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

Right Foot First – An Ice Skating Superstition and Ritual

The following informant is a 22-year-old student who competed in ice skating throughout her childhood and well into her teenage years and continues to ice skate recreationally now. She is describing a common superstition she and some of her teammates have. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: One superstition that I have always had when I used to ice skate was that I always used to put my right skate on and tie up the laces before putting on my left skate. I made sure I always did that.

K: What would happen if you put your left skate on first?

S: I just had this belief that if I put my left skate on first, then I would not have as good of a skate, or I would mess up and risk hurting myself. I always thought oh my god you have to put your right skate on first

K: Were you the only one to have this superstition or did your teammates also share it?

S: I’m not sure if other people shared my superstition specifically, but some of my other teammates had similar superstitions. Like my friend J, when she steps on to the ice, she always puts her right foot down first and never the left first for the same reason I put my skates on right first. I, and a lot of the other girls, also followed her superstition as well. Which is probably where I got my superstition about skates.

K: Would you only do this before a competition or anytime you put on skates and stepped on to the ice?

S: Oh, every time I put on skates and went on the ice. I’ve been doing it for years now that I don’t have to worry about accidently putting my left skate on first because I have trained myself to always put my right skate on first and step with my right foot first.

S: One more thing, I am not sure why my superstition has to do with the right-side, maybe it’s because I’m right handed… but that doesn’t really make sense because my friend J is left handed… I honestly don’t know

Context:

This conversation took place at a café one evening. The informant brought up superstitions and I asked if she would like to participate in the folklore collection project. The conversation was recorded and transcribed. Although she only acts out the ritual when she ice-skates.

Thoughts:

I find her superstition about always doing things on the right side first very fascinating, along with her reasoning, that she later disagrees with. But maybe she is not wrong, It seems pretty obvious that if you are right-hand dominant that you would consider your right side to bring good luck and your left side to bring bad luck. But how would this explain her friend. Or maybe in our everyday life we tend to go from right to left, like reading English, her first language, you always read right to left, reading left to right just would not make sense.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Glasses, Apples, and Parking Spaces – Oh My!

This friend of mine has always been one of the most superstitious people I know. Her childhood was split between two households, each with their own unique beliefs and superstitions. Having been quite close for the past few years, I’ve heard innumerable stories regarding strange folk-beliefs her parents taught her as a little girl.

The following was recorded by hand during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“I think it’s bad luck to wear other people’s glasses because you’re trying to see more of the world than you’re meant to see. Why would you try to see the world through other people’s eyes? It’s the principle of the thing. Why do I have superstitions? Because I don’t have a religion. My dad is really superstitious because he’s really OCD. So like my whole life, we weren’t allowed to eat apples in the house because he thought apples brought a mean energy. He’d always say that they were rude. And we weren’t allowed to park in spaces that were diagonal. He would not park in spaces that had that bar – he’d freak out.”

It’s interesting to view this piece as a sort of cause-and-effect type of deal. Her dad is superstitious because he’s OCD, therefore, he has lots of odd little habits and preferences that was interpreted by my friend as superstition (whether she or her father was the source of this conclusion has been lost to the sands of time). These superstitions bred more superstition – the one about the glasses is an original – which has been passed on to her friends and classmates, and may spread throughout the world. Her father’s condition has created a traceable line of superstitions that have the potential to spread globally. It’s fascinating to witness the overlap and snowballing effect that a few small beliefs can have.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Material
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Let Snacks Alone

This friend of mine has always been one of the most superstitious people I know. Her childhood was split between two households, each with their own unique beliefs and superstitions. Having been quite close for the past few years, I’ve heard innumerable stories regarding strange folk-beliefs her parents taught her as a little girl.

The following was recorded by hand during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“I think it’s bad luck to open people’s food and eat it before they do. Like if Nas buys a bag of goldfish, and I take it and open it, and eat it. One time in 7th grade, my best friend, Rocky, and I were sharing a bag of pretzel thins. She took it from me, opened it during a movie, and immediately after the movie she had her period. My mom said it was just us growing up. Later, I did it to someone else, I opened their bag and took a test and then I got an F on a test. This was back in middle school. I believe in signs. If you follow signs religiously, it’ll be good. I don’t think any of my superstitions allow me to have a crutch, religion is a crutch.

It’s interesting to hear first-hand how some superstitions come into being outright. As far as I can tell from online research, no one believes that eating another person’s food before they do is bad luck. My friend came to this conclusion herself after the above anecdotes played themselves out. She strung together two ‘signs’ in order to formulate an original belief. And she’s passed it on to me! Whenever I go out to eat, and someone’s food arrives before mine, I have the urge to steal a fry. Before I do, however, a little voice in the back of my head reminds me of my friend’s experiences and asks, ‘what if?’. And so I leave the fry.

I tried explaining to her how her superstitions sometimes do act as crutches. As in the case of the test, where she believed she failed due to her opening of someone else’s bag of chips. However, she would have none of it. And insisted that her superstitions served only to explain, never to redact the blame.

Folk Beliefs

Peas and Cabbage: Folk Belief

Okay this one might sound a bit strange. So every 1st of the year after New Year’s Eve, my family uhh, during lunch time, we always cook cabbage and black-eyed peas, oh and sausage -um- y’know just for the taste, and cabbage was for money and black-eyed peas were for good luck.

 So, like, that would predict that whole year so, like, the luck and the money and hopefully, like, you eating more of one of each would, like, give you good fortune for either one of those throughout the year.

 The Informant was born and raised in Texas. He’s an Economics student at USC. The Informant, my housemate, told me about his odd New Year’s ritual/folk belief at around midnight on 4/22 while he played PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, an intensive online battle royale game. He said he has done this ritual with his family since he was little and it has morphed into what he calls a superstition (folk belief). If he lets the 1st of the year go by without cabbage and black-eyed peas, his outlook on the year is bleak.

This is apparently a common ritual meal in the South. Peas have been a humbling food for years. It’s said that the food was too lowly for Union soldiers to eat during the Civil War and thus peas were the only food left for Confederate Soldiers. They considered themselves lucky to have just have a meal of peas, possibly giving rise to the food’s lucky connotation. Cabbage is eaten to bring prosperity in the upcoming year. The leafy green leaves represent money.

Based off of the Informant’s own statement that this folk belief is strange, I was surprised to discover this was far from an uncommon yearly ritual meal. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a single black-eyed pea, but maybe I’ll eat some peas and cabbage next January 1st. Can’t hurt right?

Customs
Folk Beliefs

Superstition

Kara is a close family friend, and I asked her if she had anything particular that she always does, or a superstition. What she told me was very interesting to me and I have never heard of before.

 

Kara told me that her superstition is “Before I go to bed I need to make sure that all of my clothes in my closet are color coordinated and color graduated, ranging from different shades of colors, as well as making sure that they align to primary colors vs secondary colors. It’s something that I always have done and whenever I sleep at home I can’t fall asleep until that is done”

 

Background Info: Kara has an artistic background, so this is why she thinks her obsession with colors and their organization has taken over as a major superstition in her lifetime. She even showed me some photos she had of a t shirt area of her closet where everything was color coordinated like she said.

 

Context: Kara told me about this at a family dinner party where friends came over.

 

Analysis: I have heard of some crazy superstitions but none like this that take a lot of time. I thought it was interesting how it wasn’t only that her clothes were color coordinated, but that they also aligned to the color wheel used in art.

Folk Beliefs
Magic

The Hantus in the Banyan Trees

Informant: There’s these things in Singapore, they’re called Hantus, they’re basically ghosts. So because Singapore was part of Malaysia at some point, a lot of our culture has to do with Malaysian culture. There’s this story about Hantus where, around Singapore, there’s a lot of these trees called Banyan Trees. These trees have huge stems, and are super wide. There are a ton of roots that hang from their canopies down.

Because of these roots, Banyan trees are very dark, especially at night. Their canopies are thick, so light can’t get through them, and the stems obscure everything else.

There’s this legend that when you go into the forest at night and you see all of these Banyan trees, you’re not supposed to shine light up into them, or like, if you have a flash, you’re not supposed to shine it into the top of the trees, and you can’t touch the hanging roots either. If you do, these ghost things, these Bantus, jump out of the trees and will “get” you.

Context: This informant is a nineteen year old college student, attending school in the US, but originally from Singapore. This legend was told to me by the informant in a college dorm room.

Background: The informant heard this belief from some of his friends, who also claimed to have seen the eyes of Hantus in the canopies of the Banyan trees. The informant doesn’t believe in this superstition, but he did mention that several people had gone missing among the Banyan trees around Singapore. To him, it’s simply a way to scare people and keep them from flashing lights around at the trees in the dark.

Analysis: I personally am not sure there are any supernatural forces at work. Like my informant said, this instead sounds like a common superstition, a classic superstition to make the native Banyan trees more mysterious, and also to dissuade people from harming them, in fear of such Hantus. What caught my attention was that this legend seems to be centered very specifically around Singapore, where Banyan trees are especially numerous, but it still heavily draws on elements of Malaysian superstition – Hantus. In this way, the use of both is a great symbolic representation of the shared cultural heritage between Singapore and Malaysia.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Coins and the New Year

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (CS) and I (ZM).

ZM: You guys had like, coins, like gold coins, over by the like pictures? I don’t know

CS: Mhm. I know what you’re talking about. So, it’s another New Year’s thing. Um, when you’re, so, coins are just symbols of like wealth, like the sound that they make like the clink like the, you know what I’m talking about? Like the shhh

ZM: Yeah

CS: So, when it’s New Year’s, like normal people New Year’s, and Chinese New Year actually, ‘cause we celebrate that too, you have to have, well first you have to be wearing like dots, like polka dots because of the circles. It symbolizes coins. And then, when, you know how people like jump and they like blow stuff in like the countdown? A lot, like every Filipino literally has just like, either like cups of coins, or like bags of coins and they shake it while they, while the New Year’s coming in. So, they shake it while the new year’s coming in so it makes the noise and that’s like another symbol of like bringing wealth into the new year.

ZM: And you just keep them around? Like, the whole year?

CS: Well those are just normal coins. And then the gold coins that my mom has laying around are just like… fancy ones. The gold coins are for the Chinese New Year because like you know how, well I don’t know if you’re around like Asian people but like, we get like red envelopes with money in it?

ZM: I vaguely, like that sounds vaguely familiar.

CS: So, I have one, wait I have one… (Brings out small red Hello Kitty envelope) We get like red envelopes that have money in it and you’re not supposed to spend the money technically for like the whole year because it’s like good luck.

ZM: Wait so when ARE you allowed to spend it?

CS: After the new year. So, this one, you can open it though, I think this one’s shaped in a heart. (the cash was folded into a heart shape)

ZM: Oh WOoOoW

CS: They don’t always do this they just, it’s just some people decide to get fancy with it. So, it (the coins) kind of goes along with the red envelope. So, you give red envelopes with money for luck and then the gold coins are sort of the same symbolism of like keeping wealth throughout the year. I just realized Asian people really like their money. Cause everything we do is about keeping their wealth.

 

Context:Over the weekend I visited CS at her home and noticed gold coins laying around on various coffee tables and such. A few days later I asked her about them and this conversation was recorded then.

 

Background: The performer is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is first generation American and her parents came from the Philippines. They are Roman Catholic.

 

Analysis: The red envelope tradition wasn’t completely unknown to me, but I had never heard of people shaking containers of coins at the turn of the new year. I also thought it was very interesting that CS celebrates both the Western New Year as well as Chinese New Year even though she is not Chinese. Like she said towards the end, most of the traditions were about money which can be seen in the rich lifestyle practiced in a Western New Year’s celebration. Party goers get dressed up and drink champagne like the upper class.

 

Folk Beliefs
Material

Lucky Socks

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (CB) and I (ZM).

CB: I wore the same pair of socks every volleyball game from junior year and senior year of high school and both years within our like league of ten teams, we beat every other team, or every team and went undefeated, not including playoffs.

ZM: Why did you decide to keep wearing the socks, like what happened?

CB: Because we kept winning.

ZM: Did you wash them?

CB: Yeah, cause that was gross, but, and they smelled, but… They were bright green neon socks.

ZM: Was it just you or did other players…

CB: Just me. Umm, and it’s funny cause, like I’d be in the bathroom and someone would like look under the stall and see my socks and know immediately it was me. Like it got, it got to that point of like popularity.

 

Context: CB and I were having lunch when I noticed he was wearing a volleyball tournament shirt. I asked him if he had any volleyball rituals or lucky socks or anything. This conversation was recorded then.

 

Background: The performer is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. He transferred from California Lutheran University where he played Division III volleyball but did not continue at USC. CB attended a medium-sized public high school in Santa Clarita where he was born and raised.

 

Analysis: This is a pretty common example of a sports ritual. A lot of athletes have stories of a lucky piece of clothing. Some even go to the extent of not washing said pieces of clothing so they don’t lose the lucky powers.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Protection

Cemetery Etiquette

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (HH) and I (ZM).

HH: When we go to the cemetery to visit our dead relatives. You, you can… well I feel like this is American too. You can never step on the tombstone of another person. And I did that once and my dad…

ZM: Uh oh.

HH: No, no I didn’t stepped on her tombstone, my hat flew on her tombstone and my dad threw away my hat and he made me apologize to the dead person.

ZM: Just your hat?

HH: Yeah. And he literally threw it away. Like, you touched dead, you touched someone’s… like a dead person’s tombstone.

ZM: But like, if it was like your relative that you’re visiting and you like touched it like in an endearing way…Is it still bad to touch the tombstone?

HH: I don’t think so… No, like if it’s an endearing way then not. Like it was just like me, like it was a stranger like…It was me sort of like disrespecting the dead and I literally had to… He literally had to um make me apologize to her like… He was saying like, “She’s just a little kiiiid. Don’t haunt us.” Like that kind of thing. Like, when you go to cemetery you don’t want the dead to follow you back.

 

Context: This is from a conversation I started with HH about her Chinese culture.

 

Background: HH was born in China and raised in Oakland, CA. Both of her parents are Chinese, and they speak limited English. She is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California.

 

Analysis: I thought this practice was kind of extreme. I understand not wanting to disrespect the dead by stepping on their graves, but just a hat hitting the tombstone doesn’t seem like enough to cause harm in my opinion.

 

 

 

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Chinese New Year

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (HH) and I (ZM).

ZM: What do you do for Chinese New Year?

HH: Umm… In terms of when I’m here in college or when I’m back home?

ZM: When you’re at home.

HH: When I’m home um my parents would clean the house, like um frantically because we need to be clean for the new year and we also can’t wash our hair on the first day of New Year’s too because if you wash your hair, you’re washing your luck. Yeah. Very interesting. Um, it’s nothing really special, it’s just being with your family, um… The whole day you um… Do you know what Yum ta is?

ZM: No.

HH: Like going out for morning tea, like with dim sum…

ZM: I’ve never heard of that. I don’t, I don’t know.

HH: Okay um so uh we do yum ta, which is like going to um a local, um a nearby restaurant around our house and inviting all of our relatives and…

ZM: Is that New Year’s day?

HH: New Year’s day yeah. Um, and all of our relatives will come and we exchange um red envelopes with money inside and um its umm… If you’re married you give, you give a red envelope to the kids so…As long as I’m not married I can still receive them.

ZM: But you don’t give any?

HH: I don’t give any until I’m married. Yeah it’s a perk. (laughs) Uhhh yeah and then um on the day, or like… Chinese New Year goes for like a few days like up to fifteen days. It depends on how long you want to celebrate it. Umm, like the first few days um either relatives and friends come to your house or you can go to their house and you bring gifts like oranges or like crackers or whatever to uh to bring to their house and you get to exchange gifts, and you guys talk and drink tea and all of that.

ZM: Do the oranges have any significance? Like why oranges or…?

HH: Umm… I feel like they do, but I don’t know (laughs) Uh that’s pretty much what we do. And um we eat chicken. It’s for a reason, but I don’t know why also. But, chicken is like a good kind of meat like… Um you always want um, like for dinner you always, for like the first few days, my brother’s in-laws and us we all eat together as a big family. Like a sign of um, a union. Um, so we have like up to ten dishes for like not even ten people. Like, um it’s very lavish dinner with like chicken, umm duck, fish, all kind of veggies, noodles, noodles really important as a sign of longetivity in life. So, yeah.

 

Context: This is from a conversation I started with HH about her Chinese culture.

Background: HH was born in China and raised in Oakland, CA. Both of her parents are Chinese, and they speak limited English. She is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California.

 

Analysis: I thought it was interesting that you only begin giving red envelopes when you are married. Even if you are an adult and you are not married, you do not have to give the envelopes, you only receive them. But, if they’re married and they don’t have kids to give envelopes to they exchange red envelopes between husband and wife. While marriage and adulthood would’ve previously been equivalent, in today’s society they can be very separate, and this changes the tradition a little bit.

 

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