The Power of Garlic

This story is told by a high school teacher who observed the actions of several school janitors in Gary, Indiana.

“In Gary, Indiana where I taught in a mostly-Black high school, the cleaning staff was comprised of white Southern Europeans.  They were mainly Greek Orthodox, and they firmly believed that placing garlic chunks in rooms, drawers, behind stacks of books, on top of doorjambs, etc would keep evil spirits away.  One day I went in our book storage room and threw away all 40-plus pieces of garlic I found.  Within a couple days, it was all back.  Each year when teachers arrived to set up their rooms, there was always at least one piece of garlic in each desk.  Everybody just accepted it – remember this was in 2004 – because the whole Southern European culture in our community so strongly believed in the practice”

Analysis: His story reveals the prevalence of Southern European culture and folklore practices in Gary, Indiana in 2004.  The Orthodox Greek janitors believed that Placing garlic pieces in particular places in a building would keep the evil spirits away.  Although he did not directly speak with the janitors, the other teachers provided an oral history of the old tradition of the janitors placing garlic unusual places and replacing the cloves when needed.  My old high school teacher, Curtis, is an atheist so he was quite skeptical about these superstitious practices, yet there was nothing he could do to stop the overflow of garlic into the school.  The janitors’ will to rid the school of evil spirits was much greater than Curtis’ will to rid the school of garlic because the janitors were so frightened by the potential of evil spirits.