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Superstitions

You put on a green shirt, admire yourself in the bathroom mirror as it cracks at the sight of you; a ruby glitters in your ear stud as you try to insert it into your lobe but cuts you; you go to work and a black cat criss crosses your path forcing you to walk under a ladder, that creaks ominously as you duck, it’s Friday the 13th, of course. You wonder if you should've got up today. There is a unending treasury of superstitions for the very nervous and very wary to get very worried about.

Some favourite superstitions:

A Grin of Good Luck Superstitions:

Cross fingers - by crossing the fingers we make the sign of Christianity, so it was thought evil could not stymie our chances for success.

Knock on wood - in pre Christian times we worshipped the forces of nature and believed that good spirits lived in trees; so by knocking on anything wooden we called those spirits to protect us.

Bless you or God Bless you - when someone sneezes - this started when Pope Gregory l (540 AD - 604) proclaimed that the Christian world should say "God bless you" when someone sneezed. The Pope wasn't trying to instil nice manners throughout the world. At this time the plague swept through Europe and was thought to be spread by coughs and sneezes. The moment someone started to sneeze they might be about to die from plague, so the Pope was trying to stop the spread of the disease by getting everyone to invoke God automatically, at such a moment, to save the sneezer.

A Ladybird - alighting on you.

Black Cat crossing your path.

lucky black cat

A Confetti of Wedding Superstitions:

Married in White, you have chosen aright. Married in Grey, you will go far away, Married in Black, you will wish yourself back, Married in Red, you will wish yourself dead, Married in Green, ashamed to be seen, Married in Blue, you will always be true, Married in Pearl, you will live in a whirl, Married in Yellow, ashamed of your fellow, Married in Brown, you will live in the town, Married in Pink, your spirits will sink.

Good luck on your wedding day: Sunshine, a black cat crossing your path, meeting a chimney sweep and a rainbow.

The newly married bride must enter her house by the main entrance and without stumbling or falling, which is why grooms traditionally carry a bride over the threshold.

It is thought to be good luck to marry on the half hour, 1.30 rather than 1pm because then the hands of the clock are moving in an upwards direction rather than moving downwards.

June is still a popular month for weddings because Juno, who was the Roman goddess of women, blessed marriages that took place during her namesake month.

If an unmarried woman goes to sleep with a piece of wedding cake under her pillow, she will dream of her groom to be. And get a very messy pillow.

If anyone spends their wedding day worrying about good or bad luck they will have little chance to enjoy the proceedings, which wouldn't be very fortunate. Having said that perhaps it's safer to get someone to grab a black cat and force it to cross your path, encouraging it with a tin of cat food if needs be; hire a chimney sweep to attend your reception - a unique entertainment for guests - soot clearing and ensure you marry in June on the half hour, whilst wearing matching white with your partner so you look like matching bookends, or who knows, your day could well be ruined.

A Grimace of Bad luck Superstitions:

Friday the 13th was thought unlucky because there were 12 Norse gods and a 13th would have to be evil. Christ was also supposed to have been executed on a Friday, and there were 13 apostles at the last supper, Judas the betrayer, being the 13th.

Smashing a mirror brings 7 years bad luck - in ancient times a mirror was said to be a window to our soul so smashing a mirror would mean that the broken soul would take 7 years to heal. One is supposed to be able to put this right by burying the shards of glass by moonlight.

superstitions

A five-leaf clover

A cockerel crowing in the night

It is very bad luck to adhere to closely to ideas about bad luck because there are so many things that are deemed bad luck, one would end up a frazzled and twitching collection of neuroses, fit only to be certified, if one took notice of them all, which would certainly be inauspicious. So if you have just picked a five leaf clover at night, while a cock crowed and the date is Friday the 13th, chill out, and think how lucky you were to survive such dreadful bad luck totally unscathed.

Superstitions are usually defined, as something believed without evidence, usually a derogatory term implying irrational belief. In the middle ages the word was applied to anything outside the Christian churches' teachings. We began to use the term widely post the English Reformation when talking of the Catholic churches use of rosaries and incense and idolatry. But where do do our superstitions really come from, are they all true warnings or ought we to take them with a 'pinch of salt'?

Often superstitions are the cultural remnants of our ancestor’s ways of life, their way of explaining the inexplicable. But sometimes the reasons for the belief are plainly rational sheer good sense. Walking under a ladder may always be hazardous as someone may drop something on you, or the ladder may fall. Placing shoes on a bed is unhygienic, especially if you work on a farm surrounded by animal dung and people may have found they got sick after placing shoes on a bed, you don't need three guesses to reason why. Historically glass was stunningly costly, backed by real silver to make it reflect, the glass itself was invaluable. So to break a mirror would indeed be a sad thing to do. Sunshine on a wedding day is obviously going to make the whole event feel happier. For a bride to fall over, get bruised or hurt obviously wouldn't promise much fun to the groom on his wedding night. Placing a hat on a bed is bad luck; certainly, it will get sat on and squashed. One lonely magpie is obviously bad luck, for the bird, as it has no mate. However, it has been cited that magpies usually look for food alone when bad weather is impending. Spilling salt is said to be bad luck too. Salt for our medieval ancestors was extremely costly, dignitaries were placed at tables, highest rank at the top of the table near whom the salt was placed, descending down the table, in the pecking order, to the lowest of the low, who could not reach that precious condiment to flavour their food. So to spill salt really would be 'below the salt,' as well as a bad idea

In 1948 a behavioural shrink called B.F. Skinner, published an article about witnessing his pigeons exhibiting 'superstitious' behaviour. The birds were mimicking, each in his own devotional way, the behaviour they displayed when their food dispenser distributed grain to them. They seemed to think that if they repeated the same behaviours and movements, the grain would be dispensed. The grain dispenser was set on a timer, so sometimes their ritualised behaviour coincided with the dispensing of grain, so reinforcing the idea in their clever birdy brains, that their odd little wing, head and tail movements, their 'give us grain dance,' propitiated the Great Grain god 'Dispenser' and brought them food. Pity the pigeons ignorance on timing mechanisms; they did this dance all day, yet were only served grain once daily, though this was proof to them that their dance pleased 'Dispenser.'

Skinner's theory based upon his bird's reinforcement behaviour has been applied to us, yes; the world of psychology deems us, when superstitious, on a level with pigeons! Good to know! So now you know what to drop on a shrink's suit from a height as you do an aerial flypast, if he calls you superstitious. Now, when you find you have an urge to flick salt over your shoulder, think of pigeons, because apparently we are thinking like pigeons... Do we believe that, well, I'll take it with a pinch of salt, touch wood, after hugging a few trees and with a four leaf clover clenched determinedly between my teeth.

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