Occupation: Compounding Pharmacist
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/17/19
Primary Language: Persian
Other Language(s): English, Spanish
Main Story (direct transcription):
Dad: If someone says that you are something positive, such as being pretty, young, wealthy, or successful, superstitious Iranians make a fire. In the fire, they have some kinds of herbs that smell like oud, or incense, and they have seeds in them. They make the fire in a coil, it’s not like a huge fire, and they throw all these seeds into it. Some of the seeds make a big “pop” noise, and it opens, and it looks like an eye shape. They say,
“This is the evil eye! This is the enemy!”
Me: So why do they start the fire in the first place…?
Dad: To contradict something. Back home (in Iran), you cannot say how beautiful someone is, or if when you have a kid, you can’t say “such a big baby!”. Like here, in America, you can say those things, but in Iran, if you say that, it’s like you’ve jinxed it. I remember when my youngest brother was born, my great-great aunt came home, and she was very old. He was a beautiful baby, but when she saw him, she spit on him. She said,
“What an ugly baby!”
She didn’t want to jinx it, so she said he was ugly. I was so offended when she said it! It’s the “evil eye”. Here, when I came to this country, people were saying things like, “what a big baby, how beautiful…” and I was so confused. You don’t say things like that in Iran because you don’t want to jinx them. Making the fire to contradict something positive that was said is too much work, so they don’t say positive things in the first place.
Context: The informant, my father, is a pharmacist who was born in Shiraz, Iran. He moved to the United States after growing up in Iran, and now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His first language is Farsi, his second is Spanish, and his third is English. He lived in Spain for several years before moving to the United States, and therefore has collected folklore from his time in these different countries throughout his lifetime. My dad was telling me about different Iranian superstitions, since we were talking about how my grandma is a very superstitious woman. I asked my dad if any particular superstitions popped out to him, or if any of them in particular were his favorite, and he proceeded to tell me this one.
I really liked this snippet about Iranian superstitions. I didn’t know that it was negative to say something positive about someone, especially babies, in their culture. Since my dad and his Iranian family in America have spent ample time here, I have heard them say positive things about others, and they are not as superstitious as their Iranian ancestors were. I thought it was funny how my dad tied in this superstition to his own life, telling of how his great-great aunt actually spit on my uncle when he was a baby. When my grandmother comes to visit next, I will be sure to listen and see if she says anything positive about anyone, especially about my youngest baby cousin on my dad’s side. Now that I know this superstition, I think it will be fun to see how many people practice it, and how many don’t, and see whether or not there is a generational gap in those who do, and those who don’t.