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Petting the black cat on the 13th

Posted on Oct. 13, 2006

Black cats, broken mirrors, stepping under ladders all mean nothing to me. And on this Friday the 13th, I will have no sliver of fear in stepping out of my house. What’s the big deal? Today, I would happily pet the first dark-haired feline that crossed my path. And if I broke a mirror, I would blame it on my habitual clumsiness. As for walking under a ladder, I feel sorrier for the chum on top – I’ve been known to not watch where I am going. Superstitions have always been a mystery to me. I can not understand how people place so much importance on a random day or an everyday item.

Of course, millions of people around the world have superstitions they follow almost religiously. With this in mind, there must be a deeper place they originate.

As it turns out, many superstitions have historical context. I won’t dive into a full history lesson, but here’s one example. Moments before battle, the Emperor Napoleon allegedly saw a black cat before losing against the British. The French then associate a black cat with bad luck. In turn however, the British view black cats as good luck.

Superstitions also differ on culture. In Italy they fear the number 17, and in China the number four makes people tremble.

But all superstitions seem to come down to a moment in history where something went wrong and they needed an excuse.

What’s amazing about the historical foundations of superstitions is that they are still around today.

Many skyscrapers and hotels still completely skip a 13th floor. I don’t see how this could bring any comfort to people. If there are 15 floors to a building, the 13th didn’t just disappear – the 14th floor is just mislabeled.

Even though I claim to not believe in superstitions, I was surprised to see a list of folklore I do follow. Usually without thinking, I always hold my breath driving under a bridge and make a silent wish; I blow out birthday cake candles; and I know to say, “break a leg” to theater people.

All these can be considered superstitious, but to me, they are just aspects of life I learned growing-up. Proof that some superstitions have become so widely believed they are embedded in society.

Remembering my athletic days, I had several rituals before my cross-country or track races. I always had to have a certain pair of socks and I could not run until both of my feet hit my bottom at the same time while jumping with my legs bent behind me. Now I sound crazy.

Despite my protest of superstitions, I suppose everyone has a routine (perhaps a friendlier word) that makes them feel “lucky.”

However, none of these will keep me pent up in my house waiting for a day to pass or steer me away from sleeping at the top of tall building or park me at the starting line. When superstitions disrupt daily life, they become more than historically based or societal impressions, they become life. Time doesn’t stop for the chance of bad or good luck and will move on past the superstition.

Much of the belief in superstitions must come from your own mind. If you spend all your energy dodging a black cat, you may not be able to dodge that car. And after you cross under a ladder, you may be so unfocused you trip in the next pothole. Therefore in the end, it wasn’t the car or the ladder, but your own lack of attention or a simple coincidence that caused your so-called “bad luck.”

Living in fear shortchanges life experiences. Although superstitions have some significance in history, they are in the past. If everyone stopped their life to avoid situations mirroring bad luck, how could we ever move forward?

Nicole Knight, a senior journalism major, is editor in chief of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at nknight@ulv.edu.