Triskadeckaphilia or Phobia, You Choose

My DeskMythology has fascinated me ever since I first encountered it in school. Until I discovered Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces I was not conversant with much more of it than the Norse myths and those of Greece and Rome. I highly recommend this very special book to anyone who enjoys folk and fairy tale as well as learning more about the myths we all grew up with. The stories and tales of the heroes and heroines of yore are part of our cultural heritage and an important key to how we behave. Among the tales are also smaller, more prevalent myths embodied in our superstitions.

“Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” Growing up, how many sidewalks did I hop and skip along to avoid their seams and cracks? Ladders? Never walked under them though I didn’t know why then. Pick up a penny? Well of course! How about Friday the 13th? Make you nervous? Not me, I always liked both the number and the day. Stephen and I used to give a party any time it came up on the calendar. We called it a celebration of the Triskadeckaphilia Society: Lovers of the number thirteen.

In the seventh grade I wrote a paper on the origins of superstitions. Always fascinated by superstitions, I have been reading and studying them for a long time. Certain societies and groups are more superstitious than others. For instance, the Irish used to clothe their baby boys in dresses so they would not be stolen away by the fairies. They also felt it was bad luck to praise a child. The Italians, as well as numerous other nationalities have strong feelings about the “evil eye.” They may make a gesture called a “fig” to ward it off. Eastern countries, among others have amulets one can wear or hang in one’s home. You may have seen one, a hand, called the Hand of Fatima.

While it might make sense not to walk under a ladder, another reason is that a leaning ladder forms a triangle, symbol of the trinity. Walking through it is a sign of disrespect, bringing bad luck. From the Internet I discovered that this superstition and a good many others actually date back to ancient Egypt, where the triangle was also considered a sacred symbol. I was surprised to discover a good many of our common superstitions actually date back that far.

Other common superstitions originated in Greece and Rome. Whether we subscribe to any given belief or not it seems as though these are an important part of every culture and incorporated into the human psyche. We may believe we are beyond such superstitions nonsense, or is it really non sense? Often the so called superstition was logical behavior. Touching wood for instance, to invoke good fortune was thought to insure the help of the spirits residing in the trees the wood came from. Do you throw salt over your shoulder if you accidentally spill it? Say “God bless you when someone sneezes? Many do, and why not? A little extra insurance never hurts.

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Omens Can Help Us Make Our Good Luck

Peace Village stone Water 1I know others do this too: whenever I see a penny on the ground I pick it up, and depending on whether the penny is heads of tails I keep it or give it away. I was told tails meant it was to be given away, heads to be kept. When we lived near a brook I used to throw in the pennies to make wishes. This is a common superstition. When I just looked it up on the Internet I discovered it comes from the ancient idea that to do so was to make an offering to the spirit of the water and thus to receive help to achieve what was wished for.

Feathers are something else that I always pick up. Not only are they pretty they are said to be messages from those have passed on that all is well, and that perhaps the individual is thinking of the finder. After my son Robin passed on I kept finding feathers everywhere. It is also true that certain Native American tribes consider feathers from particular birds to be sacred objects. The best place to find them is a beach; there gull and other bird feathers are usually to be found in plenty. I once quite a collection; when we moved, I gave them to a friend to use in her various craft projects.

In days gone by the flight of birds was used to predict good or ill fortune. In Ancient Rome this was called augury, and the augur took the auspices, which meant watched the birds for signs of good or ill fortune. Stephen’s grandmother thought birds were an omen of death. Perhaps this belief stemmed from the ancient idea of prediction by the bird flight. Ominous has come to mean scary instead of as reflecting the implication of an omen. In some cultures the whole idea of prediction has negative implications. According to the Internet this practice is more than several thousand years old. Superstitions can endure.

The subject of superstitions has fascinated me since I was very young. I wrote a paper on it for an assignment in the eight grade. Yet even though I pick up feathers and pennies and make wishes by throwing pennies into water, I firmly believe that we make our own luck–not by practicing superstitions in order try to make it happen but by doing what seems right and good when the occasion arises. The choices we make at certain moments can make a great deal of difference in the outcome..

The saying that what goes around comes around seems to me to resonate as truth. It could be that my belief is influencing my opinion yet even if that were to be true it seems to me that one can only benefit by doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. There is one codicil I would add: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you if you were they. In other words, think about what the other person might really prefer rather than what you believe they might when you are doing unto. When you do this you are fulfilling the true intent of the good result that you can earn by remembering to do unto others.

Tasha Halpert