Tag Archives: black magic

Four Square

  • Context: The informant (A) is a 15 year old high school student in Utah. He explains the rules of the game Four Square to me and the various rules that can be added to the game. He notes that the game can be played with any ball as long as it bounces (though the ball typically must be the size of a basketball or soccer ball). The game is usually played on a designated court, though you can play it anywhere the ground is divided into 4 equal squares serving as the court. The game is also typically played at school, usually in elementary or middle school during recess. This conversation took place as the informant and I were trying to remember all of the rules of four square together, although he remembered them all, while I did not. 
  • Text:

A: “There’s so many types of four square”

Me: “What types?”

A: “Black magic… um… pac man, double-touch, single-touch, um… cherry bomb… um”

Me: “Are those different types of…”

A: “They’re different rules… those are different rules”

Me: “What is four square?”

A: “So four square you have this big square divided into four labeled A, B, C, D. A get’s to decide which rule is played with and starts out with the ball and you hit it to…”

Me: “What kind of ball?”

A: “It doesn’t matter you can play with a basketball, soccer ball, volleyball, um kickball… it just has to bounce. And then they hit it to the square and if it bounces twice in your square… um… then you’re out and then you’re sent back to the line… and then… then you’re sent back to the line. And then say you’re in C, the person who was in C goes to D and the person who was in the front of the line goes to… uh… D.”

Me: “Where do you play?”

A: “On the four square court.”

Me: “But where are the four square courts? Just in your neighborhood?”

A: “No… you play it at school.”

Me: “So what are the different rules?”

A: “So I’ll just go with the top 5. So, pac man is you got the person in A runs around the square and if you get tagged with the ball you’re it, but they can’t throw it at you… I mean you’re out… but they can’t throw the ball at you. Double touch is where you have to hit it up, like you have to hit it up so it bounces to you… so you hit it up then hit it into someone else’s square. Single touch you can hit it once. Cherry bomb is you go really far apart and you throw it at each other.”

  • Analysis: Four square is a school yard game played by both girls and boys in middle school. I was surprised to hear all of the rules the informant knew were the same I had played with in middle school even though I am 6 years older than the informant. The rules, such as black magic or cherry bomb, give the person with the ball a sense of power over the rules of the game. In addition, the rotation of players between the squares establishes a sense of hierarchy between those who stay in and those who get out. I believe this game is played at school because that’s where there is access to bouncing balls, a quart, and a large amount of players. I think the game is usually played in elementary school and middle school because those are the years recess is granted, so there is free time to play, where as in high school there is no designated play time.

Evil Eye

Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major.  He is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.  His family is from Sudan and they are Muslim.  Both he and his twin brother were educated in international schools.  He speaks Arabic and English.


Context: I was talking with the informant about traditions and rituals his family has.


Item: “There’s definitely a good amount of people in Sudan who believe in black magic.  I don’t know what the population is but generally, it’s sort of accepted that black magic is real.  It’s an Islamically sanctioned concept; the Qa’ran mentions black magic.  So they believe that there are people who have like, certain powers and they can wish evil upon you.


Now it’s not just black magic or evil.  I know my aunt always wanted a son so she went to this man who believed he had magic and he was like ,’ok I’ll make sure you get a son in your next birth’, and she did.  She kept going time after time and she ended up having 5 sons.  So Sudanese people do believe that some people possess a positive type of magic.  Typically, it’s like weird old men who have these powers who live in a secluded part of the city.  People take that really seriously.


Now, the people there also believe in the evil eye.  If someone is jealous of you, then that jealousy will cause you to face some sort of unfortunate event.  So if you are successful and people are jealous of you, you might get cancer, get in a car accident or in general face some unfortunate event.  My mom always says there is this word that you can say when someone gives you a compliment that will protect you from the evil eye.  I can’t remember exactly what this saying is, uh, but my mom swears by it”.


Analysis: It’s interesting to note that one of the first things the informant says is that magic is an Islamically sanctioned concept.  This acknowledgment shows the importance of their religion and how Islam and the Qa’ran define both spiritual and also secular values.  The belief in the evil eye seems to be an interesting concept.  The phrases one should say for protection from the evil eye upon receiving a compliment may be seen as trying to encourage humbleness and level-headedness.  Those who try to set themselves apart and rub in their wealth or success will be punished by the jealous, so overt and egregious displays of success are most likely frowned upon.  Also, it seems that women have a more prominent role in promoting these folk beliefs and superstitions, which could be due to societal convention or the informant’s personal family.

Stun bats for protection

This story is about the significance of bats in Cameroon. We usually stun bats with a broomstick—the weapon of choice in this case—and we tie them to a string and we tie it to the front door. There’s usually only one opening to the houses in the village so it works out, and the bat wards off any evil spirit that would be coming to attack you or any type of negative omen that would be put against your family by some type of black magic. And I learned this by seeing it, by seeing my grandmother do it when she found a bat fly into the house—oh yeah, and the bat has to fly into the house physically, you can’t just get a bat from outside and catch it and do that.


Akawkaw “Coco” Ndigpagbor is a student-athlete at USC whose family comes from Cameroon (a country in west central Africa). Her family is quite religious and very superstitious. They have very strong traditions and believe in the power of dark magics and evil spirits. Her family has many rituals to expel or cast out evil spirits from a dwelling, and this example [given by Coco] is one of the most common ways of doing so.


The trapped bat offers a form of protection from evil spirits and acts as a kind of protection amulet. Many cultures have used amulets and talismans to ward off evil, but most tend to inanimate objects that can be worn. Some wear a necklace with an eye-shaped pendant to protect them from the evil eye. Some wear garlic around their neck to protect themselves from vampires…


Only her family members who live in Cameroon carry out this practice. Her American family—even if they come from Cameroon—does not. One of the main reasons for not continuing this practice is due to the fact that most of her American family lives in Southern California, and they never see bats. Thus, they never have the opportunity to trap one that flies into their house. Coco also mentioned that it is mostly the older generations that did this and that the younger generations did not really believe in the magics and evil spirits that the elders believe in.

僵尸 (Jiang Shi)

These are more commonly known as Chinese Zombies. Unlike the western concept of Zombies, these do not go around looking for human flesh. Instead, these are often the minions of magicians or sorcerers that do their bidding. However, like their western counterparts, they have no will of their own. Jiang shi tend not to be able to walk, but hop with their arms outstretched perpendicular from their bodies.  For cadavers to become jiang shi, the magician needs to paste a talisman with a spell on the forehead of the corpse. No one knows how these talismans are created. Supposedly, there are two ways to ‘kill’ these creatures, one of which is to destroy the talisman pasted on their foreheads, but this is excruciatingly difficult as these creature are more than twice as strong as a normal human and impervious to most weapons. The other way to destroy them is to kill their creators. It is recommended, instead, to throw glutinous rice at them. The rice is known to hurt them and therefore slow them down. It is not known why this happens but it does.

                  This creature was made known to my informant when he was growing up in China. He does not quite recall where he heard it from. However, these creatures are not just confined to China, as my informant has heard a version of these creatures when he arrived in Singapore as well. It is assumed that most countries with Chinese would have these creatures as they are made from corpses, and all you’d need to know is the talisman making ritual.

The magicians that create these are usually from the Taoist traditions. Strangely enough, there is no devil in this situation. Unlike most western and Latin American ghouls and creatures, no hint of Christianity has appeared in this particular piece of folklore. In fact, this black magic is based in the dark-side of things and the unnatural.

Chinese mythology does have demons and the devil, but they just balance each other out. A binary opposition because of the yin-yang, light-dark, everything has an opposite in nature. There are good magicians as well, but they draw on a different source of power in nature.

Taaveej (Taaveez)

This is, in Pakistan, one of the worst forms of black magic that a person could wreak on another. It involves writing a spell or something on a piece of paper, then putting it in a leather pouch, before hiding it somewhere until it’s found. The spell would persist on the person until the pouch is recovered and opened, dispelling the curse.  One of the “blackest” or darkest forms of this curse is when the pouch is hidden in the mouth of a dead person because it is nearly impossible to be found by anyone else.  Manifestations of this spell or curse include but are not limited to (in order of seriousness from least to worse):  strange aches and pains, waking up with cuts all over their body, burns appearing spontaneously , blood spots appearing all over their abode, never able to get married or insanity.

My informant says that these spells are relatively common knowledge in Pakistan, but most people try to stay away from these sorts of things. Pakistan is an Islamic country and according to my informant, she states that Islam frowns on all things that involve black magic and that it is “hiram” or impure.  Generally, these items are viewed very seriously by most, if not all Muslims and going against or defying the Qur’an would be going against Allah, which is one of the most heinous crimes in their religion.

Additionally, she informed me of an instance that she had heard about first hand that was related to this phenomenon, when one woman was complaining that she was suffering a stroke of really bad luck and couldn’t figure out what was happening. This woman helped to purify and cleanse the death for burial, and this was a sacred task so, theoretically, she should have been blessed instead of cursed. However, after much deliberation, she revealed that she had collected money for hiding Taaveej in the mouths of the different corpses so they would not be found. This was a big revelation for my informant and all those that were listening to her. Largely because to do so was taboo and explained much of what was happening to her.

While I’m sure that these do exist and work, it can be also seen as an example of how older cultures explained phenomena that they could not explained by normal means. As it can be seen, this might reflect the superstitious nature of most agricultural based societies because, most rural folk are usually uneducated and more superstitious than most. However, regardless of this, these beliefs usually seep through all classes, no matter their wealth, educational status or religious beliefs. Additionally, this is an example of binary opposition in culture as well, because of the religious nature of most Pakistanis. For to have something good and holy, there needs to be something evil to balance things out and the Taaveej is just one of these exam