Category Archives: Protection

Color Green Protects Eyes

Background: The transcribed conversation between me and the informant shows folk belief on how to protect eyesight. 

Informant: My mom bought a cactus for me… she says it absorbs radiation from computers and cellphones…

Me: Does it really? I’ve heard of it before but I don’t think it actually works.

Informant: I’m not sure, but I fell like it’s just a misconception. Mom says it protects your eyesight…maybe because it’s green?

Me: Oh that kind of makes sense. I’ve heard a million times that green protects your eyes, not sure if it’s true. Where did you first hear that? 

Informant: I don’t know but I’d guess it’s because green is the color of nature and we’re supposed to look at nature more hahaha

Analysis: Cactus or other things can absorb radiation; color green protects eyes. These two are fairly common folk beliefs. They reflect that while we are surrounded by technologies, people can still be suspicious of the constant progress and existence of certain technologies. The association between color green and nature shows that nature is still regarded as healing, healthy, and in control.

Banging on Pots Invites Family Tension Superstition

Background: 

My informant, NS, is an eighteen year old student at Tufts University. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her mother was born and raised in the Philippines, and her father is Indian but grew up in Scotland and Southern California. While her mother is the only member of her family to have moved away from the Philippines, much of her father’s family, including his father, siblings, and nieces and nephews, are also in Southern California, meaning lots of family time between NS and her extended family, especially her cousins. Her father’s side of the family continues many traditional Indian and Hindu practices in day to day life, and NS is also greatly influenced by her heritage. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance). 

Performance:

NS: So my mom, when she’s stirring something, a sauce or whatever, she says you should never tap the spoon on the edge of the pot or pan. Apparently it creates some sort of bad energy, like from the friction created, and it basically invites bad spirits into your food. It creates like friction between family or whoever eats it, and creates fights in the family. You’re adding friction to the food, so you’re supposed to use something else to scrape off the extra or whatever. 

SW: Do you know where she heard this?

NS: No, it’s just something she’s always done and believed.

Thoughts: 

I hadn’t heard of this superstition before, but since NS’s mother grew up in the Philippines, I suspected it was because she had picked it up there before coming to the US. I like the literal nature of the superstition, that friction causes friction. I wonder how this superstition came to be, and whether its inception was simply the result of a chef trying to reduce noise in their kitchen. NS’s mother is Catholic, as she was influenced by her surroundings in the Philippines, but things like this show a blurring of lines between religion and spirituality. 

Don’t Walk on the Michigan M

Background: 

My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

AK: At Michigan, we have this huge letter M in the center of campus. And the rule is, like, if you step on it, you fail your first blue book exam. It’s like at any other college.

SW: I’ve never heard that before.

AK: Really? Yeah, it’s like a big deal here. And apparently the only way to reverse it, is to like run from the clocktower one side of campus, to the other side, and then back to the clocktower and get there right as it chimes midnight. And you have to be naked the whole time. But that’s impossible because the clocktower doesn’t chime past 10pm, and it’s illegal to be naked. So it’s best to just not step on the M in the first place and avoid the bad luck all together.

Thoughts:

While I was not familiar with this specific superstition, I know most schools have some sort of similar superstition in circulation. A lot of them have to do with disgracing or disrespecting the school or campus in some way, which then brings bad luck in the form of bad grades or other things. I’m guessing these came to be as a way of keeping respect for the school. I think there’s something alluring, too, about feeling like you’re in on something. You feel special when you know your school’s superstitions, because you feel like a true member of the institution, and not an outsider. 

Facebook Senior Names

Background: 

My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

AK: For as long as I can remember, it’s been tradition at our high school to make a fake name on facebook for senior year. Everyone would make a pun based off their name, referencing a movie or celebrity. When it first started, it was to protect people’s identities, so that of prospective colleges looked up students on facebook, they wouldn’t find their page. By the time we were seniors, there wasn’t really a need to do this because it was general knowledge that colleges didn’t really care, but our grade kept on with the tradition anyways.

Thoughts:

It’s interesting to understand where some aspect of folklore comes from, and to see how its meaning has changed over time. What started as a superstition morphed into a tradition that stood to be a rite of passage. Kids as early as freshman year would begin to think about their senior name, anxious to be done with high school and on their way to college. Senior names were a way of expressing yourself, while also engaging in a unifying experience across the grade.

The Jersey Devil

Background: 

My informant, NK, is 19 years old and of South Korean descent from both her mother and father’s sides of the family. Her grandparents live close to her, so she spends a lot of time with them. She is very passionate about cooking. Even though she is majoring in biochemical engineering at UC Berkeley, she has always been, and remains to be, extremely interested in conspiracy theories. While she may not necessarily believe them, she enjoys hearing lore from across the world. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance:

NK: So, there’s this urban legend in New Jersey, called the Jersey Devil. I’ve heard about it from different like conspiracy shows or websites, and just word of mouth. Um, and it’s one of those things like Bigfoot. The myth goes that there’s a woman – there’s some variations obviously – but she had one kid or thirteen, depending on who you ask, and she had a pact with the devil or hooked up with him, or something. And so either that one kid or the youngest one was born deformed, so he had like wings and a beak and was human-like but also bat-like. He grew up to huge sizes, and then would be seen around New Jersey, I’m not sure which area. And then there’s been sightings, I’m not sure when the first one was, but there were a lot in the 20th century. I wanna say it’s similar to Mothman: big wings, red eyes, part human. 

SW: Do you know anything about the origins of the story?

NK: I’m not sure, but I think there were some sightings that were hard to explain, so people kind of made up the lore to explain them. 

Thoughts:

I love urban legends. As NK pointed out, like many urban legends, it’s safe to assume that the legend of the Jersey Devil developed in response to some unexplained sightings in an effort to make sense of them. There are a few different variations of the Jersey Devil legend. Most seem to identify the woman NK mentioned as Mother Leeds, as Leeds was one of the first settlers in New Jersey, and family with the name Leeds can still be found there today. There have been numerous accounts and sightings of the Jersey Devil, many of which can be found all across the internet. For more background on this urban legend and personal sightings of the Jersey Devil, see “The Jersey Devil.”

Annotation:

“The Jersey Devil.” Weird NJ, Weird NJ, 13 Jan. 2017, weirdnj.com/stories/jersey-devil/.

Armenian Sacrificial Ritual

Name of Ritual : Matakh (մաթախ)

Description: The Ritual involves the sacrifice of a goat or a cow. They use the blood from the sacrifice to put a cross on a child or a person who has gone through a difficult ordeal. The blood needs to stay on for one day. After the sacrifice, they must cook the meat and distribute it to 7 houses.

Background: The informant is of Armenian Lebanese descent and has lived in America since their adolescent years. They say that this ritual is very common among Armenian communities around the world. This is usually done if someone has struggled with a harrowing ordeal such as cancer, an accident, or family death. This is done as a way to be thankful for surviving the ordeal and somewhat asking for better times and continued peace. The informant says that this ritual has origins in Paganism although they couldn’t elaborate more on that topic due to lack of knowledge on it.

Context: The informant told me this during a conversation about folklore at dinner.

Thoughts: I definitely can relate to this piece because I am also of Armenian descent and I myself have took part in Matakhs. It is definitely a sacred ritual that is done during very hard times. This is done among families and is very personal. I think it is interesting that this ritual has a pagan origin. I did not know much about its origin and would not have attributed it to paganism because Armenians are very devout Christians. I think this shows how Pagan rituals have carried onto Christian traditions.

Armenian Superstition About Newborn Babies

Explanation: Armenians have some superstitious custom not to show or introduce a newborn baby to friends, neighbors, or extended families for the first 40 days. It is believed that this is done for the safety and medical precaution for the baby, but it can also be done to protect the baby from the evil eye/ evil spirits.

Background Information: Widely popular Armenian custom for newborn babies. Almost every Armenian follows this precaution when they have a baby.

Context: The informant told me about this custom during a video call in which I asked her to tell me about an Armenian tradition/custom that she knows about.

Thoughts: As an Armenian myself, I have observed this custom being practiced in my own family when a member has had a baby. I think it is done to make sure that the baby is safe and healthy. Im sure it was done in the past because of the high infant mortality rate in the Armenian villages due to disease and malnutrition. This has translated to modern day even though, the chances of disease and malnurtrition in babies is much lower than before. I think the health of babies is so crucial for Armenians because of how important it is for them to continue on the Armenian culture/ heritage due to the Turkish attempt at genocide against Armenians in the early 20th century.

Russian Spirit

Name: Домовой

Transliteration: Domovoy

Translation: Household Lord

Description: House spirit that exists for every household/ family. Spirit of hearth, family fortune, and mischief. Known to move things around the house such as furniture. Also known for breaking things in the house such as plates. If someone in the house is misbehaving, then he might bring bad fortune to the house/family. He can also protect the house. He is not usually seen. Has been described as gnome-like and made out of hay. Not described as a harmful spirit. If the Domovoy falls in love with a woman from the houshold, then she will not get married. Make sure you respect the Domovoy.

Background Information: Russian spirit whose story is told by adults to children or spread from children to children.

Context: The informant had originally told me this story when we were children. She recently reiterated it to me through video call. She is of Russian and Armenian descent. She was originally introduced to the Domovoy by her cousin who was living in a small town named Stary Oskol, which is located in Russia.

Thoughts: I believe that the Domovoy is used to explain weird occurrences in the home, such as a missing sock. Purpose is to bring a sense of comfort for the unexplainable things in life. Also used as a way to keep members of the family behaving and disciplined. This could especially apply to small children who are misbehaving. They are warned about the Domovoy to remind them to behave or else the spirit will bring bad fortune to them. When it comes to the idea of the Domovoy falling in love with a woman in the household, I think that this is done as a way to scare the woman into getting married.

For Another Version See:

Ivanits, Linda J. Russian Folk Belief, 51-62. M.E. Sharpe, 1992

Gathering 40 Days After Death

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my paternal grandmother. She told this during a conversation over the phone.

Background: This information was about a customary ritual that people participate in widely throughout Pakistan, at least in the Punjab province. It is called چالیسواں which translates into ‘fortieth’.

Main piece: 

Informant: Forty days after a funeral, the women of the deceased’s family sacrifice an animal and cook food. They then invite relatives and neighbors over to their house, giving them the food and getting together to pray for the deceased and make supplication on their behalf.

Me: Why is it specifically after a period of forty days?

Informant: The mourning period after a death lasts for forty days. This ritual takes place after the mourning period has concluded. 

Me: What is the purpose or goal of such a ritual?

Informant: The purpose of this gathering is to pray for the deceased, so that their sins will be forgiven and their good deeds will be increased.

Analysis: Although the forty day period of mourning is an Islamic religious commandment, this particular ritual after that period is over is not a religious ritual but a cultural one, although it is often followed religiously and one who doesn’t participate in it is often considered to be doing something wrong. Also, it is interesting to note that the Eastern Orthodox religion also holds a traditional memorial service forty days after death, as well as a Shia festival called Arba’een, marking forty days after Ashura commemorating the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

Burning Salt

Context: The following is an account of a ritual told by the informant, my paternal grandmother. 

Background: My father’s youngest uncle was sick as a baby, so the consensus was that he must have received the evil eye. In order to find out who gave it to him, this ritual was conducted. This same thing was repeated when one of my father’s brothers got sick and died as a baby.

Main piece: 

To find out who gave the child the evil eye, a solid chunk of rock salt was but in a burning fire. As the salt burned, those watching would carefully observe the fire to see what shape the flames would make. If they formed the shape of a person, they were the source of the evil eye. In my father’s uncle’s case, it was determined from the flame that a woman from one of the neighboring houses gave it to him. In his brother’s case, an odd inhuman shape was formed, leading people to believe it was jinn.

Analysis: It is not clear where this practice originated, but it seems to have come about as a result of people not wanting the cause of their child’s death to remain a mystery, so as to attach a name or face as to who was responsible. That being said, it is unknown from my conversations whether there was any confrontation with the person who was seen in the fire, and there was almost certainly no action taken on that basis.