USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘signs’
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Signs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Softball Apparel Signs and Sexuality

Informant: “In high school playing softball there was this secret code to show if you were lesbian. I know how ridiculous that is now, but if you wore ribbons in your hair, it meant you weren’t. Every girl on the team would put ribbons in their hair because they didn’t want people thinking they were lesbian.”

Context: This collection of folklore was done while the informant was home from Boston. We spoke with the intent to collect this piece of folklore when prompted with what are the sorts of folklore found in softball. The informant played softball for 4 years in high school, but does not play in college currently.

Informant Analysis Transcript:

Collector: “Where did you first learn this, or from who?”

Informant: “I think I first heard about the whole ‘lesbians play softball’ in middle school. My mom would always tell me that. The whole ribbons thing I only heard in high school. I think people on the softball team told me and I just assumed that I might as well join in.”

Collector: “Why do you think this folklore is used in high school softball, or like, your analysis of it?

Informant: “Uhm, I don’t know. I guess in high school you care a lot about what other people think of you, especially if you are female. The idea of someone thinking you are lesbian when you are not if you play softball was just a fear that many girls had. The whole ribbon thing kind of gives a little piece of mind, like, ‘ok! I’m ready to play now, put me in coach’ *laughs*

Collector Analysis: I believe that there is a fear in high school in girls of being perceived wrongly by their classmates. The use of ribbons is integral to the analysis of this folk sign. Ribbons seem closely tied with femininity in American culture, where as most people assume lesbian culture to be more masculine. This is a generalization of course, but the stereotype that cisgendered girls would are more likely to wear ribbons in their hair as apposed to their gay counterparts allows for people to assume the sexual orientation of another without having to ask. Especially at a time in life where many people are still figuring out their sexual identity, the whole topic of gender is painted with strict contrast.

Customs
general
Initiations
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Figure Skating and Stuffed Animals

Main piece:

Interviewer: Can you think of any superstitions or rituals you had when you were figure skating?

Informant: Me? No I wasn’t superstitious at all. I remember other girls that would do stuff. Stuffed animals are a big part of skating culture. Some skaters have one singular stuffed animal that they carry everywhere, throughout their entire career. Sometimes when a skater performs really well at some event, fans will throw their animal onto the ice.

Background: The informant is my mother. She started skating at a very young age when she was growing up in Maine. For her, figure skating was an outlet from a rough home life. She learned of the significance of stuffed animals to figure skating through first-hand experience at her local ice rink. This interview was recorded in person when she came to visit me here at school.

Context: The informant remembers the symbolism of the stuffed animal through continued exposure to high-level figure skating, where it is common-place for fans to throw stuffed animals onto the ice after a successful routine is completed. However, the informant stated that the act of continually carrying around the same stuffed animal is hardly mentioned on TV broadcasts. I did some extra research into this and could not find any info regarding the continued possession of a singular stuffed animal. However, the practice of tossing a stuffed animal onto the ice is widely known, even among those not familiar with the sport of figure skating.

Analysis: I assume there is probably good reason for the relatively low notoriety of this piece of figure skating lore. For one, it is exclusive to high-level figure skaters who are performing in a competitive environment. As such, this tradition hasn’t permeated into the mainstream due to the difficult barriers-to-entry within the figure skating community. The informant stated that fellow skaters would treat their own stuffed animals “like they we’re diamond encrusted”. Off of that, I assume that high-level figure skaters are naturally protective of their totems. If the most prominent members of this community are reluctant to speak on this significance of the stuffed animal to the figure skater, it is difficult anyone to learn of this tradition. I was also curious to see if the informant could remember why one skater would pick a certain animal over another. The informant couldn’t remember exactly but thought the decision was based on personality. If you consider Figure Skating to be a form of artistic communication, which is the consensus, than the significance of the animal combined with the act of throwing stuffed animals on the ice in praise takes on a different meaning. The figure skater chooses a specific stuffed animal that aligns with her identity. When they are performing they are conveying their own identity through their art form, which is figure skating. If done successfully, the audience will then affirm the figure skater’s performance and identity by throwing the same stuffed animal onto the ice in an act of approval.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I began by simply asking, “What do you know about astrology?”

The informant most likely first heard about astrology when he was a child from the Internet.
Informant: “[Pauses for a long time after I pose the question] I know… I’m a Scorpio.”

Interviewer: “Okay, what makes you a Scorpio?”

Informant: “Uh… Born in early November. At least, before the signs changed… somehow. I don’t know what’s up with that. But uh… yeah. Apparently different signs have different personality traits. Scorpios are very competitive. From my experience, that doesn’t seem to not be true [The informant is a rather competitive person]. I’m not saying that I’m competitive… but I am. Uh… That’s all I can think of, though. I’m not really sure what the other personality traits are because I don’t follow them, although I’m going to assume that Libras are smart.”

Interviewer: “Why?”

Informant: “Because it’s short for library…… Kidding! Because the book, it’s a book.”

Interviewer: “It’s a book?”

Informant: “Isn’t the symbol a book? I don’t know.”

Interviewer: Do you know if the symbols are connected to the star signs at all?”

Informant: “They just look like what they’re named after. So Scorpio’s a scorpion, aaaand Cancer’s a crab. Don’t quite understand that one… Uh, Gemini is twins. Makes sense.”
This informant does not know too much about astrology. Much like others who don’t know much, though, he does know his star sign, as well as an aspect of his sign. He is also aware of the connection to constellations, like many others.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I began by simply asking, “What do you know about astrology?”

The informant first heard about astrology around the age of 6 or 7, when her family told her about the Chinese Zodiac signs.
Informant: “Astrology? Umm, you mean, like… star signs and stuff? Um… base level, a bit. Like, know, I know there’s like twelve signs and all that, and… um… I d- I don’t know what, what I would say. I know a little bit… The twelve signs, there’s, like, personalities assigned to each of them, and…”

Interviewer: “Do you know those?”

Informant: “All twelve?”

Interviewer: “Any of them.”

Informant: “Uh, Pisces, Aries… Aquarius…”

Interviewer: “Do you know the traits associated with any of them?”

Informant: “Uhh, like, Pisces is a dreamer, super, no super emotional. Cancer is also super emotional. Aries is, like, the, ‘Yeah! I’m awesome!’ self-confident sort of person. Um… Libra is a balanced person… [smacks lips, thinking] Mmm…………. I don’t, [sighs] I feel like I’m going to get Leo wrong. Le- I, I think Leo’s also another very self… not self-important, but, like, self-inflated one. They’re like… ‘Me first, I’m awesome. Let me be courageous and help.’ Um……………… [Quietly, in thought] Yeah Cancer’s super emotional, just like, ‘Ha! I’m here.’….. Yeah I don’t know a lot about all of them, I just know that they exist and there’s a connection between them all [laughs].”

Interviewer: “Do you know what your star sign is?”

Informant: “[Quickly, excited] Uh Pisces!”

Interviewer: “Do you know anything else about it? What it means? How you get it?”

Informant: “Mmmm… It’s- I know you, you- It’s assigned based on the months. Like approximately one per month, but it’s actually shifted over a little bit. I can’t remember if it’s forward or back, like… M- It’s February 28th to March 18th for Pisces, I think, and it’s the last one, so accordingly, Aries would be after that. Umm……. I don’t remember where it originated; I used to know. I used to be a lot more into this stuff [laughs]. Uhhh…….”

Interviewer: “When did you first hear about it? Why did you used to be into it, and not anymore?”

Informant: “It was a middle school thing, I was very, like… I was at that sorta phase where I was like, ‘Ooh let me just get on Google and research a bunch of stuff.’ I did a lot of weird stuff like Googling – specifically the stars. A lot of, like, research on black holes and… that led to astrology cause astronomy is connected to it.”
This informant knows only a little about astrology, but like others, knows about her own star sign. Like some others, she connects astrology to the Chinese Zodiacs.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I began by simply asking, “What do you know about astrology?”

The informant first heard about astrology around the age of 8 or younger from his parents. He recalls being told about it in, specifically, a Fuddruckers restaurant.
Informant: “Uhh, that it uses – I mean I know some stuff about it, like, in the context of what it meant to medieval Britain? In that, cause I study middle english, I take a class in middle english in Dornsife right now, and about how astrologers… were… basically… like, people thought they were magic? And they sort of, like, it – it was lined up with the occult. And because astrology and astronomy were basically the same thing ([quiet voice] because they did not know what stars were?), um, and so they had, like, these big books, um, with star charts, and they mapped out their star charts, and they would tell, um, and farmers would come to them and kings would come to them and be like, and ask them about the harvest because, they thought that was more reliable than an almanac. Um, s- like, that’s basically my experience with astrology beyond, ‘Oh there’s a horoscope in the newspaper and Buzzfeed girls are into that.’”

Interviewer: “Do you know what it is?”

Informant: “It’s, so it’s, it’s the study of astrological signs, and how those signs affect your life and your personality?”

Interviewer: “Okay, do you know what sign you are?”

Informant: “[Hesitantly] I think I’m an Aires.”

Interviewer: “Do you know what traits associate with each sign?”

Informant: “No.”

Interviewer: “Is there anything else you know about it at all? You mentioned stars?”

Informant: “I know that when Mercury’s in retrograde, things are bad?? It has to do with stars and the planets. Uhh, I know that each planet has relationships with the other planets and the Sun, and they’re all also associated with traits. Like I can assume Venus is associated with sensuality and romance because it is Venus. Um, and Mars is probably maybe associated with some sort of anger? Eh, because again, Mars is the god of war, and… but I don’t have a huge amount of experience with astrology, it’s n- never something I super believe in.”
This informant knows more about the science and history of astrology rather than astrology itself. He is aware of the connection to the planets, but doesn’t know any of the traits – even his own. He does, however, have a unique perspective, what with his knowledge of astrology in regards to medieval Britain.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I began by simply asking, “What do you know about astrology?”

The informant first heard about astrology around the age of 7, most likely from his parents when he became curious about star signs.
Informant: “Um….. Well… I personally don’t believe in it. I do know it uses, like, uh, you know, the idea is that if you look at the stars, you can predict what’s going to happen in the future, and that, you know, it’s like a combination of the positioning of the stars and the various star signs and that kind of thing, and then the alignment of the planets and that kind of thing. And you use that to predict other things, like, depending on what month you were born in, for, like, whatever your star sign is, it changes what the meanings are, and, you know, generally, generally, you know, like… like… like with a lot of, like, that kind of stuff it’s just very, very broad statements that you can sort of apply to anything, which means that you always feel like confirmation bias-wise that, um, you know, whatever you’re being told is correct.”

Interviewer: “Do you know what your star sign is?”

Informant: “I’m born in November… and I’ve always forgotten whether I was Sagittarius or if I was something else. I don’t remember, but…”

Interviewer: “Do you know what the traits for each sign are?”

Informant: “No idea… [Sudden realization] I was born in the year of the ra- no was I born in the year of the rat? I think I was born in the year of the rat… But I’ve forgotten what that means as well.”
This informant does not know much about astrology; He is not even sure what his sign is. His understanding is that it is mainly used to predict the future. He also, like some others, connect astrology to the Chinese Zodiac.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I began by simply asking, “What do you know about astrology?”

The informant first heard about astrology from his teachers when he was in elementary school, around 6 years old.
Informant: “Ummm, I’m trying to make sure I don’t get it mixed up with astronomy, cause I know there’s a difference, but I don’t know exactly much about it, so… I know it’s not astronomy, right?”

Interviewer: “If I said it has to do with stars and star signs, would you know?”

Informant: “Ooooh that makes s- yeah okay, that’s… Well I know there’s like, a lot of people have the Zodiac sign thing happening? Where they’re, like, ‘Oh this is, like, I’m a Leo,’ or, ‘I’m a Sagittarius,’ or, ‘I’m a Cancer,’ and they can, like, find out where, what the constellation looks like and sometimes it relates back to, like, the calendar, like, kinda like personal, like, type that you are and what you’re about.”

Interviewer: “Do you know what your sign is?”

Informant: “I am a Leo.”

Interviewer: “Do you know what traits match up to each sign?”

Informant: “Not really. Like I think there’s some kind of, like, confidence or leader thing to it? But I don’t take that seriously. Mmmmm… Somebody said Leo’s don’t get along with other Leo’s, and that’s all I got.”
This informant does not know much about astrology, but does know his star sign, as well as some of that sign’s traits. He, like some others, somewhat connects astrology to the Chinese Zodiac, but he is adamant that it is different from astronomy.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology

Collected privately in an empty hallway while his friends played a horror game in the other room, which he returned to after the interview. I began by simply asking, “What do you know about astrology?”

The informant first started looking into astrology in college, when he was inspired by a post he saw on the Internet.
Informant: “That is a pretty – I know a lot about astrology. Um, I’m pretty deep into the tarot major and minor arcana. Um, I’ve done some tarot research. Um, uh, in terms of astrology, I am a Libra with my moon in Cancer. Umm, I know all about the, the major cardinal signs, the wind, fire and earth signs. Um, I have a pretty extensive astrology chart built for myself that is oddly accurate. Um, I don’t think there is, I don’t think it is a scientific practice, but it is… it is too accurate too often to be completely disregarded, in my scientific opinion.”

Interviewer: “Do you know the traits of the different signs? Can you give me brief descriptions?”

Informant: “Uh, yeah, I can work through most of them. Uh, Libras are particularly good at balance, obviously. Umm, they sit in the center of opinions and work to normalize situations. That’s why I’m a good advisor. Uh, Virgos are, uh, anal, retentive neat freaks. Leos are fiercely dominate leaders, often, uh, ignoring of the needs of the people around them. Scorpios are hot-headed. Geminis are two-faced and often not to be trusted. My wife is a Gemini; It’s wonderful. Umm, uh… [Sighs] I don’t know, I guess Sagittarius’s, not quite sure so much about them. Taurus’s… we talked about, really straight-forward, bullish. Um… Yeah, I’m sure there’s some other ones that I’m forgetting, but… those are the main ones that I’ve primarily engaged with.”
This informant knows a surprising amount of astrology that delves into very specific aspects of the craft. He has fairly straight-forward descriptions of almost all the signs, and while he doesn’t necessarily believe wholeheartedly in it, he has noticed that it has been fairly accurate.

general
Magic
Signs

Precognition Through Dreams

BACKGROUND:

An individual in Los Gatos, California takes part in the folk belief of precognition via dreams. According to the source, precognition is the ability to psychically receive visions of the future via dreams. In the example I was given, my source was visited by the soul of her dying father while she was asleep. In the vision, her father sat down with her and told her everything was going to be fine, that he was doing well, and that she had nothing to worry about. When she woke up, instead of feeling stressed out and agitated, she was relaxed and calm. She received a phone call that evening letting her know that her father was being checked out of the hospital, safe to go home.

INTERVIEW:

My interview with my source, A, went as follows:

Me: So could you tell me about an example of a time you had a precognitive dream?

A: So um… my dad had been sick for two years and in the last few weeks he had been really sick, he had swelling all over his body and we weren’t really sure what was up with that, and I was supposed to go back and visit but I couldn’t because [my son] was sick and vomiting. So I didn’t feel comfortable bringing him or even exposing him with me. So I didn’t visit my dad. Then Sunday came and Sunday night I had this dream, in which my dad was telling me that everything was going to be okay that he was fine and that he was really happy. And so I woke up feeling very relieved about the whole thing and then later that evening my mother called to let me know that they were checking out of the hospital and that he’d made a miraculous recovery.

MY THOUGHTS:

The belief is an interesting take on why we dream. At some point, I feel like most people have sought to make sense of why exactly they dream. For many, it’s the idea that we as humans can predict the future. It’s instances like these in which the belief is reinforced in someone. While correlation does not equate to causation, there is technically no evidence that what took place was not an occurrence of precognition.

For another view on this belief see: Aristoteles, and J.I. Beare. On Divination in Sleep. InteLex®.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Astrology in India

BACKGROUND:

An individual in Los Gatos, California describes her family’s experiences with astrology while living in India. According to my source, her family strictly believed in the folk belief of astrology. The practice involves determining a person’s future based on the alignment of the stars and planets. My source recounts a story that was passed down to her about her grandmother taking both her children to an astrologer to discover their future. The real intention of their visit was to get information on the oldest son. Instead, the astrologist only commented on the younger daughter. When confronted about not talking about the son, the astrologer refused to reveal anything about his future. He continued on about the daughter claiming she had a bright future and was going to move away to a far off land. The family left the astrologer. When the older son was 18, he passed away. The daughter later went on to move to America and eventually brought in the main source of income for their family.

INTERVIEW:

My interview with my source, A, went as follows:

Me: Could you give me an example of a time when astrology was practiced in your family?

A: Hmm… So when my mother was like 8 or 9 maybe 10 years old–In India they believe in astrology, right–so her mother took her and her brother to an astrologer and she really specifically wanted to look at her older son’s astrology map. The astrologer would not look at the oldest son, only looked at my mom. He kept saying she was going to move to a far away country, and she was gonna help the family out and bringing everyone there and their mom kept saying, “No what about the oldest son what about the oldest,” and he would not talk about him. So she kinda just blew it off and said, “okay whatever” and went away. On a later date… my mom’s oldest brother died. He was around 18 or 19. My mother did end up coming to this country.

MY THOUGHTS:

I’ve seen astrology be practiced quite a bit in America. In those instances, however, horoscopes and predictions came via a publication such as a magazine or a post on social media. I find it very interesting that in Indian culture, astrology is conveyed via someone who studies individuals rather than a broad prediction of everyone born on a certain date. The fact that there are experts who specifically practice this one on one during appointments gives a much more authentic feel to the predictions being made rather than finding one in a publication.

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