USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘trees’
Folk speech
Proverbs

Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäume nicht

“Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäume nicht.”

“You do not see the forest for the trees.”

Context: The informant went to school on a military base in Weisbaden, Germany, and spent the majority of her childhood there. She heard this proverb from her friend when she was upset. She continues to think of this proverb in stressful situations.

Interpretation: This proverb is meant to help people when they are wrapped up in small problems. It teaches the audience to see things from a broader perspective rather than focusing on specific issues that will not matter in the greater scheme of things. It also works to soothe people who are upset or overwhelmed.This proverb also tells the audience about Germany’s environment. One-third of Germany is covered in forestry, so it is fitting that a well-known German proverb utilizes the forest as a symbol.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Nature and Garden Spirits

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as AD.

BD: So tell me about the spirits that live in nature.

AD: So, my mother, in her house’s yard, there’s a swing outside and some grass. They say that there’s something that lives underneath the ground. Every time you have to be careful and not step on the roots, or you have to say “excuse me,” which in Tagalog is “tabi tabi po.”
Anyway, spirits that live there, outside and underground, and if you accidentally step on them and you don’t say excuse me, bad things happen.

BD: Like what?

AD: People get sick. And doctors don’t know why. Bad things like that. But when this happens, and it’s unexplainable by regular medicine, they call a man from the community and he does “tawas.” I don’t know what the term is in English. But only certain people can do it. This person who knows how to get the sickness out of your system. They use a bowl with water, and they use a candle. What they do is put the bowl in front of them and the person who is sick, the bowl between the two people. They light the candle, and pour the wax into the bowl of water. And it forms a shape. Whatever shape it forms—sometimes it’s in the shape of an animal—that’s the spirit that is harming the person.


 

Analysis: Growing up, I heard this belief often, because I am Filipino, and my grandmother’s yard was rumored to have some of the spirits in it—all nature does. Even now, when I step on tree roots, I whisper under my breath “tabi tabi po,” in hopes I will not be cursed. A more personal, in-depth look at the process of tawas can be found at: www.lifestyle.inquirer.net/177916/diagnostic-rituals/. The informant personally knows four people capable of tawas, proving it is not an uncommon practice, and many Filipinos still believe in both ideas—the initial superstition and the folk medicine that can cure transgressions by the superstition.

Proverbs

Proverb – Irish

The informant learned the following proverb from his father:

“Most wind happens around the trees.”

According to him, the proverb refers to the tendency of people to gossip when they gather in small groups. It is generally performed when the speaker wants to warn the listener not to talk too much, such as when the listener is about to leave to socialize with friends. The informant seldom uses the proverb because he disagrees with it—he thinks that there is nothing wrong with a little gossip among friends.

Ireland has very few trees now that its residents have cleared so many to make way for farms, but the nation is very windy regardless, so clearly the proverb is not literal. It seems likely to me that the proverb was brought to Ireland from another nation-state where there are more trees.

Collector’s Information:

Name: Claire Nickerson

Age: 20

Address: 920 W 37th Place #1303A, Los Angeles, CA 90089

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Some Cherokee beliefs about incoming storms

When my friend told me she was part Cherokee Indian, I was curious to hear what kinds of traditions and pieces of wisdom were passed down to her. The following is what she had to say.

“So, my grandma, her mom is a Cherokee Indian, and some sayings that she passed down that my grandma always says is that, if the pine tree has a bunch of [pine]cones at the top of the tree, then that means it’s gonna be a really tough winter, and if animals have really thick pelts, then that also means its gonna be real hard because the animals have to fatten up I guess. And if you see the backs of the leaves, then that means a storm’s coming.”

I have heard several folk beliefs about when people think there might be a storm coming, or other types of natural occurrences. Native Americans seem to be particularly in tune with nature, and my friend told me that she thinks the above folk beliefs are true because so far she’s witnessed them to be true.

general
Material

Religious Tattoo – American

“There’s a couple different reasons I got the tattoo. One, I had been meditating on this verse in Jeremiah that talks about when we put our trust and confidence in God it’s like this great tree with these deep roots that are planted by the river. And during times of drought, and uh, you will not perish, uh, and you will bare much fruit. And so my tattoo is of this tree with these deep really roots to remind myself that I need to put my trust and confidence in him. And that is where my strength comes from. And so that’s the idea behind the tattoo. Um, but I had always been interested in tattoos and um, I also had a very large scar all the way down my back and so I had wanted to put a tattoo over that. And so now, the tattoo that I have now, um, is a beautiful reminder instead of, um, a painful scar. And um, it reminds me of Christ and his love and were I put my strength in.”

The informant is a 33 year old minister from New Mexico who has lived in Los Angeles, California for almost ten years. When she was in her pre-teens about she had scoliosis so bad she had to get a rod put in her back to straighten it – that’s where the scar up and down her back came from. The informant only got the tattoo this past fall. Before she settled on the tree that she got, she had thought about other designs to tattoo on her back like angel’s wings.

I find it interesting that perhaps a half a year before the informant got her tattoo I was talking to her brother, a Denver, CO resident about tattoos and he had mentioned that tree tattoos were pretty popular right now. I have even considered getting a tree tattoo in the past few years. I’m not sure how much the popularity of tree tattoos played into her decision, though. I think it’s clear that this tattoo has a deep meaning for the informant that, like the tattoo itself, is only partly apparent to the passerby (most of it is normally covered by a shirt). The informant has clearly been through some rough times (though she is one of the strongest people I know) and this tattoo reminds her of where her strength comes from and allows her to cover those painful memories with ones that build her up. Essentially, I agree with the informant’s analysis of her tattoo.

I find it interesting that the informant, an Evangelical Christian minister, decided to express her faith through a tattoo. Not 50 years ago tattoos were considered repulsive to many Christians and there is still the notion that conservative people, especially conservative Christians, don’t get tattoos. The informant certainly fits the stereotype of who doesn’t get a tattoo – she was raised in a conservative Christian home where her father converted from Catholicism to Evangelical Protestant Christianity. However, it may be that the church she grew up in was rather divorced from that strict religious ideology. The New Mexican church her family has been a part of for over 35 years was started in the Jesus People Movement – a movement where large numbers of hippies converted to Evangelical Christianity. As hippies were known for breaking the strict rules of their parents, it makes sense that a Christian movement started by them might be more loose with traditional Christian rules than church movements founded by more strictly rule-abiding Christians. Still, that I know of there is no encouragement from within this church movement for people to express their faith through tattoos.

I think the story about the informant’s tattoo is as important as the tattoo itself. In fact, one cannot be divorced from the other. The tattoo is deeply symbolic to the informant and is an outward expression of her identity as a Christian. The depth of the story behind the informant’s tattoo is reflected in a website about tattoo meanings that quotes John A. Rush’s book Spiritual Tattoo,”It is important to study the myth connected with the images you choose, and if the images are of your own creation, make sure there is a positive outcome to the story/myth. Your tattooing should tell a story, with a beginning, middle, and end, a story that takes you past the old symbolic references that have bound you to an unhappy, unproductive, torturous existence, a history that you created. You need to build a story that brings you out of the old and into the new (p. 191).” The informant’s story inadvertently follows this recommendation exactly. She took a myth – a verse from the Old Testament book of Jeremiah – and used it to turn a painful memory into a positive memory, from the old and into the new. Her story also has a beginning – the scar, a middle – the meditation, and an end – a physical reminder of her strength in God.

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