USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Superstition’
Legends

Halcyon House (Washington, D.C) Albert Clemens

Transcription: “A couple generations later, the house was bought Samuel Clemens’ (Mark Twain) nephew, Albert Clemens. He owned it in the late 1800s. Albert believed that as long as the kept building the house, he wouldn’t die. He built stairways to nowhere, doors that open into nothing, and rooms within rooms. He was adamantly opposed to electricity. He didn’t let anyone bring anything electric into his house. They say that to this day, people will walk into the house and their phones will stop working or light bulbs will burst. When he died, he wanted the coroner to put a pick-ax in his heart to make sure he was dead.”

The same informant who works for a Washington D.C. tour company told me another story involving the Halcyon House. Several decades later, the house was owned by Samuel Clemens’ nephew, Albert Clemens. I did not realize the historical significance of Samuel Clemens until my informant told me I would recognize his pen name, Mark Twain. Therefore, the Halcyon house is not only connected with American history, but American culture.

I do not know much about Samuel Clemens or his nephew, but according to my informant, Albert suffered from mental health problems. Albert convinced himself that he would not die as long as he continued to build and renovate the Halcyon property. Albert likely attached some spiritual significant to the house or associated it with his life purpose. In hopes of postponing his death, Albert built designs that would inhibit the completion of the house. He built stairways to nowhere, doors that open to a wall, and rooms within rooms. He believed these paradoxes of design held the key to his immortality. Albert’s superstitions were not limited to structural design and immortality. He also was opposed to electricity and had a fear of being buried alive. His rejection of electricity could be explained as a fear of progress and technology.

This story combines multiple genres of folklore since it documents the superstitions of an individual, includes a legendary figure, and the history lives on today in the form of a ghost story.

 

general

Webb Tower: No 13th Floor

In the United States, the lack of a thirteenth floor is common to many tall buildings. This photo was taken in the elevator of Webb Tower. Built in the 1980s, Webb Tower is unique among USC’s dorms. Not only does it have the greatest number of floors of any on-campus residential building, fourteen, it does not include a thirteenth floor. The labels in the elevator run from twelve to fourteen to fifteen.

The belief in an unlucky number thirteen can be traced far back in Anglo folklore. The number twelve represents a wholesome number as it matches the number of months in a year. If twelve signifies an ideal number, then it follows that thirteen offsets its perfection. The bad sign of thirteen likewise relates to the Bible since Jesus is said to have thirteen disciples, Judas being the thirteenth. The superstition continues today with the stigma surrounding Friday the thirteenth, which is traditionally marked by the release of horror movies.

I find the renaming of floors to avoid the unlucky number thirteen to be silly superstition. The number assigned to the floor might not be “thirteen,” but the floor is nonetheless the thirteenth floor. I lived in Webb Tower for two years and refused to live above the “fourteenth” floor. Not because of a belief in an unlucky thirteen, but as a sort of whimsical protest to the superstition. Therefore, I have re-adapted the folklore of the nonexistent thirteenth floor into my own variation.

Elevator folklore

 

Customs
Protection

1UP, Pegs up

Main piece:

When you ride, you have your pegs, right? And when you have your girl or your buddy on the back, you’re riding 2UP, they’ve got pegs too, right? To put their feet on. And on every bike, these pegs fold up and down.

Now, this one’s kinda weird – but ya gotta think about it. When you’re by yourself, but you’ve got your pegs down? You’re askin’ the devil to sit behind you. You’re askin’ him to lean the wrong way, bounce around.

So, the idea is that you always need to put your passenger pegs up when you’re by yourself. The only exception is in a funeral procession. A guy you lost out on the road? Leave the pegs down so he can ride with you. That’s the exception. He’s like a guardian angel.

Context:

Stew has been riding motorcycles since the age of fifteen. He is a thirty-five year member of Glen Ellyn’s volunteer fire department, and is a Vietnam War veteran.

Background:

This myth is common to most motorcycle riders, and is one of many superstitions in biker culture related to passengers.

Analysis:

Summoning the devil is a common superstition in American folklore. The 1UP, pegs down example is particularly interesting, as it is a sin of omission or forgetfulness rather than direct action like spilling salt.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian New Year

Folklore:

Persian New Year is an important holiday in Persian culture. Unlike American New Years which happens always on January 1st Persian New Years takes place in mid March. A tradition during Persian New Years is jumping over a bonfire. Jumping over the bonfire is a symbolic ritual. By jumping over the bonfire you are giving away bad vibes from the previous year to the fire, while the fire is giving you good vibes to start off the New Year.

Background & Context:

My informant is Persian-American and she has grown in Southern California. She is currently a senior at USC. I collected this piece of folklore in a casual setting one evening. She takes part in Persian New Years occasionally, she says that while the ritual of jumping over the bonfire holds symbolic meaning many including herself do the ritual for fun and reminicines from their childhood.

Final Thoughts:

I have slightly more information on this tradition as I have taken part in it before with a different Persian-American friend although I am not Persian. When I took part in this ritual I did not hear about any of the symbolic meaning and only found out collecting this ritual from my informant. This New Years tradition is similar to other traditions as New Years in other cultures based on having a new start and leaving behind negative aspects of the past year. Fire is also something that is prominent in other cultures in getting rid of negative energy. Overall this ritual is similar to other traditions around the world.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian Superstition: Rue

Folklore:

This is a Persian superstition that involves rue also known as espada the spice. When people start staying too many positive things about one person they will burn rue to not jinx the person they are complimenting. Someone will burn the rue and circle it around the person’s head. An example my informant gave me of this folklore is herself at a family reunion. At the reunion her family talks about how well she is doing during college and to not jinx her they’ll circle burning rue around her head.

Background & Context:

My informant is Persian-American and she has grown in Southern California. She is currently a senior at USC. I collected this piece of folklore in a casual setting one evening. For her this tradition is not something she uses in her daily life as she does not keep rue in her apartment at USC and nor is it something she necessary believes in nor disbelieves in. However when she is with more traditional family members, like her grandparents they will use rue as they believe in this superstition.  

Final Thoughts:

My final thoughts on this piece of folklore is that it is interesting and similar to other traditions. The similarities it has to other traditions is burning herbs or spices to ward off evil spirits or bad vibes. I also believe it is interesting how the mixing of two cultures affected the informant’s belief on traditional cultures that others in her family strongly believe in.

 

Folk Beliefs
general

Dragon Dream

Folklore:

This is a true story when my informant’s mother was pregnant with him she didn’t tell his grandmother because she became pregnant out of wedlock. At the time his mother lived in the United States while his grandmother in South Korea. However one day out of the blue the grandmother calls his mother asking if anyone is pregnant or dead. As she had dreamed of a huge dragon which in Korean culture signifies that a huge event has happened. The grandmother had called asking because none of their relative in South Korea had anything significant happen to them, so the grandmother knew my informant’s mother was pregnant from a different country. She also had the same dream with a smaller dragon when his mother was pregnant with his younger brother.  

Background and Context:

The informant is a Korean American sophomore at USC. He was born and raised in Northern California but he lived in South Korea for six months right after highschool. I collected the folklore on a Wednesday night in a very casual setting. My informant learned this story when he was young from his parents. He believes this to be a true story.  

Final Thoughts:

I think this is one of the most interesting pieces of folklore I have collected because my informant completely believes it to be true and I find it very believable too. It is also interesting how the dragon can symbolize life or death two completely different aspects of life. What was also amusing was how the dragon in the dream changed sizes for the first born son vs the second born son. This is also a view into Korean culture as usually the first born sons birth is the biggest celebration for births.

 

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection

Backpacking Preparation

Informant Info:  The informant is an 18-year-old from St. Louis, Missouri. She is currently a freshman studying Public Policy at USC.

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: As a hiker/backpacker, do you have any little traditions, rituals, or lucky charms that help ensure you have a safe and successful trip?

Interviewee: Well, before any hike, and also… any test, presentation, or project… I uhh, always – always – ALWAYS – have a very very specific omelet. I make it with 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon of milk, 2 strips of crumbled bacon, half of a pepper, a little spinach, and about a third of a cup of cheese.

Interviewer: Wow, that is specific… like why?

Interviewee: Well, some people have lucky charms but I have my lucky meal. It eases my mind, and it fuels me up. I can focus on making the perfect omelet that it prevents me from stressing out about what’s to come… and I also feel good after, so why not.

Interviewer: Makes sense, have you ever gone without it. If so, how did you feel?

Interviewee: I have. I wasn’t a fan. Something just felt missing. I know it’s stupid but I did noticeable worse on a test once. I knew the material, I studied for weeks… I just blanked. I doubt it would’ve happened had I eaten!

 

Analysis:

As with other lucky charms or rituals within these collections, a common trend seems to be mindset. The informant sort of mentions it herself by stating that the omelet itself isn’t lucky, but it instead helps her clear her mind. In a way, the omelet only serves as a placebo effect for her. This similar case can likely be argued for many lucky items. Nonetheless, it is interesting that she has such a belief and must make an omelet, of all things, so specifically (and ritually) before any major event.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic

A Cheerleader’s Lucky Socks

Informant Info: The informant is a 20-year-old female who was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. Her mother is Caucasian, and her father is Hispanic. She currently lives in Orlando, Florida and works for Walt Disney World.

 

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: I know that you were a cheerleader. When you were on the team, did you have any traditions or lucky items or phrases during games and competitions?

 

Interviewee: So, I was a competitive cheerleader for almost 10 years and at every single competition since I was 8 years old I always wore the same pair of socks. They were white with neon yellow stripes from American Eagle. I got in trouble every single time I wore them because they weren’t “in dress code” but I felt all the more confident in them. We didn’t win every competition when I had them on, but I threw all my skills and landed them. It was more of a superstition and comfort thing for me, but I like to believe they’re the reason we won many competitions (and not because we were actually good)

Analysis:

This superstition is common among sports participants. It is interesting that she acknowledges herself that she knows it is a superstition and that it served as comforting her, but still considers them as “lucky” socks. Yet, maybe the socks were indeed lucky, because by making her feel more comfortable, she was indeed more likely to perform more confidently.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Magic
Signs

Happily Ever After – Server’s Edition

Informant Info:   The informant is a 26-year-old female who was born in raised in Hickory, North Carolina. For the past 3 years, she has lived in Orlando, Florida and has worked for Walt Disney World as a Status Coordinator.

 

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: You’ve worked for Disney for the past 3 years, almost 4 now. Have you ever encountered any traditions within locations that are outside of the realm of general work operations?

 

Interviewee: Well, I think I have one for you. When I was at Be Our Guest, there was a giant mosaic at the entrance of the restaurant. Every morning when opening, we would follow general opening procedures and then have the normal pre-shift meeting that all locations have… not that you would know since you were always closing at Satu’li (laugther)! Anyways, the mosaic, in case you don’t know, is one of the scenes of the Happily Ever After between Belle and the Beast. After pre-shift, we all had to walk outside to greet guests and drop the rope. But before doing so or starting any shift, every server would walk up to the mosaic and touch it. To them, it was like a good luck charm. In order to have a good shift, they needed to touch it and by doing so they would get lucky and have their own happily ever after by getting good tables and tips. Otherwise, without touching, they would likely have a bad shift. It sounds stupid, but it’s something I always witnessed them doing!

Analysis:

It seems almost natural that workers (or cast members, as they are called) are deriving their own superstitions off popular folklore. The mosaic that she is referring to in the story reflects the ending scene in Disney’s version of The Beauty and the Beast. It is a depiction of the ballroom scene of Belle and the Beast dancing, and the red rose blossoming in the background. This scene in the movie symbolizes the happy ending for the two, as the Belle and the (now) Prince can spend the rest of their lives together after the curse has been lifted. The superstition among the Disney servers just reflects variation on this by, as Kim points out, serving as a lucky charm for their own happily ever after… by the method of good tips!

BeautyBeast

 

Citations: Trousdale, Gary and Kirk Wise, directors. Beauty and the Beast. Walt Disney, 1991.

Photo from Google Images

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Signs

Gutter School Superstition

My friend was already aware of my folklore project. While getting coffee, we were happened to be telling stories about our experiences in high school. I realized this would be perfect for this assignment. GG is the informant, PH is myself.

PH: Do you have any folklore about your school, like stories everyone would tell, or things everyone would do?

GG: Oh, I think I have one. I don’t know for sure if it’s folklore.

PH: You tell me and then we’ll see.

GG: Okay, at my elementary school there was this gutter by the lunch tables and kids would say… just to freak other kids out… they would say it was built on an old ranch where there was a princess or something or a rich family and where the gutter was used to be a little stream and she fell face first and hit her head and died in the stream so people would never step in the gutter because she would come to haunt you

PH: Yes, that is folklore! Thank you.

[geolocation]