This morning I knocked on wood when talking to my 9-year old because we noted he’s gone the entire year without forgetting to take his school-assigned laptop to school. He asked me what on earth I was doing. It just seemed like we couldn’t talk about streak like that without then backing it up with a knock on wood. But I don’t consider myself a particularly superstitious person. Some of them are downright silly, right? I mean, when a black cat crosses my path, my first thought is to chase it down and pet it, not dread the bad luck coming my way. And I’ll walk under a ladder all day long.
But I don’t put my purse on the floor. And I certainly find myself seeking out genuine wood frequently. And – don’t make fun of me – I won’t put 13 ice cubes in my water bottle when I fill it in the morning. Turns out I’m pretty superstitious after all.
There are all kinds of superstitions that we’ve borrowed from cultures all around the world, and their origins are fascinating. There’s breaking a mirror. There’s throwing salt over your shoulder when you spill it (I do this too. Add it to the list). How about opening an umbrella inside? Yeah, I’m a big opponent of this one too.
But not all superstitions are bad omens. You can cross your fingers for good luck. Four leaf clovers and horseshoes are also good luck. So are rabbits’ feet (hey, I don’t make the superstitions). Did a bird poop on your head? It’s good luck too! Find a penny, pick it up, all day long have good luck! But it has to be heads up! We know this rule, though. We don’t have to Google it.
I didn’t have to link most of these superstitions, in fact. We know most of these because they’re oral traditions that have been passed down from one person to another. Who else goes one more step and puts that lucky penny in their shoe for the rest of the day? I’m not sure if this is a regional thing, but it’s a lucky thing for brides to do – wedding days are steeped in superstition and traditions like this. And – like me – you probably pick and choose your superstitions. The number 13 doesn’t affect you in the least, but the sight of a black cat in your path will fill you with dread. Much of this will have to do with your own family’s and friends’ traditions.
At their core, superstitions are irrational. They have no root in science or fact. In my research, superstition was referred to as folk belief or folk tradition, which I think is a really good way to describe it. A lot of it has to do with luck, spirituality, and premonitions. More interestingly, 25% of Americans describe acknowledge they are superstitious. Stevie Wonder would want better for us.
So in this season of black cats, spiders, witches, and bats, enjoy this wonderful and informative TED Talk.
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