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Thank you! Keep the questions coming - I can write for days on this stuff. 

soldiergrrrlasked an easy and fun one (thank you!): Do you have any strange superstitious behaviour that you do, almost unconsciously? (When I spill salt, I throw a pinch of it over my shoulder.)

I am British (specifically, English). I live and breathe superstition. As a nation, we have a grand tradition of sending ourselves into neurotic spasms over anything and everything that can possibly be affected by mysterious outside forces. There is literally a superstition for any random outcome, many of them probably dating back to the days when our ancestors first crept down from their trees and said "white rabbits" three times, because it was the first of the month.

(Those who were slightly more evolutionally advanced also said "hares" the night before, just to make sure.)

I collect superstitions. Rationally, though I know that they do nothing (and, as in the case of spitting if I see a single magpie , are somewhat unsanitary), I feel distinctly uncomfortable if I break one or fail to do the requisite things to ward off whatever dire consequences will result from talking while going under a bridge. I rationalize this behaviour by telling myself that positive thinking helps me to ideate optimistic outcomes for whatever I'm currently worried about, but in truth, I'm just a primitive heathen convinced that my open umbrella indoors will prevent the sun from coming up tomorrow.

I won't walk under ladders. I, too, throw salt over my shoulder (Bob amuses himself occasionally by deliberately spilling salt just to watch me scoop it up and hurl it shoulder-ward, but I love him anyway), and it always has to be the left shoulder. I always put my right shoe on first in the morning. The first butterfly I see every year is of great importance, and to a lesser degree, so is the first one I see every day in spring and summer - a gold/yellow one is good luck, a white one means a quiet year/day, and a brown one is bad (I get around the fact that we have a large colony of spicebush swallowtail butterflies at the farm by telling myself that they're blue, not black). 

Besides, they were there to greet us en masse the first time we went to look at the property; they are my good-luck totem, since the farm is perfect, and despite some truly interesting house issues, has been a joy to own.  I love my spicebush critters; they are beautiful when they're happily covering the milkweed blossoms in the summer.  We also have luna moths, but I don't have a superstition associated with them (yet).  I'm sure there are plenty; give me a year or two, and I'll assimilate them all into my pantheon of irrationality.

I keep all sorts of good luck charms and totems - I have an immensely tattered and faded Japanese ornament that was given to me years ago to ensure happiness in my home, and I carry a stone with a natural hole in it in my purse, along with a key on a red ribbon (to ensure love).  

All of this is probably due to my slightly OCD nature - I like rituals, and superstitions are nothing if not rituals.

Obsessive, pointless rituals that throw me completely out of whack if I cannot complete them.  I've learned to be sneaky over the years, thanks to endless mocking, but I haven't given any of them up.  Bob does not mock me; in fact, he often reminds me to say "white rabbits" - if he remembers - because it's important to me.  He's sweet.

In the end, I suppose, my superstitious habits give me the barest sense of control over a completely uncontrollable universe - as they have done for my ancestors for thousands of years.  And if I have to take the Christmas ornaments down by January 6th, or insist on trying to peel a potato in one long string of peel, don't laugh.  You never know if one of them is actually effective.  That potato peel may be all that's standing between us and the howling abyss.

Why take the chance?


( 28 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
Feb. 5th, 2008 04:32 pm (UTC)
An extrapolation of Pascal's wager?

My first girlfriend was also English, and I learned much of these from her.

The one she had about not passing someone on the stairs? Actually pretty good safety advice. :-D
Feb. 5th, 2008 06:02 pm (UTC)
As is the not walking under ladders one (I work on a construction site).
Feb. 5th, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)
My mother is English, my Father Southern with deep Scottish roots, and I was raised in Appalachia. This all sounds very normal to me.
Feb. 5th, 2008 05:02 pm (UTC)
I only have the Appalachain Scottish/Irish side to the family, but I'm with you anyway. :D

Salt always goes over the shoulder. Walking under ladders is utterly taboo. And I always peer at wooly worms (the fuzzy caterpillars) to determine what kind of winter is coming. I'm convinced that the last one has some kind of secret truth to it.
Feb. 5th, 2008 05:11 pm (UTC)
I always attended the "Wooly Worm Festival" in Banner's Elk every October. I was amazed to see the little critters up this far north.
Feb. 5th, 2008 05:18 pm (UTC)
Me too - but I'm always afraid to pick them up, since I was told as a child that they would give me a rash. I haven't been able to find any evidence to substantiate it, but I can't make myself do it - even to get them out of the middle of the road so they don't get run over.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that for many people, superstition is the manifestation of the spiritual when it comes smacking up against the little things that go wrong all the time. Like praying for divine intercession (a very Catholic thing - and I have stories of praying to St. Anthony for lost things, and then finding them in impossible places), superstitious rituals try to assure us that there really is an order to the universe, and if we do the right things, evil can be kept at bay.

Looked at another way, it is an acknowledgement of evil as a conscious force, with the corresponding things that need to be done to keep it at bay, such as carved pumpkins (turnips in my native land, once upon a time) to ward off hobgoblins.

But that's my rational brain talking - all my subconscious knows is that the salt must be thrown, or bad things will happen. :)
Feb. 5th, 2008 05:42 pm (UTC)
All of this sounds perfectly reasonable to my very Irish southern self.

Not really a superstition but more along the lines of the woolly worms. I am absolutely positive that as long as there are daffodil greens in my grandmother's garden, it can still snow. I do not care if its April and 70 degrees. We will have the chance of flurries till that last frond falls.

When I was growing up there were a whole lot of superstitions that kids I knew followed but I do not remember them all. I know you were to hold your breath when you passed a cemetery else you had someone follow you home. You also picked up your feet when going over train tracks to prevent the car from stalling.
Feb. 5th, 2008 08:22 pm (UTC)
But if you don't do the dance of joy thanking St. Anthony, he tends to swipe things to get attention! It's happened to me for years now. But yes, if you do pray to St. A for lost things, they do show up unexpectedly.
Feb. 6th, 2008 02:52 am (UTC)
I pray to St Anthony all the time. I'm sure he's tired of hearing from me. And I pray to St Christopher and St Nicholas when I'm traveling (since Chirstopher was de-canonised I'm hedging my bets), and to St Francis any time an animal I know is ill.

It makes me feel better, as if I'm less trouble to the Almighty by going through his "people" ;)
Feb. 6th, 2008 11:52 am (UTC)
My sister, at a very young age, was bitten by one of those wooly worm things and had an extreme allergic reaction and nearly died. Gave me a profound fear/hatred of bugs.

I don't know which kind it was, as I know there are many different ones... but I squash every single one that I come across just in case.
Feb. 6th, 2008 06:04 am (UTC)
In Michigan we call the 'Wooly Bears". This fall we found one that had almost had stripes of black & brown and we've had a very bizarre winter (i.e. it was 50 degrees Fahrenheit this afternoon and this evening we had an ice storm and it's now 30), so I think that one has some merit
Feb. 5th, 2008 07:49 pm (UTC)
Hee. *both* sides of the family are Scots-Irish with deep roots in the Appalachian Mountains. :-) I think I'm kin to only 2/3 of Wise Co., VA .....
Feb. 5th, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC)
You left out your six pence :)
Feb. 5th, 2008 04:51 pm (UTC)
Ah, my sixpence. You know, I stock up on them occasionally - I give them out to people every now and then. :)
Feb. 5th, 2008 05:53 pm (UTC)
Anyone else ever heard of this one? Any idea on where it comes from?

My family (going back at least as far as my great-gransmother) will NOT hang a mirror on a door. Since doors are for walking through, you never know what you're allowing to pass through into this world. I always thought it was silly until I got into my first barracks room (with a mirror on the door). I had no rest until I got a screwdrive and pulled that silly thing down.
Feb. 5th, 2008 06:18 pm (UTC)
I have a bunch of superstitions associated with mirrors, but not that one.

My ex-husband's mother would never allow a hanger to be hung on a doorknob for some reason.
Feb. 16th, 2008 09:24 am (UTC)
Maybe it is linked to Janus being the god of the doorways and January being the doorway of the year when you look back over what you have done and forward to what you want to achieve. Maybe a mirror stops you looking forward and one shows you what has gone before.
Feb. 5th, 2008 05:56 pm (UTC)
Here's another one (but designed to make you smile). When we were children, my sisters and I made a habit of lifting our feet while passing a graveyard (something about not wanting to step on dead people, I think). When I was last home, we were all riding somewhere with my mother and passed a graveyard...yep- you guessed it, a bunch of thirty something women with their feet up in the air. Sigh...dignity is _such_ a lost cause in my family.
Feb. 5th, 2008 08:43 pm (UTC)
I won't walk or stand on dead people in graveyards. If I want a close look at old stones, I sidle up to it. This caused me no end of grief while visiting an old cemetery in Baltimore and then learning that some of the headstones had been disturbed and weren't in the right places. I'd been treading on dead people all day!
Feb. 5th, 2008 08:26 pm (UTC)
I have a ton of superstitions that I picked up in the community theater and ballet worlds, and a lot more picked up being married to a New York Italian Catholic, and more picked up living in Texas.

E.G.: I hope I haven't pooched this year's financial status by not having eaten greens and blackeyed peas on New Year's Day. I'm really quite worried about that.
Feb. 6th, 2008 02:49 pm (UTC)
Hahaha- We burn a bayberry candle on Xmas Eve and/or New Years Eve to help with that. I hedge my bets and burn one on each day, hahahaha
Feb. 6th, 2008 06:42 pm (UTC)
Ha! Time to stock up on bayberry candles!
Feb. 6th, 2008 02:23 am (UTC)
I'm fifth generation Arkansawyer on both sides, so maybe it's not just the UK and Appalachia.

The foot thing? Yeah.

Also, I cross my toes for luck. My dad said something about the devil knowing when you crossed your fingers that you were lying in his name. I never outgrew that.

I always step off on the left foot from an elevator, escalator, or subway (that might have more to do with my years in marching band). Always used to breathe a whisper to St. Claire before a newscast ("St. Claire pale, vision bright, make this newscast be all right"). I always breathe deep at the beginning of a good rain if I'm outside.

Of course, some things are habit. I always buckle up before starting the car. Always lift the gas hose with my foot before disengaging.

We were covering ASU basketball coach Dickey Nutt when he was hired back in, what was it, 1996? And I noticed something during his first press conference. From time to time he would reach up and pinch his cheeks. I got to talking about that with my sports guy -- and he pointed out his grandmother used to do the same thing. We both believe it's a throwback to when ruddy cheeks showed you were healthy. I asked Coach Nutt about it later, and he had no idea he did that.
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Feb. 6th, 2008 02:47 pm (UTC)
My family does that too!! I always assumed it was because my mother was a clean-freak (another Polish trait perhaps?).
Feb. 6th, 2008 02:25 pm (UTC)
Curious - do you know of any birthday-related superstitions?
Feb. 6th, 2008 03:10 pm (UTC)
Actually, except for blowing out the birthday candles in one go to get a wish, no. I should look some up. :)

Of course, there's several kinds of superstitions associated with birth - birth order, days, ages (mostly to do with numerology, I guess), but the only two I remember is that you're destined for great things if you're born with a caul over your face (a flap of flesh that is removed surgically), and if you have a prominent blue vein across your nose, you will die by drowning.
Feb. 6th, 2008 03:39 pm (UTC)
Wait, I have one of those veins - mine's more green than blue, but still.

I have to chime in - you mentioned opening an umbrella in the house, and I've never heard anyone else speak of that as bad luck. My mom always said her grandma forbid that strictly, and she'd never heard it elsewhere - we had begun to think it was made-up, on the grounds that with 6 kids in the family, an open umbrella was bound to break something.
Feb. 8th, 2008 11:58 pm (UTC)
I think children are responsible for the superstitions that are common sense, like not walking under ladders or opening umbrellas inside. The reason being, if you give a kid a possibility, like "you might get hurt," they will instinctively respond "no, I won't." Any stupid reason that will happen works better than one that might. But then, my brain may just be scrambled from teaching 19 such little darlings all day.
( 28 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )

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