KY: “The red thread of fate, or the red ribbon of fate, is this idea originating from Asian culture— I think specifically Chinese culture. It’s this thread that connects two people, these two lovers, two partners, or star-crossed lovers… It connects them even if they are far apart or right next to each other… It’s this idea that they will somehow meet. It’s been told in a couple of media, one specifically… (Your Name) Kimi no Na wa, anime movie. There are some people who like have a red ribbon attached to them or an accessory that they have… I’ve seen it more often used as a way to tie someone’s hair… Like a charm of sorts… My friend spoke of it… Once you hear about it, you see it everywhere now, especially in Eastern Asian media….
This was taken from a conversation with me and one of my suitemates, who is of Japanese descent, in the Cale & Irani Apartments in USC Village. He heard of this from one of his middle school friends who was Filipina.
The Red Thread of Fate or Red Thread of Marriage is an East Asian belief of Chinese origin. The psychological associations we have with the color red such as passion, love, or lust remain ever present in this belief. From my own Vietnamese cultural background, I know it can also be associated with luck. This is just one of many examples of how people use physical objects as representations of themselves or something that keeps them connected to others, along the same line as friendship bracelets or wedding rings. One should also note how the folk belief was popularized beyond China, and to Asian audiences in general, through its use in film and cartoon, particularly in anime. This can be evidenced by my suitemate and his childhood friend, who are Japanese and Filipina.
Informant is a student at USC, and is a practicioner of the Sikh religion.
“The Kara is a plain, completely round steel bracelet worn by all Sikhs to identify themselves to other Sikhs. You receive it right when you are born, and you’re supposed to wear it until you die. Well, I guess that you have to swap it out once it gets too small on you, but that’s besides the point. It is a form of identification so that everyone would know that we were Sikhs, because the Sikhs were known as the protectors of people from the Mughal empire. It is also a charm that protects you from bad spirits, and the circular shape is used to represent and remind us of the infiniteness of God. It is always made of steel so that everybody is equal. Like, the peasants will wear steel karas and the richest people would wear steel karas too, to show that everybody was the same under the eyes of God. So I wear one, and all of my family wears them as well, as a sign that we are Sikhs.”
This is a very good example of jewelry that is worn for religious reasons. This is very interesting to me personally, because I have seen a few people who are Sikhs wearing the same bracelet, but I had not known what the purpose was. It is also very interesting because this is an identifying mark within the Sikh community so that other members can recognize each other, so even today, beyond its religious significance, it serves a functional purpose.
The following family tradition/belief was told to my by the informant while talking about some of her family’s customs and traditions.
“When people get married or have children, we don’t have bridal or baby showers normally because it’s like, we think of it being bad luck because it’s something really good happening and to draw attention to that really good thing in your life is like asking for trouble, and so there’s this idea of the evil eye that’s watching and the evil eye, if it sees that you’re too happy or just ‘oh everything is just so perfect, my life is so great, I’m gonna have a new healthy baby’ or ‘I have a beautiful new marriage,’ it’s like drawing attention to that goodness is gonna make someone take it from you, and so our tradition is not to have a bridal shower for like a wedding or a baby shower… I think it stems from my grandma who’s Italian and Italian people will even wear around their neck or put on their baby’s christening robes little charms and there’s different ones; there’s like a little monkey fist, there’s a gold horn… there’s a bunch of different ones, and that’s supposed to ward off the evil eye so that even after the marriage or after the baby’s born, after these good things happen in your life, it keeps the evil eye from taking them away from you.”
The informant didn’t know what the different charms like the monkey fist or the gold horn symbolized when I asked her about it; she just knew that they were an important aspect of Italian cultural beliefs. She also mentioned that it was ironic that Italians tend to be quite Catholic (including her own family), but having lucky charms and believing in the evil eye is somewhat of a pagan custom.
The evil eye is a folk belief that’s shared amongst many different cultures, but it’s interesting to see that it even exists in Catholic culture. Maybe it’s an inconsistency in belief, or mutually exclusive from peoples’ Catholic beliefs. The informant also mentioned that if someone in her family married someone who insisted on having a baby or bridal shower, that they wouldn’t oppose it too much. So, this seems to be a loosely followed tradition, in the sense that the family prefers to follow it, but is not too strict about it if someone marrying into the family considers it an important part of their family tradition.
Informant: “So, in Sicily, there’s this thing called the Evil Eye, or in Italian ‘Il Malochio’. Someone could give someone the evil eye just by like looking at you, and it’s almost like they’re sending bad… stuff to you. Like, someone would give you the evil eye, and then bad things would happen to you. It was usually older people, I remember there would be these really old men and women, like old widows wearing black, who would give you the evil eye. And it was like they would just look at you or the stuff you have, and them just looking at you would bring you bad luck. Actually, a part of this is why a lot of Sicilians, especially older Sicilians, wouldn’t talk about what they had. Like, if something good happened to you, you weren’t supposed to talk about it because that would bring the evil eye to you, or at least people who would then give you the evil eye. And there were things you could do to protect yourself from the evil eye. Like there was this hand gesture you could do to ward it off
[informant begins making a hand gesture, extending her pointer finger and pinkie, and curling her middle fingers into the palm of her hand using her thumb. The two extended fingers are pointing down, and she is gently waving her hand. It is very reminiscent of the “rock on” hand gesture, except directed downwards]
and you would make this gesture and that would ward off the evil eye. Otherwise, there were charms you could get, like necklaces or pendants in the shape of a horn called ‘Il Corno’ which could protect you from the evil eye. Otherwise you could get a golden charm in the shape of the warding hand gesture, and that would also protect you.”
Informant is a retired math teacher, and a mother of three. Her parents moved to the United States for the Italian island of Sicily, and she was born in the United States and grew up in Los Angeles. She still keeps in touch with her Sicilian relatives, and will periodically visit them.
Collector Analysis: The Evil Eye is a very widespread and popular folk belief over a variety of different nations and cultures. The idea that someone could give you bad luck just by looking at your or your belongings enviously, or even that you could bring this bad luck upon yourself just by talking about the positive things in your life, is an oddly popular one. It is also interesting that the informant specified that the evil eye tended to be associated with older individuals. It is possible that older Sicilians are more traditional and thus more connected to their superstitious beliefs, and thus are more likely to either be concerned with warding off the evil eye or maliciously give the evil eye to someone.
Two charms capable of warding off ‘Il Malochio’. The charm on the left is called ‘Il Corno’. The hand shaped charm on the right is the same hand gesture that one could use to protect themselves from the Evil Eye. Image courtesy of www.lifeinitaly.com
The Evil Eye and Evil Eye protection as described by informant:
“My mother is not a very religious person or anything she did grow up in an Islamic home. She thinks I’m just being superstitious. I 100% with my soul, even though I believe in God and I believe in Allah, I believe in the evil eye also it’s one of the strongest beliefs I have. It’s it’s not just a Persian thing it can be any Mediterranean you know even the Turks have it everyone has some variation of it basically you wear it and people who wish bad things upon you people who are jealous envious and I feel like I deal with that a lot because I’m in such a competitive major you know so for protection any of their evil energies go to this this absorbs it I will not feel anything and if you don’t I know the Kurds from Iraq I don’t know if the Kurds from Iran do the same thing, my friend who’s Kurdish from Iraq she says that one time she didn’t wear, okay, she didn’t wear this (holding evil eye pendant) she didn’t have any evil eyes on her and she was going to a weeding and she looked really pretty at the wedding and so she felt like a lot of people were being jealous and sending her the evil eye and when she got home on her legs she literally had pimple like things with black they were blackheads all over legs and that’s in the culture. They say that’s it, they put the eye on you they ruined your skin, and like people swear by this 100%. Like I don’t go anywhere without wearing one that’s why I have them in my car I have them on my keys and I wear my necklace. Mine’s literally from Iran, and they had to go everywhere to fucking find it for me. Cuz Like theyy bracelets and stuff like they both them off the internet and stuff and they break but that’s part of the legend is that they break because someone wished something bad on you and the energy broke the bracelet. Instead of the energy effecting you it broke your bracelet or it broke your necklace. That’s how you know it works.”
As my informant says, the Evil Eye exists in different cultures all over the world and the oicotype that she believes in cites the evil eye as deliberate and malicious wishes of bad things to happen to someone, often out of jealousy. Where some might say they have bad luck or bad karma, the evil eye is another popular concept to explain when bad things happen, though there are ways to protect yourself from it or, in a sense, other people. Her evil eye charms and jewelry protect her from the evil eye by absorbing this negative energy, often breaking as they take on the impact of the cynical and envious. Though she explains that her own mother, who is from Iran is not a believer, she is and has gotten her various charms from her aunts and other family members. My informant insisted that she believes in it, and the staunch confidence despite her own mother’s suspicions was funny to observe because as she said herself, “I know, I’m this Persian girl from Oregon with a Valley Girl accent, but I swear it’s true.”