Friday, June 13, 2008

Common Superstitions Explained

Today is Friday the 13th, and so I'll reflect on superstitions. Much of our misunderstanding as humans boils down to semantics. Unless we think for ourselves we will fall for superficial reasoning. I contend that some of our most prized superstitions have sensible origins.

For example: it might be bad luck to walk under a ladder if someone up atop it dropped something!

"Aye, Jimmy's restin' well now, but he had a bad piece o'luck today..."

"What happened?"

"Bucket o' paint poured straight down onto his head, it did..."

"How!? Why!?"

"Well he was walkin' under a ladder where the man was paintin' the eaves."

"Tsk, and a bucket o' paint poured down on his head. That's some bad luck, in'it!"

The next day, another telling:

"Jimmy was walkin' under a ladder and somebody dropped a bucket of paint on his head!"

"That's terrible!"

"That's bad luck, it is!"

Repeated as overheard at the general store:

"Mrs. O'Flaherty says it's bad luck to walk under a ladder!"

"Well, I won't be doin' that then, anytime soon!"

Here are a few more, with less illustration, but the same principles apply:

Breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck.

Think about it: when mirrors were a new invention, if you lived far away from where they were made, it would be a safe guess that it would take about seven years to replace one. So that's seven years walking around ugly. Not a good piece of luck.

It's bad luck if a black cat crosses your path.

Picture ye olde coach cabbie at dusk, driving the ugly queen (her mirror broke six and a half years before) to the royal ball. Suddenly he sees something small and dark in the road ahead! He veers abruptly! The queen, in her corset and rigid of middle, is thrown sideways in the coach, her crown falling askew! The next day the cabbie is beheaded. What was that dark figure that crossed his path - and why didn't he see it sooner?! It was small. It darted into the path. It was dark against the falling night's shadows. It was: a black cat!

Opening an umbrella in the house is bad luck.

Close quarters. Slim object expands suddenly, its dimension becoming perpendicular to its immediately prior state! It could hit something valuable (like a vase or an eye).

Step on a crack, break your mother's back.

That’s just a vicious little rhyme.

Why would a rabbit's foot bring good luck?

Possession of the foot of a rabbit suggests an ability to kill one. Assuming a person lived in an area where there were no plants to eat, perhaps the foot would evidence prevention of starvation.

Over a baker's dozen rationales endure for Friday the 13th being bad luck. Theories date back to, and include, the Last Supper, punitive dictators, revolutions and even a the idea that the number 13 itself is simply bad to the bone. When the 13th falls on a Friday (a particularly distracting day of the week emotionally) why, anything could happen! Aye, 'tis a bad piece o' luck to have a common belief amassed in justifications so plentiful that every attempt to pin it down leads to another reason to feel unlucky.

* * *
"I'm lookin' over a three leafed clover
That I overlooked bethree!"
- B. Bunny

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