Do you say, “bless you” when someone nearby sneezes? Or knock on wood when you mention something is going well?
Yeah, me too.
Our barn door always had a horseshoe nailed to the wall above it with the open end facing down. In New Mexico several dried cobs of Indian corn hang by our homes’ front doors.
These actions and symbols are for bringing good luck, which is defined as a blessing received by chance. Bad luck, of course, would be the opposite. We have superstitious rituals to ward off bad luck or bring good luck. Even those of us who profess not to believe in such things participate.
Horseshoes — over the door or not — are the very best good luck symbols. If you find a horseshoe you pick it up, make a wish, spit on it and then throw it over your left shoulder without looking back to see where it landed. Good luck is sure to follow.
Knocking on wood is another favorite good luck action. A person might say, “I get along fine with that mean stud horse – haven’t bucked off” while knocking on wood. If no wood is handy he might knock on someone else’s – or his own – “wooden” head.
Legend says Knock on Wood came about because some cultures believed gods lived in trees. When one asked for a favor those gods, he would lightly touch the bark of a tree. To say thanks after the favor was granted, a light knock one more time was appropriate. Another legend says Christians were offering thanks for good fortune with this Knock on Wood to Jesus Christ who died on a cross made of wood.
It you spill salt and then throw it over your left shoulder, evil spirits lurking in it will be driven away. That comes from the belief that salt is able to ward off evil spirits.
Speaking of evil spirits, the black cat cannot be ignored. I was told that my grandfather many times turned around, went back home and started his trip over again when a black cat crossed his path – even if he already was halfway to town.
Cat lovers have difficulty with this one, but in the Middle Ages – and even now – witches almost always are accompanied by black cats. Some people even believed in those days that black cats could turn into witches or demons after seven years.
Seven years comes up often in superstition lore. If you break a mirror, it’s said you’ll have seven years of bad luck. Supposedly, it takes seven years to fully rejuvenate the entire physical body.
There’s hope, though. To counter the bad luck you can take the mirror outside and bury it during a full moon.
About those sneezes. It is said that in the 6th century people were congratulated for sneezing – they were expelling evil spirits. Early Romans thought “bless you” would keep your soul safe. During the plague in 1665, the pope mandated everyone should be blessed when they sneezed since they were probably going to die.
I figure – why take a chance?
Glenda Price has been a contributing editor to New Mexico Stockman magazine since 1982. Contact her at: email@example.com