Tag Archives: Superstition

Rubbing the Evil Eye Away

Background: The informant is a 26 year old female who lives in a suburb of Chicago. She was born and raised around the city with her grandparents, mother, and younger brother. Her grandparents, immigrants from Mexico, imparted most of their knowledge to the informant.

Context: The context was in a phone call, and the informant was asked if she knew any traditions surrounding Mexican folklore. She barely took a moment to think before she was recounting a very common experience happening to her as a child.

Text:

VA: When I was younger, the most common thing I can think of, is getting rubbed down by an egg would soak up the evil eye.

Me: Any specific type of egg?

VA: Not that I know of. We always just used chicken eggs.

Me: So, it would basically just be your family would rub the egg on you? Who would be the egg-rubber?

VA: Someone wise would usually do it. I’m not sure what qualities someone has to be the, uh, egg-rubber. I remember that my grandfather did it for us [informant and her brother].

Me: Is there anything else you would do?

VA: Yeah, after you rub it down on someone and soak up the evil eye… Afterwards, you crack the egg into a glass of water. So, the bad stuff can’t get out. It’s called oomancy.

Analysis:

Informant: The egg and the evil eye are a staple from her childhood. They still believe in the concept and it ties her back to her grandfather, who would always rub her with the egg.

Mine: I’ve never heard about the tradition with the egg, but it is apparently prevalent in Latin American cultures. It ties back into the elder being the wisest and the carrier of most of the traditions of a particular group. In the case of the informant, her grandfather would always be the one to perform the tradition, and in the process, he was imparting the knowledge he knew onto her and her younger sibling. I would suspect an egg is used to seep out the evil eye because an egg is commonly associated with purity, and by touching a dark thing with a pure thing, it will cancel each other out. Also, the egg has a hard shell and, as such, if the evil is taken within, the hard shell functions as a prison, and keeps the spirit within, until it is able to be cracked in the cup. I would think the wate functions similar to holy water and burns out the evil spirit.

Don’t be Born on Eclipses

Background: The informant is a 50 year old man. He was born in Tecate, Mexico, moving to California when he was young. He grew up with his four siblings and two parents, moving from location to location across California. He currently lives in Los Angeles, California. 

Context: The context was when watching an astronomy show together on a streaming platform. They made a mention of an eclipse.

Text:

UI: Now, one superstition that I grew up with, that I was very well aware of and it’s going to sound completely strange, is that pregnant women should not go outside when there’s an eclipse. If a pregnant woman is outside during the time of an eclipse like that somehow or other, because of the eclipse, that the baby will be born deformed. Now, the thing with the eclipse is that, in actual fact, I don’t really know how it works. I don’t know if it’s because, you know, maybe the rays of the sun get distorted or, you know, I mean look in aztec culture they would look at it [eclipses] when they occurred. During the times of the Aztecs it was sort of like,  the moon is fighting with the sun and and the sun is overcoming the moon, It’s just something I’ve always remembered as a kid.

Me: Who did you hear it from?

UI: I had heard it from my mom. I had heard it from friends.

Me: What about when your wife was pregnant?

UI: There was an eclipse, and after explaining it to her, she understood and stayed inside.

Analysis:

Informant: The informant understands that the superstition may be considered strange by many people, self-aware that the superstition may not be well spread throughout his family. However, it is clear that the informant still believes in superstition to a strong degree.

Mine: The superstition was something new to me. It reveals a few things about Mexican culture. The first is the protective nature over pregnant women and the baby they are carrying. Since women are treated very delicately by this superstition, it would be interesting to see how it compares with other Mexican folkloric ideas. Second, not wanting the women to be exposed during an eclipse so that the baby will not be deformed shows a societal, not just Mexican, belief against children who are not born healthy. It has some negative connotations that a baby with defects is not wanted. However, that is a more modern interpretation of the superstition, and placing it into a past time period, many women used to die during childhood or their children would die when extremely young. Anything would want to be done to protect the child and the mother. If a baby does have deformities, it could ned up hurting the mother or the child might not live for long, which was extremely concerning.

Tofu

1) After a Korean exits prison, a white block of tofu, nothing else, is the first thing that they are supposed to eat. By doing this, they have a better chance to live a life of purity from that point after. 

2) My Korean mother told me about the “folk item / food” that is tofu because she said she wants me to know that even if I make a grave mistake, I will always have a chance at redemption if I assume the right mentality. 

3) My Korean mother told me this when I was eating dinner with my family. I asked if there are any Korean foods that have a traditional / folk significance, and after a moment of thinking she came up with the above example.

4) This practice started in the prisons of the Joseon dynasty, but is now seen in modern-day Korean noir films. Perhaps tied to its longevity is the fact that tofu is already such a staple food for Koreans. Also, in prison they only give inmates bean rice for food (no tofu). Tofu is also made from beans, but it is an elevated form of bean to the one included in rice in prisons. 

spit on the devil

1) I recall my friend used to always “spit over his left shoulder” when something made him superstitious (e.g. a black cat crossing the street). I met up with him over spring break and asked him what that was all about, and he responded: “oh… that’s actually a piece of Russian folklore… my mom taught me to do that whenever a black cat crosses the road… a lot of my friends from Orthodox Church did this too…” “What does it mean?” I asked. He explained “you’re spitting on the devil.”

2) The informant is my close friend from high school and a Russian international student. He was raised in the Russian Orthodox Church. He claimed that he finds validity in doing this “folk practice,” under appropriate circumstances. Although I questioned the rationality of this practice, he simply responded, “me and my family are superstitious people,” and “this is an expression of that.” He claims he thinks I should be more superstitious like him because he thinks it will protect me in the future. 

3) This was performed when I visited my friend in Boston at the end of spring break. I asked him to demonstrate the practice after talking about its origins. 

4) This practice is known to be popular within Russian communities and is often paired with the act of “knocking on wood,” which is a practice also known in America. An interesting parallel could be that Russian Orthodox Christians kiss icons, yet “spit” on the devil, suggesting that in both instances Russians are hyperfocused on form or image. The icon is a literal image of Jesus, while spitting on the devil on one’s left shoulder requires an imaginary image of a form present to spit on. Here, the key issue is that regardless of whether or not this superstitious practice, which is derived from Biblical legends as adopted by Russians, is proven effective, its value of folklore is gained from the fact that many Russians practice it. 

Turkish Good Luck Charms 

Background Information: 

The informant is a residential real estate developer who learned a lot of traditions and superstitions from their mother. They currently live in Detroit, Michigan but emigrated from Turkey. 

Main Piece: 

ME: Hey GD, would you mind telling me a bit about what you would do for good luck when selling your homes?

GD: Well… what I would do when initially trying to sell a house… elephants are supposed to be good luck. It’s a set of seven elephants from Turkey, and they are like a graduated size, starting from a big one all the way down to a baby one. I would always put them together in a room in one of my spec houses to bring good luck in selling the home. 

ME: Do you have any idea where this comes from or how you found out about it?

GD: Well I don’t know exactly where it comes from, but uh I imagine it is cross-cultural. Only because we have friends from India and they do the same thing. Uh but I got it from my mother who is Turkish. And obviously seven… seven is a lucky number too right, so. 

ME: Would you do anything else to try and sell your homes?

GD: So whenever I present any of my new homeowners with their keys, I always put their keys on an evil-eye keychain that I buy from Turkey. 

ME: So what’s the significance of the evil eye?

GD: So the evil eye… it’s basically like a mirror. If there are, you know, legend has it, that if there are people that give off bad vibes their vibes can affect things, and the evil eye will reflect their bad vibes and give it back to them… It basically reflects evil back to the evil person.  

Context:

This interview happened a month ago at my home. 

Thoughts: 

It is interesting to me that the informant does not seem to know a ton about the origin of their superstitious beliefs, yet they still use them in their business, and partially credit their successes to these artifacts. It is also interesting how the informant brought up aspects of multiculturalism through folk artifacts. According to the informant, the seven elephants signify good luck in their culture as well as the culture of their Indian friends. The origin of the elephant as a good luck symbol actually does not originate from Turkey at all, but instead comes from Hinduism and the god Ganesha, and elephants are commonly used in Feng Shui practices as good luck. For more information see here: Cho, Anjie. “Uses of the Elephant Symbol in Feng Shui.” The Spruce, The Spruce, 24 Feb. 2022, https://www.thespruce.com/use-of-the-elephant-symbol-in-feng-shui-1274686. Looking at the evil eye, it’s origins surpasses even those of the Ottoman Empire. Researchers think that the first evil eye amulet was created in 3000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, or what is now Syria. The origin of the modern-day blue evil eye beads first appeared in multiple locations around the Mediterranean at around 1500 B.C. For more information see here: Hargitai, Quinn. “The Strange Power of the ‘Evil Eye’.” BBC Culture, BBC, 19 Feb. 2018, https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20180216-the-strange-power-of-the-evil-eye. It is very interesting that these two charms, which are very widespread in Turkey, are neither original to the region, nor originated in the region.