Author Archives: Tyler Sinness

The Queen’s Feast


The informant is a freshman at USC from Barrington, Illinois. During a call, I recorded an interview with them about rituals, superstitions, and festivals. When asked if they perform at any festivals, this is what they performed. Important context to know is that they would be part of the “Bristol Busking Frolic” performance troop that would perform at the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin over multiple years.


PL: I’m going to tell you about Queen’s Feast at the Bristol Renaissance Fair in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Okay, so every day at the Renaissance Fair, which is in the summer, and stuff. So the whole–one of the–one of the big concepts from the Renaissance Fair is that it’s a day in 1574 in Bristol, England. And Queen Elizabeth the first is visiting, you know, like you do. Yeah. And so there’s the whole thing is like, “Whoa, we’re going to see the queen.” So I’m part of a cast called the Bristol Busking Frolic. BBF, for sure.

PL: And every day at, I believe, like, two–I think it’s two, I think it’s two, I’m gonna go with two. I don’t remember somewhere in like the early afternoon, or noonish.

PL: We, as a cast will all meet beforehand and plan a couple of things for the Queen’s Feast. And the Queen’s Feast is a thing that is primarily the court cast does–the cast–to please the Court.

PL: And so queen will sit at a table. And she will have like the mayor and like her ladies next to her. And then they will be presented with food. And that’s literally their lunch. Like they eat as a performance. And there’s chairs and there’s benches set up around to like watch and like hang out. And then there’s a little carpeted area where you–during the day, like, the Court will do like court dances and stuff like that.

PL: And the Queen, so she’s eating lunch or whatever. And we the Bristol Busking Frolic will show up, and we will each day usually sing two songs and do one mum, which is a story or skit sort of thing. And sometimes that’ll be shaken up because like sometimes someone might want to like share, like, something they’re learning or like a thing or like a solo on the flute that they learned. But usually, we will do two songs and a mum and there’s a set, there’s set songs we do. They’re like folk songs and stuff. There is a lot about boats. One about drinking, you know, classic folk song stuff. And then we’ll tell mums which are often based on or feature a folktale.

Interviewer: What is the structure of a mum? How is it different from a folktale?

PL: It’s–okay, so it’s usually one person will tell the story and there’ll be like the narrator. And then a couple of other people will play the characters in the story. And we’ll have brief lines, but mostly it’ll be like, “And then the sausage said, I’m a sausage!” and it’s like, hahaha. They’re usually funny. They’re funny stories. They’re short.

PL: And any one person narrates it, and they know the story. And they and everyone else either sits to the side or they’re players in the story and they’ll have honestly, there aren’t really costumes but a lot of times there’s small props.

PL: Like a donkey’s mask–we have we have a mask with a donkey on it. Anyways, yeah. And, and they’ll act out the scene, and the story and they’re funny and it’s like, whoa, ha, ha, ha. And then we all bow. And at the end, at the end of our performance, after we’ve seen–we’ve sung one song, and then we do them and then we sing another song, The Queen will be like, thank you so much. And we will all like skittishly gather around and like bow. Actually, we don’t bow. That’s the big thing. Bowing isn’t a thing, you révérence, which is where you take one foot behind the other and lean back on that back foot and keep your forward leg straight. Actually, that’s the male reference. The female reference is basically just a curtsy.

PL: Whole thing with like, maintaining eye contact or something. I don’t know. Anyway, different thing. But we’ll we’ll we’ll révérence and she’ll be like, thank you so much. And then here’s this tradition. She gives us grapes. Oh, it’s weird. I don’t know why. But traditionally, she throws grapes to us and we try to catch them and we’re like, “Oh, the grapes from the queen!”


This performance is a key part of the Renaissance faire; as the informant describes, it is the main part of the each day. The “queen” is supposed to be Queen Elizabeth the First of England, but her performance is less of a historically accurate depiction of the historical queen, but rather a representation of a homogenized ideal of the time period in question. The performance harkens to “tradition,” but it demonstrates that “tradition” itself is more of a contemporary performance referencing the past rather than an accurate depiction of it. It is not certain whether the act of throwing grapes was ever something that Queen Elizabeth I did, but it is part of this performance because of its mix of entertainment value and “Renaissance” aesthetic.

Certain aspects of the historical time period hold over in this performance: of course, the clothes are meant to represent this time period regardless of whether they are perfectly accurate, but gestures such as the révérence seem to have actually been practiced in that period. The révérance might be the easiest part of emulating the Renaissance time period as performance, as it is simply a specific movement of the body. However, it is not certain whether this act was performed in the same context as the performers sought to emulate. It is instead meant to signal historical performance to the paying audience.

Christmas Tradition on the Family Ranch


The informant is a freshman at USC from Barrington, Illinois. During a call, I recorded an interview with them about rituals, superstitions, and festivals. When asked if they perform any holiday rituals, this is what they performed. Important context to know is that their childhood home is a small ranch that has horses and other animals. They have a tight, upper-middle class family structure.


PL: Okay, Christmas, Christmas with the horses. So Christmas, our family, we have stockings and stuff, which are separate from the gifts. It honestly–it’s a separate thing on its own. That we have aside from giving gifts to each other. We have stockings from “Santa,” quote unquote.

PL: But Santa will supposedly come in the night via either a parents or honestly, recently, Fiona did it once–my sister–and she was like, “Damn, that took the magic out of it” when mom was like, helping me put the stockings up.

PL: But we’ll do that. And we’ll also we also have stockings for all of our cats on the–on the fireplace, their red stockings, fuzzy polyester with like white around the brim. And we have stockings that say each of our names and each of our cat’s names.

PL: And we’ll have stockings for when a family is visiting. We’ll have stockings for all of them. And we’ll get little toys, candies, stupid things like socks, small little stocking stuffers. And the cats will get treats and toys. And it’ll always be very equal distributed–distribution of like who gets what, and also in the barn. Have little stockings for the horses but we don’t have actual stockings with their names printed out on them that we put up. Instead, every Christmas morning, we’ll wake up and we’ll go outside and there will be little plastic stocking containers full of horse treats. Which is it’s a bought thing. It’s a bought thing like you buy it. But it’s cute, and it’s Christmassy and it’s a little stocking with full of horse treats that are little brown pellets of grain and dried fruit or something.

PL: And they’re red around the edges and they’re clear plastic and they’re hanging on the horses’ stalls.

[After a pause]

PL: Um, I believe I think we did have a chicken stocking. Duck and Shakira are my chickens. Yeah, well, were. Shakira died in a heatwave. No, Duck still lives, and we have more chickens out. Anyway. Um, but we did have. We did have a stocking and it had a it had a fresh container of blueberries, because their favorite is blueberries.


The Christmas traditions of stocking stuffing and hiding presents under the tree in the middle of the night under the guise of it being Santa are quite common in the United States. This informant being from the Midwest, it’s no surprise that these traditions are at the front of their mind when they think of their Christmas traditions.

What is most interesting to me, however, is how their traditions loop in the animals on their ranch. Their cats have their own stockings with their individual names sewn to them, and their horses and chickens get to join in the celebration regardless of their knowledge of the intricacies of the human tradition. This points towards how the notion of “family” is not simply confined blood relatives even in traditional Western family structures. Thus, the animals are afforded their own place in the folk tradition, as they are part of the family.

Knock on Wood


The informant is a freshman at USC from Barrington, Illinois. During a call, I recorded an interview with them about rituals, superstitions, and festivals. When asked if they perform any superstitions, this is what they said. Important context to know is that their childhood home is a small ranch that has horses and other animals. They often go riding along trails near their home.


PL: The biggest superstition slash ritual that I practice is knocking on wood. So whenever I say a thing that I–Okay, so like, scenario, potential scenario, I’m on a trail ride. I ride horses, and I’m with like a parent, with my mother, and we’re riding and I’m like, wow, it’s such a sunny day. Or like, I’ll say knock on wood because I don’t want to incur like, the bad luck of like, it’s gonna start raining because I immediately noticed that it was a sunny day or like it’s raining. And I’ll be like, I’ll notice it stopped raining. And if–if I say, “Oh, wow, it finally let up” or something like that, I will say “Knock on wood” and I will literally turn my horse to the side of the trail, find a–find a tree, knock on it, and continue.

PL: In the same way, I will say knock on wood and find a piece of wood to knock on. If I say like, “Hope you don’t die” or things like that were, like, I say a thing, but I don’t want it to happen. Or I say a thing and I don’t want the opposite to happen. And I will say, “Knock on wood,” and then I will find the nearest piece of wood and take my hand and put my knuckles against it a couple times in a knock. Yeah.


“Knock on Wood” is a very common superstition in the United States, so it was not surprising to hear that this informant practiced this superstition. As the informant describes, the act of knocking on wood is meant to solidify a blessing or ensure that the opposite of a desired result does not happen. In this way, I feel that the practice is linked to the idea of a “jinx”–the idea being that if you vocalize a desired result, the opposite may happen as a direct result of that vocalization. “Knocking on wood” is thus intended to negate the effects of this jinx.

Family Ghost Friend


The informant is a USC student who has lived their entire life in a neighborhood near the USC main campus. Their family is of Mexican origin, and this story is about a ghost that has haunted their family throughout the generations. We conducted this interview in the basement of Taper Hall during our shared ANTH 333 discussion section, and so this story is what the informant could think of as a story to tell off the top of their head.


Int.: Okay, I’m recording.

LH: Okay, so basically this story, I don’t know who came up with it, but it like ran amongst like my little cousins and I when I was growing up, I used to live very close to USC campus. And I remember one day, my mom would tell me just randomly like, “Oh, your little friend stopped by your blah blah blah.” And I was like, “What do you mean my little friend?”

LH: I was like, 11 when this happened. I was like, “What do you mean, my little friend?” And the story goes basically that like, in my family, we had an uncle who like died tragically in a fire when they were still in Mexico.

[Interviewer laughs in surprise]

LH: I know this escalates very quickly. He died very tragically as like a kid in a fire and blah blah blah, and everyone in my family thinks that my grandma is cursed. Like, we think that she like dead ass has like something on her, like, witchcraft. And so the story is that once like, my uncle died in the fire, he had been like haunting my grandma like ever since and like following her around.

LH: And so every time we would go to like, my grandma’s house, the vibes were so gross. It was so cold in there. It was–it felt like you were being watched all the time. And my mom would say that, like all the little kids in the family at the time, would have like the same constant imaginary friend whose name was Pablo.

LH: And she was like, yeah, like your little cousin saw your–or like Pablo the other day and I’d be like, “Who the fuck is Pablo?” Like, what are you talking about? Until one day my old–My other uncle he was like, “Yeah, you had this uncle who–” blah blah blah, this and that. And basically like, to this day we tell this story to like the little kids because like, my grandma’s house has always felt so, like, grody and like, weird, like, the vibes.

LH: The vibes have always been off and so to this day, every time we get, like, a new little cousin in our family, or like, someone else in the family would be like, “Yes, you know, my grandma’s haunted but she has like this little boy following her. But yeah, that’s like, pretty much the sum of it.

Int.: That’s crazy.

LH: Yeah.


I love this story for how it reveals the family structure of the informant as one that is strong and large. From a folklore studies perspective, it reveals how folklore often spreads through family structures and reinforces cultural beliefs–such as the belief in ghosts–in the process. The ghost in this story arises from a family legend–that of the boy who died in a tragic fire. It also shows how children influence the folk beliefs in adults, not just the other way around. Because the family children all have similar or the same imaginary friend, it reinforces the belief in this ghost and continues this legend. In a way, it keeps the memory of the boy who died alive. The ghost becomes disembodied from the real boy in terms of actual facts, such as what the boy looked like, how he behaved, and more, but the shared idea of him continues to change as the imaginary friend persists throughout the family.

Christian Faith Testimonial


My father faced a lot of difficulty in his early life. Born in the same Southern California town that I was, his mother died at 11 and his father at 17, leaving him orphaned and couch surfing immediately out of high school. He had been raised Christian, but fell hard into the Evangelical Christian revival of the 1980s. Although we no longer attend church and his views have softened drastically since I was a child, he maintains a strong tie to his faith. I first heard this story about a week before I asked him to record it. We were having a lengthy discussion about the world, and he told this story as testimonial for his faith. This recording occurred over family dinner at my parents’ home. The events that are described likely happened in the year 1980 or 1981.


SS: We were–my wife and myself–and, and a good friend of ours were young Christians. And we traveled everywhere together. And I had nothing. I had no job, I had nothing. And my father and I lived together and he was he was getting ill, I really realized it. But I came, we’re living in this little one bedroom. I would call it a shack. And I was sleeping in the bedroom, he slept on the couch. And my–I came home one day back to the little shack. And my brother had been there–when he lived in Arizona, and I hadn’t seen him in a long time. And he left a note saying, I took your dad and, and took him back to Arizona because he’s sick. Need to take care of him. And because you have nothing here.

SS: And basically, we spoke with the–the owner of this place who owns the house up front, “You’re gonna have to move.” I had no job I had no nothing. And I was–was damn I didn’t know what I was gonna do. And, and I just–I basically went and, and laid on my bed and, and cried out to the Lord, I just said, Jesus, I can’t do this. I can’t, I got no place to go. I’m done. I, you know, I wept and prayed. And then I went into a really deep sleep, like a nap but deeper.

SS: And I was awakened by banging on the door. And it was our friend that came to the door. And–and he was always optimistic, positive, full of the Holy Spirit. And he–and he said, he said, “The Lord told me to come here and said you needed me to help.” So he said, “Let’s walk.”

SS: So we hitchhiked–and we hitchhiked probably from one city to another, probably 12 miles. And we ran across a guy that was looking for help. I think it was working in a gas station. He hired me. And that same time, I don’t know how it came about. But my godparents’ son contacted me, I don’t know if I he called me. I don’t think you could call me because this was before cellphones, but if I ran across him, I don’t really remember. But he was living in a–in a mobile home park, and he needed to help sometimes with his–help him, you know, clean up around his place because his–’cause his wife and daughter, because he was working so much. And he had a–he had a little travel trailer on the side inside of his carport.

SS: And so by the end of that day, I had a place to live and two jobs. And I always attribute it to the fact that I was as low as I could go. And I think sometimes when you when you cry out from that point–from that position, it’s when God answers your prayers. It’s when you’re–when you’re done and you got no options, because he wants us to cast our cares on Him, so he can carry us. But we’re too proud most of the time.

SS: So that’s that story.


Although I no longer identify as a Christian, I find this story compelling, especially given my emotional connection to the speaker. A testimonial like this has a very specific context. My father is an open-minded man in many respects, and immediately prior to this, I was speaking about my spiritual beliefs that are completely alienated from Christian theology. He brought his story up not necessarily to convince me of the existence of the Christian God, but rather to reaffirm his own faith. Coincidence or not, real life events created this narrative, demonstrating how religious experience is not just doctrinal, but first-hand and emotional too.

Following Propp’s “31 Narratemes,” the narrative can be broken up into key narrative elements: the stakes effecting the protagonist are defined; absentation, someone goes missing (1); villainy and lack: the need is identified (8); mediation, the hero discovers the lack (9); acquisition, hero gains magical item (14); departure, hero leaves on a mission (11); transfiguration, hero is given a new appearance (29); resolution, initial misfortune or lack is resolved (26).