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

“Three On a Match” Superstition

Main Text:

Lighting three cigarettes with the same match is bad luck.

Context:

DS said she heard this over the years of smoking and people had mentioned it to her if she was using matches. She said that she remembers it because she used to be a heavy smoker and it came up fairly often so she would avoid using the same match to light multiple cigarettes just in case in order to avoid any chance of bad luck falling upon her and her family. When I asked her if she would pass this belief along to anyone she said she probably would not because it never really made much sense to her and she does not see many people smoking with matches anymore.

Analysis:

To understand why this piece is passed down it is important to go back to the origins and see where it may have originated from and the theories for why the folk group smokers think “three on a match” is bad luck.

One of the origins of this phrase comes all the way form World War I. If three soldiers were smoking cigarettes during the dark hours of the night then superstition held that one of them was going to die. This is because they believed that striking the match on the box would alert the enemy to the presences of the soldiers and as the matched burned to light the second cigarette the enemy would have time to aim his gun in the direction of where he now knows that the soldiers are. Finally as the third cigarette was being lit up the enemy shooter would be able to see and shoot the third soldier. I think this theory is important because it begins to explain why many smokers in America know and hold this belief because they were taught and/or experienced it way back in the early 1900s. When the war ended in 1918, many of the men who fought in the war came back to the America and shared this superstition they had when out in the battlefield to their families and friends who were also smokers and I believe that this is one of the reasons it caught on initially and still carries on today, even if people do not know why they say it.

Another theory that can be used to analyze how this superstition originated and why it still gets passed along is the theory of the Holy Trinity. Many very religious people that I have known and spoken to in my lifetime believe that using the Holy Trinity symbol (or performing things in threes) as a casual act is very disrespectful to the Holy Law. People who do this they say are helpless in the face of evil (even to the devil himself). To apply this to smoking, this notion has spread and said that those smokers who do light three cigarettes from one match disrespect the Holy Trinity, cause evilness (or bad luck) to come upon them and “light the fires of hell” themselves with that one match that they used. People who happened to be religious who also smoked more likely than not shared this belief with the people that they smoked with and this is how it spread around the smoking community.

The final theory took some research but it explains this folk belief in a more reasonable ( to corporate America at least) way. This theory is about Ivar Kreugar who was a deceitful businessman who bought many matchmaking factories in the 1920’s and monopolized them. This made him rich and powerful to the point where he could spread an entire superstition without question from those he told it to, probably the matchmakers and smokers themselves. The theory goes that Kruegar made up this superstition and then got it to spread among the smoking community as a way for people to use more matches which allows him to sell more matches and make more money.

To summarize, there are three theories that I believe help to explain why this superstition was formed and how it spread to smokers in the United States. The first theory is that during Wold War I this superstition was shared among smokers on the battlefield as a way to make sure that they keep their matches and noises associated with using them hidden from the enemy to not disclose their location and get killed. The second theory is that doing something casual such as lighting a match in threes disrespects Holy Law because of the Holy Trinity and causes evil to come upon you. The third and final theory was that a businessman by the name of Ivar Kreugar monopolized many matchmaking factories in the United States and created this superstition as a way to have people buy more matches so that he could make more money.

Childhood
general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Three Little Piggies- Bedtime Story

Main piece:

“There is the story about the three little pigs. They are brothers and there is a lazy lazy one, a lazy one, and a hard-working one. They build three houses. Each one builds one house, all out of different materials. One of them built it really quick and was like ‘yeah whatever’, the other one worked a bit harder, but not super hard, and the last one worked really really hard on it and made it out of bricks. When the big bad wolf came the house of the super lazy pig that made it out of straws and sticks blew off, and the other sorta lazy pig’s house also blew off, the only house that protected them was the house made out of bricks.”

 

Context and Analysis:

I asked my informant a 21-year-old female if she recalled any folk stories. The informant narrated to me the story of the “Three Little Pigs.” She claims this was a bedtime story told to her when she was a child. She believes the story speaks to the rewards of doing hard work and applying dedication. The informant identifies a lot with the story for her dad was a very charismatic storyteller, so as a child she was very invested in the lives of the little piggies and this story really stuck with her. She remembers her feeling of terror vividly knowing the wolf was approaching the houses of the first two piggies and they were going to blow away. The informant explains how having this story be such a large part of her childhood has taught her hard work and dedication. She will forever remember the hard work the third pig put into his house and the rewards that came from it.

I too remember hearing a version of this story as a child and agree with my informant on the interpretation. There are many versions of the story, but the meaning ultimately remains the same. The story emphasizes the rewards of hard work. The first two pigs did not do a good job of building their houses, and because of this when the wolf came to test their houses they fell apart. The last pig worked really hard and put a lot of effort into building his house making it the only house left standing between the three pigs.  I believe this story is a great tale to teach children about the value of hard work. 

By having the middle pig who did not do a bad job, but didn’t do a good job I think the story also addresses mediocrity. If the middle pig had put in a bit more work into building his house, it would have probably been successful in protecting him from the wolf. This highlights the importance of following through and putting in the full effort as opposed to just “good enough.”  

The use of animals makes the story more entertaining for children because it adds a sense of fantasy and simplicity by using non-human characters. Non-human characters are more relatable and flexible as a tool for storytelling because the author can make them do whatever he pleases. Having pigs be the main characters also makes the kids more invested in the story since talking pigs with houses are unusual and new to them. I think the use of three is also important to note as it is a prominent number in storytelling. Having a trio creates a pattern making the story more memorable and emphasizes an idea. 

 

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Signs

Three Times Japanese Superstition

Aubrey is a Japanese-American currently attending ELAC. She plans to transfer to UCSD to pursue a bachelor’s in Marine Biology because she intends to protect the marine environment with her university education. She enjoys drawing, watching anime, attending sports games with her dad, and playing with her dogs.

Original Script

If it happens twice, it happens three times. So for instance, if you drop something twice that day, the third time you drop an object it’ll be a much more valuable object such as glass or your phone.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant first heard of this superstition from her mother one day when she was in elementary school. She had dropped her phone twice that day before her mother warned her what would happen for the third time. She was so scared of what would happen in the future that she handled her phone like a precious diamond.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in my house.

Although the Japanese believe the numbers, four and nine, are unlucky, they have superstitions where the penalty for committing a taboo action is three years of bad luck. There is also the superstition that sneezing three times means someone is talking unfavorably about you. This superstition told by the informant also calls upon the number three as a connotation for bad luck.

My Thoughts about the Performance

When I heard about this superstition, I thought the informant’s mother told her daughter about the superstition to scare her into treating her phone with care. In a broader context, this Japanese folk belief may have been created to encourage people to be more cautious about their possessions. It seems that one of the functions of folklore in most, if not all, cultures is to scare people into performing an action.

Customs
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tea Ceremonies in Chinese Wedding Tradition

The informant is a 67-year-old Mexican-American woman who is a reverend. She is known for tailoring wedding receptions to couples from different cultural backgrounds, and in her words “taking old traditions and giving them new meaning.” Many consider her to be the “guru of new wedding traditions.”

While out to breakfast while the informant was visiting me in Los Angeles, I asked her if there were any particular rituals or traditions drawn from Asian cultures that she has incorporated into weddings in the past. She responded by describing tea ceremonies, which she has commonly incorporated in the weddings of individual’s having a Chinese cultural background.

“In a tea ceremony, the parents of the bride and groom are called up to the altar. Together, the bride and groom prepare a cup of tea for each parent. The mothers and fathers then each take three sips of the tea, after which they sit back down. I’m not entirely sure why it is important that they take only three sips, but traditionally that is how it’s done.”

My first question after hearing of this tradition was, “How do they boil water at the altar?” To which the informant responded, “Typically a kettle has been heated somewhere behind the scenes, and it is brought out for the bride and groom. Really all they have to do is pour the tea into a cup and serve it to their parents.” This ceremony seems to represent the newlyweds demonstrating their gratitude to their parents for all that they have done, as a wedding marks the transition at which an individual’s spouse now has more responsibility for taking care of that person than do his or her parents. It is also a way for the bride and groom to let the parents know that they will take care of them in the future as old age approaches. While the informant was unsure of the reason that the parents take only three sips of the tea, examining this tradition with a comparative lens that takes into account a broad range of folklore shows that many folk traditions come in repetitions of threes. This often dates back to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity defined by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It also removes the awkwardness that would arise if one of the parents took a great deal of time to finish drinking the entire cup of tea while the entire audience had to sit and wait for them to be done, as three sips can be taken much more quickly and at the same speed by all parents.

general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Alpha Phi Omega Initiation

“I don’t know how long it’s been in practice, but like every time like we wear pins, like a pledge pin on the right side [of your chest] when you’re pledging and then you put it on the left when you have been initiated. So, ‘cause the left side is your heart, so like the service pin is more on your heart like, you’re like in. Um, and then during the initiation ceremony we like light candles for each, kind of characteristic we talk about, um, and then we also, when people are ushered in to the initiation ceremony they’re, they have to close their eyes and not look and they get in a line with hand on shoulder, like in lines of maybe ten people and then someone leads them who’s an active member already to lead them to the place of the initiation. And then once they’re all there, um, they can open their eyes and then they, everybody says their name in order and they say the oath repeating after the person leading the ceremony. Um, let’s see. That happens once when you find out you’re gonna become a pledge and that happens another time when you’re initiated to become an active member. The pledging period is, like, a semester long, basically . . . It just seems like it’s always been done that way and so, when I experienced it as a pledge, it’s how I also experienced it as an active, like it, it feels like it’s always been that way.”

 

The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who studies biology and is currently applying to medical schools. This interview took place in the new Annenberg building when I was having a conversation with another friend about superstition and the informant started to volunteer information about the rituals that have taken place in her life. She is a part of the campus service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, or APO and has been for all four years she has been at USC. APO is co-ed and is somewhat culturally removed from USC’s other Greek life. It states its principle values are “leadership, friendship, and service” and the members of this service fraternity are supposed to embody those values in their everyday lives.

 

This ceremony is clearly a liminal moment that has been ritualized. It is a way for new members to join the fraternity on a consistent basis while knowing that they have the approval of the active members. Essentially, it is a way of very clearly establishing who is a part of the frat, who is not, and who is in the process of joining. I thought it was interesting that the informant interpreted the movement of the service pin from the right side to the left side as having to do with the left side being where your heart is. Part of me believes this interpretation is influenced by her studying biology and the human anatomy currently being the most important area of study in her life, while the other part thinks this is probably the original symbolic meaning of the movement. Having the pin on the right side of your chest makes it merely a form of decoration, at most an acknowledgment that you are interested in being a part of this organization. However, as soon as you move it to the left side of your chest, it is a statement that the organization is a big part of your life as it is next to one of your most vital organs.

 

The repetition of the initiation ceremony is important, as it gives the active members and pledges a period to adjust to the change in the community. It is noteworthy that the active members light a candle for each “characteristic” that an APO member should embody, i.e. leadership, friendship, and service, as this means three candles are lit and three is an important symbolic number in American culture. I think the reasoning behind making the pledges close their eyes when they are led to the ceremony has more to do with symbolism than it does with keeping the location of the ceremony a secret. The pledges are going to find out where the ceremony is as soon as they open their eyes, so there is really no reason to think that keeping the location a secret is an important part of the ritual. Rather, I think it has to do with the fact that when the pledges close their eyes they are in a location that represents their lives before APO, and when they open them they are somewhere that represents the their new lives with this fraternity. This action also increases the suspense and sacredness of this ritual. That an active member leads the lines of pledges into the ceremony shows the approval of the existing members of APO and is an important step in making this outgroup a part of the in-group.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Game
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bloody Mary (or Candyman)

Information about my Informant

My informant grew up in Hacienda Heights where he went to high school, and received his bachelor’s degree from USC. He is a game designer and is currently working for a social mobile gaming company based in Westwood.

Transcript

“If you, like, look into a mirror, and you say…something three times, usually like ‘Bloody Mary’ or ‘Candyman.’ Those are like two. Um, you like summon them. And it’s very bad. Uh…”

Collector: “Why is it bad? Do they…”

“I don’t know. It’s one of those like you don’t wanna do it, and it’s kind of scary and then you never never do it, I guess? ‘Cause you’re too scared.”

Collector: “So you don’t know what happens when they appear?”

“No, like, there could be presents. I don’t know. They could hurt you horribly; I don’t know.”

Analysis

The Bloody Mary legend is famous among children of many cultures, although it is mostly associated with young prepubescent girls and not boys. The reason being, it is conjectured, is that the Bloody Mary legend in its traditional form is a representation of the onset of menstruation that is in the future for these girls (with the constant concept of blood and with the ritual being performed in front of a mirror that reflects the girls’ own images, meaning that when Bloody Mary does appear in the mirror, she is replacing the image of the girl herself). It is unusual then that in this version that my informant provided me with, it is not only a boy who learned about this but that his version included the possible substitute of a figure called the Candyman. I myself had heard of Bloody Mary but never this male figure. The ritual is very similar, with a candle being lit and the name of Candyman being chanted  a number of times while looking into a mirror. The classic version of Candyman though, as far as I can tell, before the movie called Candyman came out in 1992, was that the Candyman when summoned would either glare at the summoner through the mirror with  his glowing red eyes before vanishing or would kill the summoner with a rusted hook. There is also now a version, which I’m not sure existed before the movie came out, where the Candyman would romantically pursue a female summoner and kill her if she spurned him. It’s interesting that the classic versions of Candyman seems to involve more malevolence (staring, killing) than the classic versions of Bloody Mary (staring, scratching perhaps), but it’s difficult to tell as both figures have been prominently featured in mass media now and their portrayals there have filtered back into the folklore.

For more information about the Bloody Mary and Candyman legends, see:

Dundes, Alan. “Bloody Mary in the Mirror: A Ritual Reflection of Pre-Pubescent Anxiety.” Western Folklore 57.2/3 (1998): 119-135. JSTOR. Web. 1 May. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1500216>.

Tucker, Elizabeth. “Ghosts in Mirrors: Reflections of the Self.” The Journal of American Folklore, 118.468: 186-203. JSTOR. Web. 1 May. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4137701>.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

Ritual – American

When at the free throw line- 3 dribbles and a deep breath then shoot

My informant grew up playing and watching basketball, so it would make sense that he would play for his middle and upper school basketball teams.  Since my informant grew up watching basketball, he saw many different players approach the free throw line every game and do something before they let the ball out of their hands for the shot.  After watching basketball for many years, my informant developed his own technique.  It is common for players to dribble the ball and then shoot, but my informant added his own touch, “the deep breath.”  He said the reason for this method before shooting a free throw is to “give me a method before each shot to get a rhythm and make sure all free throws are consistent.”  Moreover, it is obvious that this method is done while the informant gets fouled and goes to the free throw line.

The reason why this ritual is so important in my informant’s world today is because he loves basketball.  Whether it is going outside on a warm day to play a pick-up game or just watching a game on ESPN, my informant just loves being a part of the game of basketball.  He grew up as a huge fan of the NBA, so it makes complete sense that basketball means so much to his life.  Even though his favorite hobby is music, he loves doing anything involving basketball.

When I interview my informant, I asked him what he thought of this free throw ritual and he said “it works and as long as it keeps my head in the game I will continue to use it.  My view on this ritual is that it is an extremely good idea, because basketball is such a complicated sport that one needs a certain ritual on a free throw.  If one doesn’t have a set ritual, it makes the game that much more confusing.  The free throw is the one part of the game that allows one to pause for a few seconds and take everything in.  You are standing at a line to shoot two free shots with no one guarding you, and because of this it helps to have a ritual to make this situation a calm one.

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