“Here is a folk belief: If a window faces a chimney, the chimney would take the spirit and the qi away from the residents of the building with the smoke it generates. Then the people who live inside the building would become sick. The way to solve this is to put a mirror in the room facing the window. This can reflect the smoke out of the building. Or, you can hang a gourd on the window. Because the gourd is arc-shaped, it would lead the smoke to bypass the window.”
Informant is a friend of mine who is currently studying at USC. This piece of folklore is passed down from his family. He mentioned that in his hometown there are similar interpretations of the chimney and the window. He lived in the northern part of China.
Qi, or 气 is a notion in Chinese philosophy and medicine that represents vital energy. It has appeared in many Chinese folk beliefs and serves important elements. It is especially important to older generation people as many of them believe in Chinese medicine, which is a huge combination of field medicine and folk medicine.
This piece is a particularly interesting case in that not only does it provide superstition about windows and chimneys, but it also provided the conversion for getting rid of the influence. The method of the mirror and the gourd are more like magic: create results with separate actions. The solution might be devised by those who actually lived in a house with a window facing a chimney. This shows people’s agency in creating their own folk narratives to protect themselves from superstitious belief. The way to counter superstition is to create another superstition.
The informant grew up in Beijing. We were discussing ghost stories when she brought out this story.
A man bought a new apartment. It was on the first floor. Outside the window is the garden, a small grassland in a residential district. He said that when the apartment was being furnished, he often saw an old man staring at him strangely from the window. When he walked outdoors to find the old man, the old man disappeared. When he moved into the house, a friend of his came to visit him. He told his friend that he often saw an old man. He asked his friend to go out and take a look, while he stood indoors to see whether the old man disappeared from the window. The friend went out, and then ran in hurriedly, brought him out and said, “You could not live in the apartment. The old man is a reflection on the window.”
Because the old man is a reflection on the window, he is a ghost in the house. The main motif of the story is that mirrors or mirror-like object (window in this story) can show the reflection of ghosts, even though ghosts cannot be seen directly. Notice that the ghost is an old man. The old man must have some unfulfilled wishes that connect with the apartment – he probably lives in the apartment. To me, the story reflects the anxiety of the working force who fail to pay enough attention to their aging parents.
My roommate’s parents were both born in Indian (she was born in the United States) so she sat down with me in my apartment and explained some folklore that she learned from her parents. Her relationship to the folklore isn’t necessarily that she truly believes in it, but that it’s an important part of her culture and something she thinks about from time to time.
She told me about a belief she learned specifically from her grandparents in India:
“A crow cawing outside your window means expect a guest. This was something that my parents never said to me. It was my grandparents.When I was in India looking out the window and you hear the ‘caw, caw’ my grandparents would be like, ‘Oh, there should be a guest coming'”
Q: Did you hear other people say the same thing as your grandparents?
“I would say I knew other people who believed it, but no one ever was like, ‘ah, I hear a crow, a guest is coming’ But it’s one of those, like, ancient things that I guess, turned into a saying.”
This folklore is not necessarily a proverb, because it’s not a fixed phrase statement. It could be considered proverbial speech. It could also be categorized as a folk belief, since a crow is considered to be a sign that someone is coming.
My informant told me a superstition passed onto her from her italian grandmother:
“To insure good weather, place statue of St. Anthony of Padova in the window facing outward.”
She told me that she does not usually follow this, mostly because statues of St. Anthony are hard to come by in the United States. In Italy, her grandmother had many little statues, and around the time fo the harvest she would put them facing outward in all of the windows. Although my informant does not practice this belief, she still believes in it.
I have heard many different superstitions about the weather, so this one does not surprise me. I was interested in the fact that my informant did not practice it, but stil does carry on the belief. I assume that the statue is placed facing outward in order to interact with the weather that is outside.