Thursday, October 13, 2011

Very Superstitious

Colossal Art & Design has a neat pictoral post here about money trees, and notes:

Apparently in several wooded areas around the UK, passersby have been stopping for decades (if not centuries), meticulously hammering small denomination coins intro trees . . . the practice might date back to the early 1700s in Scotland where ill people stuck florins into trees with the idea that the tree would take away their sickness.

I don't think spiking a tree with coins will ward off illness, but I am heavily invested in my own belief that drinking a glass of orange juice every day prevents colds (and since I've only had two in the last five years, there may be something to that.) I have no problem with the number thirteen; it's eight that always makes me a little nervous. Black cats can cross my path any time, but I won't voluntarily walk under a ladder -- and that's just common sense; I've treated too many people who did and got head injuries. Wearing something green seems to help me write better or otherwise brings me a little luck.

Probably my worst superstition is that I flatly refuse to look at anyone when for any reason we physically part ways; three times in the past I've watched someone leaving until they were out of sight and all three died before I could see them again. Do I think me watching them go made them die? Not at all. So why don't I put aside my silly superstition and watch and wave goodbye? I guess it's because I could be wrong.

Bestowing on your characters such habits is one more way of breathing life into them. Traditional superstitions are not your only choices; you can invent a ritual or avoidance behavior tailored to your character's personality, setting and/or backstory. The superstition doesn't have to be logical to anyone but the character, either. A protagonist who grew up desperately poor might keep money in strange places, or compulsively collect piggy banks, or can't pass a homeless shelter without going in to make a donation. A character who nearly died in a bad car crash might hang a good-luck object from their rearview mirror (maybe even something from the car that crashed.)

It's a good idea to research your character's cultural background and learn about their superstitions, as these are often passed down through the generations. Foe example, the numbers four and nine are considered bad luck by the Japanese for these reasons:

The number four is pronounced as “shi” in Japanese, and is the word for death. The number nine is pronounced “ku” and rhymes with “kutsuu” which means pain in Japanese. The number four and two together are pronounced “shi-ni” which means to die and as a result the number forty-two is considered unlucky as is number twenty-four or “ni-shi” meaning double death.*

Now I'm off to finish basting a quilt piece I was working on this morning. If you leave a seam undone for too long your thread will become mysteriously/hopelessly snarled and you'll have to pick it out and sew it over; ask any quilter. This is because you gave the devil ample time to mess with it . . .

Related links: has collected lengthy A-L and M-Z alphabetized lists of superstitions.

The Origins of 7 Common Superstitions by Jill Harness

Urban Legends Online is an excellent resource for all manner of superstitions

*from The Unusual Superstitions of the Japanese by Shane Sakata

Money Trees article link swiped from Gerard over at The Presurfer.


  1. Mmmm. Thank you. Mucho. I'm going to be optimistic that one of those superstition links will jiggle my brain just enough to make a short story fall out of it by Monday.

    Superstitions fit perfectly with the kind of story I was thinking of, but looking up a list of them didn't even occur to me!

    Minimum 500 words, for class. Why did I get myself into this?

    Anyways. A tad more on topic. I don't like "round" numbers - which is what I call even numbers, for some reason. Odd numbers are angular and jagged. I don't really care for 5, either. It fits too nicely. 3 is ok, 7 is good, 9 is iffy. The 3x3 makes it feel almost round. 11 is fine, 13 is even ok, 15 no, 17 yes, 19 ok unless I'm playing cribbage, 21, 23 are ok, 25 no way, it's really round, and 27, oddly enough, is ok. 33 is good, 99 is not.

    And yes, I *have* spent way too much time thinking about it, and no, I don't get it either..

    And black kitties are a good thing, but not ladders. I catch myself avoiding cracks in the sidewalk. I'm no longer allowed to tell my ex to "drive safe" - he's nodded off driving every time I have.

    And I don't care how many spiders you squish. I was always nice to them til one put me in the hospital, and so I've stopped being nice.

    But do NOT harm a praying mantis, and always put ladybugs on the roses.

    (And "word" verification? What on earth is an ablotl?)

  2. So that's why my thread ends up tangled when I don't finish what I was working on. The same thing seems to happen with yarn.

  3. How funny that you don't like the number eight. It's Chinese people's most lucky number! Everyone wants a license plate for their car with the number eight on it.


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