Black cats, spilled salt, lucky coins and other superstitions

Laurie Snider
Notes from the Nest

Can you remember as a child walking home, a hoard of friends in tow, when one of them suddenly utters, “Step on a crack. Break your Mother’s back!” Well no tender, doting child alive could possibly ignore that one. So, one by one, like a group of misguided lemmings you and your chums hop, skip and jump over every chip, cranny and crevasse in the pavement the entire way home, lest you return to find your poor mother laying in a crumpled heap on the floor with a broken back.

Superstitions are frequently irrational and defy basic scientific wisdom yet somehow that doesn’t stop us from buying into them. Oft times running the gamut from cockamamie to down right preposterous. It often feels easier to go along rather then tempt fate. Just in case.

Were you aware that ‘triskaidekaphobia,’ is the fear of the number 13? I freely admit this one often sets my teeth on edge. According to Norse legend, a dinner party for 12 Gods was brazenly crashed by Loki, the God of strife and evil, kicking up the party numbers to 13. In the ensuing brouhaha, Balder, a favourite God was killed. And, Judas of course was the 13th disciple, who betrayed Jesus, who was then crucified on a Friday and you can see why it has been considered unlucky.

Have you ever found yourself after something fortunate has happened, knocking on a piece of wood or in the absence of a readily available piece using your head? Just your own little nod to the God of good spirits that you’re thankful and not taking your good fortune for granted. This is another favourite of mine. Well this particular one dates back to a time when some cultures believed the Gods lived in trees. To ask for a wee favour, they’d lightly tap on the bark. And once again in thanks, if the favour was granted.

Ancient Egyptians believed black cats were good luck but by the Middle ages Europeans began associating them with witches. For this reason, if one happened to cross your path it was considered bad luck. Two of our kitties are black and are certainly not evil, however if they get into the nip, it’s pretty certain a bit of a fracas will ensue.

And how about that salt? When you spill some do you find yourself sending a pinch or two sailing over your left shoulder? If you do that’s to blind the devil of course. Salt once a very valuable commodity was thought to purify the soul and ward off evil spirits. So why not?

A ladder leaning against a wall forms a triangle. According to legend, spirits good and bad live in triangles, so walking through one may awaken them and the nasty ones may not appreciate the disturbance. Breaking a mirror is thought to cause seven years bad luck, as mirrors are thought to be reflections of the soul. Ancient Romans believed people’s health changed in seven-year cycles. However, this can be easily remedied by taking it outside and burying it in the moonlight.

If you happen to be out walking in France and step in some doggie-doo-doo don’t worry, as long as it’s with your left foot it’s considered lucky. And if in Russia and a bird poops on you, well now that’s lucky too. An early 20th century Pennsylvanian German custom advises your first visitor after New Years shouldn’t be a woman, to avoid bad luck. Remarkably though they also consider it unlucky to take a bath or change your clothes between Christmas and New Years, which of course begs the question, just how many visitors are you likely to have then at all?

Superstitions of course can lead to some irrational decisions but have also been shown to promote positive mental attitudes, provide reassurance and reduce anxiety. Even our sports heroes aren’t immune. Icemaker Trent Evans buried a lucky loonie in the ice at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. Both Canadian men’s and women’s teams went on to win the gold medals. Now who can argue with that?

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