Tag Archives: Religious Myth


“Jinns are in the Quran and they are creatures made by Allah and they can’t be seen by the human eye. They were created before mankind was created. Unlike ghosts or spirits they are a separate entity, just like cats and dogs and birds and other species, and human beings can’t really see them and they were created from a smokeless flame or something like that, like how God created humans from dust and dirt. When God made Adam, jinns were made before Adam, God asked all the jinns to bow down to Adam and one jinn did not. This jinn refused to bow down to Adam which earned him the wrath of Adam. This jinn became Shaitan, or Satan. There are good and bad jinns though.Growing up in Pakistan it was a very inherent factor of our culture to believe in jinns, my mom was a big believer and my dad was very pragmatic. My mom used to hide it from my dad and go to this shaman or preacher who would read from the Quran to get the bad jinns away from my mom. My mom had a very troubled life and her mother believed it was the jinns causing this trouble so they went to this person. Fast forward many years and my sister was unwell so the religious person came to my house, and my dad had a garden he loved. The garden had this wooden statue, and the woman came over and said that a jinn was in this statue. I was a bit naive, and I went to that statue and threw it out so my sister would be better. It didn’t work though, I just got in a lot of trouble with my dad. They say some people could see them and they could take the shape of different things, like they could be this chair. There was actually a second hand belt I had got somewhere and in my mind I was so convinced it was a jinn. So eventually I drove it outside and I pulled out my zippo lighter and I burned the belt. And I was kind of susceptible at the time, a lot was going on in my life at the time. I’ve become more pragmatic now but there’s a part of me I can’t shake off. I was convinced i got rid of the jinn after burning it. Even if I didn’t really get rid of it, I got rid of one element, one thing that was bothering me, now I can move on. 


J is a 47-year-old woman who grew up in Pakistan until she was in her mid-twenties. Her family is Muslim, though she’s currently no longer actively practices the religion. 


Jinns seem to be a part of the Muslim religion’s sacred creation story, part of the myth of how the earth was created. They were created before man and there is myth surrounding their own creation, they are believed to have existed way before humans and continue to exist in the world. The speaker mentioned how Disney has turned these religious figures into a mythical, magical version of a blue “genie” in a lamp. This is another example of how Disney has taken folklore through tales and myths and turned them into caricature versions of themselves. Because of Disney’s prominence, this is the idea we first get when we think of jinns, even though it’s very far removed from the actual beliefs surrounding jinns. Through her information I can see the connection between the jinn and the genie lamp, because jinns are able to transform into objects. jinns aren’t actually a magical blue creature as Disney has sold us though, they seem akin to angels to me. Islam is an Abrahamic religion, so it has similar roots and stories to Christianity. The story of Shaitan is extremely similar to Satan and the story of Lucifer being cast from heaven and turned into the devil for not bowing to Adam. The speaker then shares her personal experiences with jinns. Her last story highlights the importance of ritual. She says even if there wasn’t really a jinn in the belt, that ritualistic burning helped her move forward and release trouble that was going on in her life. This exemplifies how even when folklore isn’t supported by science, it doesn’t mean that it is false. These rituals and creatures can provide real experiences for people that are very meaningful and impactful. 

Lord Ganesha


My informant, NT, is my roommate and good friend. She is a junior at USC and she is Hindu. The reason she shared this story with me was actually very random. She has a small statue of a Hindu god in our room, but for most of the semester it was covered by her makeup bag on her desk. When we were cleaning, she said, “OH NO, I’ve accidently had a god hidden, no wonder I’m not thriving,” in a completely humorous and sarcastic manor. This led me to ask why the statue had an elephant head.

Main Piece:

NT’s summary- The Goddess Parvati created her son Ganesha so that he could always guard her chamber, and never let anyone in no matter who they were. One time, Ganesha didn’t allow the Goddess’ husband, Shiva, in the chamber. Shiva freaked out and was so angry that he chopped Ganesha’s head off; this enraged the Goddess so much that she threatened to destroy the world, he was not brought back to life. So, Shiva saw an elephant, cut its head off and gave it to Ganesha. The Goddess was still unforgiving, so Shiva bestowed a great amount of divinity to Ganesha and made it a rule that everyone had to pray to him before any other god.

Interviewer: So why is this the god you choose to have a statue of Ganesha, is there personal significance behind it?

NT- When I was a little girl, my mom took me on my first trip to India. I really didn’t know much about my own culture, which was kind of sad. I would always pray with my parents and repeat what they said but I never really understood what any of it meant. So, when we were in India, my mom decided to buy me a bunch of kid’s books about all the stories of the gods so that I could understand the myths behind each one and why we pray to them. I had probably like 20 of them, but my favorite one was always the one about Ganesha. He’s definitely the most well-known god among people who don’t know anything about Hinduism, mostly because he has an elephant head. But I was always taught (even though I didn’t understand) that we needed to pray to Ganesha first before ANY other god, even if it was a holiday celebrating a different god. I always thought it was so weird, but then i read the story of how ganesha came to be and what happened to him (how his father cut off his head lol) and that was the story that really got me into my culture. so now i even have an idol/statue thing of ganesha in my room because not only is he the remover of obstacles but he also brought me closer to my culture.


NT shared with me a myth from her religion; by her very easy recall of details, it’s obvious that it holds a special and sacred place in her heart. A very common motif amongst religious myths is the creation factor, hence the creation story for the god of obstacles. Using Levi-Strauss’ paradigmatic approach, myths can be analyzed by how they relate to the underlying patterns in life. People can use myths as a guide for what to do on earth, so Ganesha’s perseverance can be translated into one’s own challenges in the real world. Being able to find commonality and comfort in myths is a reason that people hold them so sacred.

Story of Saint Juan Diego

Abstract: The story of Juan Diego is one of the more known stories in the Catholic faith and by many Hispanic families as well. His story has influenced much of the paintings and illustrations of our lady de Guadalupe. Juan Deigo first encountered Mary who is the lady of Guadalupe while walking to mass one day. This encounter occurred in a vision where he saw her and he was asked to build a shine on a hill outside of Mexico city. In the end, the Bishop was convinced after seeing a mural of Mary on Juan Diego, and a large shrine was built for Mary. This story resonates with H because she has a painting of this mural in her family room where it’s constantly viewed.

Background: H is a student at the University of Southern California who’s experienced this traditional ceremony from her transition into womanhood. She’s lived in California her entire life and is a first-generation American and her family keeps many of their traditions from Mexico alive in her life.  She believes that the way her Quince was conducted is very traditional but also has a few twists that are uncommon to the format. The topic was brought up during lunch while discussing our family roots.


P: Well I want to know more about the picture you have in your living room, is there a reason for this being here or is it just for show? 

H: That’s a photo of our lady de Guadalupe and it has a lot of history and roots tied in catholic religion since he’s the saint who found out what she looked like through a couple of interactions and one big one. 

P: Tell me about the story of this saint.

H: Ok, Juan Diego was a dude from Mexico near Mexico City and was one of the first non-Spaniards to become catholic and join Catholocism with his wife. So one day he was walking to mass and then he had this vision that he was talking with Mary mother of Jesus. He was astonished by this so he went to the Bishop about this vision he had and how the mother mary told him to build a shine for her. I think it’s pretty weird that she’s like build me a shine. (laughs) 

Juan Diego then left the place of the bishop and was then encountered by the mother Mary again and he explained to her how no one believed him so Mary instructed him to walk on the hill and collect the roses in his robe and bring them to the bishop. He traveled to Tepeyac hill with the flowers and then returned back to the bishop. He dropped the roses from his robe and everyone was in shock because a mural of Mary was on his robe and that’s where we get the illustration from. They quickly built the shrine after that and in Mexico City, they have the original robe which Juan Diego wore to prove the Bishop wrong. We have that photo in our house to pray to and to remind us of the Catholic faith. 


From this story, it shows that the catholic faith means a lot to this family and many others with this mural in their home. Not only does it remind them of the story of Saint Juan Diego but it also acts as a constant reminder of their roots how where their religion stems from through these selfless acts of preserving the faith by building shrines to important Biblical figures. H heard of this story from her mother when she was younger and continues to hear about this story when she attended high school and during lent. H doesn’t recall how long this story has been in their family but she knows that her grandma told her mom this story. She assumes its been for quite a while. She’s also heard this story told at church and at her high school.

The story itself seems very skeptical in some sense as it relies heavily on miracles and random chance. At first Juan Diego is mentioned to be one of the first natives to turn to the catholic faith which is important because it contradicts the real idea that a lot of the natives of Central America were against turning to the catholic faith so this willingness may have been used as a way to entice others to do the same. Finally, I find it weird that the mother of Jesus is requesting to have a shrine built for her near Mexico city but later it was found that this shine is meant to hold special powers when it comes to healing and a higher rate of miracle granting compared to others.

Joshua the Apocalyptic Prophet

Context: When I told my roommate about how I was collecting folklore, he offered to talk about some of the stories he’d heard over the course of his life.

Background: This is something my roommate heard in his religious studies class this semester.

Dialogue: (Note: C denotes myself, B denotes my roommate)

B: …And I think especially the Jesus story is folklore.

C: Based on what your professor told you.

B: Yeah, um… He told me — not me personally but he told my class, uh, because we were studying the origins of Christianity at the time — that there was a man living somewhere in the Fertile Crescent, I think, name Joshua bar Joseph, and he [the professor] was like, “Joshua bar Joseph was an apocalyptic prophet,” meaning, he went around saying that the end was near, and that if people didn’t follow him, that they will die, and they would be s— very sad, and their life would be over. BUT— Wait did I say “if?” Sorry. If they didn’t follow him, they would die die, damnation, whatever. But if they DID follow him, uh, they would go to Paradise when they died, y’know. “The Apocalypse is coming, but, if you follow me, you’re gonna go to heaven.” Um, and then he’s [the professor] like, “Does this sound familiar?” and we’re like, “YEAH IT’S JESUS” and he’s like, “EXACTLY, Jesus was just an apocalyptic cult leader!” Um, and I’m like, “Well THAT makes sense.” So, yeah, that’s what my professor told me. But, I guess that means the Bible’s folklore.

Analysis: This is a really good example at how religion is deeply tied with folklore. From my roommate’s perspective and the perspective of the professor who gave him this narrative, the Bible is considered the alternative way of telling their story, where it would be commonly thought of as the “correct” way of telling the stories contained within. The fact that the story of Jesus allows for such variations—I’ve personally also heard the names “Joshua ben Joseph” and “Jeshua ben Joseph” ascribed to Jesus outside of Biblical context—attests to the fact that the Bible can be seen as merely another, more popular form of  a certain folk belief.

“The Deity Ganesh”

            The informant first heard the myth of the deity Ganesh on an audio cassette tape when he was seven years old. His mother was born in India, and although he acknowledged that she would likely identify as Indian-American, she also maintains strong ties to her Indian roots, which is why he was exposed to Indian legends and myths as a child. He also explained that the stories, due to his age, had in large part a simply entertainment value to him, but he did state, “As I got older I realized that, underneath them, as with many different stories and folktales, there were moral teachings. . .and they showed how people think.”

            The stories appeared to him again in the form of comic books, which he said was a popular adaptation for many Indian tales; any bookstore in India sells a number of these comics. The informant also explained that, with many Indian stories, the class of the Indian child can dictate whether or not he has access to the story. Because of the strict structure of India’s caste system, the informant shared, most lower class children and their family did not have the time or leisure to prioritize and share folktales. Work and survival take precedence in value, and thus myths about deities that live in excess and wealth are not as appealing nor as relevant to those in the working classes.


            Like with the Greek gods, the Indians gods have this, like, realm that they live in. In this realm, there’s the most powerful god who is Shiva. Oh! And also kind of similar to the Greek gods, these gods resemble human beings. Shiva has a wife, whose name is Parvati, and in this story Parvati is taking a bath. Whenever she takes a bath she says that no one can enter the house, and she appoints one of her vassals in charge of the house to guard the entrance and make sure no one enter. This vassal is Nandi, who has the head of a cow and the body of a human. In the comic he’s, like, armed with a trident and wearing very traditional clothing.

            As he’s guarding and standing watch, Shiva (who’s the head of the household and in charge of all the guards) walks up and Nandi lets him go by because he’s kind of intimidated, I think, by Shiva’s power and his own role is obviously a lot lesser. Shiva walks in while Parvati is bathing and she’s embarrassed. Shiva, though, has kind of a sense of humor, he pokes fun at her and laughs at the situation. She then becomes angry that she doesn’t have any vassals that are loyal to her above her husband. So what she does is she takes the sandalwood paste that she’s been bathing in off of her and she puts it into this, this golden dish. And using that paste she molds a figure of a very handsome, very beautiful boy that she names her son, and she gives that statue life.

            And so the next time she bathes―and this is unknown to Shiva―she posts her son outside of the door of the house and Shiva tries again. He comes back home and tries to enter, and this time the son doesn’t let him enter. Shiva doesn’t know who this is, he’s, like, “Why are you stopping me from entering the house? You know who I am. . . obviously you need to let me go.” But, the son, who has a staff, hits him and throws him out on his ass, basically. So, Shiva becomes absolutely furious and he summons all of his army and all of his commanders and has them attack this one child. But, all of his armies could not defeat him, he took out general after general and all of the other soldiers until the armies were completely gone. So Shiva decides to fight with them, and he uses―in a lot of Indian comics you can tell who the person with the highest spiritual rank, I guess, is because they use this chakra. It’s like a spinning disc that you spin around your finger and you send it out and it goes to wherever you want it to go. Shiva uses his disc and it chops the head of the kid right off. . . so maybe these weren’t the best comics to read as a child, but, anyway, Parvati is enraged. She decides she is going to destroy the entire universe unless this slight is made right in her eyes.

            Basically one of the other high ranking gods, Brahma―who is in charge of creation―begs Shiva to bring the child to life. And by this time Shiva has calmed down; he’s taken out his anger (by killing someone). He grants Parvati’s two wishes―one, that the god be worshipped above all other gods, so basically to elevate her son, and that he obviously be brought back to life. So Shiva uses his chakra again and sends it down to Earth and chops of the head of an elephant. He takes the head of the elephant and places it on the headless body of the child, and so the child comes back to life. Shiva proclaims him, and that’s why Ganesh has the head of an elephant and the body of a child. Shiva then declares that Ganesh is his son, too, since he gave him life as well, and this elevates his position to the foremost and front of the gods.


            Recognizably a form of myth, the story of Ganesh incorporates divine figures in a sacred realm, which the informant helpfully analogized to the gods of Greek mythology. While the myth contains quite a lot of entertainment, including nudity and war-related violence, the teaching that lies “underneath,” as the informant said, seems to be the conflict of the power dynamic between a man and his wife. Much of the myth’s action is propelled by Parvati’s feeling of slight; her vassal serves her husband over her, Shiva mocks her embarrassment, and her rage is worrisome enough to the other gods to make them appeal to Shiva. The lesson taught at the end of the myth, then, is one of compromise and equality. Shiva recognizes the error of his ways and uses his power to make things right and satisfy his wife; the equality of genders plays an unusual role when compared to, say, Greek mythology, where Hera is often duped by Zeus only to exact petty revenge on his (many) lovers.