One of the most baffling superstitions I've ever heard while living in Japan came from my mother-in-law. One day we were walking on a trail with my kindergarten-aged son when we looked down to see there was an earthworm crossing our path. We stopped, but before I could find a stick to nudge him out of the way, my mother-in-law screamed, grabbed my son, and yelled, "Don't pee on it!".
I didn't know where to start. I think I started by explaining that her grandson doesn't usually make a habit out of dropping trou and piddling on every bug he happens to come across. But, also, was the looming question, why? I mean aside from the fact it's not a cool thing to do to such a tiny creature. Why? So I asked. She went on to lecture me about how little boys like peeing on worms (It's what she said, really.) and how if they do, their little boy parts will swell up and start itching terribly. It's an awful thing, she told me.
Oookay. Keep in mind, this was pre-Internet, so there was no way for me to whip out (heh) my phone and check. I decided it was probably a silly old wives' tale made to keep rambunctious little boys from doing mischievous things. I even heard it a couple times after that fateful day, from different people. But still there was no insight into why this idea even started in the first place. Then one day, many years later, I was watching a Japanese TV show doing a bit about superstitions and this one came up. Read the rest
Here’s a word I learned in English today: hair whorl. Wikipedia defines it as “…a patch of hair growing in a circular direction around a visible center point. Hair whorls occur in most hairy animals, on the body as well as on the head.”
It’s curious that I’ve known the word in Japanese for a very long time now, but I had to look it up in English. The reason I know it in Japanese is because people actually say the word. Friends actually talk about their children’s hair whorls in casual conversation. Also, it’s used in a common idiom and in an curious superstition.
Let’s start off with how to say hair whorl in Japanese. It’s a cute word: tsumuji. I think it has a nicer ring than hair whorl.
Next, the idiom you sometimes hear people use is tsumuji wo mageru, or you could call someone tsumuji magari. Literally, bending or twisting one’s hair whorl. If someone does this, it means they’re being contrary, unreasonable, or unaccommodating. “My little brother is a tsumuji magari. He disagrees with everything I say.” Something like that.
The superstition, on the other hand, is one you'll hear Japanese children giggling about. That is, you should never press on your friend’s hair whorl. Why? Well, the jury is out on which of the following will happen, but neither sound good. It’s said if you push on a person’s hair whorl, they’ll either go bald or come down with a bad case of diarrhea. Read the rest
Above, the soundtrack for today, composed by Harry Manfredini in 1980 and covered by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross below.
Here's another special bonus:
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Above, the soundtrack for today, composed by Harry Manfredini in 1980. Read the rest
In 1818, Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy published his Dictionnaire Infernal, but it wasn't until Henry Plon's sixth printing in 1863 that the book got its now-infamous illustrations, which are a world of wonderful. Read the rest
This interview with "author, photographer, and ossuary expert" Paul Koudounaris is a trove of weird stories about the things people get up to with their local mummies, haunted skulls, and other "miracle-performing" remains:
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They’re not all like that. One of the more outlandish stories is about a guy who got to be called “pene grande,” which means “big dick.” He was a mummy famed in life for having a big penis. People would go down to the Palermo Catacombs and treat him as the patron saint of big cocks. Finally a newlywed woman came to see him because she was married to a guy who was not well-endowed. She took a cloth and rubbed it on the mummy’s dick, and then rubbed it on her husband’s dick. The next time she had sex with her husband, his penis seemed larger and fuller and she was about to orgasm except that at that moment she looked up and saw it was actually the ghost on top of her. Everyone thought she was crazy, but then it happened again the next time she had sex. They had to set up an exorcism for this ghost.
...They had a blacksmith make a tight-fitting sheath made of metal, and once the husband got erect the ghost came out and got caught in the codpiece. They threw holy water at him.
...That expelled the ghost from the guy’s body. So forever he had a small penis, but he was free of the ghost. As for the ghost, he gained a great following among older ladies, and eventually so many were coming to see him that they had to lock the mummy in a back room, which is where he remains to this day.
I just got through re-reading Tim Power's World Fantasy Award-winning 1996 novel Last Call, which is truly one of the triumphs of modern fantasy literature. Powers, one of Philip K Dick's three proteges (the others are James Blaylock and KW Jeter), is a tremendous writer, and his whole catalog deserves your attention, but even against the field of standout Powers novels, Last Call stands out further.
Last Call's premise, at its core, is that Bugsy Siegel built Las Vegas in order to become a living avatar of the Fisher King, but that he was prevented by doing this when a French mystic named Georges Leon assassinated him, stole his head from the morgue, tossed it into Lake Mead, and set about turning his sons into mindless soldiers in his mystic army by conducting dark rituals involving a handpainted Tarot deck that could drive you mad.
One of Leon's sons survives, though he loses his eye to his father's violence, and his dying mother smuggles him away from his father and tosses him, blindly, over the transom of a passing yacht on a trailer. He is found by a professional gambler, Ozzie Crane, who raises Scott as his foster son, and later adopts another girl, Diana, and raises her as his foster sister. From Ozzie, Scott learns of the gambler's mysticisms and superstitions: fold out your hand when the smoke gathers in the middle of the table or the drinks in the glass start to sit off-level, lest you buy or sell more than what's in the pot. Read the rest
At Anthropology in Practice, Krystal D'Costa looks at the cultural history of the rabbit's foot as a good luck charm, and attempts to figure out why bunny feet ended up being imbued with such significance. After all, owning that foot didn't turn out to be particularly lucky for the rabbit. But then, that may be part of the point.
It's an interesting article, and D'Costa finds connections to both European hedge-witchery and African-American trickster legends. But one idea that was particularly engaging to me: The "luck" of the rabbit's foot might come from procuring it in the most "unlucky" way possible. The foot becomes a paradoxical totem—an object so damn unlucky that it's back around to being lucky again. In other words, people thought rabbit's feet were lucky for the same reason we think little, gremlin-looking pug dogs are cute.
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Folklorist Bill Ellis traces the lore of the rabbit’s foot to an interesting thread of subversion evident in the ways these tokens were certified—the process by which they were created determined the effectiveness of the charms. For example, one advertisement read, “the left hind foot of a rabbit killed in a country churchyard at midnight, during the dark of the moon, on Friday the 13th of the month, by a cross-eyed, left handed, red-headed, bow-legged Negro riding a white horse.”
Ellis labels these descriptive terms as “backward elements”—that is, they run counter to positive, fortuitous signs: the rear and left side is the “sinister side,” red hair and physical deformities were regarded as unlucky, the dark of the moon and Friday the 13th are both regarded as sinister times, and albino mules or horses were regarded as unlucky.