Tag Archives: superstition reverse

Theater Macbeth Superstition


“Ok so I’ve been doing theater since I was a little kid. And I remember the first time I heard of this superstition, I was like, 7 I think. I was in my first musical and someone started talking about the M word. And I was like, “what’s the M word?” And they refused to tell me and I didn’t know why, and I thought they were like, talking about McDonalds or something. Cause we were backstage in the dressing room of the theater. So they tell me it’s a word we can’t say in the theater because it’s cursed and will make the play go bad, and that someone said it last year during the music and an actress fell of the stage and broke her leg. And when we get outside the theater when we leave, they tell me the word is Macbeth. And from then on I knew you weren’t supposed to say it. I was in a theater camp a few years later and I remember our teacher taught us about the curse. And one of the kids actually said Macbeth, and we all got so mad, and our teacher actually made him go outside to reverse it. He had to go outside the theater, spit over his left shoulder, and turn around three times. We all like followed him outside to watch him do it. Then I remember when I was in middle school I was in the musical, and someone said it. And we swear that’s why any mistake in the show happened. Like one of our lead actors was sick during the show, and we said it was because someone said the cursed word, we call it the Scottish Play while in the theater. So it’s a big superstition in theater, everyone knows about it. I feel like it became less important when I got older, but I still like actually believe in it. I’m not super superstitious or anything, but that’s the one that I’m really serious about. I don’t tell stories about it as much anymore, it’s not as sensational anymore, but I’m dead serious when people threaten to say it during a musical. I fully will not say it in a theater, even if it’s stupid. It’s kind of like a badge of being a real theater actor, like you’re really one of us because you won’t say it.” 


B is an 18-year-old college student who lives in the Bay Area in California. She has been doing theater for almost all her life, and still considers it a big part of her identity. She relays the superstition with a bit of conflict, because while she sometimes thinks it’s a little silly and doesn’t really believe a single word can be cursed in a certain location, she still reveres the superstition and won’t actually say it. This is a theater superstition that has been around for a long time, and she’s heard it in theaters across many states in the US. 


This is a magic superstition, where the belief is that if you do a particular thing, it will lead to bad luck. It is also combined with a conversion superstition, with the description of the actions that must be done to get rid of the bad luck. Superstitions like these are common in careers like theater, because live theater has so many elements that are out of people’s control. Once the show has begun, anything could go wrong and the actors have no way to control it. They could blank on a line, there could be a tech malfunction, there is a lot of anxiety surrounding life theater no matter how well they prepare. This means that there are a lot of superstitions, because it gives people an illusion of control that could act as a placebo effect. They can think “This show will go great, no one has said the Scottish Play yet!” It’s also an example of cognitive dissonance. When things go wrong in live theater and people don’t really know why, they like to have something to blame to give an explanation to the unexplainable. “Why did I forget the line I’ve had memorized and perfect for weeks? Oh, because someone said Macbeth!” This superstition is also a form of ritual that creates identity, like in Van Genup’s Rites of Passage. When she was in her first musical, she wasn’t really part of the group because she didn’t know the superstition about Macbeth. Now that she’s older and more experienced, she takes it as a sign of her identity. She underwent the rite of passage of learning about the Macbeth superstition, so now it creates her identity as a thespian. Her maintained belief in the superstition shows how even when things aren’t necessarily scientific, people can still believe them despite their rational mind telling them it doesn’t make sense. Belief works even against rationality. And just because it hasn’t been scientifically proven doesn’t mean the superstition isn’t true. Maybe there is a correlation between someone say Macbeth and a show going wrong.



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.

Knock on Wood

Subject: Folk superstition. “Knock on wood”.


“Interviewer: On the morning of a race, what would you do if someone said something about your own car running well, or someone else’s team maybe being on the frits, what would you make everyone do?”

Interviewee: When somebody would comment in that fashion, for 22 years of racing in Baja, the old knock on wood would come out. So I would make the whole crew knock on wood. Which typically was chrome molly.

Interviewer: How many. So for you the chrome molly was a good sub- good enough substitute for wood?

Interviewee: Tha- because there’s no wood in a lot of places down there.

Interviewer: So you didn’t do your head?

Interviewee: Nope, we knocked on the car.

Interviewer: Knocked on the car. Interesting.

[laughter from his wife]

Interviewer: Um, how many people were on the crew?

Interviewee: Typically, about twelve of us.

Interviewer: So all twelve people, you’d make them all stop the important work they were doing to make them knock on the chrome molly of the car?

Interviewee: Uhhh, all who were standing around at that time, yes.

Interviewer: So if someone was occupied, say, racing, they would not have to knock on the wood?

Interviewee: They would not have to knock on the wood.”

Background Info: S. Taylor grew up in Southern California he grew up snow skiing, water skiing, motorcycle driving, jet skiing, playing volleyball, and racing cars. He first heard the expression as a kid from his parents and the other adults on trips to the river, the Salton Sea, and Canyon Lake. Today, S. Taylor lives in San Clemente, CA with his wife, C. Taylor and has one daughter.

Context: This story was shared over dinner after I asked my father if there were any activities, sayings, or traditions for him and his buddies either when they raced in Mexico or when they now attend off-road races. The only piece of shared culture he could recall is himself forcing everyone to knock on wood if something was said to potentially jinx the race.

Analysis: Off-road racing is particularly dangerous, more so than driving on the normal highway or around town, despite there always being a threat of danger. The practice of knocking on wood is employed to counteract any negative effects that might emerge because of someone saying something that is desirable, and you don’t want to jinx it. On the surface, this activity embodies the normal practice of knocking on wood. First, the trigger is a verbal expression of a positive outcome or aspect of a situation then someone says, “knock on wood” which triggers everyone in earshot to knock on wood. Second, it is an expression of people trying to gain autonomy over an unsure or indeterminant outcome or situation. If you say to a friend, “You studied hard for you Organic Chemistry final, you are going to do great!” They might tell you to or they themselves might knock on wood. The indeterminant future contains the material on the test, if the person will remember what they studied, and the grade they will receive. By knocking on wood, a person is showing their desire to control and fix one outcome, usually one that is most desirable to them.

However, the situation is distinct since an unusual material is used as a wood substitute and there is an effort to have unanimous participation by all in a group. First, my dad specifically mentioned that they would knock on the chrome molly of the car. In traditional enactments of the knock-on-wood counter curse, if real wood is not present, the only true substitute is one’s own head (a suggestion that the person’s head is made of wood or that the person is imbecilic for enacting this tradition). As a matter of fact, if one knocks on any other substance, a double jinx is enacted. Here, S. Taylor, cites choosing chrome molly as a suitable substitute because it is the only material present in abundance. I propose that the chrome molly is more significant since it is the primary material that makes up their race car. In racing, not only are the racers not in control of the wiles of fate, but they have very little control over the mechanics of their own car. By knocking on the car, they are enacting additional magic in the sense that they are doing a physical action on something to create a desired effect (be that the race or the car) to ultimately gain “a say” in the outcome.

Second, S. Taylor made it clear in the initial conversation and many times during the meal that everyone present was forced to knock on wood. Typically, only the speaker of the jinx is forced to knock on wood. This differentiation shows the element of teamwork and comradery shaping tradition. By enlisting the whole pit team and the drivers, a sense of importance is being diffused amongst all participants no matter their role in the outcome of the race. All have a shared liability in the outcome. Similarly, it reinforces a sense of belonging and purpose for the group when performing their individual roles. The counter curse is enlisted at the expense of their competitors, increasing morale and restating team members’ responsibility in working towards the success of their team.

Countering the bad luck of a black cat

My informant is from Lipitsk, Russia. She moved to the United States for graduate studies, and is a graduate student at USC at the age of 33. I collected many superstitions from my informant, and also wedding traditions, using her own wedding as an example. This collection is a counteraction of the bad luck of seeing a black cat. You must spit three times and knock on wood to reverse the bad luck of the black cat.

Continuing the woman with buckets story:

Me: Is there a way to counteract or undo this? [the bucket story]

Informant: with the woman and the buckets no, but with the cat, you got to spit 3 times and then knock on wood 3 times [informant demonstrates]. Sometimes people cross themselves so there is this weird blend in Russia of the Orthodox religion so Christian Russian orthodox and Pagan traditions. So we’re mixed of boths because on the one hand we got the.. so when you see the superstitions they are technically pagan. So they come to this pagan, prior to Christ. Because there shouldn’t really be Christian traditions. But then they counteract the tradition of the black cat they cross themselves. So they are using the Christian way to counteract the pagan belief. So in the Russian mind, both of the m coexist.

It was interesting to see that the black cat comes up in other cultures besides our own. A black cat seems to be the universal symbol of bad luck. Additionally, in the United States people knock on wood to reverse bad luck, just as in this Russian folk belief. The spitting, however, is something that is not commonly accepted in the United States. The idea of spitting could be seen as a way to get the bad luck out of your system. The comment on the fact that the Church who does not allow superstitions,  yet crossing is used as a way to counteract them, shows how the two religions are mixed in with the folk beliefs.