Superstition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: African-American
Age: 40
Occupation: Athletic Director
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 29, 2008
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

When you sweep someone’s feet you have to spit on their feet seven times or you’ll have bad luck for seven years.

Bruce said he used to hear this from his mother whenever either she or he was sweeping with a broom and it happened to cross someone’s feet. This superstition, or slave superstition as he called it, has special meaning to him and his family’s personal history. He said his mother’s mother (his grandma) started this tradition and began passing it down first. His grandmother and his grandfather were sharecroppers in Texas and this superstition was part of their shared experiences and slave folklore.

This superstition feels incredibly personal and unique because of the historical and familial tradition Bruce was able to share with me after sharing this special piece of his family’s folklore. He did not comment much on the specific meaning of the actual superstition or its directives because he seemed to view them as merely a part of his ancestors’ thinking in the past. The superstition’s beliefs, however, may reveal a greater sense of his ancestors’ environment, daily activities/ tasks, and their cultural beliefs. For example, as domestic workers sweeping may have been both a task and also a symbolic ritual of cleansing energy and bad spirits from the space and in this case, perhaps even away from individuals. This was most likely an important gesture towards the person whose feet may have accidentally gotten swept across. It also seems like an act of self preservation though. This superstition advises quick action on the sweeper’s part to prevent seven years of bad luck by spitting on their feet seven times and undoing any curses. Seven may or may not have symbolic meaning in this case, but the advice for self preservation does. Given that this superstition most likely has its origins amongst slaves, the superstition could possibly be a symbolic/ ritualistic means of eliminating negative energy and misfortune that empowered slaves in these situations who may have had little other power otherwise to prevent tragedy or “bad luck”.