On umbrellas, ladders, bananas and chewing on threads.

While I was sitting on the loo the other day,  my daughter came in with my sewing basket and a pair of trousers,  saying she urgently needed to wear same trousers and they were torn,  so could I please use the time efficiently and mend them quickly.  She replied to my queries that no,  it couldn’t wait.

My quirky mind being what it is,  one of my first reactions was to wonder if there was any superstition about sewing in the loo – it seemed just the sort of odd thing that there would be something in folklore about.  So after I repaired the trousers and finished my business,  I headed for my keyboard to do some research.

What a fascinating subject superstition is!  I found hundreds of superstitions listed,  many of them with now unknown origins,  but many theories.  One person’s “faith” is another’s “superstition”.  Many are commonly known,  like not walking under a ladder,  a rabbit’s foot brings luck,  breaking a mirror brings 7 years bad luck,  four leaf clovers,  stepping on cracks in the sidewalk,  blowing out birthday candles on the first breath,  crossing your fingers for luck or to nullify a promise,  the list is endless!   I could have waited to post this until next month,  when the 13th falls on a Friday,  but that would be overkill,  right?

I didn’t find any sewing superstitions about loo stitching,  but I did find one from my own childhood – never to sew anything while someone is wearing it.  My mother,  God rest her soul,  was an intelligent,  rational woman who had the most amazing collection of superstitions – many of them from growing up with her Austrian/Romanian grandmother.  When she absolutely had to mend something while I was wearing it,  she would break off a piece of the same thread she was using,  and I had to chew this while she sewed,  as an antidote to whatever bad mojo was caused by what she was doing.  (She also believed that one should never put a hat on a bed,  this could portend a death – when I did this once as a child her face actually turned white and she snatched the hat away immediately.)

One widespread superstition is the one about not opening an umbrella indoors.  I will confess – when the kid would play with an umbrella and open it inside I insisted she close it.  It makes no sense,  but there you have it,  I can’t explain it,  it just makes me uneasy.  I have encountered this one in people raised in the US and Canada, China, Britain, Germany, Brazil, South Africa and Jordan!  My research uncovered that this superstition most likely originated in Egypt.  It has traveled well.

I also buy a new broom any time I move.  I was taught that when you enter a new home you bring with you salt, flour… and a new broom so as not to sweep old problems into a new life.  Back when I was a grad student,  with a constantly changing roommate and living situation,  the salt and flour were no problem…but my friends thought I was nuts for buying brooms every few months.

I was amazed to find a superstition listed that I never knew was a superstition – it seems that raising one’s feet when crossing railroad tracks brings good luck.  I did this for years without ever knowing why!!  It was just a reflex, and I never understood it.  Even when driving,  I would raise both feet off the pedals for just an instant going over tracks.  I really had to force myself to stop doing it,  and it wasn’t easy!  And now I’ve read that it is a known superstition….I guess someone must have told me this when I was little and I started doing it,  without remembering why.

Many superstitions I’d never heard of,  due to lack of exposure in some fields,  I suspect.  I never knew,  for example,  that it is absolutely forbidden to utter the word “pig” on a boat.  Or to bring a banana on a boat.  Evidently there are boat captains that will go completely ballistic if someone even brings a banana bread or muffin on board!  (I’m still looking for a reason for the “pig” ban.)

I found several superstitions regarding knitting, although I haven’t encountered them much in the knitting world.  Among others:  It’s bad luck to leave a project unfinished. The intended recepient will get bad luck from the unfinished item.   Stabbing your needles though your yarn balls brings bad luck to anyone who wears something made from that yarn.  If you knit one of your own hairs into a garment, it will bind the recipient to you.  (?!)   When knitting a pair of socks, the second sock must be started immediately after casting off the first and finishing the first must be postponed until the knitter has time to cast-off, and cast-on the next sock at the same sitting.   Knitting as a voodoo doll — ripping out your knitting while picturing someone you don’t like is a way to “hex” them.  I’ll have to remember that last one next time I need to frog something.

I love the world of the theatre,  so rich with tradition (superstition).  When in a theatre,  I say “The Scottish play” if I have to instead of saying “MacBeth”,  I would never wish an actor good luck,  saying instead “break a leg”.   This is not done with dancers,  of course – in the world of ballet one says “merde” to wish one a good performance.   And I found an explanation of why one never whistles in a theatre! From Wikipedia:

Related to a similar rule for sailing ships, it is considered bad luck for an actor to whistle on or off stage. As original stage crews were hired from ships in port (Theatrical rigging has its origins in sailing rigging), sailors, and by extension theatrical riggers, used coded whistles to communicate scene changes. Actors who whistled could confuse them into changing the set or scenery, though in today’s theatres, the stage crew normally uses an intercom or cue light system.

Superstition – a belief not based on reason or logic.  The Oxford English dictionary tells us it is from the Latin superstitio,  literally “a standing over”, hence:  “amazement, wonder, dread, especially of the divine or supernatural”.   Is there a human need to believe in luck,  in prophesy?   An attempt to grab some control over our own fate in a world of uncertainty?

When I protested as a child,  my mother would admit,  yes,  it’s just superstition,  yes,  I know it doesn’t really mean anything,  yes,  it’s nonsense.   Now hold still and keep chewing the thread.

So, what superstitions still have an influence on your behaviour?   Do you knock on wood,  or toss salt over your left shoulder when it spills?   Wish on the first star?   Kiss under the mistletoe?   Catch a ladybug and recite a rhyme?

Me too.


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