Tag Archives: Rituals

The Ritual Game: The Midnight man

Informant: It’s some ritual that was apparently used to punish bad people somewhere in Europe. The ritual starts at 3 AM and you need a candle, a piece of paper, and your front door. You write your name on the piece of paper then put it outside the door under a lit candle. Knock on the door 12 times and make sure it is EXACT, and make sure to get the last knock to stop at 3AM. Then open the door, pick up the paper and the candle and the game has begun. It lasts until 6 AM, so it’s only three hours but you have to keep your candle lit for all that time. The Midnight Man will try to blow out the candle or scare you into dropping it. Your candle is your only source of light so it’s pretty easy to get super scared. If your candle goes out and you cannot relight it within 5 seconds then surround yourself in a circle of salt and sit there until morning. Do not under any circumstances turn on a light! Both of these things are ways of forfeiting the game but that doesn’t mean the Midnight Man leaves. He haunts you until you complete the game.

Interviewer: So what do you get for winning the game?

Informant: I think you get to make a wish and it will comes true.

Interviewer: So what happens if you lose?

Informant: He kills you, obviously. [laughs]

Background: My informant had done research into different dark ritualized games such as this for a film projection she was doing. She did not end up using this game as the final inspiration for her movie.

Context: My informant and I were staying up late on the night of the 19th, just finishing playing video games together. We were walking through the house in the dark and she tried to scare me with this scary ritual, saying that she was going to do it.

Thoughts: I imagine the combination of sleep deprivation, lack of light, and the general atmosphere of being in an empty house would make for a fun time. Apparently this can be played with multiple people at one time so you could probably mess around with each other a great deal. With that in mind, I suspect this actually could have been a punishment ritual, though I am unsure where it would be used. The game could be turned into a form of psychological torture to get people to confess to crimes by making them think a demon was coming to kill them anyway.

Armenian Sacrificial Ritual

Name of Ritual : Matakh (մաթախ)

Description: The Ritual involves the sacrifice of a goat or a cow. They use the blood from the sacrifice to put a cross on a child or a person who has gone through a difficult ordeal. The blood needs to stay on for one day. After the sacrifice, they must cook the meat and distribute it to 7 houses.

Background: The informant is of Armenian Lebanese descent and has lived in America since their adolescent years. They say that this ritual is very common among Armenian communities around the world. This is usually done if someone has struggled with a harrowing ordeal such as cancer, an accident, or family death. This is done as a way to be thankful for surviving the ordeal and somewhat asking for better times and continued peace. The informant says that this ritual has origins in Paganism although they couldn’t elaborate more on that topic due to lack of knowledge on it.

Context: The informant told me this during a conversation about folklore at dinner.

Thoughts: I definitely can relate to this piece because I am also of Armenian descent and I myself have took part in Matakhs. It is definitely a sacred ritual that is done during very hard times. This is done among families and is very personal. I think it is interesting that this ritual has a pagan origin. I did not know much about its origin and would not have attributed it to paganism because Armenians are very devout Christians. I think this shows how Pagan rituals have carried onto Christian traditions.

The Day of the Dead

Main piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between informant and interviewer. 

Informant: The day of the dead for example. This one is very popular throughout Latin America too. And it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor… everyone celebrates November 1st and 2nd. There are festivals in the streets and everyone buys those skulls that your mom has as decorations. Some make them and paint them. And they’re very colorful. You can paint them any color you want and add a bunch to it so it looks nice. 

Interviewer: Do you make them or buy them? Or how do you celebrate it? 

Informant: We set pictures of them. We prepare their favorite foods and drinks. We get openwork paper and we adorn with sugar skulls and tequila… every family sets at least one bottle. Umm. bread too. Candles and wine and there. And that’s set before the 1st. And it’s there the 1st and 2nd. And on the 3rd day you don’t throw it.

Interviewer: Do you eat it? 

Informant: Yes, it basically means that your dead are sharing their food with you so you can eat. 

Background: My grandpa was my informant. He was born and raised in Guadalajara and did not travel to the U.S. until a couple years ago. He has lived in Mexico for about 70 years so he knows of a lot of Mexican traditions. He has been celebrating this one every year from as far as he can remember and that it’s a special day for him because he is able to feel the presence of his dead. 

Context: This conversation was held on the patio. I was playing basketball and I came to sit down and rest and my grandpa had been watching me and I asked him about a big tradition he does. I’m really close to him so it was easy to ask him for more information about a tradition or festival he celebrates for part of my collection project. He was very happy to help. 

Thoughts: I personally haven’t celebrated it but I know it’s a big tradition across hispanic cultures. Even in my family my grandparents are big on it and my mom to a lesser extent too. They make very good food and drinks and have a very nice and colorful set up these two days. They never talk to the spirits but it’s a way for them to remember their dead and welcome them for a family dinner again. Some people might think it’s spooky but it’s not. The dead are not mourned but actually celebrated. 

Burning Salt

Context: The following is an account of a ritual told by the informant, my paternal grandmother. 

Background: My father’s youngest uncle was sick as a baby, so the consensus was that he must have received the evil eye. In order to find out who gave it to him, this ritual was conducted. This same thing was repeated when one of my father’s brothers got sick and died as a baby.

Main piece: 

To find out who gave the child the evil eye, a solid chunk of rock salt was but in a burning fire. As the salt burned, those watching would carefully observe the fire to see what shape the flames would make. If they formed the shape of a person, they were the source of the evil eye. In my father’s uncle’s case, it was determined from the flame that a woman from one of the neighboring houses gave it to him. In his brother’s case, an odd inhuman shape was formed, leading people to believe it was jinn.

Analysis: It is not clear where this practice originated, but it seems to have come about as a result of people not wanting the cause of their child’s death to remain a mystery, so as to attach a name or face as to who was responsible. That being said, it is unknown from my conversations whether there was any confrontation with the person who was seen in the fire, and there was almost certainly no action taken on that basis.

Show Circle

Main Piece: Show Circles happen just moments before performers go on stage. Depending on the company/team it gets more or less intense. The entire company gets in a tight circle with all the coaches around us for a pep talk. It has to happen always in order to have a good show. My team has to have our arms around each other with one foot in, but I’ve seen some complicated ones that require spinning and a ton of other stuff. Our head coach is in the middle of the circle, with any supporting coaches around us.

Context: The informant is a dancer on an international US dance team called V-Mo. She has been in dance clubs ever since high school. As a dancer, she’s experienced many traditions and rituals that her teams use to get ready and set the mood.

Thoughts: I have seen this before for not only dancers but many performers and athletes as well. What happens in these circles is almost never the same from what I’ve seen but emotions and adrenaline that are elicited from these are unlike any other. I really like this concept because it shows how supportive teams are of each other.

Armenian Coffee Readings/ Ritual

Main Piece:

Informant- “So when you are done drinking your Armenian Coffee you want to flip the cup away from your body and place it down into the saucer. You wait for the grounds to fall from the bottom of the cup. This is why it is important to use the Armenian style espresso cup which is not rounded on the sides. The grounds fall down the sides of the espresso cup and dry at the bottom. 

So you should never read your own fortune. Thats what my friend, who is a professional Armenian coffee cup reader, tells me. 

Waiting for the coffee to dry is important because it is time to have a conversation with your friends or family. 

So when its ready.. you take a look at your cup. So there are a few things to look out for when you are reading someones cup. 

If you cup sticks to the bottom and is hard to take off, then someone is in love with you! This is what some people believe and it is what my Armenian grandmother told me. I have had many Armenian grandmothers teach me how to read cup and what to look out for. 

So, when you look in your cup the coffee grind will settle at the bottom. You look and interpret what you see. So for example you could see a bird, and that may mean you are about to travel or freedom. You can see an egg or something.

So it is very important to read your cup during the day. You get bad luck if it is read at night. You shouldn’t read you own cup because then you will just see what you want to see. If the cup is very dark and filled with ground then your mind is full. If the cup has clear spots then your mind is at ease. 

Lastly you should hold your cup and think of an intention or wish and then mark the bottom of the cup with your finger.”

Background: The informant learned about the practice of reading the coffee cup from her mother and grandmother. She says it is a fun way to keep traditions. Reading cups is a good bonding experience and has connected her to her parents and grandparents. 

Context: This piece was collected from a video tutorial sent by the informant. Here is the audio transcription describing her experience with coffee readings. In the video she shows the espresso cup used and the different shapes of dried coffee grounds. 

Thoughts: This is a very interesting tradition and fun activity that brings family and friends together. This is an interesting folk practice and belief that is widely believed. She explains her friend who is a professional coffee reader. You can read more about the history of cup reading or  Tasseography in many blogs or academic sources. There are many professions or products distributed surrounding this folk belief. 

A variation of the Armenian coffee reading can be read about here;

Giorgi, Carina Karapetian. “Intuitive Knowledge: The Queer Phenomenology of Armenian Matrilineal Rituals of Tasseography.(Essay).” Armenian Review, vol. 56 -2, no. 1, Armenian Review, Mar. 2018.

Praying to Your Car

NA: We pray to our car when we get a new car. You basically do like a ritual to the car when you are praying because Indian people believe there is god in everything. Like there is god in a pillow, there is god like that is what we learn when we were younger so it’s like you are praying to the god in the car that nothing will happen to you or the car. 

Interviewer: Do you know what exactly the ritual entails?

NA: Part of it is you have to drive over a coconut you also you know how people wear the red dot on their forehead, the bhindi, it’s not like the fashion kind it is literally just a red dot um you have to do that to your car in certain stops. Then, the is a ritual called like Arti where you put fire on the plate kind of like. I don’t know what Arti is, how to describe it. You basically go in like circles like with the plate and that’s just. I don’t understand why you do that but you do it. So anytime you go to the temple or anything first people will sing songs and read the books we have to read and then at the end of it you do Arti so you go stand in front of the alter where all the gods are and then there is like a silver plate with fire in the middle but its not like a candle it is usually like oil with a cotton swap. Then you have to put a dollar, don’t know why you put a dollar. And then you have to move the plate in a circular motion around the gods for the prayer song 

Interviewer: So you do this in the temple to bless your car?

NA: Oh no you do that for anything, anytime there is a religious ceremony you do that plate thing [Arti] where you go in circles but like when you pray to your car you do that too like you have that with you. 

Interviewer: Can you pray to other things to that are not your car? Is there another common thing you pray to?

NA: You do your car, pictures of elders in your family, your house, anything with like value that you do not want anything bad to happen to. Like you are not going to do your Louis Vuitton bag. I mean if you are really extra you can, but you can do your bike. Something of value. 

Context: 

NA is a 20 year old USC business student whose family is from Sindhi culture in India. She grew up in southern California. This was taken from an interview conducted with NA. She is also my roommate and I asked her about folklore she had related to her Indian background. This information was gathered from an informal interview conducted over Facetime.

Analysis: 

After research, I found this is called a Puja. This protection ritual is tapping into the divine in an object. Not only is this a blessing of an object, but also an indirect blessing of yourself. For example, your car keeps you safe while you are traveling. Therefore, if your car is safe then you are as well. 

Blessings are very common in Sindhi culture where the Arti can be used as a general blessing as well for use for specific purposes. The use of the Bindi is often used to bring out the power in the Chakra. Placing in on the car is likely a way to calling upon the divinity that lives in the car. The coconut seems like an offering of some kind to a god or gods that are often used in blessing rituals. 

Jumping Three Times at Midnight on New Years

Piece

AM: If you jump three times at midnight [on New Years] you’ll get taller. That’s what my grandparents tell me when I was little. 

Interviewer: Did you do it?

AM: Yeah, but did I get taller. No! I’m 5’2 still. It was just on New Years when it hits 12:00am.

Interviewer: Is this a cultural thing?

AM: Um, I think it is because that is what a lot of like old Filipinos would say when I was little 

Context

AM is a childhood friend of mine and we were having a causal chat on Facetime when I asked her if she had any folklore to share with the database. She is a 20 year old student at Cal Poly Pomona. Her family is from the Philippines, but she has lived in Southern California all her life. She comes from a Catholic household and went to a private catholic school for elementary and middle school.  

Analysis: 

Rituals done on New Year’s Day often represent our desires and hopes for the coming year. Midnight on New Years’s is the most liminal time of year where you might be able to break the natural rules and use that to your advantage and change something about yourself in a way that would not be possible any other time of the year. 

Also, three is a sacred number in Christianity, which is likely why it was chosen for the number of spins as many people in the Philippines and members of AM’s family are Catholic. The role of belief also plays a major part in the transmission of the custom. It was the older generation that enforced the practice and believed in it to a greater extent. AM was only following what was told to her by her grandparents. However, she did not continue the practice and will likely not encourage her children to take part in it as she does not believe in it.  

Indian Holiday of Karva Chauth

NA: Ok so there is this holiday called Karva Chauth and you have to fast for your husband’s long life all day until you see the moon and then you have to do this weird thing and nobody knows why you do this but like you take a flour sifter and you hold it up to the moon at the end of the day before you break your fast. Nobody knows why the hell you do this, but you have to hold it up to the moon. When you do that, you do it at night, and once you do that you can break the fast.

Interviewer: Okay, and who participates in this?

NA: So it’s is only women and it can be like women that are married, like I can do it for my future husband like I don’t even have to know him. It is just for the long life of my husband. My grandma did it, so my maternal grandma stopped doing it after her husband passed away and my other grandma when her husband passed away she did it for my dad, so she did it for her son. It’s just women and then some men will do it for my long life so I’ll fast with them, um but otherwise men don’t have to do it. They really don’t have to show up until the end of the night when you do that flour sifting thing.

Context

NA is a 20 year old USC buisness student whose family India. She grew up in southern California, but is very conencted with her Sindhi culture. She is also my roommate and I asked her about any folklore she had relating to her Indian background. This information was gathered from an informal interview conducted over Facetime. For further context related to this story she is a single woman who has never been married. 

Thoughts

This holiday emphasizes the importance of the woman’s role as a wife and mother in Indian culture. Although it is not unique to Indian culture, it shows the importance of the role of women while men do not have the same obligation as a husband to bless their wives in the same way. It also shows the power of rituals. NA and her family perform the ritual because they believe in its power. However, that does not mean they know exactly why the particulars of the rituals are there. Thus, showing the level of trust in what has been passed down through the generations and how that can be effective without knowing why. 

Additionally, this ritual shows the connection between femininity and the moon that is seen in many cultures around the world. It seems as though women are using their connection with the moon to bless their husbands, demonstrating the power of that connection. Fasting also is a common symbol of religious observance in the Hindu faith with many religious holidays involving a fast, and many Hindu’s fasting on particular days of the week to show reverence towards the corresponding god. 

Ghost Parties in Thailand

Informant: So, like, my family is kinda, like, the official designated ghost family in my village. And my family is from this very small, um, place, kinda outside of Chiang Mai, like 30 minutes outside of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Um. And so my mom, even though she was adopted– so she doesn’t have this official designation, but it’s my family, they basically take care of all the ghosts in the village. And the ghosts are like the ancestors of all of the families that live there and each generation, they have a special woman that they picked out, that’s like part of the bloodline, and.. it can’t be a man, it has to be a woman, and she’s like the keeper of the ghosts. Um, and so it used to be my grandma, and now it’s, um, its fallen to, like, one of my aunties, and now it’s with my cousin who– lemme tell you about my cousin, her name is {name}, and she has like a very severe, like.. learning disability.. So she’s the new keeper of the ghosts. And its, its, kind of interesting because, like, she can’t work, she can’t have a job, she can’t marry.. She’s very, very frail and very thin, but.. It’s kinda nice, cuz now she’s the one that has this responsibility. 

Collector: Right, right, she doesn’t need to… Does she makes money off this?

Informant: No, no, it’s not– it’s more of like a communal village position. But the village is like one big extended family. Y’know. And all of our ancestors are everyone else’s ancestors. And we have one little temple in the very center, y’know, we go to like, mass– it’s like Buddhist mass, basically, on Sundays. Um, so.. But anyways, every eight years there’s what we call like a ghost party. I missed the last couple cuz I was in school, um, but basically every eight years it’s like throwing a big party for all of the ghosts. Like, all of the ancestors, and you get, like, all the food gets spread out.. Spirits in Thai culture are very hungry.. They’re basically like, the ultimate hedonists, they just wanna consume everything. And so you give them, like, entire spreads of like chicken, and food, and like carnations, flowers, they love cigarettes, you get them a lot of cigarettes, they really like, um, whiskey, so you give them a lot of whiskey. Um, and it’s like, everyone gets drunk and gets together, and the process of getting drunk with your family members and your village, its like the spirits come, and they’re getting drunk, and they’re eating with you. 

Collector: This is all so interesting.. When, when you say taking care of the ghosts, you mean like giving them offerings, and keeping the altars clean? 

Informant: Yeah, so it’s kinda like that, it’s also kinda like, part of the spirit lore is like, they’re ghosts, so its like human ancestors, and another part of it is like, like, a lot of high-elf fantasy stuff, like, kind of speaks true to Thai culture, where like before the humans came, there were spirits in the forest. And these spirits are very old, and they had been there for like millennia. And they owned the forest, that’s their domain, and like, in Thailand, you know, we cut down the forest, we lived there and we farmed, and so we need to like, give back to the spirits. 

Context: The informant is a close friend of mine, and is a Thai-American young woman. She lived in Thailand for several years with her mother, before they both moved to Southern California.

Analysis: This is possibly my most exciting collection, seeing how I have a friend who has thrown a ghost party before. This experience is obviously personal to not only my informant, for also for the entire village. They do not differentiate their own ancestors from the village ancestors, which ties the entire village together, even after death. It is interesting that Thai spirits are considered to be hungry, as I have seen previous examples of hungry ghosts in Korea and Japan, all of which stem from Buddhism. I also find it interesting that only woman can serve the ghosts, as previously mentioned.