Tag Archives: Catholicism

Saint Joseph and Selling a House

Informant: “If you want to sell your house, you dig a hole and you put a statue of Saint Joseph in the ground in your yard and then when you sell your house you dig it up. Its a real estate thing. You bury it upside down, it’s supposed to make it happen faster. Joseph was a carpenter and I think its related to the holy family fleeing to Egypt. Everybody I know does it, its just what you do when you sell your house.“

The tradition of burying a statue is a kind of Catholic folk magic practiced to bring about the desired outcome (selling of house). Saint Joseph is the figurehead associated with this, a way to request divine intervention in a real world situation.

Throwing Salt Over Your Shoulder

Context: The informant is my mother, identified as L.M., a woman born, raised, and living in Northern California. As a child, her immediate family lived in the same general area as all four of her grandparents, and most of her aunts, uncles, and cousins. At dinner with my parents during the Covid-19 Shelter in Place timeframe, I asked her if she knew of any family superstitions or protection rituals. She was also raised in a practicing Catholic household.

Main Piece: “I do remember one from a Thanksgiving Dinner with our extended family. I was six or seven years old, and we were all sitting around the oval table in my parents’ dining room. I think that both sets of my grandparents were there, plus my great aunt, my mom, dad, and brother, and another aunt and uncle or two, and some cousins. We were ready to eat our turkey dinner, and I asked my brother to pass the salt, which I then accidentally spilled on the table. My great aunt, who was French, told me to quickly throw some salt over my shoulder. I went ahead and did what she said, assuming it had something to do with avoiding bad luck, but my great aunt and grandmother said it was done to ward off the devil. I thought at the time it was just fun, but never learned the origin of this custom.”

Analysis: One widespread explanation of the folk belief that it is unlucky to spill salt is that Judas Iscariot spilled the salt at the Last Supper and even Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper depicts Judas Iscariot having knocked over a salt-cellar. Because Judas betrayed Jesus Christ in the Bible, people began associating salt with lies and disloyalty. Some Christian beliefs hold that the devil hangs around behind your left shoulder, waiting to take advantage of you and force you into bad behavior. If you spill salt, the devil sees it as an invitation to step in and do evil. Throwing it over your shoulder into his face blinds him and renders him helpless. And the belief is that If you spilled the salt, you must be the one to throw it over your shoulder or you won’t thwart the bad luck or the devil. This superstition is now commonplace and is no longer associated with Catholocism. It is depicted in a lot of contemporary media and its origin is widely unknown. 



Alchemy in Catholicism and Mother Mary

This conversation was held between the informant and myself. The informant shall be named GG and I will be MH. 

GG: So in catholicism there is a belief that if Our Mother [Mother Mary] blesses you, or God, your rosary bead chain will go from silver to gold. And in Medjugorje, in the Herzegovina area of Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is a hill where it is believed Mary will visit and deliver messages to a family that lives at the base of the hill and that those who pray there will have their prayers heard and where there are multiple accounts of the silver rosary chains turning gold. 

MH: When you went did your rosary beads change from silver to gold? 

GG: I wouldn’t know as mine had already turned gold long before I went there. 

MH: Wait, what?! 

GG: Yes. When Jennifer [the informant’s youngest daughter] died, she had this rosary on her. It was gifted to her by myself at Grace’s[the informant’s mother-in-law who is long passed] funeral because Jennifer had forgotten hers at home so I gave her the beads I had on me. After I received the phone call from the police that she had been brought to the hospital dead I went to go retrieve her belongings they had pulled from the crash. When I found the rosary in the bag of things, I saw it had turned gold. And in the worst moment of any parent’s life, there was this tiny moment where I knew Jennifer was with Grace in heaven and that it would be ok. 

Background: 

The informant is my grandmother, she is Italian Catholic and deeply spiritual. She was raised by only ever going to Catholic school and lives her daily life with religion and spirituality and God always in mind. She went to Medjugorje in 2018 on a pilgrimage to meet this woman who is believed to speak directly to Mary. 

Context: 

My grandmother and I were having a conversation about the paranormal in religion and how much of a role it plays in the modern world. It was a casual conversation over a glass of wine at her house. 

My thoughts: 

I don’t know where I stand in the belief of alchemy, silver turning to gold. But the fact that she experienced this phenomenon is intriguing to me. There are possibilities of debunking the myth such as many silver chains are actually made of brass and coated in silver so eventually the silver will wear off and leave a gold-ish brass, a person could also take the newly formed gold chain to the jeweler and have them inspect the quality of the gold to see if it is real. But there is also no way to say these paranormal and spiritual events aren’t real. 

Santo Toribio Romo and Protection

Background

Informant: A.G.  22 years old current senior in undergrad at USC, third generation from Honduras/Mexico

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Context

A.G. learned this story from his mother who had friends that had crossed the border into the United States from Mexico. Given that Catholicism is a popular religion in that region, many people look to the patron saints for guidance in times of confusion or fear. The saint, Toribio Romo, has become one that immigrants pray to for assistance while crossing the boarder, and has become a widely known figure in the Mexican domination of religion as a result. I have transcribed A.G.’s telling of the story below:

Main Piece

“Before my mom’s friend crossed the border from Mexico to the United States, he did a lot of preparation and praying for the trip. He also talked to a lot of my friends about people they knew that had gone and arrived safely and one of them told him a story about the Santo Toribio Romo. His friend’s  family had traveled across the boarder with another group of their friends. They traveled throughout the day and the night and only stopped when it was necessary but one day, they got lost and then ran out of food and water for a couple of days. They kept walking but had no idea which way to go. As they were walking tough, one of the people in the group said that he saw an oasis and a man who looked like a priest standing next to it telling them to go where he was. Everyone figured that the man was hallucinating from the desert, but they all followed him and hoped it was the way to go. When they went towards the oasis direction, they found out it was the right way to go and eventually made it to the United States. When they all arrived and settled down, the man who claimed to have seen the oasis called his wife and told her what he saw. She told him that it was because she prayed for Santo Toribio Romo to guide them and he was the one who appeared to them near the oasis.”

Thoughts

This story impacted A.G. in its general message of family and the strength of family ties, even in times of separation and turbulence. The initial fear that is experienced when a family must separate in order to immigrate is captured in the story itself, but also the strength and love that is expressed, especially by those that are not making the initial journey with their family. A.G. remarked that the story gave him hope, because to him it illustrated the importance of having family and people who care about you to pray for you and be there for you when you need them, even if they can’t be physically present. It also meant a lot to him, given that his family had experienced something similar and he felt a particular cultural tie to the experience.

There are many stories and variations of stories in which a saint or a guardian angel comes down and intervenes of behalf of the believer and to their benefit. I find that these stories, and belief in them serve the purpose of both inspiring hope, and in validating the religion and the existence of supernatural or other-wordy occurrences that are related to Christianity. Stories like this are important for the morale of people in difficult times, as they can offer a glimmer in an otherwise incredibly difficult situation, yet they still benefit the religion overall if people experience or hear of experiences related to saints.

Catholic Proverb

Main Piece:

“Leave it all in God’s hands.”

 

Context: The informant learned this proverb from her mother. They are of Catholic background. The informant described the proverb as meaning, “No matter what decisions or situations we are in, leave it all in God’s hands because he wants what is best for us, so he will lead us in the direction we need to go in.”

 

Analysis:

It seems that when people feel that they have no control on some aspect of their life, they find comfort in saying this proverb because it reassures them that someone is watching over them and will help them anyway possible. Saying this proverb is a form of comfort for many individuals.