Tag Archives: Contagious Magic

Don’t Cut Finger Nails at Night

Title: Cutting Finger Nails at Night

General Information about Item:

  • Customary Folklore: Korean Superstition
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: Japan
  • Informant: Sunglim Kim
  • Date Collected: November 5, 2018

Informant Data:

  • Sunglim Kim was born and raised in Seoul, Korea until the age of 17. Her family origins are Korean. When she was a junior in high school she moved to the United States, and went to high school in Seattle, Washington. She then went to UC Berkeley for her undergraduate degree, went back to work in Korea for a few years, and then came back to the United States to get her masters degree at the University of Kansas, and then went back to Berkeley for PHD. Currently, she is a professor of Korean Art and Culture, in the department of Art History at Dartmouth College. This is her 7thyear teaching at Dartmouth College. She is a mother of two children.

Contextual Data:

  • Social Context:When Sunglim Kim was young (around the age of 5 years old) she remembers wanting to cut her toenails one night, but her mom came in and stopped her because of this superstition. Sunglim Kim was ignorant to this superstition at the time, and this was the first time that her mom explained the superstition that will be described in the item section below. Sunglim Kim was terrified by the superstition, and it prevented her from cutting her toe nails or finger nails at night for the rest of her youth. She had terrible nightmares about rats turning into monsters and haunting her because of this superstition. She said that most of her friends at the time believed in the superstition as well when they were young, so they also did not cut their toe nails at night. Sunglim Kim now will cut her toenails at night, because she no longer believes in this superstition. However, she will always make sure that the lights are on when cutting her nails, to make sure that her nails do not get on the ground.
  • Cultural Context:This superstition is deeply prevalent in Korean culture. It is a variant of a similar Japanese superstition about cutting fingernails at night.


  • If you cut your toe nails or fingernails at night then rats will eat the toe nails off of the ground. The rats that now have a piece of you will be able to transform into you, and also can take your soul. Cutting toenails in the daytime is acceptable, but it is still important to not leave any toe nail clippings on the ground, since the rats will still be able to eat them at night.

Associated file (a video, audio, or image file):

Transcript of Associated File:

  • “They don’t allow me cut my nails, like toe nails or finger nails at night. And they said, the rats will eat them, and they can transform into you.”

Informants Comments:

  • The informant was very confident about the fact that this was a widely held belief. She believed in the superstition for a while when she was young, and said that all of her friends believed in it as well. She then stopped believing in it when she was older, around the age of 11 she said.

Collector’s Comments:

  • I found this superstition very interesting and entertaining. I was surprised by how widely held a belief it was in Korean culture, and that it had crossover from Japanese culture. It is an example of contagious magic in Korean culture, however in Japanese culture it is not an example of contagious magic. In Japanese culture, the variation is that if you cut your fingernails at night, then it opens up a way for bad spirits to enter your body through the fresh cut in your fingernails. In Japanese folklore, bad spirits are only around at night, so that is why you should not cut fingernails at night.

Collector’s Name: Kipling Weisel


  • Korean. Superstition. Cutting Fingernails. Contagious Magic.

New Swim Shoes

General Information about Item:

  • Material Folklore – Tools
  • Conceptual Folklore – Superstition
  • Conversion Superstition
  • Contagious Magic
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Informant: John Hall
  • Date Collected: 02-19-2018

Informant Data:

  • John Hall was born in Manhattan, New York on July 15, 1998. John lived in New York City for a couple years before moving to New Jersey. John started swimming when he turned 11, because his younger brother has started swimming and he wanted to join. He is a sophomore at Dartmouth, and he swims sprint freestyle.

Contextual Data:

  • Cultural Context: In many sports, and life in general, people will do or wear things that they think can help. Even though the superstition may do nothing, it gives the person a sense of reassurance and confidence.
  • Social Context: The data was collected in a one on one interview in Baker-Berry library. John described a superstition and tradition he did with a friend on the days of swim meets. The folklore was created to help bring good luck before the meet. He started doing his superstition in 7th grade, and has continued to do it since then.


  • John would wear the same shoes for every meet until he did bad. Once he did bad, he would go purchase new shoes to wear for meets until he did bad in the new shoes. He has done this with his friend for years.

Image of Flip Flops (Deck Shoes):


  • “Starting in 7th grade, my friend and I bought the same flip flops for a summer swim meet. We wore them to every meet until we did bad in the meet, then we would switch to wearing a different pair of shoes on the day of the meet. As soon as we did bad, we would switch to a new pair, to help bring good luck. The bad shoes would still be worn, just not during swim meets. “

Collector’s Comments:

  • I thought it would be expensive to maintain, but deck shoes are only a couple of bucks.

Collector’s Name: Matthew Luciano

Tags/Keywords: Material Folklore, Tool, Conceptual Folklore, Conversion Superstition, Contagious Magic, Swimming

Same-Lane Warm-Up

  1. Title: Warming Up in Same Lane as Race
  2. Informant: Anna Kingsbury, 19, Female.  Anna grew up in Apple Valley, Minnesota, and was a member of the Eastview High School swim team.  She swam on the varsity high school team for four years and was a captain her senior year.  When interviewed, Anna discussed her experiences being a swimmer at a high school level.
  3. Customary, Contagious Magic/ Superstition
  4. Language: English
  5. Country of Origin: United States
  6. Social / Cultural Context: During warm up at a swim meet, Anna explained that you have to check what lane you will be racing in and then warm up in that lane.
  7. No Audio, transcribed Skype interview
  8. Transcript:“You alway have to warm up in the lane that you will be racing in.  You need to feel what its like to be in that lane, push off the wall, and finish.”
  9. Informant’s comments: Anna explained how there is something special about being in the water in the exact lane you’re going to race in.
  10. Collector’s comments:The idea that two thing that are in contact will always be in contact comes into play here.  By warming up in the lane you will later race in, you create magic through a connection with the lane that may help you in your race.
  11. Tags/Keywords: Contagious Magic