Author Archives: Julia Zucker

Hindu Traditions

*Note: The informant is an Indian-American student at USC. She identifies with the Hindu religion and is generally in touch with her Indian heritage, though she was born in the U.S. and is thus very Americanized.

INFORMANT: “Hindus have a lot of really specific little things that we can’t do or that are considered unlucky and stuff. Like, there’s a lot. Let me think. Like, we’re not supposed to cut our nails on Friday because it’s bad luck. It’s bad luck to sweep the house with a broom at night. If a woman’s left eye twitches, that means something bad is going to happen to her, but if a man’s right eye twitches, that means something bad is going to happen to him. I don’t necessarily follow all of these, but I know about them. Like, some of them are pretty outdated, but we still know them. I’ve just grown up with stuff like this. Some people may think it’s weird, but all my Indian friends know about it and do the same stuff, so it doesn’t even really seem weird to me.”

These little superstitions and traditions are a good example of folklore that has been passed down through so many generations that the meaning of the tradition might be obscured. At one time, there was probably a clear practical or at least religious reason that Hindu people couldn’t cut their nails on Friday, or sweep the house with a broom at night, but because so much time has passed and so many things have changed, some of these superstitions have no practical purpose anymore, but rather are archaic superstitions carried on because of a sense of duty or loyalty to the religion and the culture.

Feet / “Bad Eyes”

*Note: the informant is Indian-American and identifies with the Hindu religion. She is in touch with her Indian heritage but she was born in the U.S.

INFORMANT: “And then Hindus or Indians or whatever also have lots of like body language things, I don’t know how to say it, like, gestures. Like if we touch anything with our feet that’s not the ground, say if I touched a backpack with my foot, then you have to touch the thing and then touch your eyes and do that three times. It’s funny, I have a Persian friend who has a similar thing, but for her it’s like if my feet touch another person’s feet, then I have to interlock my pinkies. I have no idea why it’s a thing.

And then we also have this saying, where like, say I’m going to a job interview and I tell a bunch of people about it and then I don’t get the job, they’ll say it’s because someone “put bad eyes on you,” which basically means they didn’t want you to get the job or were talking badly of you and basically put bad luck on you.”

I can’t figure out the context or reason behind the gestures, and neither could the informant, but it’s notable that her Persian friend had a relatively similar tradition. Both have to do with the feet, and not having the feet touch something, so it leads me to believe that these cultures must value one’s feet or see the feet as sacred or something not to be soiled by touching random items or the feet of another. The interlocking pinkies thing brings to mind crossing fingers in America, where someone will cross their fingers if they are lying or if they want something to happen. The saying also seems like it has variants in other cultures – I remember my mom talking about someone giving someone else the “evil eye,” which was first and foremost just a look but also held a sort of bad luck, because that person wished you ill.

 

La Llarona

INFORMANT: “So, La Llarona, sometimes in English it’s referred to as “the Woman in White,” and basically it’s a story about a woman who, um, was in love with a man but he didn’t love her back so it was unrequited love, so she drowned her two children in the river in order to be with the man that she loved, but he didn’t want to be with her. So after being refused by him, she then drowned herself in a river in Mexico City. And so, basically with the whole heaven and hell aspect of life, she’s kind of stuck in the in-between, and she kind of wanders around at night in Mexico City, so today a lot of parents use this story as a way to keep their kids from wandering out at night. Or else La Llarona will come and kidnap them. Basically she is said to appear at night around rivers in Mexico, and that’s it. I heard about it in Spanish class and then I went home and asked my mom about it, and she was like ‘oh, yeah.'”

COLLECTOR (myself): “How did your mom learn the story?”

INFORMANT: “I think growing up. It’s a traditional Mexican story that a lot of Mexican parents will tell their kids growing up.”

This legend appears to be a Mexican story within the widespread genre of ‘legends parents tell their children to keep them in line.’ This breed of legend seems to exist in almost every culture – I suppose childrens’ fear of the supernatural is culturally ubiquitous, because they’re more compelled to obey their parents if there’s a supernatural risk involved.

This story was also an interesting case because my friend Taylor is Mexican-American but not very in touch with Mexican culture. She told me that she felt her mother purposely tried to separate her from her Mexican heritage, so she was never told this story as a child, even though her grandmother told it to her mother. In fact, Taylor didn’t hear about the legend until she read about it in Spanish class. On a related note, Taylor did not know Spanish until she took classes in school, another point that makes her feel alienated from her heritage.

ANNOTATION: Several films have been made about the legend of La Llarona, including the Mexican movie La Llarona (1960) and Her Cry: La Llarona Investigation (2013).

“People Can Lick Too”

INFORMANT: “So this is a scary story I used to get told all the time as a kid on camping trips or sleepovers or what have you. I’m totally going to mess it up, but bear with me. Okay, so there was this little girl who lived in a house with her family and her dog, and her dog would sleep right next to her bed each night. And she liked this, it made her feel safe to know her dog was there with her, especially when it got dark and she got scared like kids sometimes do in the dark. So whenever she got freaked out at night, she would hang her arm off the bed and the dog would lick her hand, and she would know he was right there with her.

So one night, the house seems eerily quiet, and she gets scared. She hangs her arm off the bed, feels the lick, and tries to go to sleep again. But something just doesn’t feel right, so in a few minutes she hangs her arm off the bed again. Another lick. So she goes to sleep, and eventually in the middle of the night she wakes up and needs to go to the bathroom. So she gets out of bed, walks into the bathroom, and turns on the lights. The whole bathroom is covered in blood, and the mangled body of her dog is crumpled on the floor – every bone in his body is broken. And she looks in horror up at the bathroom mirror, because there, written in dripping red blood, is the sentence ‘People can lick too.'”

 

When the informant told me this story, I wasn’t surprised because I’d definitely heard variations of it before. Ghost stories and scary stories are great examples of folklore because there are so many different variants of each story. Certain defining elements remain the same, but details change based on where you hear the story or just who’s telling it. This story in particular seems to utilize the rule of threes: the girl gets one lick, two licks, and the third time she wakes up, the time she goes to the bathroom, is when she discovers the dead dog and the eery message. This is an effective scary story because it makes you go back and think – it’s not showing you the monster, he doesn’t kill the girl or anything. But the listener automatically backtracks and realizes that it was the dog murderer that was licking the little girl’s hand the whole time!

ANNOTATION: Several other versions of this particular story can be found on the scary story website Creepypasta, including this one: http://creepypasta.wikia.com/wiki/Licking

Gogol Mogol

My grandma, Harriet, explained to me the Russian/Ukrainian home cold remedy Gogol Mogol. Because our family originated in Russia and Ukraine, this tradition had been passed down to my grandma. However, she didn’t find it effective so she didn’t use it on my mother, and therefore the tradition wasn’t carried on and I didn’t know about Gogol Mogol until she told me.

One makes Gogol Mogol by mixing up an egg yolk and a teaspoon of honey or sugar, and pouring it into a half cup of milk that’s been heated with butter. Sometimes people would add rum or a dash of some other type of alcohol, though I have no idea how that would aid the cold-curing process.

Ostensibly, gogol mogol is supposed to ease a sore throat and help cure cold-related insomnia. My grandma, in telling me about it, couldn’t stress enough that she thought the whole idea was ridiculous, which is a pretty common reaction to a lot of home remedies. I feel like the concept of home remedies in general is treated with skepticism, because people are nervous to trust anything that isn’t approved by the FDA or prescribed by a doctor. However, some people swear by home remedies, especially in other countries, and contrarily, fear and distrust doctors and modern medicine.

My grandma didn’t pass on the tradition, which highlights an important aspect of folklore. If a community or a person fails to carry on the tradition or pass on the piece of lore, it can very easily disappear. I was shocked that I’d never heard about gogol mogol before if it played such a role in my grandma’s childhood. I don’t plan on rekindling the tradition personally, because I agree with her in that it sounds unlikely that gogol mogol could realistically have that many healing properties.