Author Archives: Isabel Seely

Folk Dance/Test

Zachary: Well, in our family we have a ‘folk dance move’ I guess you could say. It’s a dance that our dad and his brothers made up or adopted or something. It’s kind of a goofy move where you kick you feet outwards, alternating from right to left, to the rhythm of the music you are listening to. I don’t really know how else to describe it…Anyway, everyone in our family can do the dance and… interestingly enough most ‘non-Seelys’ can’t do the move. So now, we have this tradition, whenever our family is together, at a wedding or what not, and a cousin has a new significant other, we see if they can do the Seely dance. We’ll give them a little tutorial but we kind of try to let them figure it out. So because none of our generation of Seelys are married yet we’ve developed the belief that when one of our girlfriends or boyfriends can do the Seely dance, preferably with enthusiasm, they ‘belong’ in the family.

This tradition incorporates a few different folklore elements, the dance, the test (or right of passage), and finally belief that an outsider’s ability perform the dance qualifies he/she to be apart of the family, thus implying marriage (yet another folklore practice)! The dance importantly signifies familial identity, suggesting a sense of belonging through innate ability to perform the dance. Additionally it exposes our family’s anticipation and value of marriage. The test imposed on non family members represents the desire to ensure new members’ belong in the family.

Flying Superstition

Megan: Whenever anyone in my family gets on a plane, you have to step with your left foot and knock on the side of the plane with your right hand. I don’t know where this started from. I think my mom and my aunt definitely because they are extremely superstition. Anyway, everyone in my family has to do, and does do it. And when I fly with people I make them do it too. I am not even that scared of flying, but the thought of if something were to happen and I hadn’t knocked and stepped right, freaks me out. So I just do it. … My mom on the other hand, (LAUGH) I think she genuinely believes she is ensuring we have a safe flight.

Megan’s description of this superstition is a great example of the performance of superstitions in general. To begin, Megan doesn’t know where or why she learned the superstition but it has always been something she practiced. Additionally, her discussion of the anxiety she experiences from the thought of not performing the superstition proves her reasoning behind continuing it. Often, the opposition of a superstition is the driving force of its performance. Unlike her mother, Megan does not logically believe her practice is controlling the fate of the plane, yet this rationale is not enough to seize her from doing it. Here, the fine line between superstition and compulsion surfaces and the psychological reasoning behind this folklore practice is evident.


Have you ever read the book Broken Bra Strap by Wun Hung Lo?

Have you ever read the book Rusty Bed Springs by I.P Knightly?

Have you ever read the book Race to the Outhouse by Willie Makit, illustrated by Betty Wont?

Have you ever read the book Bloody Stump by that famous Russian author, Hubitcha Kokov?

Jonathan: Well I could go on and on with those, you know. I don’t know where I picked em’ up and I know they are not the most PC little things to be saying, but people get a laugh out of em. The racial/ethnic ones are very stereotypical but there are tons and they refer to all different types of people. I guess knowing that I feel less of a desire to censor myself. Not to mention, people say German jokes to me all the time! I could give a hoot! In fact, I find them funny! And most of these are more clever than controversial I’d say.

My dad is known for his sense of humor. Growing up I used to be embarrassed by some of his ‘risky’ jokes. However, in observing his performance of these and other jokes, I have notice that he is able to maintain his audience respect. It was interesting to interview him after studying folklore traditions. His employment of these blason populare folk sayings become more about his delivery/performance of them, than about what he is saying. Thus, he manages to not be offensive through his charismatic delivery. Although, this is not always the case, viewing his delivery of these jokes with a more academic lens, helped to further highlight the importance of the lore’s performance along with the lore itself.

Additionally, these jokes clearly represent the different, more controversial, tone of my parent’s generation. Today, people are not as flippant in explicitly joking about cultural or ethnic stereotypes. The notion of ‘political correctness’ more commonly characterizing what we are taught today. However, these jokes are implicitly ‘dirty’ as well, which I believe is just as, if not more, prevalent amongst the younger generations today.


Kara: So my grandmother strongly believes in the like…’power of crystals’ or something. She wears different forms of crystal jewelry. She’s always trying to get me to wear crystals. I haven’t really asked her much about it but she claims the crystals attract toxins and so by wearing them you are allowing the crystals to purify you. The crystals like, like absorb the negative energy in your body or whatever. (LAUGH) I don’t know, I think she’s crazy in this sense but oh well. She also acts like the crystals have a spiritual benefit for her I think.

Kara’s description of her grandmother’s folk remedy practice exposes a disconnect between the two family members. Her grandmother’s crystal belief holds no weight within her family, Kara describes, and no one really knows when her grandmother started believing and following the crystal remedy. Unlike a familial tradition, Kara’s grandmother’s folk performance has not become a part of their family’s identity, rather, it has isolated her grandmother from the rest of her family. Her perspective is not as respected in the family as a result of the folk practice. There is currently many examples of others following this crystal belief. Ankerton and Weldon’s Encyclopedia for New Age Beliefs references the crystal practice. Those who defend this form of folklore practice are convinced that crystals infuse one’s body with the body’s maximum energy while maintaining spiritual balance.[1] As a result of the bourgeoning belief in the power of crystals, consumer society has tailored markets to attract those who perform crystal remedies. There are now crystal power jewelry lines and companies that sell individual crystals for medicinal and spiritual use.[2]

[1]Ankerberg, John, and John Weldon. Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs. Eugene, Or.: Harvest House, 1996.             pp. 117

[2] Jones, Sandra. “Gemstones.” Web log post. Heartfelt Healers. IHealth. Web. <>.

Folk Medicine

Olivia: So… Well, two months ago I was diagnosed with Chronic Mononucleosis. I’ve been not feeling well for a little over 6 years now. It’s terrible….On a regular basis, I experience the like extreme exhaustion to the point where I sleep up to 22 hours in one day, acheyness all over my entire body, chronic headaches, a fever of 101 or higher about twice a month, acute chronic sinusitus, sore throat and facial tenderness (sinus pressure). Now, until umm, about two months ago, I had solely relied on the practices of ‘Western Medicine’ to cure my symptoms, like sinus surgery, continuous dosages of antibiotics, steroids, etc. After years of taking medication on top of medication (and medication to counteract the symptoms of medication), I sought out a highly respected doctor who practices Chinese or “Eastern” medicine. Since then, I have undergone intensive acupuncture and heat therapy.

Isabel: What does this folk treatment entail?

Olivia: Well, ummm…So, I first began with a very intensive treatment- twice a day for three days. This serves as a sort of diagnostic process I guess. During a single session, the doctor inserts needles on the front of my body (usually the hands, feet and face) and then, after 30 minutes, on my back. He told me that the point of conducting treatments very close together and in a short amount of time, was to put the body under a slight amount of stress in an effort to bring about the symptoms. In other words…like, the way my body would react to the therapy, would tell the doctor what organs weren’t functioning correctly. So then… ummm, after conducting this intensive treatment, I was able to slow the pace of treatment until my symptoms began to dissipate.

Isabel: And do you feel this treatment has helped you?

Olivia. Yes. I know a lot of it is mind over matter but I really do feel less tired and more soothed. Does that make sense? I just feel less stressed about my health, like I am not constantly feeling so lousy. Since beginning this process, I’ve realized how harsh the antibiotics are for your body and although they may be helping one aspect, like clearing up my sinuses, they are ultimately damaging another part of my body, like making me more immune to the drug.

Isabel: So what drove you this form folk medicine?

Olivia: I just felt like I had tried everything. I have taken so many dosages of antibiotics that I am not allergic to over 4 different types. Mom heard about this Doctor on the news and his philosophy on medicine and specific cases in dealing with Chronic Mononucleosis. I basically just thought I’d give it a try for the heck of it.

Acupuncture originated thousands of years ago and involves the insertion of extremely thin needles in your skin at strategic points on your body. Traditional Chinese theory explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force — known as qi or chi (chee) — believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body.[1] When your body is not functioning correctly, Chinese theory explains that there is blockage in the movement of qi throughout your body. Acupuncturists believe that by inserting needles at strategic points along your skin, you can free the blockage and allow blood to flow freely throughout.[2]

The practice of Acupuncture is considered a folk method because it is not scientifically proven to improve one’s health, however many believe it in fact does. Additionally, there is multiplicity and variation within its practice. Philosopher, John Bowers describes the profound depth and variant forms of this folk medicine. He writes, “One or more of the practices of Chung-i is followed in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, and by the 18 million overseas Chinese. Thus, one third of the world’s people receive some form of Chinese traditional medicine.”[3] Reliance on folk medicine is clearly widespread and indicates a significant belief in its benefits. Practicing this method for health care separates individuals from the mainstream ‘Western’ mindset as well as provides guidance for one’s lifestyle. Consequently, a spiritual element often accompanies the practice of folk medicine, creating a culture specific to the individuals who believe and perform these folk medical methods.

[1] John Z. Bowers. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. Vol. 117 No. 3 (June 15, 1973) pp. 143 -151 Publish by American Philosophical Society. Article Stable URL:

[2] ibid. pp. 143 -144

[3] ibid