Tag Archives: fire

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.

Burning Salt

Context: The following is an account of a ritual told by the informant, my paternal grandmother. 

Background: My father’s youngest uncle was sick as a baby, so the consensus was that he must have received the evil eye. In order to find out who gave it to him, this ritual was conducted. This same thing was repeated when one of my father’s brothers got sick and died as a baby.

Main piece: 

To find out who gave the child the evil eye, a solid chunk of rock salt was but in a burning fire. As the salt burned, those watching would carefully observe the fire to see what shape the flames would make. If they formed the shape of a person, they were the source of the evil eye. In my father’s uncle’s case, it was determined from the flame that a woman from one of the neighboring houses gave it to him. In his brother’s case, an odd inhuman shape was formed, leading people to believe it was jinn.

Analysis: It is not clear where this practice originated, but it seems to have come about as a result of people not wanting the cause of their child’s death to remain a mystery, so as to attach a name or face as to who was responsible. That being said, it is unknown from my conversations whether there was any confrontation with the person who was seen in the fire, and there was almost certainly no action taken on that basis.

White Rabbit, White Rabbit, White Rabbit

“White Rabbit, White Rabbit, White Rabbit” is an expression used when people are sitting around a campfire. It is used to get the smoke out of one’s face and by repeating these words, the smoke will change direction. The concept is that the smoke is made up of hundreds of minuscule white rabbits. They only go in your face because they don’t feel appreciated and want attention. By saying white rabbit three times, you acknowledge their presence and therefore, will leave you alone.

The informant learned this folk expression through Boy Scouts. It is exactly the type of silly thing that would be made up by kids. The informant heard it from an older scout while away at camp. They still practice it to this day because it shows a fun, non-serious side.

It seems to me that it is a childish solution presented for a childish problem. Many kids enjoy camping or at least are forced to participate in it. Kids are very focused on the moment, so something like smoke in their face would upset them greatly. This “solution” turns this problem into a fun game that holds, in theory, real-world significance.