USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘string’
Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

Red String Bracelets

“If you go to the western wall in Israel there’s always people who are there—like around there and basically, like, they give you, um, like you’ll give them money, like, if they’re like begging and then they give you a red string and then they make a blessing on it and then you can’t take the red string, like you can’t remove it until it falls off. And that’s to keep the evil eye away. Like Jews are super into that, about keeping the evil eye away.”

 

The informant was a 22-year-old USC student who majors in English and minors in genocide studies. Although she grew up in Santa Monica, she comes from a large Jewish family and travels to Israel twice a year to visit her older brother and other extended family there. The interview occurred when we were sitting in the new Annenberg building and started talking about superstition and related practices within her family. When I asked the informant to further explain this practice, she said, “Lot of times there’s this thing—have you ever seen, like, the hand? Like the image? So it’s called a ‘hamsa’ in Hebrew and like it’s the same thing, it’s to keep the evil eye away.”

 

The informant had seen this practice occur a lot during her travels to Israel and says she first learned about it from her grandmother who “would [do that] right before she died, she was super into that.” However, at the end of the interview she told me, “I don’t do that, I don’t do evil eyes and I don’t do the hamsa . . . I don’t like it because I feel like it’s idolatry, and I don’t . . . I’m not into that. But I would do the red string ‘cause it’s kind of a cultural thing.”

 

I found this practice to be fascinating because it seems like the greater religious/spiritual meaning of it has become somewhat divorced from the physical act. Something that started as a way to “keep the evil eye away” is still done for that purpose, but also because it has become a cultural thing that someone just does. This is revealed in the fact that an informant who is quick to assure me that she does not believe in the hamsa or the evil eye on the basis of her seeing them as idolatry would still willingly participate in this practice. In addition to it being performed for the previously stated spiritual purpose, I also think there is something to the fact that someone is given these red strings by people who are begging. Because it is now considered a normal cultural practice, it has become an expected social interaction between two people of differing class status in this part of Israel. Essentially, while giving a red string and a blessing might have been an organic way of thanking someone before, it is now almost a required act of gratitude by beggars near the western wall.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

“When you tie the paper wrapping of a straw into a knot, if the knot breaks, nothing happens, but if you end up with an intact knot, it means someone is thinking of you.”

The informant first heard this in the seventh grade while out with her classmates at the local In-and-Out.  This occurrence normally happens at fast food restaurants, simply because these are the places that typically dispense paper covered straws.  Usually only the boys and girls who have a secret or not-so-secret crush that they are thinking about.  When unwrapping the straw, the paper is kept and a single knot is tied. The informant was told to tug firmly but not too strongly to secure the knot.  With the final tug, if the knot remains, then it means that your crush is thinking about you at that very moment.  If the knot comes undone with the final tug, it means that you crush more than likely doesn’t return your special feelings.  The informant just thinks of this as another way that teens take up their time thinking about their crushes and trying to figure out whether or not they return their feelings because they are too afraid to ask themselves.  However, she still plays along and performs the simple knot, just to see if someone is “thinking about her” because it is fun and amusing to ponder who actually might be thinking of you at the moment.

I believe that this is a cute way of joking around with one’s friends.  When a group of friends knows that one among them has a secret crush, it is simple and easy to tease the person.  If the wrapper ends in a knot, the group can easily tease the person about their secret crush, and often times among middle schoolers, the group can produce a blush in the person’s cheeks.  Although this may seem like a cruel form of school teasing, it is merely a humorous attempt at lightening the situation and helping the person have not take his or her crush too seriously, in case of future heartbreak.  I think the knot symbolizes the “knot” tied in marriage between a groom and bride, signaling a promise made between two people. This might be where the image of the paper knot came to represent feelings of love and crushes came from.

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