Author Archives: Erin Hodgkins

Superstition: Don’t open an umbrella in the house

“Don’t open an umbrella in the house.”

The informant was born in Atchinson, Kansas, but moved to California when she was seven, where she has lived ever since.

While the informant cannot remember a specific instance where she heard this saying, she explained that this was something that people would say over and over again. Essentially, part of her vocabulary growing up. She considers her generation to have been homebodies and that their sayings simply reflected the way people were living. To her, these sayings came from people who were doing more manual work, like farming and housekeeping, rather than office work. She herself never had a job, but fulfilled her goal of becoming a mother and homemaker.

She remembers being told that it would bring her bad luck if she did open an umbrella in the house, but she thinks that someone created it simply because they didn’t want someone to do it, potentially because it could break something, so they started telling people it was bad luck to do so. She claims that if you did though, you would just have general bad luck because the saying never specifies what exactly will happen to you.

The informant does admit to having opened an umbrella in the house at one point in her life, but she does not know if she had bad luck or not as a result. She thinks it is possible though because she does not know how things might have been different than they were/are. However, now, she says that you shouldn’t take any chances because you don’t know what bad luck will befall you if you do.

The informant relayed her folklore to me at my dining room table. I have known her my entire life as she is a close relative. I had already asked her about her folklore weeks before, but upon meeting on this day, she brought a list that she had written of all she could think of so that she would not forget when she told me. While she read the specific folklore off the sheet, the other details I got from her were not pre-determined.

I think there is a large possibility that the informant’s belief that it was created to scare people into not doing something they did not like is accurate. However, there is no real way of knowing for sure. She also brings up what I have found to be the key reason most people don’t test their superstitions. Even if you don’t necessarily believe it to be true, you don’t want to risk having bad luck by trying to find out if it is true or not.

The Legalized Haunted House in New York

“They had this family who lived there and they caught on pretty quick that it was a haunted house, so they got along fine with the ghost. They claimed it was kinda like a friendly ghost. They said it like, did little chores for them and stuff, like folded laundry and stuff when they weren’t expecting. Like kinda weird things, but also like, not necessarily annoying things, so they put up with it. So, eventually they decided that they needed to sell the house because they wanted to move or they needed the money or something, so they found a buyer for the house and they signed up all the paperwork and the buyer moved in. Then, after a few weeks I want to say, a couple of months maybe, they slowly picked up on the fact that the house was haunted or they suspected it was. So, they called up the original owners and they said ‘hey, so, did you guys ever think the house was haunted?’ and they were like, ‘oh yeah, that’s like, so and so the ghost,’ like ‘we know all about it,’ like, ‘ isn’t he the greatest?’ and they were like, ‘no, we don’t want a haunted house.’ So, they brought them to court claiming that they had sold the house under false pretenses. And first off, the judge was like, ‘this is an absurd case. There is no way I am ruling in favor of this. You can’t just claim the house is haunted and then, you know, try and get a refund for it.’ And they were like ‘fine, fine, fine.’ So, the attorney for the people who had bought the house went ‘okay judge’… in the most classic horror movie plot ever… they were like ‘okay, if you can spend the night in the house and come out and say with 100% certainty that the house is not haunted, we will drop the case.’ The judge couldn’t do it or refused to do it, and so agreed to rule the house is legally haunted and yeah, they got their money back for the house. And now, it is New York state law that if your house is haunted or you suspect it to be haunted, you have to disclose it in any sales of real estate.”

The informant’s story is based in his hometown in New York, with the “haunted house” being down the street from him. According to the informant, the town is partially know for the big, Victorian mansion down by the Hudson River that became the first legally haunted house in the world. This house is also still residential, with people living in it currently who clearly have no problem with it being haunted. While the house was already expensive because it was an old, Victorian mansion on the Hudson River, the fact that it is “haunted” has drawn many people to it, ultimately increasing the asking price when it has been for sale.

At the time that this happened, many people began to believe that ghosts were real because even the government was supporting their existence. However, the informant cannot say for sure if he believes it to be haunted because he has never been inside, but he does like to frequent the house on Halloween with his friends.

Also, the informant’s brother has a friend whose parents are trying to decide if they really do need to disclose that their house may be haunted because they merely suspect it themselves. Even though the law states that they have to, they are afraid it will make the house lose its value potentially and are considering not doing it.

The informant relayed this to me while sitting at a table outside one of the school buildings on the USC campus. The two of us have been friends for over a year.

Having never been to the house or to New York in general, I cannot say whether it was the first legalized haunted house or if it is even haunted. However, in regards to having to disclose if your house is haunted or not, I have heard that this is not the only case of this happening and is a much more frequent case than people would think.

In regards to the family deciding whether to comply with the law or not, they are a good example of what beliefs in folklore can effect. For instance, for those who do not want to believe, the house will immediately be taken out of consideration. For those who are extremely afraid of ghosts, the same will happen for them. That being said, that narrows the range of buyers down, which might have a strong change on being able to sell the house quickly or not, even though the current homeowners are not positive if it is haunted or not in the first place.

Dreams of Death Bringing Health: Folk Belief

“The one time I told my dad, he was like ‘oh, actually, in our culture that’s not as bad as you think because when you dream of someone dying, they opposite happens in real life and they’re actually rewarded with more years to live.’”

In Ethiopian culture, dreams are a very big deal alongside religion. The informant explained to me that she dreams a lot, but that a lot of her dreams are very dark. For instance, she often dreams that either just her dad, just her mom, or both of her parents were dying or had died. At first, these dreams terrified her and kept her from telling her parents because she initially saw this as a bad omen. A huge part of her fear came from her being an only child and realizing that if her parents died she would lose everyone in her immediate family.

Eventually, she mentioned it to her dad and he explained that she did not need to worry because it was actually a blessing in a sense. While this did not make the dreams less awful, she felt less scared they were an evil omen that would come true. She jokes now that her parents will live until they are 230 years old with the amount of times they have died in her dreams.

The informant relayed this to me while we were sitting on a bench on the USC campus.

Dreams are something that people are always trying to figure out. There are books written about them, extensive studies about them have been done and even more things that circulate orally with no real idea where it came from. For instance, I have heard that if you are dreaming of someone, it means they were thinking about you before they fell asleep or that what you eat before you sleep effects your dreams.

With this case in particular, I feel like some people would try to relate it to something scientific. However, I think that there is a lot to be said of there being folklore about it in that it must have been a big enough thing for people to have developed this belief about them.

The Legend of Saint Abuna Aregawi’s Monastery

“So, my saint name is “Waleta Aregawi,” which derives from the saint Abuna Aregawi, who was a Syrian monk who was residing in Ethiopia. And basically, he is famous for building the Debre Damo monastery, which is on a mountain top. So, the legend says that when he was at the base of the mountain, a large green serpent came to him and Saint Michael was giving him instructions on how to build a monastery and after that, the snake coiled around the monks body and helped him travel up the mountain to build the monastery.”

In Ethiopia, especially in the orthodox church, when you are baptized as a child, you are given a saint name. According to the informant, multiple people can have the same saint because it correlates with both the month and the certain day you are born. For example, the informant was born in August, which translates to “neḥāsē” in Amharic, and she believes that the 31st is attached to Abuna Aregawi. She actually brought a picture of her saint and keeps it in her room here at USC.

While multiple people can have the same saint, she believes that her own saint name, “Waleta Aregawi,” is specific to her.

The monastery is a real location that can still be visited today. The monastery is not only for people who have Abuna Aregawi as their saint, but for everyone.

The informant relayed this to me while we were sitting on a bench on the USC campus.

When the informant first described this to me, I saw a lot of similarities with astrological signs. You have the specific month and day you were born connecting you with others who supposedly are similar to you. While not exactly similar concepts, the idea of being connected to a group of others with the same heading creates a sort of community within a community. At the same time, it also gives a form of identification and belonging to their particular religion.

Hoya Hoye Festival

“There is a festival in Ethiopia. It’s called “Hoya Hoye.” It’s in August, which is in neḥāsē. I forgot exactly what it’s about, but the big thing that we always do is like we have a huge bonfire in our front yard, so to speak, and you just kinda like chant with like sticks, which we call “dulas” and they’re like taller than you and your like “duh duh duh” and then, you’re like “Hoya hoye, yeena geatta.” It’s a religious festival because “yeena geatta” menas like kinda like “My Savior,” so you are like praising Jesus.”

The Hoya Hoye festival is widely renowned throughout Ethiopia. It is a festival that is both very participatory within your family, but also within the entire neighborhood. Even though the houses in Ethiopia are separated by gates, people come together in celebration by banging on their neighbors gates saying “Hoya hoye” or “Salem.” It is a simple way of saying hello during the festival in a friendly way that brings the community together to celebrate.

The informant compared it to the typical American celebration for the Fourth of July, where people will have a barbecue with a lot of their family and friends coming together to celebrate. However, instead of patriotism, it is religious. For both though, there is the sense of community and connection to your culture and the people within it.

The informant explained that she would never celebrate Hoya Hoye in Oregon, where she is from, because the community and appreciation is not there. However, she has been able to go the last couple of years to Ethiopia to experience this. She explained that it was a real honor to be present at that time.

The festival usually falls between August 10th and August 20th. For the informant, it has been difficult to make it back to Ethiopia because that is when the fall semester for school begins, but she still has managed to make time for it.

The informant relayed this to me while we were sitting on a bench on the USC campus.

I find it interesting that this festival does not necessarily cross boarders of Ethiopia. With other festivals, like the Indian Holi festival, the people of the culture have been bringing it with them wherever they go, actively continuing it.

For the informant, the Hoya Hoye festival was something that she would never feel comfortable doing outside of Ethiopia. In part, I think it has to do with the lack of people to participate in it in Oregon. I also think that her being a mostly passive bearer also plays a role into why she only feels completely comfortable performing it with others who maybe understand the meaning behind it more.