Tag Archives: contagious magic

Good Luck Coin

AW is a 19 year old college student. She is an undergraduate computer science major and is from Los Angeles County. She is Chinese American and has lived in LA all of her life.

Context: AW is a good friend of mine, so we sat down after dinner to discuss folklore she picked up across her life. She picked this practice up from her parents.


Collector: You have a thing with coins right?

AW: Ah yes!

Collector: Tell me about it.

AW: Coins, not just pennies, can bring good luck. But only if it is turned on heads. So if I am walking down the street and spot, let’s say, a dime or something. I will only pick it up if it’s on heads. Then it is good luck.

Also if I drop a coin in you guys’ apartment then I leave it there for good luck haha.

Collector: I picked up on that. Whenever we see a coin on the ground we just leave it.

AW: Yes for good fortune!

Thoughts/Analysis: This is a great twist on the typical finding a penny for good luck belief. I had never heard of leaving coins for good luck, only picking them up. I think this shows that both taking and giving money is necessary for good fortune. It might even mean that you cannot take and take without giving. Coins in general being used in this belief rather than just pennies might make someone believe they have more good luck because other coins are more valuable and you are likely to see them more.

For a variation of the lucky coin, see:

Brianna, and Brianna. “Find a Penny, Pick It Up and All Day You’Ll Have Good Luck.” USC Digital Folklore Archives, May 15, 2021. http://folklore.usc.edu/find-a-penny-pick-it-up-and-all-day-youll-have-good-luck/.

Sending Someone the Evil Eye

EA: The ojo (eye) is that people do believe that there are other people that have the ability to. If they have something that belongs to that other person like a picture or something they can with bad things upon them. It is called “hiciste ojo”(“gave the eye”). For example, if someone wants some harm to come to someone else they will take a picture of that person to that individual and they will say I want them too whatever. There is the belief that there are people than have that ability to I guess curse them with bad things. You like a form of voodoo because it is kind of like you have an alter for them. You have a picture of them, you have their hair. You have some thing that belongs to them 

Interviewer: Where did you hear this?

EA: I heard this from my parents and like people, aunts. You know when a lot of bad things are happening to you it is common for people to say “ay, alguien me hiso ojo, necessito una limpia!”(“someone gave me the eye and I need a cleaning”). Then you go to someone that does the good and they take that curse away from you . 


EA is my mother who was born in Southern California, but whose parents are both from Mexico. She and her whole family are Catholic. However, she is not as religious as the rest of her family. She is a Human Resources manager at a small manufacturing company in the San Fernando Valley. The information taken from a casual conversation I was having with my mother about any folklore she had for me while my sister was also present.


It is surprising to me how much magic is involved in this considering how religious many of my family members are. Magic is normally frowned upon in the church as God is the only one that should be able to do things like see your future and change your destiny. However, getting the evil seems to be something that many people in Mexican culture are afraid of. The trope of the witch or “bruha” character that many are afraid of even portrayed through their entertainment, and I’m sure people talk about who they feel practices this dark form of magic. It is also similar to many other forms of contagious magic where you need something of the person in order to curse them, since our belongings and images are extensions of ourselves. 

Folk Belief on Gifting Purses

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

I’m from Jupiter, but grew up in Chicago. My dad was born in Indiana or Illinois, somewhere in the Mid-West. My mom is from Singapore.


One time, I lost my purse at the mall and my mom was really mad at me. I don’t think I’ve ever lost my purse after that. But there were a couple of different scenarios that could have resulted in her telling me this, I don’t quite remember.

My mom told me once… you know what I think maybe I was giving her a purse, or I was giving a purse to someone else, or maybe she was giving a purse to someone and yeah, she made me put a coin in it. She said it’s bad luck to give anyone a purse or a wallet without some sort of money in it.

Piece Background Information:

I definitely think about it when I gift or hand down purses, but I don’t always practice it. I do practice it with my mom though by usually just putting a penny in the purse.


Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in the informant’s retail shop in Echo Park, Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

This idea that giving a coin or some form of monetary fortune with the gift of a purse falls under contagious magic in a sense, as the object that was once in contact with the gift-giver has the ability to influence the gift-giver and the receiver bad fortune. This folk belief is shared across many different cultures, and can be supported by the fact that my Hawaiian half-sister also shared this with me too, lending itself to Dundes’ definition of folklore that it must show multiplicity and variation. Variations include similar accounts with giving knives or scissors as gifts. I find it particularly interesting that while the informant, who is a retail shop owner and manager, claims that she always has the thought when gifting or handing down a purse that she must put a coin in it, but only truly practices it with her mother, who instilled this belief within her. This could perhaps be reflective of the fact that her occupation and the world we live in today sees clothing and accessory items as disposable.

Kina Hora/ The Evil Eye

Cultural Background:

Sylvia Glass was born in 1915 in New York City, to immigrant parents—her mother was an Austrian-Jewish immigrant, and her father was a Russian-Jewish immigrant. Describing her childhood, she states that “at that time, New York City had a density that was closer—or more—than that of China. There were so many people jammed together in these old tenement houses—you had a whole floor of people in your apartment, who shared one bathroom. None of them even had windows, except on skylights, or looking out on someone else’s tenement window. So, it was just a very crowded condition. For the most part, people got along very well because they all came more or less from the same place, they were all poor, but, you know, though you didn’t have much, you didn’t think of yourself as poor. . . . Life was spent on the street because the apartments were crowded, dark, and very uninviting. So, we used to spend our time on the street playing hopscotch, jump rope. The little boys were always playing ball in the street. Everything was street-oriented. . . .

“I remember going to school. At that time, I only spoke Yiddish at home, and my mother took me to the teacher, and the teacher said, when did she come from Europe? And my mother said very indignantly, ‘she was born here!’ I’m a citizen! And, I was speaking only Yiddish at home, but I did not struggle with English; I caught onto it very quickly. The classrooms were so crowded that they didn’t have enough seats for everybody. But everybody there was hungry to get educated, and at that time, of course, the emphasis on higher education was only for the boys. Everybody wanted their sons to be doctors or accountants or lawyers. But the girls would wind up being in the factories at sewing machines. The highest honor was to be a teacher. In two years you could become a teacher, and then you would be one of the elite.”

The Evil Eye:

Q. Were there a lot of superstitions growing up?

A. Yeah, yeah. They didn’t want you to praise anybody because they’re going to get—I don’t know what you call Kina Hora—no good thing could happen to you. You’d spit over your shoulder.

Q. You’re not supposed to praise people?

A. Yeah. It would be tempting to the devil or something. You’re not supposed to praise people. Never in front of them.

Analysis: According to Rabbi Tanchum Burton, the Yiddish phrase “Kein Ayin Hora” “translate[s] as, ‘without the evil eye,’ or ‘there should be no evil eye.’ When it’s said quickly is [sic] can sometimes sound like ‘Kina Hora’” (Burton).

Beliefs in the evil eye appear to reflect anxieties about envy—fear that when one person praises another, he or she may be secretly jealous. My informant’s superstition involves spitting over one’s shoulder, a magical mechanism intended to protect one against others’ jealousy. Since such beliefs are very prevalent in Eastern Europe, they must have travelled to New York with Eastern European immigrants, such as my informant’s parents.

Burton, Tanchum. “‘Kina Hora’ and the Evil Eye.” JewishAnswers.org, n.d. Web. 26 April 2012.    <http://www.jewishanswers.org/ask-the-rabbi-category/miscellaneous/?p=1855>.