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Dave Callan : Superstition

When I was a kid I had warts on my hands. My old Irish Grandmother told me to count them, put a smooth pebble for each one in a brown paper bag and leave it outside the front door of a public building like a hospital or Library. So I did. They were gone in a week.

What was this? Old Celtic witchcraft? Psychosomatic power of suggestion? I don't know. But it happened. I thought about it on the last Friday 13 th because, inspired by the date and its connotations, I was trying to determine whether or not I considered myself a superstitious person. I don't. And yet I'll do certain things. Or avoid certain things. I'll balk at putting an umbrella up indoors. I refer to Macbeth as 'The Scottish Play'. I'll always walk around a ladder. I just don't feel comfortable going through. And I realised I didn't know why.

 

Its been ingrained into me, a second-hand superstition imparted by people who possibly don't know why either. On a practical level people up the top of ladders tend to be doing maintenance. That means hammers nails, paint, tiles. Things that gravity rules. And we don't want to be the head part of the equation head + dangerous item x gravity x (distance + velocity) = injury. But what's the official reason for the superstition?

 

I looked it up. With ladders, they make a triangle with the wall they are against and in old Catholic tradition this triangle represents the holy trinity which you are not supposed to compromise by walking through. With umbrellas they were used to keep the sun off people in Egypt and opening one indoors is supposed to be an insult to Ra the Sun God. Probably best to be on his good side. He can probably crank some mad flame based wrath if he felt like it.

 

There's also this one where you if you spill a bit of salt you counteract the bad luck by throwing another pinch over your shoulder. This is only socially acceptable if the person behind you is eating chips.

 

We have been conditioned to believe that a broken mirror carries a sentence of 7 years bad luck.. Does it? Can we verify this? Can we get a focus group of people to break a mirror and follow their fortunes over a decade and see if they only prosper in the final 3 years. And what if you gave half the focus group a rabbit foot and the other half some sort of placebo rabbit foot. Would the real one neutralize the karma? Where do these things come from and why are they blindly held to be true by so many?

 

Some other unusual ones are grabbing your collarbone and pretending to spit going past roadkill, holding your breath going past a cemetery and lifting your legs going over a railway line. If you see an ambulance apparently you ward of resultant bad luck by holding your nose until you see a black or brown dog.

 

What the hell does a superstitious person do if it all happens at once? Imagine passing an ambulance and seeing roadkill while going over a railway line outside a cemetery while someone says Macbeth on the radio? There is a very good chance you would not have enough arms to cope (unless you were the God Vishnu) and you'd probably go off the road. Which would be unlucky. Unless you landed in a field of four leaf clovers. Then it would be good again.

 

It seems that although we live in a civilized and technologically advanced society superstitions from ancient times are still part of our lives. Warts and all.