USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Rituals’
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Healing Charm

sana sana colita de rana si no sanas hoy sanaras mañana por la mañana”

Translation: “heal heal, little frog’s butt, if you don’t heal today you will heal tomorrow”

Context: Informant and I were talking about childhood memories and she shared this healing charm her mom would do on her.

Background: Informant is a student at the UCI. She lives in a Mexican American household. She recalls this charm that her mom would do whenever she would hurt herself by falling while playing. She would run to her mom crying and her mom would say it and rub her “boo boo” in a circular motion. She doesn’t think it took the pain away but it made me feel better. When asked if she would do this with her kids, she nodded enthusiastically.

Analysis: This charm was performed on little kids as a way to acknowledge their pain but also help make them feel better. When a child goes crying to his/her mom, she can give him/her the attention that is needed and they can go back to playing. When translated it does not have the same rhyme and effect attached. It does not really make any sense, but in Spanish it does not sound so bad.

Gestation, birth, and infancy
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Egg-pregnancy ritual

MG: “Did you partake in any pregnancy rituals?”

LR: “yeah i did the egg thing… my mom did it on me when I was pregnant like she cracks the egg. She rubs it all around and then she cracks it in a vaso [cup] and if there is telaranas [webs] in it than someone is wishing bad upon you”

Context: I was asking the informant about her pregnancy.

Background: LR is a master student at the University of Southern California. She grew up in a Mexican American household and has grown up hearing superstitious things. She has chosen to partake in this ritual because she wanted what is best for her daughter and also as a safety measure. She did not want to regret not listening to cultural superstitions.

Analysis: Eggs are very symbolic and they are often used to ward off the evil spirits, see Newall, Venetia. “Easter Eggs” THe Journal of American Folklore, vol.80, no. 315, 1967, pp. 3-32. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/538415 for more examples of how eggs are used. It makes sense that an egg ritual would be used while pregnant because during pregnancy because the mother and the child are very vulnerable to illnesses and evil spirits. Pregnancy is also regarded as very sacred since you are bringing in a new life into this world so it is important to take care of your baby.

Adulthood
Customs
general
Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Polish Funeral Custom — Cannot Dance

Text

The following piece is a Polish funeral custom that I learned of through my family’s babysitter whose father had recently passed away. The woman is a forty-eight year old Polish native who lives in Chicago now. I had been dancing around and in my attempt to get the Informant to join me, she explained why she was unable to.

Informant: “No, no…Can’t dance, no.”

Collector: “Come on! Why not?”

Informant: “No, no…My father die. I no dance for six months.”

Collector: “You can’t dance for six months because your dad died?”

Informant: “No dance for six months for father and mother. Four months for brother, sister.”

Context

The Informant has understood this Polish funeral custom for as long as she can remember. She remembers not dancing for a while after her grandfather had passed away, and has always understood it to be something she must also partake in. When her father passed, her entire family made the unspoken vow not to dance as a sign of respect to the dead.

Interpretation

While surprised at first, after hearing the Informant’s absolute belief in this funeral custom, I was beginning to also see it as a reasonable practice of mourning. I believe that the reason the Informant and her family undergo such a long process of morning, with such a specific time period, is out of respect for the ones they loved who have passed away. By vowing to not dance for six months, the participants must make a conscious effort everyday to not partake in overly joyful actions, excluding dancing altogether. I believe that commitment to this vow displays a respectful process of mourning, a way of honoring the dead by not moving on quickly after they are gone.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Folk speech

Folk Medicine — Face is red, raise the head

Text

The following piece was collected from a fifty-two year old Caucasian man from Chicago, Illinois. The man will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “My father was a doctor, he was always bring home doctorly advice for us kids.”

Collector: “What did he say?”

Informant: (laughing) “I remember, probably his most common medical phrase, a simple solution to seemingly every ailment, went like this: ‘Face is red, raise the head. Face is pale, raise the tail.’”

Collector: “What does that mean?”

Informant: “Just what it sounds like. If you’re face is red, stand up so some of the blood leaves your head. If your face is pale, you need more blood to flow to it, so you raise the bottom half of your body. But sometimes, he’d say it when no one was sick. Sometimes, I think he meant it in a whole other way completely.”

Collector: “What other way did he mean it?”

Informant: “He never said, but I always thought he meant that sometimes there was an easy…a simple solution to something. Like I was overthinking something, and he would tell me to ‘raise the head’ and I would go with my gut. The easiest solution.”

Context

The Informant learned this saying from his father, an orthopedic surgeon. He informed me that his father was constantly weaving his career into his everyday life, and one of his most common ways of doing this was by informing his children of his many medical insights. The Informant remembers this phrase, tells it to his own children, for its simple effectiveness and its complete ability to be applied to countless scenarios.

Interpretation

I agree with my Informant: the simple solution within the phrase is an easy way to fix a small ailment. Similarly, I really enjoy the thought that it can be applied to other situations, ones that do not involve a physical ailment. Meaning behind simple phrases or sayings always seems to me to reveal so much more.

Customs
Magic
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Coffee Grinds – Predict the Future?

The informant was telling me how Greeks used the dregs from coffee grinds to read the future:

Informant: In some cultures they read tea leaves, but in some cultures they read coffee grinds.

Me: huh

Support: dregs from the coffee

Informant: They took the dregs turned over a little cup and turned it three times, and then they read the inside of the cup – what dripped out – and read what they would see “oh your gonna take a trip, oh you’re gonna get married, oh this or that”

Support: they always said I was going to get married, but here I am!

 

Context: 

The Informant is a Greek woman who was born in the United States. She currently lives in Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA. Though she was not born in Greece, her parents immigrated to the US and she was born into a very Greek community in Phoenix, AZ. The performance was held during an Easter party, in front of her younger sister, who provided supporting information, as well as me.

Analysis:
This was completely new to me, as I had never heard of this ritual and only faintly heard of the tea leave predictions. I think it is really interesting how different cultures share so many similar traditions and patterns, and while they are similar they are also very different. It also raises questions about why cultures come up with these practices, seeing that they are not always accurate, but fascinating nonetheless.

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Game
Holidays
Magic
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Goodluck Dumplings

My informant shared a piece of Chinese culture she practices with her family during the Chinese New Year:

Informant: Ok so for Chinese New Year, we make…the tradition is to eat Dumplings…and then we will hide one coin in one of the dumplings and whoever eats that dumpling will have good luck.

Context:

I was talking with a group of friends while we were working on a class project and some of the group members wanted to share pieces of their traditions with me. It was a very casual setting and the performance took place in front of three other individuals.

Background:

The informant is from Hong Kong, China, but attends school at USC. This practice is something she normally does with her family during the Chinese New Year.

Analysis:

I found this really interesting because it reminds me of how in New Orleans, the baby is hidden in the Mardis Gras cake. Whoever finds the baby will receive good luck for the year. While these two traditions use very different foods and tokens to spread luck, they are surprisingly similar.

Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Filipino Funeral Rituals & Superstitions

Context:

The informant is a 26-year-old male of Filipino descent. He will be referred to as DY. DY and his family lived in Hawaii for a time, and he currently resides in California. His piece of folklore comes from a memory he had in Hawaii and is described in the main piece in his own words:

Main Piece:

With my family, growing up I had a few family members pass away and I realized as a kid that our grieving process was different. Prior to the funeral we would go through a 9 day prayer process but what stood out to me after all of that is that we would do this ritual where my family would boil guava leaves, water, and vinegar together and the person closest to the deceased would rub this mixture on every member of the family’s face. I asked my mom why we would do that, and my mom told me that it’s because It’s one of the final steps that we need to do in order to help the dead move on or else they will still linger onto this world and attach themselves to anyone who didn’t partake in the ritual. If anyone starts to feel some sort of sickness around the time of these prayers, they would do this thing we called “Ano ano” where my aunt would knock on the forehead of the person feeling sick because it was a sign of the dead trying to hold onto that person. My mom never believed in it because she never felt any kind of dizziness or sickness, but a good chunk of my aunties is superstitious in that way so if you felt any sort of dizziness you had to have it happen to you.

Background:

DY heard the folklore from his mother, but it appears that the folklore is common knowledge among the elders in the family. It’s something passed down to the children to continue the tradition.  DY believes that through spiritual experiences he’s had with the passing of his grandmother, that he believes the rituals have magical properties but that he doesn’t really participate in them so he might not continue the tradition with his own children.

Notes:

The act of these rituals seems to be more than just the action of doing them. These rituals and traditions are important in keeping the family united. It is a social experience that of course, serves a purpose, but it also brings the family closer together. The use of guava leaves in a basin can also be used as a wash when people leave the funeral or cemetery, they rinse their hands in the basin to remove the spirits that may have attached themselves to the living.

 

Customs
Folk speech
Initiations
Proverbs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Band Chain Link Necklace

Informant:

S, a 22-year-old Caucasian female who was born and raised in Colorado. She went to a catholic school and played saxophone in the band. Her family practiced Catholicism regularly. She is now a senior in Computer Science at the University of Southern California.

Background info:

S spent her summers at band camp, where her and the others in band would spend the entire time getting closer to each other as friends. Her director would always make them do group bonding exercises so that the kids would interact with others they wouldn’t normally. S was in band for all four years of high-school.

Context:

Late at night, a lot of weird conversations happen. Because S is on a project with me, we were working together at around 2:00am when we started discussing traditions that stuck with us from our childhood or teenage years. The following is a one of the group bonding exercises her band director had the team do.

Main piece:

“One of the biggest lessons we had to learn in band was that we are only a single link in a chain. If one link breaks, the whole chain breaks… The director would always compare this to a violin concert. If one violinist is off key, the whole piece is off key… We had to learn to think as a single unit, walk as a single unit, and play as a single unit. Our director would give out a single chain link on a piece of string to each member of the band at the beginning of camp We had to wear it all day every day to remind us that we are only as strong as our weakest link. If any of the band members lost their chain link, our director would tell us that we would have bad luck that season… Of the four years, only one time someone lost it, and we did terribly that year.”

Thoughts:

I like this tradition because it does embody the English phrase “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”. Having to wear a physical link around them is a cool way to remind people to better themselves for the good of the team. Other traditions also involve wearing a physical reminder of something important. In Christianity, for example, people often wear a cross or crucifix, or even have a statue of Jesus on the cross in their home. Losing an item of importance is also a common way to get bad luck in a lot of superstitions. It was interesting to hear that the one time someone did lose their chain link, the team did poorly. The thought of something going wrong can lead to it actually going wrong if one gets into that mindset. My football coach would always tell us that if we believed the other team was better than us, then we would already be defeated because we allowed ourselves to get into that mindset.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations

USC High Dive: Graduation Tradition

Main Piece:

Jumping off the high dive at the USC Aquatic Center before you graduate

Informant: Apparently you have to jump off the high dive before you graduate from USC. It’s in the aquatic center and it’s like 30 or 40 feet high in the air. You’re supposed to like go break in or something late at night and just go do it. I haven’t done it yet, though.

Background: The informant is a sophomore here at USC. This piece was recorded in person at her apartment. She has yet to jump off the high dive, neither have her friends. The informant said she had learned of this tradition even before arriving on campus freshman year. A potential roommate who she had met over Facebook had told her of this tradition. The informant was apathetic towards this tradition. It was clear that completion of this task was not on her to-do list.

Context: For every single college and university, there are a myriad of “before you graduate” traditions like this one. Some schools value these traditions more so than others. Going off this conversation, it seems as if this tradition isn’t taken very seriously.

Analysis: I am interested in the origin of this tradition. Immediately I was drawn to the very literal relationship between leaping off the high dive and “taking the leap” out of your comfort zone and into the working world. Personally I had not heard of this tradition before this conversation. Additionally, I can think of another reason for the development of this tradition. USC athletics is quite possibly what this school is known for. As such, the department has separated itself from the non-athlete student body. Regular students can not use the facilities managed by USC Athletics. Possibly, this tradition arose as a sort of reclamation act for non-athletes here at USC. In breaking into and using USC Athletic facilities without their knowledge, non-athletes could be taking a subtle jab at the department as a whole.

Customs
general
Gestures
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Pre-game ritual: Goalies

 

Main Piece

Informant: Before every game starts, when I am in the crease, I’ll tap the right post with the handle of my stick and the left post with the blade end.

Background:  The informant is my brother. He is a senior at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. There he plays goalie for the club hockey team and has been playing at a club level for well over a decade. He first learned of this superstition through his first goalie coach. He has done this act before every game he remembers playing in. For the informant, the act has become less superstition as he has gotten older. Still, the informant continues this ritual as it has become second nature in his mind. The interview took place over the phone and was recorded for transcription.

Context: The informant will do this act around 30 seconds before the game starts. The informant has been a committed teammate and goalie for the better portion of two decades.

Analysis: Sports are ripe with pre-game superstition and rituals, just like this one. Hockey goalies are especially habitual in the pre-game routines. Whether it be tapping the post with their stick, eating a certain meal or throwing up before the game (Yes, that one is true). However, this is not restricted to only hockey or goalies themselves. Players of all positions in all sports have their own specific pre-game rituals. (For a list a list of similar superstitions of professional athletes, please see Jeff Mclane’s 2008 article, For The Eagles, Superstition Is The Way (TCA Regional News)). Specific to this piece, I found the transition from superstitious behavior to second-nature for the informant interesting. While it might have started out as a superstitious pre-game ritual intended to bring good look for the upcoming game, it has since morphed into an acknowledgement of origin for the informant. The informant does not continue this ritual because he feels it will bring him good luck. He does so because he became the goalie he is today through tapping each post. When the informant continues this tradition, he is reminding himself of everything he has been through to get to where he is.

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