USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Superstition’

Rally Caps

Me: “So what is the general idea of the rally caps?”

Informant: “Ever since I have played baseball I have known about ‘rally caps.’ Essentially, when playing a baseball game, if a team is down in the later part of the game, it is tradition to wear the baseball caps inside out and/or backwards. I’m not sure exactly why this is but it’s a superstition that is believed from kids all the way up to professional players.”

Me: “Does it matter whether the hat is inside out or backwards or both?”

Informant:”Typically the hats are worn inside out and then if the players want to, they can wear them backwards.”

Me: “Do you have any personal experiences with the rally caps actually working?”

Informant: “Yeah actually when I was a Freshman in high school, we were down by three runs in the bottom of the 7th inning, which is the last inning in high school baseball. We were the last ones at bat because we were playing at home. Realistically, we didn’t think we were going to win but some of us just put our hats on inside out to see if somehow the rally cap could trigger a win. Ironically enough, the first pitch of the inning we hit a home run. From that point on we knew it had to be the rally caps, haha. The next batter grounded out but then the next two batters got hits. Eventually we scored in the runs and won the game. Because we put the rally caps on from the start, our superstition was confirmed.. Well at least for the time being.”

Me:”Do you know where you first heard about the rally caps from?”

Informant:”Honestly I have no idea. It was just one of those things that you know growing up as a baseball player.”

Analysis: Like many other superstitions, this form of Folklore was a superstition that involved an item used within the particular sport. The roots of this lore are unknown but continue to be widely used in all levels of baseball. One can see players with stacks of inside-out caps on their heads during the latter parts of baseball games.

Information of the Informant: The informant is my brother who played baseball up until he was seventeen years old. He is an avid baseball watcher and could essentially state every stat from every player in the MLB.

Folk Beliefs

Kicking the Flagpole

Information on the informant: The informant is my mother who is currently 50 years old and lives in Palos Verdes. She attended USC in the 80’s and was actively involved in a sorority. She also is a huge sports fan and regularly attended USC football games. She has been going to games since the time she attended USC up until current time.

From the informant:

“Ever since I first attended my first USC football game, I remember it being a tradition to kick one of the bases of the flagpole leaving campus going towards the Coliseum. I believe the pole is right near Exposition and close to the business buildings. I wasn’t exactly sure why everyone did it but I think people just did it initially as a superstitious thing and then it caught on and became more of a tradition. Even though it’s weird I still take part in it and kick the base of the pole every time I walk from campus to the Coliseum on Game days. USC football has fluctuated since I’ve been there but I’m guessing a lot of people kicked the flag pole while Pete Carroll was the coach.”

Analysis: As a fellow student who attends USC games regularly and who has since I was born, I have seen this tradition take place first hand. It is a fairly strong rooted USC tradition and could be a symbol of the fans who are truly USC fans who partake in this. I also remember being told about this tradition while taking a tour of USC in the Spring of 2015 so clearly it is an undocumented tradition of the school that many people know.

Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Leave the Same Way you Came

L is a 53-year-old homemaker living in Winnetka, IL. L grew up mainly in the northern suburbs of Illinois, but she also lived in Germany and England for a while when she was younger. L speaks English primarily but she is learning French. L attended both the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin Madison for her undergraduate college education. L considers herself to be American. She does not really identify with her Welsh ancestry.

L: If my mom comes in the front door and leaves out the back door, or any other different door, she thinks it’s bad luck for either her or the homeowner. You have to leave out the same door you come in though. That’s whether she’s going into other people’s house or you’re coming in to her house. She insists that everybody enters and leaves through the same door. It’s very weird.

Me: When did she she start doing this?

L: She’s done this her whole life?

Me: Any idea where she got it from?

L: Probably her mother.

Me: Did her mother do it too?

L: I think so, but I’m not really sure. I vaguely remember her doing it.

Me: And it’s just bad luck?

L: I’m not really sure if it’s bad luck for the person entering and leaving the house, or the homeowner. Or both.

L talks about her mom and her grandmother who have/had this strange idea that one must exit through the door they entered through. They believe that if someone doesn’t do this then they will bring bad luck either to the homeowner, themselves, or both. L  does not follow this practice unless her mom forces her to and she thinks the idea that not following this will bring bad luck is malarkey. She does not like that her mom follows this belief because it is annoying when she is closer to one door but her mom tells her that they have to go out through the door she came in through.

Folk Beliefs

Splitting the Pole

JN is a 19 year old neuroscience major. She’s from Chicago originally, but she moved to California for college. In the following conversation, we talked about a small ritual that is very special to her and the importance of maintaining friendships:
“So this is a superstition that I have been practicing pretty religiously, I guess.
So I have this weird superstition that if you’re walking with a friend and you come across a pole in the way- and doesn’t matter if you’re holding hands- you are not allowed to go on either side of the pole. So for example, one person can’t go to the right side of the pole and one person can’t go to the left of the pole. Basically, you can’t let yourself get separated from the other person, or else that means that your friendship will grow apart. If that does happen, then the only way you can keep from damaging your friendship is to shake hands after. A lot of my friends don’t realize that, and I kind of freak out and make them shake hands with me! They don’t understand why I do it, but it’s just because I don’t want our relationship to grow apart and I want to stay friends with them.”

Who did you learn this from?
“I can’t remember. I think I learned it from a friend and thought it was really good, that it was something that I should definitely be doing. So I started immediately. I can’t even remember who taught me but it’s something I’ve done for sure since the start of college. I don’t think I learned it before that.”

Why is this ritual so important to you? What does it mean to you?

It is important to me because, even though it seems stupid sometimes, I don’t want to grow apart from my friends so I’d rather be safe than sorry!


My thoughts: In this folk belief, there is a connection drawn between physical distancing and emotional distancing. The splitting around the pole and the handshake after  is reminiscent of the concept of “homeopathic magic” proposed by James George Frazer- that a physical action that resembles another will end up causing it. It’s also noted by the informant that sometimes other people don’t accept/are confused by her belief – perhaps this shows that “superstition” now has a negative connotation and less people are willing to admit that they believe in them.


Brooklyn Doll

So my grandma moved from Puerto Rico to Brooklyn when she was six years old with her mom, like Brooklyn in New York, the city with her mom and 5 siblings, and the rest of her family stayed in Puerto Rico with the dad, and they were gonna move out later after the dad finished his Navy term. She moved into an apartment and her mom, like so my great grandma, really believes in ghost stories, so she had little plants, little cacti with the long leaves, and she believed those fended off ghosts for some reason. So she kept those around the apartment because when she purchased the apartment she got creepy vibes, as my grandma says. My grandma lived in a closet sized room with her sister and they didn’t really have all their stuff with them, so my grandma just brought books with her. She brought books, and there was a little shelf above her bed so my grandma put her books up there and her mom put a plant up there. So supposedly the apartment was protected from ghosts because of the plants. So then one day though they got new neighbors next to them; it was a wife, husband and dog, they had a dog. They had recently moved into building, and landlord came by my grandma’s apartment to tell them they would have new neighbors. The landlord came by and gave my grandma’s family a doll, and it was the first time they had met the landlord, as it was a friend of my grandma’s dad. My grandma thought the doll was a threat to her ghost-protected house, so she put it on top of the fridge away from everything. The landlord, when she gave it to them said it was supposed to protect from death, but then one night, like I don’t know, this is why I always get so confused, I think its my grandma’s exaggerations. My grandma said one night my great-grandma was out of the house, and so grandma had to watch over all the siblings. She was putting everyone to bed and turned off all the lights and all of a sudden the power went out in whole building. Everything was pitch black. The refrigerator stopped working, there were no phones, and my grandma didn’t know how to reach her mom. There was one circular window that shined directly on the top of the fridge exactly where the doll was sitting. So my grandma is looking around making sure everyone is ok in the house. So my grandma turns around and sees the light of the full moon shining on the top of the fridge and the doll missing. So then the landlord comes by, knocks on the door, and says very very creepily three deaths will occur. Because the doll is missing. She basically told them at the beginning that they couldn’t lose the doll because death would occur. And then…so then, and the landlord knew that my great-grandma put it on top of the fridge. And she checked to see that it wasn’t there and that’s why she told us that three deaths would occur. My grandma did not believe the landlord, and she was trying to be protective because her younger siblings were really scared, so then the landlord left. The next morning everyone woke up and my great-grandma was back, but then they were told everyone had to leave the building for some reason, and like everyone was being evacuated and no one knew why. The police was there. They were all standing out in the middle of the street, and they saw that there were three body bags in the middle of the street. The police told them that the people next door had been killed last night. The wife, husband and dog who lived in the apartment next to them had gone to get groceries from the store beneath the apartments, and there was an armed robbery. The robber shot the wife, husband and dog. And ever since then, my grandma has always believed in ghost stories and she gave my family a plant that is supposed to fend off ghosts.


Background information: Sarah is my best friend from home, Manhattan Beach. She knows this piece because her grandma has told it to her a few times and that is the reason Sarah has a demon/ghost-protecting plant in her own house from her grandma because her grandma is now very superstitious about ghosts ever since this happened to her. Sarah really likes this piece because it happened to someone who is very close to her, and although it sounds like something out of a movie—three deaths predicted solely because of this doll—it really happened to her and is pretty freaky, not something she can forget easily, especially since it happened to her grandma. Her grandma is from Puerto Rico, and to Sarah, as she mentioned above, she believes it may just be her grandma’s exaggerations, but she still remembers the story very clearly. The story was collected via FaceTime because Sarah goes to college at Middlebury in Vermont.


Dance Superstitions

Collector: Do you have any superstitions?

Informant: Um, well, I’m not sure if any of these are in there, but like, dance is like very different, but I also take exams the same way because I take an absurd amount of midterms ‘cause I’m in science class, and that’s all you do. But, like, I always have a certain pencil that I stick in my hair, and it’s like one of those old school ones ‘cause, like, I only ever write with mechanical pencils, like, I have never written with that pencil. But, like, that’s the pencil. And, um, so I have to tie my hair up in a bun with that pencil through it, and then, um, I also have to wear one of my grandma’s rings because that one is like the spirit of my grandmother is with me in the exam. And also, like, when I write I’ll see it because it’s on my right hand, so when I’m writing I always see it. And then, um, just like other than that, like, I give myself like a pep talk for like about 10 minutes before every exam. Just because I have to. And then I get there like thirty minutes early, and I laugh at everyone that’s freaking out. Um, and then in the theater world, I always, I will, like I always have to be listening to music, like I can’t not have music on when I’m getting ready, and then um, yeah I always like bang my pointe shoes a certain way [doing it] before I go on stage too. It’s like I’m kind of warming up my feet, but more of like a nice noise that it makes. So, I always bang my pointe shoes a certain way. Then, um, I always, I always do like the Catholic cross before I go on stage. Um…

MR: Are you catholic?

AA: No, I’m not religious in the slightest, but that’s what, that’s how it is. It’s just how it is. There’s no going back from there, so… Because I’ve done that before every performance for years. Cause I think at one point I was playing a Catholic person, like that was kind of a part of my character, and it just like started from there. It’s been like a long time, but now it’s like been before every single show that I’ve done for forever, so… Cross, and that’s before, that’s before the main show and generally before a different number, if a number ends and a different number comes on then it will go again right before I step on stage. Um, and let’s see, in my high school there was this frog, and everybody in the entire cast had to kiss this frog. I don’t know what the frog was from, but everybody had to do it. It was kind of gross.

MR: Wait, is it a stuffed frog?

AA: No, it’s like a plastic frog. It’s really creepy looking, it’s got these like, it’s got like red lips on it and it’s really scary looking, and then like everyone has to do a chant before we begin, too. And this is also just from my high school, so it would be like a certain type of chant depending on what the show was, but everyone had to do a certain chant, so my dance team had our own specific chant that we would do… And then before all my professional shows when I was in the company, everyone would do a group prayer circle together, so it also like the superstitions changed depending on what company I was in, but I like have my own and then the company has their own, so they just kind of layer on top of each other, so…


Informant is a junior at the University of Southern California. She is studying Human Biology, and she is a dancer and has been for many years. She is from San Diego, California. I spoke to her while we were eating lunch at my sorority house one day. We were sitting together with some of my other informants. Much of what she told me was learned from her own experiences.


In response to another person’s superstitions about getting ready before a sporting event, Allie was able to speak a little on her superstitions as a dancer and a test taker. It seems that no matter what large event people become worried about, each person has some type of ritual they do that they think will assist them in doing the best job they can.


Paris Point 0

Informant: There’s like, France. The x. The zero. Something zero.

Collector: Point zero?

SC: Point zero, yeah. In front of the…Notre Dame. And I have never stepped on it, but I have been to Paris multiple times.

MR: I’ve only been to Paris once, and I didn’t step on it.


Informant is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is studying Narrative Studies and plans to have a minor in Songwriting. She is from a suburb outside of Chicago, Illinois. I spoke to her while we were eating lunch at my sorority house one day. We were sitting together with some of my other informants. Much of what she told me was learned from her own experiences.


This is something I’ve heard about from multiple people and have read about in books. There seems to be a connection between some part of great cities and either returning to the city or having a wish come true. This is a kind of combination of superstitions and rituals and just might subconsciously influence people to return to the city. I can see a similar type of thing with the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy, where if you toss a coin and make a wish the wish will come true. These old cities seem to have a type of magic to them which attracts you to return or fulfill a wish.



Collector: I know my professor, like, theater ghosts…

Informant: Kind of, but I, like, there’s a lot of, like, a lot of other things besides that, too.

MR: I know my professor just told me a story about a theater ghost.

AA: Yeah, we didn’t have, like, theater ghosts. Of course, like, there is the play you never name, but, like, other than that…like…

MR: Talk to me about Macbeth

AA: I mean, I just know that, like, in the theater you don’t say the name.

Person:  Why would you say that?

AA: It’s just, it’s just, you don’t.

Person: Superstitious, yeah, why would you say that word? I’ve never said it.

MR: You’ve never said it?

Person: I studied it in my sophomore year English class, and I never said it.

MR: Wait, aren’t you not supposed to say it when you’re in the theater?

AA: Yeah I thought it was more in the theater—

Person: Especially when you’re not in the theater—

Person: Specifically, yeah…

Person: I don’t say it at all. I’m very—I’m also genuinely—I’m like, easily scared.


Informant is a junior at the University of Southern California. She is studying Human Biology, and she is a dancer and has been for many years. She is from San Diego, California. I spoke to her while we were eating lunch at my sorority house one day. We were sitting together with some of my other informants, Maya Getter, Diana Huang, and Sarah Campbell. Much of what she told me was learned from her own experiences.


This is also interesting because we spoke about this in class as well. It seems that some people have different superstitions about when and when you cannot say the name. I think the conclusion I have come to is that absolutely nobody says it while they’re inside the theater, but some people take the superstition further and don’t say the name outside, either. This is an interesting divergence between personalities and how others influence your beliefs.

Folk Beliefs

Ice Cube in the Toilet

The informant is a college student born and raised in Denver, Colorado. While the informant and I were studying in the library together, I asked him if he or any of his friends had any traditions or superstitions that were unique to Denver. He described a folk belief that children engaged in when hoping school would be canceled for a snow day.

“If a large snowstorm is predicted or if it is snowing lightly before bed, you have to flush an ice cube down the toilet in hopes that there will be a snow day and school will be cancelled the next morning. The more kids that flush an ice cube down the toilet, the more likely it is that there will be a snow day.”

The belief is most prevalent during one’s elementary and middle school years, but many people continue to carry out the tradition of flushing an ice cube down the toilet throughout high school. The superstition goes that flushing a single ice cube down the toilet will ensure a snow day. The informant was not sure what the significance of the single ice cube was, but said that he has always thought it has to do with the fact that ice cubes and snow both require below freezing temperatures. I followed up with a friend from New York City to determine whether this was an isolated folk belief, and she confirmed that kids at her school did the same thing. Growing up in California, I had never known anyone to engage in this practice. The belief in this sympathetic folk magic, then, is most likely concentrated in areas where snowfall is common. It is a fun and harmless way for children to try to get out of school, and probably continues to be spread among children rapidly because of the idea that each child must do his or her own part to make it snow, and so it is very likely that when one child hears of the supposed magic properties of flushing an ice cube down a toilet that they will tell their friends to do it as well.

Folk speech

Break a Leg

There’s a long running saying in the theater culture, where instead of wishing someone good luck, you are supposed to say, “Break a leg.” It’s actually considered bad luck to literally wish someone good luck. According to The Phrase Finder, it could potentially imply that this person has put on such a good performance that they literally bend their knees “in a bow or to curtsey to acknowledge applause.” Another meaning could be that the actors may get their big “break” from this performance and their performance leads them to success.

I think that this superstition reflects the mental mindset of people who are in performance or show business. There’s never a guarantee of success, and so much of the career in acting or performance is based on luck, chance, and the hope that you will be discovered. Therefore, it’s important to be careful and superstitious, so that the performer’s mind is filled with positive energy, as so much of their career is dependent on their optimism and mental drive.