Author Archives: juliettn

Lead Shapes to Determine Your Luck

Background: A.J. is a 65-year-old woman who was born and raised in Poprad, Slovakia. She relocated to the United States from Slovakia 20 years ago, while her son was attending University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A.J. holds a degree in child development and since coming to the United States has worked as a nanny. She is married to her lifelong sweetheart and has one son and three grandchildren. She often talks about her home and family in Slovakia – about the beautiful mountains and the culture. Although she is now a US citizen, she incorporates many Slovak traditions into everyday life, and enjoys telling stories about her family and her family traditions.

 

Main piece:

A.J.: On December 13, we met all girls in one house and we melted PB, how call that – lead – on the stove and was like liquid, we took on the spoon and pour to the bowl cold water.  What kind of shape was made in this water we would decided what was that.  If you have heart you will be happy. You will have good luck. If it was some different shape we always was thinking what it can be. Was like snake, you have bad luck or was some witch or something you were always thinking about your next year how will be look.

 

Q: So how old were you when you did this?

 

A.J.: We were 13, 14, 15 like that.

 

Q: Who did you learn it from?

 

A.J.: From parents or some other girls or older girls what we have in the village.  Always this oldest girls invite youngest girls and go like tradition you know from one girl to another and then.

 

Q: Did all the girls in the one village go to one house or were there multiple?

 

A.J.: Multi – were like 10 girls or 12 girls in one house and other go to other.  We always meet in different houses every year

 

Performance Context: This ritual would be done in Slovakia on December 13th, St. Lucy’s Day, by a large group of teenage girls.

 

My Thoughts: I think that it is interesting how many of the traditions done by teenage girls in Slovakia surround their future luck and happiness. Additionally, many of these traditions happen on December 13, or St. Lucy’s Day. This is also known as the “witch day.” It is possible that this day was seen as a day of magic, which is why girls believe that they would be able to predict some of their future on this day.

Jumping the Broom

Background: M.M. is a 43-year-old woman who was born and raised in Chicago to an African American family. She works as a pharmaceutical representative, educating and helping physicians and their staff to know more about the proper use, schedule benefits, costs, and uses of medications. M.M. is married, and loves playing with her 2 kids and also enjoys her busy schedule.

 

Main piece:

M.M.: So you have jumping the broom. So this was um a tradition that was practiced during slavery and it was the – it was when marriages were not performed legitimately and it symbolized a union between slaves.  Now the reason why they jumped the broom – the symbolism of the broom was kind of two fold – you talk about the spray – which is all the stuff you sweep up that part – the straw –  which was the spray which was the house and the handle was holding the union together. So it’s really simple.  The thing about it though is that there were many years where jumping the broom was not practiced by African Americans because of the association with slavery and in recent years it has become much more popular and a lot of African Americans are- jumping the broom again – there was a movie called jumping the broom.

 

Q: How did you learn about this tradition?

 

M.M.: You know, I always have known about it but I didn’t know the actual symbolism – you know why –  you always know about it – why was it was a broom – and I think it was popularized again at the time where Alex Haley wrote Roots and the movie came out so that everyone knew about jumping the broom but you still didn’t know well what did the broom symbolize – you just knew slaves did it so it’s something you grow up and everyone knows “jumping the broom” but you don’t know why you use a broom – so it’s like passed on passed on passed on. Everyone doesn’t do it because probably their probably generations before me – I know my parents didn’t do it and they didn’t jump the broom and they were married.  I know there were generations that did NOT jump the broom at all and then now, I’d say in the last 15-20 years it’s more popularized again. But it’s not the negative association – its more just like ceremonial and it’s more like something to have at your wedding, which is legal, and then you jump the broom which is just symbolic of the union between you now.

 

Q: And then how do you jump? Do you jump with your husband?

 

M.M.: You you jump together. You hold hands and you jump together.

 

Q: What happens if someone trips?

 

M.M.: They don’t trip.  I don’t know anyone that’s ever tripped. I jumped the broom in the sand – barefoot so.  It’s a small broom.  Some people make their own.  So you can make your own or you can order um – whatever so it’s a small broom.

 

Q: Are there special brooms for jumping the broom?

 

M.M.: Yes, it’s a special broom – it’s a special broom. You don’t go to the store and get a broom at Target or Walmart – no it’s small – it’s small.

 

Q: What did you do with the broom after the wedding?

 

M.M.: It’s in the same box with my wedding dress.  It becomes part of your, your collecting – you know, whatever you’re collecting

 

Performance Context: Jumping the broom would be performed primarily by African Americans at the end of a wedding ceremony.

 

My Thoughts: Jumping the broom symbolizes a liminal state. A wedding is a life transformation from being single to being connected with someone, and is known to be one of the most important events in a lifetime in many cultures. During a wedding, the bride and groom are together in a liminal period of change, not single and not yet married. Jumping the broom symbolizes the passage out of that liminal period and into married life.

Snakehandling

Background: E.M. is an 18-year-old student at USC studying Cinema and Media Studies. She is Salvadoran but as lived all over the US, so she has picked up folklore and customs from a lot of different places. For a while, E.M. lived in Kentucky and this is a story that she heard there.

 

Main Piece:

E.M.: So when I was living in Kentucky, I… one of my friends… when we were young children… one of my friends said that um said that she knew that one of my neighbors did snake uh would do snake rituals in church and that she heard that from her parents. So she was kind of scared of this lady, um, and when I asked my parents about it, um, I I found out that that lady was a Pentecostal, and that basically in her church they believed that snakes couldn’t hurt them or that that the venom of the snakes couldn’t hurt them, if they believed in God. Um so they would use the snakes during sermons, even, they would handle them quite dangerously, and that even people would get sick or get hurt I guess, but it was an important part of their religion because they said that in the Bible, it says that if you’re a true Christian, snakes can’t hurt you and they belong to you to use them as you see fit.

 

Q: Did you ever see this practice live?

 

E.M.: I didn’t ever see it in person. It’s not something commonly done, but it belonged to this particular church that was a very old church, and they had been doing it for a really long time. I heard it from the other kids, and it kinda became a rumor or a scary story we would tell each other that turned out to be true. We were scared of it because it was very different from our own religious practices, like this would never happen in our own churches or anything like that.

 

Q: Where did you live in Kentucky?

 

E.M.: I lived in Louisville Kentucky, but this lady was from… I, I believe she was from Appalachia and she had moved there and there were rumors about her, showing there was this big divide between city life and country life in Kentucky.

 

Performance Context: In Pentecostal churches in some areas of Kentucky.

 

My Thoughts: I think it is interesting how people interpret the Bible in different ways though they all read the same words. In particular, it is intriguing how people make folklore and folkloric practices out of religion. However, the folklore is an extension of the religion and not a true part of the religion itself. Many subtleties in the Bible are interpreted by different sects of Christianity to mean certain things, however, they are never explicitly told to perform these practices (such as snakehandling).

For more information, please see Chapter 3 (Religious Folklore) of Elliott Oring’s book Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction, in which snakehandling is mentioned.

Touch Wood

Background: E.N. is a 58-year-old obstetrician gynecologist who was born in Boston, Massachusetts to two attorney parents. She stumbled upon medicine in college as a psychology major when she took a biology class and became aware that she had an affinity for science. E.N. currently practices full time in the Chicagoland area delivering babies and performing gynecological surgery.

 

Main piece: As a surgeon, whenever we do GYNe surgeries in the operating room, I find that all obstetricians gynecologists are pretty superstitious. So after we complete a surgery, we never REALLY complement ourselves and say “that went really well” because that would jinx us, so we always just say, if we DO say anything about how the surgery goes, we have to always add touchwood at the end so, “that surgery went pretty well touch wood,” because we know we’re really not out of the woods for at least 48 hours.

 

Q: Why do you do this?

 

E.N.: I do this as a safeguard against something bad happening.  It’s more of a superstition.

 

Q: Who did you learn it from?

 

E.N.: Have no idea who I learned it from – likely my parents.

 

Performance Context: Gynecological surgeons would perform this after they had completed a surgery.

 

My Thoughts: Medicine and superstitions tie into each other. Though medicine is not typically based on luck and is more based on hard science, I think it is interesting that the phrase “touch wood” is still used. It is used as a preventative measure: it is sometimes believed that if something is said, then it won’t happen. In this scenario, if a doctor explicitly says a surgery went well, it is believed by some that the surgery will not have positive results in the end. Saying “touch wood” is a preventative measure to make sure that what has been said continues to hold true.

Delivering a Baby Using a Vacuum

Background: E.N. is a 58-year-old obstetrician gynecologist who was born in Boston, Massachusetts to two attorney parents. She stumbled upon medicine in college as a psychology major when she took a biology class and became aware that she had an affinity for science. E.N. currently practices full time in the Chicagoland area delivering babies and performing gynecological surgery.

 

Main piece: So when I deliver a baby and we get towards the end of the labor and she’s about to deliver, sometimes I will have to think about assisting the patient with delivery with an instrument called a vacuum. So if the fetal heart tones are down or the mom can’t push or is running out of steam or something like that, I will take the vacuum out and put it on the side of the delivery table and I will say out loud “I’m putting this here to ward off evil spirits.” Which I suppose is kind of silly but we’re also superstitious that if we feel we can take this out and put it on the side and the patient actually won’t ever need it but we have it just in case she does need it.

 

Q: Do you say this phrase out loud?

 

E.N.: Yes – absolutely. Out loud so EVERYONE in the room can hear it.

 

Performance Context: E.N. would do this when she feels that there is a possible chance that she would have to use the vacuum to help with the delivery of the baby.

 

My Thoughts: I think it is interesting how medicine and superstitions tie into each other, though in the western world and in western medicine, superstitions are frowned upon as they are not always based in actual fact. Though medicine is not typically based on luck or on the speaking of certain things, I think it is curious that superstition and what you say is believed to help in some western medical scenarios, even by the doctors thoroughly trained in western medicine.