The other day I overheard two women saying “Bread & Butter” as they walked around either side of a slate-colored concrete stantion on the sidewalk. Their casual comment triggered memories about my family, where superstitions were super-sized. In addition to the tried and true variety of superstitions about mirrors, ladders and black cats, we also had the bonus of some Jewish classics passed on from Mom: “If you sneeze while speaking about a dead person, pull up both your ears.” Or “If you’re sewing a button on a shirt while wearing it, chew on a piece of thread so your brains don’t get sewed up.” And my favorite, “After saying anything that might be perceived as evil, you must spit out ‘puh, puh, puh’ to ward off demons.”
According to the dictionary, a superstition is defined as an irrational belief arising from ignorance or fear. There are superstitions for almost all aspects of our daily lives. Some are actually practical, for example Don’t walk under a ladder — DUH! Most are ridiculous. Gullible and insecure people embrace some doozies:
- A loaf of bread should never be turned upside down after a slice has been cut from it.
- Never take a broom along when you move. Throw it out and buy a new one.
- If the first butterfly you see in the year is white, you will have good luck all year.
- An acorn placed at the window will keep lightning out.
- A dog howling at night, when someone in the house is sick, is a bad omen.
- It’s bad luck to leave a house through a different door than the one used to come into it.
- A horseshoe hung in the bedroom will keep nightmares away.
- If you catch a falling leaf on the first day of autumn you will not catch a cold all winter.
- It is bad luck to light three cigarettes with the same match.
- Dream of running: a sign of a big change in your life.
Just imagine how much more relaxed and productive we would be if we weren’t running around hanging horseshoes, buying new brooms, muzzling dogs, chasing leaves, and righting loaves of bread. Advertisers, religious institutions, and politicians thrive on creating baseless fear in people through attempts to control our behavior. “If you’ll just take these three supplements every day…,” or “For a mere $50 donation you’ll begin experiencing God’s blessings…,” or “If we do not invade, we are sure to be the next target of….” When will we stop swallowing myths and old wive’s tales?
As for me, I’m off to buy my weekly lottery ticket using my kids’ birthdays, while rubbing my rabbit’s foot, and wearing my shamrock boxer shorts.