so, her reaction was like, “What do I do, there’s demons all around me, there’s total darkness?!?” And then this light appears. I think it’s supposed to be the Buddha, is what she said, and it says, “Hey, uh… Don’t go towards those demons! Come towards me, that’s what you should do, that’s gonna be good.” Uh, so she goes on, she, you know, runs past those demons, heads to the light, and when she comes to, um, her whole family is, like, around her cuz she fell two stories, and they say she is completely unharmed. She gets back up, like, good as new, and, um… ever since then she’s been quite a bit more religious.

Analysis: I debated whether or not this deserved a “miracle” tag based on the fact that a two-story fall resulted in absolutely no injuries. I’m impressed by the fact that a single dream brought about a life-long change, but I suppose it is because views on religion in America and views on religion in Vietnam are different. It would be interesting to hear the dream told from the mother herself, though, just to get as much detail as possible on what happened while she was unconscious.

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.

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.

Creation Myth of the Shiva Linga

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a Hindu creation myth to me (AK). This myth is somewhat taboo, and for obvious reasons is not really brought up much in Indian society due to its graphic depictions of sex.

KM: Shivji used to walk around naked, but he had this problem where he couldn’t finish. He was having a lot of sex, but he could never finish. Priests were getting annoyed cause their wives kept leaving them to have sex with Shivji. But this was a recurring thing and this became so bad that the ground was breaking apart. But the world was going haywire because Shiv would just not finish. So finally, he found Parvathi, and the two of them had sex and he finally finished. So the world became a better place and this was memorialized in the form of the Shiva Linga. So the Shiva Linga became a thing that goes through the Yoni, which means vagina. And that’s how the Shiva Linga was created and became such a big moorthi which is worshiped.

AK: Good story haha, so why do you like this story?

KM: I think it’s interesting because it makes Hinduism look realer and more sexual in a sense. And uhh.. it’s taboo not everyone talks about it.

AK: So people don’t talk about this freely?

KM: No one talks about this freely. People don’t teach their children this story. People know the linga is a penis but don’t know why. Everyone worships penises but since it’s taboo no one wants to say anything about it.

AK: So then why was this story even written?

KM: I mean it’s real. I can’t say why it was written. The real question is why was this monument of a penis created. So I searched it up and I found this story on my own. In fact, people even pour milk on it as if to show him finishing.

AK: Why is this important then?

KM: I think it’s a big part of Indian history. With the Kama Sutra and all, it’s a remnant of how liberated India used to be in contrast to how it is now.

Initially, I was shocked to have heard this story. I have seen the shiva linga monument before, but I never really knew the story behind it. In retrospect, it is easy to see its relation to a phallus, but I am shocked that this came out of Hinduism. Through this piece, I learned that at one time, India was a very sexually liberated society; however, over time, it became more and more conservative. As KM mentioned, this creation myth is very taboo and not really passed on by parents.

Ganesh and his brother Kartikeya

Informant KM is a sophomore studying Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is of Indian descent and moved to America at a very young age; however, she is very proud of her Indian heritage and considers herself to be very knowledgeable in regards to Indian mythology and religion. She is also fluent in two Indian languages, Hindi and Marathi. This piece of folklore is her recitation of a very well-known Hindu folktale to me (AK) about the two brothers of very renowned Hindu Gods.

KM: Ganesh rides a rat and Kartikeya rides a peacock. Anyway, Shivji and Parvati are their parents and they tell them to prove which one is stronger or smarter. Kartikeya says he has a ton of strength cause he can ride around this world 3 times and come back to you faster than anyone. And Ganesh said the same thing, but like it sounded dumb because Ganesh was riding a rat. So they had a fight and they challenged each other to ride around the world 3 times. So Kartikeya went off to go ride around the world… but Ganesh was really cunning and all and he just rode around Shivji and Parvathi 3 times. He just said that “you guys are my world” and so he won.

AK: What kind of story is this? Why did you tell me this one?

KM: Haha… I just think this funny is story cause it shows a child being a kissass. And It shows the child being super cunning but also aware of his flaws. He knew he couldn’t beat Kartikeya, but instead of being sad about it, he was just smarter.

AK: Who did you learn it from and what does it mean to you?

KM: I learnt it from my parents, and I think it’s funny that I learned it from them cause that’s how they were telling me that I should respect them — cause they were like “haha” we should be your world!

In my opinion, this folktale just represents a clever play on words and not much more. I don’t think there is any serious meaning that can be derived from this story. Instead, the folktale just seems like it was created solely for the purpose of entertainment. This is refreshing to see, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about this folktale.

Claddagh Ring

“Part of our Irish heritage is the story of the Claddagh ring, and that was originated in a little place near Galway, Ireland and uh the Claddagh ring is generally made of gold or silver, it has a heart in the middle, with a hand on either side holding the heart, and there is a crown on top of the hear, and it symbolizes love, loyalty, and friendship. And uh, many people in Ireland use the Claddagh ring as a wedding ring, both for men and women, and uh its also a lovely gift to give people you love, and so for me, I have given Claddagh rings to my granddaughters, all three o them, and I think they like them very much, and I think its just a wonderful tradition.”

 

Informant: the informant was born in Chicago, and attended high school and college there, graduating with a degree in English. After marrying and having one child, she moved to Dallas, Texas where she raised three children with her husband. She is of Irish descent, her father being from Ireland, and her mother was born in Wisconsin after her parents moved from Ireland, and her heritage and tradition are very important to her. She is a grandmother of five children.

 

Analysis:

Something that is very dear to the informant is her Irish heritage. She feels great pride for her Irish descent, and does her best to demonstrate this by practicing several Irish traditions. I believe that the tradition of passing along the Claddagh ring to her grandchildren exemplifies this wish to preserve Irish traditions while showing how much she cares for her grandchildren. Despite the traditional sense of using Claddagh rings as wedding rings, in using it as a gift to her granddaughters, she is exhibiting her promise of love, loyalty, and friendship to them, as well as passing on a tradition, most likely in the hopes that her granddaughters will pass it on to their daughters or granddaughters.

The time in which the informant gave her granddaughters Claddagh rings is also significant. She gave the rings when each of the granddaughters had been confirmed in the Catholic Church. This is significant because the Irish are historically Catholic, thereby making Confirmation in the Catholic Church an important initiation ceremony. Because the granddaughters were “officially” and “fully” Catholic upon receiving their rings, they were also more Irish, in a sense, due to the emphasis of the Irish on Catholicism. This is because of the tensions between Irish Catholics and British Protestants, tying religion to nationality in this aspect.

Also, this highlights a certain aspect of folk objects. In Ireland, many tourists are attracted to the Claddagh rings. They are sold in many stores, especially those aimed specifically at tourists, which demonstrates how folklore can make quite a bit of money. The popularity of this item comes from the enchanting legend that surrounds its making. The story of the love of a blacksmith for his lover was supposedly prompted him to make this ring while he was working on a pirate ship, for he had been kidnapped and taken from his love. It is a powerful story of love that encourages people everywhere to buy this gift for those they love. This widespread story led the production of the Claddagh ring to expand outside of Ireland itself.

This practice also brings up the question of authenticity. Some may consider buying the Claddagh ring in America inauthentic. The informant also made sure that the rings she gave her granddaughters came from Ireland, which from her perspective was what constituted an authentic Claddagh ring. Despite where the ring was made, however, its meaning is transcendent, because through the action of giving this ring to a loved one in order to demonstrate love, loyalty, and friendship, the legend of the Claddagh ring is commemorated and passed on despite the heritage of the giver or the land in which the ring is made. Overall, this tradition has become very popularized, and it means a great deal to the informant as it passes on Irish tradition in the promises of love, loyalty, and friendship.

Footprints

Informant: Okay there’s this story they always talk about where it’s like, there’s a man on a beach with Jesus, and he has these two footprints in the sand or two sets of footprints in the sand. And at one part he looks back, he looks back and he sees in his life there’s a time where there’s only one set of footprints, and he’s like, “Jesus, that was a really rough time in my life, what you doin’? Why you leave me?” Um, and Jesus is like, “No, during those times, those footprints were mine because I was carrying you, and that’s it.

Collector: Where’d you learn that from?

ML: Um, I’m not sure where I learned it from, but the instance I can most vividly remember about hearing it was in religious class, religion class, probably religion class to be honest. They sometimes say it at funerals.

 

Informant is a freshman at the University of Southern California. She is studying animation in the film school here. She is from New Orleans, Louisiana. I spoke to her while we were eating breakfast in EVK one morning. We were sitting together with her two other friends, Ashley and Madeleine. Much of what she told me was learned from her sister or her own experiences.

 

This is an interesting story because it always seems to come up when there’s a difficult time. The story itself is based on a person going through stuff, and seems appropriate to be shared with young people as a way of reaffirming their belief in God, even when times are difficult. This story also seems to have spread pretty far because it’s a part of the Kairos retreat in Sacramento as well as being shared in a religion class in New Orleans.