Exploring Folklore Jokes through Spiro Agnew

The following is a guest post from Joshua Koepke (MA Candidate in Folklore and Ethnomusicology/MLS Candidate in the Luddy School of Informatics) as part of the 2022 spring course ILS-Z604/FOLK-F804 Folklore Archives in the Digital Age.

I’ve sat in archives to read all sorts of materials: from newspapers detailing important events, to letters addressing dignitaries with bad penmanship, and even some thick binders of technical building specifications (that is, if caffeine is aplenty). Political jokes recorded by college students about Nixon and Vice President Agnew never crossed my mind. That is until I got to sit down with the political jokes section of the IU Folklore Institute jokes collection at Indiana University Archives. It was here, yes thanks to Sprio Agnew, where the differences between archives and folklore archives draw such distinction. 

Cover of the Alternative newsletter with a caricature of Spiro Agnew
Cover of the Alternative, Vol. 4, No. 1 (November 1970). Collection C618.

Traditional archives are repositories for preserving the legacy and mission of large institutions and preeminent individuals.1 Archives are common for governments and large educational institutions. Indiana University is no exception, having a large University Archives to store blueprints of buildings, the papers of chancellors, and official governing documents. Famous families and wealthy individuals also often create archives to preserve their successes in business, politics, or social status. Regardless of subject, paper records dominate holdings, but generally do not give an understanding of the daily life and traditions of the common people.

In contrast, folklore is fundamentally of the people. Richard Dorson, a prominent folklorist and the creator of the collection under exploration, explained folklore as the traditions of the people, and defined four areas of collection: oral literature, material culture, social folk custom, and performing folk arts.2 Folklore material has a strong oral tradition to pass along information, related to any area of collection, while strongly influencing folklore archival holdings. Major differences in holdings between archival entities exist, with folklore archives amassing unpublished fieldwork from trained folklorists, as they record informants on paper or mediated through technology for future research use.3 

How do jokes fit into folklore? While the arrangements of names and classification schemes that make up folklore vary, to take Dorson’s four categories mapping, jokes reside within oral literature. Jokes exhibit the characteristics of oral tradition as they are mostly unwritten, unfettered by institutions, and circulated through oral recounting.4 It is common for jokes to only keep a punchline consistent and, like oral traditions, to have variances within other areas of the joke. The greater the frequency of joke circulation, the higher the chance for differences to appear, as joke tellers tailor jokes to specific audiences or to please their own views on an issue. The subject matter of jokes often changes to reflect the topics considered important to the people of the day, yet often include motifs or sayings with traditional origin. Christie Davies, a prominent joke researcher, described the importance of studying joke folklore:

It is precisely because jokes in circulation are unfiltered that we can use them as a true indication of what a people laugh at. The jokes told on radio or television tell us mainly what particular writers, performers, producers, broadcasting officials, sponsors, and buyers of programs have decided; jokes in oral circulation reflect the tastes and perceptions of ordinary individuals.5

Thus studying the jokes in oral circulation at a given time is important, but people will rarely tell authentic jokes to outsiders. Knowing this, folklore researchers, like Richard Dorson, utilized students in folklore classes for joke collection, as they could tap into already established friend networks for research purposes.6

This collections supplies examples of how jokes exhibit the oral tradition of adaptation while keeping the same message even over a relatively short span of time. Each joke’s point centers around Spiro Agnew’s apparent difficulties with speaking to the American people, by playing on the popular phrase “putting one’s foot in their mouth”.7 The first joke chronologically recorded in the collection reads, “‘Did you hear about the conspiracy to shoot Agnew’s foot off? They are hoping that by shooting his foot off he would starve to death because he would not have anything to put in his mouth’”.8 The next version of the joke, recorded four days later states, “‘Do you know the only time Agnew opens his mouth is to change shoes’”.9 Note that this time the punchline is implied. Finally, a third, undated rendition of the joke is documented as, “‘When is the only time Spiro Agnew opens his mouth? To change his socks.’” All three joke variants were told around the Bloomington campus, thanks to joke metadata collection required by the instructors, highlighting the ability of oral literature to modify even over small distances.

1George List, “Archiving,” in Folklore and Folklife: An Introduction, ed. Richard Dorson (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1972), 455-463

2Richard Dorson, “Introduction: Concepts of Folklore and Folklife Studies,” in Folklore and Folklife: An Introduction, ed. Richard Dorson (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1972), 1-7.

3List, 456-458.

4Christie Davies, Jokes and Targets (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), 2.

5 Davies, 4.

 6List, 459.

7Jokes: Political: 71: 61-70 Instructor Adams:  Item 71:65. C735 Folklore Institute jokes, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

8Jokes: Political: 71: 51-60 Instructor Adams:  Item 71:57. C735 Folklore Institute jokes, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

9Jokes: Political: 71: 11-20 Instructor Adams:  Item 71:18. C735 Folklore Institute jokes, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

The Serious Side of Jokelore

The following is a guest post from Joshua Koepke (MA Candidate in Folklore and Ethnomusicology/MLS Candidate in the Luddy School of Informatics) as part of the spring course ILS-Z604/FOLK-F804 Folklore Archives in the Digital Age.

Photo of Josh Koepke seated at a table with a box of archival materials
Joshua Koepke, spring 2022

When discussing archival project options for a folklore class, my ears immediately perked up at the mention of a folklore joke collection here at Indiana University Bloomington. Not knowing much about the holdings besides being primarily from the late 1960s and early 1970s, my inner historian was excited at the prospect of period-specific jabs at Richard Nixon and “hippie” counterculture. When going through the collection, I encountered these political jokes, even plenty of one-liners concerning Spiro Agnew, which I’ll ponder upon in an upcoming entry. Not long into searching the extensive amassment of ethnic jokes and their corresponding documentation in this collection, my soul sank with the depressing reality of underlying prejudice influencing the deep stack of Polish American and African American jokes. My, often troubling time, working with this collection inspired an exploration on why this content is worthy of preservation and what archivists, folklorists, and historians can do to manage interactions with offensive collections.

Jokes reflect the social environments at the time of their creation, finding humor in critiques of events and social movements. The 1960s and 1970s saw the “… rise in the consciousness and assertion of ethnicity” with Polish and Black cultures in America.1 Rising racial tensions of this period were represented in jokes of the ethnic and racial variety as a way to reassert subordinate status.2 The ethnic jokes in the IU Folklore Institute Jokes collection proving no exception. The frequent use of blatantly derogatory language, among which was more than a fair share of poorly spelled variants, to enforce a hierarchy of superiority based on the lightness of skin were routinely thinly veiled as jokes. These need not be repeated here. Even more disheartening were interviews conducted by the students of the informants who told the jokes. In these, some joke tellers casually confessed their prejudices for minorities, like this African American joke teller, “Well, to be truthful, I don’t like them [in reference to African Americans]. It seems like they’re trying to interfere with everything…”,3 or another who set out to change the language of the African American joke they told to a more intolerant and explicit term, to which the folklore student eloquently surmised, “This, in itself, tells a great deal [for] the problems in society.”4 More bleak were the occasional students who agreed with racist thoughts put forward by the informants without critical analysis, like this student who interviewed their prejudicial friend:  

I must say that I agree with [name of informant redacted] in every psychological and sociological function of the items, although I am sure that several others would be violently opposed to what has been stated previously. I agree with [name of informant redacted] Mainly [sic] because we are very close friends and we share many interests and opinions. Therefore, I must conclude by saying that I couldn’t have said it better myself!!5

These issues and the often explicit language and racist imagery make this collection problematic to read, let alone curate. While it may be repulsive to modern users, the collection possesses value in documenting the racial and ethnic views of a segment of students at a pivotal time in civil rights history for America. Dr. Julia Rose coined the term “difficult histories” for historic materials with content of oppression and trauma which can make materials hard to digest for modern audiences. References to materials must be delicately interwoven to historic documentation nonetheless in order to confront revisionists and denialists and to hopefully encourage further work towards justice.6 

For historians, curators, and archivists, balancing access and description for difficult histories is problematic, and sparks different solutions depending on the archive. When facing the use of derogatory language and explicit racial content, the Dúchas team at the Irish National Folklore Collection decided to digitize materials but to leave blank any derogatory language from transcription practices, to allow for the restriction of entire pages, and to include a statement on the possible encountering of sensitive and offensive materials. Like Dúchas, Indiana University has a Harmful Language Statement located in the footer of their newly designed search portal. The IU Libraries also utilizes direct community feedback to report potential offensive content,7 like Dúchas, since the collections are extensive and archivists unfortunately cannot review everything. Here at IU, the University Archives and other archival units encourage the reporting of problems to the Harmful Language Report Form. Another tool at the disposal of professionals is the incorporation of content warnings on collections, so researchers know what to expect before opening boxes. 

Assistant Archivist note, August 2022

Collection C735 provided us an opportunity to use a burgeoning body of literature and professional practice related to reparative archival description. Although reparative description is intensive, archivists and other library and museum professionals have done an amazing job building central knowledge bases and communities to support the involved activities. We started with the Anti-Racist Description Resources document published by Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia (A4BLiP). A4BLiP’s annotated and extensive resource bibliography will open many doorways for anyone interested in learning more about reparative description. You can also stay up to date with harmful language and bias statements in libraries through the Cataloging Lab (list last updated August 2022).

While maintaining the original order of records (ie the organization, sequence, and description established by the creator) is a core tenant of the archives profession as it provides evidence of how records where used, ultimately, we decided to replace the outdated and harmful original “Negro” and “Polack” folder titles with the current, more appropriate terms “African American” and “Polish.” We reflected these folder heading changes in the finding aid as well. In addition to the concerns about offense that Joshua explained, updating terms also addressed the collection’s findability online–now, researchers don’t have to know to use outdated search terms to find these files. A warning about the content was also included in the Scope and Content Note of the collection.

As we move forward and develop more robust workflows for reparative description, we aim to be as transparent as possible (with each other at the Archives and with the public) about the changes we make. This includes internally tracking problematic finding aids, explaining curatorial decisions in finding aid notes, and receiving feedback through the Harmful Language Report Form.

If you have questions or concerns about this collection, harmful language, or reparative description in archives, please contact an archivist today!

1 Christie Davies, Jokes and Targets (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), 2.

2Davies, 7.

3Jokes: Ethnic: Negro: 70: 11-20 Instructor: Milspaw: Item 70:15, C735 Folklore Institute jokes, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

4Jokes: Ethnic: Negro: 70: 61-70 Instructors: Gutowski, Danielson: Item 70:66, C735 Folklore Institute jokes,, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

5Jokes: Ethnic: Negro: 70: 11-20 Instructor: Milspaw: Item 70:11, C735 Folklore Institute jokes, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

6Julia Rose, Interpreting Difficult History at Museums and Historic Sites (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 24-29.

7“Copyright, digital preservation, sensitive material and contact,” Dúchas, https://www.duchas.ie/en/info/contact; Gearóid Ó Cleircín, Conchur Mag Eacháin, Anna Bale, “Managing the Digitization and Online Publication of Sensitive Heritage Material in the Dúchas Project,” New Review of Information Networking 20, (2015): 194-199, doi 10.1080/13614576.2015.1112613.

Finding common ground: conversations on applied folklore in the Bloomington community

"What have Bloomington and Monroe County been like in the past? What can they be like in the future? Can we, should we, find any Common Ground?"
Excerpt from the 1998 call out letter.

This past summer, the Indiana University Archives hired me to focus on some of the Archive’s time-based media (i.e., tapes and film) that have gone through the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative. The goal has been to work on the description of the pieces — some of which had nothing more than “Side A” or “Side B” — and to work with the head of the Libraries’ Copyright Program to determine what level of access we can provide.

Given my background as a PhD student in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, one of the first projects I was tasked with were the recordings digitized from the Department’s records here in the IU Archives. There are a few different chunks of recordings within the records; this post focuses on recorded conversations from a 1998-99 Visions of Place project sponsored by local businesses and the Indiana Humanities Council.  A subset of the larger project was Common Ground, a public folklore initiative of which the Indiana University Folklore Department was a partner. This project focused on understanding the meaning of community and neighborhood within Bloomington and Monroe County. Descriptions of the “Photo Days” and story collecting sound quite similar to modern-day “History Harvests” which we sometimes see hosted by local historical societies around the country. Included with these recordings are some from 1996; it seems likely that the interviews and conversations between folklore graduate students and professors at that time influenced the development of the Common Ground public folklore initiative.

The recordings in this collection document weekly summer meetings between professors and a team of six graduate students as they developed plans for a public service folklore project in Bloomington. Ultimately, the group decided to work towards building community between local senior citizens and children through joint folklore programming with the then neighboring community centers, Kid City and Older Citizens Center. The recordings, on audio cassette, capture the group’s discussions about team fieldwork methodologies, ethical concerns in public folklore, and the relationship between Indiana University and the Bloomington community, both historically and at the time of the recording. The topics remain prominent in folklore studies today.

The conversations include IU folklore graduate students and professors Henry Glassie and Phil Stafford, with the latter asked to reflect on his community service work in the Evergreen Project. The Evergreen Project invited a nursing home community in Bloomington to reflect on their sense of place. The team delegated tasks and then reported back on their progress in building connections in the field. They reflected on weekly readings, discussing problems in teamwork, volunteering, and race and class relations in fieldwork and public folklore.

Also included is an interview by folklorists John Cash and Inta Carpenter with Keith Enright. Enright worked on a public folklore project to preserve Indiana folklife and heritage with one of IU’s most prominent folklorists, Dr. Warren Roberts. Their work focused on analysis and preservation on the oldest farmstead in Monroe County, the Mayfield Homestead. Enright’s research and preservation work on the pioneer homestead revealed centuries-old architectural evidence that the design was likely inspired by mystical symmetry invoked by the Freemasons. Enright also discussed the history and future of development in Bloomington and his own family heritage in the Midwest.

Headshot of Anya Peterson Royce
Anya Peterson Royce, Chancellors’ Professor of Anthropology

Additional recordings include Chancellors’ Professor and anthropologist Anya Peterson Royce on the topics of public folklore, fieldwork relationships, and service learning. Her interviews discuss her experiences with fieldwork, race, and service in Indianapolis and Martinsville, Indiana.

Finally, the Common Ground initiative closed with a group oral history interview with Russell Shaw, a local photographer and photography shop owner who shared information about his extensive collection of historic Bloomington photography.

Although all of the project participants verbally acknowledge they are being recorded, because they could have never imagined they would be streamed online, at this time researchers must contact the Archives staff for access. Further description of all of the recordings can be found within the collection description for the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology records.

Bringing Luck to the Diamond: Superstitions in Baseball

I.U. baseball player Bill Blaise waiting for the home run ball, 1936. (Indiana University Archives, C624, Box 2.)

Opening Day has once again arrived for Major League Baseball, bringing with it the freshness of spring and the warmth of summer. The excitement of a brand new season instills a sense of euphoria in fans, and reminds them the long days of summer are not far behind. An April 4, 1933 clipping from the Indiana Daily Student captured the excitement of a new baseball season for students, declaring unkind those professors who dared schedule exams on the day of the first game.

Nomination for worst professors in April 4, 1933 Indiana Daily Student. (Indiana University Archives, C624, Box 2.)

As teams emerge from their winter hibernation and make their way back to the diamond, they will begin preparing themselves for both the physical and psychological rigors of the game. For superstitious players in particular, the baseball season can be a grueling stretch of routines and beliefs intended to build confidence and ward off bad luck. Baseball superstitions are as old as the game itself, and the very mention of the word brings a feeling of unease among players and fans. While some are humorous, some have become so ingrained in baseball culture they are now enforced as law.  Lyle Green notes some basic superstitions include never stepping on the foul line when walking on and off the field, and above all never mentioning an in-progress no-hitter.

Carl Erskine, a native of Anderson, Indiana, pitched for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers from 1948 to 1959. When he was interviewed in 1973 as part of a folklore class at I.U., Erskine detailed the near paranoid levels of superstitions prevalent at the Major League level. Some of the more trivial include the Dodgers’ Leo Durocher, who as third base coach would kick third base before taking his position. Dodgers pitcher Billy Lowes was adamant on sitting in the same spot in the dugout, and always wore the same clothes when he was on the mound. Chicago Cubs first baseman/outfielder Phil Cavaretta would take two warm-up swings of the bat while in the on-deck circle. Before taking a third swing, he would spit in the air, and then hit it.

“Splat, and he was ready to hit,” Erskine recalled.

Though he was surrounded by superstitious players, Erskine himself stated that while he tried avoiding becoming engrossed in superstitions, it was nonetheless challenging to prevent being swept up in them.

“It’s so difficult that I found myself not going to the same seat on the bench, not wearing the same sweatshirt every time I pitched, not walking back the same way each time, to the point where one day I realized…well, I’m being superstitious about not being superstitious,” Erskine said.

Superstitions can be found everywhere on the diamond, including food. Good nutrition undoubtedly keeps the body healthy and in top physical condition, but for the superstitious player it can be the difference between a memorable day at the plate or one better off forgotten. Jay Grohowski, an I.U. baseball player interviewed in 1981, noted the effect something simple like a pre-game hot dog could have on a player’s day.

“You have a hot dog and you go 6-for-8 on a doubleheader, and you go home and…you think, ‘what did I have last game for lunch?’ and you have the same thing again.”

A good meal can certainly keep a player calm, but where the food is consumed can be just as important. Harold Halman, another I.U. baseball player, discussed the role of McDonald’s for a player’s success.

“So happens you go out, the team does well, and you play fairly well, and next day you go there. ‘Let’s all go to McDonald’s, like yesterday,'” Halman said.

Indiana Daily Student clipping welcoming the 1936 baseball season and encouraging fans to bring their favorite razzes to the diamond, April 7, 1936. (Indiana University Archives, C624, Box 2.)

Superstitions can take hold of fans in ways similar to players, though their rituals morph into a communal effort intended to will the home team to victory or support an individual player’s effort. From turning hats inside-out during rallies to tapping bobbleheads, fans become consumed in the moment, and almost work harder than the players themselves to snag victory from the opponent. While Erskine’s mother was listening to her son throw his first no-hitter in 1952, she continued ironing the same tablecloth throughout the entirety of the game, believing any attempt to stop would squander Carl’s efforts.

Clipping from April 4, 1933 Indiana Daily Student heralding a new baseball season. (Indiana University Archives, C624, Box 2.)

“She related my good fortune to what she was doing,” Erskine later said. “She probably felt that she had quite a bit to do with that.”

The beginning of a new baseball season signifies the oncoming days of spending long summer days basking in the sun at the ballpark. For teams and fans looking to keep bad luck at bay, the strains of the game can result in habits and routines seen as bizarre by outsiders but viewed by player’s and lovers of baseball as being essential to keeping a level head when out on the diamond.

Both the the IU Folklore Institute’s student papers collection and the IU Athletics Manager’s Books were mined for this post. If you follow those links, be warned – the student papers collection is HUGE and takes a long time to load. Click “Entire Document” on the left and then walk away for a bit while it loads!

How to Train a Dragon in Indiana

From “Nine Dragons” (jiǔlóngtú; 九龙图) by Chen Rong, 1244, located in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

Dragons are my favorite supernatural creatures. Maybe it’s not surprising, then, that I found a way to research them as part of my new job working for the University Archives. As part of IU’s 2018 Themester, which focused on the relationship between human and non-human animals, I started researching animal folklore in the IU Folklore Institute student papers, and quickly ran into Henry Gaidoz’s massive collection (GR55.G35 H46) in the related IU Libraries’ Folklore Collection. This French folklorist and mythologist collected texts about everything from Zoroastrianism to cannibalism, including an entire box of writings on dragons. At the bottom of that box, I found Marinus Willem de Visser’s 1913 missive The Dragon in China and Japan (Box 24, Item 568). This book contains hundreds of pages of descriptions of Chinese and Japanese dragon beliefs and traditions, including instructions on how to summon a dragon to make it rain.

M.W. de Visser, like Gaidoz, had a range of interests. He was a Dutch scholar who studied Chinese and Japanese folklore, but his works have become particularly well known in the field of cryptozoology, the study of supernatural creatures. In The Dragon in China and Japan, he chronicles the ways that dragon beliefs and rituals moved between India, China, and Japan, drawing along the way from Taoism, Shintoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. His book begins by describing beliefs that came from India, then moves into the way those ideas were absorbed into existing traditions in China and Japan. As I read, I realized what a vital role dragons play in eastern Asian traditions, particularly as water gods capable of starting and stopping rain.

Much of the western literature I had previously encountered depicted dragons as embodied metaphors for the human qualities of greed, violence, and wisdom. In China, however, dragons have been worshiped as deities, used as symbols of national identity and political authority, and are still seen today as figures with the potential to bless a community with rain or stop a flood. I was interested in these practices because of my love for all things dragon-related, but also because my home state of Utah was at the time suffering from drought and a series of terrible fires. I decided to combine some of the things I learned from Visser’s text with my own traditions and ask a dragon to bring rain to my home town.

Title page for M.W. De Visser’s The Dragon in China and Japan, Henry Gaidoz Collection, Box 24, Item 568

Chinese and Japanese beliefs in dragons are complicated and emergent, and they are not my area of study. However, based on Visser’s work as well as other texts, I identified what seemed to be some key aspects of these traditions. Ancient Chinese beliefs about dragons describe them as “enormous light-giving mountain gods” who helped create life and have power over the weather as well as other aspects of the environment (62). These long-standing beliefs combined with Buddhist and Hindu influences to form contemporary dragon worship practices, including the widespread belief in Dragon Kings. Dragon or Serpent Kings are local gods that live in specific lakes or rivers and can be petitioned to create or stop rain. Many are depicted as having bodies that are part serpent and part human.

“The Dragon King of the Four Seas” 1801-1850, located in the British Museum.

It is difficult to delineate how and where specific parts of dragon worship in China originated, but Visser outlines several examples of asking dragons for rain that come from Taoist and Buddhist traditions. In general, there are two types of strategies for communicating with dragons, both of which rely on knowing what the dragon either likes or dislikes. The first is performing a ritual to ask the dragon for help, which involves praying, providing offerings, and reciting sutras or sacred texts. These rituals often include images of specific dragons and items that are the color blue (the color of one of the most important dragons), and are done while facing the direction of the particular dragon you are trying to summon (often east) (30-32). The second strategy is to agitate the dragon to cause it to move, which can involve pulling small statues of the dragon in and out of the water, making loud noises near the shoreline, or throwing items the dragon dislikes (often iron and the Wang plant) into the river or lake (69).

My version of summoning the dragon was based on the two types of rituals described in Visser. First, I read about the Great Cloud Circle (or Wheel) rite. This Buddhist petition must be performed in an open space, under a blue canopy and a blue banner and on a blue seat facing east. There are additional instructions for who can perform the ritual and what they must be wearing, as well as the offerings that should accompany the performance. In this ritual a religious official or influential lay person recites the sutra or dharani of the Great Cloud Circle for one to two days while others play music and sing for the dragon. Then they burn offerings, including a paper figure with a message in his hand asking for rain. The act of burning this figure is supposed to allow him to take his message to heaven (32).

The second strategy I drew from is a practice associated with the dragon boat festival (such as this one in Washington D.C.), an annual celebration in which people race dragon boats and place dumplings wrapped in leaves and tied with five-colored thread in the water. There are many different versions of the story behind this festival –one of the most common is that it commemorates the poet K’uh Yen, a loyal man accused of treason who committed suicide, and the race of the villagers to save his body from being eaten by placing other food in the water. However, Visser and other scholars suggest that this celebration comes in part from an earlier festival which may have been intended to worship dragons. Visser suggests the act of racing symbolic representations of dragons and placing food wrapped in leaves of a plant that dragons would not like in the water were intended to make the dragons race or fight each other, causing a rainstorm (68).

After reading about these and other ways to communicate I wanted to respect these traditions but also perform my own ritual in a way that was personally meaningful, so I combined these ideas with what I had on hand. Part of the problem was that I was not asking for rain where I currently was–Indiana had plenty of water–so I spoke to Tam Iverson, a graduate student at the University of Tartu, Estonia, who is familiar with beliefs about rain summoning in many cultures. He suggested that I use a fulcrum, or something that emotionally connected me to the place where I was asking for it to rain. I knew my Dad was coming into town that weekend, so I waited for him to arrive and planned that we would figure out the materials and fulcrum together. Coincidentally, the day we planned was also the day of the fall equinox, which according to Visser begins the period in which dragons begin a period of hibernation (66).

Photo by Jessie Riddle

That weekend, we picked a stream near my house and I found a blue scarf given to me by my grandmother to act as a “blue banner.” My Dad and I wrote messages on pieces of paper and brought matches to burn them. I didn’t have dumplings or the specific leaves mentioned by Visser, so I wrapped a cookie in the leaves I found near the stream and tied it together with five colors of thread. We brought a blue umbrella as the blue canopy, and as the fulcrum and a text to read, I brought a childhood story book with a blue cover. I read the book out loud, we placed the cookie wrapped in leaves and thread in the water, and then burned our messages. It was raining while we did this in Indiana, but the forecast for Utah was no rain for the next week.

The next day my Dad flew home to Utah, and sent me this video, which includes the sounds of light rainfall in Provo, Utah:

I have no idea if we summoned a dragon, and if that was possible whether that dragon would listen to anything we had to say. But I learned about beliefs I would never have otherwise, and I felt strongly the importance of having personal rituals that allow you to communicate with the world around you. Also, I don’t know that it didn’t work. So thanks, dragon.