USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Superstistion’
Adulthood

Superstition

When talking to my mother, I asked if she had any superstitions that she can think of. What she came to was something that I actually have noticed in her actions.

 

She said that, “Whenever I hear an ambulance, either outside or while I am driving, I catch myself scratching my head. I think this is me targeting my nerves and anxiety in hopes that whoever is in the ambulance, or who the ambulance is rushed too, is not someone that I know or am related to.”

 

Background Info: My mother mentioned that her mom was always cautious about ambulances and firetrucks, she did not scratch her head, but always would check the news to ensure that whatever emergency there was got resolved, or did not involve someone that she knew or was related to. This was clearly a superstition triggered by an emergency vehicle or situation.

 

Context: My mother told me about this superstition while at lunch over Passover weekend.

 

Analysis: This is something I have actually noticed my mom do, I remember asking her about it a while ago and she discussed with me how it is usually unintentional, but that it happens every time. This reminds me of my superstition of knocking on wood in a situation where I want to prevent an event.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Flight Ritual/ Superstition

In a conversation about upcoming travel plans, Lida brought up a ritual of her own:

“Before I get on a plane I touch the outside of the plane with a flat palm and if can, I touch the first window with a flat palm. I also walk on only with my right foot.”

 

I asked, when did you start doing that?

“I am really not sure when I started. I must have seen someone do it and then that was it. I did it every time and now I can’t fly unless I do it. I’m not sure if it’s a superstition but it’s kinda like a comfort thing. It’s a habit or like a routine that makes it seem like everything is gonna be like it always is when I’m flying.”

 

Background: Lida is a twenty-year old born and raised in Boston, MA and currently living in Los Angeles, CA attending USC as a sophomore. Her parents are divorced and she has two sisters.

Context: Lida brought up her ritual when we were talking about the upcoming trip she had the following weekend to fly home from school.

Analysis: This story totally resonated with me because I feel like I do many things that have become a “routine” simply for the sake of comfort and safety. I’ve always been an okay flyer, but my mom on the other hand, is a really nervous flyer. If I am on a plane with my mom she will always hold my hand for the entirety of the take-off and then again for the landing, but will be totally fine while we’re in the air. She has done this since I was a little girl, so now it has become instinct whenever I fly with her, and definitely a gesture of comfort. It is interesting to analyze how a gesture that will realistically not change any outcome of future events can create peace of mind and a calm disposition. I think the concept of folkloric “habits” in regard to beliefs or superstitions is an intriguing concept of study as they dramatically vary person to person and can be very uncommon or seem weird to others.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Lucky Number

My conversation with Suzie went as follows:

Me: “I don’t get when people say they have items or things that are lucky. I don’t feel like I have anything like that.”

Suzie: “What do you mean…you don’t have a lucky number or outfit or anything?”

Me: “Haha…no. I don’t think so….Do you?”

Suzie: “One HUNDRED percent. My number is 10:28. Every time I look at the clock it is 10:28 whether it’s am or pm. And I always notice because it’s the same number as my birthday…October 28th. So it’s my lucky number.”

Me: “When did you first start to notice that?”

Suzie: “I actually think I started noticing it when I met my husband because we’d always call each other or text each other at 10:28. He’d call and be like ‘Hi Suzie, its 10:28 so I thought of you…what are you up too?’ right when we started dating.”

 

Background: Suzie is a fifty-two year old mom currently living in Calabasas, CA. She has been married to her husband for 25 years and they have three kids together.

Context: I had this conversation with Suzie after a dinner at her house.

Analysis: The idea of something being “lucky” is so interesting to analyze because it is so unique to each individual. I don’t have anything in my life that sticks out as being “lucky” and neither do any of my immediate family members; we learn so many tendencies from our parents and siblings, so I think this has a lot to do with it. The only thing I could think of in this conversation with Suzie was that my favorite number as a kid was “2” and that was only because my brother’s jersey number was always 2 in the different sports he played. This furthers demonstrates the ideal in Suzie’s story that “lucky” or “favorite” things result from important moments or relationships in your life.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

Ghost spirit in our house- Los Angeles

I was headed home from friends house and decided to use the lyft application, not knowing what to talk about i asked the driver Charles “Carlos” Van Stuesen if he knew any folk lore, he asked and i explained and he told me a rather interesting, supposedly factual story his mother had told him she witnessed, Afterwards he told me this:

Informant: Well there is a.. feels like a ghost sprirt in our house umm.. me and my roommates named him Prior Walter for like the Walters before him.. but.. just a funny name that we gave him .. but everybody that comes to our house.. kind of feels this..  that spends the night their question the next day is is there a ghost in the house cause they always feel something..but umm.. he’s not ever evil.. he seems like he is always at the entry way .. its a split level home so when you come in your either going to go up down or at that main level..and he seems like he is always at that main level.. like to me it seems like he’s waiting for family to come home but they are no longer there.. and he doesn’t know any better.. whats the weirdest thing is .. is when my dogs will walk around him they will go up do a U and go.. keep on walking they do not walk through him and thats the weirdest thing to see… um but.. like i said he’s never been evil or bad or anything.. just you feel a presence every now and then and like i said everyone who has stayed the night has always asked that the next day..

Collector: where do you live?

Informant: In montabello … i’ve kinda gooled but nothing comes up.. but we’ve always just said we have a ghost named Prior Walter.

Collector: Do the dogs look at the ghost as they walk around him.

Informant: umm yea actually all of them would look and walk around him except for one.. she would sometimes just sit at the bottom of the stairs and just stare at him.. she would just look at his direction when there was no one there to look at.

 

This story definitely raises some flags to me, i have personally asked the question of whether there was a ghost or not and people have responded.. everyone asks that. This consensus of “feeling” of a ghost might shed light on why we believe things. There could be multiple reasons why people are feeling this without it being a ghost but we begin to believe in the unbelievable, when multiple people are experiencing and witnessing an inexplicable phenomena the tipping factor of belief might be that it is a unanimous or majority consensus. Also for some reason Dogs always sense spirits as shown above as in the movies as well. Dogs have a great sense of smell maybe whatever is causing these sensations also gives off a smell which triggers the Dogs attention. Regardless the Dog’s attention is a contributing factor in the weighing of odds of whether or not there is a spirit, and as my informant has told us he believes that there is a Ghost because (1) he himself feels a presence (2) multiple people have felt a presence without foreknowledge of others’ feeling. and (3) because the Dogs don’t act as they usually do near where this presence is felt. These three pieces of folk-evidence might be sufficient to inspire belief in Ghosts.

Customs
general
Protection

Don’t Wear Silver in Water

The informant’s family comes from the Bahamas. She was born in the Bahamas and is a talented Bahamian woman. Her mother and she were extremely close and she learned a lot of the folklore that she shared with me from either her mother or from being with her mother. Eventually her family moved to Florida where they learned American cultures and were able to compare and contrast the two. 

Informant…

“I’m not really sure if this is considered folklore or a proverb, but one tradition, or superstition, or maybe it could be considered water etiquette in most island cultures is that you absolutely never wear your silver jewelry or anything shiny into the waters. I don’t mean like swimming pools, I mean the water with fish and other things in it. We do this because we believe that a barracuda will attack you if you do. I think its because silver or any other flashy types of jewelry or anything will confuse a barracuda and it’ll mistake you for the little critters it preys on and will attack any human wearing it.”

When she was asked why this is a superstition she said, “Well a barracuda will attack you.”

Then I asked, “Have you ever seen it happen or heard it happen to someone close to you?”

She said, “well… no, My mom just told me and here mom told her and I’m sure her dad told her as well. I don’t know where they got it from, I just know not to do it.”

Analysis…

Superstitions play an important role in the way that people may act, what they will do, what they will say, what they will wear, or when they will do things. Usually superstitions are practiced because of good luck or bad luck and doing something one way will prevent bad luck from happening, and give you good luck. In the case of the informant this is a superstition of something you don’t do or there will be bad consequences. Maybe this originated by an older sibling trying to fool his younger siblings into doing something he wanted so he made up a story about barracudas attacking, or maybe someone was actually attacked by a barracuda because of the jewelry the person was wearing. Regardless of where it came from it is a heavily practiced superstition and is not ever broken in fear of being attacked.

Folk Beliefs
general

Bad Luck

The informant’s family comes from the Bahamas. She was born in the Bahamas and is a talented Bahamian woman. Her mother and she were extremely close and she learned a lot of the folklore that she shared with me from either her mother or from being with her mother. Eventually her family moved to Florida where they learned American cultures and were able to compare and contrast the two. 

Informant…

“In the Bahamas there is a superstition about ladders. If a person is walking on the sidewalk and there is construction going on or for any other reason there is a ladder blocking the way, it is considered bad luck to walk under the ladder. The person walking should completely veer off their intended track to avoid the ladder and then continue on their intended path once they are clear from the ladder. In my culture a person will never walk under a ladder.”

I asked her were it came from and she said she wasn’t sure she just knew that it is blatantly obvious that people will not walk under a ladder. If the ladder happens to be in their way they will go around because they don’t want the bad luck that comes with it.

Analysis…

Superstitions play an important role in the way that people may act, what they will do, what they will say, what they will wear, or when they will do things. Usually superstitions are practiced because of good luck or bad luck and doing something one way will prevent bad luck from happening, and give you good luck. I have heard the don’t walk under a ladder, or if you see a black cat that is bad luck. To me I don’t buy into superstitions, however some cultures do. If there was even a thought in their heads that walking under a ladder would bring them bad luck why would they walk under anyways? It makes sense that they would avoid the ladder completely. Our society I would say is split between those who are superstitious and those who aren’t. I think because our society is so diverse and full of lots of culture combined that we don’t have just one culture for everyone to believe exactly the same thing and practice the same things.

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