“He did tell me the other day like, [his family] have this superstition that if you sneeze, like, before you’re gonna go somewhere it means that, like, to wait a little bit so like bad things don’t happen to you.”
My informant is one of my friends, and is of Cuban and Iranian heritage. This piece comes from a superstition that her Iranian father told her about recently that he heard from his side of the family. Though he is not superstitious himself, and my informant’s family don’t follow this superstition, it seems to be prevalent in Iranian culture. My informant believes that this superstition serves as a form of protection from harm: “like if you’re gonna drive and you sneeze, wait a minute in case you crash.”
This piece came after my friend and I were talking about superstitions we’ve heard, and she told me of some Iranian ones that she heard from her father. After listening, I asked if she could elaborate more on what she meant by “bad things” happening to one who didn’t wait after sneezing, since I was a bit confused.
Along with the one my informant provided, I’ve heard a fair amount of superstitions about sneezing, including the one that goes “if you sneeze, it means someone’s talking behind your back.” I think these are interesting because of the way sneezing is perceived as either ill will or bad luck waiting to happen, and this might have to do with sneezing being a symptom of sickness. The addition of “waiting a minute” could also be a representation of being advised to rest to prevent harm, or illness. While many superstitions, or rather, folk beliefs, have negative connotations, the wariness is warranted in the case of this one. At the same time, it also has a protective element to the belief. While the sneeze comes as an omen of bad luck, it simultaneously warns the person affected by it to be careful of their surroundings and actions. It’s both a blessing and a curse, which is what I like about this belief because it shows the nuances in how people categorize superstitions as either “good” or “bad” without realizing that it’s the people that give folk beliefs their meanings, not the action itself.
Background: My informant is a 52-year-old with Italian heritage. Both his mother and father are from Mola di Bari, a seaside town in Southern Italy. The informant was born in Toronto, Canada and moved to Santa Monica, California at a young age. While he was not born or raised in Italy, the strong Italian roots in his family meant that Italian culture and tradition was still very prevalent in his household. The informant is also my father.
Context: During a car ride, I asked my father about interesting
Italian folklore he knew about while growing up in an Italian family.
Main Piece: “My mom said, in Italy, whenever a
picture fell over on its own, unprompted, or black crows started to appear
outside, it was an omen for something bad that was boing to happen or something
bad had already happened that had not been communicated. The folklore is a
picture literally just falls over unprompted or falls off a wall, or if you are
outside and you see a bunch of black crows and ravens congregating outside your
house, it’s an omen.
Interpretation: I was not surprised to learn that
seeing crows outside of you house is a terrible omen in Italian culture, because
I was previously aware that crows are seen as symbols of bad luck. However, what
did interest me was the pictures falling down. Perhaps this is attributed to Christianity
and the belief of the underworld. Perhaps, when a picture falls down, it is a
sign of the underworld calling to someone or something and this is why it is
seen as a terrible omen. If you ever hang up a picture in Italy, make sure it
is well secured!
My grandmother M is Native American and would often tell me stories about her life on a reservation in Arizona. I asked her about any stories that she carried with her as a child or even in adulthood that relate to her cultural background. She shared this story with me about her experience with an owl.
The story I remember most is not of her life on reservation however a story that happened to her as an adult. My grandmother once told me that the owl is considered a negative omen in Native American culture. She also told me that she experienced this negative omen first hand and has since hated owls. Molly had seven sons and one of her eldest had purchased a motorcycle. He was in his twenties and was of age to purchase the bike but had never ridden one before. My grandmother told me that one day she had noticed an owl out during the day perched on a tree near her bedroom window. She found this very odd because of the time of day, and because she lived in East Los Angeles where seeing owls would be rare. The owl spoke a name to her, and she was very unsettled. The owl had spoken her son’s name. Her son had been home but was about to leave on his bike to hang out with his friends. My grandmother stopped him and told him to stay home because she had a bad feeling about him leaving. She didn’t tell him about the owl for fear that he wouldn’t believe her and would probably think she was crazy. That night, my uncle was in an accident on his motorcycle and died. To this day, my grandmother regrets having kept the owl from him.
Stated by Native-languages.org, many Native American tribes consider the owl an omen of death. Hopi however, consider the owl a symbol of authority and wisdom. It is interesting that my grandmother didn’t look at the owl as a sign of wisdom given that her own tribe sees them that way. Possibly it was a sign of wisdom in that it gave her the warning signs and she was left to her own devices to solve the problem. My grandmother has never shared stories with me regarding anything supernatural. I don’t think that was something that they talked about because I don’t think they believed in it. Given that my father also had an experience regarding the death of my uncle and he is very logical and not easily swayed without proof, I believe there is truth to it.