Author Archives: Brianna

Knocking on Wood

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M= Me, I= Informant

M: So you said you grew up with a lot of fairy folklore?

I:  Yeah, um, you know like the knock on wood, that’s the most common one.

M: so what’s… what’s the background behind that? What happens if you don’t knock on wood? You know, why is it knock on wood?

I: Well knock on wood, uh you do it when you say something like that might not happen. Like uh  let’s so you want to get a good grade on a test and you are like “I.. I’m pretty confident, like, I’m gonna ace this test,” then you knock on wood. *knocks on wood* Sorry I shouldn’t have done it. *both laugh* You knock on wood because fairies live in the wood

M: Uh-huh (In agreement)

I: And if they hear you saying something that you want to happen, they’re gonna make it not happen.

M: Ohhhhhh, okay. That’s cool.

I: ‘Cause like fairies used to live in trees and stuff, so you would like, so it would… it would be like outside kinda stuff. 

M: Yeah

I: But since we don’t see trees *laughs* a lot anymore. It’s just become any wood. 

Context: Her parents passed this folk practice to her by simply doing it around her and when she asked why, they told her it so that the fairies don’t stop good things from happening. She was very little when she first learned this so she did believe in this initially. But even though she continued the practice as she grew up, she did not continue truly believing that the fairies were responsible.

Analysis: Given how prevalent fairies are in Scottish and Irish, it makes sense how her parents would pass down this practice to her. This is quite a common practice in the US and even if people don’t fully believe in it, they may do it in order to ‘not risk it’ or even to comfort others fears who do believe in it. This is common with many superstitions as while there may not be scientific evidence to support a superstitions, people still ‘believe’ in them or ‘don’t want to risk it’ because we learn beliefs from those around us. This practice is also consistent with other/earlier portrayals of fairies as they are often portrayed as mischievous creatures in lore and not the sweet and fragile creatures that has been popularized by the media, particularly by Disney.

Throwing Candy After the Torah Portion in Bat/Bar Mitzvahs

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M: Me, I: Informant

I: Oh I just remembered another one. The traditions I was most excited for when I got bat mitzvahed is like after you finish your Torah portion I think or half Torah portion, um everyone in the synagogue has a piece of candy and they throw it at ya.

M+I: *laughs a little*

I: They throw the candy at you.

M: Uh-huh (agreement)

I: Uh and that’s just you know as like a congratulatory thing, like ‘Get it,’ you know. Like , it’s like, the congregation saying ‘sweet! You did it.’

M: Welcome to adulthood *laughs*

I: yes, yes, that one’s really fun, because I like candy and I think its fun to have things thrown at me, you know.

Context: This practice occurs while doing or watching a bar/bat mitzvah which is the coming of age ceremony done typically by Jewish children when they are 13. The candy throwing occurs after the Torah or half Torah portion of the ceremony. My informant had this at her bat mitzvah ceremony and has participated in the throwing of candy at others.

Analysis: The bar/bat mitzvah represents the transition from childhood and adulthood. Thus, while in the midst of the ceremony, the ‘child’ is in this liminal place where he/she isn’t quite a child, but isn’t quite an adult yet. They are in the process of taking on a new identity. Pranks/joke/riddles and various other traditions are common in other liminal states. In a way, getting candy thrown at you by your entire temple is a prank/joke to test you and help ease you into your new identity, adulthood.

Find a Penny, Pick It Up and All Day You’ll Have Good Luck

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M: Me I: Informant

I: It’s like Find a penny pick it up and all day you’ll have good luck. Is that like folklore?

M: Yup that’s good!

I: I did that constantly.

M: Now was that something that you learned from other kids or did that come from um your family?

I: Um definitely my family, my parents. They’d be like “Op, penny!” Sometimes my dad would drop pennies just so I could pick them up and have good luck. I loved it.

M: That’s so cute! Um is there, does the penny, I think I remember, the penny has be head up, right?

I: Oh there’s something like that, but I never cared *laughs*

M: *laughs*

I: Free money!

Context: This is something that she learned from her father. Everytime she sees a penny she still picks it up and feels as though it brings her luck. It also is a sweet reminder of her dad. This phrase though is very American in its ideals. Rhyming sayings like this are funny for people to learn/ regurgitate and lift spirits.

Analysis: Rhyming sayings, otherwise known as proverbs, like this are a good means of transferring ideas as the rhyming device makes it easy to remember and delivers the thought eloquently. I stated earlier that I thought that this speech was innately American and I even conferred with my Norwegian friend who agreed that while finding money on the ground is considered lucky- it’s considered lucky because you found money, not so much for any other purpose. Whereas with this saying, we have to recognize the focus on “free money!” And how reflective that is of the values of the United States. Traditionally the American view is that you work and struggle to earn your money and that is something that is difficult, but people that pride in that. Additionally, we know that this phrase goes beyond simply luck because they found money on the floor as the penny is relatively worthless and literally cost more to produce than its worth.

Peels for The Initials of Your Spouse

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M: Me, I: Informant

I:OOOoooo, I don’t know if you want this but there’s a lot of um you know like when you are peeling potatoes, you throw the peel on the floor and it’ll name the initials of who you are going to marry

M: I did not know that

I: There’s a lot of them. That was a thing,  ugh again my grandma, I swear she is a crazy *laughs*. Or or apples if you are peeling anything, you do it in one peel as far as you can get, and if it breaks apart that’s just more letters for you and then you throw it on the floor and it’ll—-

M: Cool, cool!

Context: She learned this growing up cooking with her grandma, who is old fashioned. This was a practice she really enjoyed even if the answer changed from time to time but was also a bit nerve racking. The context brings an added element here as this practice is done in the kitchen, traditionally a place that is deemed for women. Thus this practice is much more used amongst the women.

Analysis: This practice definitely is more geared towards women as I said in the context piece because of where it takes place, but if we dig deeper and see how it reflects the portrayal of women and how while they cook in the kitchen, they wish for their future husbands; it comes across to directly chain domesticity to females and further pushes the age old view that a woman wants to get married and looks forward to finding herself a spouse. Through this way, the older and wiser women encourage the younger and more naive girls to be excited for their domesticity. Especially because of the prevalence of fruits in this practice, which in folklore tends to represent the fertility and virginity of a woman, which is often linked to their marriage.

Praying to Saint Anthony

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Praying to Deceased Saints

I: Informant, M: Me

I: I’m Catholic and a lot of people pray to Saint Anthony when they lose something.

Context: My informant learned this through her congregation and while she does not regularly pray to Saint Anthony or any deceased saints in particular, she says it is very common within the congregation, even though it isn’t necessarily codified. When I lost my Apple Pencil a few weeks prior she told me to pray to Saint Anthony to help me find it.

Analysis: As is true with most religious folklore, praying to deceased saints -often to help you with something in particular- is not an official part of Catholicism. In fact, the official Catholic stance would consider this practice idolatry as people are praying to someone other than G-d. Thus, this truly is folklore as it allows for something that would typically be unacceptable behavior in ‘normal contexts,’ and makes not only acceptable, but also popular. There is nothing biblical or official about praying to saints yet it is still a very common Christian practice. Unofficially, people pray to the patron saint of whatever they need, so in this case Saint Anthony is the patron saint of lost things.