Tag Archives: witch

Native Version of “Hansel and Gretel”

Main Piece:

Informant: Ok, so there is like a legend and you know how Natives, they travel? Like, when one place kinda dries out or doesn’t have any buffalo or food, they move to the next place.  Well, that kinda like happened. There was these children and their mom asked them to get berries before they left. They kinda got distracted when they were picking berries. And when they came back they had already left. So they went and said, “ok, maybe this is the way they went.” They went and found a small cottage and, so this is kinda like a Native story of Hansel and Gretel. So they knocked and the lady welcomed them in and got them food and stuff. And then that night when they went to bed and the lady thought they were asleep she started singing a song about eating them. And then they secretly got out of their beds and slowly looked and when the lady, when they were sure the lady got into bed they saw their little sister in a cage. So they had to quickly get her out of it. And they escaped, but the witch was coming after them, because they heard her. But the end of this story can change either way, like they got home safely, or the witch ate them. But the good way is that they got out to a place where the witch couldn’t go and the witch was blocked off by this force field, or something like that. And then they went safely looking for their family and their tribe. And the bad way, is that she got them and ate them.

Background:

The informant is a ten-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in fourth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. My sisters and I were sharing stories one night when I asked if she recalled any old stories she heard.

Thoughts:

I have heard many variations of this story growing up. I’m curious to know how much it has evolved over the years, especially after European contact. It was interesting to hear my sister’s take on it. It shares many similarities with the Hansel and Gretel story; children lost in the woods who stumble across the home of an old woman. She takes them in and is later revealed conspiring to eat them. The villainous hag is a common trope in stories worldwide. In folklore, a crone is an old woman who may be disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in nature. She often has magical or supernatural abilities which can make her either helpful or obstructing. It is also a reversal of the nurturing and protective role a women traditionally plays in a child’s life, though historically, the most power person in a child’s life is the mother, so perhaps it is just a pendulum dynamic.

Old Woman Scratching the Tipi Walls

Main Piece:

Informant: We wouldn’t go to sleep and it was getting really, really late. And the younger kids were still awake. My older cousins and my older sisters would tell us that if we didn’t go to bed there is an old woman with really long nails that would scrape her nails along the outside of the tipi. She said that every time you talked or were loud, even laughed or anything, she would come closer and closer. And you knew she was about to take you when you start hearing her nails on the tipi, on the tipi canvas. It would start on the opposite side of the tipi and get closer and closer until it went passed you to the door. Then she would grab you and take you to the coulees. 

Background:

The informant is a fourteen-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in eighth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. Admittedly, I may or may not have told her this story long ago. We were cleaning the kitchen and I asked if she remembered any old stories she heard while growing up.

Thoughts:

There is a story about the lost children who get separated from their camp. Lost in the woods, they stumble across the home of an old woman. She takes them in and is later revealed conspiring to eat them. The villainous hag is a common trope in stories worldwide. In folklore, a crone is an old woman who may be disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in nature. She often has magical or supernatural abilities which can make her either helpful or obstructing. It is also a reversal of the nurturing and protective role a women traditionally plays in a child’s life, though historically, the most power person in a child’s life is the mother, so perhaps it is just a pendulum dynamic. The part shared above is a bit of a tag on, a tail end used to make sure children kept in line. It also shows the use of spirits as a disciplinary measure, serving as a warning when you edge too close to certain bounds.

The Warlock

Context: The informant is my father (DM) who told me about the existence of an ancestor that was accused of being a warlock during the Salem Witch Trials and who was ultimately killed. My father heard about this story from his mother. The following quote is a retelling of the story my father heard from his parents with added information from his online research.

Main Text: “Samuel Wardwell was a wealthy ancestor of ours who was hanged in the Salem witch trials after being convicted of witchcraft. He had a lot of land and we suspect that his neighbor accused him of witchcraft in an effort to steal his property. He was noted as an ‘eccentric but harmless individual who sometimes told fortunes, played with magic, and perhaps in jesting moods even claimed supernatural powers.’ He and his family were pressured into confessing and although he did, he took it back and claimed innocence until his death. Apparently, witch hunters used his hanging as a warning against those who planned on taking back their confessions.”

More can be found about the life and death of Samuel Wardwell here: https://www.geni.com/people/Samuel-Wardwell/6000000001650662249

Analysis: This story interests me because it demonstrates how hard it was to avoid a charge of conviction. Wardwell was pressured into confessing, as were those closest to him. It also seems as if there were ulterior motives behind the witch trials; people used them as a way to improve their societal and financial status. People believed in these superstitions because of the lack of scientific evidence against them and the pressure from the witch hunters to convict innocent people who were forced into confessing. His tendency to perform tricks and his affluence were his downfalls because people feared what they did not understand and were jealous of his status.

Witch in Georgia

Context: The collector is interviewing the informant for tales. The informant (as GL) is a Chinese USC student who went to high school in Georgia. His classmates told him this story in a history class, the content of which was related with witch hunts.

 

GL: The story happened when there was witch hunting.

Collector: In the US?

GL: Yeah probably. So there were too many hares and they ate up all the crops. So hunters wanted to hunt them down. There was one particular hare that was gigantic, very huge. And so they go consult the witch. They cannot catch the hare so they go to the witch for help. The witch is like, “Okay you guys should just go to this place to find it (the giant hare) and don’t let the giant black dog lose and just let it chase after the hare.” The hunters don’t know what that means. They keep that in mind and they find the giant hare. During the process (of pursuing the hare), a giant black dog jumps out of nowhere and takes a bite on the giant hare’s hind leg. The hare ran off. The giant black dog also ran off. The hunters went back to the witch and was like, “We found the hare, but sorry that we couldn’t keep track with the black dog coming out of nowhere.” But what they figured out was, you know, on the hip of the witch, there was a bite mark like where the dog bit the hare. I don’t remember what happened to the witch later. Sorry.

Collector: Do you think this story happens in Georgia?

GL: Yeah I guess so. You know, there was a time in the 17th or 18th century where there were witch trials and people were suspicious about witches causing misfortunes, you know.

Collector: Do you think people view the story as a legend or just a fairy tale?

GL: Apparently witches are not real. They were just unfortunate women accused as witches. I guess it has some sort of authenticity with it. Well it also can be completely made up by people.

 

Collector’s thoughts:

As the informant has mentioned, the legend is probably developed in the time of witch hunt. People of that period of time blamed natural factors that had negative impact on their daily production on witches and transferred their anger to innocent women. I think the tale is interesting, and it makes people remember the dark time of witch hunt.

Puerto Rican Witches Getting Married

Description

“In Puerto Rico, they say a witch is getting married.”

Context

I was sitting with a few informants as we all discussed our cultures and our different belief systems. After one informant randomly offered their thoughts on what the Persians believe about rain when the sun shines, this informant gave me this tidbit of information. She went on further to explain that the origins of the belief are unclear, but that whenever it rained while the sun was shining, she had clear memories of her mother pointing at the sky and saying it.

Analysis

I found it interesting that I had two different people from two different cultures reflecting on this belief that there had to be something happening because it was raining and sunny at the same time. The closest thing I remember believing is that after a rain, or if there was a rainbow while it was still raining, there was a little leprechaun and a pot of gold at the end of it. My friends would make jokes about God peeing onto Earth, of course, but that was the most of it. I love that different cultures have different explanations, but I cannot begin to think what witches and rain and sun have to do with each other.

 

The Tiger’s Whisker – Korean Folktale

TEXT: Once upon a time, there was a woman with a husband who had just come back from a war. When her husband came back from the war, he was a different person. He used to be very kind and loving and stuff. But after the war, he was very harsh and short-tempered. He would snap at her if she had said something that he didn’t like. So the woman went to a local witch and after explaining her situation to the witch, asked if she had a potion that can change her husband back to who he used to be before the war. The witch said that this would be a very difficult potion to make but she did have a recipe for a potion that can help her with her husband. The witch told her that she needed the whisker of a live tiger to make the potion. The woman told her that that would be too difficult and almost impossible. The witch told her that if she did not have the whisker, she would not be able to help.

So the woman went home and made a bowl of rice smothered in meat sauce and brought it to the side of a mountain where a tiger lived. She left it on the edge of a cave and left. The next day, she went back to the mountain and saw that the rice bowl was empty. She replaced that empty bowl with another bowl of rice smothered in meat sauce. She repeated this for multiple days, weeks, months. Eventually, one day, when she was replacing the bowl of rice, she noticed that the tiger had been outside of its cave, waiting patiently. The next few days, she noticed that the tiger was closer and closer to where she normally put the bowl of rice. One day, she decided to stay by the rice bowl to see if the tiger felt comfortable enough to come and eat while she was watching. The tiger came and started eating the bowl of rice, and she even softly pet his head as he ate. The next day, the woman went back up to the mountain where the tiger lived with a bowl of rice and a pair of scissors. While the tiger was eating the rice, she carefully cut off a portion of the tiger’s whiskers, making sure that she did not hurt the tiger.

The next day, she ran to the witch and brought her the tigers whiskers. The witch grabbed the whiskers and threw it into the fire. The woman was very angry. The witch said that if the woman can tame a wild tiger, then why can’t she do the same for her husband. If she can gain the trust of a tiger, then why can she not be just as sensitive and caring for her husband, learning to gain his trust again.

CONTEXT: I asked my informant if she knew any Korean folktales while I was driving her to Orange County. She asked me if I had ever heard about the story of the woman and the Tiger’s whisker. I told her no so she started telling me the story from her memory.

INFORMANT: My informant originally learned of this folklore when she was in junior high school during her Korean Language school that she attended every Sunday after church. She remembered this story primarily because she had to learn it in Korean. This meant that she had to read it over and over again. She also had to practice telling the story in Korean. However, when she told me the story, she told me the story in English because that is her primary language.

My informant really likes the story because she thinks that it has a really good meaning and moral behind it. She likes the fact that the story emphasizes diligence and working at something. She liked how the story was saying that if you work hard at something continually without giving up, you would be rewarded.

MY INTERPRETATION:  My interpretation of this story aligns with my informant’s views of the story. I think the point of the story is to learn how to be sensitive and adapt to people who may be difficult to deal with. Similar to how someone would be very cautious around a dangerous wild animal, the same level of care and caution is required when dealing with people that are difficult. It’s clear that the husband comes back from the war a different person because of the trauma associated with war, or PTSD. If we truly care about something or someone, this story says that we must diligently care and be sensitive to them.

This tale is clearly not meant to be seen as a factual story that happened in the real world. The purpose of this story was primarily to get the meaning of the story across. There was a moment of implied causation within the story that I realized was there after I rewrote what she told me. When the woman in the story first sees that the bowl of rice was empty, it is implied that the tiger had eaten the bowl of rice.

Also, the use of the tiger and rice seems to be a cultural detail, rather than a universal one. If this story were to be told from an American perspective, I would think that the animal would be a lion, primarily because we view lions as the top of the food chain. When it comes to food, I would think that an American folktale would incorporate something specific to America, not rice. Tigers are strongly associated with Korean culture. Everything from the Korean Olympic mascot to children’s television shows, tigers are often used to represent the Korean culture and tradition. This seemed far more real to me when I asked my informant if she knew other stories and she listed off a few other folktales that she knew, all incorporating tigers.

Italian Witch Story

A story goes as follows: A young woman is known to have beautiful hair, black, silky, and shiny; it was so beautiful that it was something that every resident in the town knew about and admired. One day an unknown old lady came over to her house and started to stroke her hair, commenting on how gorgeous and rare it was. Her father found out what was happening and ordered that she go away. He was alarmed and struck with a protective fear, claiming that the old lady was a strega, or witch. Solely with the touch of her hands, she was able to curse the young woman and her hair ended up falling out day by day, eventually leaving her with no hair. She had to wear a hat for the rest of her life because of the powers of the witch.


The interlocutor recalled this story because of his personal recollection of the fear that it incited in him as a child. His father would occasionally tell this story, as he had heard it a few times; this was enough to make him wary of the power that strangers’ hands possess. By way of this, the story was usually directed at the interlocutor’s sister because of the value that is placed on particularly a female’s hair. The interlocutor mentioned that she still lives in fear of others touching her hair and is reluctant to even receive haircuts.

This story, while probably used at certain occasions to entertain youth, obtains even stronger undertones of a message of privacy and self-reliance. On the very surface, it seems to underline the value of hair in Italian society, especially hair that is kept in good health naturally, signifying a sort of blessing on people with beautiful hair. Yet, the general fear that this story incites demonstrates the value placed on privacy and reliance on oneself. The hands of a stranger have enough power to cause someone harm, and it is by way of this knowledge that young men and especially young women learn to be wary of the influence and malicious intent of others outside of the family. Their magic is contagious and has the power to infect anyone just by touch.

Never Say Macbeth

Content:
Informant – “You know the story of Macbeth. There are a lot of witches in that play. Legend has it that the curses that they say are real. If you say the name of the Scottish Play in a theater needlessly, that theater is cursed. The name summons the witches and curses. To reverse it, you have to run around three times in a circle and spit, or say your favorite curse word. You also get shunned by your cast, which is not fun.”

Context:
Informant – “I heard it from my freshman theater teacher. He was crazy. I said Macbeth in class once and he yelled at me ‘YOU NEVER SAY THE SCOTTISH PLAY’S NAME.’ He almost threw a chair at me.”

Analysis:
I can’t think of any practical application for this superstition, so I believe it exists to create a more complex theater subculture. If you know about it then you are more of an theater person than those who don’t.

Bell Witch Legend

The following was recorded from a conversation I had with my mom regarding ghost stories she was told in her childhoods. Our family has a few Southern ties, and she specifically remembered an old Southern ghost legend. She is marked JS, and I am marked CS.

 

CS: “So can you tell me a little synopsis of this ghost legend?”

JS: “Absolutely. So I believe it was called the Bell Witch, or Bo Witch…something like that. You might want to research it. Anyways, how the story goes from when it was told is that the witch appeared around Tennessee and has been there for centuries. Around the 17th or 18th century, I believe, a man and his family had moved to some settlement along the river. On a random day, the man—wait, now I remember. The man’s name was Bell. So the witch must be the Bell Witch. Anyways, the man (something Bell) came across an animal on their farm—I think they had a farm. Or maybe it was a cornfield. In any case, the animal I believe had the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit. The man shot it, but the animal disappeared. After the incident, the man and his family kept experiencing kind of a haunting around the house—like, the kids would be sleeping and they thought someone or something was tugging at their covers, and each night the family heard a pounding at the door but couldn’t see anyone doing it. Then, they began hearing voices, and each night, the voice grew louder and louder, getting much creepier night after night. Then they eventually started to tell everyone in the town cause the presence was growing stronger, I think it had actually started hurting the younger daughter somehow. It may have been pulling her hair or pinching her? Something like that. Anyway, word of it spread around the town like wildfire and Andrew Jackson, who fought alongside Bell in the Battle of New Orleans, decided to pay a visit at the home. But his wagon stopped and the horses couldn’t pull it the closer they got to the home. It was there that even he learned of this Bell witch and believed the rumors he’d been hearing. Then I believe the witch later attacked one of Jackson’s men for being a fraud and many of his men left cause they were obviously so afraid. Eventually all of the men left. I think there was also a sub-plot to the story where the youngest daughter was engaged and had to end the engagement because of the presence of the entity whenever her and her fiancé would meet. And after she ended it, then subsequently the witch decreased her presence. Bell finally died from a poison, which was said to be filled with some kind of liquid in a vial, given to him by the witch herself. Apparently she told the family it was allegedly his cure. The poison also killed the dog. After his death, the witch stopped appearing and no longer tormented the family. I think it was at his funeral—yeah, at the graveyard—that all of Tennessee was there and all continually heard the witch laughing during his ceremony. Crazy story.”

 

Context:

A phone call conversation with my mom, JS, discussing old ghost legends and tales she’s heard of.

Background:

JS currently resides in Laguna Beach, California but was previously raised in Minnesota.

 

Analysis:

After hearing this terrifying legend, I decided to do some research of my own to compare my mom’s version with other recounts of the Bell Witch. For the most part, her version is very in line with most; however, there are a few variations (in part probably because of memory mix ups). For one, the “dog” she refers to I have read in other accounts was actually a cat. This was interesting reading the different variations and imagining how this legend came to be and its specific origins.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown Myth

The informant is my friend (referred to as EP) who is from Brooklyn, New York, but lives in Spain for the summer. Her father is from Spain and her mother is from Puerto Rico. Every year when she goes to Spain she lives on her family ranch that is outside of a town called Porto. She is discussing one of her favorite movies and a movie that is highly regarded in Spain, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” and a conspiracy theory that was developed in Spain about the movie.

 

EP: “So in the movie, it’s all these women who are crazy and obsessed with all these men and they are having all these problems and throughout the whole movie gazpacho is a theme and ultimately the main character tries to kill a bunch of men with drug-laced gazpacho. The theory that a bunch of people came up with is that all the women are actually witches and the gazpacho kind of resembles one of their potions. It’s kind of a myth I guess but it’s like they are practicing witchcraft and making spells that kill men.”

 

This is so fascinating to me because after viewing “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” I know that this is one of the world’s most campy films. It is often used among scholars as the example for describing the style of camp in films.  Witchcraft is a type of folklore that is already highly gendered and what I have noticed is nearly all witch movies are extremely campy.  Females who are somehow outside of the box society creates for them, often become categorized as witches. Campiness is the style of nearly all films centered around witches and this is due to the fact that camp perfectly captures the inherent sexism and absurdity of the idea that powerful females are witches. Camp is able to employ qualities of duality and idiosyncrasies that are open to a double interpretation. There is a certain language that camp uses and it allows patriarchal code and codes of oppression to be debunked. To understand camp, the viewer must have some outside knowledge of the pre-existing codes of oppression. So, therefore, in witch movies camp is heavily employed and shows women as extravagant and over the top characters. So the fact that many people in Spain believe “women on the verge,” the trademark movie for camp, is actually about witches makes a lot of sense and shows how people in Spain (and in society) perceive women portrayed a certain way as “witches.”