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:


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:


Background Information:

The informant is my aunt from rural Kerry, who related to me this recipe for Irish Barmbrack, a kind of sweet loaf prepared around Halloween-time, and the objects put into the “brack” and what they symbolize. Recently, I asked other people if they had heard of barmbrack and none of the Americans knew, but one of my English friends did, and all of my Irish friends. This leads me to believe that it is a Western European tradition only, if not Ireland-specific, with some spill over into neighboring countries. For her, this is a family tradition which she learned from her parents and  has passed onto her children. It is synonymous with the Halloween season for her. She is signified in this conversation by the initials J.O.

Main Piece:

J.O.: Brack is a sweet, heavy loaf with fruit in it, so it’s usually a combination of flour, spices like allspice and cinnamon, butter, eggs, milk, dried fruit, and then some candied peel. It’s a very heavy batter, and so it takes a while to cook, and it’s not a rising bread, it won’t double like a yeasted loaf.

A: Is there a specific festival or time of year you’d eat this at?

J.O.: I’ve not heard of anyone making it any time other than around Halloween, perhaps a little bit into November but not any later than that. With the spices and dried fruits it’s a warm loaf that you’d have with tea and butter and so it’s a bit heavy for summer, especially as you’d have fresh fruit from the start of May onwards. It’s a leftovers loaf in that sense, with the dried fruits, you know?

A: In the shops you always buy brack with a ring in it, do you know what that means?

J.O.: Yes, actually. We didn’t just put a ring in, we’d take tiny pieces of a rag, a stick, a pea, and a coin as well and wrap them all up in greaseproof paper, and bake them into the cake. So when you took a bite, often there was something in it, and each thing meant something different. The ring was a symbol of marriage, obviously, so if you got the piece with the ring you’d be married soon. The piece of cloth or rag meant that you’d be poor and wear rags, the stick meant that you were in for a beating, which usually suggested that you were going to do something wrong. The pea was a marriage thing again, I think, and the coin suggested that you’d be rich. I don’t think there was any truth behind it, as we’d always put them in the brack when we were kids, and then Mam wouldn’t put them in the bigger brack that she and Dad would have. So as, say, eight-year-olds, we weren’t expecting to get married anytime soon, and the annual nature of the thing would suggest that every year your fortune could change and you might get something contradictory, so it’s all just a bit of fun.

My Thoughts:

I agree that this is just a bit of fun leading up to the Halloween season, and not a serious tradition of prediction. It does, however, play on the idea of prediction and turns it into a game mostly for children. It also suggests something about the cultural values, that there is a high appreciation for marriage and wealth in whichever era this tradition came from, and when these are combined the idea of marrying up, or marrying into money, becomes obvious. This is suggestive of strong social stratification, regardless of the actual prediction value of the brack. The fact that this tradition is centered around Halloween time furthers the idea of this tradition as just a game, as Halloween is traditionally a time of reversal of roles in dressing up as someone else, a liminal space, and so kids can play adults for a while without consequence. By using seasonal ingredients the dish is therefore confined to this time of year, and projects the human experience of the year onto the progression of the seasons.


Background Information:

My informant is my aunt from rural Ireland. She related to me a tradition common in Kerry in particular, but spread out over time, called bob-apple or swing-apple. As a child, I also partook in these games, common around Halloween time, which involved either bobbing one’s head in a basin of water to try and catch an apple with your teeth, or tying an apple to a string and hanging it so that you had to try and bite it, both without using your hands. She learned this from experience in school, and has passed the tradition down to her children. For her, it is one of the fondest memories of her childhood.She is signified in this conversation by the initials J.O.

Main Piece:

J.O.: So both of these games were things we’d play around Halloweentime, I’ve never heard them played at any other time of year, and I think it’d feel fierce strange to have it at any other time. So on the last day of primary school before the Halloween break, when you’d get a week off school, the teacher would bring in a load of apples and some basins and sometimes string. And what he’d do is fill up one of the basins with freezing cold water and then put one apple for each student into it, so they’d float on the water.

A: Did the water have to be cold?

J.O.: Yes, that was part of the fright of the whole thing that it was freezing, and it’d be harder for you to catch your breath between bobs. Then what the teacher would do is to put each child’s name into a hat and pick people out one by one to bob for apples. And then when he’d call someone you’d have to put on a blindfold and keep your hands behind your back and try and fish for the apples with your face. And you’d want to go fairly early on when there were loads of apples as they’d be easier to get, and you could corner one easier. The later it got, the more the apples could float around and it’d be harder to get a grip on one. The last few people were absolutely hilarious, though, as it could go on for a good ten or fifteen minutes just watching them root around in the water for an apple. If you were taking too long or the day was almost over the teacher might guide the apple over to you with a stick, but that was funnier sometimes as the person with the blindfold wouldn’t know the apple was coming and it could hit them in the face. The audience could tell you whether you were hot or cold, too, hot being closer to the apple and cold being further away. At the end you were allowed to keep the apple, which was a luxury as the only time we got apples was when we robbed them from  neighbor’s orchard, but I heard the rich people would put sixpence in some of them. That was another variation of the game, actually, but they were mostly Dublin people so they had more money. The teacher would also bring in a box of sweets and you could have two, so it was probably the best day of the year at school.

A: And you mentioned a variation earlier, called swing-apple?

J.O.: Yes swing-apple! The premise was pretty much the same, but what would happen was the teacher would set up an apple swinging from a rope from one of the beams of the ceiling, and he’s call on people to try and get it with their teeth without using their hands, and they were blindfolded again. The first person to take a bite was allowed to keep the apple. Looking back, it was a breeding ground for germs and the like, but I suppose they were the times.

Performance Context:

This piece of folklore was related to me over FaceTime, as my aunt is in Kerry and I am in California.

My thoughts:

Firstly, apples have long been associated with Halloween when we consider other traditions such as caramel apples, traditionally only eaten at Halloween. There is also an element of practical joke in this, as the people who have to go last are the butts of the joke, but there is no harm in it. The idea of Halloween as a liminal space between dead and living, and when a lot of societal rules are broken, such as the idea of actually ‘taking candy from a stranger’ by trick-or-treating, plays into the bob-apple tradition as you would not normally be sanctioned to skip classes in favor of a game, especially one that made a joke out of the last few people. Therefore, the setting of the performance is important, as well as the time of year. That the participants are children also suggests that Halloween has, over time, become more of a children’s holiday, especially with the tradition of trick-or-treating.

Walking on the Grass at Spelman College

Background Info:

My informant is a 20-year-old domestic exchange student at the University of Southern California, from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. All universities have some kind of folklore surrounding them, both individually and on the level of the university system in general, such as the ‘hook-hand’ legend. This one in particular was learned by my informant during her orientation week at Spelman, and she has been an active bearer in not only following this ‘rule’, but passing it on to new students.

Main Piece:

Spelman College is an historically black women’s four-year liberal arts college in Atlanta, Georgia. The particular superstition I collected about this college is that Spelman students do not walk on the grass. This seems to have stemmed from a prohibition on walking on the grass for aesthetic reasons, as not to trample it. Firstly, the superstition suggests that the person who walks on the grass will not graduate on time, if at all. There are similar superstitions to this all over the world, for example in the University of Dublin, Trinity College, it is considered bad luck for the bell to toll while you are walking under the campanile, as it is believed that you will fail your exams. It is therefore traditional for people to stand under it when they graduate, as they have no more exams to do. In Spelman, however there is a saying that has grown up around this grass superstition – that “Spelman women do not cut corners.” Therefore, a kind of metafolklore has developed around this original folklore, which encompasses the values of the college and makes a didactic lesson out of a botanical necessity.

My thoughts:

This was the first and only piece of metafolklore I collected. This was interesting as it was suggestive of both the amount of people who actually abided by this rule not to walk on the grass, and in it’s metafolkloric form, encapsulated the community feel to the college and the dedication and intelligence of those in attendance. It is also interesting that this kind of folklore, a prohibition on walking somewhere, exists in many different universities across the globe, and emphasizes the college system as a hotbed of folklore. It also distinguishes one as an in-member of the community if they are to avoid walking on the grass, and therefore acts as a kind of initiation rite into a new community.

For the oikotype of this legend from Trinity College Dublin:


Background Information:

My informant is a 56-year-old IT technician from rural Ireland. He related to me a story about the kinds of foods his mother would make for him at home when he was sick as a child. This particular food, called goody, but pronounced ‘goddy,’ was a mixture of bread, milk, and sugar that was boiled together as a kind of folk-cure for general ‘unwellness.’ Despite associating it with being sick, it is one of his most memorable childhood foods. He is signified in this conversation by the initials D.O.

Main piece:

D.O.: My mam would make goody for us when we were sick as kids. I think it’s similar to the flat 7up thing, you’re trying to get sugar back into your system if you’ve been ill. What you do is you boil up a pot of milk, not too hot, and then you rip up pieces of white bread usually and throw them in, until most of the milk is soaked up, but the bread is pretty wet. Kind of like very eggy French toast. And you let that boil for a minute and then add in sugar and mix it up, and it kind of turns into a thick soggy bread mixture. It’s great though, kind of like bread and butter pudding for children.

A: And why would she give you that, and not soup or anything?

D.O: It was probably a combination of getting some sugar back into your system, and giving you something you actually wanted to eat even if you felt terrible. It was also made up of cheap things that you’d have in the house – bread, milk, sugar – so it wasn’t using up valuable resources. It was said that it would soak up all the badness in your stomach if you were sick and it would settle nausea because the bread would soak up the acid.

A: Where did your mam learn it from?

D.O.: It’s a common food back home, it would usually be the first port of call when you were sick. But I think it’s always been popular, but not as much anymore with modern medicine.

Performance Context:

The interview took place over the phone as he is in Dublin and I am in California. The context of the conversation was folk medicine in the vein of the ‘flat 7up’ cure.

My Thoughts:

This kind of folk remedy relies on children’s love for all things sweet, whilst serving an actual medicinal purpose by using the bread to soak up the acid in a person’s stomach if they had a stomach bug. It served many purposes outlined by the informant, but perhaps one not present is the idea that when one is able to eat again, they are getting better. A kind of placebo effect, similar to the idea that people who have doctors with white coats get better faster, by giving children sugary food that they would not normally get when they are well, which they want to eat, they feel like they must feel better, which in many cases leads to people actually recovering faster. Therefore, this folk remedy may well have two scientific bases behind it, despite it being labelled as “folk” and therefore seen in opposition to modern medicine, and actually be a good way to help cure viral infections which are not affected by antibiotics.

Red Sky at Night, Shepherd’s Delight

Background Information:

My informant is my aunt from rural Kerry. I have heard this phrase multiple times as “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight” since I’ve come to America, but I have never heard it in this form in Ireland. She often uses it as a mode of folk-forecasting whether or not the day following a red sky will be fine or not, and she believes that it is accurate more often than not. She learned this from her grandmother, who believed that it was more accurate than the national weather service. She is signified in this conversation by the initials J.O.

Main Piece:

J.O.: You’d say this phrase when the sky is particularly red at sunset, not just a bit of pink in it but absolutely red. And that’s normally in the summer, just when the sun is setting. You don’t normally get a red sky in the winter. And it’s a kind of prediction for the nest day’s weather, that it will be a day that would be perfect for a shepherd – that is, bright and sunny, and clear all day. But there’s a second half to the phrase also – “Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning.” That is, if you see a red sky in the morning it suggests that the day is going to be cloudy and heavy, and unsuitable for the shepherds to come out with their sheep. There would usually be rain, too, which is no good for the ground under the sheep.

A: I’ve heard the saying since I’ve been in America as “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.” Have you ever heard of this?

J.O.: I’ve never heard it like that in my life. I think that must be a regionalism. Ireland is more of a farming country, whereas maybe there’s more of a focus on sailing in America? Or maybe the phrase made its way to Ireland and we just changed it into something more relevant to us?

A: I think that sounds about right. Do you think it works, as a way of forecasting?

J.O.: Oh absolutely. There must be some science behind it though, as people wouldn’t keep saying it if it didn’t work to some extent. Whenever the sky is red enough to be noticeable and trigger that phrase, it must mean that it does work most of the time.

My thoughts:

I think that my informant is absolutely right to suggest that this saying is an oikotype of a different yet similar saying involving sailors, or vice versa. As Ireland does not have a particular maritime focus, and is instead rather more focused on pastoral farming, it would make sense to change the subject of the phrase. It would be interesting to trace from which direction this phrase came, if one is to believe in monogenesis – for example did the sailor’s version make its way to Ireland where it was changed, or the shepherds one to America, which is the only place I have heard this version. What is equally interesting is the question of whether or not it works as a method of forecasting. Obviously, it has not been sanctioned as a concrete form of meteorology, and instead is a kind of folk-forecast. But, I agree that a lot of the times it does work, far more often than not to be pure chance. Therefore, perhaps there is some phenomenon with the way the light appears late in the evenings and early in the mornings which would lend merit to this phrase as a way of forecasting, such as the direction from which clear light comes which would suggest a fine day on its way, or an overcast one.