What’s Your Superstition?

Watching Rafael Nadal’s pre point wedgie picking the other day, and his obsessive alignment of water bottles, stirred memories of the irrational superstitions that I grew up with.

They were mostly harmless. Perhaps nicer ways of getting children to comply with the norms of safety and propriety of the time, as compared to my daughter’s imperious, “Because I said so!” to her children’s umpteenth “Why?”. (She claims I suffer from selective amnesia, but I don’t remember ever sounding like that!)

Then again, try telling them – today’s precocious children – why bad luck will befall them if they cut their nails at dusk, or sneeze as they leave home or leave their shoes lying upside down, without getting into a protracted debate!

Not that we were gullible either. But we never dared question, how it was at all possible our dirty nails could sully God’s milk, that he always partook of at dusk!!! And we held back our sneezes, for fear of our outings getting scrapped. We never brought a wet umbrella into the house, and concealed from them, if God forbid, one of us ever broke a mirror. We did notice though, that they always had an antidote. A way of working around the bad omens!!

I seriously suspect the old wives who thought these tales up, must have been obsessive compulsive. And looking to save themselves some labour, while ensuring their families didn’t cut off more than their nails in poor light.

From Ipad 599 copy
Quick palm reading session in Gion, Kyoto

Belief in magical intervention, in luck if you will, plays to people’s inherent need to find connections where none exist. The knowledge feeling that you have somehow aligned all the forces of the universe behind you, is said to aid success. Nadal and scores of other athletes are proof!

But there are the negative claims that corrode the mind and affect one’s decision making. The dependence on astrology and auspicious times for example, the belief that certain people are impure and inauspicious. or that the way a wife dresses, or not, can affect her husband’s lifespan!!! I cannot for the life of me, imagine what good these irrational beliefs could have effected then or now.

As an adult, I have always prided myself on being a rational, logical human being. Even when my daughter accused me of hypocrisy, for donning my symbols of marriage – a sari, my black beads, the sindhoor – every time I went visiting my ailing mother in law. That was respect and consideration, not belief. I know her (the daughter’s) generation will not pretend, and I respect that too. And envy them that liberation.

But when I travel, and the locals tell me it will bring me luck to circumambulate a stone scarab in Luxor, or traverse three consecutive bridges in Suzhou, or touch the Madonna’s orb at Montserrat, I ignore my husband’s smirk and just go along, for the fun of it. (I did draw the line at caressing Dalida’s boobs!). 

And on the days I leave home for an important appointment, and realise I need to go back in, to pick up the car keys I have left behind in the rush, I swear I can hear my dear, departed mother-in-law’s disapproving voice, urging me to set my butt down for a few seconds, to nuetralise the bad luck that I have surely brought upon myself by turning back! On those days, depending on how desperate I am for a favourable outcome at the meeting, irrationality wins, and I do a quick curtsy atop the closest chair, before racing out, ready for battle. If it works for Nadal…….

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“If a black cat crosses your path, it signifies
that the animal is going somewhere.”
~ Groucho Marx

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

52 thoughts on “What’s Your Superstition?

  1. A very interesting post Madhu. It does look as if a few believe in the superstition of not caressing Dalida’s boobs! 🙂

  2. What a fun post, Madhu. I ADORE Rafa Nadal, and keep my fingers crossed that he has a long, fruitful tennis career because he is an absolute joy to watch. But I DO worry about him and his many tics and rituals. There are times I think he’s going to wear himself out before he ever serves the ball!!

    My only superstition is to try not speak of events or plans that I’m excited about, because you know…sometimes fate : ) stands in the way….

    1. I adore him too Elisa! Guess he doesn’t want to upset whatever cosmic alignment is working for him right now! That doesn’t say much for his self confidence 😀

  3. Madhu, I really enjoyed this post. As a kid I encountered the usual western superstitions – black cat, walking under a ladder, broken mirror – I have no idea where those came from! But my Mom’s only seriously held superstition was the fear of having a bird in the house – so having a canary as a pet was out of the question. I remember the one day a sparrow managed to mistakenly fly in through an open window, My Mom (normally very level headed) totally freaked out. I think she scared the poor bird more than it frightened her! 🙂 Needless to say, I finally coaxed the little bird out … and nothing bad happened … but it certainly was memorable! ~Terri

    1. I can imagine her panic! I could fill several posts with my mother in law’s paranoias and her state of panic when no one would pander to them, and she was certain the worst kind of calamity would befall the family. She was very annoyed when an astrologer told her she would never suffer any grief whatsoever, except those of her own making. We never let her forget it 😀

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed this post! 😀 and I can relate to quite a bit of it – some from your, and some from your daughter’s perspective 😀 I wonder which ritual the Bryan Twins forgot – but yay for Leander!

  5. Great post Madhu.
    I offer my own life-long superstition. I’ve no idea where it came from and I’m unclear about the penalties for not adherin g to it: I’m alive and well after all.
    I am required,nee forced to hold the collar of my shirt if I come across a herse in motion (important) carrying a coffin and continue holding it until I see a four legged animal.

    It seems innocuous enough but I have driven one-handed for many miles into the country in search of sheep, cows, goats and dogs and cats, or headed for a city park where I might find a dog-walker to relieve me of my burden.

    My son Jack (going on 27) is hooked by the same compulsion.

    There’s no choice, you understand?

    1. You are joking right??? If you aren’t, you should consider a permanent move to India. At least you wouldn’t have to drive far to find four legged creatures 😀

  6. Oh, Madhu! You have set me thinking…. and remembering… I was always the culprit in the sneezing-as-you-are-leaving department and how loud my mother’s silence would be then!
    There was also the eating out of the pan thing (then your marriage-day was doomed to bad weather). In sheer stubbornness, I would insist on eating the last rice handful in the pan mixed with the dal lining the sides and bottom, and would you believe it? it rained cats and dogs on my marriage day. Thankfully my mother was too preoccupied to make the connection, but in my head, I did! And I wonder, if those superstitions are supported by good solid empirical proof.

    Great post, my friend! I shared your blog with my English class at college. They loved it.

    1. Ha, in Mangalore eating raw grated coconut was said to result in a very wet wedding day and mine was the last, day long downpour of the season! I remember wishing I hadn’t indulged quite that often 😀
      Honoured that you thought my blog fit to share with your class Meenakshi. Thank you for your constant support. See you soon 🙂

  7. Loved this post Madhu. Reminded me of all the crazy superstitions we were subject to while growing up… Don’t cut your hair on Thursdays, don’t cross over your baby brother while he’s sleeping… He won’t grow tall (he is 6 ft tall now BTW), don’t hand a knife or scissor directly to someone… It will lead to a fight, spotting one black bird means you will have a sorrowful day, two would mean joy… Yadda, yadda, yadda. Thought I was beyond it all, till this weekend when I realized that I don’t want to live in an apartment on the 13th floor… Cos 13 is my “unlucky” number. Yeesh! Also loved your gallery. What an interesting collection of photos from around the globe 🙂

  8. Very interesting post, Madhu! I so enjoy reading (first I wrote hearing – I think I can almost hear you…) about old habits and superstitions from your part of the world. I didn’t recognize that many – but some.

    The Marx’ quote about the black cat is very funny, because that is something I cannot get rid of…I have to say ” tvi, tvi, tvi” if such a cat crosses my road in order not to bring bad luck on me. I also never walk under a ladder. Those two things never seem to leave me…otherwise I don’t have any problems with old superstitions.

    I can well understand what you write about dressing up in a special way out of respect and the things you sometimes do for the fun of it. these are the ways I have too.

    1. Guess we all have our “Why tempt fate?” moments 😀
      To say you can almost hear me, is the best compliment I can think of Ann Christine! Thank you so much.

  9. It most certainly does seem to be working for Rafa, so I’m not going to knock it, Madhu. 🙂 Thanks for making me smile.
    Mam would never have her hair cut on a Friday and it stays with me still, however dumb. My husband went off to have a haircut last Friday, despite my warning him. “What?” was his response, with a withering look. Should I ooze sympathy that he’s not had a good week? (smug smile 🙂 )

  10. you have set me thinking Madhu, but cannot find anything more than “cross your fingers” for good luck and “touch wood” for guaranteeing a certain outcome … yours are marvellous and intriguing, I too wonder how could they have developed and become so powerful over the years (glad to hear that village is progressing past the horror of untouchability) … however like you I do join in local customs when visiting sacred places, for fun, and to deepen the experience of being there 🙂

    1. Oh I could fill up several posts with our maddeningly intriguing superstitions and prejudices Christine 🙂

  11. You made me laugh out loud with the Nadal “pre point wedgie picking” line. I think he is the coolest looking guy, but I hate watching him play anymore with the picky wedgie thingy going on. Good God! Why doesn’t he just buy the right underpants?
    I think maybe the Mexican superstitions may be right up there with those of the people from India, Madhu. We’ve got some doozies as well 🙂

    1. The habit probably started with ill fitting underpants Angeline, now it is apparently a ritual that ensures his win…at least in his mind 😀 I adore him regardless.

  12. Most entertaining!
    One still follows some silly customs while knowing full well how silly they are. Among ours are yelling, ‘Rabbits!’ to everyone on the first of the month, and also greeting each new moon respectfully.

  13. You can’t be too careful, Madhu. Just for luck, throw some salt over your shoulder (I forget which one). Don’t break a mirror: that 7 years bad luck. Don’t walk under a ladder, don’t let a black cat cross your path. An Irish superstition my Mom taught me: never go out the same door you came in (it’s too avoid bad luck). A German superstition my Mom passed on: say “gesundheit” when someone sneezes. If you don’t, the bad fairies might whisk them up the chimney.

  14. Actually your blog gave me the warm fuzzy feeling of being back in the India I lived in and loved for 20 years. Those superstitions are India and there’s the same feeling of contentment in watching all that at play as there was for me to go to sleep in some remote part of Bharat Mata to the blare of a thousand village loudspeakers beating out the latest Hindi music of the day, and some oldies to boot. Believe it or not it would happen is Bangladesh and Pakistan too. Hindi music and movies seem to be the only unifying cement in the sub-continent. I was always fascinated by the so called science of the wall lizard. When the lizard called one of the secretaries I had would stop everything she was doing to contemplate her next course of action. Yes, maybe it was all nonsense, and in the untouchable case you mentioned a sad folkway, but I suspect the villages of India where the bulk of the population still lives will make glacial changes from their timeless folkways no matter what government legislates.

  15. Madhu, superstition drives me nuts. I grew up in the church and read the bible well into my forties. Now I wonder, how could I have believed those literary stories as fact, all these years and the answer is. Well your great grandmother, grandmother and mother believed it and you were taught to believe them without questioning. My great
    grandmother also believed in voodoo. I left my brush on the counter and she scolded me for leaving hair in the brush stating “Never leave hair in your brush or comb, someone can get it and put a curse on you. Always burn it or flush it down the toilet.” Geesh.

  16. What a fun and interesting post Madhu. Wow! I laughed at the part where you don’t do the caressing of Dalida’s boobs and that quick ‘sit-down’ if you had to turn back. 😆 I can also understand why you dress out of respect for your mother-in-law as I would do the same for someone I respect and it has nothing to do with superstition then. I am not superstitious at all but I don’t open an umbrella in the house. It can stick someone eye out and a wet one will get the floor all wet and who must clean it? I’ll have to. 😆 Love the photo’s. They are great! 😀 Thanks for sharing hon and have a wonderful day. 🙂 *big hugs*

  17. Dear Madhu, thank you for this wonderful article. I have been wanting to write about superstition for quite some time. It has always puzzled me that the same superstition could be seen in far-away parts of the world, and have always wondered how they came to life…. The dangerous thing is when our subconscious believes in them even when our rational side rejects any sense of it….

  18. An interesting post – and fun read even, in some parts.

    A couple of years ago, I was at a cocktail reception here in Singapore and met this emaculately dressed and well spoken woman from India – a business executive. Learning that I had Indian roots from my father’s side – she asked: “So, what caste are you?” And this, from a 30-something woman. She succeeded in rendering me speechless before I politely excused myself. My Indian friends told me she is a rare one – how lukcy am I, heh 🙂

    Have a great weekend,

  19. “…accidentally brushing against a beautiful little girl walking towards us, then coming to a sudden halt as a warning shout goes up behind me, causing a collision, and thus contact between everyone in the group. The shock and horror, of the lot of us being herded to the bath house soon after, and ‘cleansed’ by being doused with cold water drawn from the well, is indelibly burned into my consciousness, as are the little girl’s scared, accusing, startlingly hazel eyes! ” = strange for Europeans – but perfectly described by you!

  20. Very interesting post for the soul, Madhu. I am also against superstitious beliefs and the rare times I comply to make mom happy. It’s another thing I don’t belief. It is true that we got into these things without actually looking at the rational and practical aspect of life.

  21. Madhu you made me laugh, taught me things and entertained me with this brilliant post. What an amazing collection of suprstitions 🙂

  22. My family is superstitious. There are some that don’t make sense, but we follow them anyway. My grandmother is probably the instigation of most of them. Things like:
    1. Don’t ever carry a broom out of the house. (We still don’t know what to do with these old ones.)
    2. Eat sauerkraut on New Year’s Day for money in the new year.

    and the travel-related one that we ALWAYS follow:
    Never watch your loved ones out of sight.

    We don’t, but it’s hard.

  23. I’ve had this tab open since yesterday trying to think of a superstition that I hold. There just aren’t any. My mother scoffed at the old superstitions as did her mother. I suppose that’s how I came to pay no attention to them. I do find them interesting. My husband’s father absolutely believed that there was an old woman in their town who could “look warts off”. I made the mistake of laughing when he told us about her… Chuckle… Chuckle…

  24. I love the quote about the black cat.
    Interesting post, Madhu. I try not to let the superstitions I was taught over many years affect me.

  25. I was just sweeping the floor. My mom told me it’s bad luck to sweep at night. And so, I swept the dirt and dusts back to our house and I said ” Okay, I’ll bring back the luck.” bwahahaha 😆

  26. This is a fascinating post, Madhu. Thank you for the peek into another culture. We weren’t too superstitious. We owned a black cat, but I always did pick up lucky pennies, not that I believe it made a difference in my fortune, good or bad.

  27. As a new blogger who knows NOTHING, I love the layout of your blog, and the sumptuous photos. I hope to learn more and make mine as interesting by reading more and more….liked the what’s your superstition article….keep going, an inspiration.

  28. If you were reluctant to stroke Dalida you should avoid the courtyard of the toy museum within the walls of Prague castle where there’s a naked bronze boy…

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