Author Archives:

Smart Pills

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other language(s):  

Age: 55

Occupation: Banker

Residence: California

Performance Date: 3-12-18



What it is: Smart Pills

“One day, when I was around seven years old, my grandfather had come over for dinner. He beckoned me to him and whispered in my ear, ‘have you ever heard of smart pills?’. I replied ‘no’ at which point he went on to explain, all-the-while, telling me that this was between us. So he explained that if I ever wanted to prank my friends I needed to do this. He said that I should go around our backyard a pick rabbit pellets (because they best resembled a pill). Once I had the pellets, I needed to put them in a medicine tube (the orange prescription bottles you get from your medicine).  Then he said ‘at school, or after school (probably after school when you are all playing), ask your friends if they wanted to be smarter. When they reply yes, hand out the pills, but stop them just before they put it in their mouths. Explain to them that it is actually a rabbit pellet and not safe to eat. When they ask why’d you do that? What was that for? etc. tell them ‘Hey. I did make you smarter…now you’ll think twice when asked if you want a smart pill.’”

Why they know it:  His grandfather told this to him and he has since passed it on to his kids.

When is it said: This is said when someone wants to prank their friends (of course they stop their friends from actually eating the ‘smart pills’). This is meant to be funny.

Where did it come from: Not known

Why its said: It is usually told to those who need a good prank

How they know it and what it means: Robert was told this by his grandfather

Thoughts: While I personally have never tried to trick my friends into taking rabbit pellets, I can imagine that this would be quite amusing. This prank seems quite mischievous which is part of the reason why I never partook in the prank; however, I believe that this is an excellent example of what folklore is. The sharing of knowledge across time. While this is not the best knowledge to spread it gives an insight into who the people who were taught and teach this legend.


May you be in heaven

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other language(s): French, a bit of Hebrew

Age: 18

Occupation: Student

Residence: California

Performance Date: 4-5-18

What it is: May you be in Heaven a half an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead

Why they know it: “This is a proverb that is said fairly regularly in our family.”

When is it said: “We say this as a blessing, like at Thanksgiving Dinner or even our Friday night dinners. When you are wishing someone good luck, especially if they are trying to get away with something. For example, if my brother is trying to pull a risky prank on my father, I would say ‘May you be in Heaven a half an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead’.”

Where did it come from: It is part of a longer Irish blessing

Why its said: Issuing good luck, as a blessing, in passing, etc.

How they know it and what it means: This is something that has been said since Amanda can remember and has thus been absorbed into her vocabulary. The meaning comes from an experience of use as well as from her parents, sister, grandparents, etc.

Thoughts: This is something I say a lot. When I wish my friends luck, or if even I try to get away with something that is remotely risky. There are tons of meanings to this and they all come from the person saying it or receiving the proverb.

The Veil

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other language(s):  French

Age: 52

Occupation: n/a

Residence: California

Performance Date: 3-25-18


What it is: Tea Leafs and the Veil

“Papa’s Grandmother had been taught how to read tea leaves from a very young age. She was what is not considered to be a gypsy but in Ireland they call them travelers. So she was an Irsish ‘gypsy’ and would read tea leafs. Even in her old age she would, after drinking tea (afternoon), would read the leaves. My grandfather would have to beg to read the leave, she wouldn’t always do it. She also was said to have second sight (see what would happen in the future). One of her sons had been born with a piece of the placenta attached to his face, and this was considered to be a great omen, so she preserved it. The say is ‘If you were lucky enough to be born with the veil’. When he was in World War II, papa remembers her becoming very concerned about him and sent him the placenta in the mail. He was in a great fierce battle after he had received his mother package and was the only one in his platoon to survive.”

Why they know it:  Meghan was told the story from her father about ‘the veil’ and her grandmother reading the tea leaves but never witnessed it herself.

When is it said: This is a family legend and is told at family events or when sharing family stories to others.

Where did it come from: Ireland

Why it’s said: Enjoyment and nostalgia

How they know it and what it means: This is something that has been passed on.

Thoughts: I have always believed in ‘witches’ and people being able to sense things others can’t. I’ve always believed I have been able to do so as well. So hearing about my Great Great Grandmother, who was able to do something similar makes me feel connected to my ancestors in a completely different way. As well as being connected to a ‘homeland’ I have never been too. Through these investigations I have learned a great deal about myself, my family, my culture, but I have also learned a great deal about the commonalities I have with people I have never met, peoples of lands I have never visited, etc. It makes me feel as if I have a whole new circle of connections and knowledge that I never knew existed.

The Montage

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other language(s):  French

Age: 52

Occupation: n/a

Residence: California

Performance Date: 3-23-18


What it is: Thy shall never prosper

In Kapalua Bay, on the west side of the Island of Maui, there is a legend about a plot of land. This specific plot has been the location of several hotels that have never seemed to be able to prosper. The land that is built upon was the ruins of a very famous battle, and is thus, sacred Hawaiian land. In the last decade alone, the hotel has changed hands three times. The Ritz Carlton had been there and has since changed hands and is currently the Kapalua Bay Montage Hotel.

Why they know it:  This is an island legend. Our family friends who live on the island have told us this before and it is now something that we always bet about. “I bet this one won’t last a year”, etc.

When is it said: This is something that is more talked about in passing or when it comes up. For example, “have you heard that the Ritz changed hands again? It’s because of the curse of the land.”

Where did it come from: Old Hawaiian Legend

Why its said: This doesn’t have much meaning other than it is meant to add context to current situations. It is also often used to estimate how long the next development will last.

Thoughts: I don’t always believe in legends that affect the natural world to the extent this one does. However, I have personally witnessed this happen over the years. Thus, I believe that the ancient Hawaiian burial ground does in fact have the power to affect the natural world. Now, I am not sure if the power is magical or if it is a matter of psychological influence by the natives, on to the natives, and onto the tourists. None-the-less, this legend is something that has appear in mundane life. The legend above is also relatable to legends of similar sorts, such as haunted houses, the ‘evil witch’ of the neighborhood, specific plot of land, etc.


Whiffle Ball

Nationality: Russian

Primary Language: English

Other language(s):  Russian

Age: 22

Occupation: Student

Residence: California

Performance Date: 4-3-18


What it is: Whiffle ball

“Growing up my dad,.. I don’t know he always played sports so he played and passed it down, taught us this game. In teams of two, in my backyard and on a tennis court, we played this game that had made up rules. So they kind of changed as you played. Every Friday in the dark we’d play with certain rules. If you hit over the left side, automatically 3 outs and next inning, if you hit to the right you get to hit again. All the same baseball rules apply with differences. If you hit and run to base, you are on offense and get the ball but can’t get to the base, you can throw the ball at the runner and if it hits them they are out. This was a game we played often, every Friday night and holidays, with the whole family (we’d have huge teams).”

Why they know it:  This game was passed on from her father who played it a lot growing up and showed it to Whitney and her siblings.

When is it played: In her family fairly regularly; however, this could be played everyday (during recess, at picnics, family dinners, etc).

Where did it come from: She wasn’t quite sure. All she could tell me was her father played it as a kid.

Why its done: The game offers pure enjoyment. There isn’t a specific meaning other than this game brings people together and allows them to joke and play.

How they know it: Whitney knows this game because of her father.

Also seen as/played by: In elementary school, I would play a similar game… at least it was also called whiffle ball. While Whitney’s version was similar to baseball, our version was more closely aligned to the “hot lava monster” or “hot potato. We would stand/sit on desks and throw a soft ball across the room. Before you threw the ball you had to make eye contact, say something that pertained to the topic of choose (for example, birds) and throw the ball. If the person you’re throwing it too didn’t catch it, they were out. And the game would continue till one was left, then they choose the next topic and it continued.

Thoughts: While our versions are completely different, I can understand the game Whitney’s father passed on to her because of my experiences. Thus, I feel as if I am connected to Whitney in a closer way because of our shared experiences. In my opinion, I think games, like the one above, are one of the best examples of folklore, how the folklore changes, and how its incorporated into everyday life.