Tag Archives: turkey

The Story of the Maiden’s Tower

Text: “This is apparently a popular Turkish legend that I was told on a family trip to Istanbul. It is the story of The Maiden’s Tower, a popular tourist destination. It tells the tale of a princess who was locked in a tower to protect her from a prophecy that she would die from a snake bite. As the legend goes, the king of Constantinople was told by a fortune-teller that his daughter would die from a snake bite on her 18th birthday. In an effort to protect his daughter, the king had a tower built in the middle of the Bosphorus Strait, where he locked the princess away. On the princess’s 18th birthday, the king brought her a basket of fruit as a gift. Unbeknownst to the king, a snake was hiding in the basket, and when the princess reached in to grab a piece of fruit, the snake bit her and she died.”

Context: CW is a close friend of mine and he claimed this popular Turkish legend was told to him and his family by way of a tour guide while they were visiting Istanbul. He claimed, “I thought this story was cool but the most interesting part was how the tower was real and it was so isolated from the whole area that the story kind of became believable in a way”. I found this interesting and asked him to explain more and he just stated that actually seeing the setting of a legend for himself made the legend come to life and seem more believable, whether or not the story is true, it was unique getting to know it was actually possible. He remembered this story because he enjoyed the trip so thoroughly and he actually had a few pictures of the tower which allowed me to understand why the story seems so possible.

Analysis: After rereading the account of this legend I was able to find two main lessons. Firstly, the story highlights the dangers of overprotectiveness. The king’s decision to lock his daughter away in a tower shows how a desire to protect someone can become excessive and ultimately lead to unintended consequences. Instead of shielding his daughter from harm, the king inadvertently brought about her demise. Secondly, the story underscores the notion of fate and how it cannot be avoided. Despite the king’s best efforts to protect his daughter, the prophecy that she would die from a snake bite still came true. With these two lessons in mind, the legend had a purpose and therefor was easier for me to understand. It seemed to me that this legend was likely popular among all residents of Turkey considering it manifests in a popular location within one of Turkeys most populated and popular locations. The story being told to CW and his family indicated to me that it was also popular for the story to be told to visiting groups of tourists. After some research I found that the exact origins of the story of the Maiden’s Tower were unclear, as it has been passed down through oral tradition over many centuries. But it is believed to have originated in ancient Greek mythology, where it was known as the “Legend of Leandros and Hero.” The story was later adopted by the Byzantine Empire, which built a tower in the Bosphorus Strait to protect the city of Constantinople from invasion. Over time, the legend evolved into the tale of the princess who was locked in the tower to protect her from a prophecy. This timeline meant this story has a rich history and consisted of elements from several different cultures which made it all the more interesting.


Thanksgiving Tradition (the year I learned the true meaning of Thanksgiving)


My informant is my father who comes from a southern family, although he was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I asked him for any holiday traditions he could think of aside from the ones that I am a part of and I thought of a story he told me about one of our family members a while back and thought it would be perfect. So here is what he said:


“At 16 years old, I didn’t fully understand the meaning of Thanksgiving. To me, it was just a day of eating lots of food with family and friends. But when I moved to Connecticut, my grandmother Ruby showed me the true meaning of the holiday. On Thanksgiving Day, Ruby spent a whole week preparing dinner and wrapping several plates of food in foil. I didn’t understand why she was doing this until she explained that we were going to give the food to people who were less fortunate than us. We drove to a city building where Ruby distributed the plates of food to people living on the streets. Seeing their gratitude and smiles made me realize that Thanksgiving was not just about feasting with family and friends, but also about giving back to the community. From then on, I made a commitment to give back every Thanksgiving, and the lesson my grandmother taught me stayed with me for life.”


From what I know about the origins of Thanksgiving, it started with the Pilgrims in the 1600s. During this time a harvest feast was shared between two groups of people to celebrate an expedition. I am not sure where the turkeys came into play, but that’s not the point of this story.

I too had the issue of not truly understanding the meaning Thanksgiving, but then my father told me this story and through movies and everything else its a time to show others you are grateful towards them and to openly express kindness to others. I enjoy this holiday for the food especially, so it is sad think about the people who do not get to enjoy it. Over the years, I feel Thanksgiving has strayed away from its roots a little bit, but I think the true meaning behind the holiday is to put aside differences for a day to celebrate being grateful and kind to each other.

Something that also comes to mind is the fact that this was my fathers grandmother who if I’m correct is from Texas. I say this because I think of the phrase “Southern Hospitality”. That and maybe things were different and there was more of a community dynamic, something more old school. People are still kind today, but I believe it is important to see more of that during Thanksgiving.

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.  


This interview happened a month ago at my home. 


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. 

Turkish Mountain Ghost Story

Background Information: 

The informant is an older person who grew up in Central Turkey in the 40s and 50s. They have now been living in the US for the last 30 years. They are describing things from their childhood. 

Main Content: 

ME: So could you tell me about the time you saw a ghost on the mountain, that you told me about a few years ago? 

NA: So one day me, my brother, and my father went to visit a farm that my father owned in a different village. We had to walk about 2-3 hours through very mountainous terrain to get there. We stayed there for a few hours and be the time we were leaving it started to get really dark. However, the people who worked on the farm insisted that we didn’t go, simply begging not to leave, they were telling us that the weather was going to be really bad, but my father said that we had to leave. The worker insisted that he let his son take us back on two horses, and my father said fine. We stated climbing on the mountains and it started raining, my father sends the son back with the horses because he was scared that something would happen to him or the horses. Anyways, me and my brother and my father kept going on foot. If there wasn’t any lightning, we couldn’t see in front of our step, and it was lightning constantly. We say two, well I remember seeing one person on a horse, but my father says that there was two. I’m not sure if it was just imagine or real, but they were behind these rocks. My father started yelling at them, and he used two speak all of the Kurdish languages. He used to speak two of them real good and the other one not so good. There was a lot of Kurds in this area, he was in touch with them all day every day, he lived with them for many, many years. The horsemen were not that far away, and he spoke with them in all three languages, and he still didn’t get no answer. Maybe there was nobody, but we all saw them multiple times in the lightning, and all of the sudden they disappeared. There was also a lot of hail, hail as big as eggs, pounding on our heads. 

ME: Wow that sounds incredibly scary, do you think that it was ghosts that you saw? 

NA: I don’t know exactly if they were ghosts, but they were not people. They would have responded to my father otherwise. The road was maybe as wide as a coach, its not even a real road, maybe like a trail, trail is even wider than that, so it was almost impossible for there to be anybody. Maybe it was just a hallucination, but we definitely saw something. Afterwards, my father sacrificed two lambs because we got out of that trouble. 


This conversation happened over a Facetime call. 


This story sounds like a classic example of a horror story. The dark, rain, thunder, and even hail. On top of that, they didn’t even have cars, the whole experience was either on horseback or by foot. It is so reminiscent of a generic scary story. Besides that, it is incredible that the informant still has such a vivid memory of what seems to be a relatively insignificant incident from almost 60 years ago. This leads me to believe that whatever the informant had seen that night was very convincing. Maybe it is possible that they saw the spirits of dead or lost travelers through the mountains, but it’s impossible to know. I think it is also interesting that their father sacrificed a lamb afterwards to thank Allah for getting them out of that situation. I’m not sure if he was more concerned with the weather or the ghosts, but either way it goes to prove that they found this to be a particularly dire situation. 

Turkish Haunted House

Background Information: 

The informant is an older person who grew up in Central Turkey in the 40s and 50s. They have now been living in the US for the last 30 years. They are describing things from their childhood. The informant remembers part of this story and was told the rest by her siblings and parents. 

Main Content: 

ME: Could you tell me about the haunted house that you lived in?

NA: Yeah, so when I was a little kid we used to live in this house. And after the lights went off at night, they would hear something on the walls, it also sounded like there was something in the house, and my father used to get up and get the, those days, there was no electricity I guess, and would get the lamps and go around the house. He couldn’t find anything, the windows were closed, the doors were closed, nobody was there. They used to tell this to the Imam, and the Imam, they know everything (laugh), they say “Oh, these are Jinn (Evil Spirits from the Quran)”. And then you know Uncle Jengis? Uncle Jengis’s mother she used to tell us that she was seeing the Jinn and spanking them, but it didn’t work. How could this happen? I’m thinkinking now that she must have had a nightmare. 

ME: Yeah, who knows? Did you guys do anything else to try and get rid of the Jinn. 

NA: Well, I mean, I was very young, and I hardly remember, but they were very scared. They couldn’t get rid of them, so we moved. They couldn’t take it anymore and moved. And then I think after that, my father used to rent out the house. 


This conversation happened over a Facetime call.


It sounds to me that these stories are very legitimate, especially if the informant’s family decided to move out because of the Jinn. Especially in a small town, this would be incredibly unsettling and scary, and I understand why they would want to leave, especially after the Imam couldn’t get rid of the Jinn. I also think that its interesting that the Imam described the ghosts in the house as Jinn, which are included in the Quran, but they originated as Pre-Islamic Arabic folklore. The actions of this Jinn fit the bill of what is described in the Quran. In the Quran, Jinn are often described as possessive beings that will take over houses and start occupying them, causing terror on it’s inhabitants during the nightime. It also makes sense that the Imam didn’t really try to do anything to get rid of the Jinn, because there are no described ways to get rid of them in the Quran.