Author Archives: Baldur Tangvald

Sleeping on Stomach

Sleeping on stomach vs. on back



My informant notified me that, according to his parents, sleeping face-down is bad.  His parents told him that sleeping face-up would prevent his soul from escaping his body while sleeping.


Both of my informant’s parents are Muslim, and he believes that is where the superstition comes from, but cannot recall where his parents learned it. He says they have told him that as a child, so he only sleeps on his back out of habit—not out of fear. He does not believe in the superstition at all, and only thinks of it when thinking of superstitions. When asked why the back is considered safer, he replied “I’m not sure. I think they believe souls escape out of the mouth, so I’m surprised sleeping face up would protect you.”


The orientation of the body may be related the position of Heaven in Islam: if the soul does manage to escape out of the mouth, it would go in the direction of heaven. Perhaps the fear is that the soul could be accessed from below, in which case devils would have a better chance of stealing the soul.


This superstition could also be founded in medical reasoning: sleeping face up protects the natural curvature of the spine. Also, this could assuage parent’s fears of accidental self-smothering, an attempt to prevent children from dying in their sleep.

Loose Goose

Loose Goose


Practical Joke/Senior Prank


When discussing pranks by high school Seniors, my informant shared one his friend conducted. The following is a transcript of our interview:


Informant: “ It was the closest thing to a decent Senior prank that came out of our school. One time my best friend’s older brother captures a goose when he was a Senior, and there was down by the river, I live close to the Willamette River, and there’s this beach park thing where these giant geese hang out, and they’re fucking mean. You try to feed them but they are really pushy so they’ll attack you unprovoked, I swear to god they want to kill you, so this guy goes down there and captures a goose, I think he lured it into the parking lot over like two hours with a bunch of bread, so in the parking lot they do kung fu stuff and put it in their care and I’m pretty sure it was dangerous and probably a little illegal, so they put it under a blanket and brought it into the school and released it into the cafeteria. No one to this day knows who was responsible for releasing the goose.  It was super angry and ran around and shit all over the place because it couldn’t get out. The custodian had to come out and capture it – it was pretty spectacular I hear. “


My informant said that, although he did not partake in conducting any practical jokes as a high school Senior, a large pastime for his group of friends was dreaming up pranks to pull on the school.


Capturing an animal to desecrating the school, this prank is an act of rebellion against the school. Empowering the student, this demonstrates the administrative body’s inability to control the student population, and serves as vengeance for the house of work demanded of students. Also, this makes a mockery of an otherwise serious space, defacing the school on a less physical level.




Senior Prank/Practical Joke/Story


During a conversation about Senior pranks in high school, my informant recounted a Senior prank he heard happened at a neighboring school. The following is a transcript of our interview:


“Informant: There were two highschools, lakeridge was across the lake and we were rivals with them, but I had heard for Their Senior prank they got a thousand crickets and released them into the ventilation system and for the next month there were still cleaning up piles of crickets. Apparently it was horrible. Teachers were getting really pissed because they would chirp away in the back of the Class room, so during awkward lectures and speeches there would be crickets going in the back.”


My informant said that Senior pranks were often a topic of conversation in school.  Though he did not do any pranks, he said that he and his friends would often talk about them, trading stories they had heard from other schools.


This is an act of rebellion, using animals to desecrate the school.  This empowers the students, who are subjected to the authority of administrative bodies. Breaking down the seriousness of the school setting, the crickets chirp in the back of Classes. Often associated with awkward silence or the silence of an unentertained crowd, cricket chirping disrupts the Classroom and criticizes teachers by comparing them to boring things.  The act of a prank of a school illustrates the students’ empowerment through disobeying rules established by the administration and express students’ annoyance.

Falling Down Stairs

Falling Down Stairs

Type: Tradition/Practical Joke


The following is a transcript of our interview, during which my informant described an unofficial tradition in his school:

“This guy named… I forgot his name but his legacy lives on. When I was in 8th grade he was a Junior, when this thing called may fate this big thing our school does when each Class makes a skit for fun, it’s a big assembly we go to its like 4 hours long. In the middle of it there  is a ball and there is a dance with princes and princesses and there is a ball dance where all the people voted dance with their date, and they’ve been doing it since the friggin 20’s and its all slow and quiet and the lights are off, and this guy goes down bleachers stairs and on his way down he each so much spectacular shit and it was hilarious, and if you didn’t see it you heard it because it was hilarious, and you knew it was too perfect that it had to be planned, so he got up and acted dazed and ran out . the vice principle walked out to see if hew as okay. Same year, the kid does the same thing again, the VP is pissed. Year after that, he’s graduated so my friend named Aaron took up the torch of falling down the stairs in a spectacular fashion during the ball. This time the vice principle,was pretty damn mad so he sprinted out after aaron.


We didn’t think it was going to happen in Senior year, and at the end of the dance, lo’ and behold, two people opposite sides of the gym at the same time fall like halfway down the stairs, it was incredible like a stunt team somersaulting down the stairs, the look on the VP’s face looked like he was going to have a goddamn stroke. That happened my Senior year and I assume it continued.



My informant said he looked forward to this every year; he claimed, “it was the funniest thing I remember happening.” He explained he liked seeing the Vice Principal so mad because he was a very strict member of the administration.


The rebelliousness of this event is crucial: by falling down clumsily in a setting predicated on grace, the prankster destroys the ambiance of the school’s traditional ball, willingly disregarding the authority that disempowers students—the administrative body. Thus, the prank is an act of empowerment, a way for the students to make the moment “theirs.”


Ubmyit: Drinking tradition


My informant invited me to join in a tradition. The following is transcript of our interview:


“ Informant: I just bought a new car right? So to commemorate the day, we do this thing called “ubmyit” which literally translates “to wash” but basically entails us taking a shot of vodka to commemorate the day. Now before you think my family are alcoholics, most Russian families do this whenever something of significance happens which is positive. When I graduate from SC we will likely do the same, as we did after high school.


My informant liked celebrating this way, following the tradition he learned from his parents. His parents, from Ukraine, claimed that it was common for families in eastern Europe. My informant loved it: “It’s not forced or anything but it is a fun tradition indeed. It’s like you drink to the good fortune you have had in your life type of shit”


As a tradition, this is a means of gathering people and having a good time, no matter how small the reason. This acts as a signifier for events in life, a way to codify and commemorate positive experiences.

Walking in Circles

Walking in Circles



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

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


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


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

Tree Planting Tradition

Tree Planting



My informant told me of a end-of-year tradition at her school:

“Tree planting is a tradition on campus. At the end of every year, the graduating Class plants a tree on campus.  There are some restrictions on us, but for the most part we get to choose the tree. As we live, it continues to grow and be there. One of the important parts is the spade. The ritual involves the spade, which used to be used to dig the hole. Now that the hole is usually made (since the spade is old and special), every member of the Senior Class shovels a bit of dirt to fill in the hole. The Senior Class president is the last person of the Class to put in dirt to fill in the whole, and the rising Senior Class president receives the spade from her and places the final bit of dirt into the hole. Later, people fill it in properly, but the ceremony ends with the next Senior Class president.”


My informant said, “I really like this ceremony because it provides closure to the Seniors and it connects them to the schools history, since most of the trees on campus are planted by previous classes.”


This act is a moment in a liminal space that aids the Seniors in transitioning identities from students to alumnae. Establishing their identities as alumnae by joining their tree with the others, this also helps the graduating Seniors maintain their presence on campus. Through the tree, the alumnae are connected to the school, even when they are not present. Especially because each student plays a role in planting the tree, every one put effort into it and, thus, their spirits remain at school while they are away.

Founder’s Day Cake

Founder’s Day Cake


My informant described what her school does to celebrate its birthday every year:

“This cake is baked for Founders’ day every year, which is in January, to celebrate the day the school was founded. It is a big deal because on that day the headmaster speaks at chapel. There is a big speech and it’s a big deal and a ton of parents come. The Seniors are presented with the Founder’s day cake, which has baked into it 4 objects. There is a ring, a cross, a dime, and thimble. The girl who gets the ring will be married first, the girl who gets the cross will be most religious, the girl who gets the dime will make the most money, and the girl that gets the thimble is the most hardworking. In recent years, the cross has found the most ironic individual because the girl was the least spiritual. “


My informant says “ I feel like it is supposed to, in some ways, represent the founding core values. The school is 128 years old, so when it was founded there were different expectations of importance in people’s life, like now religion isn’t so important even though the school has a religious affiliation (it isn’t a strong part of the our school). It isn’t as if marriage isn’t a big deal, but it isn’t as favorable as it was over a hundred years ago. Marriage isn’t a sign of success anymore. But even if these are dated, for me it is important that the tradition continues. Though these things aren’t important to me, I like that nothing has been changed even though the times have. Even if it wont predict my future, it is still a “Senior ritual”. The year above me, it was done improperly because 4 cakes were baked instead of one, and it really upset the Seniors because it wasn’t the tradition. It just feels good to do the tradition.


All of the objects, and even baking the cake in general, symbolize traditional feminine roles. Connecting the students to the core values of the school, this tradition reminds the students of the characteristics that the school has valued for many years, involving the students in the schools history. This reinforces their identity as students in the school. At the same time, the objects in the cake are instances of homeopathic magic, which entertain the girls and represent luck in the future in certain areas of life.



Camp shwayder

Item: A story from camp, called WATAHOTAHO


Transcribed from our interview:

My informant’s explanation:

“First day of every camp session,  which is in the mountains, they take everybody to this like opening in the mountains, yeah I’m not going to remember this well but, they oh I know I remember now, there was randomly in this mountains there was a stack of rocks that was unexplainable, not from an avalanche, either some natural thing or man made, it was kind of weird. It looked like a cave with some weird rocks out fornt. This camp direct has this big walking stick and he goes up there with all the campers and every time he tells this story on Watahotaho.


It is a story of an Indian tribe in which there was a chief and there are three sons and one is hunting, one grows things,a nd one herds, idk, but they get ina  huge fight and they all go and their land used to be very beautiful and when they got in a fight they all left and they didn’t do well making tribes, and their old tribe didn’t do well. So chief tried to have them come back, he turns to each one and tells them they need to work together.  The cave was where it all happened. You all yell watahotaho together because the spirit is still around, and the legend is that if everybody says it in unison, you can hear a spirit calling back. They send some counselor away, and they do a delayed echo so it sounds like a sprit is calling back.

Little kids really bought into it, so it was funny by the time I was older. Every year you come he changes his story a little bit, so you realize how stupid it is. “


What it meant to my informant: “Well it was a good way to entertain these kids, to get them introduced to camp and get them to interact with eachother. The shouting thing was just sort of fun. I would just run around camp and to make fun of it I would just yell watahotaho because I thought it was so stupid, but the kids loved it.”

There are several key elements to this tradition, like when this happens and the interactive portion of the story. The story’s theme is teamwork and community, and since this is the first day of a summer camp for kids, this encourages the children to be more outgoing and embrace each other as a community. The interactive portion supports this, forcing the kids to work together. Moreover, by yelling WATAHOTAHO, the kids are almost performing enactive speech, their shouts in unison symbolizing the bonds they create. My informant said it was most effective for smaller children, which makes sense: they are most gullible, so the counselor’s trickery would be more effective. Regardless, Justin Elliot grasped the “silliness” of the word, which is also effective for small children; letting young children speak in a different language at the top of their lungs is exciting and liberating for them, especially because they are normally a disempowered community that must follow rules like maintain “inside voices.” Thus, immediately the campers are introduced to a new community and set of rules that sets the tone for the rest of their stay at the camp.

The Spade

 The Spade

Folk item/tradition/game/initiation ceremony

My friend told me about a folk object/tradition from her school:

“The spade is close to 100 years old. It is literally a shovel, but is very old. The tradition is that every graduating Class has a color tie that they must wear at all times, and at the end of the school year, the graduating Seniors tie a ribbon of the same color on the spade. Usually people embroider their year, since only 4 colors are used. The spade is used in a tree planting ceremony, but the Hiding-of-the-Spade ritual.

The graduating Senior Class must hide the spade and leave clues for the rising Senior Class. These clues are presented by a representative of the graduated Senior Class on the first day of school (now alumnae). The Seniors have until October 31st to find the spade. if the Senior Class has not found the spade, then they must tie a black tie on the spade. There have only been two black ties, and there is a lot of superstition around it because a member of each of those Classes died. During the whole year, too, the Class must wear black ties instead of their normal colors.

If the Class finds the spade, they can apply to get Senior privileges, like off-campus lunch. If they do not find the spade by October 31st, at that point they can continue searching but the Junior Class is also allowed to search for the spade. If the Junior Class finds it first, they receive Senior privileges.”



My informant feels like it is an interesting way to make the rising Seniors prove themselves, show that they have earned their spot as Seniors, which is why there is a black tie if you don’t find it, that is not what you want – you want to show you are clever enough to step up to the challenges set up by those before you.


The spade connects students of the Senior Class to a legacy. Covered in ribbons, the “ties” of older Classes, it links the Senior Class to years worth of alumnae. This spade also functions as a concrete moment in an otherwise liminal time: rising Seniors and graduating Seniors change identities here. The graduating Seniors become alumnae once the tree is planted, joining their Class to all the past Classes and their trees planted on campus. The rising Seniors, upon securing their tie on the spade, become part of the legacy as well, but must first earn the privilege to do so by finding it.