Category Archives: Contagious

Ouija Boards in Portland and Palm Springs

J. has always had a fascination with the supernatural. From her strong belief in fairies, forest and water spirits, and ghosts growing up, she held onto her belief in the paranormal well into her teenage years.

“The summer after ninth grade, I was gifted a ouija board from one of my mom’s friends. I had always loved horror movies and anything that had to do with ghosts or spirits–people on ‘the other side.’ That summer, I went to Palm Springs for a family trip. That was the first time I used the ouija board. Me and my friend who had come with us sat down to try it out one night, and we contacted a spirit named Dino. He said he was an older man, around his 50’s–he was a nice spirit. He told us that him and his brother had grown up near the area we were staying, and that he remained in that area because he was waiting for his brother to return.”

That wasn’t the only time that J. used that Ouija board. J. was my best friend in high school, and after she came back from that trip and we started sophomore year together, the Ouija board was the main event of every sleepover, birthday party, and even casual after school hang out sessions. The first time we pulled it out in Portland, Dino visited again. He had followed J. home from Palm Springs, saying she was the first person he had been able to connect with from across the grave.

Not all the spirits we encountered were nice like Dino, though.

“I remember we were both here the night of my 16th birthday party. Remember? That’s when all the really crazy stuff happened and we decided to stop using the ouija board.”

I do remember that night. This is how J. gave a run down of the events:

“All of the girls had come over to celebrate my birthday and we couldn’t wait to pull out the ouija board. We were sitting in my living room downstairs, all gathered in a circle on the floor. You were sitting out because you always refused to touch the board–so lame.” She laughs. “Anyways, we started playing and the first spirit we contacted was a 10 year old girl named Rose. You were freaked out because that was your middle name and something only people in your family called you. It started to get scary because she told us that she was outside the door and needed us to let her in. All of us got super scared and I think it was Avery who got up and ran to lock it. After that, she told us she had a message but all of us had to power off our phones so that we couldn’t share her message. Then, she told us that one of our friends from school was in danger–that he was going to be in a car crash that night. All of a sudden, we all panicked, saying we needed to use out phones to call and check on him. She let you, actually, turn on your phone and text [L] to ask if he was with that friend and to make sure he was okay.”

“After that, she started counting down from 10, which we all learned is really dangerous and you’re not supposed to let them reach zero or they could enter the house or even one of our bodies and like, possess us. We had to quickly say goodbye–that’s really important, too. If you leave a spirit without saying goodbye they get really mad and some bad things can happen.”

After the first attempt at the ouija board that night, and our crazy experience with Rose, J. wanted to try again, but this time in her spooky attic. All of her late great grandmother’s old clothes, furniture, and paintings were up, and she thought it would heighten our connection to something across the grave. When we went up there, we came into contact with Dino again, but he soon revealed that he was actually an evil spirit named Zozo. We had heard about Zozo before, and he was supposedly more evil than the devil himself. Long story short, he threatened to break our friend E.’s fingers if I didn’t join in and put my hands on the planchette. After refusing, he wouldn’t let us say goodbye, and we all got really scared before eventually forcing him to leave.

“That was the last night we ever did Ouija. I still carry the board in my car, but all of us are too freaked out to try again.”

For more information about the infamous, malevolent spirit, Zozo, see here: https://www.bustle.com/life/what-is-zozo-read-this-before-you-ever-touch-a-ouija-board-again-12197819

Ouija boards can be seen as a kind of contagious folk belief, because one has to come into contact with the board and the planchette to be able to contact spirits.

Good Luck Coin

AW is a 19 year old college student. She is an undergraduate computer science major and is from Los Angeles County. She is Chinese American and has lived in LA all of her life.

Context: AW is a good friend of mine, so we sat down after dinner to discuss folklore she picked up across her life. She picked this practice up from her parents.

Transcript:

Collector: You have a thing with coins right?

AW: Ah yes!

Collector: Tell me about it.

AW: Coins, not just pennies, can bring good luck. But only if it is turned on heads. So if I am walking down the street and spot, let’s say, a dime or something. I will only pick it up if it’s on heads. Then it is good luck.

Also if I drop a coin in you guys’ apartment then I leave it there for good luck haha.

Collector: I picked up on that. Whenever we see a coin on the ground we just leave it.

AW: Yes for good fortune!

Thoughts/Analysis: This is a great twist on the typical finding a penny for good luck belief. I had never heard of leaving coins for good luck, only picking them up. I think this shows that both taking and giving money is necessary for good fortune. It might even mean that you cannot take and take without giving. Coins in general being used in this belief rather than just pennies might make someone believe they have more good luck because other coins are more valuable and you are likely to see them more.

For a variation of the lucky coin, see:

Brianna, and Brianna. “Find a Penny, Pick It Up and All Day You’Ll Have Good Luck.” USC Digital Folklore Archives, May 15, 2021. http://folklore.usc.edu/find-a-penny-pick-it-up-and-all-day-youll-have-good-luck/.

Snow Day Magic Rituals

TG is a 25 year old graduate student and cultural forensic anthropologist. She grew up in Maryland and currently resides in Tennessee. She says this ritual occurred often in the winter months when she was in elementary school.

Context: TG experienced many snow storms throughout her life, the most notable one being the North American Blizzard of 2010. TG loved the snow as a kid, but like many other kids, loved no school more.

Transcript (discussed over the phone):

TG: When I was younger, maybe in third or fourth grade, whenever the forecast said there would be snow we would do three things: flush ice down the toilet, sleep with a small spoon under our pillow, and wear our pajamas inside out. If we did this then there was a greater chance that we would have a snow day.

Collector: How did you and your classmates know to do this?

TG: We were told by our teachers. They’d tell us to do those things so we could have a snow day, they wanted one too I guess. Oh! And everything had certain meanings to them, the ice down the toilet represented the snow, the spoon represented the shovel that was not big enough to shovel all of the snow, and to me the inside out pajamas just represented disorientation.

Collector: Did you actually do those things every time there was supposed to be snow?

TG: Oh my goodness of course! I didn’t wanna have school just like the teachers. I loved doing those little things and hoping we’d have a snow day.

Analysis: This is especially important when considering the geographical location of this superstition. It also being children’s superstition shows that children also have their quirky and interesting rituals that they do that reflect sympathetic magic. These rituals reflect how children are influenced by their teachers and families. These children will grow up to pass this on to the children in their lives.

Love binding

Context:

B is one of my close friends and has connections and friendships with all kinds of people. Shes heard of many practices and stories from friends that have performed these practices themselves or through others. She heard of this practice through her cousin who had a friend that actually performed this.

The context of this piece was when we were talking about some superstitions we had heard of or practices and B mentioned her cousin had recently told her this one.

Text:

B: “Uh this one is a little gross like nasty kind of but hey, you asked. So my cousin told me that she has a friend who did this on her husband. She’s just weird like that but whatever. So its said that if a woman gives a man some of her blood, like her….period blood, then he’d be in love with her forever and not fall for anyone else. And that’s what my cousin said her friend did because he used to be such a flirt with all the girls but now he’s like a puppy on a leash.

Me: “Wait, the guy just willingly drank something like that?”

B: “I’m sure some guys are into weird stuff like that but nah my cousin’s friend was sneaky with it. She put her own period blood into some spaghetti she made for him. Her you know, stuff mixed in with the sauce so he couldn’t taste it. But apparently it worked for her because she says she feels like he’s bonded to her or something like that, I don’t know”

Analysis:

This interview really surprised me because I had never heard of something like this existing or even being done to a person.  This folk content also piqued my interest because I found it to be an example of Homeopathic magic. In this piece, the desired outcome is for the person receiving the blood to change their external temptations and become devoted to the giver of the blood. In order to do that, my informant’s cousin’s friend put their bodily fluid into an edible substance, which is supposed to symbolize the receiver’s connection to the giver. I think this could also possibly be contagious magic as the practice requires a physical secretion from the giver’s body in order for it to be completed

Folk Object — Jade Necklace

Background:

Informant (W) is a 78 y/o Chinese woman living in China.

Main Piece:

(Interview is translated from Mandarin Chinese.)

I: Can you tell me more about the jade necklace you gave me when I was younger?

W: Oh, I remember that. Your cousin had one, so you were begging me to get one for you too.

I: Why do people wear it? Is there something special about the jade?

W: Jade is a very important stone in China. If you wear a piece of jade, it sucks out all of the impurities in your body (吸毒, lit. “sucking poison”). When you see a dark spot in your piece of jade, that’s the negative energy it took.

I: So it’s stored in that piece of jade forever?

W: Yes, that’s what the jade does.

Context:

This conversation took place over a phone call.

Analysis:

The jade necklace can be loosely defined as a folk object. The existence of a folk object is defined by how it’s used, which changes over time, and are generally created from natural materials. With its staggering popularity, something like a jade necklace is probably mass-produced and distributed, and most likely has a variety of uses, from purely aesthetic reasons to religious ones (many jade necklaces are Buddha carvings or have Chinese zodiac signs). However, the shape of the jade is generally a round circle or donut shape—folk objects usually are slow to change in its form. In what my informant tells me, this particular instance of a jade necklace also uses contagion magic. By contact with the skin, the jade is able to suck out impurities within the body (specifically what this entails, my informant did not specify). This act gives the jade a sacred purpose and a usage other than aesthetics.