Category Archives: Contagious

New Years Penny


The informant’s family and friends trade pennies with every other person at their New Year’s Party and wish them good luck for the New Year. 


The informant is from Texas and his family now lives in California every year after the New Year starts they trade pennies with one another.


To me, there are a few things at play with this tradition. The choice of the penny is meant to represent money. Similar to how Professor Thompson mentioned champagne is drank to show wealth and wish for wealth for the new year, and pennies are used to wish the other person financial fortune in the year to come. In addition, this is done to force everyone at the party to wish the other good luck which stops them from carrying any feelings of ill will toward the other into the New Year. 

Girl’s Day


On March 3 in Japan there is a festival called Hinamatsuri celebrating young girls primarily under the age of 10. This unofficial holiday prays for the health and prosperity of all young girls. Traditionally the festival made young girls dress up in kimonos and make dolls out of straw or paper. Then releasing the dolls in a small constructed boat on a river, allowing any bad luck to float away with the doll. To celebrate families will display porcelain dolls dressed in decorative robes to imitate the ancient imperial court.


M.S. celebrated this festival growing up in Japan and continued to celebrate it once she moved to the United Sates, but instead for her daughter and not herself anymore. She and my mom (M.S.’s daughter) participated because they thought it was fun and didn’t exactly believe the meaning that releasing the dolls down a river will get rid of their ”bad luck”.


I think the dolls are a form of both contagious and homeopathic magic because the dolls are supposed to mimic the girl making the doll, in order for any bad luck lingering around the girl to transfer to the doll. The girl creates the doll forming an instant connection which tricks the bad energy. As the doll floats down the river it imitates the negative energy attaching to the doll leaving the young girl. The holiday date is also important to note, as March 3rd is the third month of the year on the third day of the month. That is no coincidence as women and girls are a very important part of society, they need a special day. This day ensures that young girls are healthy enough to grow up and create the next generation.

Sleep paralysis

Text (memorate): 

“My grandmother used to say when I had sleep paralysis that meant that ‘the witches are riding you.’”


A is from Texas and comes from a spiritual, religious background. Her grandmother is very superstitious and she recalls this supernatual explaination her grandmother had on sleep paralysis.

My Informants grandmother would say that this means the “witches are riding you” (they are on top of you trying to steal your energy) and you need to start praying to get it so stop. When in the trance like states she describes it as really quiet as if everything in the room had gone silent. Her grandmother, born and raised in Louisiana was very spiritual and believed in both good and bad spirits.

A: “In High school, I would have numerous occasions where they would get into a deep sleep and couldn’t wake up. Sometimes they couldn’t open their eyes, and sometimes they could but they weren’t able to move or speak. After a period of time they would eventually jump up out of the bed. After I’d wake myself up my grandmother would say that this means the “witches are riding you.”

Q: “What does this mean exactly?”

A: “My grandmother said this meant that they are on top of you trying to steal your energy and you need to start praying to get it so stop. When I’m in these trance like states it is really quiet like everything in the room had gone silent.”


This text exemplifies a blend of a memorate and superstition as a seemingly natural phenomenon such as sleep paralysis is reasoned through the belief in supernatural existence such as witches. As described when “the witches are riding you” this really means the spirits are on top of you trying to drain your energy. This is a form of contagious magic where things that were once in contact can continue to act on one another as described by Frazer. The spirits of witches believed to be on top of my informant during her sleep paralysis were in contact with her and thus saying a prayer would be a valid form of contagious magic to protect oneself against the negative spiritual hold. My informants grandmother had a strong faith in spiritual belief and practices as they are from Louisiana where spiritual practices such as voodoo were common thus this is a common motif with Louisianan and African cultural influences. This is a practice is likely to have originated as a way to explain phenomena such as these before the emergence of modern medicine. This also can be classified as a superstition given it is a belief not based on scientific reasoning but rather myth and cultural tradition. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that just because something is not based on scientific evidence, that doesn’t undermine its truth value as scientific belief is not equivalent to truth.

“Crossed Fingers” Good Luck Necklace Pendant

Original Text: “My superstition or ritual I guess for getting good luck is this necklace my mom gave me for college auditions and it’s kind of just like a “crossing your fingers” pendant, like a little hand with crossed fingers for good luck. I rub it or touch it when I need luck. I feel like it has helped me because I got into my dream school, USC, and every time I wear it and touch it, it just feels like I’m getting good luck”

Context: The informant is 18 years old and studies musical theater at USC. Her family is Chinese, but she was raised in Singapore for most of her life. The informant was given this gold necklace with a crossed fingers charm by her mother for good luck during her college auditions. Her parents have “always supported my [her] pursuit of musical theater” and this necklace represents that. She always wears the necklace because it “means a lot” to her. She believes that the crossed fingers themselves amplify the luck already associated with the necklace.

Analysis: The necklace itself is fully gold, which in Chinese culture represents wealth, luck, and happiness. Her mom gifted her this piece of jewelry, which mirrors the common tradition of women gifting and passing down jewelry to each other that contain traditional knowledge, magic, or significance. Perhaps a man would not choose the same gift. The “crossed fingers” symbol that’s featured as a pendant is a common gesture for luck in Western culture and can be used to call on God for protection. Although this gesture is not uniquely Chinese or Singaporean, Singapore’s national language is English and the nation has a strong Western influence — explaining the luckiness of the “crossed fingers” for the informant and her family. 

Right Foot First and say “דַּיֵּנוּ (Dayenu)”: Jewish Air Travel Ritual

Original Text Pt. 1: דַּיֵּנוּ

Transliteration: Dayenu

Translation: it would be enough/sufficient

Original Text Pt. 2: “I am a Jew, and before we get on a plane, we get on with our right foot and we say ‘dayenu’. If you don’t, the plane is going to blow up and you’re going to die. And that’s just always been the thing, I don’t know, I’ve done that every time I’ve ever gotten on a plane. Anytime I don’t do that or I forget, I spend the whole plane ride like ‘fuck, I’m going to die’. It’s just this cute little tradition we do in our family. My parents introduced it to me, and their parents probably introduced it to them.” 

Context: The informant is 18 years old, a first year at USC, and a Jewish female. “Dayenu” is a Hebrew word that holds significance in the Jewish community. The informant says her “parents introduced it” to her, and that her grandparents probably introduced it to them. The informant still practices this ritual today and feels distressed if/when she forgets to do it. It makes her feel connected to her family when traveling far away and to the larger Jewish community.

Analysis: “Dayenu” translates to “it would have been enough” in Hebrew. It is the name of a song traditionally sung at Passover. The song itself references all the gifts God gave the Jewish people, and that even if he had given them just one gift “it would have been enough”. Saying “dayenu” before traveling is a tradition in Jewish culture. Perhaps it is a way of giving thanks to God before embarking on a potentially dangerous journey for good conscience and protection. The right side is associated positively, while the left is associated negatively in Jewish culture, explaining why using the right foot to step onto the plane would magically give someone protection. This ritual has ancestral wisdom and the weight of religion behind it, which adds to why the informant trusts it and continues to practice it. 

Danielle Slutsky, and Misha Slutsky. “Dayenu with English Hebrew and Transliteration | Passover Haggadah by Danielle & Misha Slutsky.” Haggadot,