Author Archives: Alison

Flat 7UP Settles a Sick Stomach

Background: Informant is 54-year-old woman living in Dublin, Ireland. She was born and raised in rural Ireland without access to modern medicine for minor ails, and so knows many folk-remedies for everyday pains. She is married and has one grown daughter. In this conversation, she is signified by the letters C.D.

 

Main Piece:

C.D.: My mam used to always do this when I had a sick stomach. Back home, at the time there was no access to fancy antacids or the like that there is nowadays, so this was pretty much Gospel – all the neighbors used to do it too, and when I asked the other people at school a good few of them had heard of it.

Basically, what you do to settle a sick stomach is you pour out a glass of 7up and just let it sit on a window-sill to go flat. And then you drink it, and your stomach should be all good in about 20 minutes. I think it replaces some of the sugars and fluids you lose when you’re sick too, sure there’s no harm in it anyways.

 

A.: Does it have to be a window-sill?

 

C.D.: Probably not, but that’s how my mam would do it and it seemed to work most of the time so why mess with a good thing, right?

 

A.: True. Where did your mam learn it?

 

C.D.: Would it be a cop-out to say that she learned it from her mam? But I actually think I do remember Granny coming around and minding us when mam went away and she did the same thing for my brother, but I think it was just flat Coke she used. It’s probably just a placebo effect anyways, the fact that we’ve been brought up to believe that it works probably gives you a false sense of feeling better after you drink it.

 

Performance Context: I interviewed the informant over FaceTime due to her being in Ireland and I in California. When I mentioned that I was feeling unwell and she prescribed this remedy. The original context as far back as I could discover was her mother. However, after a quick Google it is clear that this is a common ‘remedy,’ and is particularly associated with Irish folk medicine despite the origination of soft drinks in America.

 

My Thoughts: I’ve actually used this remedy and to an extent it seems to work. Perhaps it’s just because I was brought up in a culture where this was the first port of call when you had a minor stomach upset that it works for me purely based on placebo effect. This is similar to how it has been observed that people whose doctors wear white coats get better faster from the sense of confidence in their treatment the coat symbolizes. Considering the popularity of this remedy in Ireland, I’d be interested as to how someone discovered that flat soft drinks worked as a ‘cure’ in the first place, considering they’re not all that appetizing.

Icelandic Nykur

Background Information:

My informant is a 23-year-old student originally from Iceland, but studying in Dublin. She was born and raised in Reykjavik and moved to Ireland in her 20’s to come to University there. She told me about the nykur, a legendary water horse specific to the Nordic countries. She does not personally believe in this legend, but apparently opinion is fairly mixed on whether or not it is real, and belief is higher with children. She believed it as a child, and was told it by her mother possibly in an effort to stop her from wandering near large bodies of water. She agrees that it was a useful way of making her cautious without ruining her innocence about the true dangers of icy cold water.

Main Piece:

A.J.: Have you heard of the Nykur?

A: No, what is it?

A.J.: It’s a mythical creature in Icelandic – well, I think they have it in some places in Sweden and Norway and stuff – but it’s mostly Icelandic. It’s the shape of a horse, and grey, but it’s not a physical thing, more like a kind of ghost horse. They live by lakes, or by waterfalls usually. But they’re pretty scary looking – kind of like if you had a Patronus of a horse, a weird version. They have some scary things about them, like I’ve heard that they have backwards hooves, and sharp teeth and that kind of thing.

A: And do people interact with them at all?

A.J: I don’t think you would want to. They’re not peaceful, they’re a bit like sirens in that they lure people to their deaths in the water. They seem really nice and beautiful, and then you go to pet them and if you ride on them they’ll take you into the water and drown you. They seem to take children in particular.

A: Is there any way to prevent them from taking you underwater if you do come across them?

A.J: Yeah, there is. My mom told me about them and that if you recognize that the horse is a Nykur, you can make them go away by saying their name.

A: And do you believe in them?

A.J.: I did when I was a kid, but not anymore. I think it’s a bit like the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, you grow out of it when you’ve been to enough waterfalls to know that you’re not going to see any magic horses. But when I was younger I wouldn’t go near the water without someone else with me.

Perfomance Context:

In a phone conversation in which she recounted to me what she knew about the huldufólk, she also told me about this Icelandic mythical creature which I had not heard of before.

My thoughts:

This reminds me a lot of the La Llorona myth. Considering she was told about them by her mother, in a landscape with many lakes and waterfalls, this myth seems to serve the same function as warning children about La Llorona, insofar as it discourages them from wandering by themselves near bodies of water where they could potentially drown. By making the horse scary-looking, they emphasize this warning. By connecting this warning story to the landscape, it makes for a more believable tale. Much of Icelandic folklore is connected to the natural landscape as it is so unusual and striking, which also plays into the fact that much of Icelandic folklore is very different from that which we find in the other Nordic countries. Their landscapes are much more snowy and similar to each other, whereas Iceland is a volcanic outlier.

For the La Llorona myth, see here: http://www.legendsofamerica.com/gh-lallorona.html

Jinn

Background Information:

My informant is a 20-year old student. She is originally from Lucknow in India but is now studying and living in Los Angeles. She is of the Muslim faith and related to me her knowledge of Jinn, which she thoroughly believes in. This piece of folklore was particularly interesting to me as there is nothing like it in the other Abrahamic faiths, and is a distinctive Muslim belief.

Main Piece:

Jinn were created by God alongside humans and angels. Humans were made from clay, and the jinn were made from fire that had no smoke. They are not like the genies that we see in Disney’s Aladdin, despite this being the etymology of the word, that come out of lamps and exist to aid humans. Rather, they are an equally real group of beings who exist in the human world but we cannot see them. They go about their days in the human world but they usually don’t interact with humans, as the majority of them are benign. They can also die, and they have lifespans, and will be judged alongside humans by Allah at the Day of Judgement. They can also be of any Abrahamic faith, and celebrate the rituals and customs, and partake in the social organization that comes along with that faith. In this sense, they’re like ghost-human hybrids, who exist but are invisible to humans, yet are real amongst themselves. The Devil, Shaitan, has also been identified as a member of the jinn, but this is contested. However, Iblis – Satan, rather than the Devil – is a jinn, and is a personal name for the Devil himself, rather than a force to incite evil among men and jinn, which is the Shaitan. Iblis was cast from heaven as he refused to bow before Adam, but again, this is contested depending on which branch of Islam one is a member of.

Performance Context:

This piece of folklore was related to me in person after I asked a few questions of my friend about jinn, as my interest was piqued in class.

My Thoughts:

I found this a particularly interesting piece of folklore to collect, as I had no idea that Jinn even existed outside of Aladdin, never mind that they were an entire species of individual just as real as humanity on top of that, in Islamic thought. It contests the idea that the Earth was made for humans alone in Christian thought, and makes it a very distinct belief among Abrahamic faiths. It is also a complex belief for a person not of the Muslim faith  to understand, especially the distinction between the Devil and Satan, as it is not directly mappable onto any belief in Christianity, and the development of this belief would therefore be a particularly interesting one to trace.

Jump-Rope Rhymes

Background Information:

My informant is my 9-year-old cousin from Dublin, Ireland. She recounted the kinds of games her and her friends would play on the schoolyard, which were quite similar to those I would have played as a child. One in particular was popular at the time we spoke, and that was the rhyme “Scales,” as she called it. This was particularly prevalent as it involved the use of two jump-ropes, which separated the older girls at school from the younger girls, who only used one rope and therefore could not play this game. My cousin is particularly fond of jump-rope and confidently calls herself the best “skipper” (skipping being the Irish term for jump-rope) in her class, if not on the whole playground, and therefore told me that she could absolutely be trusted as a very reliable source of the best skipping rhymes.

Main Piece:

My informant is my 9-year-old cousin from Dublin, Ireland. She recounted to me a popular skipping rhyme that her and her friends would often play on the schoolyard. This involved the use of two ropes held parallel to each other off the ground, about a foot apart. The skipper would jump between them and outside them in the same rhythm as the chant that goes as follows: “England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales. Inside, outside, inside, scales.” The person would jump in the manner as follows: right foot between the ropes, left foot outside them; left foot between the ropes, right foot outside; 180 degree turn and the same thing repeated; then both feet inside the ropes, both feet outside, and both feet inside again. Finally, on the word “scales” the person jumping would land one foot on each of the ropes and force them to the ground. As people missed the ropes at the end, they would be “out” of the game, and the ropes would be brought progressively higher until one person would win. Due to the short nature of the rhyme, this would not normally take too long.

 

Performance Context: This was described to me over the phone, due to the distance between me and my informant. However, I already understood what she was talking about as I had played this game as a child. Therefore this appears to be a particularly long-lasting skipping game, as they tend to die out after a little while, in my experience.

 

My Thoughts:

Immediately, I was struck by the geographically specific nature of the rhyme as being located in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Although I do not know if this rhyme exists anywhere else but Ireland, it would be interesting to find out if this rhyme is evident in Britain, and if it is an oikotype of a larger rhyme in this sense. The song is also more of a chant, with no tune, and a rhythm of 1-2 1-2 1-2 3, which makes it seem like a marching song. This would also be appropriate for a skipping game that involved two ropes, and two movements around them, considering the 1-2 beat. Folk games and folk-music are often passed down amongst children, and many playground games stem from folklore and gradually change over time. This song, considering its’ geographical ties to Britain and Ireland, seems a particularly interesting case, in the sense that it does not include Northern Ireland, which may suggest that it predates the partition of Ireland, or perhaps that it just fit the rhyme scheme better.

The Sasquatch

Background Information: Informant is 22 year old student in the Southern California area, originally from Southern New Jersey. This piece of folklore has to do with the Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, who is a legendary pseudo-monster humanoid creature who is occasionally said to be sighted in various forests around North America in particular. This legendary creature does not seem to have an obvious task in life, but in my research has been said to appear in the woods and vanish just as fast. My informant claims not to have seen the Sasquatch, but the story was part of her childhood, and connected to her local area, which was densely forested.

 

Main Piece: My informant is a 22 year old student, originally from the Southern New Jersey area. She was brought up near a relatively densely forested area. At the age of 9, she was told the legend that Bigfoot lived in the woods as follows. Bigfoot, or as they called him, the Sasquatch, was a bipedal monster who lived in the woods and occasionally ate the people who came into the forest at night. He was about ten feet tall and looked like a large man with mid-length brown fur. His feet were ginormous, and the kids often claimed to see one of his footprints.  He was said to walk hunched over, and could run on all fours at incredible speeds. He particularly liked to eat children that wandered into the woods. My informant tells me that Bigfoot stories are popular in southern New Jersey as certain areas are densely forested.  After hearing this story, she refused to go into the woods for many years and wouldn’t even go if she had someone with her. As an adult, she was curious to explore these woods and she says that she didn’t see anything resembling a Bigfoot, even at night, nor did she expect to. Yet, she doesn’t totally disbelieve the legend, and says that she is still strangely wary when in the woods alone. She also described the Yeti as the “snow-version” of Bigfoot, a kind of sub-species which exists in predominantly snowy regions of Asia, such as the Himalaya mountains.

 

My thoughts:

The legend format plays on suspension of belief. Often the most interesting thing about legends is that they might be true. This legend, popularized amongst children, plays on the local landscape to add credence to its claim. This is common in legends. What is also common is the fluid level of belief. When my informant was a child, she believed in the Sasquatch, whereas as an adult she says that she doesn’t disbelieve it. Likewise, belief in a Sasquatch is much more justified in a heavily forested area than at a beach, and the belief level of the informant changes between her age, and also based on whether or not she is firstly in the woods, and then whether she is there with someone. There is also a sense that the story may act as a warning children to not go into the woods late at night alone, much like the La Llorana legend discourages children in areas with a Spanish influence from wandering around alone at night.

For the Yeti version of the Sasquatch, see here: http://www.livescience.com/25072-yeti-abominable-snowman.html