Saturday, July 22, 2006


I was thinking about superstitions last night when the waitress brought our fortune cookies along with the bill. My husband has a superstition about reading the fortunes in the cookies, or in fact about any kind of fortune-telling. I was thinking of a time, perhaps fifteen years ago, when a new acquaintance came to dinner. He brought his tarot cards with him and after supper proposed to do them for us. Bill performed what I can only describe as a filibuster, talking, talking, bringing up subject after subject. This was so unlike him, because ordinarily he is quiet and patiently waits his turn, that I immediately knew what he was doing – preventing the tarot card reading. It worked; Gordon went home without reading the cards. I had heard about tarot cards and was curious, but I knew that if I expressed any interest in them at all, Bill would be upset.

When I reminded him of the incident last night, he said he was remembering it too, and the word filibuster was the word he also was thinking of.

Of course he isn’t foolish enough to think that a fortune cookie would indeed be able to tell his future, but as he has explained it to me, he thinks that when people are told something about the future, that it does influence the way they live their lives. This is especially true if the fortune is bad. I reminded him that fortune cookies nowadays never have anything gloomy in them, so he read his. I have already forgotten what the cookies said.

I have superstitions too. For example, when I spill salt, I have to throw some over my shoulder. Part of doing this is so that the gods won’t think I am guilty of hubris. Perhaps going to church is superstitious too. I go regularly but occasionally miss a Sunday. However, if there is some crisis in the family, I will go for sure. My husband’s most insistent superstition is to say to me, “Be careful. Drive carefully. Call if you get into any trouble. Have you got your cell phone?” as I am going out the door on a sunny summer Sunday morning to drive the 2 or 3 miles to church. He does the same when our kids drive off after a visit home. For them he usually adds, “Do you have enough gas?” He is an exceptionally intelligent man (people routinely describe him as a genius) and well-educated (a PhD). No one describes me as a genius and I only have a BA, but I’m pretty smart. Why do we do this?

1 comment:

litlove said...

I came over to visit after reading your comment! Superstition does interest me a lot. One theory is that it is a leftover of animistic thinking - the kind of thought that's quite primitive and childlike and imagines great external forces exist that need to be appeased. It suggests the world is possibly more controlled than it is, and that we are possibly more important than we are. Well, that's one perspective. All I know is that its difficult not to follow a superstition once it's been pointed out to you (like walking under ladders or breaking mirrors)!