Tag Archives: stars

Wish Upon a Star

Context: The informant is my mother, identified as L.M., a woman born, raised, and living in Northern California. While having dinner together at my family home, I asked her whether she remembered any rituals she and her friends had when they were young.

Main Piece: “Growing up in a relatively small town, my brother and I used to play outside a lot at night during the summers with the neighborhood kids. I remember from a young age being with my childhood girlfriends and we’d lay on the lawn in one of our backyards and wait for the first stars to come out and sing:

‘Star Light, Star Bright, the first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.’

Then, we’d each close our eyes and make a wish. It felt almost like a solemn oath and mysterious ritual to me. I think we kept the wishes to ourselves, rather than tell each other what we wished for. I don’t know who I learned this poem from. It was definitely something that was passed on orally and just seemed to be universally known by us all from a very young age. I think that I probably had a nursery rhyme book that included it, too.”

Analysis: “Star Light, Star Bright” is an English language nursery rhyme, has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 16339, and first began to be recorded in the late nineteenth century. The song and tradition seem to have reached Britain by the early twentieth century and then spread worldwide. This particular song calls out to the first star of the night, whereas other similar superstitions were based upon the granting of wishes made when seeing a shooting or falling star. The custom of wishing on a first star likely predates the rhyme, and that of wishing on a shooting or falling start may date back to the ancient world and the influences of the astronomer Ptolemy. (For another version of this chant, see the Disney Park Fireworks show performances.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

French Proverb

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. His native language is French, and he did not learn English until after moving to the US.

I asked the informant to grab a cup of coffee on campus, and asked if he could share any French proverbs with me.

The proverb, in French, that he chose to share is: “Qui recherche la lune ne voit pas les étoiles.”

The English translation he provided is: “Someone who looks for the moon misses the stars.”

He said that the proverb is used as a small piece of advice used to let someone know that “if you try to accomplish something that’s near impossible to do, you will miss the things that are possible and that you can do.”

I thought that this proverb was a nice reminder to keep realistic expectations and not worry about factors in life that are outside of our control. It sounds very beautiful when spoken in French, and so I can see how this proverb’s aesthetic quality coupled to its meaning would make it popular among those who speak the language. Following my conversation with the informant, I would love to expand upon my knowledge of the French language and continue to learn more of the proverbs used by those who speak it.

Wishing on a Star

Informant: “One interesting thing I remember doing as a kid was wishing on a star. The idea was that you had to wish on the first star you see at night, so if there was only one star in the sky, you would make a wish and not tell anyone, and it would come true.”

Informant’s daughter: “That’s weird, I had always heard the same thing, except it was supposed to be a shooting star, not the first star in the night sky.”

Informant: “Yeah, it was supposed to be the very first star you see. I actually don’t remember where I first heard about this, I don’t think I heard it from my mother. I think it was just something that kids would say. I know my sister and I both did this, and we would always wish for the same thing. We had a cousin who was blind, and we would both always wish that she wouldn’t be blind anymore…She’s still blind, so I guess that says a lot about how well this works…”

Informant is a middle aged mother of three who lives in the suburbs in the Midwestern United States. She identifies as of “American” heritage, which she bases on her admission that she never particularly looked into her family’s European heritage. The informant’s daughter is a recent college graduate.

Collector Analysis: It’s curious to see how for this particular piece of folklore, not only does the informant not know where she first heard it, but the informant’s daughter had heard an entirely different version of the same piece of folklore, making this folklore the inverse of a generational piece of folklore. Yet at the same time, there is some familial aspect to it, as shown by the fact that the informant’s sister had the same belief, and that the two of them would always use their wish to try to help their cousin.

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.