Tag Archives: warning

Siren Legend

Genre: Folk Narrative – Legend


“When I was younger, I heard this legend about a warrior who lived in Scotland during the height of the medieval wars. Despite his skill in battle, the warrior was lonely and wanted a woman to love.

“One day, in the midst of a battle, this beautiful woman appeared at the crest of a hill and began walking across the field, somehow making it through unscathed. The warrior was immediately entranced by her and felt like he was hallucinating. Even though it was foggy and cold, the woman wore no clothing, and the warrior longed to discover what was hidden beneath her long, dark hair.

“When the woman finally made it to him, the warrior no longer cared about the battle happening around him: he only had eyes for this beautiful, mysterious woman. Her eyes were as blue as the sea, and when she opened her lips to speak, inviting him to follow her down to the beach, he found himself powerless and unable to resist. She led the way out of the battlefield and down to the ocean, where each step into the water seemed to make her even more beautiful.

“But by the time the warrior realized that there was something dangerous to her beauty, it was too late: the water transformed the irresistible woman into a creature of the sea. She dragged the warrior into the ocean, and despite his strength, he was unable to fight back. The woman, who in her true form was a siren, drowned the warrior and feasted on his remains before disappearing back into the sea to wait for the next man she would make her meal.”


“My great-uncle was a big storyteller, and he was really into mythology about all sorts of creatures and stuff from different cultures. He spent a year living in Scotland after college, and while he was there, he heard this story from a local tour guide. I’m sure the story I ended up hearing was different from the one he originally heard because he likes to embellish things and give stories his own flair. But I think this was kind of his way of warning me not to be stupid and leave everything behind for a girl just because I think she’s beautiful.”


I agree with the informant’s interpretation of the legend – that it is a warning to not become entranced by a woman just because of her attractiveness. There is also an undertone of a warning to not leave behind your life when something suddenly appears to be better – similar to the idea that “the grass is greener on the other side.”

I also think that it is interesting to consider the dilution of this legend from an original Scottish form to what seems to likely be Americanized. In Scottish mythology, the “equivalent” of what here is called a siren is really a selkie. The main difference between the two is sirens are sometimes considered synonymous with mermaids and are known to entrance men through magical song, while selkies are shapeshifters with a human and seal form. Both are typically depicted as seductive in their human forms, though selkies are considered to have more of a dual nature, while sirens primarily lean toward violence.

Red Ribbon on a Horse’s Tail


A red ribbon tied around a horse’s tail means that they’re “a kicker”


C is a current USC student who grew up in Bellevue, Washington and previously worked in a barn there training rescue horses. As indicated in the text, C explained that tying a red ribbon around a horse’s tail meant they were prone to kicking and that other horses and riders should give them extra space. After I asked if this practice was specific to their barn, they explained that the red tail ribbon is a widely-known sign in the horseriding world and has become an important safety practice, especially in competition settings. C then stated that they were introduced to the red tail ribbon early on by people in their barn and that people would assume a rider was a “newbie” if they didn’t know the sign. C also mentioned that jokes were often shared amongst riders about the red tail ribbon – for example, a rider may joke that they’re going to tie a red ribbon around their non-aggressive horse’s tail to get people to “back off.”


As C mentioned, this folk object seems to me to have primarily risen out of a need to quickly and effectively communicate important safety information. A horse’s kick can cause severe injury to a person, and while small groups of people can be verbally warned of a kicking horse, that information seems like it would become much more difficult in a large horse arena or during a fast-paced competition. The use of a visual signal or folk object to communicate danger creates a constant visual differentiator for the kick-prone horse and allows the message to be spread and received much more quickly. Additionally, like much of occupational folklore, knowing the use of the red tail ribbon becomes a marker of insider status and experience in the horse rider world. Joking about the red tail ribbon in turn conveys a sense of familiarity with the sign and further demonstrates the presence of insider knowledge.

Pa fe bouche mwen long

-Haitian Creole saying

-direct English translation: “Don’t make my mouth long”

-Dom’s colloquial translation: “Don’t piss me off, basically”

My friend, Dom, is from Atlanta, GA; however, both of his parents were born in Haiti. He is fluent in Haitian Creole, and quite passionate about his heritage, culture, and driving upliftment of Haiti and its inhabitants.

According to Dom, “Pa fe bouche mwen long” directly translates to “Don’t make my mouth long,” however, it essentially means “Don’t piss me off.” He heard it from his parents and other adults in his community if he or others were bothering or angering them. 
Most of the online media defining this saying provide only colloquial translations. However, as I suspected when Dom first told it to me, according to Learn Haitian Creole, somewhere between the direct and colloquial is the translation, “Don’t make me talk too much.” When Dom’s mom would tell him not to make her mouth long, she was really instructing him not to get her worked up to the point of having to lecture or yell at him.

The Witch in the Woods

Text: “So my family and I used to live in Ohio, with a backyard that had a giant forest behind it. We were very isolated from others because this used to be an old golf course. There was this story about a witch who lived in this woods where this old golf course was, and that there were dead bodies buried beneath it when it was a cemetery. The witch apparently lost her kids and she was angry while living in those woods. One night, my sister had a dream about being in those woods, and getting taken by that witch. In the dream, M was hit with a frying pan several times. Days later, my younger brother, J, was in the woods exploring one day, until he randomly got really scared. He heard something, stopped in his tracks, and saw that there was a frying pan, sitting in the woods in front of him. He sprinted out of there as fast as he could because he was so freaked out.” – Informant

Context: The informant shared this spooky story about when he lived in Ohio, because he could “never forget it.” The sister was about 13, he was about 9, and the younger brother was 8. They still talk about this story today and how it gave them all nightmares as kids. They moved from Ohio to Florida a few years later, and left the spooky woods behind.

Analysis: This legend contains several elements of folklore, including the use of a supernatural figure, a witch, and the presence of dead bodies in the woods. The story of the witch who lost her children and now haunts the woods serves as a warning to those who dare to venture into the area, an oikotype to La Llorona, who lost her kids when they drowned, and now she haunts bodies of water in order for kids to be responsible and avoid bodies of water when they’re alone. There is definitely a connection between the two because the witch lost her kids in the woods, hence why children should not venture out into the woods alone. It serves as a cautionary tale and reinforces the idea that supernatural forces can be found in unexpected places. Overall, this legend highlights the power of folklore to shape our perceptions of the world around us and to warn us of potential dangers.

Can you get me a glass of water?


The informant, JB, is my older brother who is twenty-four and currently lives in New York City. We both grew up in a small town in Tennessee surrounded by our close family. The story I interviewed him about is very well known throughout our family and is centered around our grandfather and his supernatural experience in rural Kentucky.

Main Piece:

JB’s summary of the story- Papaw was at a little store/restaurant in Kentucky, and he sat on a stool and ordered a Pepsi at the counter. While the lady was opening his drink an old, straggly looking man with long white hair and a long white beard sat down beside him. He asked papaw to order him a class of water, which he did. The man drank the water and then got up and walked towards the door. As he reached for the door, he looked back at papaw and said something he couldn’t understand. He got to go after the man and see what he said but the mysterious man had disappeared, and no one outside seen him. Three or four years later, in the middle of the night, Papaw was woken up by someone pulling him out of his bed, and I think the first few times he assumed it was Mamaw or mom messing with him. The last time was really aggressive, so he was wide awake and at the foot of his bed was man from that little restaurant with a long white beard and hair. He looked at papaw and said, “I’ll come back one more time, just one more time” then he disappeared; at the time, Mamaw was wake in the living room and didn’t hear or see anything.

Interviewer- Who told you this story for the first time?

JB- Papaw told me when I was younger, but Mamaw and mom referenced the story all the time. Mamaw always that she believed it was true because of how scared papaw was after it happened. She always said it was some kind of angel.

Interviewer- So what was your interpretation of it?

JB- It sounds like some kind of omen, but the time difference is weird since the man came back just a few years later but it’s been at least forty years since it happened. Maybe the 3rd time will be before he dies.


My grandpa’s supernatural encounter can be categorized as a folk legend since he, and the rest of our family considers it to be true. This is my family’s most passed around piece of folklore, so we all develop different interpretations of what this meant.  The way that I interpreted the legend was that of warning, and moral upkeep. Although the story is unique to my grandpa, it contains common motifs of folklore like a figure with a long white beard, the significant group of 3s, and proverbial warnings. Folklorists have consistently found that supernatural legends often develop during times of stress or change as a way to cope. Given my grandfather’s religious background, the man could have represented a pure figure, like an angel, coming to check on the state of his soul. Along with that, the threat of the man coming back at random could act as a deterrent of immoral acts. Although I don’t know if my grandpa was engaging in bad behaviors, it is common for spirits to function as a way to externalize negative feelings, perhaps guilt in this case.