USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘spirits’
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Tame Sort of Trance

During high-school, my dad studied abroad in Brazil for a year. He stayed with a family of Lebanese immigrants who showed him both Brazilian and Lebanese traditions, and always included him in everything. Growing up, I heard tons of stories from his time there. The Brazilian stories were relatively tame – beaches, clubs, schools, etc. But the Lebanese culture was of particular interest.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask him and my mom if they have any stories that I could use for my folklore project.

“I was just thinking about my experiences when I was a teenager in Brazil with a family of Lebanese immigrants who were Druze, and had the belief of many paths to the mountaintop. But they also had a uh.. a spiritualist element. And after I’d been there several months, they let me go to a family ceremony which was on a Sunday. One of the uncles would go into a trance and kind of channel spirits and try to get insight into some of the issues facing the family. So he would stand there and close his eyes, and appear to be communing with the spirits. And everybody would be quiet and sitting around, um, and then he would speak to them. But that was all in Arabic so I didn’t understand a word. Um.. But other than that, then they would say he’s asking about some problems we’re having with the business or this or that, and he would get some direction. They…they had these kind of sessions where one or more of them would kind of be in a sort of trance-like state. So I remember viewing that and thinking that was sort of interesting.”

Whenever I think of communing with the spirits, I picture ouji boards or fire-and-brimstone preachers in the deep south flailing around with snakes on their arms. I picture people getting real serious and asking about life’s deeper questions. It’s quite funny to picture this fairly frequent occurrence, where a member of the family would go into a trance and just ask advice for everyday problems. Obviously, the whole thing was treated seriously, as my dad had to earn a certain amount of trust before he was allowed to attend. But even so, there’s a lightness to it that is not normally associated with channeling spirits.

 

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Duppies

Panteha’s mom is from Jamaica, and taught her many legends and folk beliefs from Jamaican folklore. The following is a description Panteha shared with me of folkloric figures called “duppies”:

“So duppies are like, they’re like spirits…so there’s like good duppies and bad duppies. So like a duppy is basically like, someone’s soul that’s still stuck on earth and has been basically just like causing trouble. And there can be like, good duppies that like, they can give you good luck or whatever. But like, obviously no one talks about that; all they do is talk about the bad duppies. And my mom used to do this like, really scary voice when she was talking about it–she was like, ‘duppies sound like this! they sound like this,’ it’s like when Danny’s doing the ‘red rum’ [in The Shining]. They’re supposed to have these crazy like, nasally voices…

You know how like uh, like you have a day where you wake up and you stub your toe and burn your tongue on coffee and like, all these small little things happen? That’s supposedly like, bad duppies just like causing shit for you. And so when that would happen like, literally eating a spoonful of salt is supposed to stop that. So like, I remember like, one specific morning when I was really young, I fell out of bed and like hurt my ankle and like whatever, like burnt my tongue and tripped andy mom was like trying to force me to eat a whole-ass spoonful of salt and I was like, “no,” like I’m not gonna do that. Um and then, ugh, what else…My mom actually didn’t tell me this cause I think she um, didn’t wanna tell me cause I was like a little kid, but I heard from one of my uncles that like, you can shame a duppy or like, scare away a duppy by like, shamelessly exposing your genitals.”

Many cultures hold a belief in malicious or irksome spirits of some kind, which cause trouble for the living but can usually be warded off with certain practices or precautions. Salt often figures prominently in magical remedies for evil spirits’ acts, across cultures. In Jamaica, as in many Caribbean and Latin American countries, West African and indigenous mystical practices coexist with Christianity. Panteha’s mom is an observant Christian, but simultaneously maintains a belief in folk beliefs like that of the duppies.

Magic
Protection

Removing Evil Spirits from a Beauty Salon

Nationality: American / Bosnia-Herzegovina

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Serbian

Age: 54

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 10, 2017 (via Skype)

 

 

Sania is a 54- year old women born and raised in Bosnia-Herzegovina and emigrated to the United States over 34 years ago.  She is the owner of a beauty salon in New York City.

 

Many more people are realizing (and I have come strongly to believe) that energy, good and bad can affect everything in life, from health to work. A few years ago, my salon was having trouble with my website, e-commerce, phone lines, and we couldn’t figure it out. One particular day, my website crashed, for no reason, and the back up company said they had never seen this before, and lost their file as well. I told a friend who is also a famous photographer, and he brought in some energy healers.  They basically walk around the salon to check out every corner, mirrors, etc.  They then took my energy to be at the same sequence as me.. and little did they know there was an acquaintance who basically tried to steal my identity. They cleansed the mirrors, cleansed the windows (I was directly facing the church, which wasn’t good).. and used sage and diamonds and other jewels to cleanse the place. They told me my website would be running within a few hours.. sure enough that night my daughter called so excited because the pages of my website went up. By morning everything was running. Phone lines running well, etc. Now they come every few months to make sure things are ok. The last visit, they noticed one of the mirrors had something bothersome and they placed a card over the mirror (from a distance), and then my LOCKED French Doors flew open.  This never happens even if they were somewhat open! They said people look into this mirror when entering, and people carry all kinds of energy. It can be intentional or accidental. But good to use sage, at the very least for cleansing. These women are scholars from Brown, and I believe Harvard. I have become a believer, and they helped many people I have referred them to.

 

 

 

Thoughts about the piece:

This informant is a sophisticated American business owner that relates her success to her respect for old traditions. A similar Native American practice is described here: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-17875/a-sage-smudging-ritual-to-cleanse-your-aura-clear-your-space.html

 

 

 

 

Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

‘Animas’ Ghosts in Rural Mexico

“People talk so much about ‘animas,’ like means ‘spirits,’ about the point when they die, they come back.

 

So… My grandma always was telling us, ‘Oh, I feel like, umm… A ghost, an anima, that comes with me every night. I feel it here, walking. I saw her walking.’ My grandma said it was a… a… woman.

 

So, sometimes, at home, when we were at home, we hear womans, old womans, walking to us, too. Because we believe what my grandma says, and we were thinking ‘Oh, it’s true what my grandma said. There’s someone walking at night near to us!’

 

And also when we were not sleep before 11:00 p.m., we were, umm… we were in our bed, six girls in the same room, and suddenly outside we started hearing a horse. Ehh… We can hear the, it looks like a humongous horse, it comes from outside the window, and we hear the noises, and we hear that the… chew… horse, very strong about the horse. And so many people in our village talk about that. And we said, ‘oh my god, that is a scary!’ So we don’t open doors and we went to sleep very fast, because we were afraid to this man on the horse.

 

And then also, about the, umm… The money. We hear that where is there flame on the floor, there is some money, too. So some people starts… scraping the dirt in this place, so some people, what they found was, uhh… bones from some skeleton or from some other people, so… they said if you see this, this flame, it can be a dead man or a, or a… golden pot.

 

So it was, uhh… it was kind of… strange? But it, it was like that.”

 

Analysis: Much like her husband’s ghost story, the informant’s ghost story is notable for its apparently-widespread belief in an otherwise deeply religious culture that would normally reject the existence of such spirits. And yet, the presence of ghosts is considered a normal enough occurrence that they may enter and live inside of houses without too much hubbub. Also worth noting is the expansion on the flaming ground concept from the informant’s husband’s story. Evidently, flaming ground that signifies good or bad luck is a common belief. Additionally, the chance to discover a long-lost skeleton may be related to the ghosts of people that the informant claimed to have run into first-hand, as it would appear that being buried far away from anything in particular may trigger a spirit’s restlessness from improper burial, a taboo in Judeo-Christian culture.

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Taiwanese Summer Tradition

Text

During Summer, which is usually August, there’s this thing, which is.. Um.. we believe that the doors between Ying and Yang, which is between heaven and..um….. Earth and hell will open, so all the three, um…. worlds will open together and become one on Earth. So it’s like, it’s kind of the concept of purgatory opening on Earth.. It’s kind of weird. But then, at this time, usually ancestors will come back, ghosts will come back, and especially those who has no relatives or those who does not have people…. to respect them after their death. So, those are ghosts with bad intentions, and people do fear them and respect them at the same time. So, during this whole month, usually people go to temples. They pray for them. They pray that one day they can leave purgatory and go up to heaven. And they’ll bring food and, um, basically.. pray for them. So, that’s what we do during the whole summer and, at the end of August, the door will close again and we hope that those that we prayed for, and we gave food for, will go up to heaven.

Background

The informant said that she learned Taiwanese traditions from her grandparents, or it was talked about at her school (there would be stories in their textbooks about them). She emphasized that it is very important to her that she learns these traditions and keeps them up, even though some of them conflict with her own religious beliefs, because they are part of her cultural heritage. She said that it makes her sad when she sees Taiwanese-Americans who do not know or practice any Taiwanese traditions, because they are missing out on something that is a part of who they are and helps to define them.

Thoughts

Outside of simply being widely practiced in Taiwan, this tradition seemed deeply rooted in Chinese and Taiwanese beliefs about ancestors and respect. It makes sense, then, why this tradition is so important to the informant, who is from Taiwan, but is currently going to school in the U.S. and plans to live in the U.S. in the future. Carrying on this tradition seems to be a way for her to keep her connection to her Taiwanese identity, even though she now lives outside of that country.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Nightly Ritual for the Spirits

My informant LK’s grandmother believed in good and bad spirits.  In every house she lived in, she always felt a presence of spirits.  LK explained that his grandmother was born in Kansas and grew up in Chicago.  “That’s a story too because some people say she was born in Mexico and brought over.  And so we never know.  But she was a U.S. Citizen, so she had to be born in the U.S., I imagine.”

LK’s grandmother was born into a family of Mexican Americans, or quite possibly Mexicans.  LK explained that his grandmother’s mother knew how to work certain spells and certain magic.  “She could do something and make it not walk for a day…So you never wanted to make her angry.”  Clearly, spirits were a part of LK’s grandmother’s culture when growing up.

Therefore it is no surprise that LK’s grandmother regarded the spirits all through her life.

LK explained, “Every night she would leave a glass of water for the spirits–for the thirsty spirits.  And every night she would say prayers for her spirits.  When she prayed to them, she’d light a candle for the spirits and her guardian angels. She had two guardian angels: one was a Hindu with is hands folded and the other was a black woman.”  When I asked if the water was left out to appease the angry spirits and make them more comfortable, LK explained that the water and prayers were for the good spirits.

It seems as if LK’s grandmother equated good spirits with guardian angels.  Perhaps her guardian angels were African American and Hindu because both come from a tradition rich in spiritual beliefs.  Lighting a candle for the spirits probably comes from LK’s grandmother’s Catholic roots, as lighting a candle for someone after praying for them is a common practice in Catholic Churches.  Her practices are perhaps indicative of Catholic culture among Mexicans–Catholicism is not followed the the T.  Rather, the religion of LK’s grandmother seems to be a spiritual belief that melds Hindu, African American, and Catholic beliefs and practices together.

The culture that my informant’s grandmother grew up in was present in LK’s life.  Consequently, he believes in the spirit world.  LK’s grandmother’s beliefs persist in LK’s own life.

Folk Beliefs
Magic

Séances

My informant, LK, has attended several séances. He used to attend them with his Mexican American grandmother.  My informant explained that going to séances, reading Tarot cards, and seeing mediums was not atypical in his family.  I took interest in the séances LK attended.  He told me about one in particular.

LK attended a séance at a woman’s home.  All the attendees were required to bring a bottle of rum and a cigar.  The woman that hosted was an older Puerto Rican or Mexican woman.  At the séance, the woman would call upon a spirit and the spirit would then enter her.  “He was a little black guy and he liked to smoke the cigar and drink the rum.  She would go into a trance and it’d be like you were talking to him.  So you’d be asking him questions and he would know the answers because he is of the other world.”  I asked how the man would know the answers.  “You would just believe them if you believed in the spiritual world.”  And would they always be right? “No, they would sometimes be wrong.”  Are there bad spirits? “Yes.  You have to be careful because you don’t want to ever get a bad spirit.  You have to do it with someone who knows how to do it.  Because they have their spirits that they constantly use.  It’s not like playing the Ouija board.  They have spirits they are in contact with.”

I asked LK how he got into this.  He told me that it was a part of his mother, grandmother, and great grandmother’s culture.   His great grandmother would teach him things.  She knew how to work certain spells and certain magic.  At least that is what he grandmother told him about his great grandmother…

LK would attend séances and the like because of curiosity.  He wanted to talk to people that had died and see what the future holds.

For another rendition of a séance you can refer to Woody Allen’s movie Magic in the Moonlight.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Legends
Magic
Protection

Voodles

My informant, JP, is creating voodoo dolls for children.  Literally sewing dolls.  She calls them Voodles, a combination of voodoo and dolls.  When she told me she was making voodoo dolls for children I was surprised.  I explained that I thought voodoo dolls were scary–a part of what my dad calls dark magic.  But my informant explained that voodoo is totally misconstructed by modern day society.  She understands them to be these protective spirits with positive attributes, not negative ones.

She plans to create a number of Voodles.  For example, there will be a doctor Voodle for a sick child.  “Another Voodle has a pocket and if you put a penny in its pocket and make a wish, the Voodle is supposed to help it come true. And each Voodle will come with a legend or story.”

JP’s desire to make a Voodles for children suggests she has a strong belief in voodoo dolls.  It also reveals that she believes so many people believe in voodoo that there is a commercial market for voodoo dolls geared toward children.

Myths

Haunted House

The informant is a 21 year old girl and one of my good friends.  She mentioned once living across the street from a haunted house, so when interviewing her, I asked her to give me details about this house.  The house in the story is located in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Informant: Back in the 20s or the 30s, everyone says that the house across the street- from my newer house in the past 10 years- was owned by a dentist and his wife and three kids [all below the age of ten]. It is said that he got really stressed at work one day and that he was bipolar and he came back home and locked his wife and kids in the garage and then burnt the house down. Like put gas all around the house and burnt it down. And they said that he went to jail and everything. No one really knows if it is true or not because it was back in the 20s but that is the haunted scary story around my neighborhood. People live in it now. And I think people just think that it is evil. It is one of those hosues that everyone points out when you drive by it. Since it is owned by people, you can’t go inside.

Me: How long have you known that story?

Informant: Known that story since I was in middle school.

Me: Who told it to you?

Informant: My old neighbor told it to me… their dad. He was like 40 at the time, and it was my old neighbor though, so that was like 15 miles away from the house. So it is not just in my area that people know about it.  It is all of Charlotte that knows that it is the scary house. It just happens to be across the street from me now.

Me: Why do you think people think it is haunted?

Informant: People think it is haunted because they think that the kids and the wife are haunting the house now because they were burned inside there. (lots of giggling)

Me: Do you belive it?

Informant: I believe that a guy did do that because so many people say that he did. I don’t know if I believe that it is haunted. I believe in ghosts. But mostly nice ghosts. I do not believe they are there to hurt people. I just think it scares people. Jeez you should ask [informant featured here] about ghosts.

Me: Okay, I will

Informant: No… I do believe in ghosts. I think they are just lingering spirits. Just remnants of souls are around, and I do not think they mean any harm. So I would not say it is haunted, but I do believe that there is probably spirits if that did happen.

My analysis: I think it is interesting how the informant chooses to believe only in nice ghosts, not in mean or scary ones.  She also mentioned believing that ghosts are lingering spirits and souls of the deceased. This too is interesting because there is no scientific evidence or hard data of any sort to prove that humans even have souls. The concept of souls, in and of itself, is a folkloric belief.  The informant’s belief in kind ghosts aligns perfectly with her personality.  Her beliefs are clearly molded by the way she was raised and her naturally bubbly, happy demeanor.

Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends

Cihuateotl

The informant (L) is a 22 year old film student at California State University Los Angeles. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma before coming to Los Angeles for college after high school. Her family is Mexican and Catholic. At the suggestion of our mutual friend who had heard the story before, she told me the legend of the Cihuateotl. She mentioned prior to telling me that the story was not told often within her family because of how sad it is. She was told the story by her grandmother when L’s fourth cousin died in childbirth, when L was around seven years old. Though L does not tell the story often within her family, L does tell the story when other urban legends are being discussed among her friends in Los Angeles, which is where I heard some of the story prior to beginning to collect folklore for this database.  The story involves the following legendary figures:

In “native ancient Mexico,” the cihuateotl are the spirits of the women who died in childbirth. Their sadness is the reason the sun goes down at night. Once a month, the spirits haunt the streets to hold the children they were never able to hold. After sunset, they try to abduct children. Because ‘good’ children should be inside and safe by the time the sun goes down, the children they were trying to abduct are the bad, misbehaving children. This is also used to scare children into behaving, as the cihuateotl would not give the children back.

This mix of ancient myth and urban legend is an interesting intersection between old and new. Though the spirits make sense in both modern and ancient contexts, the haunting of streets does not make as much sense in ancient Mexico, which probably did not have the sort of streets and highways L referred to in her retelling.

The story also presents some interesting contrasts. The fact that the cihuateotl only abduct bad children seem to say something about how either those children  do not deserve a real mother or the mothers who allow their children to be  bad don’t deserve to have children when there are mothers who died trying to have them. While these ideas are in the background, the practical use of scaring children into behaving probably plays more of a role in why the story is told than the more subtle themes.

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