USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘walking’
Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

“Bread and butter”

“You can’t walk, like if there are two people and there’s an inanimate object in between them, um, you go like this [demonstrates people splitting up to walk around object], you have to say, ‘bread and butter’ . . . My dad’s best friend, there’s a rumor that like he didn’t do it with his twin and when he was younger, when he was a baby his twin died. So they put, there’s like, they say that that was the reason why, they didn’t say, ‘bread and butter.’”

 

The informant was a 22-year-old USC student who majors in English and minors in genocide studies. Although she grew up in Santa Monica, she comes from a large Jewish family and travels to Israel twice a year to visit her older brother and other extended family there. The interview occurred when we were sitting in the new Annenberg building and started talking about superstition within her family. She said, “There’s a lot of things I have no idea why I do them, but I do them because someone might die if I didn’t do them. Like, that’s how we’re taught . . . It’s kind of a life or death situation.” The informant says she learned this practice from her father, who she thinks learned it from his best friend. She swears it is an Italian superstition, and is commonly practiced in Italy. Her roommate was sitting with us during her interview, and she commented that the informant makes her say this phrase whenever they are walking together and they are briefly separated by an object.

 

It was fascinating to me that such a seemingly whimsical practice and phrase could be associated with something as serious as the death of a twin. While I have no idea about the reliability or origin of the anecdote, it is suggested that the family knew about this superstition and that it is one that is particularly old and respected. Indeed, it was one of a few superstitions that the informant told me about that, when she was asked what she thought it meant, she would tell me not doing it meant sure “death.” She would then ask me why I would ever think about not doing it.

 

It is interesting that the informant claims this superstition has Italian origins, as it is based around English words. While they very easily could have been translated from Italian, the phrase “bread and butter” seems like a particularly English one. It is difficult to determine what exactly this superstition means or from where it came. It is easy to see how a simple action such as two people walking around a stationary object would become a source of anxiety for a particularly superstitious person. The phrase “bread and butter” represents two things that are commonly associated with one another. They are also fairly basic items that are considered staples in many western/European diets. It might reflect the trouble seen being caused by separating two things that should inherently be together, although it is difficult to say. This superstition also might have started as a sort of joke and evolved over time into something more serious for those performing it. Whatever the case, the informant certainly takes it seriously now.

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection

Walking in Circles

Walking in Circles

Superstition

 

When I was pacing and talking, my informant told me to stop walking in a circle and warned me of a superstition his parents follow: “never walk in circles.” He explained that both of his parents believe in this superstition, and they told him it comes from an ancient tale. Although my informant couldn’t remember exactly, he said, “if you walk around in a circle multiple times, you die because apparently this happened a long time ago in which a devil cursed someone by walking around them, and that person suffered a slow painful death.”

My informant went on to explain that if someone walks in a circle, the same fate will befall them. When asked for further detail, he claimed he remembered that clockwise direction was considered worse than counterclockwise direction. He then provided a preventative measure, informing me that his parents said if someone walked in the opposite direction they could undo the effect.

 

Though my informant does not believe in this superstition, when he sees people walking in circles, it reminds him of his parents and the story, connecting him to his heritage. Since both of his parents are Muslim, but one is from Pakistan, the other is from India, my informant believes that the superstition comes from Islam, and is not related to their nationalities.

 

The superstition could have real-world implications: preventing people from running around in circles may decrease the risk of twisting an ankle, or would discourage children from running wild and causing a ruckus.  Symbolically, the superstition also relates to the passage of time, which reinforces the theme of death:  clockwise circles are associated with time moving forward (because of the direction of sundials and clocks). Thus, walking around in a circle clockwise is an act of symbolically speeding up your own life, bringing death quickly.  This is an example of homeopathic magic and preventative magic.

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