Tag Archives: metafolklore

Persian Islamic Well Worship Story

Main Piece:

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (AM).

CB “Okay so where did you hear this story?”

AM “Okay so this is a story that my uncle told me, and I’ve heard it through my family members again and again, and this is an interesting one because it’s where you see a certain perspective of reason and logic sort of come to a halt, in regards to like certain religious principles that may be in existence in islamic culture, and so one of the stories that I heard is that there is one of these um … like a key religious figure in Islam, and he’s know as like the hero of time, they call him like, Imam Zamam, um a good way of thinking about it is like greek mythology where theres like a god that resembles something, like how Zues represents something, and so in this particular part of Persian Islamic culture this messenger represents time. And so there’s this story about how he lives in the bottom of a well, like he went and he fell down this well and he cannot return until Time is ready, kinda like how Jesus Christ is going to return, he cannot get out until it’s ready. And so he’s stuck at the bottom of this well, and so now people have this cultural event where they would go and they would visit the well and they would throw things inside of the well, I guess to kinda help him out in his time of need because he’s kinda stuck in there. And then the government didn’t like the fact that women and men were I guess conglomerating at this well to participate in the same event, and so like it’s a very sexist culture and the government didn’t like that women and men were I guess meeting at the same place together. And so because of that they made a different variation of the story, they incorporated a change, and so because of that they made two wells, so all the women would go to one well and all the men would go to the other well in order to throw various goodies inside and conduct their prayers. So there’s many questions, like how can the hero and messenger of time, of TIME, how can he not escape a well? And how can he be in two places at the same time. And so like that’s something that growing up I’ve been told a lot, and like it teaches me to think for myself and I guess to be the black sheep and not just brainlessly follow a herd”


My informant is a Persian-American, first generation American citizen. He lives with his mother, father, grandmother, and aunt who all spent a majority of their life in Iran, and all communicate mainly in Farsi. While my informant was born in the US, he spent many of the early years of his life with his immediate family in Iran. Ultimately, his family disagreed with the way that the government used religion to enforce restrictive laws, and were persuaded to leave. This story is an example of Persian folklore that spread to undermine the government. He cites the story as teaching people to learn to think for themselves, and not to blindly trust the government. However, his family also used this stories, and others like it, to justify why they left Iran and why they are not Muslim.


I know this informant fairly well, and we have often talked about his culture. When I was given this assignment, he was the first person I thought to ask. I interviewed him over Zoom, and we chatted a lot about the role of culture for immigrant Americans. We had a very comfortable conversation, as we had many times before.


This piece was really interesting to me because it was an example of meta-folklore. It’s almost like an origin story for how these traditions came to be in order to undermine them. By revealing that the government created a new religious monument and tradition, the story invalidates both. It implies that because these traditions were created by a government, they are not ‘real’ religious traditions. This shows the conflict between religious and governmental authority within the culture. The story acts as a resistance piece in response to a government, and was told to my informant to undermine its actions. 

Walking on the Grass at Spelman College

Background Info:

My informant is a 20-year-old domestic exchange student at the University of Southern California, from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. All universities have some kind of folklore surrounding them, both individually and on the level of the university system in general, such as the ‘hook-hand’ legend. This one in particular was learned by my informant during her orientation week at Spelman, and she has been an active bearer in not only following this ‘rule’, but passing it on to new students.

Main Piece:

Spelman College is an historically black women’s four-year liberal arts college in Atlanta, Georgia. The particular superstition I collected about this college is that Spelman students do not walk on the grass. This seems to have stemmed from a prohibition on walking on the grass for aesthetic reasons, as not to trample it. Firstly, the superstition suggests that the person who walks on the grass will not graduate on time, if at all. There are similar superstitions to this all over the world, for example in the University of Dublin, Trinity College, it is considered bad luck for the bell to toll while you are walking under the campanile, as it is believed that you will fail your exams. It is therefore traditional for people to stand under it when they graduate, as they have no more exams to do. In Spelman, however there is a saying that has grown up around this grass superstition – that “Spelman women do not cut corners.” Therefore, a kind of metafolklore has developed around this original folklore, which encompasses the values of the college and makes a didactic lesson out of a botanical necessity.

My thoughts:

This was the first and only piece of metafolklore I collected. This was interesting as it was suggestive of both the amount of people who actually abided by this rule not to walk on the grass, and in it’s metafolkloric form, encapsulated the community feel to the college and the dedication and intelligence of those in attendance. It is also interesting that this kind of folklore, a prohibition on walking somewhere, exists in many different universities across the globe, and emphasizes the college system as a hotbed of folklore. It also distinguishes one as an in-member of the community if they are to avoid walking on the grass, and therefore acts as a kind of initiation rite into a new community.

For the oikotype of this legend from Trinity College Dublin: http://campus.ie/surviving-college/college-life/5-best-trinity-college-myths-are-probably-true

420 Holiday/Metafolklore

My informant is a college student, artist and avid pot smoker. He knows a lot of “stoner tricks” as he calls them, most of which he learned from friends in high school. These and other aspects of weed culture mean a lot to him because he sees pot as a way of bonding with peers and enhancing creativity. Uniquely, as far as I have heard, he also uses it as a form of self-medication; he has ADHD and takes Ritalin, but says that it makes him feel mentally cloudy and slow, and that weed, for him, clears things up and makes him able to focus more easily. Thus, pot is an integral part of his daily life, both socially and personally.

He first heard about 420 in late middle school or early high school from friends, and first celebrated it three years ago. He has partaken in the festivities every year on April 20th since.

This interview was conducted during a break in class, outside the classroom on a balcony.

“What is 420?”

“Hold on I gotta look something up real quick, gotta fact-check for a second…”
“Naw man you’re not allowed to!”

“Aw really? Alright I’m not on my A game man, but I’ll tell you what I can remember… So the gist of it is that there was like a group of students once upon a time probably in the 60s that met afterschool everyday at 4:20 at a certain statue or a certain landmark on campus like right outside their school to go smoke, so that’s the reason, because it was at 4:20 in the afternoon. And there’s been rumors as to other reasons why, so like some people thought that it’s Hitler’s birthday and that’s why, but I don’t know why people would celebrate that so that’s kind of a dumb one but then another one is that there’s a law, some proposition in the police code that has to do with arresting people for marijuana that is 420 or something…”

“I heard it was police code, like ohh 420 alert, somebody’s smoking weed”

“Yeah that’s something I’ve heard before as well but that’s also not true. See some of these might have some truth to them so like for example I think Hitler’s birthday is actually on April 20th, but it’s just a coincidence like that’s not the actual reason. But back to the students, I mean I guess school let out at 4pm so they figured like hey, 20 minutes to get to the spot and they had like a smoke spot that I believe was behind a statue but I could be wrong about that, and, um, that just permeates into stoner culture, like everyone has their smoke spot, you know, cause it’s illegal in most places so you have to have a place you’re relatively sure is safe, so everyone has their spot that they’ve come up with… And we used to have a spot, you know back home…”

“Oh yeah? What was your spot?”
“Well there was this shortcut through the woods near my friend’s house that went to a public pool, and like we would just take that shortcut and like, go off into the woods, kind of off to the side, and smoke there, but they put some lights there so we like can’t do it this year cause unfortunately it’s well lit now, but RIP smoke spot… Anyway well the other thing is that now it’s like a holiday, right, so at 4:20am and 4:20pm and all day 4/20 [April 20th] people just smoke a lot of weed basically, and it’s turned into a cultural icon I guess.”

“How do you celebrate 4/20?”

“Well I mean I’ve only celebrated it three times… but uh, lemme think. Well, it’s the same as everyone, just get as high as many different ways as possible, like collect them all, like try to do every different method in one day, that’s one thing you could do that’s like kind of fun, I tried that once I think my second time.”

My informant is obviously very interested in having accurate information, and sets his stories apart from “wives’ tales” in stoner culture as truth and having been “fact-checked”. I found this interesting because upon asking him, most of what he thought was “wives’ tales” came from friends and most of what he thought was true he had fact-checked on online forums about weed. I also think that the context in which he heard this piece of folklore and the metafolklore surrounding it is interesting because it is in the early teenage years when people become introduced to the concept of drugs, especially pot, and when many people begin to try it. His attachment to the truth reveals his attachment to being a more “legitimate” person within his identity as a stoner.