Tag Archives: animal folklore

Aloe and Bad Energy

Background: The informant is a 26 year old female who lives in a suburb of Chicago. She was born and raised around the city with her grandparents, mother, and younger brother. Her grandparents, immigrants from Mexico, imparted most of their knowledge to the informant.

Context: The context was, when speaking to the informant over the phone, she mentioned how one plant liquefied, and was asked questions surrounding the meaning of it.

Text:


VA: I was always taught, growing up by my grandparents and mom, that plants soak up the bad energy in a home.

Me: Any particular plants, or is it just any one?

VA: Aloe. If someone with bad intentions or, uh, jealousy comes into your home, the aloe takes the hit for you. So, that’s why sometimes they’ll spontaneously liquify themselves. 

Me: Liquefy?

VA: It’s like, basically the plant completely deflates and is dead. Like, the plant will be perfectly fine, people show up with bad energy, and when they’re gone, the plant is dead.

Me: Is it always aloe?

VA: Sometimes animals take the hit, too. That’s what my mom said happened to my budgies [birds].

Analysis:

Informant: It’s something she deeply believes in, being told many times throughout her life that it was something that would happen upon bad energy. She didn’t seem to question anything about it.

Mine: Plants have long had an association with the supernatural, typically to treat illnesses. In a sense, having bad energy may be considered a supernatural illness and something to be treated, as it is still making the body worsen. Aloe may be the main plant that soaks up bad energy because aloe is commonly used to soften the skin, which draws up the image of breaking through a barrier. It’s like the aloe plant softens the skin, allowing the bad energy to slowly seep out, but in the process, it sucks away all the energy from the plant itself. It’s just like trading one life force for another, with the plant giving life for a human being. The concept of animals also deflating seems a unique touch to their familie’s folklore, or may be something the mother told the child as an excuse for what truly happened to the budgies, creating a scenario where superstition becomes the modern excuse.

The Banshee and the scream of the fox.

E is a 35-year-old Irish female originally from Cork, Ireland. E currently runs a bed and breakfast with her husband outside out Cork, Ireland.

E performed this folklore over breakfast in the dining room of her bed and breakfast. I asked E if she had any Irish folklore she would be willing to share with me.

E: I remember stories of the Banshee years ago. You know, it was one thing I reckon I was scared of as a kid because if you hear these really loud screams, my mother would say it was the Banshee, like it could be the Banshee, and if you hear the Banshee someone who belonged to you is going to die. Scary stuff, um, it was just an old Irish thing years ago and if you saw the Banshee which is a big white lady, kinda like a ghost, and if you saw that, yeah, they taught that you were going to die, so basically if you saw it that’s the end of you kind of thing. Um, but, I remember as kids, do you know-do you know the way foxes have really loud kind of a bark that a fox would? You can confuse with the Banshee. People who think that “oh my God I heard a noise up the hill!” but it would be a fox because there’s lots of foxes around here, and.. it’s a really high pitched scream. Like it would, it would sound like someone’s nearly being murdered like, its just that type of a scream. But if you didn’t know it was a fox, you might think it was the Banshee.

Reflection: Out of all my efforts to collect folklore in Ireland, the story of the Banshee was the story I heard 90% of my time. As E was the last person I had a chance to interview during my brief visit to Ireland, I was initially disappointed that the story of the Banshee was one of the only bits of folklore she could think of. However, after looking back on her performance of the legend with a clear mind, I realized her telling gave valuable local insight into her community. Based on the E’s association of foxes’ eerily people-like scream to the screams of the Banshee, the legend is imbued with greater credibility through linkage to the real world, that wouldn’t otherwise exist in places where foxes aren’t common. Even though the Banshee legend is generally well-known, the individual variation that E lent to her performance of the legend ensures that including the folklore in my collection is not worth considering a failure.

Legend of the owl.

H is a Caucasian-Native-American male originally from Tucson, Arizona. H is currently a corporate manager based in Austin, Texas.

H performed this folklore while visiting LA on a business trip. I met H in Downtown LA for lunch in order to collect folklore he had previously agreed to perform for me. The following is the second of two stories he provided. H first heard the following story from his grandfather.

H: Another legend is of the owl. The Apaches have nothing to do with owls, they see them as the night creature and if you see an owl, you run, my Grandfather would stop if we saw an owl and the trip would be over. The big owl in the Apache stories was evil, he was a giant. Sometimes he was man-like. They were able to paralyze humans with their stare or they could cry and everyone who heard it it was like thunder, and it would cause you to stop, uh, some owls were seen as cannibals and they would eat children, and so you avoided them. The Apaches claimed that the big owl was the sun of the sun, and.. when he was slain, his body hit the earth and his feathers flew off in every direction and those feathers transformed the owl that now live in the forest. And if you saw an owl, you turned and went home.

Reflection: Owls in Apache culture appear to have the same negative connotations that crows have in European culture. As far as I know, crows are not perceived the same way in Apache culture, so I find it interesting that their culture happens to consider the owl, a different type of bird, an evil portent. Based on H’s detail that owls in Apache legend have the power to paralyze people with their cries, there appears to be a direct link between how unsettling or intimidating a bird sounds and how it is perceived across European and Native American cultures. The deep “hoots” of an owl are an evil omen just as the harsh “caws” of a crow are associated with death in European culture.

The Fox and the Rooster

Context: The following is a story told by the informant, my grandmother, when recounting to me a story she had heard during childhood. 

Background: My grandmother heard this story from her older cousin when chatting after school. She remembers it because unlike most stories she heard, this one was from someone closer in age to her.

Main piece: 

Once there was a fox that lived in the forest. Seeing a rooster sitting in a tree, the fox was eager to sink her teeth into it. Thinking about what a nice meal it would make, the fox decided to come up with a plan to get the rooster out of the tree. After thinking long and hard, the fox approached the tree and called out to the rooster, “Rooster! How are you doing today?”

The rooster responded, “I’m doing just fine, thanks to your prayers.”

“Did you know that there has been a new change in the forest?” the fox asked sneakily. 

This was news to the rooster, who hadn’t heard anything, so he asked in return, “No, what do you mean?”

“A decision has been made that from now on, everyone in the forest will live in peace and harmony. You don’t have to be scared of me anymore. Come, get down from that tree and let’s just sit in the shade and chat,” said the fox, greedily eyeing the bird.

“Oh really?” replied the rooster. “That’s great! Actually, I see that someone is coming over quickly.” Hearing this, the fox became frightened and looked around cautiously.

“Someone is coming? Who? Tell me quickly!” the fox said, afraid a predator might be approaching.

Seeing her reaction, the rooster was confused and said, “It’s just some hunting dogs, and they’re closing in fast. Why are you so frightened? Now that everyone is living in peace and harmony, we can all sit together and relax. Come, let’s wait for them to get here.”

Knowing her plan had been foiled, the fox could only grit her teeth and mumble an excuse that she had somewhere else to be before darting off into the forest, stomach empty.

Analysis: This story has the common trait of a more “evil” character that wants to hurt, or in this case eat, the “innocent” character, but has their plans ruined, either by being outwitted or mere happenstance. In this case, the narrative is quite open to interpretation as to whether the rooster actually did see the hunting dogs coming, or was clever enough to conjure up that tale to scare the fox off. Also, knowing the age of the storyteller to be quite young, it is no surprise that this tale focuses more heavily on entertainment than teaching a lesson or moral, although this could also be due to the way it was retold, perhaps being told to the girl in a different manner or emphasizing different parts of the tale.

Moroccan: Tino Moths and Rebirth

Informant (AH) Is a 22 Year old USC Narrative Studies student interested in user research for games, we traded stories over a podcast we record together.
———————————————————————————————————————
Interviewer(MW): You said you had folklore from your grandmother?
AH: Yeah, so my grandma is from morocco, there’s a lot of folklore culturey stuff and I didn’t realize it was like that until I moved away from her and was like “oh you guys don’t do that here?”
AH: But like one thing in particular is you know Tino Moths
MW: Like the plant? (Interviewer thinks AH has said Tino Moss)
AH: No the bug
MW: OHhhh Moths
AH: yeah, some people when they get into their house you think “Oh I gotta kill it or take it out of the house” but at my grandma’s house you don’t touch the moth you just admire it…because in her culture moths are kind of like ghosts when one of your family members dies they come back to you as a moth, so that was yeah.
MW: We don’t have that in my religion, but that rules
AH: Yeah, it’s sort of comforting you know, to think that the people you love are still around and stuff
———————————————————————————————————————
Analysis
Insect rebirth symbolism allows the departed agency and a fleeting return to the lives of their loved ones, this is reflected in the chance, almost random nature by which the moth ends up in your home. This belief offers a comfort in the wake of loss and serves to temporarily sate the low-level pain that comes with the loss of a loved one, that stays for the rest of your life. Likewise the respect for the moth constitutes a respect for the dead, because those two beings are intertwined. Likewise this piece of folklore serves to connect AH to his grandmother, so that every time he sees a moth he sees her, allowing her to transcend death and remain with him, a part of his life, as her loved ones did when the story lived with her.Thus here, the moth becomes a symbol for death, it’s ephemeral nature makes contact with it fleeting and therefore more valuable, as it carries the soul of the departed onward to wherever it goes next.