Author Archives: Sophia

Irish Marriage Proposal Tradition — The Sheep Rug


MB recently went on a trip to the Irish island of Inisheer, where she met a local man named Kevin at a bar.

“We went outside for a cigarette and he proposed to me. Like legitimately got on one knee and had his grandmother’s ring. I was so confused and I didn’t know what to do, so I took the ring and just didn’t reply.

“The next day I was like, ‘I need to return this ring.’ I went back to the bar because no one has like any form of communication. And I was like, ‘When does Kevin come?’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, he’ll be here after work.’ So I hung out until Kevin showed up. And then I was like, ‘Look, I can’t marry you. Here’s your ring back.’

“Kevin was like, ‘Oh, no, no, no, wait. I owe you a sheep. Do you want a sheep?’ I was like, ‘What do you mean? I’m leaving tomorrow. What am I supposed to do with a sheep?’ And he was like, ‘No, no. In Inisheer tradition, when you propose, you’re supposed to give a sheep as your proposal gift.’ I was like, ‘What do I do with a sheep? What do you expect me to do with that?’

“Kevin said sometimes people turn the sheep into a rug, so I was like, ‘Oh, okay. I’ll take a sheep rug, I guess.’ And I wrote down my address on a little piece of paper.

“I thought it was hilarious because I was not expecting to get an actual sheep rug in the mail from Kevin. But low and behold, two weeks after getting back to L.A., a box showed up with this sheep rug. It’s gorgeous. So yes, I did, in fact, get an engagement sheep rug from Kevin, the rubbish collector.


MB is a 20 year-old college student from New Jersey currently living in Los Angeles. She has traveled extensively and was in Ireland to film a documentary when this proposal occurred.

While she was not familiar with this specific Inisheer tradition, MB said she had heard of similar customs in other cultures. “It’s a tradition to present the woman with something that would appeal. So I feel like I had seen it, but I didn’t know that was an Irish thing.

“But this island also is super traditional, so it wasn’t super surprising. For context, the island is very small. Not a lot of technology. It’s a tourist destination now, but year-round, I think less than a hundred people live there. It’s all farmland. The only things that people do are own a shop or work on a farm or work on the ferry that runs to the mainland. So it’s very traditional. They all know each other, so there’s no need to text. They just go to the same place at the pub and knock on each other’s doors.

MB said she plans to keep the sheep rug for a long time and keep telling this story for the rest of her life. “I cherish this sheep rug so much. I think it’s the best souvenir I could ever receive.

She also admitted that sometimes she feels like she insulted Irish marriage tradition, even though Kevin was very insistent. “Obviously, because I was doing the documentary, I wanted to talk to people and actually get to know the culture. But I did not expect to be proposed to. And coming in and then leaving … I don’t know. But he really didn’t give me an option. And who am I to turn down a sheep rug? That sounds awesome.”


Marriage is one of the most celebrated life milestones across cultures. Historically, marriage is what brings two families together, establishing kinship networks and serving to reproduce not only life but culture. Thus, as one of the most important societal rituals that transforms identity, marriage is surrounded by many traditions, including those related to the engagement as MB experienced.

MB was told that she would be given an older sheep. It is unclear to her whether the sheep rug she received was already made at the time of the proposal, so there is no way of knowing much about the sheep it came from. Nonetheless, it is interesting that she was not given a young sheep to symbolize fertility, which is an important theme across diverse wedding traditions. Giza Roheim’s research, “Wedding Ceremonies in European Folklore,” explores other iterations of such themes.

Ultimately, Kevin’s insistence in giving her the sheep speaks to the immense power of ritual. Even though MB declined the marriage proposal, he insisted on following through with the whole proposal ritual. This demonstrates the belief that rituals must be performed correctly and in their entirety, or else the occasion loses its transformative power. In Kevin’s case, it is possible that he believed a failure to follow through on the engagement ritual would give him bad luck with future proposals, or alternatively, not release him from his commitment to MB. Whatever the reason, it is clear that he was acting under the weight of ritual obligation, rather than reason.

St. Patrick’s Day Leprechaun Tradition


“My mom did something every St. Patrick’s Day when I was growing up. She would sneak into my room the night before, ransack it and put green streamers all around my room. She would write a note from the leprechauns on the mirror in green lipstick and then put green food dye and gold glitter in the toilet like they had used it and left the seat up.

“They were just mischievous little devils … I had a stuffed animal that I really loved, a toucan called birdy friend, and one year she tied up birdy friend with the streamers.”


GR is a 21 year-old college student from Portland, OR, currently living in Los Angeles. Her grandparents were Irish immigrants.

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated every year on the 17th of March. It is both a religious and cultural holiday celebrated by citizens of Ireland and Irish people, such as GR’s mom. Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, where nearly a third of the population believes in the existence of leprechauns.

While she can’t pinpoint the moment she stopped believing the leprechauns were real, GR said definitely believed it when she was really young.

GR said she definitely will continue the tradition if she has kids one day. “It’s just so fun and magical. It brings such joy and silliness and playfulness into your life. My mom helped me realize that, yes, magic is real but it’s something that we create ourselves.”

She even intended to recreate the tradition for her housemates at college this year, but the holiday fell during spring break.

“Something that I do really believe in is creating magic for other people.”


The annual celebration of St. Patrick’s Day falls very close to the spring equinox, an example of how folk traditions are embedded in the cycles of seasons.

This idea of cyclic time allows a repeated festival to pull together moments in time. As GR told me about her mother’s tradition of leprechauns wreaking havoc in her room, she was recalling not a singular event but a culmination of every year’s festivities, each year building upon the prior memories of the holiday.

Because festivals have a specific time and place, it was difficult for GR to continue this tradition once she moved away from home, despite her intention to do so.

An aspect of festival time is the idea of ritual inversion, a process by which social roles are reversed or subverted. On any other day, GR’s mom would not be trashing her child’s room; more likely she would be asking GR to pick up after herself. Inverting these norms is part of what signifies that it is a special day.

Lucky Penny Magic


“I believe in lucky pennies. I have a bunch right here; I have some in my window. They’re only lucky if you find them heads up. But if I find one that is heads down, I’ll flip it so it’s lucky for the next person.

“Sometimes if I know someone’s having a bad day, or they have an exam and they need some luck, I’ll give them one of my lucky pennies.

“But there have been times when I’ve found a lucky penny, and I’m like, ‘Ok, this is the day that I have to do something ballsy and brave. This is a sign.’ And then it won’t go well. And I’ll be like, ‘The lucky penny magic isn’t real,’ and I’ll swear off lucky pennies. But I never seem to stop myself. I always continue doing it anyway.”

GR said she couldn’t recall an experience when a lucky penny actually gave her good luck. “Unless I have incredibly spectacular, amazing luck, I’ll never recognize good luck. I only really recognize when I’ve had really bad luck.”


GR is a 21 year-old college student from Portland, OR, currently living in Los Angeles. Her grandparents were Irish immigrants.

Lucky penny belief is performed mostly in public spaces where one is likely to have dropped loose change, such as a place of business, a parking lot, or the sidewalk. As a resident of a large urban area, GR often encounters such spaces. It is likely that the frequency of finding lucky pennies influences her belief.


Lucky penny magic reflects the values of American capitalist society, in which money is the main mechanism of upward mobility and survival. Under this system of values, coming into any amount of money by chance is genuinely good luck.

GR’s belief goes further, however, claiming that the pennies are not merely an instance of luck but a token of it, a good luck charm. Lucky penny belief for some is merely a sign superstition, a form of belief that requires no action; one merely encounters a sign of good or bad luck.

However, GR actively takes part in the belief, choosing to collect the lucky pennies, give them to her friends, and flip a heads down penny over for the next person. This action is what makes her belief magic. Specifically, GR believes that lucky pennies are a form of contagious magic in their ability to bring good luck to whoever possesses them.

Additionally, her choice to collect the pennies out of belief that they may bring luck in the future reflects the future-orientation of American culture, as described by folklorist Alan Dundes.

Irish Knitting Superstition


“Irish people culturally believe that when you knit something, you knit a piece of your soul into your project. And so Irish knitters purposely knit one mistake into their project so that their soul can escape. Otherwise you’re breaking off little pieces of yourself every time you give someone something that you knit.

“So I’m like, ‘Oh, I haven’t been giving my soul away to anyone because I always make a mistake or two.’ Still, there’s certainly some pieces that people have that are a tiny little expression of me.”

Once having heard of this belief, GR began to express it as her own. “It actually makes a lot of sense to me because knitting is just such a labor of love,” she said, adding that she could never sell the pieces that she knits. “No price could quantify the work that I’ve done. It’s so deeply personal. When I’m knitting, I feel like I’m tapping into something cosmic.”

She added that part of this feeling comes from the labor of making something entirely by hand. “There’s no machine that can ever replicate it. Using a knitting machine doesn’t feel as personal. It feels like cheating, honestly.”


GR is a 21 year-old college student from Portland, OR, currently living in Los Angeles. Her grandparents were Irish immigrants.

GR knits a lot in her free time, mainly making beanies for herself and her friends.

GR originally read about this belief online, but her Irish roots in addition to her love of knitting made it easy for her to identify with this belief and adopt it as her own.


This belief captures the deeply emotional experience of creating something and gives words to the profound connection an artist feels to their work as an expression of their soul. It also provides a rationalization for any flaws in one’s project, which reduces the pressure on the creator to attain perfection. Such an understanding of the value of mistakes is especially relevant in the art of knitting, a very precise and meticulous craft in which one mistake might make you want to unravel the whole piece until it’s perfect. This belief helps calm the unforgiving pursuit of perfection, which is the enemy of creativity.

This folk belief contains two elements: first, the magical belief that the act of knitting places a piece of one’s soul into their work. This is an example of the law of contagion, in which a non-material bond is established between a person and object. In this belief, the ritual that breaks this bond is the act of knitting a mistake into a piece, allowing the soul to escape. This second element of the belief is an example of conversion magic, a form of performative magic that offsets another magical thing.

Card Game Superstition


“As long as I can remember, every time I play a card game of any kind, I always wait until everyone has their cards dealt to them before I touch my cards. Otherwise, I feel as if it’s bad luck to touch the cards, and I won’t win the game. It will curse me for that round of cards. 

“Everyone in my family does this, and if someone does touch their cards beforehand, it’s a taboo thing where everyone looks at you like, ‘What have you just done?’

“We’ve passed it along to some family friends, too. It’s like an introduction to our family, and a way for the people we’re closest to to become almost like extended family. Since we believe this and we care about them, we don’t want them to get the bad luck from it.”


BD is a 20 year-old college student from Sacramento, California currently living in Los Angeles. This superstition is part of a card game that has been passed down from his grandparents. When learning the rules of the game, I was also taught this superstition.

BD said he doesn’t remember learning the superstition. “It’s just always been this way and I’ve always done it.”


BD’s family sharing this superstition with their close friends as a way of making them part of the family reflects how folk belief can function to create group identities. For example, when reflecting on his family teaching the superstition to his girlfriend, BD said “she has become part of the family by knowing our ways.” Thus, the lore creates the folk.

Superstitions about luck are very common in the context of card games, which often depend on a combination of chance and skill to win. Believing that a certain action will give one good or bad luck for a game is a way to feel a degree of control over a larger, less predictable situation.

The belief that touching an object can give one good or bad luck is an example of contagious magic, as the cards are believed to contain the luck. One can avoid bad luck by abstaining from touching the cards until the proper time.