Soon it will all be coming out of the woodwork … black cats, bats, jack-o-lanterns and all things that go bump in the night. Halloween is a fun holiday with not a lot of emotions attached to it like Christmas and Thanksgiving. It is also a time when superstitions become a little more real and, whether we are big kids or little munsters, we pay a little more attention to night sounds and anything out of the ordinary.
Halloween is the holiday that celebrates superstitions. What exactly are they? Officially, they are explained as any belief or action that is inconsistent with science and is aimed at bringing good luck and avoiding bad luck. Is there any logic behind them? Probably not, but our brains are wired for cause and effect and, like anything else, if we believe something long enough then it becomes real. There is no rational reason why we pick on black cats as opposed to orange ones, ladders as opposed to anything else or singling out the number 13.
Most people, when asked, will say they are not superstitious. However, the numbers say otherwise. For example, 51% of us knock on wood to bring good luck, 16% will not open an umbrella indoors, 13% carry a good luck charm and 10% avoid black cats. Yep, you guessed it, I am one counted in these percents. After all, if in doubt, better to be safe than sorry!
Here are some of the more popular superstitions that run rampant this time of year. Only the brave read on…
1. Jack O Lanterns. They are everywhere this time of year. You have to admit they add a festive glow to our front porches and lawns. It is said that a burning candle inside a jack-o-lantern on Halloween night keeps evil spirits and demons at bay.
2. Ghosts. Whether you believe these exist or not, all of us at one time or another have “heard” footsteps behind us when no one else was around, thought we “saw” something whisk past our eyes in the dark of night or “felt” a presence near us. Depending on how they are perceived, they can be the basis of fun antics for Halloween or something a lot more scary. The story goes that if you see a ghost you should walk around it nine times and it will disappear. OK, seriously, who wants to get that close?
3. Footsteps. Closely associated with ghosts are footsteps in the night. The advice here is if you hear them behind you on this night, don’t look back. It may be the dead following you. Turning back could mean that you will soon join the dead.
4. Black cats. I have to admit that this one has gotten its grips in me. I have actually turned around in the road to avoid a black cat crossing my path. If you think this is crazy and also happen to know me, you will know that there is no way I want to even flirt with the notion of inviting any more bad luck into my world. Black cats have often been associated with witches’ familiars. If you cross paths with a black cat on Halloween it could be a sign that a witch is nearby. If you hurt a black cat on Halloween, you’ll have seven years of bad luck.
5. Bats. This season would not be complete without the mention of bats. Though bats are actually good to have around because they dine on mosquitoes and other non-desirable insects, they are also associated with evil, scary and other undesirable creatures this time of year. If you see bats flying around your house on Halloween — inside or not — it is a sign of ghosts and spirits nearby.
6. Ladders. This is another one of mine, I don’t walk under ladders. Again, why tempt fate? The reasoning behind this goes that, before they invented gallows, criminals were hung from the top rung of ladders and their spirits were believed to linger underneath. It was bad luck to walk under one and pass through the triangle of evil ghosts and spirits.
7. Broken mirrors. It was always said that if you break a mirror you are destined to seven years of bad luck. There is an ancient myth that an image in a mirror is our actual soul. A broken mirror represents the soul being astray from the body. To break the spell of misfortune, the person who broke the mirror must wait 7 hours (one for each year of bad luck)before picking up the broken pieces and burying them outside in the moonlight.
8. Halloween birthdays. Children born on Halloween are said to have the gift of second sight, which includes the power to ward off evil spirits.
9. Coffins. Some people are sadistic and will scare others by lying in a coffin. Not funny because it is believed this action invites death. Even more eerie is the belief that no item of clothing belonging to a living person should ever be placed on a corpse when it is placed in a coffin, so as it rots in the grave so will the rightful owner decline toward death.
These are some of the “darker” superstitions, especially those associated with this time of year.
However, there are some lighter fare in the superstition department that is said to bring good luck. Almost everyone has thrown salt over their shoulder to put them on the positive side of luck. Many people carry a rabbit’s foot or other good luck charm. How many times have you kept a 4-leaf clover until it withered?
Horseshoes have always been said to be a symbol of good luck, but that luck is tied to a couple of conditions. First, the horseshoe must be lost by a horse (obviously) and found by you. Secondly, when it is hung, the open end must face up so as not to spill the good luck.
As for the number 13, the jury is still sitting on the fence on this one. Half the people consider it lucky and the other half totally avoid it. Many buildings have no 13th floor and some people will not go anywhere on the 13th of the month, especially if it falls on Friday the 13th. I used to be one that avoided it until my youngest grandson told me, “But Grandma, I was born on the 13th.” What can I say?
Superstitions, either you believe in them or you don’t. Whichever way you tend to lean, they can certainly add a flair to life, especially at this spooky, bump-in-the-night time of year.