Tag Archives: supersition

Earthquake on a Bull’s Horns

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Pakistani, American
Age: 53
Occupation: Computer Programmer
Residence: 11048 Washington Blvd Apt 306
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/25/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Urdu, Punjabi

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my father, that was told to him in a casual setting during his childhood in a Pakistani village.

Background: The informant was recounting some sayings and stories that his eldest aunt used to tell him and other children during the day, sometimes while she was working. This particular piece was collected soon after an earthquake occurred. As a child, he recalls being captivated by such fantastical stories, although he is not sure whether the adults actually believed them or merely told them to children to entertain them.

Main piece: 

Informant: (After an earthquake) How can an earthquake happen? The whole ground was shaking!

Aunt: You should know that the earth is held up by a huge bull. He supports the whole world by balancing it on one of his horns. When he gets tired of holding it up, the bull switches the earth to his other horn, causing an earthquake to occur.

Analysis: This story is fascinating to me because it isn’t immediately apparent how such a myth was introduced to the area my father was growing up in. After some digging, it appears there may be a basis for this story in medieval Islamic cosmography, the unorthodox ideas relating to the structure of the universe held by some scholars of the time period. It has also been claimed that this could be derived from the biblical Leviathan. There is also a very similar Bosnian-Slavic myth, Tur, which tells of a giant bull that lives underground, causing earthquakes when he moves his horn, and even similarities to the Greek myth of Atlas holding up the world on his shoulders. 

For a very similar relation of this myth, see chapter 5 in the book Developments in Earth Surface Processes volume 17, Earthquakes and Coseismic Surface Faulting on the Iranian Plateau: A Historical, Social and Physical Approach.

Green Indian Charms

--Informant Info--
Nationality: India
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: March 27
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hindi

This is the use of a folk object to bring safety to one’s family, typically found in India. The informant is from Mumbai, India, and he and his family consistently use this practice whenever they have purchased new things. The concept of this is that the individual hangs green objects, typically limes or green peppers, from something. This is most common when something new has been bought. The purpose of this is to protect their family and their new possession from the evil eye of jealousy. They believe in that culture that other people looking on this object will bring jealous with their eyes and will spell bad fortune for themselves. The hanging objects distract the eyes and no longer spell misfortune. There is another side to this in terms of keeping bugs away as well. The limes and peppers are hung with string. It is said that both of the acidity and spiciness of the two fruits will deter bugs from hanging around the home in which it is hung. There are other accounts that the hanging charms will please the god of misery, Alakshmi, and keep her from causing harm to the family.

The informant learned this practice from his family. It was more important and believe in past times and now, it is more done out of tradition than anything. The informant remembers this because it is something his mother would do when he was younger. He does not believe in the actual superstition of it but appreciates the reflection of his culture and the preservation of folk traditions.

This is used in Hindu culture, which has many gods to reflect different aspects of society. Specific things please each one, so this is just likely one of many examples of implementation of religion in Indian culture’s daily life. This brings a sense of security to the person, much like physical blue all-knowing eyes are hung in some Muslim countries like Turkey.

Other source: https://www.thenational.ae/uae/shopkeepers-turn-to-charms-of-lemons-and-chillies-for-good-luck-1.526276

This article talks about its use specifically within shopkeepers to bring good fortune as they struggle through bad economic times. They change the fruits each week and use lemons instead of limes.

Menon, “Shopkeepers turn to charms of lemons and chillies for good luck”, The National UAE, March 6, 2010

The Legend of El cucuy

--Informant Info--
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Background

Informant: A.G.  22 years old current senior in undergrad at USC, third generation from Honduras/Mexico

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Context

A.G.’s family is originally from South America, namely Mexico and Honduras. His family immigrated to the US when his mother was a child and have strong ties to their heritage, tradition and culture back in their homeland. Many of the stories and traditions that A.G. knows have been passed down from generation to generation, and instill a cultural and familial understanding in the younger generations. The Legend of El cucuy is one such piece of folklore, that is told to young children to scare them into behaving appropriately and being obedient. The story itself has many parallels to ones like La Llorona, or other similar ghost stories that are based around children. A.G. initially heard this story from his uncle, who learned it from his mother, whom would tell him this legend at night when he was a young boy. I have transcribed his telling below:

Main Piece

“My uncle told me that his mother, my abuela, would tell him to behave or the cucuy would get him. Cucuy is like a small, bat eared, hair monster that has huge red eyes and it would kidnap you if you did something bad or misbehaved. He said this his mom would always tell him to go to sleep on time, to behave, never doing anything bad by anybody else and to listen and respect her, which was the most important. If he didn’t behave properly, the cucuy would come and take him into the night. Some of his friends would tell him that when they were up past their bedtime or sneaking something, they would hear screeching or suddenly see red eyes in the bushes. Whenever that happened, someone would be missing the next day. To this day he says he’s still scared of it, especially if he goes back to Mexico”

Thoughts

El cucuy from Mexico that has long been known by the Mexican people and a lot of latin americans. It has traveled to the United States and spread at a tremendous rate. The legend is reminiscent of La Llorona or the American boogeyman due to the similar roles that the stories play; to scare kids into staying in their beds and not misbehaving. When asked about whether this story was relevant when he was a child, A.G. noted that while he was aware of it, it wasn’t told to him in the same way that it was told to his uncle. For A.G. he learned it more as a reference to his culture, and less as a cautionary tale used to make children behave. He also noted that in his uncle’s telling of the story, he naturally began acting out the legend, and made it sound ominous as if he was reciting it to some unruly children and really trying to convince them of El cucuy’s existence. Apparently, there is still superstition and belief in this creature, much the same way that there is belief in Ll Llorona.

It was interesting to me to hear how similar this legend is to other and the role that these legends play specifically when related to children. In the folklore course with Tok Thompson, there has been discussions about the way that folklore is used to teach children about social and cultural norms, and how to behave. It seems that in this case, the myth of El cucuy’s purpose is directly related to scaring children into acting appropriately, in the same way that Cinderella informs them of gender norms. Belief in the legend also prompts real changes in behavior and of perception, for example when a child does act out of turn and “sees” El cucuy in the bush, someone goes missing. This then strengthens in the “validity” of the legend and further impacts the cultural behavior around it.

Coffee Enema Can Clear You of Worms

--Informant Info--
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Background

Informant: K.M. – 21 year old female, born and raised in Los Angeles

Context

When talking about health remedies and ways to eat better, K.M. presented this wives tale that has gained more attention due to the internet and the claims about this “healing treatment.” Told to the informant by a friend, she then researched and found multiple variations of the treatment and the benefits, even expressing that she herself would like to try it. I have transcribed her telling below:

Main Piece

“So I’ve heard that humans have a lot of toxins in their bodies and that due to all of the processed food we eat, most of us actually have parasites living in our intestines. So then I asked my super health freak friend about it and she showed me this thing called a coffee enema. I was super skeptical at first but then she showed me all this stuff about how it’s an ancient technique used to clear the body of the toxins. And then I started watching all of these videos of people who did it and got rid of their worms, so now I’m not sure if I should do it.”

Thoughts

This is an example of a homeopathic remedy, which are quite common both in folklore and in a number of cultural communities. Using natural techniques to clean the body and rid it of toxins and outside invaders is a common folk belief that has recently surged again due to overall consciousness of our health and the things that we put into our body. However, most science actually states the opposite, that there is no method humans can use to clear the body of these “toxins” and that the liver and kidneys actually physiologically do this already, as long as they are healthy. However, this specific belief  and others like it may be a call back to the times of widespread spiritual cleansing. Many believe in the power of burning sage to clear bad energies and spirits, perhaps the coffee enema is an extension of that desire to create a pure state for ourselves. An enema quite literally forces the body to expel waste, and this could be seen as a parallel to a spiritual cleansing ritual. However, what was interesting to me was the spread of this belief among our group of friends after she shared this folk belief, with most of us in the group initially believing the claims and then sharing it with others in our community.

Filipino Funeral Rituals & Superstitions

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Filipino American
Age: 26
Occupation:
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: 5/1/2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

The informant is a 26-year-old male of Filipino descent. He will be referred to as DY. DY and his family lived in Hawaii for a time, and he currently resides in California. His piece of folklore comes from a memory he had in Hawaii and is described in the main piece in his own words:

Main Piece:

With my family, growing up I had a few family members pass away and I realized as a kid that our grieving process was different. Prior to the funeral we would go through a 9 day prayer process but what stood out to me after all of that is that we would do this ritual where my family would boil guava leaves, water, and vinegar together and the person closest to the deceased would rub this mixture on every member of the family’s face. I asked my mom why we would do that, and my mom told me that it’s because It’s one of the final steps that we need to do in order to help the dead move on or else they will still linger onto this world and attach themselves to anyone who didn’t partake in the ritual. If anyone starts to feel some sort of sickness around the time of these prayers, they would do this thing we called “Ano ano” where my aunt would knock on the forehead of the person feeling sick because it was a sign of the dead trying to hold onto that person. My mom never believed in it because she never felt any kind of dizziness or sickness, but a good chunk of my aunties is superstitious in that way so if you felt any sort of dizziness you had to have it happen to you.

Background:

DY heard the folklore from his mother, but it appears that the folklore is common knowledge among the elders in the family. It’s something passed down to the children to continue the tradition.  DY believes that through spiritual experiences he’s had with the passing of his grandmother, that he believes the rituals have magical properties but that he doesn’t really participate in them so he might not continue the tradition with his own children.

Notes:

The act of these rituals seems to be more than just the action of doing them. These rituals and traditions are important in keeping the family united. It is a social experience that of course, serves a purpose, but it also brings the family closer together. The use of guava leaves in a basin can also be used as a wash when people leave the funeral or cemetery, they rinse their hands in the basin to remove the spirits that may have attached themselves to the living.