Contemporary Legends among Slovene Students
Crop Circles in the Netherlands
Recently Heard and Forwarded
Rumors and Rumor Control
Croeso i Aberystwyth
Call for papers for the 2004 conference
Contemporary Legends among Slovene Students in Ljubljana
Institute of Slovene Ethnology
[Editor’s Note: the following article was presented at the 2003 ISCLR conference in Corner Brook]
In this article, I am presenting some contemporary legends which are currently circulating amongst Slovene students from the University in Ljubljana, and propose to discuss the topics of narrations of the student generation in Slovenia at present: how they present events in the world and at home, and whether it can be considered that contemporary legends reflect the old beliefs as well as the myths of our times, and the problems of our society.
The method I have chosen for collecting these stories was based on my call for submission of contemporary legends. A poster was tacked on the walls of all faculties or university departments in Ljubljana, and in Student Work Aid Offices. In a month, which was the period chosen for collecting the material; I received 18 answers from 9 male and 9 female students. This was a surprisingly good result, and altogether I obtained 83 contemporary legends. Actually there were more, but some had to be eliminated because they did not fit the definition of a contemporary legend.
Let me now proceed with the contents and genres of these narrations. The stories are very diverse; there are those that describe an event that had happened to somebody and those that discuss extremely current themes, for instance in what manner the SARS virus started to spread, or why a young member of a rock group passed away.
Percentage-wise, most stories focus on supernatural themes. This group contains narrations about visions and dreams that foretell the future: “Dreams Foretell the Pregnancy of a Friend”, and “Dreams about a Former Boyfriend and a Fortuneteller”. As an example I cite dreams that foretell war, for instance the war in Bosnia:
When I was a child, my older sister took me to the seaside with her. While we were spending the first night in a hotel I had a dream about being in Bosnia, amidst a war. I was fighting with a man, and had a knife in my hand. I drove the knife into his back and he slid to the floor, dead. Then I woke up from this nightmare. In the morning I tried to forget it. But that very same day, as I was returning from the beach by a road, I saw a beautiful cactus. I wanted to cut it off, so I went to my hotel and got a pocket knife. When I approached the cactus, however, once again I remembered the dream, slipped and the knife went deep into my leg. With great difficulty I pulled it out and went to the hotel to get some help. Luckily the hotel had a nurse on its staff, who was able to help me immediately. I still have the scar on my leg. Soon after the event the war in Bosnia started.
As elsewhere, Slovene students tell numerous stories about apparitions. They may be only a phantom light causing unrest among cattle and shepherds, or a narration may evoke a memory of a traditional mythological being, the wolf shepherd for instance. Although the character of the wolf shepherd is well-known from Slovene mythology, the story below originated years after this mythological character had been long-forgotten:
A long time ago unusual apparitions were seen near Mače above Preddvor. A pack of wild dogs appeared a little way from the village. At first, this did not seem so unusual; but later a giant figure, much larger than man, was seen herding the pack. The creature looked really horrible, and had total control over the dogs. Such creatures appeared several times. In order to protect that spot of land people built a little roadside chapel on it. After that the monster was never seen again.
There are, of course, many more stories about frightening experiences and apparitions in the woods where all of a sudden something inexplicable that raises the hair on one's head can be heard or seen: “Screams in the Forest” and “Picnic in the Woods”, to name just two.
Amont the stories about ghosts of the dead that usually appear at nighttime, for instance, one known as “Shadow of a Dead Relative”, this is an interesting variant of “The Vanishing Hitchhiker”. The story tells of a woman hitchhiking by the road leading through the Krakovo Forest. She keeps asking the drivers who had stopped for her if the door on her side of the car has been sufficiently closed: “Are you sure that the door is shut fast enough?” When she finally leaves a car the driver looks at the rear-view mirror to see her leave, but she is no longer there – as if she had disappeared into thin air. When later the driver asks around about her he is told that the same had happened to other drivers. Years ago, a hitchhiker was killed on that spot, falling through the car door.
The difference lies mainly in the details: it was characteristic that the Hitchhiker from Krakovo was killed when she fell through a car door that had not been sufficiently closed.
We find a similar “ghost” theme in a story about a boy who was at home, alone. Late at night, as he was watching a horror movie on TV, he suddenly thought that someone was approaching the door to his apartment. Without thinking he rose and turned the key in the keyhole; the door had been left unlocked by mistake. At the same moment he saw that someone grabbed the door knob and tried to force the door open. When he asked who was there, there was no reply, but through the peephole he could see a pale woman with a cold, expressionless face. At that moment the strange visitor swiftly turned and left.
Stories about haunted houses are well-known among students as well:
As a child, a friend's mother lived with her grandparents in an old house in Dolenjska. The mother often told us that very strange and unusual things were going on in the house. There were knocks on wardrobes, forks and other objects would lift from the table and fly around. She was therefore often scared of eating at the table. This occurred over a longer period of time, with occasional interruptions. It had gotten worse as the years went by, and was very stressful for the family. So they moved to an apartment house in the city, and these strange occurrences ceased.
There are many stories about a ghost calling, for instance:
A group of friends sometimes got together in an empty studio that belonged to one of them. They lit candles and on the kitchen table they placed several small pieces of paper with letters on them. There were also two small sheets of paper with YES or NO lettered on them, a full glass of water, another candle, and a downturned glass placed in the middle of their circle. They sat around the table, holding their index fingers to the glass. The boy who was leading the seance spoke up. Soon the glass moved for the first time, but something was wrong. On other occasions, when somebody asked a question, the glass moved only three times, but now it moved around the circle with great speed. Since the glass sped around so quickly and because they were quite scared, the participants maintained the contact with it with difficulty. With no apparent order, the glass sped from one letter to another. The boy leading the seance yelled: “Are you who I think you are?” The glass swept around for a few more moments, then stopped on the word YES. Very pale, the boy said: “Then leave our side.” Only after repeating this for several times did the glass finally become still. When the boy was afterward asked who he had had in mind, he replied: “Lucifer.”
Narratives about unidentified flying objects abound in certain cirles of the student body as well. The ones collected among the students for the purpose of this research, however, just briefly mention the appearance of orange lights and disc-like objects flying across the sky.
The story titled “Hypnosis” can be classified somewhere between humorous events among the students and narratives describing supernatural ocurrences.
Some students decided to make fun of a boy who did not believe in things that bordered on the supernatural. Two students therefore decided to practice the knowledge they had acquired in a short course on hypnosis on the boy. After repeatedly suggesting that he should quiet down and breathe deeply and slowly, they told him that the door to his subconscious started to open. The boy soon sat on the floor, his breathing shallow, and when asked about his name his voice sounded differently, the words coming from his mouth very slowly. The hypnotizers started to worry. Then one of them told the boy to make a snowball (the event took place in wintertime) and to hit an electricity pole upon waking up. When he came to, the boy did exactly that.
Students like to tell each other, and frequently do so, different “school stories”, either from the days when they went to high school, or from their university years. These stories describe events during their “maturity” trip, for instance, or humorous classroom events. One of such stories describes a class of English grammar and literature, during which the teacher asked the students if somebody wanted to earn a good grade: “Are there any volunteers?” Thinking that she had just called his name, a student named Valant raised his hand, even though he had not studied at all. Such stories also tell of holiday events or about trips and journeys. Yet in them it is very difficult to draw the line between contemporary legends and memorata.
An interesting group of “student days” stories are also the so-called “student wisdoms,” for instance those that try to justify beer drinking. I even managed to obtain two variants of this “logical” theory: “The Newest Logical Theory”, and the “Wisdom of a Drunken Intellectual”:
A herd of bisons moves only so fast as the slowest animal in it. When predators attack the herd they capture and kill the slowest bison at the end of the herd. Such natural selection is only good for the herd because it keeps the animals in good health, and the herd also becomes faster. A similar process takes place in the human brain. The brain can function only as fast as its slowest cell. As we all know, an excess of liquor destroys brain cells, yet due to the above-described natural selection alcohol destroys the slowest and the weakest cells first. Regular beer drinking therefore destroys slow brain cells and makes the brain faster and more efficient.
It has to be mentioned, however, that since both versions are practically identical, this great “wisdom” had obviously been copied from the internet or from mass media.
Equally humorous is “A Student's Letter to Her Parents”, in which the daughter enumerates all sorts of horrible things that have happened to her, for instance a fracture of the skull, getting pregnant by a Moslem foreigner, and aids, but at the end confesses that she had failed an exam; the rest were lies. Another wisecracking wisdom tells you “How to Find Out You Are No Longer a Student”: When your fridge contains more food than liquor; when you get up instead of going to sleep at six in the morning; when your fantasies about sex with three lesbian girls are replaced by the fantasy about having sex with anybody; when you know everybody who is sleeping in your apartment, etc. Both of the above stories have also been taken from the internet.
Another student wisdom is titled “The Logical and Legal Theory”. It helped a student pass an exam:
After an hour-long and torturing grilling a professor tells a student that he will pass the exam if he finds the right answer to the following riddle: What in a lottery procedure is legal but not logical, logical but not legal, and neither logical nor legal? Not knowing the answer, the student proposes another riddle to the professor: “What in your life is legal but not logical, logical but illegal, and neither logical nor legal?” Since the prof does not know the right answer he gives the student a C, and the student tells him the correct answer: “Look, you're 59 and married to your former student who is 25; although this is legal, it is not logical. Your wife has a twenty-year-old lover, which is logical but not legal, and you have just given her lover a C, which is neither logical nor legal.”
Memories of childhood years – either one's own or somebody else's – likewise appear in these stories, although not as frequently. It is interesting that memories of war events often speak about love, which is also true of the collected stories: the first story is about how a student's grandfather had met his future wife Frančiška during the First World War in Graz, the second about a friend who as a young boy had met his first love, a girl from the neighborhood, during the 1991 war for independent Slovenia. The line between memorata and contemporary legends, however, is very vague in both stories.
Among the stories that could be classified as classical contemporary legends is also the one titled “TV Repair”: while the owner is on holiday “repairmen” steal all sorts of things, including a TV set, from his apartment. When he sees them, a neighbor gives them also his broken TV set to be repaired. “The Taxi Driver” tells of a taxi driver who suddenly feels a customer's hand on the back of his shoulder. He becomes so frightened that he loses control over the car and drives onto the sidewalk. Because fifteen years before that, the driver had driven a hearse to the cemetery.
The story “It is Impossible to Change One's Destiny” is interesting because of its connection to traditional narrative heritage:
A man goes to an amusement park with his friends. They visit a fortune teller. She tells him the exact date of his death, which will be caused by horses. The man, who had no contact with horses whatsoever, mocks her, and his friends join him. Just to be on the safe side, however, he decides to stay home and watch television on the day of his foretold death. That way nothing could harm him on his way to work. So the man lies on the couch watching TV, when he feels a light earthquake tremor. There is no damage, only an old picture that hangs above the couch falls off an old, loose nail. Its edge hits the man and fractures his skull. It is a painting of horses.
This story is really a modern variant of the tale-type AaTh 934 A, which clearly points to the fact that contemporary legends draw their themes from antique motifs and myths as well.
The same goes for a story of a former student: When she was younger, she and her friend went to a meadow at the rim of a forest at the edge of Ravne, a little town in Carinthia. There they saw dancing fairies or, as they had called them, the “white girls.” The dancers then vanished into thin air. It is more than obvious that this is an ancient story about apparitions of fairies and the so-called white women. The student still assures me that this had truly happened, and she often discusses the experience with her friend. The story is similar to accounts about appearances of water sprites, dwarfs, leprechauns and fairies, recounted by people who lived in close contact with nature.
Other stories discuss extremely current themes, for instance:
A “POP-Stars” group that originated by selecting young talented singers to perform in a television show consisting of five members, two boys and three girls. At the beginning of their singing career they went to a fortune teller to find out whether they would become famous or not. Instead of foretelling them a brilliant future, the fortune teller was aghast when she had learned their names: Simon, Alenka, Tinkara, Anja, and Nejc; their initials formed the name SATAN, which, of course, is a very bad omen. Soon after recording their first CD hit, Nejc, who had just turned eighteen, died when driving a scooter. The scooter was hit by a car taking a wrong turn.
It is pretty obvious that his death strongly shook the Slovene public, especially the young people, so that this kind of legend began to spread extensively.
A story, and a very recent one, titled “Where SARS Had Come from,” concerns the SARS virus:
The SARS virus had spread from laboratories in which Chinese scientests researched chicken plague; the chicken plague virus was stored in test tubes. A young doctor, who had been working in the laboratory until late at night and was already very tired, accidentaly hurt himself and was exposed to the virus. The following day he went for a holiday. He spent a night in a hotel, started to feel badly, and infected six other guests. The chicken plague virus, later known as the SARS virus, thus spread among the humans as well.
Some humorous stories have animal protagonists, for instance “A Goat in Love”, “A Story of a Dog and a Book”, “A Rag Comes Alive”, “Kangaroo in a Jacket”. The latter goes like this:
This is supposed to be a true story, even though a year or two later a friend told me that he had seen an identical TV commercial. Two friends went to Australia. They got drunk, yet in spite of that took a car from one town to another. They were driving through the bush when a kangaroo crossed the road. They hit it, and drunk as they were, they got out of the car to take a look at it. One of them got a stupid idea, took off his jacket and put it on the animal. It is a well-known fact that when facing danger, kangaroos pretend to be dead and wait for the danger to pass. As the young men were laughing at the dressed-up animal, it rose and took off for the bush. They laughed even harder until one of them remembered that a jacket pocket contained their passports and wallet with money and credit cards. They wondered if they should go to the police to report the kangaroo thief.
Politics is a theme that was not very frequently mentioned by students, at least judging from the collected stories. There were only two examples with this topic, so we can leave this subject for some other paper.
The collected stories can be classified into the following groups: traditional and media constructs about the supernatural, about fairies, leprechauns, the devil, UFOs, aliens from space, haunted houses, etc; sensational and amusing stories about unusual events, adventures, thefts and everyday stories that could be very ordinary had not something unforeseen happened in them, which caused a different scenario and denouément than could be expected.
These stories reflect social, historic and cultural circumstances in Slovenia. An additional touch is provided by the individuals who spread them. Oral transmission is but one of numerous forms in which these stories are manifested. TV programs, the radio, newspapers, popular literature, tabloids, the internet, etc. are all endless sources for their spreading. This is also evident from this research, and many students even voiced their pleasure over the fact that they had the opportunity of writing down their stories. Some of the stories even reflect inner turmoil and certain problems, tensions and inclinations that can be released through narrating or writing down such stories.
To Believe Or Not To Believe ...The Crop Circle Phenomenon In The Netherlands [On-line]
Theo’s paper from last year’s ISCLR meeting (2002) in Sheffield is now available on-line: http://home.planet.nl/~meder/map8/sheffield.html.
[Editor’s note: if you have presented a paper at ISCLR, firstly consider sending it to FTN for publication, or if it has been published elsewhere, including electronically, send us the citation and we’ll include it in the newsletter. This also goes for any paper, not necessarily presented at an ISCLR meeting, but of interest to ISCLR readers.]
Recently Heard and Forwarded
The Three Bears In 2003: This Should End All 3 Bears Stories
[Editor’s Note: Ok, not a legend, but it’s just too wonderful not to share.]
Baby Bear goes downstairs and sits in his small chair at the table, he looks into his small bowl. It is empty. "Who's been eating my porridge?!!” he squeaks.
Papa Bear arrives at the big table and sits in his big chair. He looks into his big bowl, and it is also empty. "Who's been eating my Porridge?!!,"he roars.
Momma Bear puts her head through the serving hatch from the kitchen and yells, "For Christ's sake, how many times do we have to go through this with you idiots? It was Momma Bear who got up first, it was Momma Bear who woke everyone in the house, it was Momma Bear who made the coffee, and it was Momma Bear who unloaded the dishwasher from last night, and put everything away, it was Momma Bear who went out in the cold early morning air to fetch the newspaper, it was Momma Bear who set the damn table, it was Momma Bear who put the friggin’ cat out, cleaned the litter box, and filled the cat's water and food dish, and, now that you've decided to drag your sorry bear-asses downstairs, and grace Momma Bear's kitchen with your grumpy presence, listen good, cause I'm only going to say this one more time. "I HAVEN'T MADE THE FUCKING PORRIDGE YET !!
Forwarded by Paul Smith
Folklore Dept., MUN
Even if this turns out to be an "Urban Myth", better safe than sorry.
I was very glad to get this email from a friend, because I have been guilty of heating water in a microwave many times. You'll be glad you read it. I also suggest passing it along to friends and family.
About five days ago, his 26-year-old son decided to have a cup of instant coffee. He took a cup of water and put it in the microwave to heat it up (something that he had done numerous times before). I am not sure how long he set the timer for but he told me he wanted to bring the water to a boil.
When the timer shut the oven off, he removed the cup from the oven. As he looked into the cup he noted that the water was not boiling. Then instantly the water in the cup "blew up" into his face. The cup remained intact until he threw it out of his hand but all the water had flown out into his face due to the build-up of energy. His whole face is blistered and he has 1st and 2nd degree burns to his face, which may leave scarring. He may also have lost partial sight in his left eye.
While at the hospital, the doctor who was attending to him stated that this is a fairly common occurrence and water (alone) should never be heated in a microwave oven. If water is heated in this manner, something such as a wooden stir stick or a tea bag should be placed in the cup to diffuse the energy.
Here is what a science professor has to say on the matter: "Thanks for the microwave warning. I have seen this happen before. It is caused by a phenomenon known as super heating. It can occur any time water is heated and will particularly occur if the vessel that the water is heated in is new.
What happens is that the water heats faster than the vapor bubbles can form. If the cup is very new then it is unlikely to have small surface scratches inside it that provide a place for the bubbles to form. As the bubbles cannot form and release some of the heat that has built up, the liquid does not boil, and the liquid continues to heat up well past its boiling point. Then, what usually happens is that the liquid is bumped or jarred, which is just enough of a shock to cause the bubbles to rapidly form and expel the hot liquid. The rapid formation of bubbles is also why a carbonated beverage spews when opened after having been shaken."
Please pass this on to everyone you know, it could save a lot of pain and suffering.
[Editor’s Note: FTN published an almost identical story in FTN 49 (June 2001). Just goes to show, ya can’t keep a good legend down.]
Rumors and Rumor Control: A Manager's Guide to Understanding and Combating Rumors
By Allan J. Kimmel
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003
ISBN: 0-8058-3875-9 (cloth)
ISBN: 0-8058-3876-7 (paper)
This project offers a thorough examination of rumors and proposes strategies for organizations to use in combating rumors that occur both internally and externally. Author Allan J. Kimmel explores the rumor phenomenon and distinguishes it as a distinct form of communication. He looks at psychological and social processes underlying rumor transmission to understand the circumstances under which people invent and circulate rumors. In addition, he examines how rumors are spread--both interpersonally and through mediated processes--and offers strategies for organizations to respond to rumors when they surface and methods for preventing their occurrence. Numerous examples are provided of actual rumor cases for which managers either successfully or unsuccessfully coped, including such companies as Procter & Gamble, McDonald's, Snapple, Pepsi-Cola, and Gerber. Intended to serve as a comprehensive compendium of strategies, this book was written with two objectives in mind. The first is to shed light on the often perplexing phenomenon of rumor by integrating disparate approaches from the behavioral sciences, marketing, and communication fields. The second is to offer a blueprint for going about the formidable tasks of attempting to prevent and neutralize rumors in business contexts. With these dual goals in mind--one theoretical, the other applied--this book will be of equal interest to both academics and managers in a wide range of professional contexts. In addition, it will guide organizational and marketing managers in their efforts to combat the potentially destructive consequences of rumors.
Croeso i Aberystwyth
For the first time in over twenty years of the International Society of Contemporary Legend Research, the annual ISCLR conference is going to be held in Wales. The 22nd Contemporary Legend conference is going to be held in sunny seaside resort town of Aberystwyth 21-24 July 2004, hosted by the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.
Founded in 1872, Aberystwyth was the first university institution to be established in Wales. Today, it has over 7,000 registered students, including over 1,100 postgraduates across eighteen academic departments.
Several special events are being planned during this conference including a day trip to Hay-on-Wye – the bibliophile’s Disneyworld, a gorgeous village which is home to an unbelievable number of used bookstores; a visit to Machynlleth, where Owain Glyndwr built Wales’ first parliament and currently houses the Celtica multi-media exhibit; and a tour of the National Library of Wales, with specific attention to its rare manuscript collection. And, as a university town in the UK, there is a never ending supply of public houses.
The conference fee is set at £50 (student rate available upon request) which includes the Conference Dinner. Accommodation has been arranged in Rosser and Penbryn Halls at a rate of £34.75 (en-suite, including breakfast and lunch) or £25.30 (standard, including breakfast and lunch). Other rates may be available upon request. Other accommodation can be arranged independently: http://www.aber.ac.uk/overnight.shtml.
Proposals for papers on all aspects of “contemporary,” “urban,” or “modern’ legend research are sought, as are those on any legend or legend-like traditions that circulate actively at present or have circulated at an earlier historical period. Previous discussions have ranged in focus from the ancient to the modern (including Internet-lore) and have covered diverse cultures worldwide (including our own academic world).
The 2004 meeting will be organized as a series of seminars at which the majority of those who attend will present papers and/or contribute to discussion sessions. Concurrent sessions will be avoided where possible so that all participants can hear all or most of the papers. Proposals for special panels of papers, discussion sessions and other related events are encouraged. Because of anticipated interest in this year’s conference participants are advised that we may be unable to guarantee the customary 45 minutes for each presentation and shorter papers will be welcomed.
To participate in the conference please forward a title and abstract by 1st February 2004. For further information or travel advice please contact:
Dr. Mikel J. Koven
Department of Theatre, Film and TV
Parry-Williams Building, Penglais Campus
UWA, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 2AJ
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