USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘sign’
Folk Beliefs
general
Signs

EVKitty

Informant DP is a 19-year-old male studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. He is well-aware of most USC folklore and he describes a very peculiar one to me (AK).

In this piece, DP describes the folklore surrounding a very special cat that hangs around a dining hall at USC named Everybody’s Kitchen or EVK for short.

EVKitty

DP: So I actually found out about this cat my first time at EVK freshman year. Basically it’s this regular cat but it just hangs right outside EVK by the outdoor seating. I’m not really sure whose cat it is, but I just know it’s been there for a while.

AK: So you have no idea where it came from?

DP: Well there’s rumors that it’s Stan Rosen’s cat. He’s the faculty master for the Birnkrant Dorm. I should probably know this cause I lived there but oh well haha.

AK: Sounds interesting is there anything else I should know about EVKitty?

DP: Yeah there’s actually a facebook page dedicated to her. It’s legendary.

This was another piece of USC folklore, but I especially enjoyed this one because it is so specific and probably unknown to a lot of students. For those that have no idea, they would be thoroughly confused to see a cat roaming around the outside seating of a dining hall. However, for those who are aware of this folklore, they have really done their part to help spread it to the larger USC community. I found out about EVKitty through word of mouth, and I’m sure many other students have also found out from their fellow friends and peers.

Customs

Don’t Step on the Symbol

My informant does some work in the sports media field, which basically means he gets to interview players after the game in the locker room.  On of the teams he has interviewed is the Chicago Blackhawks, and he says that in their locker room, there is a big Blackhawk head on the middle of the floor.  It’s the team emblem.  You are not allowed to step on it, and the players ask all the media people not to step on it either.  Anyone who steps on it “gets a major razz from the players.”  During the playoffs, there are a lot of media people in the locker room, and some of these people don’t know the tradition because they don’t regularly come for interviews.  During these busy weeks, the team goes so far as to rope off the Blackhawk emblem to make sure that no one steps on it.  It’s not necessarily bad luck, but it’s just something you aren’t supposed to do.

A similar tradition is observed in the USC Trojan Marching Band.  There is a big emblem of the band trojan head on the floor in the band office by the front door, and you are not supposed to step on it.  If someone (usually a freshman) steps on it, everyone in the band office will turn to that person and yell at them, and say stuff like “Don’t step on the trojan!” and yell obscenities at the offender.  Like with the Blackhawks, it isn’t really bad luck, it’s just something you aren’t supposed to do.

My high school back home had a similar tradition but with a twist.  In the front entrance to Lake Forest High School, there is a big Compass-Rose-like star in the main hallway, right by the front doors.  I’m not entirely sure, but I think this was a gift from a graduating senior class.  When new freshmen come to the school, all the older kids tell the freshmen that this is the Senior Star, and that no one except seniors are allowed to walk across it.  And they say that any non-senior who violates this rule will get beaten up.  The reality is that nobody gives a shit about walking across the senior star.  In fact, given how big the star is compared to the rest of the hallway and the given the amount of students who walk through it in between classes, it would be pretty hard for everyone to avoid it.  But the reason they tell this to freshmen is just to see how long it takes them to figure out that indeed nobody gives a shit who walks across it.  Nevertheless, the fact that this faux rule exists proves that “Don’t Step on the Symbol” is a somewhat universal concept.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Shark Oil Hurricanes

Jar of cloudy shark oil in Bermuda

We have this jar—like this little flash of shark oil at home—and what we think is that when it goes cloudy it means a hurricane is on its way. And for the most part, yeah, hurricanes always come when that jar gets cloudy.

 

Rebecca comes from Bermuda, a British overseas territory located in the North Atlantic Ocean. Hurricanes pose a large threat to the inhabitants of the island, thus it is important to be able to predict their arrival in order to prepare. Rebecca’s family is not the only one to use shark oil to predict the weather. “Many families have a jar in their cabinet somewhere. It’s not just me.”

 

As to why shark oil in particular is necessary in the prediction of hurricanes, Rebecca is unsure. According to her it is a common belief that has been around for a long time. More important, its success rate is extremely high. Rebecca can cite countless times when the cloudy shark oil was followed by a storm. It is a belief that she grew up with. The shark oil has been in her kitchen since she was a little girl and she always associated it with hurricanes.

 

There are a number of reasons why I think the shark oil could be an integral part of the prediction process. Sharks are very high on the food chain, and, therefore, capturing one, especially in a time before large fishing boats, would be a tremendous feat. It would be equivalent to capturing and killing a full-grown lion with your bare hands. As a “king” of the ocean, the shark’s oil could act almost as a divine serum that potentially could harness a supernatural power (in the eyes of an indigenous population).  It certainly is a very different way of predicting the weather, but many maritime cultures have sea-based beliefs as to what will signal the coming of inclement weather.

 

I have heard of animals being able to predict the coming of storms—dogs often grow restless under the approaching shadow of a storm—but never have I encountered the use of parts of a dead animal to predict the weather.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Signs

After You Yawn

My informant told me about an old Irish superstition he knew:

“When you yawn, make the sign of the cross over your mouth to keep the devil from climbing in.”

He told me that he has done this ever since he was a little boy, and one of his uncles told him that after he yawned a devil had climbed into his throat. He also remembers his mother and father making the sign of the cross after they yawned.

I have personally never heard of this superstition until now. It shows how religion can create many customs and beliefs and how fear perpetuates them.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Signs

Lebanese Dream Superstition

According to Lebanese folklore, my informant said, bad dreams should be interpreted as signs of good fortune.  (This would be reassuring to me, as I have had my share of them!).  The superstition says that once a scenario is played out in a dream, it will not be repeated in reality.  Thus, it is also reflexive: a pleasant dream should not be received as a sign of good fortune to come.
My informant was not aware of the origin of this sign-superstition.  He learned it from his family, none of whom he says actually believe it.  I would most likely postulate monogenesis as a model for the origin of this superstition, as it is unique and counterintuitive.
This is indeed a unique perspective on dreams, one I have never encountered before hearing the superstition from my informant.  As with many superstitions, odds are that there is some element of belief somewhere back in my informant’s family.  Otherwise, it would be unlikely that the superstition would have been passed down and remembered by succeeding generations.

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