Tag Archives: bad luck

Don’t Walk on the Michigan M

Background: 

My informant, AK, is a 19 year old student at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in Southern California and is studying engineering. While in high school, AK was an active member and team captain of her school’s swim team. She attended the school from kindergarten until she graduated and knew the place inside and out. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance: 

AK: At Michigan, we have this huge letter M in the center of campus. And the rule is, like, if you step on it, you fail your first blue book exam. It’s like at any other college.

SW: I’ve never heard that before.

AK: Really? Yeah, it’s like a big deal here. And apparently the only way to reverse it, is to like run from the clocktower one side of campus, to the other side, and then back to the clocktower and get there right as it chimes midnight. And you have to be naked the whole time. But that’s impossible because the clocktower doesn’t chime past 10pm, and it’s illegal to be naked. So it’s best to just not step on the M in the first place and avoid the bad luck all together.

Thoughts:

While I was not familiar with this specific superstition, I know most schools have some sort of similar superstition in circulation. A lot of them have to do with disgracing or disrespecting the school or campus in some way, which then brings bad luck in the form of bad grades or other things. I’m guessing these came to be as a way of keeping respect for the school. I think there’s something alluring, too, about feeling like you’re in on something. You feel special when you know your school’s superstitions, because you feel like a true member of the institution, and not an outsider. 

Superstition- Singing Before Breakfast

Context: My Grandfather -represented as G in the text- grew up in New Jersey in the 1940s. While I was in high school he lived with me and my family and introduced me to some traditions he grew up with. Some mornings on my way to make breakfast I would pass by him sitting in his chair singing a song. If I were to join in on the singing, he would immediately warn me that I shouldn’t sing before I eat breakfast. This was something he learned from his mother, the “lord, and master of the house,” as he described her. He adopted this superstition and says that neither he nor his brothers will sing before they eat. Below is a conversation I had over the phone.

Text:

Me: “Can you tell me about your superstition about singing before breakfast?”

G: “Oh! Gosh! You never want to do that! You never, never, never want to sing before you eat breakfast! You will have bad luck for the rest of the year!”

Me: “The entire year?”

G: “Oh yes the whole g***amn year”

Me: “Sounds like a big deal.”

G: “It is a huge deal”

Interpretation: The first time he told me about this superstition I thought perhaps it came from starting the day (breakfast) before doing anything. Perhaps one shouldn’t celebrate the joy of the day before it has begun. The more I thought about this, however, I came to a more cynical yet realistic conclusion. As a mother of three boys, my great grandmother probably valued peace and quiet in the morning. So if the boys were singing and screaming before they even had breakfast, it would be a reasonable solution to warn them of a year’s worth of bad luck if they continued. 

Don’t put your shoes on the Table

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and the interviewer.

Interviewer: So i’ve always thought it was bad to put my shoes on the table, but you think there’s another reason not to, right?

Informant: haha I mean I don’t know if I actually believe it but my mom always told me that if my shoes touched any table, it would be 10 years of bad luck. It scarred me for life since I’m pretty superstitious… but i still used the same tactic to get my kids to behave haha

Informant: and how did that work out for you?

Interviewer: It actually worked like a charm haha, i told my kids one time and then they started policing each other about it any time one of them would put their shoes on the table. 

Background:

My informant is a woman in her 50’s, originally growing up in Denmark and moving to the United states in her early 20’s. She has been a mother a majority of her life and travels with her kids at least twice a year. 

Context:

I talked to my informant over a facetime call during the 2020 coronavirus epidemic. We had planned to meet in person, however, our meeting was cancelled due to the virus. 

Thoughts

I think it;s interesting just how much folklore comes out of parents trying to scare their kids into behaving. The whole “7 years of bad luck” for breaking a mirror or walking under a ladder all have similar vibes and it makes me think that superstition arose out of children believing the surreal stories their parents would tell them as they grew up.

Leaving a Purse on the Floor is Bad Luck

SD: Whenever I visit my family in Puerto Rico, If I ever put my purse on the floor they would get mad at me. The same thing happens to me at my house because I always leave my purse and by backpack on the ground and my mom gets really mad because they really believe it. It kind of like makes her scared that I am going to bring bad luck to us and it is just passed down to her from her relative in Puerto Rico. There is not really a reason why it is just a think they get taught when they are little, um and they just carry into adulthood and it is made to feel so real that you actually believe it. I think it is mainly like say you have a test coming up, you just screwed that up.  

Context

SD is a 21 year old student at UCLA whose mother is from Puerto Rican and dad is American. This was taken from a casual interview over FaceTime talking about any folklore she had when she mentioned her mom has many superstitions about things that are bad luck. Neither of the know why, but her mother follows then very strictly. 

Analysis

It is interesting that these superstitions have so much power with SA’s mother and her whole family living in Puerto Rico following it religiously. There is a great deal of trust and respect for tradition that these practices are followed without knowing the reason why. 

Additionally, the tension between the younger and older generation is interesting because one firmly believes it while the other does not and repeatedly breaks the rule. SD does not see it as having any merit, which gives her mother a great deal of worry that she will bring bad energy into the house. 

Not Saying Macbeth in a Theater

Context

The informant is my 18 year old sister and the information was collected from an in person causal interview. She is a senior in high school who is very involved in the theater at her school. Her close circle of friends include many of the people she was in plays with and spends much of her time practicing singing and some dancing. She is describing a superstition her and her theater friends from her high school theater program share.

Piece

LA: We are not allowed to say Macbeth unless it is part of the play. If you do say that it is bad luck. Yeah, it had actually happened. One time Karina [theater friend] said Macbeth and then Kayla [another theater friend] was like, “No!” Then there was a rope and it started sparking with fire. It started like smoking while we were in the theater. So that is something you never ever do. 

CA: Why specifically Macbeth?

LA: I don’t, maybe I think is it because it is really hard of a play to do and back luck because Macbeth had bad luck in the story so I think that is why. 

Analysis

The connection between superstition and the theater seems to be very common. It is a very liminal space where people take on different personas and invoke the spirits of the people they represent. The goal is not to evoke the negative experiences of those you are portraying. Not only is the supersition espoused, but also enforced by other members of the theater showing the level of belief among them. The experience with the smoking rope reinforces their belief in the superstition and they will be more likely in the future to follow the practice more strictly and encourage others to do so. 

“Last Run”

  • Context: The following informant (S) is a 20 year old bike/ski enthusiast. He explains the avoidance of the words “last run” while skiing and the bad luck it can bring to the end of the day. The conversation took place when I asked the informant of any superstitions he held. The informant told me he doesn’t believe in superstitions, but never to say you’re going to take your “last run,” because it might truly be your last if you do. 
  • Text:

S: “Ok… if I’m skiing, or biking, you can’t say ‘Last Run’. Any time I have said ‘Last Run’ or anyone around me has said ‘Last Run’ an we’ve taken a run that is our last run for the day… I have ended up in the hospital.”

Me: “Same. So do you say anything instead of ‘Last Run’?”

S: “Yeah… we say either ‘2 minus 1’ or… ‘9 more runs’ or ‘8 more runs’ if you’re referring to two more runs. So 8 is if you’re referring to two more 9 is if you’re referring to last.”

Me: “Is there a reason for those numbers?”

S: “Nope. That’s just what works.”

Me: “Have you always done that?”

S: “I’ve done that since I broke both bones in this arm saying it was my last run.”

Me: “Did anyone teach you?”

S: “Yeah… everyone I grew up riding with. It is a known tradition throughout the action sports world… like any… any athlete performing at a high level knows that tradition.”

  • Analysis: Growing up in a ski town, I knew from a young age never to refer to my last run as my “last run.” We would often find code words to signify that we wanted this run to be our last for the day. I had always said “grilled cheese” or “second to last” or “2 more minus 1.” I have heard countless stories of people getting hurt on their last one after announcing it was their last run. I myself made this mistake when I was 12. After proclaiming I was doing my “last run” for the day, I made it almost to the lodge when a snowboarder hit me and broke my wrist. I never will say “last run” again. 

The Red String

Context: I noticed a friend had tied a red string tied around their wrist. As a Jew, I knew that many people who visit Israel usually come back with red strings from Jerusalem. However, my informant does not identify with any religion, so I was curious to ask how he came across one. In the piece, my informant is identified as K.G. and I am identified as D.S.

 

Background: The red string is a part of Jewish and Kabbalah folk traditions surrounding the idea of Ayin Hara, or the evil eye. It’s historically believed that tying the red string on your wrist will ward off bad luck or negative fate. The string is worn to protect many different things. In some instances, it’s used to protect the fertility of a woman, protection in times of war, and others use it to make a wish. Despite the circumstance, it is to be worn until it falls off naturally.

 

Main Piece:

DS: “How did you get the red string? I always get those when I’m in Israel”

KG: “Honestly I ordered a bunch of these online, there’s a Rabbi from Jerusalem that sells them in L.A.”

DS: “But you’re not Jewish, what inspired you to get one of these?”

KG: “Yeah, I know, but you know it’s never about religion for me. I got it for all the evil eye stuff and all that but it has a different meaning for me. There’s a lot of bad habits I have. I feel like I talk badly about people a lot and gossip, among other things. When I look at it or feel it on my wrist it’s a little reminder for me to do better. To stop engaging in these tendencies I have that I absolutely hate and want to change. I definitely wanted it as protection especially now that I’m doing really well at work, but it’s also for myself and to remind me to be better and do better, so that I can be the best version of myself and put my bad habits behind me”

 

Analysis: While the red string has an ancient and historic ritualistic tradition behind Jewish folklore, I found it very interesting that someone who has no tie to any religion was using it for his own purpose. I found it refreshing for someone to take a piece of another culture’s folklore and adapting it to make it their own, especially as an aspect for self reflection and improvement.

 

Salt Balls From the Dead Sea

Context: A friend of mine had missed about a week of school, so when she finally returned, I visited her at her apartment in Downtown to catch up and hear about what had been happening.

 

Background: My informant explained that she had been falling victim to a string of bad luck for about one month. She was very sick and decided to spend a week at her parent’s home in Beverly Hills to recover. While at home, her mother instructed her to take a bath with salt balls that she brought back from the Dead Sea in Israel. Salt from the Dead Sea is known to have different forms of healing power, both internally and externally. She believes that this ritual has the power to heal, as well as dissolve negative energy. 

 

Main Piece: “For the last month it was just thing after thing coming my way. I was feeling pretty down overall. I kept getting sick over and over again. I had a couple of ruptured ovarian cysts. My family was fighting a lot and it was getting really heated and out of control. I kept losing things, I was doing poorly in school. It was just so much negativity surrounding me and I was losing my mind. So I go home and I was just miserable so my mom gave me these salt balls she brought back with her from Israel. The gist of it is like you can either use them in the bath as a bath bomb or something, or you can use it as a scrub in the shower and just scrub it all over your body until it dissolves into your skin. The salt in general is a healer, it heals physical cuts and wounds and it’s supposed to help your skin. But a lot of people think it heals internally too. It’s really renewing and cleansing both inside and out. My mom always tells me that it dissolves the negative energy, the illness, just the bad all around. She says it’s purifying and yeah it cleanses the toxins out of your body, but it’s supposed to really boost your energy and stamina too. I sat in the bath with it for like an hour a couple of times and I honestly felt so much better. There’s definitely things I’m still dealing with, but I swear afterwards I just felt completely cleansed. I felt at peace with a lot of things, I just felt the negativity clear from my mind. It could have been some placebo effect type of thing, but it helped regardless.”

 

Analysis: People from all over the world visit the Dead Sea, and revel in the salty pool of water. It attracts tourists for its’ power to make the body completely float, and for the physical healing power of the salt. What I found interesting was this interpretation of its’ power to heal internally – to heal energy, to erase negativity, and to cleanse the body and the aura.

 

Warding off the Evil Eye

Context: One night at home I decided to ask my dad for an explanation behind a cultural ritual he had performed almost every single week for as long as I can remember, and was preparing to perform that night. It’s a process using a spice called Esfand.

 

Background: In Iran, Esfand is used to ward off the evil eye. This is a generations-old ritual that has been passed down for hundreds of years. The idea is to burn the spice, and the smoke and popping sounds from the burning are said to burn away the evil eye.

 

Main Piece: “Persians are very superstitious people. Iranians have always been very successful for the most part and it’s a little natural for us to think someone would want to curse us if we are doing well or better than them. Most of your friends from growing up are Persian too so I’m sure they know all about it too. Persian people are a lot of the time looked at as being very flaunty or extravagant, and they are sometimes, but as a culture most people are very conservative about sharing achievements or very exciting news. It’s looked down upon to brag about good fortunes that you are having. I don’t think you even notice but sometimes when our family is out or at parties and someone was giving you or [your siblings] a certain look or a compliment me or mom would say a little prayer until we could get home and do Esfand. I think it could be a myth that there are people that really have an evil eye. But I think there are definitely people who act a certain way but inside don’t mean well for you, or give off a very negative energy that you shouldn’t have around you. So you burn it away. I put the esfand in my hand and I start with a prayer. I circle it around my head, mom’s head, and all of your heads a few times, chanting the same prayers asking for protection. I wave it all around the house. Then I take the foil and put it over the stove, and I put the esfand from my hand on it, and I let it burn until it’s done. It burns the negative eyes and thoughts from others.”

 

Analysis: The concept of the evil eye is definitely not tied specifically to the Persian culture. It’s interesting to look at how each culture or religion carries out their ritual against this superstition. Some knock on wood, some throw salt, some wear evil eye jewelry, but Persians choose to physically burn it away.

 

Annotation: For more on the notion of the evil eye in Persian and Middle Eastern culture, reference to:

Spooner, B. (2004). 15. The Evil Eye in the Middle East. In Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (pp. 311-320). New York, NY: Routledge.

Whistling and Snakes

Context:

The informant is a student currently attending Pierce Community College. He recounts a Korean story told to him by his parents when he was younger and giving his parents a tough time.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

continuing from another conversation about superstitions

S: Also, there’s another one that goes: If you whistle at night, snakes will appear.

 

C: That’s interesting. Can you give some reasons why people might believe that?

 

S: The whistling is more about not to disturbing others and to keep to yourself during the night.

 

Analysis:

Superstitions have a long-standing place in folklore around the world. Each culture imparts their own belief about what they deem important. This superstition about whistling at night draws on the idea that doing so will summon snakes – a symbol often associated with evil or bad. It is interesting to see how many areas share a commonality in symbols.