It’s interesting how superstitions of long ago continue to survive in this high-tech, no-nonsense era. Okay, for those of you who read Stephen King novels, it’s understandable. But why do so many of us still throw spilled salt over our shoulders, carry lucky charms of some sort, and knock on wood to ward off bad luck?
Last week in the library I found a copy of A Brief Dictionary of American Superstitionsby Vergilius Ferm. Ferm’s book, which was published in 1965, mentions an Anti-Superstition Society, a Chicago-based organization which met on Friday the 13th in June of 1958, at the Chicago Athletic Club to defy bad luck spells associated with broken mirrors, black cats, ladders, opened umbrellas and the like. This group, with 13 vice-presidents comprised of judges, aldermen and business leaders, wanted to debunk superstitions such as those surrounding the number 13.
Apparently the group had celebrated a prior Friday the 13th by meeting in a mortuary and sitting around an open coffin that had 13 candles in it. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that if you had nothing better to do on a Friday night than to sit around in a mortuary, you couldn’t be considered particularly lucky, now could you?
Another question: why doesn’t Ferm’s book list any club activities after 1958? The year 1959 had three Friday the 13ths, but there is no mention of what these gentlemen did that year. Perhaps they were unable to convene due to a seven year streak of bad luck.
A lot of superstitions have a common theme, like predictions of marriage, death, or visitors. You can tell that company is coming if you drop a slice of buttered bread and it lands face down, if you feel sleepy after doing the dishes, or if your cat starts washing its face. Unfortunately, this forewarning of fellowship doesn’t tip you off as to whether you should warm up the checkerboard, cool the Chianti, or turn out the lights and pretend you aren’t home until the visitor quits knocking and goes away. If your cat can’t tell you who is coming, you’re really not much better off than if you didn’t know anyone was coming in the first place.
Itching can connote all sorts of things depending on what portion of the anatomy is afflicted. An itching thumb means company’s coming. If your right hand itches, money is coming; if your left hand itches, money is slipping away. An itching right ear portends that someone is speaking well of you; an itching left ear means you will soon be crying. Then again, maybe all this itching just means you got too close to the poison ivy in the back yard.
It’s bad luck to kill a ladybug, a cricket, a toad or a spider (at least it is for the relevant critter). And dropping things – gloves, combs, soap – brings bad luck. Now if you drop an apron, it can get really complicated. It could mean you will have many children, no children at all, or even that you will be a spinster. It might mean that you are about to meet your fiancé, that you will have two husbands, or that your husband will desert you. I don’t wear aprons myself, and after reading all this, I have no intentions of doing so in the future. It’s just too hazardous of a garment to have around the house.
There are some omens that I have discovered which aren’t mentioned in the book. For example, it’s bad luck to drop your coffee cup, especially if you consequently spill coffee all over your computer keyboard. I guess Ferm didn’t come across that “superstition” too frequently in 1965.
Teeth wide apart are said to indicate prosperity and happiness. I can attest that teeth well-aligned indicate the same thing, but not for you… for your orthodontist.
So, if I don’t walk under any black cats this Friday or break seven ladders, then – knock on wood – I’ll catch you next week.
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