Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics


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Some people worry about black cats crossing their paths.

Blue jersey mom commented here today that black cats are the last to be adopted from animal shelters here in the U.S. because people think they are unlucky.

Since we just celebrated St. Paddy’s day, in honor of the Saint who in myth drove serpents out of Ireland, presumably to banish evil (though in many cultures snakes represent wisdom, and Ireland had no snakes) and we consume cereal called “Lucky Charms” in millions of bowls…and kids in my neighborhood grew up hopping over cracks in the sidewalk so as not to “break your momma’s back”, I got to wondering what superstitions you all grew up with, or practice?

There are thousands of them it seem, related to good luck and bad luck, weddings, funerals, and death, health, wealth, and longevity. Oh, and home run hitting too (athletes tend to be a superstitious breed)

In the class I teach, “Witchcraft, Magic and Sorcery” superstition and old wive’s tales are the topics this week. They always seem to be passed down by “old wives” and not “old husbands” – simply because old women are hags and witches, doncha know?

My students will be reading a study, Keep your fingers crossed!: how superstition improves performance., which  was covered in this Scientific American article, Why “Magical Thinking” Works for Some People .

Of course this diary needs music, so Stevie Wonder seems like appropriate background sound for the discussion (from the White House no less…hmmm)


  1. DeniseVelez

    to ward of the evil eye (and bill collectors) on the front porch. It also tends to scare off those people who come to your door to convert you to their evangelical religion.

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  2. slksfca

    …is never telling what you wished for when blowing out birthday candles or tossing a coin in a fountain.

    I think I’ve been more superstitious as an adult than I was as a boy. For example, it took me years to get past the superstition that if I didn’t clean house, company would surely stop by. 🙂

  3. This, referring to their study of “magical thinking” cracked me up (no pun intended):

    … they were not hypothesizing that the trillions of tiny cracks upon which we tread every day are imbued with some sort of sinister spine-crushing malevolence.

    The belief in a lucky fedora or a ritual you go through before doing something creates a suggestion that can lead to a good outcome. I firmly believe that positive thoughts have an impact. Maybe my not stepping on cracks has saved my mother from back injury!

    You do have to believe though:

    The influence of the charm depends crucially on your belief in its inherent powers. Once you acknowledge that performance is a function of what goes on in your brain rather than a product of any mystical properties of the object itself, it becomes useless.

    I carry stones in a tiny pouch with me when I go to a client’s work site. I don’t even remember what the stones are and what qualities each of them represents but they give me a small measure of comfort and familiarity.  


  4. bubbanomics

    have a pair of lucky drawers for giving talks or making pitches or testing code in experiments.  

    When I was a kid, in Nashville TN, all the superstition was about the Bell Witch.  I can’t remember all the crazy things… say I don’t believe in the Bell Witch while looking in mirror at midnight is the one I can recall… I think she’d come out of the mirror and “git” you.

  5. blue jersey mom

    was in high school (when I rode the bus). I have always loved black cats. I agree with my Irish ancestors–black cats are lucky. My son Tom has a wonderful black cat named Jack. Jack was a feral, and Tom adopted him when he was in grad school. Now Jack and his sister Lucy live with Tom in LA.  

  6. to “trap” any bad mojo and protect your children . . . Denise, i don’t remember exactly why but have always done this, and my parents set the glass outside my bedroom door each night.  (i’m thinking it did not take. 😉  

    do you know the origin of this? shame on me for not remembering, but i think it was meant as an offering for the orishas?

  7. i don’t want to get too explicit with the kittie lovers here, but the black cat is the best gris-gris.  it throws off any hexes or curses, supposedly.

  8. or tipping glasses against each other when having a drink? I just see it as a happy acknowledgement of those with whom I’m drinking. Is there some other origin that is more interesting?

  9. LeftOverFlowerChild

    Very interesting views!

    Most of what I learned came from my grandmothers.

    Throwing salt over the left shoulder if you should spill it

    A black cat is a lucky omen if the cat chooses to live with you.

    If your right hand itches, you’ll shake hands with a stranger, if your left hand itches, there’s money going to change hands in your life.

    If you’re a single woman never let anyone sweep under your feet, or you’ll never get married.

    A whistling woman and crowing hen never come to a good end. (I think that had more to do with my maternal grandmother believing a woman shouldn’t whistle, not lady like in her view!.)

    If you sing before breakfast, you’ll cry before supper.

    My family burns bay berry scented candles on New Year’s day and we do the pork, cabbage and black eyed peas as well..Of course we do it in our own way, we do egg rolls with pork and cabbage :o) black eyed peas on the side…I know it’s an odd combination, but we’re not your average Texas family by a long shot!

  10. much of my life and routines are guided by habits and certain specific ways. I like orderliness and alignment. Some alignments are physical like the edges of books and magazines ought to line up in some pattern or with the edge of the table.

    Then, there are alignments of what seem to be completely independent events. Those are the most impressive upon me. In astronomy, we call those syzygy. But the word is used in other contexts.  

  11. Strummerson

    and I find in enriching.  But the only period in my life when I put on tefillin (phylacteries – those black straps and boxes) every morning was when my wife was pregnant with our first child.  Not sure if it was superstitious, as I didn’t believe it would have any effect on the course of the pregnancy for her or the child.  But I needed a form through which I could express my hopes and fears and the preciousness of it all.  We also didn’t purchase anything for the baby until our daughter was born.  We didn’t think it would tempt the evil eye.  We just wanted to treat the experience with due reverence and not take anything for granted.  The overwhelming odds were that everything would be fine.  But we still didn’t want to take it for granted until she was born.  And I think this enhanced our gratitude.

    But again, if one doesn’t attribute any cause and effect, if one does something because it’s a ritualized form of expression with traditional, culturally specific roots by which one organizes one’s experience, does it qualify as a superstition?

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