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From Harry Potter to the ‘old hag’

By Leslie Vryenhoek | Nov. 11, 2006


Three Memorial students of folklore came away winners last week when the American Folklore Society handed out awards at its annual general meeting last month in Milwaukee. The students tackled a broad range of topics, from old legends to very modern cultural phenomena.

Ayako Yoshimura, who is pursuing a master of arts in folklore, won the Don Yoder Prize for best student paper for her look at the Japanese equivalent of the "old hag" – a legendary nighttime visitor whom many Newfoundlanders claim to have met. 

According to Ms. Yoshimura, who has never herself experienced the suffocating phenomenon, it is considered by scientists to be a disorder called sleep paralysis. 

“But the experiences can be so surreal that people think they are supernatural,” explains the student, whose research interests include material culture, folk beliefs and personal experience narratives. She notes that European tradition has understood this as a witch riding on the chest, while in Asia, it is believed to have a supernatural cause such as an evil spirit.

“Kanashibari: Japanese "Old Hag": The Case Study of Self-Analysis on Personal Experiences with the Supernatural” relies on the personal experiences of three Japanese individuals to explore how people remain rational during their experiences with the unknown, and during subsequent attempts to recount and make sense of the them.

The paper is available in Culture and Tradition, (Vol. 27, 2005), a journal published by the students of Memorial’s Folklore Department.


Sarah Moore won in the Lesbian,Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Section category for her paper “Coming Out Stories: Personal Experience Narratives in the Gay and Lesbian Community.” She examined how coming out stories may be presented in a variety of ways depending on the audience, the situation, the time in one’s life and innumerable other contexts.


“Gays and lesbians may even have more than one coming out story, as the coming out process is viewed as continual during a lifetime of meeting new people and broadening one’s social network,” she explained in the paper’s abstract. “In terms of analysis, the coming out story may be examined in terms of the folklore of gays and lesbians, and how the story acts as a personal experience narrative, a tool for empowerment and a means for communication and identification in the gay and lesbian community.”


PhD candidate in folklore Contessa Small, who is currently teaching Newfoundland Folklore at Memorial, was awarded the W.W. Newell Prize from the Children’s Folklore Section of AFS for her student essay “Co-creating Harry Potter: Local Expressions of a Global Phenomenon,” which will be published in the upcoming issue of Children’s Folklore Review.