The Art of Living Superstitiously (Happy Friday the 13th!)

It's not just Friday the 13th. Any day can bring back luck, unless you avoid the obvious traps.

Several summers ago, as we finished loading up the car for a two week California vacation, the unthinkable happened. Just as I set the alarm and turned the key to lock up the house my husband announced that he had to go back to retrieve the cell phone he had forgotten. Not possible, I told him. I’ve already turned the key, and if we step back in now, the plane will crash and we will die.

He rolled his eyes, politely asked me to get out of his way and re-entered the house.

Certain that we will never land in San Francisco, I held on tight to all my boys throughout the six-hour flight and tried to think of how I can become a better person in the unlikely event that I survive this trip.

Where I come from, the worst luck comes when you return for something you have forgotten. Doing so means that your travel guardian angels have taken leave and you are on your own.The only way around the looming catastrophe is a ritual of counter-measure, which admittedly looks a little goofy to observers—it involves looking in the mirror, spitting at yourself three times, and then making a funny face, which makes even the most attractive people look a little like apes.

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That awful day so disturbed was I at my husband’s brazen dismissal of the warning that I forgot the countermeasure. I was prepared for the worst but hoped for the best.

We did land in San Francisco, and we even made it to the hotel unscathed, but I knew I wasn’t quite out of the woods.

The bad luck took its time and struck me later in the evening, in the bathroom, when I was putting on my make-up. Just as I clinched the lashes on my right eye with a curler my husband asked if I was ready to go. I turned my head to say “no,” and felt a stinging and unfamiliar pain buzzing along my eyelid. My poor eyelashes – all of them, trapped in the curler – were ripped out with the sudden turn of the head, leaving my eye embarrassingly naked and me almost crying in pain.

At a local Sephora the next morning where I was looking through a selection of fake eye-lashes the sales attendant looked at me with pity and asked what happened.

“I didn’t spit three times at the mirror or make a funny face. That’s what happened,” I told her.

It’s hard for the superstitious to be taken seriously in this country. Too easily affected by the rational thinking of the Enlightenment, Americans tend to think that superstitions are generally silly in their hoariness and lacking in utility.

The only exception I ever observed was the strange fixation on Friday the 13th as the day that is more likely than any other to bring bad luck.

Any day can bring back luck, I assure the worriers, unless you avoid the obvious traps, which include (in addition to the temptation of returning for something forgotten): whistling in the house (you’ll be poor), walking around your home in socks but without shoes or slippers (someone you love will die), placing a purse on the floor (your will be poor), pouring wine with a hand twisted backwards (someone, probably the pouree, will die), telling others how lucky THEY are, (they will die after becoming poor), saying that YOU don’t believe in superstitions, (you too will die, most likely in poverty), or the worst transgression, celebrating your birthday before the actual date.

I never miss the opportunity to tell skeptics how my second cousin had her 70th birthday party in advance and then suffered a stroke immediately thereafter. Best not take any chances.

Yes, people may look at you kind of funny. They may ask about the voodoo dolls around your house or inquire why you yelp in fear every time someone reaches over for a goodbye hug from the other side of the threshold (the latter means you’ll never meet again). Loved ones may snap at you every now and then and suggest you get help. But, at least you will always know you’ve done your best to keep away the evil eye.

As for Friday the 13th, remember that the number 13 is not ominous in every culture, and neither is Friday, so you can just go ahead and dismiss it as the vestigial folk delusion that it is.

[Photo Credit: Everett Collection/]

Do you have any book-related superstitions? Share them in the comments!

About Julia Serebrinsky

Julia Serebrinsky is a book editor, ghostwriter, and a mother of feisty twin 10 year old boys.

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