The thought of superstition brings to mind all sorts of things. Black cats. The number 13. Mirror safety. Finding pennies. Sidewalk cracks. Fingers crossed. Walking around, not under ladders. Knocking on wood. The list really goes on and on.
Superstition is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition as:
1 a : a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation
- excessively credulous belief in and reverence for the supernatural:he dismissed the ghost stories as mere superstition
- a widely held but irrational belief in supernatural influences, especially as leading to good or bad luck, or a practice based on such a belief:she touched her locket for luck, a superstition she’d had since childhood
Well that seems less harsh, but still definitely defined for those who are not magically minded. I don’t think that I’m particularly irrational, but I suppose there are many who would.
As a child I knew several little jingles that went with the superstitions, but have no idea how or where I learned them. “Find a penny, pick it up… all day long you’ll have good luck!” and “Don’t step on the cracks or you’ll break your mother’s back!” come to mind for me. I don’t really know that I even knew they were superstitions, but as a child I jumped every crack I saw in the sidewalk and collected every face up penny I encountered. Even as an adult now I catch myself intentionally stepping over the cracks more often than not. Funny how those things stay with you like that. Just the other day the youngest of Jay’s boys, Huckleberry, found a penny on the ground and sang the little jingle I know. I had to ask him “Where’d you learn that?” and he replied “I don’t know. Do you know it too?” When I told him that I did he thought it was cool and went about his business. So I decided to research that particular superstition, along with a few others, because I am genuinely curious where they all came from.
According to wikipedia, “Finding a penny is sometimes considered lucky and gives rise to the saying, “Find a penny, pick it up, and all the day you’ll have good luck.” This may be a corruption of “See a pin and pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck” and similar verses, as quoted in The Frank C. Brown collection of North Carolina folklore and other places.”
Well who in the world is Frank C. Brown and how would I have learned a saying from North Carolina folklore living in California & Tennessee as a little girl? Who knows… what I do know is that the Frank C. Brown collection of North Carolina folklore has 7 volumes that I could find and that they go back as far as 1912. They’re packed full of games, rhymes, beliefs, customs, riddles,proverbs, speech, tales, legends, folk ballads from North Carolina, folk songs from North Carolina, the music of the ballads, the music of the folk songs, popular beliefs and superstitions from North Carolina. Interesting. One superstition solved… now on to the next.
Stepping on cracks has long been subject to superstition. In addition to the danger of breaking your mother’s back, a 1905 book, Superstition and Education, lists several other grim superstitions: that if you step on a crack, you will have bad luck, or that you will not get a surprise at home that you otherwise would.
Many claim that the original rhyme was “step on a crack and your mother will turn black,” and that the superstition went that stepping on a crack meant that you’d have a black baby. Indeed, Iona Opie noted that one was fairly common in parts of the UK in the 1950s, but there’s no real reason to think it’s the original, not just another variation that came and went. At the same time, kids were saying that if you stepped on a crack, you’d be chased by bears. This idea was invented by A.A. Milne in his poem “Lines and Squares,” but, from Opie’s description, was a more widespread superstition than the racial one. So I guess that one has various versions.
Fortunately, stepping on a crack has never resulted in a broken back for my mom or anyone else’s mom that I know of. What a strange superstition!
As for the rest of them… black cats crossing your path being bad luck, I should never have a day of good luck because I had a black cat for 8 years and the number of times she crossed my path… I have no idea. I personally LOVE black cats. They’re pretty. I don’t like when my mom has one because she always seems to pick the most insane paranoid black cat of the bunch, but generally my personal experience with black cats has been good.
The number 13… well I noticed this most in the hospital. There was never a room 13 and I wondered why… people never had an answer except that “they never had it”. Some buildings don’t have a 13th floor. Well they HAVE a 13th floor, but they number them from 12th to 14th skipping the 13th floor entirely. To eliminate an entire floor based on a superstition seems silly to me, but some people take their superstitions seriously. I wondered if maybe it’s associated with the scary movies Friday the 13th, but the fear predates the movies. The fear of Friday the 13th (as an actual day) has it’s very own phobia name: friggatriskaidekaphobia.
The fear of Friday the 13th as a phobia seems fairly new since it only dates back to the late 1800s. Friday has long been considered an unlucky day (according to Christian tradition, Jesus died on a Friday), and 13 has a long history as an unlucky number. According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in North Carolina, about 17 million people fear Friday the 13th. Many may fall prey to the human mind’s desire to associate thoughts and symbols with events. Crazy, huh? I think it’s safe to say I don’t fear Friday the 13th since I was handfasted in 2000 on Friday, October 13, 2000 on the full moon. I will be sure that I don’t repeat that same mistake, but it had nothing to do with the day… it was the guy.
I’ll admit it, breaking mirrors freaks me out a little. I don’t like it. It probably has a lot to do with the superstition, but I also hate to hear the sound of glass breaking. Besides, if the superstition is accurate… 7 years is a long time to be unlucky! Interestingly enough, this superstition comes from something I consider kind of silly. People used to believe that mirrors didn’t just capture your physical image, but also captured a piece of your soul. This is why many people in the south would cover all of the mirrors in their home when a loved one passed on… to prevent them from getting trapped in the mirrors of the house. I just make it a point to be careful around mirrors and I cannot remember having ever broken one. Which leads me to… I better “knock on wood” to make sure it stays that way.
Well, I’ve always heard it was supposed to ward off bad luck or evil spirits that mean to cause mischief or strife. It’s just one of those things that I have seen my parents do and other people I trust or respect do… so I just automatically adopted the custom myself. Whether or not I think it’s accurate… well I don’t know, but I’m okay with knocking just to stay on the safe side. From Romania to Italy to Spain to England and right here in the United States, knocking on wood has been used to ward off evil spirits, keep bad luck and the Grim Reaper at bay and keep positive/favorable or good things in the path of the one knocking. I think here in the US we use a little bit of all meanings when knocking on wood. You know, because we don’t want to jinx anything. This is one that I often see others do too. I haven’t ever asked them why they do it, but I can almost guarantee that the majority of them do it because that’s what their parents did and it seems better to be safe than sorry.
One thing that really strikes me as odd is that so many Christians are superstitious. If most Christians see the occult, the spirit world and the supernatural as dangerous and scary, why do some of them take part in so many superstitious customs? It makes sense that Pagans might be superstitious because we acknowledge the existence of a supernatural world out there and accept it for what it is. In my opinion it is neither good nor bad, it just is. Maybe that’s why so many people believed in these customs to fend off evil, bad luck and the like. Believing in the ability to do simple gestures like knocking on wood or jumping cracks in the sidewalk shifted the power from the unknown to yourself.
Superstition is not anything I can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, however… I trust that my instincts and experiences have been accurate in proving to me that the supernatural is a very real entity. It is not “out there” somewhere, it is right here sharing the same space and time. For the most part I believe that spirit entities leave us to our living and rarely have the ability or the inclination to reveal themselves in even the smallest ways. On the rare occasion that they do, I don’t see any harm in keeping in their good graces. So does superstition affect me? Not particularly or on a regular basis, but occasionally it does. It is usually in such a small way that I don’t even realize when I carry on with the traditional custom and go about my day. Being a magically minded person I don’t see the spirit world as scary or daunting. On the contrary, it’s quite fascinating and interesting to me. I don’t mind mingling with the spirit world on occasion so long as they are playing nice. So far, my superstitious customs seem to have kept any interactions pleasant. For that I am thankful.
So tell me, are you superstitious? If so, how does superstition affect your life?