USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘sleeping’
Folk Beliefs

Bedroom Arrangement Superstitions

Main Text:

HS: “The foot of your bed can’t face the door because that brings bad luck.”

Context:

HS and I were in my apartment by ourselves rearranging by bedroom so that it allows for more space and when I tried to put the bed on the wall opposite the door she told me this belief that her grandma had always told her. I responded in a sense of disbelief because I thought she was joking because I have ever heard anything like that but she reassured me that she was being serious and that her grandma really used to tell her that. She believes it was just a weird preference that her grandma had and that there is not really anything else to it but she likes to pass it along just in case something were to happen to the person that she did not tell it to. After we finished rearranging the room ( I refrained from putting the foot of the bed facing the door just in case) I had to run and get a piece of paper so that I made sure to collect this belief exactly as I had heard it.

Analysis:

Although the informants grandma moved here from England in her mid-life years, many cultures actually share this same belief. The thing that make the most sense to analyze from this piece is the why the bed cannot be placed a certain way which begs the question that a different arrangement must be better. Because this folk belief focuses mainly on the arrangement of material object I feel that it is appropriate to start my analysis relating this piece to Feng shui. Feng Shui originated in China but many different people of different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs still believe in practicing Feng Shui. Feng shui claims to use energy forces in order to make people more in harmony with the surrounding object and surrounding environment and I think this folk belief has appeared because putting the foot of your bed facing the door is against the Feng Shui because that specific arrangement does not place your bed on a spot of good qi or energy. People and cultures who believe in Feng Shui I believe continue to pass along this folk belief as a way to get people in good energy with their surroundings and as a way to spread the belief of Feng Shui as well.

Another reason I believe that people have passed along the idea that putting the foot of the bed facing the door as being bad luck is a historical one. I have heard that when someone dies in a room, they are taken and passed room to room feet first. So in a way, by putting one’s bed oriented towards the way a corpses would be removed from a room instills bad luck upon that person and symbolized that they are going to die soon.

The last way to analyze this folk belief is that people who believe in spirits are those that pass along this belief. This is because it is also said that if you orient your feet towards the door while you are sleeping, then spirits will be able to drag you out of the room in this way. Although this is another folk belief explaining a folk belief, I think it is important to understand that this explanatory folk belief ties together a group of people who will be ready and willing to pass down the folk belief being studied. This group of individuals all share a common belief in ghosts and this common belief in ghosts and evil spirits is not what only ties them together as a specific group of people but also affects the lore that they tell to other people and their reasons for telling it. If they believe in bad spirits pulling people out of a room if given the right opportunity, then it is logical that they would tell others not to orient their bad in an opportunistic manner towards spirits as a way to protect them from the bad luck of being taken by one.

 

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Scissors Under Your Pillow Will Keep Away Nightmares

Context:

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.

Body:

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.”

Take Aways:

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.

Musical

Tuntun-Tuntun-Taara

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Chhat par billi bhaagi hai,

Neend se (Baby) jaagi hai

Chhat par billi bhaagi hai,

Neend se (Baby) jaagi hai

Billi ne chuhe ko maara

Hai!

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

Galli me bola chawkidaar,

“Choron se rehna hushiyar”

Galli me bola chawkidaar,

“Choron se rehna hushiyar”

Chawkidaar ne chor ko maara

Hai!

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

Baje raat ke baaran

 

Translation:

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

It struck 12 o’clock (Chorus)

Tuntun-tuntun-taara

It struck 12 o’clock

The cat ran along the roof

(Baby) woke up from her sleep

The cat ran along the roof

(Baby) woke up from her sleep

The cat killed the mouse

Hai!

(Chorus) x 2

In the street the guardsman said,

“Beware of thieves!”

In the street the guardsman said,

“Beware of thieves!”

The guard killed the thief

Hai!

(Chorus)

Analysis: For some reason, similar to many Western nursery rhymes and lullabies, this song is a particularly violent one. It talks about the elimination of a small threat (a mouse) and then of a much larger, much more serious threat (a thief). But this elimination takes place in a very definitive, violent manner–murder, essentially. Unlike Western lullabies, however (some that come to mind are Rockabye Baby, Rain Rain Go Away, Old Daddy Long Legs, and Sing a Song of Sixpence), the violence is not perpetrated on children or seemingly innocent bystanders, but on entities who do pose a real threat to the health and safety of the child and indeed the whole family and therefore could be said to “deserve what they got”. Mice spread disease and could ruin a family’s crop and thereby cause them to starve. Thieves also could cause financial ruin and would not hesitate to do away with any family member who discovered them robbing the house in the dead of night. In rural areas, or places that didn’t have a very trustworthy law enforcement and protection system, the idea that there were people (or animals) that would be able to protect a child from harm must have been very comforting.

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection

Sleeping on Stomach

Sleeping on stomach vs. on back

Superstition

 

My informant notified me that, according to his parents, sleeping face-down is bad.  His parents told him that sleeping face-up would prevent his soul from escaping his body while sleeping.

 

Both of my informant’s parents are Muslim, and he believes that is where the superstition comes from, but cannot recall where his parents learned it. He says they have told him that as a child, so he only sleeps on his back out of habit—not out of fear. He does not believe in the superstition at all, and only thinks of it when thinking of superstitions. When asked why the back is considered safer, he replied “I’m not sure. I think they believe souls escape out of the mouth, so I’m surprised sleeping face up would protect you.”

 

The orientation of the body may be related the position of Heaven in Islam: if the soul does manage to escape out of the mouth, it would go in the direction of heaven. Perhaps the fear is that the soul could be accessed from below, in which case devils would have a better chance of stealing the soul.

 

This superstition could also be founded in medical reasoning: sleeping face up protects the natural curvature of the spine. Also, this could assuage parent’s fears of accidental self-smothering, an attempt to prevent children from dying in their sleep.

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