Category Archives: Signs

Prognostications, fortune-telling, etc.

The Safety of a Dollar Bill

“Every time I leave to go on a trip, I put a dollar bill in front of Ganesha to bless myself with safety for my travels to whatever destination”

Whenever she is traveling, she never forgets to put a one dollar bill in front of a statue of Ganesha, one of the most worshipped Hindu deities or gods. In Hinduism, Ganesha is associated with success and removes obstacles in one’s life.The dollar bill is an offering to Ganesha in order to receive a blessing of peace and safety on her next adventure. This money is never touched again and never removed. Every dollar bill she has placed in front of Ganesha throughout her life still sits right as she left them. While her parents taught her this practice, this ritual has been passed down many generations of her family and is a largely shared practice in the Hindu religion and culture.

I had never heard of this spiritual ritual before, especially when traveling or embarking upon a new adventure. My familiarity with an act like this is something similar to leaving a dollar or a trinket on a shrine of a god or a spiritual entity one believes in. For example, in Catholicism, Saint Christopher is the saint of protection and guidance for those on journeys, and people in this religion will wear a pendant with this saint on it for a sense of safety. This demonstrates the variability and immense diversity in folklore; some traditions are similar and hold comparable values while coming from totally different heritages and backgrounds. While folklore does not always stem from religious beliefs, this shows that it can interlace with so many different categories of life and be passed throughout centuries, while still holding on to key aspects of the tradition, story, practice, etc. Overall, this ritual that this person practices examples how traditions are passed down throughout generations and entire cultures with adaptability to circumstance and environment. For example, this person and her family use a dollar bill to represent the token given to Ganesha, while in India, or other countries where Hinduism is practiced, these tokens may be different, whether it is a different currency used or something completely different, such as a special trinket. Folklore has the ability to shape individuals practices and beliefs all while creating and sustaining a connection to cultural communities.

In the Stone Signal

The informant is a third year in the USC Trojans Marching Band.

The gesture is, using my left hand to make kind of a fist, you’re holding it upright. And then you take the other hand, you point your pointer finger (laughs) and then you stick that finger in the hole that your fist makes. But it’s important that it’s standing up.

-Informant Describing the Gesture

[How do you use this gesture?] I’m in the band. The Trojan Marching band of USC, Fight On. [Fight on] And this (hand gesture) is what the director would make when he is trying to call this song. Often times you can’t really hear Jake (the director) over the crowd noise, so he’ll make the gesture so we can know what we’re playing even if we can’t hear him. And it’s passed down. I can turn around and make the gesture at someone behind me and they’ll get it and pass down the gesture (to people behind them). [For the studio audience here, what song does it signifying you’re playing?] It signifies that we are playing in the stone. [Do you know how it came to be?] I assume that the fist is meant to be the stone (laughs) and the finger is meant to be the sword in the stone, so that brings it together to the name-sword in the stone (laughs). [Finger in stone, got it]

-Interview with the Informant

The gesture is one of many that the USC Marching Band uses during games. Someone who is not in band would not know any of the hand gestures as they would have no use for them. The band has an incredible strong bond as a group, which is reflected in the oodles of folklore it contains. Even in the interview with this informant, there was a demonstration of the band’s unique atmosphere. The informant referred to Dr. Jacob Vogel as Jake, something that only band members second year or up are allowed to do. People outside of band probably don’t know its director by name (Dr. Jacob Vogel), and certainly wouldn’t know him by the name Jake.

Additionally, this gesture demonstrates how some folklore is spawned as a solution to a problem. In this instance, the problem that the band faces with communication. Because of how hectic the games, both football and other sports, are, they are unable to hear what the director calls next. They have to rely on each other to pass back the song called both verbally with hand signals and this reliance strengthens their bond as a folk group. The informant’s understanding of why the gesture is the way it is draws upon a well known legend of King Arthur. The informant says that the finger signifies a sword in the stone, the stone being made up of the other fist, a clear reference to the sword in the stone which is a central part of the King Arthur legend. The song’s title, In the Stone, does not reference a sword in the stone, but instead that the love described in the song was written in stone, a reference to the Biblical story in which Moses receives the ten commandments written on stone tablets. Whether or not the gesture is a reference to the sword in the stone or just a demonstration of something being in a stone, the reference to a different very widespread piece of folklore in a much more exclusive piece of folklore was worthy of note.

From “Look” to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle”



R is a USC senior majoring in Computer Science. She is a quick witted, stylish, craft girly with an affinity to push the boundaries of what it means to be a person in stem. She grew up in the Bay Area with two brothers and a dog and a cat. She also grew up acting as a child in San Francisco. When she was younger and at a family gathering she was hanging out with her older cousin who showed her this drawing “trick”. As you can see above, it starts by wiring the word “look” and then by adding on lines to make it into a mask. Then you add a face, a mouth, and the rest of the facial details until Violà! A Ninja Turtle has appeared. R’s older cousin explained to her that this was a drawing he was taught be another kid his age in elementary school. R, then used this drawing and shared it with many of her friends at school


This is an example of a tradition passed on among different age groups and through decades. Though this was most likely invented during the pop culture renaissance of the 90s and during the inevitable rise in popularity of The Ninja Turtles themselves; it lives on past its time through this drawing. This teaching of the “drawing trick” was a clear way for R’s older cousin to connect with her and pass down something he found cool and special when he was her age and that she subsequently did as well.

Pacific Islander Hand Sign

Explanation of Folklore: This folklore is a hand gesture that was explained to me by T, and is used in his home country of Guam, along with Hawaii and throughout the Pacific Islands. The gesture is a greeting sign that is widespread, and in the common traditions of the Pacific Islanders, when done, everybody knows what it means, and it is a normal, everyday aspect of Island life.

Analysis: When I interviewed T, he told me about a particular hand gesture that is practiced in Guam. He mentioned that it is not exclusive to Guam, but is also polar in Hawaii, and most of the pacific islands. The hand gesture is made by sticking out one’s thumb and pinky finger, bringing in their middle three fingers to crate the gesture. (see image below). T told me that in Guam, this hand gesture is commonly used as a greeting, a nonverbal way to express “what’s up” to someone else. He told me that in Guam, everybody else uses it to greet each other, and is a very common greeting. T elaborated and mentioned that it is also very popular across the Pacific islands, specifically in Hawaii. In Hawaii, this is labeled the “Shaka” and has a strong association with the surf culture in the state. This “Shaka” as it is labeled is known very well by the many tourists that visit Guam, and the Pacific, and has made its way to the mainstream. T mentioned that in Guam, tourism is tremendously important, and makes up a large part of the economy. Gift and souvenir shops use this gesture in merchandise, and to make memorabilia surrounding it.

When asked what he believes the origins of the symbol are, T mentioned he is not sure, but guesses it originated from the native Chamorro people of Guam. he believes that these indigenous inhabitants of Guam are the originators of the hand gesture, and it has made its way through generations and is still utilized to this day. Even in the present, the people of Guam continue to use it, and know what it means. It is a part of their nonverbal folkloric gestures.

Common Pacific Island hand gesture.

Personal Analysis: This is a regional folklore that even I knew of, and have seen many times in the mainstream. Previous to interviewing T, I was aware that there was a strong association between this symbol and surf culture. Growing up in California, surfers would call this “Shaka” and I was aware of its origin from the pacific islands. Elaborating on T’s theory, I do believe that this may be a remnant of the indigenous Chamorro people. Perhaps their native customs included hand gestures, that were kept alive and passed on throughout the generations. Guam is a country with a very diverse population. There is strong asian influence, especially Japan, the Philippines, and China. This intermix of people make its all the more fascinating that a gesture could survive all this time. The Oicotypes associated with this folk gesture are very interesting, and provide a unique perspective of regional variation. In Guam, this not called “Shaka” but more so an unspoken form of communication. It is interesting however to see the more common and well known variation to be the “Shaka” and more closely tied to the surf culture of the Pacific Islands.

Cat’s cradle

My informant was a Japanese-American college student at USC who grew up in California. Below is a transcript of our conversation talking about the cat’s cradle, a playground game she played as an elementary schooler.

“A cat’s cradle is a string that you can manipulate into different shapes with your hands by making a series of movements with your fingers. It was taught by my friends in elementary school and requires other people to help out to work since the patterns are easily forgettable; I had to ask people all the time how to do it. If you could make a shape out of a string people thought you were cool because you’re making a new shape out of a simple string. It felt mysterious and skillful, like a cool trick you can do to impress other kids on the playground.

I remember I also tried to teach my mom it, who said that she knew how to do it when she was younger but she forgot how to do it as she grew older. I didn’t play cat’s cradle after elementary school. There was no particular reason why; new trends just came up and I forgot how to make it.”

Cat’s cradle seems to invoke a similar sense of fascination and mystery as performing magic tricks, but this sensation seems to be quite ephemeral. It’s reminiscent of how children grow out of pretend play because they feel childish pretending like they’re something else and they want to feel more “grown-up” (this is reflected in how “too old to play pretend” is a common saying.) Because cat’s cradle was a social activity and needed other people to learn it from, the informant probably felt social pressure to stop doing something no longer regarded as “cool” anymore. The fact that the informant’s mother also knew how to do it but forgot as she grew older suggests that this is a common pattern among young children and occurs with every generation.