Tag Archives: bad luck

Card Game Superstition


“As long as I can remember, every time I play a card game of any kind, I always wait until everyone has their cards dealt to them before I touch my cards. Otherwise, I feel as if it’s bad luck to touch the cards, and I won’t win the game. It will curse me for that round of cards. 

“Everyone in my family does this, and if someone does touch their cards beforehand, it’s a taboo thing where everyone looks at you like, ‘What have you just done?’

“We’ve passed it along to some family friends, too. It’s like an introduction to our family, and a way for the people we’re closest to to become almost like extended family. Since we believe this and we care about them, we don’t want them to get the bad luck from it.”


BD is a 20 year-old college student from Sacramento, California currently living in Los Angeles. This superstition is part of a card game that has been passed down from his grandparents. When learning the rules of the game, I was also taught this superstition.

BD said he doesn’t remember learning the superstition. “It’s just always been this way and I’ve always done it.”


BD’s family sharing this superstition with their close friends as a way of making them part of the family reflects how folk belief can function to create group identities. For example, when reflecting on his family teaching the superstition to his girlfriend, BD said “she has become part of the family by knowing our ways.” Thus, the lore creates the folk.

Superstitions about luck are very common in the context of card games, which often depend on a combination of chance and skill to win. Believing that a certain action will give one good or bad luck for a game is a way to feel a degree of control over a larger, less predictable situation.

The belief that touching an object can give one good or bad luck is an example of contagious magic, as the cards are believed to contain the luck. One can avoid bad luck by abstaining from touching the cards until the proper time.

Shaking Off the Luck


Shaking your leg at the dining table shakes off good fortune.


As a child, KF would unconsciously shake her leg up and down while sitting at the dining table. However, her mother would always tell her to “stop doing that because it basically means that, like–it’s thought to be that you’re shaking off your good luck and wealth.” After the interview, KF took to the Internet to see if this was a typical Chinese superstition or just something her family believed in. Based on her findings, this is a well-known Chinese belief, where leg shaking will result in a hard life trying to provide an income for yourself.


The meanings behind gestures go beyond surface level; they can be forms of communication or acts of summoning/getting rid of. Folk gestures often refer to performed gestures, such as a handshake or a secret code, but they can also involve gestures that are strictly avoided to banish bad luck. To some people, including myself, shaking your leg while sitting still is second nature. We often don’t think twice about its implications. However, for those who believe in its effects, there is a conscious awareness behind what their legs are doing. Shaking your leg is often associated with the idea of restlessness–perhaps it could be interpreted as feelings of anxiousness in the present, which hinders a successful future. Not only does verbal speech reflect the ideologies and superstitions of a particular group, but so does physical behavior or lack thereof. Our body is a vehicle that we rely on for life and prosperity–legs are our foundation, as they walk us through life’s path. Thus, in order to ensure a fulfilling life, we need our base to be sturdy. In broader terms, folklore that is reliant upon bodily functions may enable us to reflect on our sense of self and autonomy–in fact, we may have some control over how the course of our life unravels.

Ewiha Chant (Zalghouta): Folklore Song/Gesture

Text: Ewiha Chant (Zalghouta)

Context: AH’s relationship to this piece stems from his Lebanese culture which allows him to have various experiences as he heard this song/gesture within his childhood and early adult life. His relationship relates to his connection with his aunt as she is the specific woman in his family that is in charge of leading the performance. He typically hears this chant at weddings during the dinner portion of the event or after the ceremony. Within his family, they typically use this song/gesture as a Lebanese tradition as they wish good luck to the newly wed couple. Within the tradition, self-expression is evident as yells, screams, yodeling and ululations are present. AH interprets this tradition as a good luck charm and as a sign of felicitations as his family believes that if this song/gesture is not performed, it is considered bad luck on the newly wed couple.

Analysis: The overall cultural value within this song/gesture is based on the act of ululating (zalghouta) which is practiced all over the Middle East and in some parts of Africa. Given that this act stems from Lebanese tradition, it holds cultural values within women considering this song/gesture is typically done by women given they are the only ones that can perform an ululation which is a high-pitched tongue trill. I see this gesture/song as an overall expression of happiness, joy, and celebration. Considering that I have not experienced this tradition being performed, I believe that this song/gesture during family events is a momentous moment that is filled with positive affirmations as two families conjoin together where luck, love, and unity is emitted within the atmosphere.  

Renaming a Boat

Informant Information — DD

  • Nationality: American
  • Age: 68
  • Occupation: Professor
  • Residence: San Pedro, California
  • Date of Performance/Collection: March 20, 2022
  • Primary Language: English

The informant grew up in San Pedro, CA, a port town where a large proportion of the town works on/near the water. He has sailed as a hobby and professionally for more than 50 years. He is still active in his town’s boating community and keeps up with sailing magazines, books, news, etc. The informant shared this information with me in an in-person interview.


You mentioned that it’s bad luck to rename a boat. Where and when did you first hear that?


So the first time I bought a sailboat, it was a 30-footer that I wanted to fix up and sail back and forth to Catalina in. The guy that sold it to me said, “Well you better not change the name because it’s really bad luck.” 


Did you take his advice and keep the boat’s original name?


Nope, I changed it anyway. I don’t even remember what the original name was, but I remember that I didn’t really like it. I’ve used the same name for every boat I’ve ever renamed, but I’ve never had bad luck with a boat… not even the ones that I renamed. Once an original name was actually kind of an offensive stereotype, so I think renaming that one actually gave me some good luck. 


I see! Do you think that this is a pretty common superstition?


Not so much anymore, just because it’s so common to sell, buy, and re-sell boats so often now… I actually know a little bit of history about this, though. Back in the old days, when records were less official and harder to keep track of, you would check in to a harbor or port of call with your boat’s name, and anything that happened was associated with that name. Back then, if you were to suddenly change the boat’s name, it would be kind of like erasing its history… suspicious, you know? You wouldn’t do that unless you had gotten into some trouble, so the renaming thing got associated with troublemakers. 


This is a great example of how our changing society has altered our perception of folklore. With new technological developments, records are easily accessible around the world, making it much easier to keep track of vessels, regardless of their names. The informant mentioned that there might be a trick to get rid of bad luck after changing a boat’s name, which would be an example of conversion superstition. However, he couldn’t remember any specific methods or details, so that part of the conversation was not included in the piece. 

The Sweater Curse

Informant Information — SD

  • Nationality: American
  • Age: 16
  • Occupation: Student
  • Residence: San Pedro, California
  • Date of Performance/Collection: April 3, 2022
  • Primary Language: English

The informant’s grandmother was a lifelong knitter and introduced all of her grandchildren to knitting and other handicrafts. The informant regularly attended crafting circles with her grandmother as a child, which is where she learned this belief.


Can you tell me about the curse involving making a sweater?


So my grandma used to believe in a curse where anyone who knitted or crocheted a sweater for the person they were dating would end up breaking up with the person. Since you spend so much time making the sweater, the relationship is usually over by the time you finish it and you break up once you give it to them. She said that you could only make sweaters for family, lifelong friends, or your husband or wife after you were married. 


Did this curse apply to other gifts, or was it strictly sweaters?


It was always just sweaters. You could make other big stuff, like blankets, but sweaters were cursed. My sister crocheted her girlfriend a quilt once and it was fine. 


Do you believe in this curse?


I don’t crochet or knit, so I don’t really believe one way or the other. It makes sense though. 


The informant is my sister, so we grew up hearing the same superstitions from my grandmother. As a crochet and knitting enthusiast, I believe in this curse while my sister, who never enjoyed crocheting or knitting, does not. Making a sweater takes a great deal of time and effort, tying you to the intended recipient. Finishing the project may release you from a sense of obligation, allowing the relationship to end. However, it is interesting that most crafters agree that this curse is limited to sweaters– blankets, rugs, and tapestries are all considered to be “safe,” despite also being large projects. Unfortunately, I seem to have witnessed this curse take effect in real life: my roommate crocheted a sweater for her partner as a two-year anniversary gift and they broke up the same weekend that she finished it.