Tag Archives: Superstitions

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.

The Legend of Macbeth

Folklore/ Text: “Macbeth!”

KM: Uttering the word “Macbeth” within a theatrical setting immediately brings bad luck to your day. This legend dates back to the early 1600s during the first-ever performance of Macbeth. The actor that was intended to portray Lady Macbeth suddenly passed away before the show, forcing Shakespeare himself to play the part. Later, the person playing King Duncan was stabbed with an actual dagger, and killed in front of a live audience. Many more unfortunate events like riots and murders have occurred during the runs of Macbeth, upholding the strange folklore surrounding the play. The only remedy is to exit the theater after saying the word, spin around three times, spit over your left shoulder, and either swear or recite a line of Shakespeare dialogue.  

Explanation/ Context: After over 400 years of Macbeth being performed on stages all over the world, the continuous accidents and occurrences further exemplify the grim lore of the play. It’s almost common knowledge that the word is cursed, whether you’re involved in theatre or not. No accidents are the same, but somehow exclusively happen during performances of Macbeth. When something goes wrong– someone said “Macbeth!” Even the remedy is widely known and allegedly stops oncoming.

Boston University Seal Superstition

Context:

The informant, NR, is a current Boston University student and heard about this superstition from friends while walking around campus.

Main piece:

“So, there’s a, there’s a giant seal in the center of Marsh Plaza, which is kind of like the center of campus. And it’s superstition that like, if you step on the seal, you won’t graduate in time. Literally like, you can go to Marsh Chapel like any time during the day, and like it’s the center of campus so like it’s always going to be, there’s always going to be people walking every which way. But if you observe, you’ll, uh, notice that people will like actually go out of their way to avoid stepping on it, on the seal.”

Analysis:

I think this is a pretty common college superstition, and I’ve heard mention of multiple similar versions on different campuses. Many universities have school seals embedded somewhere on their grounds, and since the seal is associated through its shape with the authority of the university, stepping on the seal could be seen as disrespecting the authority of the educational institution.

Alternatively, the seal could represent the college community, and disrespecting the community by stepping on the seal would result in being left behind while your classmates graduate on time. Other versions, like the one linked below, include conversions for reversing the bad luck drawn by stepping on the seal, but the informant says he has never heard of a conversion for stepping on Boston University’s seal.

For another version of this superstition, see this superstition around stepping on the seal at Auburn University: “Auburn University – Seal Superstition” by Eli Alford, USC Digital Folklore Archives, May 1, 2021, http://folklore.usc.edu/auburn-university-seal-superstition/

Kappa in Japanese Folklore

Main Text:

KY: I’ll tell you about the kappa. It’s this, uhm— it’s basically this monster that lives in the river. The Japanese created this story of the kappa which is this monster… Its head is like a lily pad, and it just like submerges itself under water. So, if you see a lily pad in your river or something, it could be the kappa. They’re also like very hard to see. So they can be like just in like the rocks and stuff… So they’re like very scary monsters. They’re very, very scary… And they can come out at night, and take kids away… They’re really short as well, if I remember correctly… I think that like, in Japan, the reason why— it’s because rivers are dangerous, and they don’t want kids playing at rivers at night without supervision…

Context:

This was taken from a conversation with me and one of my suitemates, who is of Japanese descent, in the Cale & Irani Apartments in USC Village. He has heard of these creatures for as long as he can remember, from “before he could even speak.” He was warned of them by his parents and grandfather, who lived near a river, that he used to visit when he also lived in Japan.

Analysis:

We often see these folk beliefs and cautionary tales told to children, by their parents, to keep them away from danger. It makes a commentary on adult supervision since, apparently, parents are the only ones strong enough to fight back against these creatures. Stories like these are designed to scare children, make them weary of the unknown, and to keep them close to their parents. This particular belief can also reflect the societal fear that Japan has with bodies of water since it is notorious for bad weather such as storms, floods, and tsunamis.

The Lake Arrowhead Hand

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my friend/informant (DS).

HS: So what’s your take on The Hand?

DS: Alright so first of all we’ve gotta explain how this lake story came to be. In water skiing, there are different ways of holding the cable that are more efficient than other ways. In some cases, some ways of holding the cable are more dangerous than others. So there’s this way of holding it where you kind of wrap it around your back, but it’s really risky because there’s a risk of you losing your hand if things go wrong. So back in the 1980s, there was this girl who was water skiing in that risky position, right. And she messed up and her hand came right off. My parents talk about this story all the time and I’m pretty sure that it is a true story. The girl even lost her wedding ring because she was wearing it on the hand that she had lost.

HS: So what stories did people start to tell after she lost her hand?

DS: It kind of turned into a ghost story. People around the lake have reported seeing walking hands and all that kind of crazy stuff. They see the old, rusted wedding ring on the hand. They say the hand is still trying to find the body that it used to be a part of. It haunts all night swimmers at Lake Arrowhead and whenever you’re out on the lake at night, and you see a sparkle off in the distance, people wonder if it’s the shine of the ring on the walking hand.

Background:

My informant is a friend that I went to high school and now college with. He spends a lot of his summer in Lake Arrowhead and has a lot of folk stories and traditions that he has gotten from the area.

Context:

So I was visiting my informant up in Arrowhead last summer and I was with him and seven or eight other people. It was late at night and we were all on a boat in the middle of the lake. Besides us, there was no sound coming from anywhere- complete silence out on the water. It was also almost pitch black, with only small amounts of light coming from the surrounding docks. We were all winding down for the night, kind of relaxed sort of vibe. We all started telling ghost stories and legends that we knew in an attempt to scare one another. Amongst the stories was that of the Lake Arrowhead hand. A year later, I was in need of folklore stories and so I asked my friend to act as an informant for me.

Thoughts:

This is the second collection that I have done regarding ghost stories that involve hands, which is an interesting coincidence. I’ve gotten the chance to do a decent amount of reading on the subject of ghost hands in the process and found this example to be compelling for a few reasons. First, this folklore is unique to a small, concentrated population that lives on the crest of Lake Arrowhead. But even though it is local folklore, it still had properties of similar legends from around the world. It is almost as if we take stories from a predisposed list and then augment them to fit our local context, which is a trend that I found to be extremely interesting. I also found it interesting that these folk stories can be generated from true events. The fact that a woman lost her hand in Lake Arrowhead was true, but for some reason, we as humans find it fascinating to add all of this superstition to scary events. Why is that?