I like to think that I’m not too superstitious. In fact, I can only think of three things that I do that could resemble superstitions. The first one is always getting a newspaper out of the middle of a stack, rather than taking the top one. The reason for taking the newspaper out of the middle of the stack can be directly related to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Sunday edition with all the advertising inserts in it. Someone once told me to always take an issue out of the middle of the stack, because some nefarious person could have opened the top one and swiped all the inserts out of it.
The second one is one of my own. If I see a pen lying on a table or desk open, I have to shut it. In other words, if the point of the pen is out, I have to click the button to close it, or if the cap is nearby, put the cap on it. There are two good reasons (in my mind) for that. The first is that the ink in the pen will dry out quicker if the pen is left open. The second is that it really bugs me when I stick a pen in my shirt pocket without realizing that it is open, and the ink leaves a mark on my shirt.
The third is knocking on wood when I say something I hope won’t come true. From what I’ve read, pagans believed that everything, including trees, had spirits inside. When the tree died, the spirit would also die and become hollow, making it ripe for evil spirits to take it over. Knocking on the wood would drive the evil spirits away. I’m not sure how I got started knocking on wood, but while I’m not a pagan, I figure it doesn’t hurt to be careful.
What got me started on thinking about superstitions is today’s day and date – Friday, November 13, 2015. Friday the 13th is supposedly an unlucky day of the year. There are several theories as to why Friday the 13th is unlucky, but the most common one is that Friday is unlucky, and the number 13 is also unlucky, so put the two together and you’ve got a double dose of unlucky.
In honor of today being a double dose of unlucky, here are a few other superstitions and the reasons behind them.
Breaking a mirror causes seven years of bad luck. We can thank the ancient Romans for this. Mirrors were first developed and used in Rome, and they believed the mirrors could steal part of a person’s soul. If a person’s reflection was distorted by a mirror, then part of their soul would become trapped and corrupted if the mirror broke. The Romans believed that your soul could be renewed after seven years, but until then, without a full, healthy soul, a person would suffer from bad luck.
A black cat is unlucky. Many believe this got started because pagans believed black cats were lucky. Since Christians thought pagans were bad, they started spreading rumors that black cats were unlucky. They also associated black cats with witches, because they thought pagans were witches. Ironically, in the Middle Ages when the plaque, or Black Death, was so prominent, Christians associated black cats with the Black Death and killed them, which in turn allowed the rats, which were the carriers of Black Death, to grow in population and spread the disease even more.
Walking under a ladder. It’s common sense not to walk under a ladder, because something could fall from the ladder (paint can, etc.) and hit you. But the superstition came from Christians who believe the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) form a triangle. A ladder leaning against a building helps form a triangle between the ladder, the building and the ground, and Christians thought if you walked under a ladder, you broke the triangle, which was considered an evil thing to do.
There are plenty of other superstitions out there. One of them in the newspaper business is if you write too long a column, it won’t get printed, so I’ll stop right here. Happy Friday the 13th!
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.