Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Bad Luck of the Irish

A broken mirror will bring you 7 years of bad luck.

One year at summer camp, when I was about 15, I dropped the same mirror 7 times within a week. Lucky me: I'll be working off the bad luck until about 2027. This does not include all the other mirrors I've broken since then, so it's quite possible that I will have bad luck for the rest of my natural life... and then some.

That is... if I actually believed in superstitions. Which I don't.

At least, I think I don't.

My mother's Irish family was very superstitious. Or as I saw it when I was young, very "rules-oriented." By that I mean that there seemed to always be some sort of rule about the oddest things.

There were, of course, the old standards:

  • "Never walk under a ladder."

  • "Don't open an umbrella in the house."

  • "If your ears are hot, it means someone is talking about you."

  • "A four-leafed shamrock (or clover) is good luck."

  • "Three butterflies together mean good luck."

  • "A cricket in the house brings good luck." (and a lot of noise)

  • "Don't step on a crack or you'll break your mother's back."

  • "If you drop a fork, it means someone is coming to visit."

  • "Death come in threes."

  • "A cat can suck the breath out of a baby."

  • "A bird in the house is a sign that death is coming."

  • "If a black cat crosses your path, you'll have bad luck."

  • "The number 13 is bad luck."
Then there were the religious superstitions:

  • "If you spill salt, you will have bad luck unless you throw some over your left shoulder into the face of the devil who is waiting there." (ultra-creepy, when you think about it)

  • "If you sneeze, someone must say 'God bless you,' to drive away the devil."
And others that were just plain odd:

  • "Find a penny, pick it up. All day long you'll have good luck." - The caveat: this rule is only valid if the penny is lying head's up. The good luck is negated if the penny's head is facing down. When I think of the fortune in pennies that I've passed up during my lifetime, just because their head's were down...

  • "Knock on wood" - If something good happens, and you want that goodness to continue, you'd better knock on a wooden object as quickly as possible or face the consequences. Heaven help you if you knock on some other substance, such as metal or a wood veneer. I once jokingly said, "Knock on plastic," and knocked on a plastic table. I thought my mother would faint.

  • "If your palm itches, it means you'll be coming into money" - I have had many itchy palms, but I'm still waiting for the money.

  • "A horseshoe hung above a doorway is good luck" - this is only valid if the horseshoe is turned upward, or the luck will run out. I discovered this when my grandmother screamed upon seeing the horseshoe she had given me hung the wrong way. I promptly took it down and never re-hung it.

  • "Pulling out a gray hair means 10 more will grow back in its place" - while not exactly a superstition, it is scary, nonetheless.
I really don't think my mother believed many of these "rules," but was instead so used to hearing them while she was growing up that she couldn't help but say them.

As for me, I don't actually believe that having a cricket in the house is good luck, and I'll do everything in my power to shoo it away. I don't like black cats, but I won't go out of my way to avoid them. I've walked under ladders, opened umbrellas in the house, and stepped on cracks, and all has been well.

I do have a pot of shamrocks that I keep because they were my grandmother's. I do say, "God bless you" when someone sneezes. And I tend not to pick up pennies that are "head's down." But these are mainly just habits, not things in which I truly believe.

Although I'm not so sure about the gray hair thing. I'm pretty sure that one is true.


Written for the 9th Edition, Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture: Irish Superstitions.

Copyright © 2008 by Elizabeth O'Neal

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Taylorstales-Genealogy said...

What a great article. I forgot about some of the superstitions I too grew up with. I remember walking, skipping, even running down sidewalks and making a point of NEVER touching a crack because I surely didn't want my mother to have a broken back. Although I don't believe in any of them I'll ratttle the superstition off when an opportunity presents itself. Funny how that is. I love your blog!

Elizabeth said...

Thanks so much, TAYLORSTALES! They're all pretty creepy when you think about it. I can't help but wonder how they originated. For a while there, I couldn't bring myself to pull out any gray hairs because it really DID seem that more were growing back! I suppose if it really were true, someone would have discovered it as a cure for baldness - just think of the possibilities! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Too funny. I had forgotten about "ears hot, someone's talking about you" and "cricket in house, brings good luck". I truly hated the crickets that got into our house in the summer. My mother never let me kill them and the noise always drove me crazy.

Colleen Johnson

Orange and Blue said...

Great post! We have a lot of those same traditions/superstitions in my Irish family, too. One I didn't see on your list was "white rabbit" should be the first words you utter on the first day of the month. Supposed to bring you luck. I still chuckle when I think of my late grandmother calling us at 12:01am on the 1st of any given month. We'd answer, groggily, "Hello?" And, she'd be on the other end of the line declaring: WHITE RABBIT! Then, of course, she'd give us a hard time about how "hello" was the first word we uttered, so we were going to have bad luck the rest of the month!!

Elizabeth said...

ORANGE AND BLUE: Wow, I didn't know about the "White Rabbit" tradition. If my family had known about it, I'm sure they would have been calling us every month to say it - not too many superstitions got by them!

COLLEEN: I hated those d%#n crickets, too! My grandmother insisted that we leave them alone, as they proceeded to chirp all night and drive us nuts. And frankly, I didn't see any changes in our luck because we were kind to crickets. We don't seem to have them here, so I don't have to let my Irish guilt get to me if I want them out of my house!