Tag Archives: souls

No children by a cemetery


M is a Mexican immigrant from the state of Nayarit. She immigrated to the United States when she was young and resides in Southern California. She relays the superstitions of her culture to others and uses it as a conversation topic. She does this as a way of preserving her culture while being away from her homeland.

The context of this piece was during a road trip with M as we passed a cemetery while in the car.


Me:, ¿podrías contarme alguna superstición o tradición que tengas sobre los cementerios?

M: Bueno, en México, al menos en el pueblo del que vengo, creen que los cementerios son un mal presagio para los niños. Sí, creo que permiten que los muertos descansen en un lugar tranquilo, pero para los vivos, al menos, hace lo contrario. Es especialmente malo para los bebés o los niños más pequeños.

Yo: ¿Es específicamente peligroso para los bebés?

M: Sí, especialmente para los pequeños e inocentes bebés. Hay una historia en los cementerios que dice que si pasas por uno, ya sea en coche o simplemente caminando, debes llamar a tu bebé. Tienes que ir diciendo su nombre y llamándolo hacia ti. No importa si están a tu lado, debes llamarlos hacia ti y decirles que vayan contigo.

Me: ¿Hay alguna forma de llamarlos?

M: Puedes decir simplemente “Vamos, cariño, vamos” y luego decir su nombre. Tienes que hacer saber a los bebés que te vas y que deben irse contigo. Esto es porque se dice que desde que un bebé es tan joven y frágil su alma podría ser robada por un espíritu del cementerio. Por eso tienes que llamar al alma de tu bebé para que se vaya con su cuerpo.

// Translation

Me: Well, could you tell me about any superstitions or traditions you have about cemeteries?

M: Well, in Mexico, at least in the town I come from, they believe that cemeteries are a bad omen for children. Yes, I think they allow the dead to rest in a peaceful place, but for the living, at least, it does the opposite. It’s especially bad for babies or younger children.

Me: Is it specifically dangerous for babies?

M: Yes, especially for small, innocent babies. There’s a story in cemeteries that if you pass by one, either by car or just walking by, you have to call your baby. You have to go around calling their name and calling them to you. It doesn’t matter if they are next to you, you have to call them to you and tell them to go with you.

Me: Is there a way to call them?

M: You can just say, “Come on, honey, come on,” and then say their name. You have to let the babies know that you are leaving and that they should go with you. This is because it is said that since a baby is so young and fragile its soul could be stolen by a spirit from the cemetery. That is why you have to call your baby’s soul to leave with their body.


Folklore surrounding cemeteries is a frequent topic across different cultures as its connections to the afterlife are strong. I found M’s interview interesting because it discussed a folklore that can be applied universally to any cemetery in the world. I like that folklore can be applied to any region in the world. I also found it interesting as M explained why it’s important to call for the name of the child as it is attached to its soul. It was also interesting to see the duality of cemeteries through M’s perspective. I always found cemeteries somewhat chilling, but I understood that it was someone’s final resting place so hearing about how cemeteries also take from the living.

The Second Name

Main piece: We have the tradition of naming our children after loved ones who have died. If however, the person who is deceased died at a young age, we give the baby a second name of an old person. We want the baby to have better luck and live longer; live a long life.

Background: My informant is a seventy-nine year old Ashkenazi Jewish woman living in Baltimore, Maryland. She is also my grandmother. She describes herself as a follower of “bubbe-meise” (Yiddish), translated to “grandmother’s fable”, or a more serious version of old wive’s tales that are often accompanied by superstitions.

Context: My informant and I were discussing Jewish cultural traditions, when she asked me if I could remember where I got my name. I told her that it was after my great-aunt (her sister-in-law), who died fairly young (she was fifty-nine) of breast cancer. My informant then asked me if I remembered where I got my middle name. I told her it was after her (the informant’s) grandmother, who lived well into her nineties (she was around ninety-seven when she passed). My informant then explained this cultural practice to me. My informant’s eldest son’s name followed this tradition as well. 

Analysis: It is a custom of Ashkenazi culture to name children after deceased loved ones, as both a way of honoring them and carrying their memories on  (this is not true for all Jewish people; Sephardic Jews name their children after living relatives, while Ashkenazi Jews do not). However, with loved ones who unfortunately did not live long or happy lives there is a fear that the children will also be cursed with a similar fate. However, by adding on a second name of someone who did have, as my informant puts it, “better luck”, the parents can honor their loved one while cancelling out any bad luck or misfortune that may accompany the name. Additionally, the source of the name is usually someone the parents want their child to emulate, or whose virtues the deceased namesake could hopefully pass on. There is also a belief that the soul of the deceased loved one lives on in the child who carries their name. The fear then comes from the idea that the child will not only inherit the virtues of their namesake, but the misfortunes as well. By tagging on a second name of someone who had a happier or longer life, the parents then believe that the souls of the two namesakes will both bequeath their virtues, and not their misfortunes.

Ghost House


“I didn’t grow up in Detroit. I lived in this small town outside of it.  It was really nice. All those big houses and really rich people.  There was this one family.  Dad was always out working. Two kids. The daughter had married and moved out.  The mom as home all the time and she got really depressed.  I’d met her once and she was very quiet.  I didn’t know it, but she was an alcoholic and eventually she drank herself to death. Her liver failed.  Her son was left alone.  During the summer, the Dad had to work. So he asked a friend of mine if he could look after his son.  My friend agreed, but he didn’t really look after the kid and we had parties in the house.  One day while we were there, we were telling ghost stories and my friend said, ‘I’ve got this weird one to tell you guys’.  A few nights ago, he had been in his room and he fell asleep.  As he was dreaming, he realized that he was outside of his body.  So he decided to walk through the house and when he came into the kitchen, the entire family of the house was in there—including the mother who had died.  My friend went up to her, and her face was bone white. She was dead.  The mother was holding this little baby.  My friend asked her if she wanted to go and she said, ‘I want to go, but somebody has to look after this baby.’  He woke up right after that.  We were all freaked out by the story.

About a year later, I remembered the story and I asked him about it.  He said that when the father got back from his trip, he told him about his dream.  The father had given him this strange look and said, ‘No one knows this, but my daughter had a baby who died of crib death in this house.’”

My informant is catholic and believed that the mother was trapped in the house to pay for her sins of drinking and leaving her son behind.  She had to take care of another child in the afterlife.  He also believed that the baby couldn’t go to heaven because it was so young and it still needed someone to take care of it.  He said that he liked the story because he liked to believe the stories of rich families with hidden pasts in those big houses.  “You never really know where all that money came from” he said.

My informant’s analysis of why the child and mother were in the house really corresponds well with ghost belief in the church.  A mother who sinned is punished, but the child who hadn’t been christen yet is trapped as well.  A baby is not really a member of the community until that moment and thus is in a state where it is vulnerable.

Dove Signs


“In my family, we believe that when a person dies, they become a dove.  When my great-aunt and grandfather died, the next day there were two doves in our backyard.  So I believe it.”

My informant thinks this is because the dove is often associated with souls that fly up to heaven.

The Mourning Dove is often symbolic of optimism and is spiritual with a message of life, hope, renewal and peace.  This is very helpful for a family that is coping with the death of a beloved member.  There are other tales of loved ones becoming butterflies or ladybugs. It is typically an animal that can fly and is very beautiful, which is similar to the idea that the soul of a loved one is beautiful and flies up to heaven.