INFORMANT: Do you remember the ghost story about the nun that haunts Ursuline?
ME: Yes I do, but go ahead and tell me about it.
INFORMANT: Okay so in the entryway of the highschool Ursuline, they have an old picture of a class where you can actually see this ghostly figure in a window in the background. The legend is that the nun killed herself in the school and is now cursed to walk the halls for eternity. I remember when I took a tour of the school, I got goosebumps and instantly creeped out. I didn’t even know the story at the time but I knew that place was haunted. It’s also just super old and creepy looking
The informant fully believes that the school is actually haunted by the nun and found the picture that everyone references online. She originally heard the story from one of her friends who attends the all girls school and has since passed it onto her friends at her school as well.
Ursuline Academy is an all girls private Catholic school in Dallas, Texas. The informant is currently a student at a different, co-ed private school in Dallas.
The idea that the nun was forced to haunt that school as a result of killing herself is a statement about the catholic roots of the school. In Christianity, suicide is considered a sin instead of a result of depression. This concept that suicide is a punishable act may have contributed to this story (it should be noted that there is no record of a nun ever dying on the school’s grounds- much less commiting suicide on school grounds). On the other hand, Christians believe in Heaven and Hell and therefore don’t believe in ghosts. So the idea that a servant of God would be damned to haunt Earth forever is a naturally rebellious idea that goes against traditional beliefs.
“I think it was called the circle game. So you put your fingers like this (forms a circle with the index and thumb finger and if the other person sees you get to hit them. We would always play this in school and we thought it was funny like oh you lost because I made you look”
Context: Informant did the circle game to me and I looked and we both started laughing. So later I asked her to explain the game to me.
Background: Informant is a fourth year student at the University of Southern California. She recalls playing this game in middle school. They would play this in class and whenever possible. She learned it from some of her other friends who did it to her. When she looked and everyone laughed she started trying to also trick her friends into looking.
Analysis: When I was in middle school we played the same game but I do not recall getting to punch anyone if I tricked them into looking. If someone looked the person got bragging rights. Online there are also more rules attached to this circle game. For example, it must be below your waist in order for it to be considered a fair win. Also, the person who is looking can break the circle if they remain eye contact and break the circle by putting their finger in between their circle. The variety of rules that are not always shared among all groups of people that know the game show how some rules pass on while others don’t however the gist of the game does still remain the same.
The informant is a 54-year-old man from Guadalajara, Mexico. He learned this rhyme from his primary school. They learned many songs like this one. He believes that they were taught these songs in order to encourage the children to sing in front of their peers and to not be shy.
Informant – “Kilachand Hall is supposedly haunted. That’s where the honor students live. It used to be a hotel. The most famous resident was a playwright named Eugene O’Neill. There was also another famous writer there who won a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer or something. I don’t know. But anyways, O’Neill died in this hotel. And BU bought the building and turned it into a dormitory. Strange things have been going on on the fourth floor ever since, cause that’s where he lived. Apparently he died there. Lights inexplicably dim. Elevators stop working and open on the fourth floor for no reason. There are knocks on the door when no one is outside.”
Informant – “I heard it on my college tour. It makes me not what to live there haha.”
Eugene O’Neill did in fact die in Kilachand Hall (formerly known as Shelton Hall). I think this legend is popular because it is a reminder that a famous person died in the building. It adds panache to the idiosyncrasies of an old building.
Informant – “In early May, the Waldorf school hosts a May Pole celebration. In the central courtyard of the lower grades, the faculty erects a tall wooden pole crowned with a bouquet of flowers. Dangling from the top of the pole are long ribbons. Everyone is invited. Grades 1-3 dance and sing songs with their German and Spanish teachers. Then grades 4-6 dance around the maypole with the ribbons. Each grade has a specific dance, but all the dances are spiral. They interweave the ribbons, going in and out. 7th grade plays the music. Each dance has a very specific song.”
Informant – “The May Pole is a symbolic of the Earth reawakening. The dancing is circular, spiral, going in and coming out. It’s the rhythm of how the world works, an awakening and a sleeping, an awakening and a sleeping. As the outer world becomes more opulent, we see the green, smell the flowers, and inner world becomes sleepier. It’s a very joyful, very OUTWARD celebration. We are recognizing the earth crowned with flowers, the scent, the glory. It’s very very visual.”
The informant learned about this festival when she started teaching at the Austin Waldorf School. She knew about the May Pole before, but not the specifics.
Each grade has a specific role to fill in the celebration. It’s highly regulated. This adds to the community-centric atmosphere of the festival. Everyone has a role to fill. The spiral dancing reminds me of a flower unfurling, going from within to without. It’s interesting that such a joyous, gregarious celebration is so strictly controlled. There is no room for improvisation.
Informant – “On November 11th, Waldorf schools around the world celebrate Martinmas. As the story goes, Saint Martin was a Roman soldier. He saw a beggar shivering in the cold, so Martin cut his own cloak in half and covered the beggar with half. The beggar was actually Christ. To commemorate his generosity, the 1st and 2nd graders create lanterns and walk through campus sharing the light with the school”
Informant – “This is a festival of light. As the light decreases on Earth, the light becomes more inward. We bring the light inwards so that we carry the light within. Martinmas is celebration of Saint Martin, but it is also a sharing of our own internal light with the everyone.”
The informant learned about this festival when she started teaching at Waldorf.
Despite the references to Saint Martin and Christ, the actual festival is more pagan than Christian. It’s interesting that only the youngest grades make the lanterns and carry them through the school. Not only are they are spreading light at a time of darkness, they are also spreading youth and life at a time of dying.
Informant – “Every fall, on September 29th, Waldorf schools celebrate Michaelmas Festival to honor Saint Michael defeating the dragon. The 4th grade puts on a play. The play is different from year to year, but the overall plot is the same. A town is besieged by a dragon. A maiden gives herself up to the dragon to save the town. Saint Michael saves the maiden by taming the dragon. After the play, the high school sings a powerful three part harmony.
‘Hearken all, the time has come when all the world at last the truth shall hear; then the lion shall lie down with the lamb. Our lances shall be turned to reaping hooks, swords and guns be cast as plowshares, nations shall live in lasting piece, all men unite as brothers.’ ”
Informant – “Around this time, meteor showers are very prevalent in the Northern Hemisphere. The whole festival is very indicative of iron coming down to earth and strengthening humanity for its fight against the darker forces as summer ends and winter begins. The dragon isn’t really a dragon – it’s the evil within us. Saint Michael is the Lord of Light, his iron comes to strengthen mankind with light. The whole festival is a celebration of our higher, nobler self defeating our lower, base impulses.”
The informant learned about this festival on her own when she was studying Waldorf education.
The festival is an interesting mix of pagan and Christian influences. It’s intrinsically linked to both Saint Michael and the ending of summer. The fact that the dragon is tamed and not killed is also interesting. It reinforces the informant’s claim that the dragon is not an external enemy, but our own internal demons. We cannot kill our base impulses, but we can learn to control them. The timing of the festival is also interesting. It is a celebration of light and peace at a time when the world is getting darker and all the plants are dying.
Content: Advent Spiral
Informant – “The Advent Spiral is a somber ceremony for grades 1-8. It happens in the winter. Fresh pine boughs are laid in a large spiral in the center of a dark room. Paper star mats are spaced out equidistantly along the spiral. In the center of the spiral is a single lit candle. A class enters the room. There might be a harp player in the corner, or it might be silent. One by one, a child enters the spiral. Each child has an apple with a candle stuck in its center. The child walks through the spiral, lights their apple candle from the candle in the center, then places their apple candle on one of the star mats. Then the child sits outside the spiral. Once everyone has gone, the room is full of light.”
Informant – “Walking into the spiral symbolizes walking into the spiral within yourself. Lighting the apple is like lighting the flame within yourself. The apple itself is a symbol of new life. This ritual has is based on the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Celts. They took an ember from their city, from their central sacred hearth of their city temple and transported it carefully to the new land. They took an ember from their holy hearth to whatever land their were colonizing, and then they would light their first sacred hearth with that ember. All the fires were started from that first original coal. That sacred fire is holy, regardless of the religion. It symbolized them carrying their religion forward. It symbolized a unity with the old land, a unity with their culture and religion. That’s similar to the advent spiral. The students place their apples on the stars. Stars represent our connection to the cosmos, an outer world, a spiritual world. It shows that you are giving your light to the whole world. By the end of the advent spiral, the whole room is filled with light. It’s symbolic of what we want the students to do. It’s not Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, whatever. You are a light filled person, and as you grow older share your light so the world becomes a light filled place.”
The informant learned about this ceremony when she started teaching at Waldorf.
The use of pine boughs reminds me of Christmas trees. They are evergreen, a sign of life in the dead of winter.
I couldn’t find any references to Greeks, Romans, or Celts transporting sacred coals on Google. Still, I agree with the informant’s interpretation of the ritual (i.e. it is symbolic of sharing your inner light with the world to make it a brighter place).
For another version and explanation of this festival, see “Winter Spiral and the Meaning of Advent.” www.clws.org/events/winter-spiral-and-the-meaning-of-advent/.
“So, during class when I was younger, my friends and I would play this game called MASH. It’s called MASH because the first category of MASH is “Where will I live?” and MASH stands for “Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House.” But there are a ton of other categories, too. It’s basically just trying to predict your future. So we would write things like, “Who will I marry?” and “What will my job be?” For each category, there are four or five options. Then, once you’ve written it all down, whoever is making the chart draws a spiral until the person being MASHed tells them to stop. And then they count the number of vertical lines that the spiral makes. Then, you use that number and start crossing out options. So, if you have six lines, you cross out every sixth option until you have one option left in each category. Usually, you get to choose one option for each category, and the person making the chart can choose the other ones. So you end up with some really weird results. Also, the biggest category was definitely “Who will I marry?” because we usually put boys in our class as options and it was a huge secret. We would be super embarrassed if any of the boys saw what we were doing. And it would also be really disappointing if you got a boy who you didn’t like.”
Context: The informant went to school on a military base in Weisbaden, Germany. She played this game with exclusively female classmates.
Interpretation: This can easily be viewed as an activity to groom young girls for a stereotypical life and a nuclear family. It also illustrates which lifestyle choices are desirable and acceptable, and which are not. It teaches young girls that a nuclear family with a successful job and a nice house are the best things to hope for in the future, whereas ending up with a less-than-ideal romantic partner and occupation are like losing the game of life. For another example of how MASH can be played, see the submission “M A S H = Mansion Apartment Shack House” by user ronniyoon in the USC Digital Folklore Archive.
Informant: The informant is Aliki, an eighteen-year-old young woman who grew up in Yonkers, New York. She is a freshman at Concordia University in Irvine, California. She is of Greek descent.
Context of the Performance: We sat on the floor of my dorm room at the University of Southern California when Aliki visited me during her spring break from college.
Informant: When I was in elementary school, my music teacher taught me a game called seven-up. Basically, she would pick seven people to stand at the front of the room, and the rest of the class would sit at their desks with their heads down and their thumbs up. The seven chosen would then walk around the room, and each would tap one seated person’s thumb. They would put their thumbs down once they were tapped. Then, when the seven people were done, they would return to the front of the room, and the seven whose thumbs were tapped would stand at their desks. Each would then choose whomever they thought tapped them, and if they were right, they would switch places and roles with them. If they were wrong, they’d sit back down. At the end of the guessing, the people a the front would admit whose thumbs they tapped. Then the process would happen all over again.
Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?
Informant: It’s a childhood game. It’s important to me because of my memories tied to it. My friends and I got so excited to play this game, and it was always the biggest deal to figure out who tapped your thumb! Also, everyone from other schools played something similar to seven-up growing up, usually just with slightly different rules or a different name, but it’s something to reminisce on not only with my classmates but really anyone my age.
Personal Thoughts: I enjoyed hearing about this piece of folklore because I played the same game in elementary school and feel the same way about other people knowing a similar version. It’s very interesting to see how games in different schools compare and how they were a major part of our lives. We even go so far as to argue over which version is right.