Tag Archives: bad luck

Stepping on the High School Emblem

Background information: My younger brother is currently a high school sophomore in Alameda, CA. He knows a lot about the school’s culture now that classes are in person.

Brother: Do you know about this one? Do you know, like the, school emblem thing on the floor in front of the office at school?

Me: No, I’ve never heard this one.

Brother: Oh, you know how there’s like an emblem thing for our school on the floor right outside of the office…well you’re not supposed to step on it because it gives you bad luck or something if you do. If you step on it, you might not graduate or something like that. I heard about it because my friends would remind me not to step on it when we would walk by. I’m scared now so I never do. I though everyone knew about it, but if you don’t maybe it’s a new thing or not that many people actually do it. Maybe people are making up new things since we’re back at school, and it’s kinda fun to spread stuff like that.

Initially, I was shocked that my brother knew about a folklore practice at school that I had never heard of. I wondered if this rumor had re-emerged more for his year since I’ve graduated, or if I had just never been told about it. I think that this speaks to the fact that, because folklore like this is unspoken, everyone who is part of the group it is related to assumes that everyone else in that group knows about it.

Sweeping Dirt in Their Grave

A is 54 years old. She was born in Ft. Waldon, Florida and moved to Sylvania, Georgia at 2 years old. She’d been there all her life until last year (2021). A has a thick Southern accent that’s very pleasant to listen to. She told me about why I should be careful not to sweep over anyone’s feet while sweeping a floor.

“You don’t sweep over anyone’s feet while sweeping a floor because that means you’re sweeping dirt in their grave and that means that you’re wishing them dead, like a curse.”

Another version of this superstition says that sweeping under someone’s feet means they will never get married. For more on Southern broom related folklore, see https://www.weirdsouth.com/post/sweeping-superstitions



Informant: So my family has this superstition… About not gifting someone shoes or knives. Like you can give them in the sense of like… If you text me and tell me that you want Nike Air Forces for your birthday… I wouldn’t say no. But I would expect you to pay me for that, like just give me a penny, right? Because if not, the belief is that you’re going to walk away from me. And I need you. So the superstition is that if you get someone shoes, they will walk away from you. Like they’ll leave… So they’re going to move, you know, or go away and be far, and you don’t want that, you want to keep them close. And then with the knives, it’s kind of similar in the sense that if I gift you a set of knives––again, if you do not pay me for them at all––then you’re uh, you might cut yourself. Not like intentionally, just accidentally.


Informant: We have some German family that married in, you know? And this came from them, but my grandma who’s Persian really adopted it and so did all her daughters. So it’s all my mom and my aunts… I’ve always thought of it as like… A way to assuage guilt? Like if I give you shoes and then you get a great job opportunity and you like move away, I’m going to kick myself. Like, “ I gave her the shoes that she walked away in.” Same thing, if I give you a nice set of knives or something, right? And you go and cut yourself and you lose a finger, I’m going to feel horrible. But if you bought them, then it’s no skin off my back. 

Interviewer: Have you ever experienced something that supports this belief?

Informant: Yeah, someone in my family gifted my younger cousin some shoes, and she moved like half an hour further away because the mom got a better job opportunity.


The term “superstition” has a pejorative quality. Many people tend to look down upon these folk beliefs, choosing instead to adhere to scientific facts. However the line between truth and untruth is not so clear. It can be difficult to prove that superstitions are untrue, and it is not the case that all science is true (many of our currently accepted scientific beliefs may be disproven down the line as technology advances, etc.). Calling something a superstition does not mean the belief is untrue, it simply means it has not been scientifically accepted. For generations, across cultures, people have believed in lucky pennies. In this German tradition, including a penny (which is associated with good luck) dispels the bad luck of gifting knives or shoes. This belief may not be scientifically proven, but the informant’s family has witnessed the belief in action when the younger cousin moved away after getting shoes. To them, this folk belief has been proven. Thus, superstitions are not always as untrue or unfounded as people may think. Moreover, regardless of whether a folk belief is or is not true, some may find it comforting to adhere to it, rather than run the risk that a loved one will leave or be injured.



Informant: So my grandma does this a lot and I actually just asked her for clarification about it, but… A lot of the time when I was younger, and especially now, I’ll like wake up and the house will smell like… Smoke… It smells like burnt popcorn, almost? And it’s not like a great smell. And I always thought, like, “Oh, like, my grandma put something in the toaster-oven for too long.” But it turns out it’s an intentional thing. So what she’s doing is… There’s this thing called Esphand… And it’s almost like… Black sand, it looks like? It almost looks like little seeds. I’m not sure what it actually is. It’s not edible. But… Something that Persians do––particularly Persian mothers or grandmothers––is they will put it, you know, in like a pan on the stove, and they’ll toast it and it burns and it smokes, and it smokes very quickly. And it fills the house with that like burnt popcorn aroma… And they’ll like get a towel or something and sort of wave it through the air so it like fills the house… Um… Yeah, and that smoke is supposed to cleanse the air. Um… And it alleviates any bad luck. It’s not that it gives you good luck, but it just prevents bad things from happening, sort of. And the Esphand is, it’s not like only confined to the home? Uh… It’s also… It can be incorporated into weddings? It’s not really done these days, but something they would do in the past is… They would kind of sprinkle the Esphand on the ground before the bride as she was walking. And as she was walking down the aisle, uh, they would kind of… Actually burn it in front of her as she was walking. So someone was leading, walking in front of her, and she would walk through the smoke… So it was kind of like… Like cleansing her on her way. So she’s entering into this marriage cleansed of bad luck.


Informant: My grandma, she would usually do it if my sister and I weren’t home, ‘cause she knew it––we’d always complain about it… And actually when I was at college, she’d do it, like, she would do it for me, right? Like to… Cleanse my spirit from afar. So that was an interesting kind of practice… And it’s not really about the Esphand… It’s what you do with the Esphand. It’s the ritual…  But it’s not like––it’s not an everyday type of thing. It’s only if she’s like––if she’s nervous, she’ll do it. It’s like to cleanse bad luck. So like, if the family is preparing for something and she, uh, doesn’t like want anything to go wrong… Like at the beginning of the pandemic it was a little bit more common… Like she was doing it more than she ever had before, I think. Or at least, I noticed it more. But like, when I was in high school, I hardly knew it was a thing. Like sometimes I’d just come home and like, “Ugh, someone burned something,” you know? 


In Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction, Elliott Oring claims there is “difficulty [in] interpreting the meaning of symbolic acts in human behavior” (55). In order to give meaning to the act of burning Esphand, one must first be familiar with its ties to the evil eye. The lighting of Esphand is thought to ward off the evil eye. The evil eye is a contagious form of magic; if someone who has the evil eye engages with you, they may bring on bad luck or “jinx” you (jinxing stems from the concept that if you have a jinn attached to you, you bring on bad luck). For example, if a houseguest who has the evil eye compliments a child on their beauty, a mother or grandmother might burn Esphand to clear the air, concerned that the child has been met with an evil eye (i.e. been jinxed) and is thus at risk of their beauty being ruined. While burning Esphand is unique to Persian culture, the act of trying to reverse bad luck is shared across cultures. Similar actions include throwing salt over a shoulder or knocking on wood. These behaviors (performing an action to remove bad luck) can be referred to as a conversion superstitions. The existence of conversion superstitions suggests that humans have an underlying, psychological preoccupation with controlling luck and fate; if we are apprehensive that something will go wrong, it makes us feel better to perform a ritual or action that is meant to steer things in a more desirable, less unlucky direction. And these rituals or actions only have meaning through their association with reversing bad luck.


Source cited above:

Oring, Elliott. Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: an Introduction. Utah State University Press, 1986. 

Further reading(s):

“Esfand & The Evil Eye.” My Persian Kitchen, 2016, www.mypersiankitchen.com/esfand-the-evil-eye/#:~:text=It%20is%20pretty%20safe%20to,curse%20on%20someone%20else’s%20behalf.

Saba Soomekh. “Iranian Jewish Women: Domesticating Religion and Appropriating Zoroastrian Religion in Ritual Life.” Nashim : a Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues, vol. 18, no. 18, Indiana University Press, 2009, pp. 13–38, doi:10.2979/NAS.2009.-.18.13.

Dungeons and Dragons Superstition: Wil Wheaton Dice Curse

Main Piece: 

“Yeah, so, when Wil Wheaton was on Critical Role, kinda like he has a dice curse. Like any dice he touches, he curses- so many nat 1s, so many low rolls. It’s uncanny. And, you know, that’s just kind a fun thing, but my side of it… His dice curse is folklore on its own, but, for me, I had this set of dice that I got when the guy I was dating at the time promposed to me. It was this whole like Critical Role promposal. Super cute and he gave me these dice. And they were fine. But then, after we split up because we weren’t actually interested in each other, these dice rolled like shit. Not always nat 1s, but just kinda rolled like shit. And then I took them to a convention that summer. Wil Wheaton was a guest. And I went up, like had Wil Wheaton sign my DM screen and was like ‘Hey. I have these dice that roll really badly. I know you have your dice curse. I was thinking maybe the two will cancel each other out and… I don’t know, it’ll work, just do something. Trying to see if it’ll backfire.’ And he pulled my bag of dice out, tries but could not break the curse on these dice. He still rolled poorly. Has not rolled a nat 20, he’s below 10 every time. I had to get rid of those dice. I gave them to a friend ‘cause his dice curse is so strong. I think he cursed them even more… I think it still lingers within me, because I still roll so poorly today. My plan backfired.”

Collector: “Is there a way to avoid or counteract the Wil Wheaton dice curse?”

Informant: “Just don’t interact with Wil Wheaton. Don’t give him your dice. I was a fool.”


My informant is an active participant in online Dungeons and Dragons communities and an engaged member of the fan base for the D&D live-play show Critical Role. The Wil Wheaton dice curse is apparently established meta-lore of the show. It’s widely acknowledged and talked about in conventions surrounding the game. He has become something of a miniature celebrity for his terrible luck. Rituals are concocted in response to this curse, such as testing Wil Wheaton with fresh sets of dice, using his curse on dice that could be used against you, and so on. My informant interprets this as a legitimate curse. For an example of how the folk groups associated with this curse respond to it, see Critical Scope, “Liam and Travis’ secret plan to win the fight in E52 [Spoilers E52],” YouTube Video, 2:13, May 5, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwuU5ZPiqpY. 


The wide acknowledgement of this curse as a valid and actual curse shows an above average degree of superstition within the Dungeons and Dragons community. I believe this is an example of how superstition appears more prevalently in groups that are dependent on fate or chance for their success, such as gamblers. This is a different circumstance, since even those that make their money from D&D don’t make their money from rolling well in D&D rather than just playing it in an entertaining fashion. However, that the game is based entirely on dice rolls creates a certain value for luck and fate. The specifics of this curse enforce a sense of urgency. My informant needed to get the dice physically away from her. She had it bestowed on her by the presence of a cursed person. She believes she is still cursed. It falls into the same pseudo-disease like formula as “cooties” for children. Bad luck coalesces and becomes virulent in the eyes of D&D players.