Author Archives: schwedt

Reiki Meets Catholicism

Text: “My mom has been practicing Reiki for a long time. It is an energy healing practice from Japan, also known as hands-on healing. The practitioner places their hands on the patient and uses their own energy and emotion to either detect energy from the patient or transfer energy. My mom does it kind of casually, but she can sense tension and soreness on someone else’s body just by hovering her hands over them. Whenever she knows I’m nervous or tense, she hovers her hands over my shoulders and transfers healing energy into them. I’m not very knowledgeable in Reiki, but it’s a weird thing where you feel warm and tingly in the areas that you’ve had energy transferred into, and the tension does dissolve.” 

Context: My informant – a 21-year-old woman from Los Angeles, California – explained the role Reiki has played in her family and in the relationship she has with her mom. She explained to me that this was something she remembered her mom doing for her whole life, and she cannot doubt the healing power of it because she truly feels that it makes her feel better and it relieves a lot of tension in her mind and body. She went on to explain that her mom is also Catholic and comes from a Mexican family of witches, which she said is a weird mix because in Catholicism, “witchcraft is the Devil’s work.” However, her mom connects her beliefs and cultures because she believes that the healing properties that Jesus had were actually Reiki practices, or some form of it. My informant explained to me that the connection her mom made between Japanese and Mexican culture – along with the role of religion – has shaped her own beliefs regarding Catholicism, and she feels like it has made her feel a bit more connected to her own spirituality.

Analysis: The practice of Reiki within my informant’s family exemplifies a unique blend of cultural beliefs and healing traditions that bridge diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. Reiki, originating from Japan as an energy healing practice, has been integrated into my informant’s family dynamics and relationship with her mother as a source of comfort and healing. Her approach to Reiki reflects a personal and intuitive understanding of energy healing, where she uses her own energy and emotion to detect and alleviate tension and soreness in others. This hands-on approach to healing underscores the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit within Reiki practice.

What stands out is my informant’s mother’s ability to reconcile her Catholic faith with her practice of Reiki, despite potential religious tensions associated with practices labeled as “witchcraft.” By interpreting Jesus’ healing miracles as akin to Reiki principles, her mother synthesizes elements of Japanese and Mexican culture with her Catholic beliefs, creating a unique and deeply personal spiritual perspective. For my informant, witnessing her mother’s integration of Reiki into her family’s spiritual and healing practices has shaped her own beliefs and sense of spirituality. The blending of cultural influences and healing traditions fosters a sense of connection to her heritage and spirituality, providing a holistic framework that embraces both diversity and personal growth.

A Turkmen Dance

Text: “Kushtdepdi probably started as a ritual dance among Turkmen tribes. They used to perform it at important gatherings and celebrations. The dance is really lively and expressive, with intricate steps and rhythmic moves that get everyone in a festive mood. The dance is essentially a reflection of Turkmen spirit and identity. The music we use is traditional Turkmen music, featuring instruments like the dutar and tuiduk, and the dancers wear these colorful, eye-catching costumes that are representative of our culture. The dance is usually performed at weddings and other big celebrations, and we tend to perform it at cultural events since it is pretty emblematic of Turkish culture.”

Context: My informant – a 23-year-old woman from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan – told me about a traditional dance, Kushtdepdi,  that is often performed in her home country. She explained to me that she herself has performed it an abundance of times, and emphasized that it usually would occur at celebrations or monumental events. She said that she and her classmates performed it together at her high school graduation, and she had learned how to dance it by watching it being performed all of her life. She said that alongside the dance being an important part of her culture, she also appreciates it because she feels that it has an essence of gender equality which isn’t always prevalent in Turkmenistan. She stressed how this is the one dance where men are not leading the women, and that everyone participating has an equal role in the performance. 

Analysis: The traditional dance Kushtdepdi from Turkmenistan embodies profound cultural values and expressions that transcend mere entertainment. Originating as a ritual dance among Turkmen tribes, Kushtdepdi has evolved into a vibrant and expressive art form that reflects the spirit and identity of the Turkmen people. The lively and rhythmic nature of Kushtdepdi, accompanied by traditional Turkmen music featuring instruments like the dutar and tuiduk, underscores the cultural richness embedded within this dance, and the colorful and eye-catching costumes worn by dancers further exemplify the deep-rooted connection to Turkmen cultural heritage and traditions.

What sets Kushtdepdi apart is its significance beyond celebratory events; it serves as a symbol of gender equality within Turkmen society. My informant’s perspective highlights how this dance provides a rare opportunity for women to take an equal and active role alongside men in the performance. In a cultural context where gender roles may be more traditionally defined, Kushtdepdi stands out as a representation of inclusivity and shared participation. My informant’s personal connection to Kushtdepdi, having performed it numerous times and appreciating its essence of gender equality, underscores the dance’s role in challenging and redefining cultural norms. By embracing Kushtdepdi as an integral part of her cultural identity, my informant celebrates its symbolic value in promoting inclusivity and diversity within Turkmen cultural expression.

A Bengali Wedding Tradition

Text: “So in Bengali or Bangladeshi culture, yellow and red are really significant colors. Their significance is exemplified through the ways in which the colors appear in important moments in life, such as how brides usually wear red for their wedding ceremonies. During the Gaye Holud ceremony – one of the many wedding traditions for Bengalis that typically occurs a week or two before the wedding reception – the bride’s and groom’s family and friends create a paste out of turmeric which they then put on the bride’s and groom’s bodies. This is thought of as a way to ward off the evil eye and promote blessings, good fortune, and prosperity for the couple that is soon to be married.”

Context: My informant – a 20-year-old woman from San Diego, California – explained this wedding ritual to me which she said is a very important part of her culture. Her family has cultural and ethnic ties to Bangladesh, and she learned this wedding practice from her family as she has seen it done before every wedding that occurs between a couple who have a connection to the culture. She said that she herself isn’t entirely sure how much she believes in the evil eye and bad spirits, but she feels that the ritual is something that is very important to her identity in the sense that it is something that has been generational in her family. She explained to me that this was something her parents had done before their wedding along with her grandparents and her great-grandparents, and that the ritual serves as a sort of unifying tradition that has been maintained throughout every generation.

Analysis: The significance of colors and rituals in Bengali or Bangladeshi wedding ceremonies reveals the enduring cultural traditions and values deeply rooted in this heritage. The use of yellow and red, especially in pivotal life events like weddings, holds profound symbolic meanings within Bengali culture. The Gaye Holud ceremony, where turmeric paste is applied to the bodies of the bride and groom, serves as a protective ritual believed to ward off the evil eye and invite blessings, prosperity, and good fortune for the couple. This practice reflects a cultural belief in spiritual protection and the importance of invoking positive energies during important life transitions.

My informant’s perspective highlights the intergenerational continuity of this tradition within her family. Despite personal skepticism about the supernatural aspects associated with the ritual, my informant cherishes the ceremony as a foundational aspect of her cultural identity. This ritual’s transmission across generations underscores its role as a unifying force that connects family members through shared heritage and tradition. This folklore embodies broader cultural values of familial continuity, collective identity, and the preservation of ancestral customs. The enduring practice of the Gaye Holud ceremony across generations exemplifies cultural resilience and a deep-rooted attachment to customs that define Bengali identity.

An Auspicious Day

Text: “An Indian superstition I grew up hearing is the belief in starting a new job or aspiration on a Monday or a Wednesday. I think the superstition somehow stems from Vaastu, which is Indian astrology. It involves adding up the numbers of a date to check if they correspond to a number considered lucky for that individual. For example, if the date was 04/21/24, then you would add up all the individual digits in that date: 4 + 2 + 1 + 2 + 4. Those numbers add up to 13, and if 13 is one of that individuals lucky birth numbers, then it is auspicious to start your work or your personal journey on that date. Typically, my family would choose Mondays or Wednesdays to commence new endeavors.”

Context: My informant – a 23-year-old man from Bangalore, India – explained this superstition to me that was passed down to him by his parents. It involves calculating the numerical value of a chosen date by adding up its digits and checking if the resulting number corresponds to a lucky birth number for the individual. If the number is indeed a match to that lucky number, then starting work or embarking on a personal journey on that date is considered favorable according to this belief system. This cultural tradition reflects the importance of astrology and numerology in Indian customs, where specific dates and days are believed to have varying levels of auspiciousness based on these calculations. My informant’s family tradition of choosing Mondays or Wednesdays for new endeavors highlights the continuity of such beliefs across generations within Indian families. While my informant said he isn’t entirely of the belief that this superstition carries much weight, he said that the importance of it to his family is the reason why he tends to begin his own work or personal journeys on Mondays or Wednesdays. 

Analysis: In exploring this Indian superstition, I was struck by the profound cultural and familial significance embedded within this belief system. The practice of choosing specific days, such as Mondays or Wednesdays, to commence new endeavors reflects a deeply rooted tradition shaped by astrology and numerology in Indian customs. My informant’s account underscores the intergenerational transmission of folklore and the enduring influence of family traditions. Despite personal reservations about the superstition’s efficacy, my informant continues to honor this practice out of respect for familial customs. This highlights the complex interplay between personal beliefs and cultural heritage, illustrating how folklore serves as a conduit for preserving and passing down cultural values across generations.

The superstition’s association with Vaastu, a form of Indian astrology, adds another layer of cultural depth, emphasizing the importance of harmonizing personal actions with cosmic energies for auspicious outcomes. By aligning with astrological beliefs about favorable planetary influences, individuals seek to enhance their chances of success and prosperity in their endeavors. Furthermore, my informant’s adherence to this superstition reflects broader cultural values of interconnectedness with the cosmos and the belief in personal agency within larger cosmic forces. The choice of auspicious days for new beginnings symbolizes a desire to harness positive energies and navigate life’s challenges in alignment with cosmic rhythms. It highlights the enduring significance of traditional beliefs and practices in shaping individual choices and perspectives, underscoring the rich tapestry of cultural heritage embedded within Indian folklore and the broader cultural landscape.

A Spoon Under A Pillow

Text: “As a kid, me and all my classmates believed in this superstition where if we put a spoon under our pillow before we went to bed, it would mean that school was canceled for a snow day. It was pretty common in Colorado when snow was forecast; everyone would sleep with a spoon facing upwards so that it would essentially “catch” enough snow so that school administrators would call for a snow day in the morning.”

Context: My informant – a 22-year-old man from Monument, Colorado – told me about this superstition that he recalled being very prominent among school children in the place where he grew up. He explained to me that this was something young kids began to believe in from the moment they began their education, and it became a habit for children to sleep with a spoon under their pillow when it was forecast to snow because they wanted to somehow manifest a heavy snowfall so that school would be canceled the following day. I asked him if this was a superstition people continued to believe in, and he said that the majority of people stopped placing spoons under their pillows around the time they moved into high school, but it was and is still talked about among older age groups. He said that he learned this superstition from his older siblings and he began to copy their action of sleeping with a spoon under their heads; however, he explained that it was a superstition that somehow was just ingrained in every child’s mind where he grew up. 

Analysis: The superstition of placing a spoon under the pillow to bring about a snow day reveals interesting insights into the values and beliefs prevalent among school children in Colorado. This tradition reflects a desire for unexpected freedom and a break from the routine of school. By engaging in this ritual, children sought to exert a sense of control over external circumstances, hoping to influence the weather and prompt school administrators to cancel classes. At a deeper level, this superstition highlights the significance of community and shared beliefs among children. My informant’s recollection of this practice being widespread among classmates underscores the social aspect of folklore, where beliefs and rituals are passed down and collectively embraced within peer groups. This shared experience fosters a sense of unity among children, reinforcing their connection to each other and their environment.

Additionally, the eventual decline in the belief of this superstition as children transitioned into high school reflects the evolving nature of folklore and belief systems over time. As individuals mature and gain new perspectives, certain childhood rituals may fade away, yet the memory and discussion of such superstitions continue to resonate among older age groups, illustrating the enduring impact of childhood folklore on personal and collective memory. The superstition also reflects the anticipation and enjoyment associated with snow days in regions like Colorado, where heavy snowfall can disrupt daily routines. The superstition serves as a playful manifestation of the shared desire for spontaneous joy and temporary relief from academic responsibilities, embodying the cultural value of embracing the unexpected and finding delight in communal traditions.