Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

November 20, 2005


What is the origin of the strange superstitions we share?


          Lately I have puzzled over two questions for which I have found no ready answers. What is the origin of the strange superstitions we share? And why do we pass them down from one generation to the next?

          Most superstitions make no sense. In fact, most people are quick to say they are not superstitious. Yet practically no one will walk under a ladder. So superstitions exert a strange hold on us even though we try to dismiss them.

          One of my friends will not rent a room on the 13th floor of a hotel, or stay in a room with 13 in the room number. He is convinced that 13 is an unlucky number.

          Our youngest son was born on Friday the 13th of November. We intentionally taught Steve that 13 was a lucky number. He wore number 13 on football and basketball jerseys. He and his wife Amy chose to be married on the 13th day of the month. They have a strong marriage and two fine sons.

          On a recent trip to Branson, Missouri, my siblings, my wife and I talked about superstitions we had heard. Sisters Neva and Margie shared some I had never heard, as did my brother Seth and his wife Pearl.

          Superstitious sayings came up when I asked my brother if he picked up a penny when he noticed one on the sidewalk. Seth assured me he did but only if it had landed “heads up.” If it is tails, he kicks it over and then picks it up. Why? Because it is bad luck to pick up a penny that landed tails.

          My brother pays attention to the number 13. If he notices that he has 13 dollars in his wallet, he will put one or two dollars in another pocket. That way he does not have 13 dollars in one place.

          I have been told never to let anyone give me a knife. Give the person a penny or a dollar; that way you prevent the gift knife from “cutting” your friendship with that individual. Never give a knife as a housewarming gift or the person will become your enemy.

          My mother, who loved plants and flowers, told us to never thank someone for giving you a plant or a flower. If you say “thanks,” the plant will die.

          Pearl, my brother’s wife, reminded us of another saying. Two people should never walk on separate sides of a post. Walk on the same side so you will not be alienated.

          If a black cat walks in front of your car, you will have bad luck. You can break that spell, however, by making an X on the windshield.

          Your hat can get you in trouble. It is bad luck to throw your hat on a bed. And be careful not to wear a hat indoors. Seth remembered that Coach Bear Bryant did not wear his trademark hat when Alabama played in the Astrodome years ago.

          Do not let anyone put a broom under your feet – or you will not get married again. I know a few folks who would lift their feet and ask for the broom!

          If a broom sweeps your foot, you will get arrested – unless you spit on the broom and break the spell.

          If you drop a knife on the floor, a man is coming to see you. Drop a fork and a woman is coming. The same is said about an itching nose. If it itches on the left side, a man is coming. Itching on the right means a woman is coming.

          If your palm is itching, you are coming into money.

          It is bad luck to wear your cap backward.

          Always put your right shoe on first. One football coach believed this so strongly that if he noticed one of his players putting his left shoe on first, he would not let him play in the game that day.

          Spill salt and you should throw some over your left shoulder to avoid bad luck. Why not the right shoulder?  Break a mirror and you will have seven years of bad luck. Why seven?

          On New Year’s Day be sure to eat turnip greens so you will have folding money all year and black-eyed peas so you will have change in your pocket.

          Never carry a hoe into the house. If you do, carry it out, walking backward to avoid bad luck.

          When you move into a new home, enter first with a loaf of bread and a new broom. And never bring an old broom into a new home.

          It is bad luck to turn around and go back to get something you forgot.

          As strange as they are, superstitions are harmless I suppose as long as we do not take them, or ourselves, too seriously. But honestly, I do not have a clue what good it will do for us to pass them on to future generations. Ah, sweet mysteries of life! + + + +