Author Archives: Christine Preimesberger

Folk Belief: Spiders

Killing spiders is bad luck.

My informant says that when he finds spiders in the house he takes them and relocates them outside instead of killing them. He learned this folk belief from a nun in grade school. The nun didn’t them why it was bad luck but he rationalized it as if you relocate the spiders you’ll get fewer spiders. He figured that if you smash them they’ll multiply and come after you. He also states them relocating them isn’t necessary; you just have to avoid killing them. The reason he relocates them is because the people he lives with are afraid of spiders. He doesn’t still believe that spiders will come after him but he still relocates them anyway.

I’ve heard this folk belief before but I never associated it with Catholic nuns. The version I’ve heard focused on the fact that spiders kill pests so it is not a good idea to kill them. Maybe this belief is related to a “you should value life in general” dimension to this belief.  The “killing insects” is bad luck folk belief is something I’ve heard before but generally the one I was taught was that its bad luck to kill ladybugs. I understand why killing either would be bad luck, ladybugs and spiders kill pests so their good to have around. In my house whenever someone sees a spider they want it dead. Maybe its because ladybugs are rarer or maybe its because spiders aren’t cute. For some reason spiders aren’t generally given the same amount of reverence other bugs get.

Folktale: The Golem


The Golem

She heard this story from friends at the Jewish school. She went to school in Los Angeles. She explains that her family is Spanish and the story of the Golem is an Eastern European story so she didn’t grow up with it like her classmates did. She states that she heard from her friends who were Ashkenazi. The basic story goes like this:

The story takes in a town in Prague. A rabbi created a Frankenstein-like monster called a Golem to protect the Jewish village. The Golem was a giant creature with the word Emet, which is Hebrew for truth, written on its head. This word brings the creature to life. He was created to ward of attackers but it eventually runs amuck and starts attacking people. It couldn’t be stopped until the rabbi who created it erases the first letter of Emet from its head. Emet without the first letter, spells met which means death. This doesn’t kill the golem it just shuts it off like a robot. To revive the Golem all one has to do is fill in the first letter.

The informant mentions that she heard slightly different versions of the story. In some versions the person who brings the golem to life is a rabbi, sometimes it’s a mad scientist, other times it is just some guy. The nature of the golem itself varies in some versions it is aggressive in others its docile like a baby.

The informant doesn’t think the story itself is very important but the ideas related to it are important. She says that the story is related the history of antisemitism and it stems from the idea of having a magical protector.

I’ve heard of the story of the Golem of Prague before but in the version I read the Golem only goes berserk because the Golem had the ability to turn invisible and there were more explicit mentions of magic. In the version I heard the Golem was made from the clay of the banks of the river and the ceremony that brought it life mentioned the use of Kabbalah mysticism. In the version the informant told me she makes numerous references to Frankenstein and mad scientists. It seems like the scientific bent of contemporary society got fused with this older primarily magical society. The story is the same but the motifs are slightly different.

Game: Afikomen Game

The Afikomen Game

The informant couldn’t remember what Afikomen means or whether the word is in Yiddish or Hebrew.

This is a children’s game that’s played during Passover. The informant explains that during Passover there is a service called a Seder. The ceremony comes with a book that spells out all the rituals and what order their supposed to go. The informant says that the service generally lasts about two hours. However there are people who try to finish it in one hour. The informant has lead Seder’s before and they tend to three hours long. At some point during the Seder the person leading the prayer breaks off a piece of matzo (explain) and usually hides it somewhere in the house. All the children get up and race through the house to find the Afikomen. However finds it first gets a prize usually money. It’s usually money because children are not allowed to eat sweets during Passover.

The informant in Passover most of the events and rituals are directly related to the history of the holiday or the Commandments. The Afikomen game is not related to holiday at all. According to the informant the game was created to help the children get through the Seder without disrupting it. She explained that the Seder lasts for hours and Passover has certain dietary restrictions, bread and candy are off limits. Basically the holiday isn’t very kid friendly. The informant says that some Rabbis try to justify its existence by saying that it symbolizes the search for freedom but it only exists to keep the children from getting bored

My informant says the game is not that important in itself but it is important it is related to Passover.

The informant mentioned that Passover is a ritualized holiday; every aspect has some historical or religious significance. I think it is interesting that a holiday as old and sacred as Passover has this completely unrelated game attached to it. Even though it was not originally part of the traditions it is still important enough that people try to justify its existence. Maybe being a useful way to keep children quiet during the ceremony outweighs the fact that has no symbolic significance.




Food: Bacalhoada

My informant told me her grandparents come from the Azores a group of islands off the coast of Portugal. Ever year around Easter, on Good Friday, her grandfather cooks a dish called Bacalhoada. It is basically a dish formulated from potatoes, fish, hard-boiled eggs, olives, onions, and whatever else is available in the kitchen. This tradition comes from the Portuguese sailors. Since they sent a lot of time at sea they didn’t have access to fresh foods. They would catch a whole bunch of fish because they were never sure when get would get more food. So they dried and they would rehydrate them with milk later. For this dish they would have the fish and they would then throw-in any vegetables or food that they happened to find on the ship.  Even during war-time they would take the time to make this dish every Good Friday. According to my informant the recipe varies from year to year. Part of the concept of the dish is to put in whatever you have available. My informant says that she enjoys the tradition because she doesn’t fell she has that many. She enjoys the tradition but not always the food that goes with it.

It is interesting that the informant places more emphasis on the history of the tradition than the food itself. It was probably because she didn’t know the recipe off the top of her head but the history of this dish still seems more important. Especially since the recipe seems to change yearly because that’s how the dish was originally made. That might be why the informant follows the tradition even though she’s not all that keen on the actual food. The history behind this dish gives it importance so not practicing it might seem disingenuous.

Tale: Family Folklore

The informant’s uncle Blake Emerson , likes to pass down stories about his life.  He was the 11th of 12 children, raised in a very large ranch in Nebraska. As the 11th of 12 children he was not paid as much attention. He was good with snakes. When he was about 10 one of his chores was to go to the rocky part of the ranch to collect stones for building fences and the like. When he went out he found rattlesnakes. He would find baby rattlesnakes and collect them in a 5 gallon water bottle. He went into town with the bottle and met with combine workers. Combines are machines that are used to harvest wheat. Skilled workers would migrate around the country to follow wheat harvest. The informant’s Uncle would make a bet with the workers; if they could put their hand on the outside of the battle and keep their without flinching he would give them $5. If they failed they had to give him 50¢. If got a lot of money of this bet. He even got featured in the paper; the photograph from the paper is posted on the fridge.

The informants enjoys hearing stories from her uncle because it strengths their family bonds.

Family folklore is interesting because it shows people within the same family have different experiences. Its a good way to solidify family bonds between different generations.

Urban Legend: High School

The Nipple Nerve Story

The informant heard this story from a friend about something one of his friends did. The informant’s story is there was a gut who decides he wants to pierce his nipples. Instead of doing the smart thing about getting it down professionally he does it himself.  After week he decides that he doesn’t want them anymore. He takes out one ring and nothing happens. He takes out the other one and a white string comes out. He takes a pair of scissors and cuts the string. He passes out because the pain. When he wakes up, he’s dazed and notices a bad smell. What had happened was that when he pierced his nipple he pierced the nerve. So when he removed it he cut the nerve, passed out, and shit himself.

The informant says he believes that this actually happened because he believed his friends friend’s were stupid enough to try that. He loves telling this story because it gets a great reaction out of people.

This story was one of the only friend of a friend tales I found. Its one of those urban legends that its hard to tell whether it really happened because it sounds kind of plausible. Whether it real or not is not really important but the plausibility makes the story really effective. An effective story just makes it more fun to repeatedly tell people.

Joke: Theather humor


“What has two legs, a tail, and bleeds profusely?”

“Half a cat.”

My informant got this joke in high school. It was everyone’s favorite joke in her Theater class. Sometimes they would just text each other “Half a cat”. The informant says that she thought it was funny in an unexpected and twisted way.  It was mostly funny because it was an inside joke within the theater group. She said it in-jokes were in common in her theater class, they wouldn’t make sense to people outside the class.

This is kind of a joke riddle. The humor comes from the fact that the person thinks the answer is going to something they don’t know but then the answer is actually really simple. It actually reminds me of a joke from one of my favorite books How NOT to write a Novel “Giving a reader a sex scene that is only half right is like giving her half of a kitten. It is not half as cute as a whole kitten; it is a bloody, godawful mess ” (Mittelmark and Newman) Apparently in American society dead cats are a source of humor.

Folk Medicine: Cobwebs

Note: My informant was originally born in Mississippi.




My informant told me a story of his mother healing his injuries. He said that when he was 16 or 17 he was shaving off a corn on my foot and cut to deep. Blood was squirting out and I was mashing it trying to stop the bleeding but it wouldn’t stop bleeding. Then his mother comes. He went to his mother for treatment. He says that his mother took a cobweb, took out a match, singed the web slightly, and then placed the cobweb on the wound. The web stopped the bleeding. He thought there some sort chemical in the web that stopped the bleeding

She only used that remedy once on him. He has never used it on himself because not that severe has happened to him again. He doesn’t know where exactly she learned it. He did mention that she grew up on a property in the country part of Mississppi and they didn’t have access to doctors in those days.

I think this story is kind of interesting. A lot of the time folk beliefs are considered superstitious and inaccurate. This brand of folk medicine was born out of necessity an actually works. It’s a shame I can’t talk to the woman herself. I’d really like to know where she learned this from and what sort of trial and error it took to figure this out.


Tradition: Luminaras

Note: the informant was originally from New Mexico


Christmas Luminaras

This tradition is primarily a New Mexico. Before Christmas my informant’s family sets up luminaras around their house. Luminaras are made of paper bags,sand, and candles. Generally brown paper bags and wax candles are used although some people use electric lights in lieu of candles. They do not have to be decorated. To make them you just fill a bag with sand and place the candle inside. According to the informant this is a very collaborative process, the whole family (her nuclear family) gets involved, they take turns doing different steps and they all put the luminaras outside. They place several hundred outside the house. On Christmas Eve the informant and her family go out and look at the neighbor’s Christmas lights and luminaras. Then they drive to Old Town in Alberquere, a plaza where a lot of people gather to look at the luminaras. 

In this case the time the family spending time together is the most important part of this tradition than the object itself. The emphasis is about preparation because that’s a collaborative process. Its fairly similar to other Christmas traditions (well h=the ones I’ve experienced) where the traditions like putting up a tree and opening presents are more about spending time with the family.

Tradition: Drill team

My informant was a member of the Drill team. During half-time at every football game the drills teams from both school would meet in (?). The teams would exchange gifts like school buttons and candy. According to the informant it was a nice tradition that allowed her to meet people from other schools.

The relationship between competing drill teams is kind of interesting. In the other example the informant gave my they are competing against each other. In this instance they are friendly and exchanging gifts.

This an interesting tradition because it contrasts with the spirit stick tradition that this informant also gave me. In that scenario the teams were competing against each other. In those incidence they are exchanging gifts. Still this is the first time I’ve heard of opposing sport’s teams exchanging gifts. It probably has something to do with the way the drill team is structured. According to the other example she gave me different drill teams would go to camp together. As far as I know other sport’s teams don’t do that. Either this tradition was created to promoted a friendly relationship between both groups because they see each other alot. Or it grew out the positive interactions the drill teams have with each other.