I’ve always had a strange fascination with superstitions. Most people think they’re silly, but I’m actually rather fond of them. I don’t make a conscious effort to believe in most of them, but I do try to avoid staining my karma with bad luck, and there are plenty of silly good-luck rituals I find myself doing before I take on challenging tasks. Whether you mean to or not, you probably believe in some superstitions, too.
Here’s a list of some of the more commonly known superstitions from my culture:
- You get seven years of bad luck for breaking a mirror.
- It’s bad luck to open an umbrella indoors.
- It’s bad luck to walk under a ladder.
- A black cat crossing your path is a bad omen.
- It’s bad luck to close a pocket knife that somebody else opened.
- Rabbit’s feet, horseshoes, and new pennies are lucky trinkets.
- Pennies are only lucky if you find them on the ground and the heads side is facing up.
Some of these actually make sense. It’s dumb to walk under a ladder because you might accidentally knock it over or hit your head, which would be pretty unlucky. On the other hand, most of them make no sense at all. For example, a rabbit’s foot may be a lucky charm, but it didn’t bring much luck to the rabbit who lost it.
Some of my favorite superstitions (and the most ridiculous) are theater superstitions. Here are some of the ones I’ve heard doing community theater:
- It’s bad luck to say, “Good luck.” Say, “Break a leg,” instead.
- Never say, “Macbeth.” Instead, it’s referred to as “the Scottish play.”
- It’s bad luck for actors to whistle.
- A bad last dress rehearsal means there will be a good opening night.
- Flowers . . . this one is tricky. They should not be given to actors before the show opens. It’s bad luck to give them after the performance. It’s supposed to be good luck to give flowers stolen from a graveyard to the director and/or whomever played the female lead, but only after closing night.
- Actors and stage crew are not supposed to walk off the front of the stage or “break curtain.”
These are just the ones I’ve heard before, but when I was researching this, I found that wearing blue is bad luck unless you wear silver with it, peacock feathers supposedly bring disaster, and having three lit candles is bad luck. In addition, you’re supposed to leave a light on after everyone leaves to ward off ghosts.
Since moving to Okinawa, I’ve found that the locals believe in a number of superstitions, particularly regarding death. If someone is murdered in a house, it will typically stay vacant. The word for “four” is a homophone of the word for “death” and Japanese consider it to be unlucky. They also put shisa, which are lucky lion-dog statues on their roofs or at the entrances of buildings to ward off evil spirits. I’m told that they only work to ward off evil if you receive them as a gift. These are the superstitions I’ve heard before, but I don’t doubt there are plenty more.
You have to wonder: who thinks these things up? I’ll tell you who: people like me and you. Here’s an example of a superstition that came from my job. In one of our briefing rooms there is a temperamental slideshow clicker that only functions about half the time. One briefer noted that when he put his free hand on his hip, the clicker worked. Obviously it wasn’t the hand on his hip that made it work, but, sure enough, when the next briefer took the clicker, the previous briefer told him to put his hand on his hip. He was joking, of course, but now every time we use that clicker someone says, “It only works if you put your hand on your hip.” Strangely, it usually does only work if you put your hand on your hip.
I don’t think anyone is immune to superstition, which is why I choose to embrace it. Maybe some day I’ll get hit by a bus while I’m trying to walk around the path that a black cat crossed. Who knows? I don’t lose any sleep over it, and neither should you, but sometimes it’s fun to play along.
I have mentioned several common superstitions on here, but if you know of any superstitions that I missed, feel free to mention them in the comments.