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

Henna Celebration

The informant is an Israeli American who grew up practicing traditions from both her Israeli and Persian culture. She describes an Israeli bridal shower and all of her favorite parts of it.

  • Around a wedding time, a few weeks before there kind of all that build up around the bride and groom and the wedding takes a lot of planning and all that, but a couple weeks before many of, um, many different uh… how to do you say it… people from all different backgrounds in Israel, you know the Syrians do it one way, Iraqis do it a different way, but pretty much all of the do a henna, its kind of like a bridal shower, but nothing like insane, you know a lot more colorful, they are usually at night and not during the day, and they usually mix men and women. The bride is you know prepped, she has to get everything done, the harry the makeup, and then older ladies come and giver her different words of advice you know things to do, not to do, how to keep a marriage going. You know, of course there’s a big feast, there’s a big candy table thats set up with all different sweets that you take home. But not like a modern day, more like homemade sweets, you know things that grandma would know how to make. And different people bring different things. And then there is a henna mix that they make, and they put it on their hands, right. They will put like a scoop of it on your palm, and then on your beloved’s palm, and then they squeeze them together to make an imprint, so that you have the dye, the same dye. Your hand is in his, and they will do the same thing with the feet, and it’s kind of to symbolize that from here on they are one and you know that they have to find a way to make it work, and to say that may all their days be as sweet as this candy that they are serving. I would say this tradition is more Sephardic Jews, Persians definitely do it, but I know family friends that are Moroccan, Iraqi, definitely do a big thing with that as well. I don’t know about Ashkenazi Jews so much, but definitely Sephardic.
  • Yeah so this is just he Henna Celebration. You know, and she’s given a lot of jewelry, and the family will present her with jewelry, its kind of, its fun. It’s excessive in a way, in that she’s wearing everything, one on top of the other. The people eat, they drink, they dance. Its very different. You know I remember going to a bridal shower here and thinking: oh this is very, this is very tame. Where are the guys? And you know, I had one here in Los Angeles. Yeah, some people will put a gold coin, into the palm of the bride and grooms hand when they squeeze it to say that, may they have good fortune and be successful, and be able to help others not just provide for themselves. There’s a lot around it. Its very colorful. You can kind of imagine how Indian bridal celebrations are, they have a lot of action, a lot of food, lot of color, lot of flowers, candles. And then all the old people in the family coming forward with all kinds of goodies and words of encouragement and advice. Its different, very different. 

ANALYSIS:

I found it most interesting that the informant mentioned feeling like American bridal showers were tame. I also was pleasantly surprised to find out that she had one of these celebrations of her own here in Los Angeles. I think it is so important that people celebrate and bring their rituals and customs with them wherever they go.

Customs

Shotgun

Collector: Do you ever say shotgun before you ride in a car?

Informant: Yeah, sometimes.

Collector: Do you have rules for that?

Informant: It’s usually when we’re on my ranch and we want to go for a ride on the four wheeler, on our ranger, which is like a golf cart. If my brother and I want to go, I’ll call shotgun. It’s usually just whoever says it first.

 

Informant is a freshman at the University of Southern California. She is studying Theater Arts in the School of Dramatic Arts here. She is from Austin Texas. I spoke to her while we were eating lunch at my sorority house. Much of what she told me was learned from her sister or her own experiences.

 

This is a piece of folklore that I personally see multiplicity and variation in. For many people, the only requirement of shotgun is that you have to call it first. In my experience, we have three rules. The first is that whoever calls it first gets to ride shotgun. The second is that everyone has to be within vision of the car. The third is that everyone has to have their shoes on. This third rule usually trips everyone up, but it has a purpose. It is to make sure everyone is actually ready to get into the car and go. Nobody can run out, call shotgun, and come back to finish getting ready. This type of thing is a funny little ritual, and people put more stock into it when riding in the front is a cooler thing to do than riding in the back, for example if you’re in a Jeep Wrangler with the front doors off.

Proverbs

“Faith over fear.”

Informant: At my gym, we always say, “Faith over fear.” And that was like something we used to say all the time, and that was the one point that I was even semi religious in my life.

 

My informant is a freshman at the University of Southern California. She is from San Diego, California. We had this conversation in the study room of my sorority house.

 

This is interesting because it somewhat can be related to a ritual before going out to perform. My informant was a cheerleader for a while, so this would work as a ritual and a superstition for some kind of performance she would ever do. It seems that many people have religious rituals they do before a performance, such as one of my informants doing the Catholic cross before going on in every ballet number she did. These manifest even in people who aren’t religious, and my informant is not religious anymore. This is interesting and shows some type of dependency on the idea of some hope for help from some other place, even without the belief that a God or higher power exists. It seems to be a type of mechanism that people just develop.

general

Paris Point 0

Informant: There’s like, France. The x. The zero. Something zero.

Collector: Point zero?

SC: Point zero, yeah. In front of the…Notre Dame. And I have never stepped on it, but I have been to Paris multiple times.

MR: I’ve only been to Paris once, and I didn’t step on it.

 

Informant is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is studying Narrative Studies and plans to have a minor in Songwriting. She is from a suburb outside of Chicago, Illinois. I spoke to her while we were eating lunch at my sorority house one day. We were sitting together with some of my other informants. Much of what she told me was learned from her own experiences.

 

This is something I’ve heard about from multiple people and have read about in books. There seems to be a connection between some part of great cities and either returning to the city or having a wish come true. This is a kind of combination of superstitions and rituals and just might subconsciously influence people to return to the city. I can see a similar type of thing with the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy, where if you toss a coin and make a wish the wish will come true. These old cities seem to have a type of magic to them which attracts you to return or fulfill a wish.

general

Pre-Game Ritual

Informant: I am scared of everything, so anyone else’s superstitions genuinely become mine because I am afraid.

Collector: Can you give me some examples?

MG: Um… When I was a rower, I, like, had to eat a very specific meal before every race, like, I wore, like, the same underwear every time under my uni, like, wore the same socks… I had a full orange, an orange sports bra, an orange set of underwear, and these orange socks that I wore, and one time, I could not find the other orange sock, and I had to go to Costco and buy another giant pack of socks because there was only one orange one in the set, but there were, like, it was a big set of socks.

 

Informant is a junior at the University of Southern California. She is studying communications here. She is from Boston, Massachusetts. She spent a while in the southern part of Spain, and speaks fluent Spanish. I spoke to her while we were eating lunch at my sorority house one day. We were sitting together with some of my other informants. Much of what she told me was learned from her own experiences.

 

We were in the middle of talking about folklore and ghost stories, and the conversation turned toward superstitions because Maya said she was very afraid of everything. She has a very particular way of doing things just because and often picks up habits from other people. This type of superstition is seen, I think, in a lot of different people. It manifests itself slightly differently every time, but for the most part many people who are athletes or performers have this type of superstition where they have a ritual or specific thing they need during every meet or performance.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Folk speech
Gestures
Initiations
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian Rituals adopted by a Non-Persian, Jewish Family

Basically, when someone talks bad about you, or someone does something to like, harm you, or let’s say like for example I’m wearing a nice dress and I come home and I’m like ‘oh mom, this lady said “nice dress, it looks really good on you,”’ my mom would be like, ‘oh, she has a bad eye on you.’ And my mom will run, and she’ll get salt, and she’ll put salt all around my head. Like she’ll start spraying it, like literally having salt fly in the air, and like, pouring salt everywhere and then she says like, ‘to keep the bad eye away from my daughter,’ she says like a little prayer in her head. It’s like a blessing of salt over your head to keep away the evil eye.

 

So your mom does this to you?

 

She did it once. She learned it from her Persian friends. I’m not Persian, but my friends that are Persian, their moms have done it to me too.

Another thing is like, I don’t know if it’s traditional but like when you get a new car or you get something new, you take eggs and you run the eggs over with the car. You put like two on the back tires, two on the front tires, and you run them all over. So it’s like good luck cause you’re like coating the tires with an egg? Not an egg but like, you break the way for the car kind of. You break the way for the car to like enter the world, the streets.

 

Why eggs specifically?

 

I, I don’t know. These are just things that I’ve seen people do. And then, what is the jumping over fire one, Nic?

(Her friend: That’s for Persian New Year.)

Why?

(Friend: You’re asking the wrong person. Ask Sogol.)

 

ANALYSIS:

This is an interesting folk superstition and ritual that has been adopted by a family that isn’t Persian, but is Jewish, and are surrounded by a community of Jewish Persian. The informant’s mom, through interaction with her friends, has inherited or adopted this belief and practice of protection and keeping bad spirits away. One can easily see, though, how the original meaning or belief has become lost / confused/ muddled, because the informant did not grow up being as exposed to this tradition in her family. However, as her friends and her friends’ parents have done these rituals, she has been exposed to them and so participates in them, just not as fully perhaps as her friends with Persian heritage. She does know why these rituals are practiced and some of the symbolism behind the eggs, for example. It is also a sort of initiation ritual for the car to enter into the world.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Signs

Evil Menehune

The informant was a high school classmate that graduated the same year as me and also is studying at USC. We met up for a snack at one of the cafes on campus and, then sat outside to catch up and exchange news and stories.


Informant

If you see a Menehune or hear their drums, you’re supposed to take off all your clothes and lie on the ground without making eye contact, or else they will kill you. To show even more deference, you have to further humiliate yourself in front of them.

The informant learned of this superstitious ritual from K (informant’s friend). He had said that his Aunt and Uncle had gone camping once, and they realized they were actually on a Menehune trail when they saw eyes watching them while they were sitting around the campfire. They then had to get naked and pee on themselves and bow down on their stomachs, in order to show that they were lesser beings than the Menehune, and to show respect.

Background & Analysis

The informant was born and raised in Waimea town on the Big Island of Hawaii. K is a good friend who is native Hawaiian, and his family follows traditional Hawaiian customs and practices. Supposedly if you heed the superstition, you will be okay.  K has told the informant many other scary stories about Hawaii as well, and also ones about good spirits.

This superstition was fascinating to me, because I know a different version. In all my life living in Hawaii, I have always perceived the Menehune as mischievous tricksters, yet relatively benign. Also, I have always heard they bring good luck if you come across one. In a way, they have always been the Hawaiian leprechauns to me. The ritual the informant described to me is very similar to the ritual you are supposed to perform if you come across Night Marchers on a Night Marcher trail. Night Marchers were the warriors of the ancient Hawaiian Kings, that continue protect the Kings in spirit form. If you come across them, you are supposed to bow on the ground and avoid eye contact, and hope that the warriors spare your life. It appears that as this ritual spread across Hawaii and over time, the exact spirit or mystical creature it centers around has become confused and interchangeable.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cameroonian Pregnancy Rituals & Beliefs

My informant is the mother of a USC student. She is an immigrant from Cameroon and came to America with her husband and son before giving birth to their daughter.

“A pregnant woman would, should…at all cost avoid seeing what she would consider as ugly until the gives birth. The fear, is that uh, her baby will become ugly if she does. It is also believed that if she eats a cobra before giving birth that it will speed the delivery of the baby. Again, this—cobra—is a delicacy usually reserved for only, for only the men. If you have not realized it yet, my people in every way see women as less than equal to men. A good woman is supposed to be behind her husband. He must have the last word, she must sleep behind him, she must please him at all cost. This is of course…changing with the access to higher education and influence of western culture. Divorce rates are soaring and more women are opting to marry later, not get married, and not have children…husbands are even blamed when their wives are troublesome because they cannot control her!”

 

Analysis: This belief illuminates the importance of beauty within Cameroonian culture. Especially in the case of the birth being a girl, it would be desired for her to be beautiful so she could marry a wealthy and handsome husband. In addition, the allowance of women to consume cobra during pregnancy demonstrates that women who are bearing children are considered of a higher status than women who are not, because they are allowed to eat foods that are typically reserved only for men (who are looked at with more respect within Cameroonian society). My informant made a point of reiterating that men in their society are more highly valued than women, however also made note that within the western world these beliefs have lost value due to women in the United States being able to attend school and support themselves without a husband. Of course there are communities and families who still adhere strictly to these beliefs even though they live in a western nation such as America.

 

 

general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Alpha Phi Omega Initiation

“I don’t know how long it’s been in practice, but like every time like we wear pins, like a pledge pin on the right side [of your chest] when you’re pledging and then you put it on the left when you have been initiated. So, ‘cause the left side is your heart, so like the service pin is more on your heart like, you’re like in. Um, and then during the initiation ceremony we like light candles for each, kind of characteristic we talk about, um, and then we also, when people are ushered in to the initiation ceremony they’re, they have to close their eyes and not look and they get in a line with hand on shoulder, like in lines of maybe ten people and then someone leads them who’s an active member already to lead them to the place of the initiation. And then once they’re all there, um, they can open their eyes and then they, everybody says their name in order and they say the oath repeating after the person leading the ceremony. Um, let’s see. That happens once when you find out you’re gonna become a pledge and that happens another time when you’re initiated to become an active member. The pledging period is, like, a semester long, basically . . . It just seems like it’s always been done that way and so, when I experienced it as a pledge, it’s how I also experienced it as an active, like it, it feels like it’s always been that way.”

 

The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who studies biology and is currently applying to medical schools. This interview took place in the new Annenberg building when I was having a conversation with another friend about superstition and the informant started to volunteer information about the rituals that have taken place in her life. She is a part of the campus service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, or APO and has been for all four years she has been at USC. APO is co-ed and is somewhat culturally removed from USC’s other Greek life. It states its principle values are “leadership, friendship, and service” and the members of this service fraternity are supposed to embody those values in their everyday lives.

 

This ceremony is clearly a liminal moment that has been ritualized. It is a way for new members to join the fraternity on a consistent basis while knowing that they have the approval of the active members. Essentially, it is a way of very clearly establishing who is a part of the frat, who is not, and who is in the process of joining. I thought it was interesting that the informant interpreted the movement of the service pin from the right side to the left side as having to do with the left side being where your heart is. Part of me believes this interpretation is influenced by her studying biology and the human anatomy currently being the most important area of study in her life, while the other part thinks this is probably the original symbolic meaning of the movement. Having the pin on the right side of your chest makes it merely a form of decoration, at most an acknowledgment that you are interested in being a part of this organization. However, as soon as you move it to the left side of your chest, it is a statement that the organization is a big part of your life as it is next to one of your most vital organs.

 

The repetition of the initiation ceremony is important, as it gives the active members and pledges a period to adjust to the change in the community. It is noteworthy that the active members light a candle for each “characteristic” that an APO member should embody, i.e. leadership, friendship, and service, as this means three candles are lit and three is an important symbolic number in American culture. I think the reasoning behind making the pledges close their eyes when they are led to the ceremony has more to do with symbolism than it does with keeping the location of the ceremony a secret. The pledges are going to find out where the ceremony is as soon as they open their eyes, so there is really no reason to think that keeping the location a secret is an important part of the ritual. Rather, I think it has to do with the fact that when the pledges close their eyes they are in a location that represents their lives before APO, and when they open them they are somewhere that represents the their new lives with this fraternity. This action also increases the suspense and sacredness of this ritual. That an active member leads the lines of pledges into the ceremony shows the approval of the existing members of APO and is an important step in making this outgroup a part of the in-group.

Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Celebration of San Juan Buatista

I remember growing up in Puerto Rico and always looking forward La Noche de San Juan Bautista, or the annual night the patron saint of Puerto Rico was celebrated. The festival began on the night before June 23 and people came to the beaches to party with food and music. The ritual would begin at midnight by people building bonfires and jumping into the ocean to cleanse their spirits for the next year. The waters were supposedly sacred and blessed with magical healing powers that night, though I didnt really believe in much of what other people told me. We were supposed to swim into the water at least 7 times to be cleansed, while others did 12. Others took the ritual more seriously, sometimes taking three turns then jumping into the water backwards upon each swim. I always loved the ocean and took this as an opportunity to enjoy the warm waters under the night sky without my parents having to worry about where I might be.

When I come home for the weekend, I often get the chance to talk with our housekeeper who tells me about her history and many of her stories. She grew up in Puerto Rico and is full of both funny and suspenseful stories from her youth in a small townoutside of San Juan. When I told her that I was in the process of collecting stories for my folklore project, she was more than happy to share with me some of her memories. Due to her love of the ocean, this ritual she did with her parents was one of the first that came to mind. I could tell that though she seemed to dismiss the notion of the “blessed waters,” she really missed her family and friends back home and the traditions they partook in. She spoke longingly about the kinds of foods they ate and how the ritual was passed down from generations. She learned all about the celebration from her parents and its meaning, telling me that the ritual had been performed yearly since the end of Spanish Colonization. Though many in the city didn’t celebrate it, it was still a big deal to people in outlying areas and was a huge communal celebration.

I enjoyed hearing about this ritual because here in America, I feel that ritual is not necessarily a large part of our identity, with maybe an exception to Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. Everyone does have their own personal rituals for one event or another, but they are not apart of a greater communal tradition that have been passed down over generations. It’s very interesting to hear about how something such as the notion of healing waters has been passed down reverently from generation to generation and largely believed and participated in by most of a community.

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