Author Archives: Wesley Smith

Blessing – Japan

“When a person is having a bad day or week, someone who cares for them may take salt and sprinkle it over the other person’s head and rub it into their scalp to protect them from evil spirits or demons.  While rubbing the salt into the scalp of the person, it is common to say a prayer to ward off the evil.  The person will also make a circle of salt around the one in need of protection or put salt in front of their door so that the person will be guarded from these devilish spirits.”

Chris told me that his grandmother would often practice this blessing on him whenever he was feeling sad, had been injured, or was angry for one reason or another.  His grandmother is fully Japanese, however Chris claims to be only one quarter Japanese.  Chris told me that while she would rub salt into his scalp she would say different prayers sometimes, although they were usually in Japanese.  When she would say the prayer it would usually be a phrase such as “Guard over my grandson” or “May all evil be gone”.  His grandmother was a Shinto Buddhist and she used prayers from her church when she would speak, however Chris could not remember any of the actual Japanese that she used.  Chris’ grandmother was from Okinawa, which is an island right off of Japan and immigrated to Hawaii after the second world war and finally to Redlands, California where Chris and his family live today.

Chris said that he believed that his grandmother’s parents or grandparents had probably done the same blessing to her while she was a young girl in Japan. Chris was not sure whether his grandmother actually believed in the evil spirits or if it was just a tradition that she learned while growing up.  Either way it can be seen as a way that a person can help heal another, as to give their blessing to them and wish for their well being.  Usually this is practiced in a home, either of the person who needs protection or the person saying the prayer, according to Chris this was usually at his home or his grandmother’s.

Salt is an object that is often used in other superstitions and folklore.  One example that comes to mind is throwing salt over one’s shoulder for good luck.  As a food ingredient that has existed for all of human existence, there is a lot of tradition associated with it, not just in preparing meals, but in other senses as can be seen in this example of a blessing.  For this reason it seems that people have given salt some extra ability of being able to cure others or possibly even protect them.  I see this blessing as a combination of the use of salt as an agent to cure, and the prayer that is spoken to protect against these evil spirits that may be harming a person.

Lullaby – Georgia

C                                 G

“I see the moon, the moon sees me

G7                 C

Under the shade of the old oak tree,

C                   C7             F            Dm

Please let the light that shines on me,

G                  G7         C

Shine on the one I love.

C                                G

Over the mountains, over the sea,

G7        C

That’s where my heart is longing to be,

C                     C7          F             Dm

Please let the light that shines on me,

G                  G7     C

Shine on the one I love.”

Sven told me that his mother used to sing this lullaby to him and his siblings for about as long as he can remember, ever since he was a little boy.  He said that his mother would sing it to him before going to bed, or just sitting on her lap in a rocking chair when not much else was happening.  Sven said that he always associated the lullaby with the evening time and also times in which he was feeling sick or troubled to calm and soothe him.  I asked Sven where he believed the song came from and he told me that he believed his grandmother used to sing the song to his mother while growing up in Georgia.

When I looked into the origin of this song I found that many different versions actually existed with various lines that changed and stayed the same from version to version.  As with most folk music, I could not find an author to the piece and I found there were many oicotypes that existed.

According to Tina Beaumont-Clay, staff writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, she found the lullaby in an old leaflet of camp songs.  The lyrics she found are as follows.

“I see the moon, the moon sees me, The moon sees somebody I want to see, God bless the moon and God bless me, And God bless the somebody I want to see, It seems to me that God above, Created you for me to love, He picked you out from all the rest, To be the one that I loved the best, I had a heart `twas true and good, But now it’s gone from me to you, Take care of it as I have done, Cause you have two and I have none.”  As made clear by this version and the version that Sven told, there is a major difference in words, thus proving the variation.

In addition to these two versions, there is a superstition from middle Tennessee that contains the same opening line.  The superstition is you are supposed to “Look at the moon some night and say, ‘I see the moon, the moon sees me; the moon sees someone I want to see.’  Then name the person whom you wish to see, and in a few days you will see that person.”  This could be a variation from the song or vice-versa.  Either way, it shows how phrases travel.  I’m not sure whether the fact that Sven’s mother learned the song in Georgia and this superstition is from Tennessee has any regional correlation, but there definitely could be a possibility seeing as they are both states from the southern U.S. and are very close to one another.

Annotation:  Beaumont-Clay, Tina.  “Trivia Q&A.” Fort Worth Star-Telegram 2 Oct.       2001

Annotation:  Farr, T.J. The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 48, No. 190 (Oct. – Dec.,    1935), pg. 333

Legend – Mexico

“A woman went to Mexico on vacation and on her way home brings a cactus with her.  She waters the cactus every day and takes care of the new plant that reminds her of the time she spent while visiting Mexico.  However, after a few days she notices that the cactus starts moving on its own and appears to be breathing.  After awhile she calls a local Department of Agriculture and they tell her to shut all the doors and windows to her home and get out of the house immediately.  All of a sudden the cactus explodes, unleashing hundreds of baby tarantulas all over her house.”

Whitney told me that she first heard this story from a classmate at school in 9th grade.  She said that at first she believed it but later heard a different version from someone else that made her skeptical to the verity of the legend.  A legend such as this could be told at any sort of situation when there is a group of people trading stories or urban legends.  This story clearly invites discussions about a person’s belief, whether they think something like this could actually happen or not, and it is set in the real world, definitely classifying it as a legend.  A person would tell this story to get more and more people talking about different stories that they heard and get other people’s opinions on whether they have heard the story and whether they believe it to be true.

I think that the legend is told to give people the notion that one should leave something where they found it, and also leave people with the impression that anything

Superstition – Connecticut

“To predict the sex of a baby: Suspend a needle held by a piece of thread over the palm of the pregnant girl. If the needle swings in an oval or circular motion the baby will be a girl. If the needle swings in a straight line the baby will be a boy.”

My mother told me that her good friends from work swore by this superstition and that they used it on her when she was carrying me as a baby.  The friends were also women who were around the same age as my mother when she gave birth to me (in their 30s).  She said that they were very into other superstitious practices as well, and had her try other folk pregnancy tests too.  My mother worked in a photograph archive in the town of Mystic, Connecticut with these women during her pregnancy.  My mom said that basically the only use of the swinging needle superstition was to determine whether or not I would be a boy or a girl.  She does not know where her friends learned this practice, but perhaps the fact that New England is rich in folk traditions can help describe where this custom came from.  In addition, she said that it was not clear when during the pregnancy this was supposed to occur, although she said she believed it could occur any time between conception and birth.  She also said that typically it is another woman who will suspend the needle over the palm of the pregnant woman’s hand.

I am not sure what the actual ceremony means, but I believe that the shape of the swinging needle may refer to the shape of a person’s sexual organs, straight for a man’s penis and oval shaped for a woman’s vagina.  This folk pregnancy test is part of the ritual of being pregnant and the excitement that surrounds the mother and her friends.  This also took place back in 1987, when less technology was used in pregnancies, and perhaps more folkloristic methods were used such as this superstition to determine the sex of an unborn child.

Seeing that this superstition is based on guessing the gender of the baby, I am supposing that it came to fruition before the development of technology that indicated whether or not a child would be male or female.  Also, because of the use of a needle and thread, it can easily be a tradition that could date back hundreds of years and even to other countries.  Since New England is primarily of European descent, I would think that if it did date back so far that it perhaps would come from somewhere in Western Europe.  There are various other possibilities of the superstition’s origin, however, I feel that it has been passed down many generations nonetheless.


“What’s the difference between a black Jew and a white Jew?

The black Jew sits at the back of the oven.”

Caleb said that he heard this joke about two or three years ago from his older brother who also resides in Leona Valley, California.  Typically this joke is told in an atmosphere away from either people of African descent or Jewish people so it will not offend them.  Caleb said that he knows many other versions of Jewish and black jokes that he learned from his brother and from his friends in high school and college.  A joke such as this would typically arise on an occasion with a group of anywhere from two to five people, as it is something that shows racism and hatred, even in a joking manner.  Often the way that this specific joke in particular would be told is if a group is trading jokes either of a racial or denigrating manner.

Clearly, this joke refers to two separate points in history that dealt with the degradation of black and Jewish people.  The fact that the black Jew sits at the back of the oven refers to the fact that before racial laws were enacted in America, black people were often forced to sit in the back of the bus.  Also, the generalization of Jews being put into ovens refers to the ovens that were used to kill so many Jewish people during the Holocaust in the midst of World War II.  Although it has been a long time since either of these occurrences, the visible moment of the joke is hard to define, because of the fact that there is still racism that exists and the pain and suffering endured by these two groups were so great that it is hard for some people to find this type of joke funny, even if they recognize the context.

Like many jokes, this joke does have a punch line that reveals the cleverness of the teller.  After the original question is posed, the listener expects a dirty response, which the joke teller will wittingly express.  I believe that the reason the joke is told is not to necessarily make fun of Jewish or black people but instead is told to portray the wit of the one telling it.  Over time, it is been considered easy to make fun of Jewish or black people due to the fact that they have been suppressed so much that they are easy targets of jokes such as these.

It is possible that due to the fact that Caleb is of German descent that he possibly relates to his own heritage and the way that the German’s treated Jews during World War II.  However, as is customary in California and the United States in general, racism is a subject that is often shied away from because most people do not want to be judged as “racist” even if they are or are not.