Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Will the real superstition please stand up?

Times like this, you get real superstitious. I've knocked wood so many times, we got a letter from our neighborhood association instructing us to take care of our woodpecker problem.

Coupled with this is the fact that I don't know the rules of that many superstitions. Something about tossing salt over your shoulder. Or not looking at a full moon through the trees unless its over your left shoulder. So, I just go through my day, randomly tossing salt, hitting wood or a wood by-product, and twitching around to look at things backward. My neighbors think I either have epilepsy or full-body Tourettes.

The bigger issue is when you're not sure which way to go with superstition. Superstition-wise, leaving any possible logic out of it, does one talk about all eventualities, in the belief that if you talk about it, you ward it off? Kind of like buying tons of life insurance to guard against your death. Or should one not mention any negative outcomes, in order to not "open the door" to the possibility?

I vaguely remember a friend's Catholic Italian grandmother spitting when certain things were said. But I don't remember what kinds of things.

Oh great. Salt, wood, turn around and spit. Now my neighbors are sure to call the guys with the butterfly nets.


Chalicechick said...

Throw salt over your right shoulder when you spill it.

Knock on wood when you say something you brag about something or talk about good fortune. (e.g. "I'm glad I bought a Toyota, so far I haven't had a single problem with it, knock on wood.")

You spit when you make a promise or for good luck when you see a one eyed cat.


Jeff Wilson said...

Hate to dispute CC, but as I was taught you throw salt over the LEFT shoulder. That's the shoulder the devil sits on/stands behind.

You knock on wood to prevent bad luck, because wood imps living in the wood might take it into their head to cause mischief when you mention something you're pleased with/aspire to do. Knocking on the wood lets the imps know you're aware that they're about and thus on guard against their tricks.

I never learned about spitting. But be sure not to walk under a ladder or let a black cat cross your path. Don't break mirrors, don't step on cracks (they'll break your mother's back), and if you see or hear an owl you may be in for bad luck. Cross your fingers and hold your breath when passing a graveyard, and cover your mouth whenever yawning or a spirit might get in. Don't predict good luck or you'll jinx it, especially if you're predicting your sportsteam will win. Wish someone bad luck (i.e. "break a leg") before they set off on a big project, so that the jinx won't get them. Avoid the number 13.

These are basically all about warding off bad luck. You can also do some things to create good luck. For instance, be sure to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. If you find a penny in the street pick it up, and all that day you'll have good luck. Rabbit's feet bring good luck, as do four-leaf clover.

Amazingly, I learned the majority of these and other superstitions from my UU father, a staunch humanist and still not quite able to break the grip of all the small Southern farming town superstitions that surrounded him as a child. His attitude seems to be similar to that of Pascal's Wager: he doesn't believe in any of these things but does them anyway because you never know, and anyway they help him feel better. I won't say how many I myself continue to hold to. . .