Tag Archives: cleansing

Hindu Tradition/Superstition

Tags: Hindu, Superstitions, Cleansing


A plain paper towel with water is used to wipe down counters for good luck/fortune, not to actually sanitize.

Informant Info

Race/Ethnicity: Indian

Age: 22

Occupation: College Student

Residence: Northwest Arkansas, USA

Date of Performance: March 2024

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): N/A

Relationship: Friend


AH, the informant, is of Indian descent. Her father practices Hinduism and speaks Tulu. He has been a very influential figure in her upbringing. She also studies indigenous peoples and their customs as a Sustainability major.


The informant’s father often performs this action after any surfaces are used. When asked why, he said that Hindus often do this as a means to beckon in good luck and fortune.

Picking and Burning Sage


My informant, from Rosebud, South Dakota, describes the use of sage in Lakota culture: “So sage is a thing that we use in Lakota culture, it’s kind of a thing, to put it in more modern terms, it’s kind of like clorox wipes for Lakota people, because it’s very much a cleansing feeling. Has a lot of different uses. It can be used as a gift between people. And picking it is a thing in of itself. Because you can’t pull it, you have to cut it at the stem, say a prayer, sometimes you leave some tobacco as a “thank you” for getting the sage. A lot of people burn sage in their house to kind of cleanse it almost? Like if they’re feeling a little like, down, depressed or anything, sage helps kinda cleanse that area of the house. And a lot of ceremonies will center around a bowl of burning sage and you’ll kind of like waft yourself with it. It’s used a lot in like, Sundance, Sweat, and everything.”


“I’ve never picked sage myself, I’ve seen it be picked. And burning it, I think just, I don’t know if it’s because of some factor or if it’s just familiar, but every time I smell sage, or like burning sage, it just gives me this sense of like calmness? And serenity. Which nothing else really does. So I guess in a sense it works. I think the sage has always been a part of my life and I haven’t really known anything different. And I think knowing that it’s not as wide of a thing just makes it all the more special to me. I mean, we were hunter-gatherers, back in our day, we used the land to survive, and sage. And I think it’s just a tradition that’s carried on since that.”


The rituals of picking and burning sage seem to represent a connection between the group and their past. The informant emphasizes how important it is to him that this is something that feels unique to his group, and is representative of where they came from and who they used to be, and who they still are now. The sage represents a connection to the earth, picking it carefully and leaving tobacco behind in return suggests values of gratitude and respect for nature. Sage seems to be a versatile object, used in multiple ceremonies and rituals, of various scales. The smell of sage seems to represent to the informant the familiarity of home.

New Clothes – Persian New Year

Description of Informant

PK (79) is a small, frail woman with dyed blonde hair and piercing eyes. PK was born and raised in Abadan, Iran in an “Oil Company Family.” OCFs were families whose primary income came from the large British oil company in Iran. They were well compensated and taken care of, living in western-style homes in protected communities. Many OCFs were secular or subscribed to a western religion in favor of Islam. PK immigrated to England in 1976 before coming to America (California) in 1978.


Context of Interview

The informant, PK, is cooking a traditional Persian stew (khoresh) while describing the custom to the collector, BK, her grandson. Text spoken in Farsi is translated and italicized.


BK: So you were saying, in the morning when you wake up, all your clothes are new?

PK: Yes, from underwear and beyond— now they say everything should be new. Everything new. It’s with the new year, new clothing, new everything. Now frankly if it has any other meaning I don’t know. But from childhood we would wake up [in the new year] with so much joy and mirth and we’d all change our clothes, from underwear to undershirts, everything. They would sew new clothes, you know? [In Iran] it wasn’t like now where you’d go shopping… you had to have your clothes made. “Khayat,” you know, tailor. Then, everything was new. Even a ribbon for your hair was new. Everything new.

BK: What would happen to the old stuff?

PK: Nothing. It’s not like we threw it away! We just… wanted something new. Then, all dressed up, we’d go do “Aideedani” [visiting people during the new year].

Collector’s Reflection

With the strike of the new year, PK’s family would immediately change their clothes. Often, the clothing they changed into had been sewn specially for the occasion. It was not essential to change your entire wardrobe— that would be wasteful. But it was important to begin the new year fresh, and clothing was a part of this. You wouldn’t only wear a new t-shirt and shorts, though. Men would dress in tailored suits, women would adorn themselves in fresh jewels.

This tradition has evolved as the world has Westernized. Persian-Americans often go on a shopping spree on or prior to the new year to stock up on fresh clothing. The time aligns with the American tradition of “Spring Cleaning,” so while in Iran one wouldn’t toss their old garments, today it’s much more “out with the old, in with the new.” 

Mopping a Theatre Floor

“Mopping the floor after every strike is supposed to symbolize the completion of a show and the allowance of another one to be built on the same place. That and it makes everything all shiny and such.”

This cleansing ritual is used as a transition between shows performed in the same theatre. In my high school, the honor was only performed by seniors, but in the informant’s theatre it is open to anyone and everyone who wants to help ease the transition between shows and mark the liminal phase. It probably started out of the necessity of cleanliness, and stuck around as a transition  ritual.