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

Stepping Over Someone

Informant: The informant is Aliki, an eighteen-year-old young woman who grew up in Yonkers, New York. She is a freshman at Concordia University in Irvine, California. She is of Greek descent.

Context: We sat on the floor of my dorm room at the University of Southern California when Aliki visited me during her spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: Basically, if you’re sitting or lying down, you can’t have someone walk over you. It will bring bad luck. If they do, they have to cross back over you so that you’re safe. I learned this from my parents who were both born in Greece, and I believe that it is a Greek tradition. They taught me and my four siblings this when we were little. My friend actually does it too, and her mother told me once that I actually don’t have to do it anymore because, apparently, stepping over someone will stunt your growth. Since I’m done growing, she said that I don’t have to do it, but I still do.

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece of folklore?

Informant: I like it because it’s important. Everyone has that piece of superstition that they follow. I know it’s not real, but I feel better doing it. Also, one time at soccer practice, I was sitting down with my legs stretched, and one of my teammates stepped over my left leg. I wanted to tell her to come back but didn’t want to bother her or sound weird. Then the next day, during a game, I pulled my hamstring in my left leg. I knew I should have told her to come back and step over me again.

Personal Thoughts: I find it interesting that although Aliki heard that she no longer had to perform this piece of folklore, she did anyway. Her decision to continue with it demonstrates the power folklore, especially folklore that people learned growing up, has over people. What is also unique about her piece is that she experienced an unfortunate event after not having followed the superstition, so she blamed herself for pulling her hamstring.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Albanian Broom Superstition

Informant: The informant is Mrika. She has lived in the Bronx, New York for her whole life. She is eighteen years old and is a freshman at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. She is of Albanian descent.

Context:We sat across from each other at a table at a diner in Yonkers, New York during our spring breaks from college.

Original Script:

Informant: So, if someone accidentally hit you with a broom while they were sweeping, it would be bad luck. If they hit your feet, people would say that you wouldn’t get married. It seemed like an allusion to slavery. Brooms deal with the ground and the dirt. You had to get rid of the bad luck. To do that, you have to spit on the broom.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: I learned about this while I was on vacation in Albania, so it reminds me of that culture. I must have been eight years old. This is the one superstition that makes me remember the month I spent in Albania when I was growing up.

Personal Thoughts: I find it interesting that not only did Mrika explain the piece of folklore, but she also had developed a sense of the potential meaning behind its reason. Usually, people do not really know where the folklore they follow comes from or its meaning, yet Mrika, as she got older, was able to infer why getting hit with a broom is considered bad luck.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Albanian Superstition

Informant: The informant is Mrika. She has lived in the Bronx, New York for her whole life. She is eighteen years old and is a freshman at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. She is of Albanian descent.

Context of the Performance: We sat across from each other at a table at a diner in Yonkers, New York during our spring breaks from college.

Original Script:

Informant: So, it was kind of like a superstition. Most Albanian superstitions are about luck, and they think that when you have bad luck, you’re not going to get married. As a kid, whenever I would hit my head on someone else’s head, people said that I was giving someone bad luck. To remove that bad luck, I’d have to bump heads again with that person. Then, it would go away. My grandma taught me this.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: It’s important to me because as a kid, I knew that the whole thing was dumb, and I didn’t believe it, but it’s something you hold onto. Someone older than me taught that- my grandma. It would always remind me of her. It was something that seemed like a game.

Personal Thoughts: This piece reminds me of the connection folklore gives people to other people. This superstition connects Mrika with her grandmother and her siblings and cousins with whom she spent time growing up. This piece also has a bit of humor to it, which helped Mrike to create childhood memories.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Don’t Bring a Feather into the House

Informant: Dr. Çulik-Baird is a 27-year-old professor. She was born and raised in Scotland, and moved to Los Angeles at 21. She recently moved to Boston for a job.

Main Piece:
Hannah: “When I was little, my mother would always warn me not to bring a bird’s feather into the house. My dad didn’t believe it, but my mother would always warn me against it.”

 

Interviewer: What would happen if you did?

Hannah: “Just bad luck, really. She never told me much more about it.”

Background Information about the Performance: The informant lives away from her family now but still practices this superstition that her mother told her. She said that doing so reminds her of home.

Context of Performance: This piece was told in the household of the informant when she was younger.

Thoughts: I have never heard of this superstition before, and the informant noted that it might have just been her mother’s belief. Nevertheless, I enjoyed learning that the piece kept the informant connected in some way to her family, despite living so far away.

 

Folk Beliefs
Protection
Signs

Chew on a Piece of Thread

Informant: B is a 20-year old born and raised in Southern California. He and his family are Jewish, and are all involved in theater.

Main Piece:

Informant: “Something my mom always told me is: if you’re wearing a garment of clothing that is actively being sewn or mended or stuff of that nature, you need to chew on a piece of thread.”

Interviewer: What happens if you don’t?

Informant: “Well, bad luck. There are all sorts of associations to death shrouds and dying, so it’s pretty bad to do.”

Background Information about the Performance: The informant’s mother told him this superstition when he was younger. The family frequently sews clothes due to their involvement with the theater.

Context of Performance: The piece is told as a warning against bad luck, mostly during situations in which people are mending clothes.

Thoughts: The informant noted that although he is not very superstitious, he very much believes this superstition. I was not aware of this superstition, but was aware of other sewing-related superstitions, such as knotted threads signifying an argument in the future, or not leaving something unsewn through New Years.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Going to Hell in High School

Context: I collected this from a high school friend when we were on a camping trip together over Spring Break.

Background: My friend and I were part of our high school’s marching band.

Dialogue: (Note: C denotes myself, J denotes my friend)

J: When I first went to CV [high school] they— We did the tour thing with the band, and they were like “This is the stairs to Hell! There’s a bomb shelter down there.” Which… fuck knows.

C: There’s a bomb shelter?

J: Yeah, apparently there’s a bomb shelter in CV. It was built in the 60s, it makes sense, y’know. I’ve never looked at the blueprints.

C: I was never told there was a bomb shelter.

J: Um, but I don’t know where that is. I’ve always assumed it was down in Hell, um, but… A couple years after that, uh, I was told by… someone, that a hobo used to live down in Hell and just kind of… slept there, cuz y’know, shelter I guess, and that one day administration found that hobo dead in Hell. So that sucks— Well it’s not really in Hell, cuz Hell you get to from the inside of the auditorium, you gotta go down the stairs from the Jazz Cave, but this was like— you know the stairs behind the auditorium, that go down and are like, sketchy and dark?

C: The spiral ones?

J: N0, the spirals are in the Jazz Cave. The ones that are, like, if you’re going from the Band Room up to the quad, and instead of going up the stairs you go around the stairs, and then there’s stairs down. If you go down those stairs.

C: Okay.

J: That’s where I was told that the hobo died.

C: Oh! Yeah, yeah.

J: And it’s like dark there and shit, so… it would make sense that no one found him there for a while.

Analysis: This is almost my own piece of folklore too, since I went to high school in the same place and knew about the same locations. In this instance, however, comparing my own knowledge about “Hell” (a basement area underneath our school’s auditorium) to what my friend knew showed some variation: I had never heard of the bomb shelter existing before, nor did I know that the specific staircase my friend had spoken about was supposed to be an “entrance to Hell,” as we would have put it back in the day.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

The Rice Witch

Context: One of my roommates, when he heard me explaining to a friend about how stressful it was to try and find folklore from different sources, offered some of the stories he knew from his childhood.

Background: My roommate’s family was extremely superstitious when they lived in Vietnam before he was born.

Dialogue: One day my uncle got enough, like, money on a shopping errand to buy some bags of rice, and, you know, apparently, as far as we know, he did get the rice. He was heading back with two bags of rice, um, and… he came back with nothing! What he told the family was that, in the middle of the way he encountered an old lady who asked him to give him the rice, and… he just could not… control anything except the fact that he handed the rice over to her and watched her walk off with it, and then came back with, uh, nothing, and actually… everyone believed him. So I guess there’s that.

Analysis: This feels extremely of its culture, largely because my roommate specified that his family’s superstition were directly connected to the country they come from, Vietnam. This fact also leads me to believe that this witch is a kind  of witch specific to the Vietnamese and/or Southern Asian area, rather than just a witch that everyone in Western civilization is familiar with.

general
Narrative

MOBY DICK

The two interviewee’s will be denoted through the initials ER and FK.

 

ER: “Mr. Keaton, remember when were up at Shawtown, and we’d go in the boat, and we’d go over to the other lake and we’d go under that bridge, and you would always say: “Mooobbby Dick”

 

FK: “Yea, well, Moby Dick, cause when you kids were all small, especially the girls, and we used to go over, ya know, from our lake, down the river, and go under the bridge.  And we called it Moby Dick’s bridge…  And I told the kids “When you go over there, you can look around that bridge” and I says, “Moby Dick lives there.”  They says, “Whose Moby Dick” I says, “You know, Moby Dick, the one in the story.”  “Ohhhh”  So they’d come back from that little lake, I says, “Did you see Moby Dick?”  And they says, “No we looked all over Mr. Keaton, we couldn’t find him.”  They were all looking for Moby Dick”

 

ER: “Yea it was pretty funny, I remember thinking “How could a massive whale live under this little bridge?”  But you told us he did and we believed you.  Everytime we, uh, went under that bridge, we’d make our voices real low, low as we could, and say “Mooobyyy Dick”.  And now everytime I go under a bridge in a boat I still say it.  And I’m 56 haha.

 

Conclusion:  This is a funny little story that has remained firmly in the mind of Evan (ER), a buddy of my Dad’s.  Frank (FK), a friend of my grandfather, was always playing little tricks on the kids and telling them stories like this.  I thought it was hilarious that Evan, who boats frequently in the waters off of Cape Cod, still makes his voice real low and says “Moooobyy Dick” every time he boats under a bridge.  Pretty funny habit/superstition to have as a 56 year old guy.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative

El Ojo

PP is a teacher who currently resides in Bothell Washington. She is originally from Yakima, WA but her family descends from Guadalajara in Mexico. Much of her family spoke Spanish as their first language and her grandma was the first to immigrate to America. Much of her influences and culture come from that region and her upbringing in a single-mother low income household.

Are there any beliefs you had growing up that many people in your culture shared? Any superstitions?

PP: Well almost anyone you talk to who is Mexican knows about ‘El Ojo’ or ‘The evil eye’.

What is ‘el ojo’?

PP: El ojo translates to the eye but it is a belief that if you stare or look in an envious or spiteful way you can trigger the evil eye on that person. The evil eye can cause bad things to happen like sickness or trouble. Sometimes it is called Mal Ojo because it is evil. This is especially concerning to mothers of young babies because many people will stare at your beautiful child in envy. This is why mothers are more protective of their children.

Is there any way to prevent ‘el ojo’?

PP: There are healers that would say you can get rid of it with holy water or eggs if someone may have brought the evil eye onto you. It is more of a bad energy and can affect surroundings not just a person. I think that to get rid of it you have to do an entire cleanse spiritually of anything that could have been effected. There are many rituals involving an egg to identify the evil eye’s presence. I don’t think I truly believe in it but there are many people who religiously believe in this superstition and are genuinely afraid of the eye. My grandma and mother were especially afraid of it as I was growing up and warned me never to look at someone in an envious way so I didn’t bring it on someone.

Analysis:

I have talked to many people from Spanish backgrounds about ‘el ojo’ and it seems to be one of the most universal superstitions. People do truly believe the eye has powers and an energy that can make terrible things happen to you. The eye is associated with many accidents and illnesses and the ways to get rid of it or detect its presence are very elaborate. You have to get a healer to come and use an egg to detect if the evil eye is present and if it is the yolk will have a shape of the eye in it and then you must cleanse anything the energy could have effected. This could mean, your car, your house, or even your family and friends who could have the evil eye. Although this belief seems to make no sense and most of these things are coincidental, it is interesting how much people truly believe in it and the power of it to affect people’s lives.

Folk Beliefs

Whistling at Night in Hawaii

Main Piece: Hawaiian Superstition

 

“It is told that you are not supposed to whistle at night in Hawaii, because it is believed to summon the Menehune who will capture and kill you”

 

Background:

 

My teammate Danny was born and raised in Hawaii, and this is a very common superstition in Hawaii. The Menehune are believed to be dwarf sized people, who live in the hidden valleys and forests in Hawaii, far out of sight of the humans.

Danny told me that he does not remember who specifically told him this superstition, but tells me it is just a generally well known superstition on the islands. He likes this superstition because it is just one of those random things that is known primarily by natives. This is especially interesting because Hawaii is a dominant tourist destination, and this could be one of those facts dropped by tour guides or natives to possibly scare the tourists or add a level of mystery to the island.

 

Context:

 

Like I said earlier, this is most likely a fact told to tourists by tour guides or natives working at a restaurant or something along those lines. It could also be something told by parents to their young kids when they go out to keep them from staying out to late at night, by instilling a little bit of fear in them to keep them out of trouble.

It could also be something found in a tourism book or a history of the islands when speaking of the mythological beings, the Menehune. This also seems to be more of a legend told around a campfire at night or at a luau, because it doesn’t seem like it would be one of those things that you are just walking down the street with your friend and they say “Oh hey by the way, don’t whistle at night or it will summon the Menehune.”

 

My thoughts:

 

I personally think this is sort of a Hawaiian version of the Boogeyman, being one of those things that scares kids into behaving and giving a far out consequence if not followed. Obviously an adult is not going to believe that a dwarf sized human is going to appear solely by the simple act of whistling, but a naïve and imaginative child would most certainly believe it.

I doubt this would come up in any other context aside from the ones told above, but it is an interesting fact that could be thrown around on a vacation with one’s family when visiting the Hawaiian Islands, that could make you seem fairly knowledgeable on the location. I have been to Hawaii many times before hearing this and I had never heard it so I doubt it is used much outside of family superstition.

 

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