Tag Archives: Religion

Raksha Bandhan in Hinduism

Folklore/ Text: Raksha Bandhan:

SM: “Although my parents are not very religious, my grandparents still practice Hinduism– sometimes my parents will practice certain traditions to appease my grandparents. One of them is called ‘Raksha Bandhan’ which is a ritual that surrounds siblings and the importance of a brother-sister relationship. But it’s mostly about the brother, which is a little sexist if you ask me! On the day of August 18th, the sisters have to tie a bracelet, known as a Rakhi, to the brother’s right wrist. But before doing so, you dip your finger in water, place the water on your forehead, and attach a piece of rice to the damp part of your forehead. Later, the sisters have to hand feed the brother something sweet. And as return, the brother rewards the sister(s) with some sort of gift which is usually money. Traditionally, we are investing a shared responsibility of care because the brothers take care of us as women. But now my aunts and uncles will send my sister and I money as well, as to make sure we are not only celebrating men during Raksha Bandhan.”

Explanation/ Context: Raksha Bandhan, while deeply connected to Hinduism, certainly has some dated ideals and beliefs. On this annual holiday, only the male siblings of the family are celebrated. However, my informant’s family finds a way to similarly celebrate the female siblings by gifting them money. This is an example of how certain lore can change over time with the ever-changing climate of society and culture. This is their family’s attempt at fighting against certain sexism. Not to say Hinduism is a sexist religion, however, this family acknowledges that not only men should be praised. The females are just as capable of being “responsible” for the other siblings.

Thai Folk Religion

–Informant Info–

Nationality: Thai

Age: 22

Occupation: Student

Residence: Los Angeles, California

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Thai

(Notes-The informant will be referred AH to as and the interviewer as K)

Background info: AH was born in California, but both her parents are of Thai descent, moving here a few years before she was born with a large chunk of her family. Her family still practices many aspects of Thai folk religion in the United States. She notes that her religion is incredibly complicated, so she will only tell me a few, significant aspects of it.

K: Uh so just say which things you’re gonna be telling me about, like the names of them, where you learned about these things and if its like applicable uh the context to the performance, like under what circumstances would you do those things.

AH: Uh yeah I guess the first thing I wanna uh I wanna mention are Shamans. They’re like the main practitioners in our religion, and there are 2 main ones uh…phram’s which are like local village ones and uh…mo phi, which are the ones that can conduct like rituals. Mo phi is the more important of the 2 technically, but both are held with like…the same amount of respect by the community.

K: Can you go into more detail about what each does?

AH: Yeah of course. So phram’s are like village uh shamans like I think I said. He does like exorcisms and marriages and stuff like that, more common ceremonies that seem like they would be held in a home or village. The mo phi also does rituals and ceremonies and stuff but more intense ones, like contacting the dead.

K: Can you tell me more about that ritual?

AH: I was just about to. So uh its kinda complicated. Four sticks are planted in like a square around where someone was buried, and then thread is wrapped around them once forming like a protective square. A specific mat is laid in the middle and that’s where the uh mo phi sits-sits down. In front of him, like wherever he is facing but outside the square, there’s a terracotta pot with something called an uh…uhm a yantra painted on the outside with the bones of the dead person and uh…the pot is called a mo Khao. there also normally uh a like plate of rice for an offering and like a stick to whack spirits away *laughter*. After this point, it like varies pretty widely what happens next, but the goal is to invoke the spirits so you can speak or see them one last time.

K: What are yantras? Can you tell me more about them and their uses and stuff? Like when are they used especially

AH: Yeah so uh…they’re like protective symbols I guess. People can either wear them around their neck as like an amulet, and a lot of people actually get them tattooed, especially in more rural areas. It gives whoever has it like…supernatural protection and luck and love and wealth and stuff like that. They’re drawn kinda everywhere, like over the entrances of grocery stores and inside taxis and airplanes and normally you have one drawn somewhere during like a wedding and things like uh that.

This was so cool. I wish I could have sat with the informant longer and learned more about Thai religious folklore, but sadly she had other obligations. What she was able to tell me was so interesting. Shamans are not uncommon in many older regions,e socially folk-based ones, but hearing how they are specifically used in Thai religion was interesting. The fact that there are two different types of shaman, one more common one for larger ceremonies, etc, is really enlightening towards Thai culture. I also think it’s important to note that although one has an arguably more important or more difficult job, they both held with the same amount of respect and adoration.

Uncle Jake

–Informant Info–

Nationality: American

Age: 56

Occupation: Housewife

Residence: Los Angeles, California

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): N/A

(Notes-The informant will be referred to as FB and the interviewer as K)

Background info: FB is a mother of 2 who grew up in Southern California, where this story takes place. She did not witness this story and was told by her grandmother. She told me this story multiple times throughout my life, but it was over dinner this time.

K: Wait, wait, uh… what’s the name of the story, where did you hear it, and when do you tell it?

FB: Uh well I guess I’d call it uh the Uncle Jake story uh I always heard it from my mom just randomly, mainly when I’d ask about it.

K: Ok! Whenever you wanna tell it go ahead.

FB: Yeah ok so uh Uncle Jake lived on an uh old apple orchard os he had hundreds of apples he had no use for. So he decided to go down to a local uh convent with a bunch of nuns with a truck bed full of apples. So he went down there and found a bunch of uh starving nuns who basically launched themselves on the apples. He asked them why they weren’t eating, worried something had happened, and they explained the church wanted them to uh wait for an action from God to get them to eat, and if no one came it was their time, meaning time to uh die. So Uncle Jake went down to the uh Bishops office, which was decked out in a bunch of gold, and asked him what was going on. The uh bishop said the same thing and said jake was uh God’s action, so Jake went ape shit and tore up his office as he should have. When he went back to the convent after, they were healthy and eating regularly.

This was cool to hear about! The informant did note that she was unsure about how truthful it was, as some major plot points changed for whoever was telling it, but she liked it anyway, to the point where both my brother and her son were named after Uncle Jake. I will note my and her bias, which we agreed on. Neither of us is religious, so the retelling of this story from DS directly is much less focused on the religious part of it, and how this one man was incorrect, and more so focused on Uncle Jakes’s revenge and how the religion as a whole is incorrect. Hearing how she told it to me definitely follows that train of thought.

Break the Tortilla – Quiebra la Tortilla

Informant: My informant is my Mexican mother, who grew up in Puebla, Mexico. While she stayed with her mom for about 16 years before coming to the U.S, she grew up with many superstitions that derived either from her mom or from her grandmother.

Main Piece: “Esto lo escuche de mi mama en mi niñez. Ella siempre decía, que si sobraban tortillas era importante de intentar de no tirarlas a la basura porque si no uno se hacía más pobre y era mala suerte. Era muy importante que las agarres y las quiebres en pedazos más pequeños y dárselos a cualquier animal que encuentres en la calle como un perro. O si tenias puerquitos dárselos ellos” 

Translation:  “I heard this from my mom when I was a child. She always said that if there were leftover tortillas it was important to try not to throw them in the trash because if you didn’t you would become poorer and it would be bad luck. It was very important that you grab them and break them into smaller pieces and try to give them to any animal that you would find on the street like a dog. Or if you had little pigs, give it to them”

Context: My mom stated that she grew up hearing this superstition for as long as she could remember when she lived with her mom back in her town. She still performs it up to this day because it’s not that she believes that something bad will happen out of throwing out a tortilla, but because she states that this superstition has taught her to value even the simplest of foods. Growing up poor, she stated that sometimes the only thing her mom could provide for her was a tortilla with some salt or green pepper. Whenever there were one or two tortillas left and they had been overheated too many times and were too bland/hard to eat anymore her mom would break them into pieces and offer them as an offering to the animals.  Again, throwing them away was a big NO NO because God would punish them.

Analysis: I agree with my mom’s analysis of this superstition. My mom grew up in very difficult circumstances and I am sure that she was not the only one in that town who had to go through this. I also don’t believe that merely throwing a tortilla into the trash will necessarily make you any poorer is true. However, I do see where my grandma and great-great grandma/others who believe in this superstition come from. The tortilla in Mexico is a very sacred item, a symbolic perspective, and a pride-inspiring symbol of the nation and its people. Therefore, if this sacred item is thrown away it symbolizes not being grateful for the food that was created by previous ancestors, and ultimately when thrown away it’s a sign of ungratefulness. Not only do I believe that this custom has to do with culture and heritage itself, but also with religion. Throwing away a tortilla might also be considered rude in the Catholic religion because it refers back to Jesus’s last meal where he broke bread for his disciples. I’m assuming that this custom has transcended throughout generation to do the same with the idea of not wasting food or sharing to those less fortunate.

Love Days

Background: The informant was raised east of Los Angeles by a mother who was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness and was very active in the church. The informant was and is not religious herself, and her father was not a member of the church either. This was told to me in person.

Informant: My mom is very religious, she’s Jehovah’s Witness, and is the most dedicated…so we wouldn’t celebrate holidays when I was a kid. For Mother’s Day we had “love day,” and for Thanksgiving we’d just have a “family dinner,” but we didn’t celebrate any holidays… my dad celebrated our birthday but my mom never celebrated any holidays. She would give us “love gifts,” which could come on any day of the year but they always ended up coming the week before or the week after my birthday. There were different reasons for different holidays…Halloween celebrates the devil so that one’s obvious. Christmas was for different reasons…Jesus wasn’t born in the winter or the snow so Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate it.

Thoughts: I knew that Jehovah’s Witnesses were very dedicated to their religion, in a way that goes above and beyond other sects of Christianity, but I wasn’t aware that they are devout to the point where they don’t celebrate any holidays that would take away from Jehovah. It’s interesting to hear this from someone who grew up directly around it but wasn’t and isn’t an active practitioner in the Jehovah’s Witness religion.