Context: I had a string hanging off my jacket when Informant pointed it out and told me this piece of folklore. I asked informant to repeat the lore to me so I could record it.
Informant: “I heard from my grandma that when you have a little string hanging off from your clothes, that you have to pull it off and then throw it behind your shoulder. The you find where the string landed, and it should make the shape that is the initials of your future spouse.”
Background Information: Informant did not necessarily remember when their grandma had told them this, but they knew that she had. Informant did not necessarily believe in the validity of the folklore, but enjoyed doing it and sharing it with others anyway. The informant’s grandmother, however, is apparently a very avid believer in the lore.
Thoughts: The folklore is interesting, and something I have heard before. The folklore serves as a fortune telling device, and displays the notion that things which we attach to our physical selves (clothes), can embody ourselves and our lives. The folklore is a fun game to play as well as a serious predictor of the unknowns of the future. Either way, it is a comfort to its practitioners.
The informant was telling me how Greeks used the dregs from coffee grinds to read the future:
Informant: In some cultures they read tea leaves, but in some cultures they read coffee grinds.
Support: dregs from the coffee
Informant: They took the dregs turned over a little cup and turned it three times, and then they read the inside of the cup – what dripped out – and read what they would see “oh your gonna take a trip, oh you’re gonna get married, oh this or that”
Support: they always said I was going to get married, but here I am!
The Informant is a Greek woman who was born in the United States. She currently lives in Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA. Though shewas not born in Greece, her parents immigrated to the US and she was born into a very Greek community in Phoenix, AZ.The performance was held during an Easter party, in front of her younger sister, who provided supporting information, as well as me.
This was completely new to me, as I had never heard of this ritual and only faintly heard of the tea leave predictions. I think it is really interesting how different cultures share so many similar traditions and patterns, and while they are similar they are also very different. It also raises questions about why cultures come up with these practices, seeing that they are not always accurate, but fascinating nonetheless.
An individual in Los Gatos, California describes her family’s experiences with astrology while living in India. According to my source, her family strictly believed in the folk belief of astrology. The practice involves determining a person’s future based on the alignment of the stars and planets. My source recounts a story that was passed down to her about her grandmother taking both her children to an astrologer to discover their future. The real intention of their visit was to get information on the oldest son. Instead, the astrologist only commented on the younger daughter. When confronted about not talking about the son, the astrologer refused to reveal anything about his future. He continued on about the daughter claiming she had a bright future and was going to move away to a far off land. The family left the astrologer. When the older son was 18, he passed away. The daughter later went on to move to America and eventually brought in the main source of income for their family.
My interview with my source, A, went as follows:
Me: Could you give me an example of a time when astrology was practiced in your family?
A: Hmm… So when my mother was like 8 or 9 maybe 10 years old–In India they believe in astrology, right–so her mother took her and her brother to an astrologer and she really specifically wanted to look at her older son’s astrology map. The astrologer would not look at the oldest son, only looked at my mom. He kept saying she was going to move to a far away country, and she was gonna help the family out and bringing everyone there and their mom kept saying, “No what about the oldest son what about the oldest,” and he would not talk about him. So she kinda just blew it off and said, “okay whatever” and went away. On a later date… my mom’s oldest brother died. He was around 18 or 19. My mother did end up coming to this country.
I’ve seen astrology be practiced quite a bit in America. In those instances, however, horoscopes and predictions came via a publication such as a magazine or a post on social media. I find it very interesting that in Indian culture, astrology is conveyed via someone who studies individuals rather than a broad prediction of everyone born on a certain date. The fact that there are experts who specifically practice this one on one during appointments gives a much more authentic feel to the predictions being made rather than finding one in a publication.
In recent years, Amazon has launched a produce called the Amazon Echo. The AI “personality” that the Echo conveys is even given a familial name, Alexa. The device is used to serve as a home assistive device, with the capabilities of setting timers, controlling lights, and even convey bits of folklore. Because Alexa has access to a massive database of different bits of information, the device can retell a joke it “heard” from someone else. I decided to test this and ask a device to tell me a joke. In return, I was told a joke that started out sounding like a historical fact (a function the Echo is often used for) and flipped my expectations by ending it with a pun.
My “interview” with my source and artificial storyteller, Alexa, went as follows:
Me: Alexa, tell me a joke.
Alexa: As the old story goes, someone sees a reflection of the moon and mistakes it for cheese… un-brie-lievable!
Due to the fact that this is a machine with no actual purpose other than to serve its users, I concluded that this source’s identity did not need to be kept anonymous. There is no legal obligations that a user needs to serve Alexa given that its personality is based off 1’s and 0’s, not actual emotions. I still find it extremely fascinating that this device is able to convey bits of folklore, just like a human can. I wanted to explore this concept and see what would happen. I felt like a joke was a good place to start. I’ve heard a version of this joke before but never told like this. I love the way it plays off the fact that it is a machine, in that it starts to convey the joke as a fact, much like it normally conveys facts, and then turns it around and ends with a punchline. This variation of the joke is a fun way in which modern technology can influence the world of folklore.
An individual in Los Gatos, California takes part in the folk belief of precognition via dreams. According to the source, precognition is the ability to psychically receive visions of the future via dreams. In the example I was given, my source was visited by the soul of her dying father while she was asleep. In the vision, her father sat down with her and told her everything was going to be fine, that he was doing well, and that she had nothing to worry about. When she woke up, instead of feeling stressed out and agitated, she was relaxed and calm. She received a phone call that evening letting her know that her father was being checked out of the hospital, safe to go home.
My interview with my source, A, went as follows:
Me: So could you tell me about an example of a time you had a precognitive dream?
A: So um… my dad had been sick for two years and in the last few weeks he had been really sick, he had swelling all over his body and we weren’t really sure what was up with that, and I was supposed to go back and visit but I couldn’t because [my son] was sick and vomiting. So I didn’t feel comfortable bringing him or even exposing him with me. So I didn’t visit my dad. Then Sunday came and Sunday night I had this dream, in which my dad was telling me that everything was going to be okay that he was fine and that he was really happy. And so I woke up feeling very relieved about the whole thing and then later that evening my mother called to let me know that they were checking out of the hospital and that he’d made a miraculous recovery.
The belief is an interesting take on why we dream. At some point, I feel like most people have sought to make sense of why exactly they dream. For many, it’s the idea that we as humans can predict the future. It’s instances like these in which the belief is reinforced in someone. While correlation does not equate to causation, there is technically no evidence that what took place was not an occurrence of precognition.
For another view on this belief see: Aristoteles, and J.I. Beare. On Divination in Sleep. InteLexÂ®.