Tag Archives: witch

The CVS Witch (Local Legend from Orinda, CA)

Original Text: “So there was this weird old lady that would walk around like every single day in Downtown Orinda. She had a house near ours, and we would call her the witch cuz she looked like a witch. I’m not trying to be mean but like, she was hunched over with like a big nose and like she would go downtown every single day to CVS Pharmacy and she would get a big bag full of little cartons of milk, just like a bag of milk, and she would drink it in the local burger place, Nations. She would drink like two and the she would walk back home and we would follow her. Her house was like really run down and like scary. Whenever we saw her we would run away in the opposite direction. We thought she had like magical powers or something, and that she would brew potions with her milk. We would like go downtown after school to see if we could catch her doing magic and also just for the thrill of like following her home.” 

Context: The informant is 18 years old and is from Orinda, California. He was in 6th grade when he observed this woman with his brother’s 7th-grade friends. He says that it was fun to make jokes and fantasize about what kind of potions she could make and if she could kill little boys with her potions. She also lived nearby his house, so it was easy to follow her without being suspicious. Downtown Orinda is a very small, popular hangout area of a small town where most people know each other.

Analysis: Considering the age of the informant and his friends (about 11-12), it is easy to see that because they were so young and didn’t have a large concept of old age, how they could be horrified by an older woman that was very hunched over and wrinkly — thus thinking of her as a witch. Disney movies have been very popular kids media since the 1930s, and they often depict witches with hunched backs and large noses (ex: the witch in Snow White). This influence was placed upon the old lady the informant saw. Potions are also a common motif for witches, and seeing as this old lady would hoard massive amounts of liquid (milk), it makes sense how a child would draw this connection.

What Comes Around Goes Around

Text: “So to start, there was a medium-sized town–a long time ago–and there were a few wealthy patrons and some poor people on the outskirts. Some of the wealthier people thought of themselves as above all the poor people who they thought were lazy and didn’t deserve anything. So, there was this guy and his wife riding a horse drawn carriage back home after church, and there was this old lady standing in the road that had her hand out begging for food. The guy who was driving the carriage wasn’t watching and almost hit her, causing her to fall into a ditch. Instead of getting out and helping her up, he just tossed a six-pence at her and then just drove off, thinking “She deserved her lot in life.” However, the old lady was a type of witch, and she put a curse on him. As time went by, the guy noticed that all of his business dealings started crashing, and eventually his business went so bad that he went bankrupt and lost his house, and his wife divorced him. He lost everything, and as he got older and more and more feeble, he had to turn to begging. One day, he was begging on the same road that he first encountered the witch, and this motor vehicle came by and almost hit him and knocked him into the mud. And as he’s laying there in the mud, starving and half drowning, he’s thrown a six-pence by the passing car–the same one he gave the old lady.”  

Context: The informant is a 63 year-old man who was told this story by his grandmother as a child to learn about how treating others poorly might come back to bite you. His maternal grandmother had an ancestral connection to the Salem Witch Trials, which was when this story took place. 

Analysis: This is another example of how a legend can perform an intended social function or reinforce important messages. This story was told to the informant as a child and was meant to instill in him the importance of treating others with dignity and respect. It encapsulates a number of universal messages that every child learns, such as “treat others the way you want to be treated” and, more importantly, “what comes around goes around” (which the informant not surprisingly used as a title). The story is particularly effective at communicating these messages to children especially through its use of polarities and narrative symmetry. The use of polarities and clearly-defined extremes can resonate more effectively with a child who tends to process and understand the world in terms of binaries and in less of a nuanced way. The wealthy man who rapidly descends the socioeconomic ladder to the status of a beggar represents a very clear contrast in order to communicate to a younger audience the consequences of acting insensitively and allows no confusion in terms of portraying his actions as having a starkly negative outcome (the man is “starving and half-drowning” at the end). The story’s moral is likewise reinforced through its narrative symmetry. The legend has an organic ending that perfectly mirrors the way it began, coming full circle as the positions of the old lady and the man are reversed. The old lady, now, is the one throwing change in an identical act to the man in the beginning. The message “What comes around goes around” is thus inherent on an intuitive structural level in the story, where, quite literally, a coin being thrown inevitably gets tossed back. On this level, the message “What comes around goes around” can potentially be translated as “What gets thrown gets tossed back.” This legend is definitely useful for children as it anchors the message in a clear, concrete action that serves as the tangible thematic framework for the entire story. The tactile element of the coin and use of simple binaries throughout the story would naturally appeal to children, so it is no surprise that the informant’s grandmother chose a story like this in order to convey an important life lesson to her young grandchildren. If this story was indeed passed down from the Salem Witch Trials, it may have also been very effective at frightening children (and even adults) who were indoctrinated by the Church into believing in malevolent witches and compelling them to abide by Christian teachings, such as philanthropy and loving your neighbor as yourself. 

Witch’s House


“There’s this little girl, she’s in the woods. And then she’s like exploring the woods and she finds this house and she wants to go into the house, but it’s not her house. And she smells something really nice coming from it. She goes in and she finds a wū pó (巫婆), like a witch,  and the witch is like, ‘Do you want some of these candies and cookies and deserts?’ And the little girl is like, ‘Of course I do.’ And she eats all of the food but while she’s munching on it the witch starts to eat her because she really likes to eat childrens bones.”


The informant first heard this from her mom in Chinese when she was around seven years old. She describes it as “a mix of Snow White and Hansel and Gretel in the most messed up way.” She doesn’t remember the context of why she was told the story.


The above tale greatly resembles the tale of Hansel and Gretel, two siblings getting lost in the woods and meeting a witch who likes to eat children. Though this tale doesn’t have a happy ending compared to Hansel and Gretel. While the story may be a little different, it still carries the same message. Don’t trust strangers. A message that has been important in many cultures and likely has multiple tales to express its importance. The ending is used to press the idea that interacting with people you don’t know can have extreme consequences and won’t always end happily.

The Good Witch — Legendary Being


“The night of Halloween, after trick-or-treating, my sister and I would go through all of our candy and we could select some to keep, and then the rest of the candy we put into a bag. Overnight the Good Witch would come and take our candy and leave a toy in return.”


AH is a 21 year-old college student from Houston, Texas. She grew up in what is sometimes described as an ‘ingredient household,’ a family with very little junk food or sweets in the house. 

“I think it was like a way of being like, you know, ‘Don’t eat candy. Instead you can have a toy. Don’t eat junk food. You have a choice.’ It was a reinforced way of keeping junk food out of our household,” AH explained.

“I remember being frustrated with the small amount of time I had to pick the candy I wanted to keep. I felt rushed by the whole process. It was hard to savor the joy of Halloween knowing I could be scolded for eating the little candy I was allowed to keep.”

This was a Halloween tradition from AH’s earliest memory of Halloween to when she was about 10 or 12 years old. By the time she had stopped believing in the Good Witch, her parents continued to take the candy and give her money instead.

AH’s mom first learned about the trick from a parenting magazine.


At surface level, the legend of the Good Witch is a harmless children’s legend aimed to reduce excessive candy consumption around Halloween. The narrative co-opts the existing framework of witches, a legendary being that one already assumes to be around on Halloween, as well as the framework of the tooth fairy legend, another children’s legend that involves taking something overnight and replacing it with a reward.

However, AH notes that the immediate taking away of candy contributed toward negative habits and views regarding ‘unhealthy’ food.

“Because it was so limited and something that we weren’t supposed to eat, I kind of developed this bad habit of, when it was around, I was going to eat it all,” AH explained. “And it was a way of resisting the Good Witch. You didn’t have to give away as much candy if you could eat it all in one sitting.”

This habit of binge eating is something AH has struggled with into her college years. The legend of the Good Witch, along with other family influences, created an impression of scarcity surrounding junk food and sweets that is difficult to unlearn.

“Oh, this rare thing, I gotta indulge myself. And eat it all up and enjoy it. Not necessarily enjoy it though. I just gotta eat it before it disappears one way or another,” AH explained. “There’s this fear, for whatever reason, of having things be taken away.”

This legend is interesting in the context of Halloween, a day that includes a lot of ritual inversion, the practice of inverting social roles or structures, especially when these are very strict. On Halloween, children dress up as something they are not. They eat the candy they are not allowed at other times of the year. There is a proximity to and spectacle in death, which is otherwise hidden from children. 

Thus it is interesting that AH’s family allowed some participation in this inversion — the collection of candy — and then further inverted it, by taking the candy away. One is left to wonder if the candy consumption that is so dramatically avoided by the Good Witch legend may have actually been good for AH and her siblings, as it may have allowed them to experience indulgence — and maybe a belly ache, too — in order to develop a healthy relationship with food.

“It was never something that was okay in moderation. It was hardly okay at all. I don’t think that has any good impact. I think that teaching something like that just opens up the opportunity for unhealthy habits to develop in the future,” AH explained. “I definitely think with the Good Witch, the whole ‘you get to pick your stuff and then the rest is gone’ just really reinforced habits of binge eating.”

Don’t Answer to Your Name


The informant,KO, is a sophomore and one of my closest friends here at USC. We met in our freshman dorm and often exchanged cultural stories since we had very different backgrounds. He spent the beginning of his childhood in Nigeria, and at age 7 he and his family moved to Toronto, Canada.

Main Piece:

Interviewer- So I know we’ve talked about it a lot but tell me about a superstition from your childhood or even now that has stuck with you.

K.O.- There are so many, Nigeria is very superstitious but there’s one that always comes to mind. So y’a know how sometimes you just randomly hear your name? You’ll be walking or just chilling, and you look around because you hear your name but no one’s there. It happened to me a lot when I was young, and my parents used to tell me never to answer. They said it was a witch calling my name to lure me out. I don’t know if I necessarily believed it, but I definitely thought about it when I would randomly hear my name.

Interviewer- Did you ever answer just to see what would happen?

K.O.- (Laughs) Uh yeah, and then I would be terrified some witch was going to come after me!


This folk belief that KO shared with me is based upon an occurrence that has likely happened to everyone at least once, including me. This type of belief can be considered a sign superstition or sign magic because it is based on an unexplainable event in real life that is viewed as a sign or warning. These folk beliefs can reveal a lot about the culture and people who live by them as they share amongst their folk. KO’s superstition shows the significance that witches and curses have in Nigerian culture and a societal fear of bad magic. It is common within all types of folklore for children to be the target of evil spirits or witches, so it makes sense that KO’s father would have heavily emphasized the superstition when he was young.