USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘witch’
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Rosary in the Oxen’s Horns to Protect Against Witches in Rural Slovakia

Background: A.J. is a 65-year-old woman who was born and raised in Poprad, Slovakia. She relocated to the United States from Slovakia 20 years ago, while her son was attending University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A.J. holds a degree in child development and since coming to the United States has worked as a nanny. She is married to her lifelong sweetheart and has one son and three grandchildren. She often talks about her home and family in Slovakia – about the beautiful mountains and the culture. Although she is now a US citizen, she incorporates many Slovak traditions into everyday life, and enjoys telling stories about her family and her family traditions.

 

Main piece:

A.J.: So with the cows, owner were protecting about which all your animals like cow they make hole to the horn and put inside rosary – protect them because witch was scary from “saint” stuff and they have like blessing water – they always take some branches – nice young branches from tree and they like make cross with this sand water in the stable – protect this stable from witch.  And when sometimes happen like a animal’s broke horn and they lost this rosary when they no more protect.  Yeah.   And this happen in my Dad family, they animal broke leg cause they were on the field and more cows together and they start fighting and they broke the horn off that had the rosary in it and until they come home they broke leg and this cow die on the field.  This was like true story what Dad told me.  He was very sad but they said this was like witches in the religion.  The witches broke the horn which was this protection – the rosary.  They were out and no more this cow was protect they when she was walking then on the way she broke leg and they cannot fix this time and she died.

 

Q: So when do witches come?

 

A.J.: All the time they were. Witches come all the time.

 

Q: Could you see the witches?

 

A.J.: They think this was like one lady but they were not sure but once this was happen they saw in stable frog and Grandpa take this pitch fork and he was stick this frog and this frog was like make sound like a hurt people – when you hurt somebody they was making sound and was hopping away and next day or couple days later he saw one lady she was hurt – she was like some wound from this – like it was from the pitch fork – she was the frog and they said this is the witch

 

Q: How can you tell who’s a witch?

 

A.J.: You cannot tell but always something happened when this lady was around.

 

Q: Just one lady in your village?

 

A.J.: Not my village, my Dad village.

 

Q: There was only one?

 

A.J. They know about this only one lady but maybe is more.

 

Q: Do you know what she looked like?

 

A.J.: She was a regular lady but she had power what she can make bad stuff.

 

Q: And how did you know that she was the witch?  Did she go up to people and say something like “I’m going to curse you” or something like that?

 

A.J.: No, no, no, no when she was walking around, there always something bad happened to you. But she was just choosing people. Not all people make something bad but some, some people what she doesn’t like maybe.

 

Q: Is there a way to get rid of the witches’ curses?

 

A.J.: People usually with the “saint” stuff protect their self – like blessing water, praying, um carrying rosary with you, just maybe like that.

 

Performance Context: A rosary would typically be put into an ox’s horn in rural farms of Slovakia to protect the ox from being hurt by the witch’s magic.

 

My Thoughts: I think it is interesting how a rosary, a strong symbol of Christianity, would protect against the evil magic of witches, who are typically known to be part of a pagan religion. Christianity and Roman Catholicism is the most prominent religion in Slovakia. It is possible that the rosary’s ability to protect the oxen symbolizes the importance of Christianity in Slovakian culture, and the idea that Christianity is able to protect against all evil of the world, including witches’ magic.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Name of Future Boyfriend Hidden in a Dumpling

Background: A.J. is a 65-year-old woman who was born and raised in Poprad, Slovakia. She relocated to the United States from Slovakia 20 years ago, while her son was attending University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A.J. holds a degree in child development and since coming to the United States has worked as a nanny. She is married to her lifelong sweetheart and has one son and three grandchildren. She often talks about her home and family in Slovakia – about the beautiful mountains and the culture. Although she is now a US citizen, she incorporates many Slovak traditions into everyday life, and enjoys telling stories about her family and her family traditions.

 

Main piece:

A.J.: Same day – December 13. On St. Lucy, we make dough and on small piece of paper we write name what boy you like it – mostly this girl do it. What boy you like it – can be one, can be couple, how many you want and you put in in this flour dough and make dumpling.  Then you cook in water – boil in the water and when was ready this dough you put to the cold water and you choose one dumpling and what name of boy was there you will dating in this year.

 

Q: So does each girl do it for themselves?

 

A.J.: Yes – OK.

 

Q: So you can put maybe 5 names down and then whichever one you pick that’s who you are going to be dating?

 

A.J.: Yeah but we put the all girls in the one bowl. Yeah – all girls in one bowl.

 

Q: So what happens if you get somebody else’s boy?

 

A.J.: We just were thinking this will be my boyfriend for this year.

 

Q: Why did you do it on St. Lucy Day?

 

A.J.: Because they said December 13 is like witch day you know – witches coming and they would doing this stuff. This is like Witch Day. Witches are never good on this day. They make always trouble.  They said when the witch came to your house they kill animals and something happen to your family and bad stuff always happen.

 

Performance Context: This ritual would occur in Slovakia on December 13, also known as St. Lucy’s Day, by groups of young girls typically in their teenage years.

 

My Thoughts: I think that it is interesting how much of the Slovak culture surrounds witches and magic. This ritual is done on December 13, or St. Lucy’s Day, because it is the “witch day.” However, witches are typically associated with bad things that happen, so it is curious why girls typically do this ritual to “find their boyfriend” for the next year on the witches’ day. It could be because since it is the day of the witches, it is also the day of magic.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

Coffee Fortune

Original Script: “Basically he Armenian culture has this thing where they can get the fortune read through coffee…it has to be…they have a specific coffee powder that they use…usually a group of woman gather at a table and the coffee is poured. It is usually the oldest woman who reads everyone’s fortune at the table, you know ‘the wise woman.’ Who my cousin mentioned was kind of scary…Anyways, after they drink the coffee the head lady reads the fortune…it is kind of like Harry Potter at that part where the lay was reading tea leaves…kind of like that. Basically my cousin fortune was true that she got from the coffee reader. The wise woman told her she was going to get married soon…and she did! It was really cool”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Kamilah and her mother have always been spiritual people. The belief in witches, demons, and angels is strong to Kamilah’s mother however, it is even more so in her home country—Nicaragua. While Kamilah did not particularly believe in witches as her roots from Nicaragua do, the case with Rosario Murillo, really made Kamilah a strong believer in them. However, while Kamilah is not technically Armenian, her closest friends, who are like her family, are. Thus, she is very familiar with the nationality and practices of the Armenian folk.

Context of the Performance: Getting a fortune read

Thoughts about the piece: When Kamilah had told me this story about the coffee reading, my mind automatically went to the pop culture Harry Potter series before she had made the comparison herself. I knew that there were cultures that believed in the drinking of an herb (in this case coffee) could tell one’s fortune, however, hearing the process from Kamilah was a very fascinating experience. As mentioned, the connection with the pop culture phenomenon of Harry Potter, was an interesting parallel to this Armenian practice, for both have an elderly woman communicating the fortune to the individual out of a herb like substance. Additionally, I thought it was very interesting how they have a “wise woman” at the head of the table. It reminded me of the previous story I had interviewed Kamilah about (one that was about witches in Nicaragua) and that being personified as a witch is attributed to people fearing a person. In this setting, to me, it seems a that this fortune telling can be attributed to witchcraft because of the group not only being compiled of woman—and only woman—but also for the fact that there is a head “wise” witch, a woman which all the woman look up to as a leader and also fear her—personifying the woman as a witch.

Moreover, it is also interesting how it has to be a specific kind of coffee for the fortune telling to take place. With the group of woman, and the specific type of coffee, the coming together of a fortune seems almost ritualistic. Especially, the going around of the table to tell one another’s fortune as well as the wise woman being the head of the table, and also the only one to tell the fortunes—seems like it is all part of a ritual. This also brings in an interesting question, and opposition to the common American belief, in respecting elders. While America separates themselves entirely from the elderly—having specific designated homes for the elderly and having one of most developed retirement programs in the world, most foreign countries have a great respect for their elders, specifically their wisdom which is shown in this display of fortune telling among the Armenian women.

Furthermore, I think it is interesting that even though Kamilah is not Armenian, she does believe in some of the customs of the Armenian people because of her closeness to her friends. This adds the notion of culture being learned and not being something one is born with. Thus, her cousin—whom she is also close to—going to one of these fortune telling rituals, even though not Armenian, and the fortune actually becoming true, initiating the belief in both Kamilah and her cousin tells us that culture can be learned. Hence, this ritual can also be seen as an inanition to a kin group.

general

Witchcraft: Sitting Pretty

Text:

“My mom always told me that I shouldn’t sit with my legs against the wall. Back in the day witches sat like that, so people would think that I was a witch…. I don’t know why, but I think it’s because they were thought to be able to walk on walls.”

Background:

My informant told me that in a lot of Africa, a lot of families were of tribal and animistic religions. There were “really dark tribal things” going on and people would report really weird things like people turning into cats, a lot of kidnappings, and people turning their friends into witches for uses in witchcraft. She felt uncomfortable when she first heard her mom tell her that. She told me that a lot of things in Nigerian culture was stigmatized. Certain ways that you sleep were bad too. For example, sleeping on your side kept you from being robbed. She feels that a lot of it goes back to village culture, before Nigeria was urbanized.

Context:

My informant heard it from her mom when she was young.

Personal Thoughts:

I think this is a great example of folklore showing certain fears that a community has. From what my informant said, it seems like witches were powerful figures back in Nigeria history, but they were seen in a negative light which explains why the informant’s mom didn’t want her to be associated with witches.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

Theater Occupational Superstition: Macbeth (Version I)

Interview Extraction

Informant:”Now the interesting thing about a lot of old stories is- and this is actually something we mentioned in class, how there are often two or three explanations that might not even relate to one another for many of the old stories or traditions.  The Macbeth legend that I know, there are two- no, three variations of the Macbeth legend.  One is the story that the incantations used are actual witch’s incantations so therefore if you believe in witchcraft you do not want to evoke them.  The second one on Macbeth is that, Macbeth being an old ‘war horse’ and an audience favorite, was frequently the play that would replace a show that wasn’t doing well.  So if you heard someone talking about Macbeth, you didn’t like it because it meant that the play you are doing might be closing early, and be replaced by a revival of Macbeth.  I kind of like that legend the best.”

Analysis:

The Macbeth superstition is among the most common superstitions that people working in theater follow.  The legend of Macbeth is that it is bad luck to say ‘Macbeth’ in the theater.  To prevent unlucky things from happening such as the set falling over, people are encouraged to say ‘The Scottish Play’.  If you do make the mistake of saying ‘Macbeth’, you have to cut the curse by performing some kind of protection ritual.  This ritual changes based on who you talk to due to the fact that it is such widespread legend and many people have different ideas about the curse.  The first time I heard about the legend was in Boston when I broke the rule of not saying ‘Macbeth’ in the theater, and the people I was with made me run around the theater three times to cure the curse.  The next time I heard about ‘The Scottish Play’ legend was in Los Angeles, where the cure for the curse was to spin around three times and spit over your shoulder.  It is hard to say if the cure changes based on your location because people in theater often travel for work, so the ideas on the legend would be mixed.  There are many different origin stories behind the legend of Macbeth, and the stories my informant mentions are only some possibilities.

I am familiar with the legend that Shakespeare might have used real witch’s incantations in his play, but I am not sure if this is true.  It depends on your beliefs about witchcraft.  I think the reason why this particular legend is so popular is because witchcraft and magic hold such a high place of fascination in our imaginations, and believing in them is fun.  People are attracted to theater because it is about the magic of storytelling.  Therefore when people in theater participate in these kind of belief systems, they are doing so because it is an extension of working in an occupation that is full of play.  Theater is like magic in the fantastical sense, we rely on illusions to invoke a spectacular idea in the imaginations of the audience.

I was not familiar with the idea that perhaps Macbeth has transformed into a superstition based on the idea that it is a show that frequently replaces unsuccessful productions.  It is very possible that this legend is the true reason behind why the play has become part of theater lore.  This is because Macbeth is a very popular production and you can always find it being performed during a production season, so I can easily see it replacing a show that didn’t prove to be popular.  If this is true, then Macbeth probably evolved into a superstition of bad luck because it has it’s origins in bad luck.

My informant was born in 1949, Connecticut.  He works as a costume designer in the entertainment industry occasionally, and serves as the head of the USC costume shop in addition to being a faculty member for the USC School of Dramatic Arts.  He has more than 40 years of experience in the theater.

Folk Beliefs
Homeopathic
Legends
Magic
Narrative

Ukrainian Legend: “You Steal My Pig, You Choke On It!”

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “My grandma who was living in Ukraine had many domestic animals. And one day one of her neighbors stole one of her pigs.  And she says, ‘Well it’s my pig. Just give it to me back.’ And he said ‘Nope. I went to the market, like farmers market during the weekend and I got it.’ And she said ‘No you didn’t. Because that is how my pig looked like.’ And the dude was refusing to give the pig back and grandma made a kind of, she just said like ‘Well, when you will eat my pig. You will choke on that.’ And that is exactly what happened like several- the dude died. And after that everybody in the village thought that my grandma was a witch, you know? Or that she had extra powers. So everybody was scared to upset grandma. And that’s actually coincidence you know, but it’s kind of… She said it with that intention you know, so like because you stole it and you are not admitting it that, and you are not giving my pig back it means my family will not have enough food for the winter. So it’s kind of you will eat it, but you will choke on it.”

Analysis:

The legend my informant mentioned reflects the strong belief in superstitions and in the supernatural people of Slavic origin have. This strong belief comes from the fact that historically life in the Slavic countries such as the Ukraine has been very difficult, due to political and environmental factors.  There is a basic human desire to try and make life’s events logical, especially when things seem to beyond your control.  As my informant mentioned perviously in the  interview where she talked about Russian superstitions, people want to feel safe and find the reason behind why good things and bad things happen.  Therefore people use superstitious beliefs to set up a system of rules to follow, which gives them the illusion that they have more control over their lives than they actually do.

My informant’s grandmother probably wasn’t cursing the man who stole her pig, she was saying that he will choke on the pig because her family might starve if they don’t have enough food for the winter, therefore the act of causing the pain of others will reflect back on him.  It is possible that when the man was eating the pig, he was thinking about the ‘curse’ that the informant’s grandmother had said and in this kind of homeopathic thinking he actually choked.  This kind of event  seemed to strange to the village people because it was such a coincidence, therefore in trying to make sense of the situation they believed that the most logical response was that my informant’s grandmother was a witch.  Not only did the woman say that he would die with such conviction, but it also came true.  This added to the legend’s believability.  Wither or not my informant’s grandmother was actually a witch depends on what you believe, but the fact that this story has endured with my informant’s family reflects a fascination with the supernatural.

My informant was born in 1977, Moscow, Soviet Union (now Russia).  On completing her undergraduate education in Moscow, she moved to California to earn her graduate degree in theatrical design from Cal State Long Beach.  She now works as a faculty member for the USC School for Dramatic Arts.  She became a US citizen in 2012.

Legends
Narrative

Witchduck Haunting: Virginia Beach

The informant (20) grew up in Virginia Beach, VA and moved to California when she was fifteen. Having spent most of her life in Virginia, she is familiar with many of the local legends, such as the Witchduck Haunting:

“The Witchduck Haunting is a legend about Virginia Beach. It starts with this farmer woman in the 1600s or 1700s, I think. There was a woman farming or working in the fields, and she was wearing men’s britches because she wasn’t going to farm in a dress, which would be awkward. The people were suspicious of her and accused her of being a witch. She was tried so they tied her thumbs to her big toes and threw her in the river. She freed herself and was found guilty because it was said that if you were innocent, you would have sunk. I was told she escaped and was never found, but other versions of the story say that she was caught and put in jail. I heard this story from older sister, who heard it from a bunch of her friends. Almost everyone in the neighborhood knew the story, so you could probably ask anyone and they could tell you some version of it. It’s a nice piece of history that’s specific to Virginia Beach. There’s even a Witchduck Road and Witch Duck Bay. Oh and supposedly, every year the woman comes back to haunt the scene of her trial and appears as a strange light floating above Witch Duck Bay.”

This is a really interesting story. It’s probably so well known within the community because it places Virginia Beach in the larger historical context. It relates the modern-day city to greater historical happenings during the 1700s. The legend also gives the people of Virginia Beach a unique past to look back on. It’s also interesting that the woman who was tried as a witch was dressing in men’s clothing. Perhaps her attempted drowning was also a type of punishment for going against social or gender norms and not abiding by what society expects of a woman.

 

Annotation:

A similar story appears on the Virginia Beach website.

“The Haunting of Witchduck Road.” VirginiaBeach.com. N.p., 4 June 2009. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <http://www.virginiabeach.com/articles/haunting-witchduck-road>

general
Legends
Narrative

Legend – Beverly Hills, California

“The Witch’s House”

I grew up in Beverly Hills and it has been a tradition to visit “The Witch’s House” on Walden Drive. The house was built for the movies originally and was then transformed into a private residence. The house is a landmark, it’s a Beverly Hills destination, the only one not consumer driven unlike Rodeo Drive and others. The house itself looks like a stereotypical witch house straight out of a fairy tale. The house has a magical aura. I first learned about the house when my mom and I drove by it when I was a toddler and she explained that it was a magic house with fairies as residents. As a toddler it seemed perfectly logical that fairies would live in a house that looked like that, with this wave-like undulating sides, pointy roof, and moot. As I got older though and learned the reality about the house it still remained somewhat legendary to me and still does (along with all my friends who underwent the same sort of transformation).

My mom remembers that “The Witch’s House was put on the market about 10 years ago and the hired real-estate agent bought it.” The agent bought the house in order to preserve the house so that no one would tear it down- it’s a historic piece of the city. The Witch’s House is a legend of Beverly Hills and all the residents know the house and its story. It is still around and talked about because generations of residents feel a connection to it.

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