Author Archives: Emma Clarke

Don’t shake your leg

“If you shake your leg when you’re sitting, you shake off all your good luck.”

 

My informant comes from a Korean family. She had no idea why she was taught this as a child, but recalled her mother being adamant about the dangers of shaking one’s leg (she demonstrated – the saying seems to apply to when one is sitting with one leg crossed over the other, jiggling the foot of the leg on top). There could be some sort of superstition involved in this belief; however, I think it’s likely that people simply wanted their children to stop fidgeting and made up a reason for them to refrain.

Tattoos are defiling your body

“So what’s common in Jewish culture is that you’re not allowed to get tattoos, because should you get a tattoo, you’re defiling your body, and you can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery. My grandfather had this idea that all his children would be buried with him in a Jewish cemetery. And then my father got a tattoo and I got a tattoo, and my grandpa actually ended up getting a tattoo because he got heart surgery, and now he jokes about it and talks about how he can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery.”

 

My informant comes from a culturally Jewish household, but neither she nor her father practices the religion. The ban on tattoos can be found in Leviticus, but many modern-day Jews choose to ignore it, even though it means that they can’t be buried in consecrated ground. I was surprised that her grandfather, who she describes as religious, was willing to break the taboo in order to get a tattoo. It is an interesting dichotomy between what people see as an inarguable point of their faith and the way they actually behave.

(This belief comes from Leviticus: “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:28))

Don’t say “Macbeth” backstage

“Macbeth–the Scottish play. You can’t say it backstage during a performance.”

 

Actors are probably the most superstitious professional group on the planet. Among their more common superstitions is the idea that “the Scottish play” – Macbeth – is cursed. Simply speaking the name of the play backstage will bring calamity upon whatever production is being put on, so actors call it “the Scottish play” instead. There are legends about bad luck following the productions of Macbeth, but at this point, the superstition is likely kept up just for traditions’ sake. However, my informant was adamant about the fact that she would not speak the name backstage, even though she doesn’t personally believe in the curse; apparently, enough actors do believe in it that it is better to refrain than risk their wrath.

Break a leg

“You can never say ‘good luck,’ you have to say ‘break a leg.’”

 

My informant grew up in the theater. This is perhaps the most common superstition among stage performers. Although my informant wasn’t sure exactly where the tradition comes from, it is likely that performers don’t want to jinx their show by talking about luck or anticipating a good show. Instead, “break a leg” does just the opposite – it wishes harm on the performer so that the opposite will happen.

The evil eye sees celebrations

“We don’t have bridal showers or wedding showers, because the evil eye will see, and you won’t have a baby or a husband. You better not celebrate too soon. So, even if you have a bridal shower or a baby shower after the baby’s born, that’s a bad idea, because you’re not trying to bring attention to the good things you have in your life.”

 

My informant learned this from her Italian grandparents. It seems to be a common theme across cultures that drawing attention to good fortune will somehow jinx it; in this case, they believe that celebrating a marriage or a baby will draw the attention of the evil eye. This is interesting because my informant and her family are devout Catholics, and the evil eye is not a Christian belief. This shows how folk beliefs can get passed down through generations and endure through different religious traditions.