Our world view is constructed by personal circumstances and experiences, as well as the myths that justify events or things that we cannot explain to ourselves within our knowledge or information. Roland Barthes said that myths are inflections of reality, that is to say, narratives that inflect on our perspective.
Because of its constant forming of new information, childhood is a fertile incubator for myths; many of these “inflections” haunt us along our existences in the form of secret beliefs, hidden fears, superstitions, obsessions, compulsions and a long list of etceteras. Some myths from childhood still exist as sediment in our current cognition: we live and solve everyday life with them.
For the present Sunday List, the Entropy community shares their “Most Notable Myths from Childhood” with us.
- Popeye and Spinach.
Growing up watching Popeye, I really believed that eating spinach must make you strong. Consequently I ate tons of spinach, there was in particular, a Korean sidedish of sauteed spinach that I loved, and both my brother and I would eat them by the bowl-ful.
- Bloody Mary. This was a popular one, and I think many of us both believed and disbelieved this simultaneously. So the urban legend was that she would appear in the mirror if her name was called 3 times. Of course all of us thought this was silly and we were all outwardly skeptics. But we’d stand in the bathroom and yell Bloody Mary two times in full confidence, and no one ever wanted to utter it a third time, and we’d freak each other out and run out of the bathroom and play something else.
- Finally there were many superstitions and myths that were relayed to me by my mother. One famous one among Koreans is the myth of Fan Death, the belief that if you leave a fan running all night in a closed room, you’ll die. There’s also the superstition that if you shake your legs too much, you’ll all the good luck out of yourself. My brother had this problem – he was constantly shaking his legs at the dinner table and always getting yelled at. And then there was the warning my mother always gave me when scooping rice, that you always had to scoop more than one scoop of rice for people, even if there were small scoops, because only giving someone one scoop of rice was like wishing bad fortune on them. My favorite one though was the myth that if you die in your dream, you will have good luck in real life. When my mother told me this, I really believed it, and maybe even still do. It completely changed the way I navigated dreams. I still feared when others in my dreams were in danger, but death to my own person in a dream became a strangely terrifying but welcome event. Though this almost never happened. I might get shot, for example, and feel as if I was “dying,” but would almost always wake up before actual “death,” of course, which makes me wonder, what would that be, to actually “die” in a dream, as you’re still always at least partially conscious if you’re witnessing all of this.
- Shambala – this myth which may belong to esoteric sector of Western mythology was in Soviet Union taken seriously. The thing is, since religion was forbidden in USSR, but people needed some faith to survive in the grey everyday life (as everywhere on this planet), many urban legends and myths was taken by Soviet scientists as research field – and so they sometimes found and researched topics which could be unthinkable in the Western culture (which is actually blended by the Neo-myth by Kant about human rationality). Shirt, my most favorite myth was Shambala (or Shamballah, or Gandala, or Shangrilah, it has many names). A mysterious place somewhere in Himalaya, where only Chosen people could visit. There were all wisdom of the world, and stuff. Especially stuff was so fascinating for me. This myth was research by a Soviet scientist Rerikh very detailed. Actually, I believe in this story. One day I’ll get there.
- UFOs. Well, as child I watched too much Erich von Däniken, and I believed in extraterrestrials behind the UFO sightings. Nowadays I have some serious doubts about these sightings, but: I believe, no, I feel confident, that there are many planets with life out there. Surely they have never visiting Earth, but they exist. Denying an existence of extraterrestrial life is not a “healthy scepticism”, but just a primitive anthropocentrism and geocentrism. And it’s sooo Middle Age.
- Reincarnation. An old myth, but it affected me in many ways. I mean, for example, as I – a Russian guy living in Germany – visited Kyoto for first time, and stand in temple Kiyomizudera, looking on green hills and red pagodas, I had a feeling, I’m finally home. I never had this feeling before. And after all I hadn’t any “cultural shock” at my first Japan visit, like many of my friends had. No, I somehow knew it everything, and my nostalghia I had all my childhood and my later years, was away. I am not living in Japan right now, and I have no nostalghia anymore, but thinking about reincarnation is my possible explanation of this weird intimacy feelings, which are more than just sympathy, empathy or interest to the place. I always interested for Japan since my early years, so who knows…
Dennis James Sweeney
- My dad had us convinced that he was Spiderman when we were kids. We figured out pretty soon that he wasn’t, mostly for agility reasons, but it started to seem more true again as I got older and realized I didn’t know nearly as much about my parents as I thought I did.
- Whenever we leaned our elbows out of car windows, my mom and grandma told us the story of Mr. Earl back at the lake, who had gotten his arm ripped off by a telephone pole doing the exact same thing. To this day I can’t lean my arm out the window of a car without thinking of the gruesome image of an arm getting totally and suddenly severed by some passing object. Come to think of it, I never really lean my arm out of car windows anymore at all. I guess the story worked.
- Until fairly recently, my sister and I were just about certain that Marilyn Manson or some equally frightening figure lived in the heating/cooling vents in our attic, making screeching noises and watching over us during slumber parties. We’re still afraid that it’s haunted up there. I got rational in my teenage years, but my sister claims to have seen an actual, proper ghost (well, ghost-child) on our porch one night while my parents and I were out. She is adamant. I believe her. Ghosts still scare the hell out of me.
Korean Fan Death is my favorite thing in the world.
Most of the childhood myths I can think of are videogame related.
- In Ken Griffey Jr Baseball for SNES, there was the strangest pitching mechanics. When you pitched the ball, you could move the ball left or right at any time on its way to the plate, so we were always trying to wrap the ball around the bat, which is hard to describe but also impossible to do.
- Beating Donkey Kong Country [one, two, or three] on SNES without dying.
- Super Mario RPG [the greatest game ever] had a lot of hidden secrets that I was always wanting to make happen, but the best one was getting your score to 99,999,999 on Beetle Mania, which was a gameboy game you could play within the game.
Gaby Torres Olivares
- In the neighborhood where I grew up, there is a street market every Thursday with all kind of vendors; some of them are healers or peddlers. When I was about nine years old, I heard a peculiar one, he was selling a magical anti-aging balm made from axolotl fat. He had a little fish tank with some axolotls at the bottom, the presence of these beings caught my attention (I had never seen one before), so I stayed to listen to his speech about wrinkles. I don’t remember how the magical fat of these animals would make wrinkles disappear, but I remember that he skinned one alive, put it inside of a blender and liquefied it. The ephemeral audience was horrified. Then, he recommended drinking the axolotl smoothie while fasting, people were disgusted. He smiled and told his audience: but, you don’t have to do this if you buy the magical axolotl balm (collective sigh). To justify his actions, and to redeem possible buyers from their guilt, he told us that axolotls were evil, that when pregnant, axolotls climb inside of women’s vaginas while they urinate outdoors, and then they use women’s uterus as incubators. Then he told us the story of a woman who thought she was pregnant, but instead of a human baby she gave birth to a bunch of axolotls. I was perplexed. For many years I refused to urinate outdoors because I was afraid of being impregnated by axolotls. Even though I investigated whether this could be possible (and it is not because of the temperature of our bodies), I still check very carefully before urinating when I’m camping.
- We were neighbors with Lucy, a young woman with a cleft palate. As a child I asked my grandmother about the reason why Lucy had a cleft palate, and she told me that Lucy’s mother had stared at the eclipse while pregnant with her. “A pregnant woman shouldn’t see the eclipse because the baby will be born with a cleft palate.” I accepted this answer as an irrefutable truth. When I saw a person with a cleft palate, an immediate image of that person’s mother staring at the sky came to mind. When an eclipse occurred I imagined a bunch of pregnant women all over the world staring at the sky. While in college, I read friar Bernardino de Sahagún’s “General History of the Things of New Spain,” in which he explains that the Aztecs had several beliefs about pregnancy, one of these beliefs was that of the eclipse: They also say that if the pregnant woman looked at the sun or the moon when it eclipsed, the creature in her womb would born with broken kisses. Even that I discovered the origins of my grandmother’s belief (which was now my own), I still cannot stop thinking of pregnant women when I know an eclipse will occur.
- The Chupacabra was the horror of my generation. At the beginning he was only found in the countryside, but then he also appeared in the city. His concrete being wasn’t that important to me, I mean, I was afraid as all children were, but the explanations that came after his apparition were more important to me. People started saying that it was a government distraction, a conspiracy to raise the price of beans, corn, electricity… it was the first time I heard of the concept “distraction” in order to distract people from their worries or duties. Chupacabra suddenly disappeared from our lives, but the concept, for me, remained as something that someone can create to “distract” people from their worries by imbricating other worries as if they were layers of anguish.
- This is tough because I would say my family / childhood environment was pretty hyper not-superstititous or into myths, but childhood is sort of a myth in itself. I’d have to give a shout-out to the Red Wall books by Brian Jacques, which convinced of an invisible world of animal action and triumph, a world of Cluny the Scourge and Martin the Warrior and other furred heroes and villains.
- when you whistle at night you call on evil spirits. i couldn’t whistle so i wasn’t worried, but i checked anyone who did whistle at night. shit scared me.
- make sure you cover your feet with the blanket when you go to sleep otherwise ghosts will pull at your toes.
- My grandmother on my father’s side used to tell my brothers and sister and I that, if we buried our Popsicle sticks at the very back edge of her backyard (where the fence should have stood), a Popsicle tree would grow there.
- My dad used to tell me about the “Phantom of the Mall.” Whenever we went to the mall, he would take my brother and I into an emergency stairwell that was always totally vacant (not as convenient as elevators and escalators). At the very bottom of the stairwell was a door that was always locked. Behind this door, my dad said, was the lair of the Phantom, who came out and roamed the mall at night after all the shoppers had gone home. I had no trouble believing this story.
I also had a down jacket that I wore year round because I thought that it could make me fly (it was filled with feathers, after all).
- Growing up in the Caribbean was like growing up at the center of a syncretism maelstrom. I can give you two great examples of things that stuck with me for a while, and both came from my grandma. The first was San Lazaro. He’s the patron saint of the poor, and we were poor, so my grandma prayed to him. According to her, San Lazaro hung out with dogs all the time and the canines took care of him by licking his wounds so they’d heal. Any time I’d fall down and scrape some appendage, my grandma would ignore more traditional treatments and take me straight to her dogs so they could lick me and kickstart the healing process. Yeah, never mind the fact that they were licking their nether regions a second before lapping at my bloodied knees.
- The second has to do with the physicality of spirits. In every house she owned, regardless of how small it was, there was a place for the candles my grandma kept lit 24/7 for a plethora of saints, including Santa Muerte. She had a saint for every need, and they each had their candle. For years, my grandma lived in a tiny apartment that had two bathrooms, and the one in the hallway was “for the saints.” So yeah, I grew up thinking that spirits, ghosts, and saints were invisible physical beings that had to have their own space so they could live in a house and do their thing. Now you know why I write weird things.
- As a child I belonged to the cult of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Not particularly unusual given my age and the box office success of MTV director Steve Barron’s independent feature Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990). However, what was a little fucked, in retrospect, was the certainty to which I thought the Turtles were really existing, talking, breathing anthropomorphic animals. Chalk it up to youthful credulity. Consequently, there was a short, but intense, span of a couple of years in grade school when I genuinely believed that all animals, no matter what species, could talk. Never a doubt. The fact that they didn’t in daily life simply reconfirmed in my mind that animals simply chose not to. What exacerbated my lofty sense of inference and deduction was the media oversaturation of the Ninja Turtles. Remember the unavoidable Pizza Hut cross promotions and the Coming Out of Their Shells Tour? TMNT the movie came out only nine short months after the release of Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), which grossed over $250,000,000, and New Line, not surprisingly, internalized much of the licensing lessons of Warner Bros. Yes children, this was once a thing:
- When we were kids, my brothers and I would go visit some friends that lived some distance away, maybe in the countryside. Or maybe this was at a slumber party. Either way, whoever it was with, our pastime of choice was the occult. We played with the Ouija board, we did light as a feather, stiff as a board (and it WORKED!…no, it really did), and then, of course, Bloody Mary. From the first moment I learned of Bloody Mary in the mirror, I was terrified. As we crowded into the bathroom with the light out, we chanted “Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary,” and turned around three times. When we turned back around, we swore we saw the hideous face of a woman, blood running from her eyes, staring back at us, and we ran screaming from the room. The image stuck with me. I always thought I saw her lurking in the mirror after that. If I needed to use the restroom at night, I’d turn on every light I could as I made my way to the bathroom, illuminating a path that was sure to keep me safe from her. And sometimes, and this might happen still, I’m reluctant if it’s dark out, to let my gaze rise up in order to meet the eyes staring back at me from the mirror.
- My brother was living in San Francisco during the devastating earthquake of 1989. We were all scared for him and communication was nearly impossible until very late that night. He did eventually reach us to let us know he was unharmed. Unfortunately no one told our nonna this news because it was too late to call her. Soooo….she stayed up in front of the TV, praying the rosary, over and over again, without sleeping the entire night. I always felt so bad for the agony this little old lady must have experienced during those long hours. And I still believe that there’s tremendous power in these types of vigils, even if I’m of a different persuasion than she now. I have somehow inherited this responsibility for holding out hope, and thinking that pouring all my energy unceasingly into protection spells or what have you will somehow help the outcome of a situation involving danger or harm. For all we now, her praying saved some other endangered lives.