Tag Archives: fire

German Easter Fire Tradition

Context:

AH grew up in Westergellersen, a small village in northern Germany and attended these Easter fires throughout her childhood.

Main Piece:

“Leute in vor allem ländlichen Gegenden sammeln Holzmaterial und Buschwerk und türmen es möglichst hoch auf. Es soll weithin sichtbar sein. Es entsteht ein Wettstreit um das höchste Feuer. Am Karsamstag wird es angezündet. Das Dorf versammelt sich dann um das Feuer, es gibt Bier, Glühwein und Würstchen.”

Translation:

People from all the surrounding rural areas gather wooden material and shrubbery and pile it as high as possible. It should be able to be seen from far and wide. There is a contest for the highest fire. On Karsamstag (Holy Saturday, the day before Easter) it is lit. The village gathers around the fire, there’s beer, mulled wine, and sausages.

Analysis:

This part of the Easter festival celebration in northern Germany seems very useful for promoting unity and connection within a town. Because the villages compete for the tallest fire, the one that can be seen from the farthest distance away, this creates an in-group out-group boundary. Also, since gathering the materials for the highest bonfire takes time and work, the townspeople must work together, as they wouldn’t be able to achieve this highest fire on their own. Then, on the evening before Easter, when the fire is lit, this festival ritual turns into a communal gathering place for the village people. Beer, mulled wine, and sausages are all extremely common foods in northern Germany, and are generally associated with any festivals and gatherings, or seen as something like ‘fair food.’

Tokoloshe

Context: I heard about the Tokoloshe from my friend who lived in South Africa for two years. His mom is also a professor of South African Art.

The Tokoloshe is a small and terrifying creature that seriously messes with your ability to have a restful night’s sleep. Tokoloshes are a creature from Zulu mythology that inhabit South Africa.

Tokoloshe are described physically in many ways, though a constant seems to be their small size. Sometimes they are described as small humanoid creatures and other times they are described as more primate-like.

These creatures are often malevolent and quite dangerous. They are said to crawl into sleeping people’s rooms and cause all kinds of havoc — from simply scaring them all the way to choking them to death with their long, bony fingers. It seems to particularly enjoy scaring children, often leaving them with long scratches on their bodies. One way to keep the Tokoloshe at bay is to put bricks beneath the legs of one’s bed. This will put them out of reach, and hopefully out of harm’s way, of the Tokoloshe.

As mentioned above, raised beds are an important way to combat the Tokoloshe. Traditionally, many South Africans in areas rife with Tokoloshe myths slept on grass mats encircling a warm, wood fire that would keep them warm during the bitter winter nights. However, sometimes healthy people would inexplicably be found dead come morning.

There is a theory that sleeping close to the fire in their homes may have depleted the oxygen levels and filled the home with carbon dioxide. As it is heavier than pure air, it would sink to the bottom of the home where people slept. Thus, seemingly healthy people and sometimes entire families would be found dead. A parallel was found between elevated sleepers and a lack of death so the Tokoloshe was told as a story forewarning those who slept close to the ground (and the fire). While it might not be an actual malevolent creature, what kept away a Tokoloshe would also keep away death from carbon monoxide.

This is a fascinating example of the use of folklore to create tangible changes in the lifestyles of people. Although the Tokoloshe might not actually exist, the introduction of this creature in Zulu mythology ultimately resulted in a positive impact on communities who believe in it. It has saved people from becoming ill and has prevented deaths, as well as indirectly educated children about the potential dangers of sleeping close to a fire indoors. Even people outside of the intended audience of believers of Zulu mythology can benefit from the knowledge that the Tokoloshe exists in case they find themselves sleeping near a fire source within an enclosed area, and I am sure I will keep this in mind if I encounter a similar situation.

Burning Matches Ritual

Main Piece:

Me: “Tell me about this ritual with matches.”

KY: …How is stumbled upon it is, haha, through TikTok. But I know that there is history of that idea of reflecting your past relationships through matches or through fire, specifically. And, using the wood part as like the remains of what is left of the relationship. And so, I decided to do this… To reflect on my past relationship with another person…

…Essentially, you would take two matches. You would set them on anything… But, uhm you would set them like a few inches apart, and you would light them both at the same time… And you would just let the story unfold, the burning unfold. And the results would be a reflection of [that] relationship.

[He now reflects upon one time he performed the ritual.]

…And what I reflect from it is a relationship where, there was both passion in both… In my side, it burnt out. The passion was gone, but it was still lingering. And their passion lasted longer… There’s a little bit of an attachment to me whereas I had it less… Their passion ended a little after mine… How I perceive it… I was the one to go first… and then they stopped talking… I still had feelings.

Context:

Taken from a conversation told in Cale & Irani Apartments in the USC Village. Between me and my suitemate.

Analysis:

This seems to come from a spiritual practice, and people have historically used fire as a way of reflection on the past or for a severance of it. My informant not only uses the practice introspectively, but he uses them as a symbol for him and other people in his life. He had witnessed the practice first through TikTok and had began using it in his spare time, a way of dealing with emotions. It’s interesting to me just how different the practice is for each individual; he/she can interpret the same exact outcome in completely different ways due to their own preconceived notions and the reality they wish to believe in. With the burning matches, we how people use folklore practices as a way of connecting with other people in their lives, this time on a spiritual level.

The Zorch

Main Piece:

What the heck is the Zorch?

“I think it was done on Tisha’b’av, inside the bunk, they [the counselors] would, before bed, they would turn off all the lights and hang dry cleaning plastic, you know what you wrap with, whatever that’s called, hang it from a lamp on a hanger, roll it down to make a column and would light it on fire. And underneath would be a bucket of water, like a white bucket of water, and the bits of melted plastic would fall into the bucket and *floom* [fire noise] light it up! They don’t do it anymore (laughs).”

What was the purpose?

“To scare the crap out of the little kids? (laughs) I have no idea. I think it happened on Tisha’b’av because it was sort of spooky, and um… it was almost like a ghost story kind of thing. Sadly, I don’t remember the story associated with it.”

Context: 

The informant is my mother. She is Jewish and attended and worked at a Jewish summer camp for most of her childhood. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other. Tisha’b’av is a Jewish holiday that recounts the destruction of the Second Temple. The date of Tisha’b’av also happens to overlap with the day the Jews were banished from Spain. It is a day of mourning, so observant Jews fast (don’t eat or drink) and adopt a solemn mindset during this day. 

Analysis:

While I have never experienced the Zorch, I have been at this specific Jewish summer camp during Tisha’b’av, and it seems like there would be no better day suited to telling a scary story with scary visuals to match. Tisha’b’av is very different from a normal day at camp, and anything out of the ordinary has exponentially more impact on campers on this day compared to any other day. All of the activities are somber, and the content of discussion throughout the day is the destruction of our people. If I had experienced the Zorch, I would have been very spooked. The fact that this doesn’t happen anymore reflects the general trend of camp administrations changing rules to value the physical and mental safety of their campers. 

Trndez – Armenian Festival/Holiday

Informant’s Background:

My informant, AD, is an undergraduate student at USC who grew up in Glendale, California. Her family immigrated to the United States from the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Context:

The informant is my girlfriend and we share an apartment together. I asked her if she could share some Armenian folklore with me, and this is one of the pieces that she provided.

Performance:

AD: “There’s like this holiday in Armenia called “Trndez” and it’s celebrated usually around Valentine’s Day, I think it’s on Valentine’s Day actually, uhm, and like… It involves people jumping over fires, and I’m not exactly sure what the origins of this are, it’s definitely like, pagan, but how it goes is that everyone jumps over the fire… Like a small fire, in a pit that you make, uhm and one by one people will like dance around the fire and then jump over it. And couples go together, a lot of people will go single. It’s still a very common practice, it’s pretty much embraced within the church… which is interesting, like it’s pretty common as a religious event.”

Informant’s Thoughts:

AD: “I think it’s really nice. I think it’s one of the coolest things we have. Like, in terms of cultural holidays, I dunno, there’s something fun about it, it’s very like spontaneous-feeling, there’s a lot of energy to that holiday in particular.”

Thoughts:

Jumping over a fire is actually a pretty common tradition present in a number of cultural holidays. For example, in Iran, it marks the start of a new year, with the fire being seen as cleansing or purifying. Interestingly, a search for articles on these types of rituals or holidays primarily returns articles like this one [here], about large numbers of burn injuries as a result of such practices. 

Johari HG, Mohammadi AA. Burns 2010; 36(4): 585-6; author reply 586.