Author Archives: Camille Saucier

Theatrical Folk Belief: Ghost Light

Informant: “At the end of each theater performance a lone light is pulled onto the stage because legend has it that without a light ghosts play around and will mess up the set so you have to leave a light on”

The informant heard another version of the folk belief which says that “the light is turned on so that when the ghosts go to play around on the stage they have a light to see and don’t bump into things on the stage.”

The informant learned about this folk belief when he served as a member of the technical theater production crew for his high school. The light would be set “in the middle of the stage every time there was a set onstage, from the first time work is begun on the set until the last night of the performance.” The informant said that this tradition was passed on from the older crew to the younger crew informally because the younger crew would learn from example when they saw the older crew place the light on the stage. According to the informant, this was not an important duty and was actually seen as something akin to a chore. As a member of the technical crew, the informant would have to “drag the light out every night” after the performance. Putting up the light was “just something that needed to be done before the tech crew could go home.” Also, according to the informant, the light consisted of “a light bulb on top of a portable light stand.”

The informant does not believe in the “superstitious” reason for putting up the light, but he says there are practical reasons for the light. The informant said “the reason for the light is so that no one walks onto the stage in the dark and trips over something and breaks it.”

The informant said that the light is important because the tech crew sometimes has to work on the set after hours, and they have to cross the stage to get to the electrical panel to turn on the set lights. Thus, it is helpful to have a light so they can see and not bump into things on stage or fall off the stage. In addition, the crew has put a lot of effort into making the set so they want to prevent it from being damaged.

I thought this was an interesting folk belief because not only does this belief have superstitious roots, but it is also extremely practical. From talking with the informant and from online research, there are many different theatrical superstitions, and some are more common and widely used than others. From what I could find, this particular folk belief is very popular, even the Broadway stage uses the ghost light.

Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve

Informant: “On Christmas eve children are not allowed to enter the room where the Christmas tree is going to be in, until given permission by their parents. Children are told that Baby Jesus brought the tree and the gifts for them. Though, sometimes it is just the gifts that Baby Jesus is responsible for”

 

The informant is a first generation American who was born in Danbury, Connecticut. She is a middle aged woman with two older children. Her father was born in Oriente, Cuba and her mother was born in Mór, Hungary. The informant did not believe in this baby Jesus lore herself, but heard about this belief from her mother. Her mother told the informant and her sisters of this lore when they were young children approximately six or seven years of age.

Although the Baby Jesus tradition was not actively practiced in the informant’s family, it was actively practiced and believed in her mother’s family when her mother was a child. The informant said that her mother and her family “would go to church and when they got back Baby Jesus would have magically decorated the room and brought gifts.”

The informant and her sisters found the lore to be amusing, and they would sometimes say to things to each other such as “Baby Jesus wouldn’t like that” to jest about the idea of Baby Jesus. She also liked the idea of Baby Jesus because it was different from her cultural experience and “sparked the imagination.” Furthermore, the informant felt that the idea of Baby Jesus really cemented the concept of Christianity during Christmas because belief in Baby Jesus took the focus away from figures like Santa Claus and reemphasized the “real point of the holiday of Jesus’s birth.”

I agree with the informant that this lore effectively brings Christ back into the focus of Christmas because now Baby Jesus is responsible for the Christmas tree and the gifts rather than a character like Santa Claus. As an Episcopalian, I am not a very devoutly religious Christian, but my family and I do go to church on Christmas Eve. Oftentimes, the pastor will spend some time to discuss how people (in reference to other Christians) can forget the reason behind the celebration of Christmas, that it is ultimately the day of Jesus’s birth, rather than just a day of gift-giving and festivities. It seems some Christians consider overlooking the importance of Jesus on Christmas a very serious problem, and methods like this can help alleviate this perceived problem.

Camp Lore: Lemonade Tower

Informant: “Every year at camp Kinneret, the camp counselors bring all the campers up to the lemonade tower and give them lemonade from the mermaids who live in the tower.”

 

The informant is currently a freshman in high school and lives in Calabasas, a particularly wooded area for Southern California. The informant recollected this experience from when he was a younger child attending Camp Kinneret, a summer day camp for children aged 4 -14, during the summer. The informant was approximately five years of age when he learned of this legend from his camp counselor.

According to the informant, at some point every summer the camp counselors will take the children enrolled in the camp on a hike to a nearby water tower, give them lemonade, and tell them the story of the tower. The legend was that mermaids lived in the tower and had made the lemonade for the campers who visited them. The purpose of the legend, according to the informant, was that “kids get lemonade and it gets the kids to be excited to be at a camp where there are mermaids who can make lemonade.” When asked how the informant felt about the lore he said that as a child he did believe in the mermaids and that he “thought it was awesome that mermaids were giving me lemonade.”

In the camp, this legend is age graded because as those who attended the camp got older they no longer believed in the mermaids who lived in the tower, but the informant said the counselors would tell them “not to spoil the story for the younger kids.”

I agree with the informant that this legend is a great way to get campers excited to be at camp, especially because the legend is focused on younger members, around four to six, who might be afraid to be away at a camp.

Farrier Lore: If a horse has a glass eye, he will always kick on that side

Interview

Informant: “Here’s one for a fact. You know how some horses have a blue eye or a glass eye, if that horse is gonna kick, he’ll kick with the side that has a glass eye. That doesn’t mean the other side won’t kick, but if you’re gonna get kicked it’ll be on the side that has that glass eye”

 

Collector: “Why is that? Do you think it is because they do not see as well on that side?”

 

Informant: “I don’t know, I don’t know but if you hit one of em with a whip haha he’s gonna kick. He’ll hit with that one.”

 

The informant is a sweet, older, “cowboy” who has been working with horses and farm animals for his entire life. He is a Certified Journeyman Farrier (the highest level of certification by the American Farrier’s Association) and is very well respected in the farrier and greater equine community. He was born in Wichita, Kansas to a family that has been farmers for generations. In fact, the informant said that some of his family is still farming in “places like Oklahoma.” He learned of this lore as a child when he was about ten years old from his father and grandfather while working on the family farm, which included horses and mules. He shod his first horse when he was 13, and has been shoeing horses for about 51 years. * To “shoe” or shod a horse is to put horse shoes on the horse’s hooves. Horses need to be shod about once every six weeks, so quality farriers are highly sought after in the equine community. A farrier is a very specialized and difficult profession because if a horse is shod improperly the horse could become crippled.*

Sometimes a horse has an eye that is a clear, light colored, or blue-ish colored eye. The coloring of the eye does not physically mean anything as far as the informant knows; the coloring of the eye is similar to other animals like malamutes who have eyes of different colors. This piece of occupational lore is especially important for farriers because they work with horses’ feet and can get kicked. A horse kick is definitely something to be avoided because it is very painful and can even break bones. In fact, when asked how he felt about the lore, the informant said “I do know that one about the glass eye, that ones true. Let me tell ya.”  “I’ve been kicked.” Therefore, being aware that a horse has a “blue or glass” eye and a propensity to kick on a particular side would be helpful to avoid injury, especially for someone who has previously been kicked by a horse.

It is interesting that the reason the horse will kick on a particular side is unknown. I wonder if it does have to do with the horse’s ability to see out of a particular eye. Personally, my mother owns a horse and I sometimes work around horses, so I will definitely remember this information and probably pass it on if I ever see a horse with a blue or glass eye. Apparently “Pinto horses,” horses with big spots, are more likely to have blue or glass eyes.

Farrier Lore: Laying down the hammer

Informant : “Horseshoe-ers when you lay your hammer down for the last time the only thing you have to look forward to is dying”

 

The informant is a kind, older, “cowboy” who has been working with horses and farm animals for his entire life. He is a Certified Journeyman Farrier (the highest level of certification by the American Farrier’s Association) and is very well respected in the farrier and greater equine community. He was born in Wichita, Kansas to a family that has been farmers for generations. In fact, the informant said that some of his family is still farming in “places like Oklahoma.” He shod his first horse when he was 13, and so he has been shoeing horses for about 51 years. * To “shoe” or  shod a horse is to put horse shoes on the horse’s hooves. Horses need to be shod about once every six weeks, so quality farriers are highly sought after in the equine community. A farrier is a very specialized and difficult profession because if a horse is shod improperly the horse could become crippled.* The informant learned of this lore from a fellow farrier during his many years in the trade.

When asked what the informant thought of the saying, he stated “…layin the hammer down. I used to think it was funny, but now, now I’m startin’ to believe it.” This particular lore is very relevant to the informant because he is “reaching that time when I’ll have to put my hammer down.” This saying indicates a right of passage. When the older and experienced farrier is going to retire, he will “lay his hammer down for the last time.”

The informant is very passionate about his profession and really enjoys working with horses, so I find that this is a somewhat depressing saying. Furthermore, having been born and raised in a society that avoids death and treats death as a taboo topic such a statement is disconcerting. We do not like imagining those we know passing away or acknowledging that they might.