HK: When I was pregnant my mother in law said that I shouldn’t have scissors on the bed because then that will make you have a miscarriage. So don’t cut anything on the bed, don’t put anything that can cut on the bed. Related but not the same, it also means no remodeling, no hammering, no knocking down walls or anything.
MW: And what did you think of this?
HK: Well…you don’t wanna believe it but when they tell you stupid shit like that…it’s like walking under a ladder. You know nothing’s gonna happen probably, but now you wonder about it. And then it leaves this little scab in your heart when you do do it, because now you’re like, ah, well, what’s gonna happen to me? It just always makes you wonder, you know? So annoying.
The informant, HK, was born in New York but has parents who are from China. She married and has three children. This story was collected over a Zoom call when she was talking to my mom.
The “little scab on your heart” that the informant mentioned is interesting because it makes me think that that must be how superstitions get perpetuated. While people might not believe on an intellectual level that it will happen, if you do it it will still stick with you, like a residual fear that clings to your mind; so because of that, it’s easier to just not do it in the first place. I think that’s important to realize, because sometimes the negative effect of the superstition might just come from your own guilt (or at least be related to it).
The informant and I are sitting in the USC Gould Law Cafe around 3:00 pm where she is describing some of the Chinese traditions her grandparents used to practice. She is a Chinese American student at the University of Southern California who was born and raised in Shanghai until she came to America for high school in Maryland. This recount describes a way to keep nightmares away.
J: When you have a bad dream, some old people would put scissors under their pillow. They’ll put it under their pillow to prevent their bad dreams.”
A: “Just a preventive measure?”
J: “Yeah, from nightmares. To make them feel secure during the night which can actually be really dangerous! What if you sleep walked during the night!? But anyway, they put scissors under their pillow and sometimes wrap it with newspaper to prevent them from actually hurting themselves.”
A: ‘Do you ever do that?”
J: “**Laughs** This is actually a really old one. Like my grandma’s generation. So sometimes they practice this but I usually don’t.”
This practice of placing scissors under one’s pillow can seem a bit counter intuitive to keeping danger away. This practice literally puts danger just under one’s head while trying to prevent danger from occurring. It’s funny how the informant laughs at her grandparents’ practice since it would seem silly to the culture she was raised in. But to her grandmother, this would seem completely normal. However, there can be some validity seen in this practice as having a weapon of protection can help to ease one’s mind and help them to not think negative thoughts while they sleep since they feel protected.
This tradition also is practied in Egypt where they have supstitions about scissors and also sleep with scissors under their pillow to ward off nightmares. See more here.
Main Piece: Riddle
Два кольца, два конца, и по середине гвоздик.
Dva kol’tsa, dva kontsa, i po seredine gvozdik.
Two rings, two points, and nail in the center.
- Why does informant know this piece?
This was told to him by his childhood friends
- Where did they learn this piece?
- What does it mean to them?
It’s an interesting riddle.
This is told by children to other children to play riddle games.
Personally, I find this riddle confusing, since rings are not what I associate with scissors. However, in the Soviet Union in the 1970’s, when the informant heard this riddle, scissors looked different from how scissors look now, and therefore this riddle would make sense.