USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘seven’
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Seven Ravens

The informant is a 21-year-old college student who was born in France, and continued to live there until moving to the United States at age 15. The informant’s mother is from Germany and his father is from Spain.

I asked the informant to grab a cup of coffee on campus, and questioned whether he had distinct memories of any bedtime stories that his parents told him when he was a child living in France. He described a tale that his mother would often tell him, called “The Seven Ravens.”

“A girl who is very sick and weak was born among seven brothers, so their father sent the boys to get this holy water to help their sister. But on the way, the brothers get lost, and so the father gets angry and says ‘I wish they were all turned ravens’ and they all turned into ravens. The girl eventually gets over her sickness and as she gets older she sees traces that she once had brothers. She became super curious and wanting nothing else but to find them. She met a witch who would give her this wish but she had to get all these specific materials to knot a sweater for every brother. She got super close but didn’t have time to knit the arm thing on one sweater, and all her brothers came back except one still had a wing.”

This German fairy tale, which describes a sister on a quest to find long lost members of her family, seems to closely follow the syntagmatic structure that the folklorist Vladimir Propp established for all folk tales. It follows a hero, the girl, who is sent on a long quest to fulfill a set of tasks that will satisfy her initial desire to piece together the traces of her brothers and ultimately bring them back into her life. Knowing that this tale is of German origin, I asked the informant if he knew what book his mother had read it to him from, suspecting that it was related to the vast number of fairy tales recorded by the Grimm brothers. His response confirmed my suspicions, as he said that “The Seven Ravens” came from a book of German fairy tales his mother had that mentioned the Grimm brothers. This märchen functioned as a source of entertainment for the informant, and provided his mother a fun and suspenseful story to tell her child while allowing him to settle down for bed. The informant’s mother and father were separated, which may help to explain why his mother was not worried about telling a story that did not shed a positive light on the hero’s father figure. Despite the father’s wrath in the tale, “The Seven Ravens” places importance on themes of family unity and persistence, and in turn functions to encourage young audience members to care for and support their family members and to never give up when faced with a difficult task.

 

For the version of “The Seven Ravens” first published by the Grimm brothers, see the annotation below.

  • Die Sieben Raben, Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales — Grimms’ Fairy Tales), final edition (1857), no. 25.
  • In the ATU categorical index, this falls under Aarne-Thompson type 451, The Brothers Who Were Turned into Birds. Tales of this type are found throughout Europe.
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Seven Sisters

Once there were seven sisters and when it came time for marriage, the proposed sister decided to runaway for she did not want to be married. When her sisters saw her escaping, they followed her one-by-one and when the first runaway fell in a well, the other six followed. The constellation therefore shows the seven sisters in the well (cluster)

Indian stories, these were collected from a nomad camel driver named Haleh in the Thar desert in Rajasthan (he was Muslim, his village was near the Pakistani border). Haleh spoke only Marwari and his words were translated and related by Mayuri Bhandari. This story relates the creation of the star constellation known in North America as “the Big Dipper”. In this story, the well is the four star, square cluster (occupied by four of the sisters) and the tail is the line of the remaining three sisters waiting to throw themselves in it.

Customs
Homeopathic
Life cycle
Magic
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese Funeral Traditions

Informant Background: The informant was born in rural parts of China called Hainan. She lived there with her grandparents where she attended elementary school. She moved to the United States when she was thirteen. She speaks both Chinese and English. She lives in Los Angeles with her mother but travels back to visit her relatives in Beijing and Hainan every year. She and her mother still practice a lot of Chinese traditions and celebrate Chinese holidays through special meals.

 

Usually the family and relatives would gather for the funeral. The coffin would be in a room where it’s decorated with white flowers. The guest would give the host money in a white envelope to pay for the funeral. Usually Chinese people try not to use white envelope in normal life because white is the color of death…So they use white in this occasion…same as flower, Chinese people tend to give each other colorful flowers. The people attending the funeral would wear black or white.

One of the things I remember the most is that there are always these paper objects for burning. The paper will be folded and made into something like a house, a car, clothes, phone, etc. These things are made of paper so that they can be burned. It is believed that the stuff you burned will appear in heaven for your deceased. There are also gold and silver paper which represents wealth. You burn those as well. Most of the time all the family member would stack of the objects in a big pile and set off a large fire then they all stand around watching it burn….And then, later they would do the gold and silver paper individually. Everyone usually participate.  

Also part of a funeral ritual in Chinese culture is that you are supposed to leave the body for seven days before you bury the body so that the soul can be released. If the body is buried before the seventh day then the soul is trapped inside the body. This is also how many of these bodies become ghosts because their soul can’t leave the earth.

The informant said that this is a traditional ritual in Chinese funeral. She learned about this knowledge through her observation after participating in funeral rituals where people emphasize these practices. She said many Chinese funerals take place for seven days, in those different days many of the same repeated and some different rituals occur to lead into the last/seventh day where the body is then buried.

 

These traditions show the importance of funeral as a life event for both the individual and the family, more for the family since the individual is no longer present at the event. There also many rituals associated with the event that has to be executed correctly. Funeral as an event also shows family ties and connection of the deceased to the community. Those rituals are specific and take times and money.

This shows how the color white is used as morbid rather than in Western culture where it is use in wedding to represent the innocence and the purity of the bride. The white flowers, white envelop, and white clothing shows how white as a color have a negative connotation. This clarified a question I’ve always ponder about why Chinese people give out red envelop at Chinese New Year. Similar to other culture’s where the objects and rituals during funerals are exclusive to the event; in this case the color white is reserved for funeral rituals only.

The burning of paper objects is very interesting to me. It is the idea of homeopathic magic where “like” creates “like.” In this particular case the magic is then the transition to transfer those objects from the physical realm to the spiritual realm. I think that this practice also show fear of the unknown relating to the idea of death and the afterlife where the burning of family objects is a way to ensure some certainty in the afterlife. The burning of those paper objects as a ritual reflects how the objects disappear into the air like how the spirit did.

The burial after seven day as a belief is similar to other culture’s origin of ghost where the dead body did not receive proper funeral ritual. In this case being buried too soon would trap the soul in the deceased body. The deceased body and the soul then become a haunting ghost.

The ritual of waiting for seven days resonate the concept of number seven as a reoccurring theme in many Eastern and Western Culture: seven planets, seven days, seventh heaven, etc. It shows how the idea the seven planets as a measure of time and day in the calendar effect many rituals and life events in many culture.

 

Customs
general
Initiations

Tradition – India

My informant witnessed this marriage ceremony during his last trip to India. He specifically returned to India to be present for the marriage of his cousin and her husband. He told me the tradition of “saptapadi.” He told me that in India, fire is considered to be very powerful and important. Thus, during weddings, the bride and the groom will often walk around a large fire seven times. In the Hindu culture, this makes the marriage official and complete.

Each time that the bride and the groom walk around the fire, they say a phrase that represents another step towards marriage. The first phrase involves a plea to the gods to bless them with a respectable life filled with enough food for an entire family. In the second walk around the fire, the couple prays and asks for health and strength so that they can have a long life together. The third time they walk around the fire, the gods give them strength through spiritual means. The fourth walk around the fire represents their love for one another. During this walk, they ask that they be happy together forever and always love and respect one another. In the fifth walk around the fire, the couple asks to be blessed with many loving children. In the sixth walk around the fire, the couple asks to go through life together, even if they may go through tragedy and sorrow. In the final walk around the fire, the couple prays for everyone in the world. They pray that everyone lives a life of peace, and that everyone is loyal together and finds pure companionship. After the bride and the groom fulfill this tradition, they say some words together that are like the vows said during Western weddings.

My informant said that it was very interesting to attend a Hindu ceremony. It is the first one that he has been to, and he says that it makes him feel much closer to his culture. It also makes him realize how important marriage and companionship in India is. He said that very few couples get divorced, even if things are very bad. The couple will still live together and try to work things out. I think that marriage is very sacred in India. In Western culture, more and more people get divorced. Oftentimes, one will hear about a couple that divorces after just two months of living together. I believe that going through this tradition of saptapadi makes a couple feel closer and more connected, not just between the couple but also with the families who attend the wedding, because they have all undergone this tradition as well.

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

Superstition

When you sweep someone’s feet you have to spit on their feet seven times or you’ll have bad luck for seven years.

Bruce said he used to hear this from his mother whenever either she or he was sweeping with a broom and it happened to cross someone’s feet. This superstition, or slave superstition as he called it, has special meaning to him and his family’s personal history. He said his mother’s mother (his grandma) started this tradition and began passing it down first. His grandmother and his grandfather were sharecroppers in Texas and this superstition was part of their shared experiences and slave folklore.

This superstition feels incredibly personal and unique because of the historical and familial tradition Bruce was able to share with me after sharing this special piece of his family’s folklore. He did not comment much on the specific meaning of the actual superstition or its directives because he seemed to view them as merely a part of his ancestors’ thinking in the past. The superstition’s beliefs, however, may reveal a greater sense of his ancestors’ environment, daily activities/ tasks, and their cultural beliefs. For example, as domestic workers sweeping may have been both a task and also a symbolic ritual of cleansing energy and bad spirits from the space and in this case, perhaps even away from individuals. This was most likely an important gesture towards the person whose feet may have accidentally gotten swept across. It also seems like an act of self preservation though. This superstition advises quick action on the sweeper’s part to prevent seven years of bad luck by spitting on their feet seven times and undoing any curses. Seven may or may not have symbolic meaning in this case, but the advice for self preservation does. Given that this superstition most likely has its origins amongst slaves, the superstition could possibly be a symbolic/ ritualistic means of eliminating negative energy and misfortune that empowered slaves in these situations who may have had little other power otherwise to prevent tragedy or “bad luck”.

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