I’m not superstitious. But just in case…

The number 13

Recently, a colleague who studied Psychology at university told me this tale. During class one day, the tutor asked the students to raise their hand if they considered themselves to be superstitious. Only a few raised their hand. He then asked the class to think of the person that they loved most in the world and on a piece of paper to write ‘X is going to die in a horrific accident’. Not one person in the class could do it. Would you be able to do it? I know I wouldn’t, but then I admit to being a little bit superstitious so that’s ok.

What sort of powerful beings do we think we are that we could cause something terrible to happen just by writing it down on a piece of paper? For most of us, logic tells us that there is no way that writing something like that down would cause it to happen, but we have that little “Just in case” voice in our head. We daren’t even entertain such thoughts in case it triggers something to happen, let alone commit it to paper. In actual fact I’m even feeling a bit uneasy just writing about this issue. How silly is that? I’m already thinking about what little ritual I could perform to undo any possible bad luck I might have created by writing about horrible things happening to loved ones. I think I’ll hop round a one-eyed cat three times whilst reciting the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, backwards. That should do it. Just in case.

As I mentioned, I’m a little bit superstitious, and I shall now reveal my funny little ways. Feel free to join me by sharing yours. I know you have some, even if it’s just the wearing of lucky pants now and again.

1) I consider the number 3 to be lucky, and 9 even luckier because it is 3 times 3. So if I am willing something to happen or not happen I may tap something 3 or 9 times, or repeat a few words 3 or 9 times in my head. Or if for instance I had some chocolates or something, I could eat just one, but if I ate 2 then I would have to eat a third.

2) If I’m walking down the street with someone, I don’t like it if we both go either side of a lamp post or tree or whatever because I feel like we’ll end up in two different worlds, and I will even backtrack a bit to go back around the other way with them if it accidentally happens. I have other similar thoughts about entering different worlds in shops if I don’t go out the same way I came in.

3) I don’t like things to be over the edge of tables or desks, if objects are even slightly over the edge I have to push them back on, and they need to be parallel to the edge of the desk or table.

I may have more than that, but I will leave it at three because if I think of a fourth then I would have to go right up to nine, and I really don’t think I have nine. Just to clarify, those three things I mentioned aren’t carried out in any OCD kind of way. I’m not obsessive about doing these things, and if I’m not able to do them for whatever reason, e.g. if there are others around and it would be embarrassing, or if there just isn’t time, then my slight uneasy feeling of bad luck soon passes.

What I have noticed is that I am much more prone to want to do these little things at times of stress or upset, so I assume they are related to control – when I feel like certain things in my life are out of my control, I try and regain some control through these little rituals. I know it makes no sense, and if you ask me whether I genuinely believe that doing these things can create luck or undo bad luck I would have to say no, and yet at the time it satisfies a little niggling feeling inside for me.

I’m going to cross my fingers now and hope that others speak of similar things to reassure me that I am not alone in my funny little ways…


13 responses to “I’m not superstitious. But just in case…

  1. Van, football fans will know what you are talking about more than anyone. Superstitious is rife, and I’m sure its for the exact reason you say, lack of control. So yes, I would say you are spot on.

    Also, as you know Nicola’s mum died a few months back, well she had a humanist funeral. As an agnostic I was keen to speak to the service conductor about the humanism movement.

    As I’m known for asking questions I had many. I actually ended up asking her if she would be prepared to devil worship (it wasn’t an invite). Aleister Crowley, attempted the highest form of Devil worship, one that incarnates the devil himself. I asked her is she would be prepared to do that one. In the end I watered it down and asked her how she would feel about wearing the jumper of a dead person. But we concluded that as rational as people might think they are, you can normally find something illogical and mystical if you look hard enough.


  2. I am superstitious. There have been times in the past when I have been REALLY superstitious and had to repeat patters of steps walked on and doors used etc (that was a long time ago) I’m not as bad now but do find comfort in repetition. I check my drawer at work is locked by pulling it three times. There is something about three 🙂


    • Yes, I used to be worse than I am – checking things three times like you say. Mostly it was checking that things were properly switched off. I think that’s a common one, I still smile to myself when I remember my ex boyfriend used to good-naturedly rib me about it by saying things like “You’d better move the plug right away from the socket in case it leaps back in and turns itself on when we’re not looking”.


  3. Vanessa, this was great! I love your ability to get down to the very secret heart of a matter. I am not superstitious, but what I am is a little bit OCD (or maybe a lot, but I don’t want anyone to tell me so). So here’s an example for you, and a very simple one at that. (But that’s where the heart of the matter lies, isn’t it?) Playing solitaire on the computer. If two aces come up during the original deal, then I MUST play the one on the left first. If I do it out of order, I’m sure I will lose the game. Of course, the odds are I’ll lose anyway, because the odds are NEVER good. But that’s immaterial in my world 🙂 Things must be orderly, especially trivial things, since as you note, that’s sometimes if not always, all we have control over. But superstition is like praying to the Gods of Chance, which never works. They are by definition, the Gods of Chance…That said, I don’t step on cracks in the sidewalk.


    • Thanks fn2! 🙂 I think it’s very hard in some cases to draw a definite line between what is OCD behaviour and what is superstition – there are superstitious thoughts around OCD behaviour, that bad luck will be created if the rituals are not carried out. For me, the difference is partly about how much it affects someone’s life. OCD behaviours tend to have a serious affect on people’s daily lives, whereas superstitions in general don’t. The thing I mentioned about having things over the edge of tables/desks, I used to be quite bad with that, I might spot one thing slightly over the end of a kitchen counter or something, and once I had started straightening that then I would end up moving on to the next counter and the next table, straightening and lining up and and it would go on for quite a while and I’d be feeling more and more anxious as I was going through. worrying about what bad l might be creating if I didn’t get it all right. So that was on the surface a bit OCD, but I probably wouldn’t class it as that unless I had been doing it several times a day for instance. Just doing it occasionally meant that it wasn’t a big problem. It only happened when I was very stressed about other things.


  4. I’m kinda thinkin’ it would be cool to go into a different world just by walking on the wrong side of a lamp post. The going out the same way you came in for the same reason is really interesting. We have this one major superstition in our house. All Christmas decorations outside and inside have to put away by midnight December 31st or your will have bad luck in the new year. I’ve seen this one in action, so I don’t mess around with it.

    I don’t like things hanging over the edge either, but they don’t necessarily have to be paralleled.


    • I think the different world idea must have come from my love of the Narnia tales as a child – although the different world I imagine in the lamp post scenario isn’t a magical place, it’s more of a parallel universe where everything looks the same so we don’t even realise it’s happened.

      I think the people who have absolutely no superstitious feelings at all must be very much in the minority.


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  7. I was thinking about this earlier this evening while out on a walk, remembering an acquaintance I had who hated ‘backtracking’ or going over the same path as he came . . . or as in that instance, the one we took. It’s interesting to me in looking up ‘superstitions’ to find stories of people with diametrically opposite ones: having to leave by the same door or retracing a path. It occurred to me that there might be some aspect of our behavior that harkens back to times when to enter the woods could mean being utterly lost. Orientation is a survival skill after all. In terms of dislike of leaving things over-hanging a table edge: I can’t tell you how many times maneuvering around my house by passing by my hand or some part of my body has set-off a Rube Goldberg style of falling domino effect. And then bending over to pick things up, have all the pens and things fall out of my shirt pocket onto the floor. As for my friend who liked a ‘different path returning than going’, I think it as likely to have to do with his need for variety and not getting ‘stale’ on one hand (adventure vs safety), and on the other: maybe he was afraid he’d bump into his past self on the same road? Then it would, too, have been a ‘safety’ measure. Bankers are advised to alter their paths.


    • It’s a really interesting subject isn’t it. Harkening back to those old times you referred to, people must have operated a lot more from instinct rather than from logical thought. These days we have learned to operate mostly from logical thought, but I think superstitions show that instinct is often a stronger force which can override logical thought. I know perfectly well that it really doesn’t matter whether I leave by the same way or not, and yet I feel very uncomfortable if I don’t. It’s not a lasting feeling, I get over it quickly, but it bothers me quite a bit at the time.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


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