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“Find A Penny, Pick It Up”, Or Put It In Your Shoe, Or Bake It In Bread: Who Says Superstition Is Dead?

Updated on December 2, 2011

A Compare/Contrast Essay

Probably since the beginning of time, when the first observances by man regarding his or her less than perfect utopian existence became evident, the development of superstitious ideas surfaced. Once, either by coincidence, or by an act surely deemed appropriate with the gods; when the second fruit to fall from the most southern tree in the garden, after the eighth rain, before the third full moon, since the birth of the sixth beast or bird within a day’s walk, rendered a less than favorable outcome on that season’s harvest; undoubtedly an epiphany came to the finder, who in turned shared the revelation, that in order to prevent such a travesty; one must only drink the tea made from the leaves of that same tree, prior to the ripening of its fruit, and all would be right with heaven and earth. That made up example simply stated, means, from ancient to modern times, all cultures, from all parts of the globe have implemented various forms of superstition in order to dictate a level of control over what would otherwise seem impossible to control: fate. In current times, often declared with resounding pride, North America, specifically the United States, boasts a country rich in multi-cultural customs; is it any wonder it features quirky folklore and superstitious beliefs equally as diverse? On the other hand, growing up Eastern Orthodox where Greek superstition reigned, I have witnessed simple conventions and characteristics stifled by time honored traditions, practiced for centuries, developed by way of religion and paranormal phenomenon, and introduced to each new generation in a most habitual, almost ceremonial approach.

Now, since man feels so strongly about his or her ability to control the universe, and one feels able to direct and alter one’s fortune, it would stand that a portable means of doing so is most desirable. Herein lies the talisman, charm, or otherwise, trinket, which one possesses and carries in order for good luck to remain a constant. North Americans have long determined that rabbit’s feet, and pieces of jade are considered lucky. Key chains, and jewelry fashioned from such items are oftentimes worn by both believers and even those not entirely sure if their powers of favorable chance are true. Similarly, Greeks hold steadfast to the belief that gold crucifixes, evil eye jewelry worn (depicting the image of a single blue eye), and even small pedants pinned to clothing, of idols, saints, or sachets of holy herbs and earth are equally as fortunate for the day to day general enticing of good luck. Horseshoes are often seen hanging in a North American home, in order to bring blessings and happiness to its occupants. A cactus, in turn, positioned in relative close proximity to the front entrance of a Greek home, too signifies good prosperity for the residents, as its thorny projections ward off evil and misfortune. While cactus plants in a Greek home solicit advantageous benefits, another horticulture symbol, is that of a four leaf clover, which is associated with being lucky, in America. This leafy prize is considered most powerful if found in nature, but its image also, is worn or carried as a symbolic reminder of great affluence.

As with every yin, an accompanying yang must follow. Some signs of bad luck for Americans are: a black cat passing one’s path, breaking a mirror, walking under a ladder, stepping on the cracks in the ground, or opening an umbrella indoors. In the same way, Greeks revere crows as a bad omen, overturned shoes as very bad luck, not kissing the hand of a priest as unlucky, and will spit to avoid misfortune. When two people say the same thing at the same time, Greeks believe the two should immediately touch something red at that moment in order to elude the inevitable bad luck of an argument or fight that will overcome them both. For much of north America, Friday the 13th is considered a very unlucky day, and similarly, Greeks feel the same about any Tuesday the 13th. Moreover, Greeks feel Tuesdays in general are most unlucky, and are days avoided for starting new business ventures.

Moving into the kitchen, folklore involving food items have superstitious value in both cultures. For instance, in America, it is common for one to throw a pinch of salt over the left shoulder to counter act the bad luck of spilling it. Greeks however, will use a sprinkle of salt to “chase” away an unwanted visitor who has perhaps overstayed a visit. Both Americans and Greeks use garlic to cleanse a space of evil spirits or demons, and both believe onions have healing properties. An American meal, consisting of fowl, causes two diners to play the “wishbone” in a kind of tug-o-war. The one who ends up with the larger piece after it breaks is considered to be in store for some beneficial fortune. Greeks consider pomegranates and fish sacred food items which bring immense prosperity, but one interesting Greek superstition has to with the passing of knives. One should always place a knife on a surface, rather than in another’s hand. Either accepting from or handing a knife to someone’s hand is believed will bring distention between the two, even severing the relationship.

Worldwide, regarding the institution of marriage, including the courting period, engagement, and actual wedding ceremony, all cultures hold steadfast to customs passed down from earlier times, fine tuned and re-invented. The rituals of marriage are, most of all, swayed by superstitious acts, in order to ensure the newly bound couple copious favor, advantage, and eternal bliss. Americans believe the ceremony is only complete when the bride has received four items: something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Also, it is terribly unlucky for the groom to see the bride before the ceremony, or even see her in her gown until the ceremony begins. Additionally, it is a salute of a successful marriage to come when the guests toss uncooked rice at the newlywed couple. Whereas, Greek families will decorate, arrange, and coordinate the entire event using odd numbers only. Odd numbered tables, guests and dates bring good favor onto the day. A future daughter-in-law will present her fiancé’s mother with a plate of honey at the doorstep of the parent’s home, ensuring a happy and communicative relationship between the two. Another Greek superstition is to toss a male toddler onto the marital bed to invoke fertility and ensure future male children are produced.

When it comes to controlling the cosmos and grabbing fate by the horns, let us say that practicing a little superstitious tradition helps bridge the obvious fact that we are but small and weak in the big scope of all things ,”destiny”. When I find a penny today, I perform a number of ritualistic acts. I observe and privately note on which side it lies. I state aloud the little rhyme, “Find a penny, pick it up, all day long, you’ll have good luck”, and then place it in my shoe. If it is around New Year’s…I may just bake the coin in some Greek sweet bread, for the finder of the coin in his or her slice is guaranteed a lucky year!


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