USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Superstitions’
Folk Beliefs

Russian Superstitions

The 26-year-old informant was born in Russia, but moved to the U.S. at a young age. During his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College, he was a teaching assistant for a Russian folklore class and found these pieces of folklore to be particularly interesting or representative of Russian culture.

On shaking hands:

“One superstition is you’re never supposed to shake hands with someone across a threshold or doorway. It’s said to lead to separation and falling out, because you’re like, wishing to never see that person again. So that’s pretty common. Pretty much all Russians follow this rule.”

On whistling:

“Another sort of weird superstition is that you shouldn’t whistle–especially indoors, like ever, because it’ll lead to you losing all your money and having bad luck. It used to be this belief that the wind is bad. Like a bad demon-type creature, and in ancient pagan belief. The wind whistles, so by whistling, you’re inviting the wind demon into your house.”

 

These superstitions are interesting because they involve things that are quite common in the U.S. In fact, most Americans wouldn’t think twice about where they shake hands with someone or if they’re whistling indoors. It definitely highlights the slightly irrational ideas behind superstitions when you hear superstitions from other cultures that aren’t your own. However, all superstitions play a part in culture and thus contribute infinitely to it.

general
Protection

Baseball Superstitious Habits

Baseball is an uncertain game, and can change in an instant, so I asked my informant, a long time player, if he had any particular routines that he has never broken, and what this does.

RC: “I don’t know, each time I hit, I go out and readjust each batting glove once, then I hit the plate twice; I do this in-between each pitch. It’s a repeated habit and you don’t want to get out of that habit. If, not, it would get you out of your rythum and get out of your head.”

Me: Do you or anyone ever change these habits?

RC: “Often people change if they want to get out of a funk. So if you are in a slump, and you go pants up all the time or pants down all the time, and if you go into a slump sometimes you change to see if can get you out of a slump, same goes for batting gloves or no batting gloves or pulling out the pocket of your pants. Stuff like that, small changes that can change your entire mind and pull you out of a funk.”

Analysis:

Sports, especially baseball are full of small superstitions such as these. This is most likely because the game is so uncertain, and often out of a single player’s hand, that they will do anything that will boost their luck. Luck is often the center of such superstitions, they will do anything to get luck and avoid poor luck. The game can change in an instant and to players the difference is in the details such as pants or gloves. Because the game is so based on repetitions and routine, any small change is highly noticeable to the player, which is why change to “get out of a funk” is so impactful on their mindset. Knowing that there is a change, and something may come of it, affects a player’s whole mindset. Additionally these routines are assurance that I can play good  in this game despite anything else because before when I have done this, I have done well. There is also comfort in routine and in such a high stress games, these little routines and habits are a comfort to the player.

 

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Soles must face down

Background

The informant has a lot of different parts of her background which influence her. Her family is Haitian and Comorian (an island off the coast of Africa) and she is still close with family who live in those places and visits often. She grew up for the first 10 years of her life in the U.S., but then spent the rest of her life living in Paris, France until she decided to come to school in the U.S. She likes to say that she’s a hodge-podge of different identities. She learned this superstition from her mother who she says has tons of different superstitions about the world.

Context

The informant first explained this superstition to me and the seven other people we live with after one week of knowing each other. We have a communal area near the front door where we keep our shoes. She told us about this superstition and asked that we make sure the soles of our shoes are never facing upwards on the mat.

Text

So, my mom taught me, uh… so, my mom, who is from Comoros, taught me that in Comoros, um.. she was taught that you can’t have your shoes facing… Uh, the sole of your shoes facing the sky or the ceiling, because when they’re– when you’re walking, generally, you’re walking on the ground and you’re doing it normally. And, uh, but when your shoes are facing up, they’re walking on god. So, they shouldn’t be facing up.

Thoughts

When the informant discussed this superstition, she prefaced it as if it were a silly little thing that her mom always thought. However, the informant still does avoid the behavior that the superstition describes as bad luck and even went so far as to tell the people she lives with to heed the superstition, as well. In this way, it appears that there is another reason she is performing this folk belief other than actually believing it. As she consistently mentions her mother when describing the superstition, I would guess that performing this folk belief, for her, has something to do with the connection to her mother.

 

Folk Beliefs

You’ll grow a watermelon in your stomach

Background

The informant is Chinese-American where both of her parents are from China, but she has never been there herself. She said that her mom had several superstitions that she would tell her as a child. The informant seemed to feel fondly about this habit of her mother’s.

Context

We were on a group trip to Catalina Island and we were having a picnic on the beach. One of the things we were eating, as a group, was almost an entire watermelon. In the middle of our picnic, the informant shared this superstition. After she said it everyone laughed, and some said that they had heard something similar.

Text

My mom used to tell me that you’re not supposed to eat watermelon seeds, because if you do that you– you’ll grow a watermelon in your stomach.

Thoughts

I would guess that the informant’s mother told this superstition to her daughter, in part, as a way to warn her against eating watermelon seeds. While it probably won’t make a watermelon grow in your stomach, it isn’t the best for you either. The informant seemed to perform the piece of folklore somewhat ironically as a way of sharing her fondness for her mother with her friends.

 

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Two socks or no socks

Background

The informant has a lot of different parts of her background which influence her. Her family is Haitian and Comorian (an island off the coast of Africa) and she is still close with family who live in those places and visits often. She grew up for the first 10 years of her life in the U.S., but then spent the rest of her life living in Paris, France until she decided to come to school in the U.S. She likes to say that she’s a hodge-podge of different identities. She learned this superstition from her mother who she says has tons of different superstitions about the world.

Context

The informant brought up this superstition when she saw one of our friends walking around with only one sock on. She freaked out a little bit and said that she should take off her sock or put on another one immediately. Everyone was laughing as she described it, including her.

Text

So, my mom always taught me that, um.. You’re never supposed to walk around with one sock or one shoe on and not the other because it means that, your — that one of your parents is going to leave, or die, or.. something. Basically, you’ll be– you’ll have one parent away, because you have two shoes like you have two parents and if you get rid of one of the shoes that you’re supposed to have, just like you’re supposed to have your two parents, then something bad is gonna happen.

Thoughts

When the informant discussed this superstition, she was laughing about it. However, the informant still does avoid the behavior that the superstition describes as bad luck and even tells other people to heed the superstition, as well. In this way, it appears that there is another reason she is performing this folk belief other than actually believing it. As she consistently mentions her mother when describing the superstition, I would guess that performing this folk belief, for her, has something to do with the connection to her mother.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Jaguar: bad luck in Venezuela

Okay, so in the Oronoco Delta, which is in the Eastern part of Venezuela that borders Guyana, there’s um, it’s hard to pronounce but it’s the Juaguaro Indians, and they’re this indigenous people that live in basically like stilted houses above the river, and navigate around the channels in canoes, they’re very untouched by what’s going on in the rest of Venezuela and western culture. There’s huge amounts of jungle there. And one of their superstitions is that it’s bad luck to see or to have a jaguar living near them. And they call them tigers, well, “tigres,” but they’re actually jaguars. So as it goes, whenever they see a jaguar they have to kill it, otherwise they’ll have bad luck and bad karma, or there will be sickness and death. So whenever they see a jaguar it’s like part of their culture to kill it. And the way that I heard about this was, there was this Sirian guy that was raised in America after the age of 9, so I guess I’ll just call him American…he moved down there and he had a camp type thing where tourists would come and stay and camp in the jungle. And there weren’t really any other foreigners living there at the time, so people would bring him animals from the jungle, to raise them, if they got separated from their mother or were sick or something. He had all kinds of bizarre animals over the years, like monkeys, and otters, and caiman or crocodile, and when I saw him he had a mountain lion, but before that he had a jaguar. And he got it as a tiny baby kitten, and raised it himself, and his children grew up with it, and it was really tame because it was used to being around people. And he said one day, some indigenous guys came over, and took his jaguar cause they said it was bringing them bad luck. So they killed it, and one guy wore the skin, the bloody skin around for 3 days to clear the area of bad luck. And he went to the officials but it’s this thing that’s so rooted in their culture that even the Venezuelan officials can’t really do anything about it.

 

How long ago was this? When the incident happened?

 

Probably about, I’d say 10 years ago. So it’s still going on.

 

ANALYSIS:

This is a folk belief / superstition / custom that has clearly very established and embedded in this society’s culture, that even the government is aware that it is still practiced but can’t or wont do anything about it. This shows that it is a very strong and seriously considered belief. It seems as though this society is largely isolated from other societies, but clearly clashes with other Venezuelan’s beliefs, especially the subject of the informant’s story. The act of donning the skin of the “enemy” or the threat to their society is a kind of empowerment, or domination, and shows the rest of that community that they can rest assured they are safe from bad luck and that they have triumphed over the enemy. Taking away the enemy’s skin is like taking their identity away, disembodying them from their power.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Kinesthetic
Life cycle
Old age
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese Funerals (Taiwan)

This is a Chinese thing. After someone passes away, like Grandpa, Grandma, Mom, Dad, whoever, it’s like a very long two-week, three-week ordeal where there’s a ton of praying, there’s a funeral where you go to a funeral home and then you pray for hours. You have to do like a special thing where you like put your hands together and bow and nod your head, it’s very, just….culture. Culture.

 

Do you say things? Is it silent prayer?

 

Yeah you have to say like, I don’t know, my mom told me I forgot. Sorry. But okay so for the death thing, they’ll…I cant remember exactly but they take the body to like a temple where it gets burned…

 

Is this after the praying?

 

Yeah, there’s praying for like a week, not like a straight week, but like – get up, go pray, get up, go pray, get up, go pray. So yeah you pray for a week while everything’s being prepared, like all the ceremonies are being prepared. So then you go to the temple, and while the body’s actually burning in the furnace you keep praying, a ton of people are there, even the grandchildren. You keep praying while it’s burning, and then afterwards my mom told me that they took out the tray, or whatever he was on… There were still some bones left, because bones don’t burn unless they’re cracked, unless the heat from the fire cracks them open or something. So apparently my grandpa’s femur bone and like tibia or something was still left there, so the grandkids have to go and pick those up…and then I forgot what she said they did with them! Um, I’m pretty sure they burned them or somehow like, crushed them. So they eventually burn all of them. And then they put him in this little box, his ashes. And actually there might be some other traditional things in there, sorry I don’t know. So, I mean this is for my family, I’m sure if you’re richer I’m sure you get like a special temple somewhere like really nice, but he was actually a veteran, so he was buried in the veteran cemetery. And it’s way different than our cemeteries, it’s like green grass, it’s taken care of by caretakers every single day, it’s beautiful, it’s up in the hills kind of, it’s really nice. So the whole family was there, my cousin, uncle, aunt, grandma, and other family members, and one of my cousins put the box on his back, they strap it on so they actually carry it up the mountain, all the way up to where his gravesite is. And then you bury the box in the ground. Also I don’t think you wanna like, take pictures of this because it’s kinda like, you’re capturing the soul, and you don’t wanna do that cause then the soul wont be able to go up to heaven. Or like the Chinese heaven. So I mean they didn’t take pictures of the box directly, but they took pictures of like the hills and stuff. And then they just pray some more, like say their goodbyes at the grave.

 

ANALYSIS:

This is a funeral ritual which involves a very lengthy and specific process for proper mourning, treatment and burial of the body and ashes, and symbolic acts. There is a specific time period of mourning, and even poses and physical actions in mourning; there are specific roles that different family member play in the ritual according to their ages; there are superstitions and beliefs regarding how the deceased’s spirit or soul gets to heaven, and how to do everything correctly so as not to interfere with that transition. The whole process seems to be both in support of the dead family member’s transition to the after life, as well as the family members remembering, honoring, and making sacred that person and their life.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Folk speech
Gestures
Initiations
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian Rituals adopted by a Non-Persian, Jewish Family

Basically, when someone talks bad about you, or someone does something to like, harm you, or let’s say like for example I’m wearing a nice dress and I come home and I’m like ‘oh mom, this lady said “nice dress, it looks really good on you,”’ my mom would be like, ‘oh, she has a bad eye on you.’ And my mom will run, and she’ll get salt, and she’ll put salt all around my head. Like she’ll start spraying it, like literally having salt fly in the air, and like, pouring salt everywhere and then she says like, ‘to keep the bad eye away from my daughter,’ she says like a little prayer in her head. It’s like a blessing of salt over your head to keep away the evil eye.

 

So your mom does this to you?

 

She did it once. She learned it from her Persian friends. I’m not Persian, but my friends that are Persian, their moms have done it to me too.

Another thing is like, I don’t know if it’s traditional but like when you get a new car or you get something new, you take eggs and you run the eggs over with the car. You put like two on the back tires, two on the front tires, and you run them all over. So it’s like good luck cause you’re like coating the tires with an egg? Not an egg but like, you break the way for the car kind of. You break the way for the car to like enter the world, the streets.

 

Why eggs specifically?

 

I, I don’t know. These are just things that I’ve seen people do. And then, what is the jumping over fire one, Nic?

(Her friend: That’s for Persian New Year.)

Why?

(Friend: You’re asking the wrong person. Ask Sogol.)

 

ANALYSIS:

This is an interesting folk superstition and ritual that has been adopted by a family that isn’t Persian, but is Jewish, and are surrounded by a community of Jewish Persian. The informant’s mom, through interaction with her friends, has inherited or adopted this belief and practice of protection and keeping bad spirits away. One can easily see, though, how the original meaning or belief has become lost / confused/ muddled, because the informant did not grow up being as exposed to this tradition in her family. However, as her friends and her friends’ parents have done these rituals, she has been exposed to them and so participates in them, just not as fully perhaps as her friends with Persian heritage. She does know why these rituals are practiced and some of the symbolism behind the eggs, for example. It is also a sort of initiation ritual for the car to enter into the world.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Humor
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Keeping the Workers in Line

I collected this piece of folklore from my dad during the first half of Spring Break, when we were visiting a friend. We had just finished dinner and were still sitting around the dining table, when we began to tell stories.


Script

Dad: “In the past the landlords used to own wineries, and they would put the wine to age, and the peasants, they used to go at night and steal the wine. So, they said… You know, they’re superstitious. They believe a lot of stuff, so at night the patrones (landlords) put the figure of el Diablo (the devil) in front of a light, like a candle or a lantern, and it project the face of el Diablo. And the peasants get scared, and all they run away, to scare them out of the wine, because Chileans, the peasants, they were very drunk, and alcoholic, the majority. They wanted to scare the peasants. My trabajadores (workers), I used to live on a farm, and my father had many campesinos (peasants) working for him. My father used to go have meetings in the attic, and he would carry chains. Big chains, like (makes noise of dragging chain), to scare them, and they used to run away from the place. They used to tell them that if they don’t behave, the ghosts show up and walk on the roof. But it was my father, hiding at night, passing the thing, making noises.

Me: “In other words, your father wasn’t superstitious?”

Dad: “No, no of course (not). Me too. He was the patrón, defending the patrones. You know I found myself doing exactly the same with my Mexican workers. I hired about twenty workers, and we put housing in Kona Kai, in Kona (in Hawaii), and I told them, ‘You know, you have to be careful, because if you misbehave, in this house, a woman was killed twenty years ago, you know, and she hang herself from this roof…’ You know, invent things. And they believe.”

Me: “Did they ever catch you?”

Dad: “Yeah, now we’re friends. But you know they were very astute. It’s like a practical joke you do on then and keep the secret for, until they found out.”

Background & Analysis

My dad was raised in Rancagua, Chile, which is a city outside of Santiago. His father worked alongside the landlords of wineries, and they would perform these practical jokes to keep the workers in line. Learning from his father, my dad implemented this type of pranking with his workers on the coffee plantations he currently manages.

This means of keeping order, and determining who was trustworthy or not, via practical joking, was very clever. Also, my dad described that those who found out or were told, became in on the secret, and this is an example of the liminal theory, and those workers transitioned.

Folk Beliefs
general

Don’t step on the falcon

“Our mascot for my high school is a falcon. They have a big tile mosaic thing of a falcon in the quad and you’re not supposed to walk on it, especially on game days. And especially when we played our rivals, Los Gatos High School. It’s right in the middle of the quad. It’s supposed to be bad luck if you step on it. I’m not really sure if it works or not but I never stepped on it just in case. Also I never played sports but I still didn’t do it.”

My participant is not an athletic person and did not participate in athletics in high school. I found it intriguing that despite her lack of interest or involvement in sports she still subscribed to the superstitions associated with her high school mascot. I was also surprised that it was bad luck to step on the falcon when it was located in such a public place as the school quad since it would be an easy mistake for pedestrians to make.

[geolocation]