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- Paranormal Beliefs & Experiences
13 Superstitions: a Fantasy Author’s List
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Or buy the whole movie. Fellow Michigander Jeff Daniels :-)
You’ve probably heard the superstition that if you spill salt, you should immediately throw a pinch over your left shoulder.
Many people believe in the protective, blessing, and cleansing qualities of salt in various spiritual practices.
One belief is that if you burn salt for seven consecutive mornings, an absent lover will return safely.
Several months before she died, my grandmother told me to sprinkle salt in my shoes on my wedding day. I didn't get married until almost a decade later, but I made sure to do it because I knew she was watching over my special day. (So far, so good grandma!)
2. Black Cats:
In the U.S., so many people believe that black cats are unlucky that animal shelters have the most difficulty adopting them. However, in Britain and other parts of Europe, black cats are considered good luck and white cats are the unlucky ones!
My grandpa once told me, “Cat sneezes once, good luck for the farmer. Cat sneezes thrice, bad luck for the mother.” (Once means rain is coming but three times means your kids will all get colds).
In cultures that use them in everyday meals, it is considered very bad luck to break a chopstick. My friend Jun Wei taught me that one back in 1991. I told him how superstitious my grandmother was, and he told me his grandmother used to warn him to be careful with his chopsticks. I guess well-meaning grandparents live in every part of the world. :-)
Another well known tradition is that if you break a mirror you will endure seven years of bad luck. But did you know that if the broken pieces are buried in sacred ground the bad luck will be averted?
My grandma once broke a mirror in the winter--when the ground would be too hard to dig here in Michigan--so she put the pieces in a small freezer container, filled it with water, and waited until spring to bury it!
5. Four-Leafed Clovers & Five-Petaled Lilacs:
You know four-leafed clovers are supposedly quite lucky, but did you know that if you wear one, it will supposedly allow you to see faeries? (My grandma also told me to put a two-leaf clover in my right shoe to meet my future husband, but all I got was a green stain in my shoe.)
Lilacs, famously grown all over Michigan and especially Mackinac Island, are supposed to be bad luck for someone recovering from surgery, but good luck for anyone if they have five petals.
Bad: Here in the U.S. there is a long standing superstition that it is a bad omen if a bat (or bird) flies around the church during a wedding ceremony.
Good: However, in China bats are a symbol of a happy, long life (another one from Jun Wei). In Michigan, many people welcome bats because they eat mosquitoes!
My kids laugh at me, but I NEVER open umbrellas indoors. It totally freaks me out. My grandma told me NEVER open them inside, and grandpa once scolded me for laying one on his bed—but I don’t know if it was bad luck or just making a mess! (My father told me years later that his uncle told him it brought certain death to the person who sleeps in the bed!)
7. Tea Leaves:
Tasseography, or the art of tea leaf divination, has been around as long as women have been gathering to drink tea together. My great-great Aunt Sadie was a fortune teller in the 1920s, often secretly reading for prominent local figures. She taught her niece (my grandma) to properly dispose of the leaves by placing them in a fire to ward off scarcity and evil. They also passed on to me that you NEVER place the kettle spout toward the wall unless you want to be an old maid.
We’ve all seen cartoons where the unsuspecting fool walks under a ladder and experiences a sequence of really bad luck, but did you know the number of rungs can be good luck? Odd rungs bring good luck to those who climb, but to "step between the rungs of a ladder that is lying on the ground, dead, face down you'll soon be found". (I can't remember which family member told me this lovely bit of paranoia.)
My grandma told me that when she was a little girl, her brother was quite accident-prone so her mother placed a key under his pillow in hopes that he would stop getting injured.
My father and I had a good belly laugh once when we were in line and a strange man with a ring full of noisy keys walked by us. My dad told me he remembered his grandma telling him as a young boy to "watch out for people who jingle a pocket full of keys because they tended to be mentally unstable".
It’s practically a rite of passage (and a matter of safety) to be told as a young child not to run with scissors and to hold them pointing down while walking.
But did your grandma tell you to put them under your doormat to keep away evil spirits? Yup, mine did, and I have this vague memory of finding a pair under the mat at her back door.
12. Lucky Socks:
Many a famous (and not-so-famous) athlete have maintained that wearing a special pair of socks for a big game is lucky for a win. Remember in the movie, A League of Their Own, when Alice wouldn't take off her smelly, lucky socks?
Of course, I wear lucky Halloween socks year-round and especially whenever I am writing, but I have many, many, many pairs. No air freshener needed, I promise.
13. Number Thirteen:
For some, the number is considered unlucky, while others believe it to be lucky. Triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number thirteen) can be found in ancient and modern cultures worldwide. The most common in modern society is that many tall buildings will not have a 13th floor.
My grandma told me that her mother once left a friend’s house when she realized she was the 13th person at the meal, on Friday the 13th!
Many of these quirky beliefs have made their way into my debut novel, The Recollection of Trees. It's about a Michigan girl raised to be Christian by her mother, who finds out her real father is a witch. It's fiction, but definitely inspired by many of my ancestors.