Folk Belief–Whistling at Night

“It’s bad luck to whistle at night!”

A mutual friend of the informant and mine was whistling at night when my informant, with an exaggerated expression of fear, turned to our friend and demanded that he stop whistling. When our friend asked why he should stop, my informant emphatically responded, “It’s bad luck to whistle at night!” On other occasions, I have seen similar interactions between my informant and peers, and often my informant will talk about the folk belief in a whisper, creating a sense of fear.

My informant believes that whistling at night attracts jinn, which in turn causes bad luck. Jinn, according to my informant, are a race of dark spirits that live in this world and others. They are mischievous, trickster spirits that bring misfortune with them. He states that a belief in jinn is prevalent in his Muslim family. My informant stressed that he does not believe in jinn, and tries to portray this “superstition” as a joke, but admitted that the whistling seriously bothered him nonetheless.

My informant remembers vividly remembers the first time he was told not to whistle at night. He was a little kid, around five years old, when he was whistling at night in his house. His grandmother, an immigrant from Azerbaijan, scolded him harshly, telling him to stop immediately. My informant didn’t understand and argued back with his grandmother. His mother even stepped into the argument, trying to make his grandmother see the situation from his perspective. His grandmother then grabbed him by both shoulders, put her face directly in front of his, and commanded, “Do it! Go on, whistle.” My informant began whistling again, but after a few moments his grandmother shook him slightly and said, “Stop.” When he stopped, she whispered, “Now listen.” My informant held still for a moment and then, in the silence, heard loud banging noises that he claims sounded distinctly like footsteps. He never whistled at night again.

My informant adheres to this folk belief, and asks his peers to, but also publicly questions its validity. After relating the above story, my informant quickly assured me that the noises (which he had demonstrated by banging on the walls) had probably been the creaking of an old house. When he asks friends to stop whistling, he never explains why except by saying “it’s bad luck!” in a tone that implies that the whole situation, to him, is a joke.  For my informant, this folk belief is both worthy of respect and questionably true.

I had never heard this folk belief before, but it seems rooted in the traditions of my informant’s family life. He questions it publicly because, in a dominantly White American Christian/Atheist culture, which he also identifies with, a belief in jinn seems out of place, and “other.” The belief itself, though, questions individuals’ agency over their own fate. It reveals a belief in non-human forces that interact with humans and can be summoned by taboo actions.