Tag Archives: prediction

Using a string and piece of string to predict the gender of a baby

Main Piece

Informant: So you put a ring on a string. You loop it and then you hang it in front of the pregnant woman by her stomach-but don’t let it touch the stomach. If it motions sideways then it means it is a girl, but if it motions front and back it is supposed to be a boy. They say the energy of the baby swings the ring, that is kind of what they say causes it.

Interviewer: Was it ever done on you? 

Informant: It was never done on myself, but I saw it done on others. It was really popular at baby showers if the Mother was dying to know, and it was almost like a game. I guess before sonograms that is how they did it, haha. I just think the unknown of wanting to know the gender before the technology caused it. Is there any scientific proof that will cause the ring to sway a different way, I don’t know. 


The informant is my mother, a Mexican woman who is first-generation and the oldest of 3, who was born and raised in San Ysidro,CA  a border town just north of Tijuana, Mexico. Influenced by memories and conversations with her great great grandmother, many of her practices, customs, and beliefs were passed down from her maternal side of Mexican customs. Fluent in both English and Spanish, the informant has always felt conflicted about her culture as she wanted to fit in with American customs but wanted to preserve her Mexican heritage and traditions. The informant had her first child when she was 18, and worked her way as a single mother with two kids to attain her Master’s Degree and is now the Executive Vice President at a non-profit health clinic that serves the community she was raised in.


I remember seeing this practice done at one of my older cousin’s baby showers, and I asked the informant more about it. From what I remember, the ring accurately predicted the gender of the baby as it was before they revealed or found out the gender of the baby.


This folk belief is a perfect example of signs, and using material objects in order to predict the future. I think it is interesting that this practice is usually done at baby showers almost as a game, as it continues to foster the belief that magic and witchcraft are associated with the female gender. This practice is still used in our family and in baby showers as a fun game, and it is one usually passed down in Mexican families as well.

Splitting Poles and Friendship


Collector: So yeah, I remember when we were hanging out that you, like, had us walk around the poles if we both went on opposite sides of it. Is that something you do with everyone or, like, how did you learn that?

Informant: Yeah! So, when I was in sixth or seventh grade, my best friend did it because she was superstitious. And she was superstitious because her mom was, so like it kind of passed on to me. But now it’s basically conditioned in me so I always do it.

Collector: so what does it even mean to split the poles?

Informant: So if you’re walking with someone or a group of people and you pass by a pole or trash can or anything that’s an obstacle, you all need to walk on the same side of the obstacle or you will split with the person who walked on the other side. And by split, I mean no longer be friends. Like there will be a big fight in the future or the people will just stop talking with each other. So you have to walk on the same side because then you’ll lose each other.


Collector lives with the informant and is best friends with her. The practice was viewed many times as they were together and the collector wanted context for it. This explanation was prompted by the collector’s question about the origins of the custom. At this point, the custom is a habit for both the informant and the collector, who both make conscious efforts to walk on the same side of the pole. If one of them is on the wrong side by accident and realizes after the fact, they will go back and walk around on the correct side of the pole to undo the mistake. 


In this case, I feel that the act of “splitting the pole” is seen as homeopathic magic, as the physical, bodily splitting represents the metaphorical and emotional split as well. However, in this case, it isn’t a representation of the person that is being performed upon, but instead the people themselves representing a future version of themselves. The tangible, current action of walking on either side of the road is a representation of the future emotional split that could happen as a result of the gesture.

Birthday Candles Prediction


P: If you blow out the candles, the amount of times you, it takes for you to blow out the candles is how many children you’re going to have

J: Wow

P: Oh wait, that means you’re going to have one child, cause you blew once

 M: Nooo.

J: See I thought you were saying you get what you wish for and M doesn’t want to have kids, so….

P: But yeah that’s why I said that you’d have zero because I thought it started at zero but I guess it starts at one.

M: But the abortion negates it.

Context: The collector is noted by the letter J. Informant P is the one who knows of this custom, and informant M is celebrating her birthday. Informant P learned this belief from her Indian parents.

Analysis: This custom celebrates not only the birth of the person blowing the candles but also their potential fertility and their future as a reproductive being. That said, the idea of blowing out the candle isn’t necessarily inherently sexual, but instead is just a physical way of blowing out the flames. Perhaps the flame is a representation of single life without children and each failed blow is a child that fails to tame the fire of the blower’s sexuality. However, this isn’t meant to be a ritual to bring on the children but is instead a predictive belief. Despite this, I am confused as to how to reconcile with the fact that people have multiple birthdays. Does the number of blows add up from year to year? That seems impossible given that humans don’t tend to have 13 children (assuming that the counting stops once the being is fertile. Or is it an average of all of the blows per birthday? Regardless, the belief itself isn’t concerned with the mathematics of the custom but instead is primarily focused on celebrating birth and fertility.

Dreams Predict Death

VG: Ok, so you said you have a superstition?

AM: I am 99% sure I know how I’m gonna die and when.

VG: Uh-how?

AM: Once a month, I have the same exact dream where I’m driving in a car during the rain and ss- what is it- we end up hydroplaning and falling on train tracks and not um having enough time to get off the car and getting hit by a dream. What is it- every month the dream changes just a little bit, but it’s always us driving, hydroplaning, and then ch- hitting a ditch.

VG: So you believe in the power of recurring dreams?

AM: Yes. Every month for the past three years.

VG: Do you know the specific day?

AM: No. All I know is is it’s raining really bad and we’re on the highway.

VG: Wow…who’s- you say we, whose in the car?

AM: Usually, my dad, my mom, and me.

VG: Wow…have you told them about it?

AM: Nope..not yet.



Location of Story – Variable, Southern California

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night


Context:  This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore. This story came after a few others from a friend in response to the prompt “weird beliefs.”


Analysis: This a great example about the folklore and folk belief in reoccurring dreams because it offers such a precise description of what AM experiences in the dream. This precision is most likely because of the recent development of this recurring and very consistent dream. I also think it is interesting to note the absence of supernatural elements of this story. Frequently, people have monsters, paranormal activity, etc. in their dreams, so the fact that this story is based in reality effectively conveys the idea that this could be an omen – it is much closer to things that could actually occur. Possibly, the realistic narrative of the dream is related to the recent development of this dream. AM is a college freshman, so this dream could reflect feelings of fear about growing older and separating from the family. 

Additional reading: Kaivola-Bregenhøj, Annikki. “Dreams as folklore.” Fabula 34 (1993): 211-224. This article offers a great explanation about dreamlore as well as the relative novelty of its performance.


Form of Folklore: Game

Informant Bio: The informant was born in Yerevan, Armenia, moved to Moscow, Russia at six months, then to Detroit Michigan at age three. Since she was five years old, she was raised in Glendale, California. Most of the folklore she knows is from her mother (passing down traditions she learned) and from peers at school. Her mother remains as her main source of cultural folklore (Armenian) whereas her friends in school exposed her to the folklore of American culture.

Context: The interview was conducted in the living room of the informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item: This is a game called Lemon. Ok so basically ahh the first part is just picking four girls names. It works out better if you do four girls you know; it just comes out funnier. So four girls you know, things you do to a lemon (things like lick or zest or cut or squeeze, things like that) so four of those. Four boys names, again four boys preferably that you know or who also know the girls you listed. And then four body parts (elbow, finger, arm… doesn’t matter). And that’s about it. The numbers are jumbled in each category, so then you just match up number to number… to number… and it comes out like … a girl’s name does this thing to this boy’s body part. It’s not something really done for a person, this is more mutually played between whoever’s there; it can be four people, five people together just making it for fun… just to see the results.

Informant Comments: The informant learned this game in high school. She believes it was a fun way for teenagers to see what weird and sometimes perverted results came from the game. Usually, the game would lead to some sort of sexual act or an action that seems nearly impossible. The game was not played often, but when it was, all of the participating players would take advantage of the rare opportunity to make certain girls match with certain boys.

Analysis: This game seems to bring out the curiosities of teenagers who are going through all sorts of new experiences (in high school). Having their hormones increase and decrease on different levels, teenagers pass down this game from person to person, as a way to vent out their sexual thoughts. At a younger age, this game would not be as popular since most pre-teens are not as obsessed with sex and physicality as teenagers are. Similarly, adults (over eighteen years old) are more experienced and knowledgeable than teenagers, so Lemon does not have as much entertainment value. This is a teenage game that will most likely continue to exist (or at least some version of it) as long as teenagers are sexually curious.


Form of Folklore: Game

Informant Bio: The informant was born in Yerevan, Armenia, moved to Moscow, Russia at six months, then to Detroit Michigan at age three. Since she was five years old, she was raised in Glendale, California. Most of the folklore she knows is from her mother (passing down traditions she learned) and from peers at school. Her mother remains as her main source of cultural folklore (Armenian) whereas her friends in school exposed her to the folklore of American culture.

Context: The interview was conducted in the living room of the informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item: Ok so you write down “MASH” at the top of the page; “MASH” stands for… “M” for Mansion, “A” for Apartment, “S” for Shack, and “H” for House and those stand for where you’re gonna live. Under that you make categories for “Husband”, “Wedding Dress”, “Cars”, “Pets”, “# of Kids”, and “Honeymoon”. Each category has one through four; the first three being what you’d like to happen, the last thing, what you wouldn’t want to happen. And then the person you’re playing with tells you when to stop as you’re making tally marks. And you stop and that’s the number you count to going around and around all these categories and crossing of when you stop at that number. And at the end you’re left with one thing in each category and that is supposed to be telling them their future and what will happen to them.

Informant Comments: The informer learned this game when she was in middle school. She does not believe it can actually predict the future; she used to play MASH as an entertaining game just to see what life (and which celebrity) she would end up with. Even though she never thought it would actually tell her about her future, she still felt a certain degree of disappointment when she did not get a future she was really fond of.

Analysis: MASH is a harmless game which is used as a way to predict the future lives of kids. It has an element of fear that the person MASH is being done for will end up with all of the things that they would not want to happen. Most children’s games do not have this quality; most have a happy ending no matter what. Also, this game introduces children to the idea of marriage and motherhood. It is clear that this is a game for females since it has categories like “Husband” and “Wedding Dress”. Many girls begin to think about their futures as a woman simply by playing this game that was intended to inform them of their futures. Though the game does not actually predict the future, it does make it a part of the reality that little girls will eventually have to deal with.