Superstitious? Me? Surely Not!

This week marks the time the Romans used to call the Ides of March and, thanks to the treacherous murder of Julius Caesar by several of his senators, and the rather sensational playwriting of Shakespeare, it's a time many people feel forbodes tragedy and disaster. As it happens 'Ides' was purely the Roman term for the middle of the month, when monetary debt was settled. In the last 400 years we've come to regard the Bard's soothsayer's warning: "Beware the Ides of March!" as a warning about the coming of something terrible, rather than it just being the date on which the murder would happen. To a Roman, she might just as well have said: "Beware the 15th of March". Each month had it's own ides and the Ides of March were not regarded as particularly unlucky. Unless, I suppose, you were the about-to-be assassinated Caesar. And throughout history it doesn't really seem to have been any more unlucky than any other ide, or day for that matter.

Coupled with this, the media have been full of the so-called Extreme SuperMoon which takes place on the 19th of the month. At this time the Moon will be the closet it has been to Earth for 18 years and it's a day on which, so many people claim, the planet is more susceptible to natural disasters like severe weather, volcanic eruptions and powerful earthquakes. But before  you all shout "Ah-hah! Earthquakes" given the events of the past week in Japan, other people say there is no connection whatsoever. They claim that this is purely in the minds of the astrologers who seek to find astrological reasoning behind everything that happens. However, there is some science behind this theory. We all know that it is the gravitational pull of the Moon that controls our planet's tides. The closer the Moon to Earth, the stronger the gravitational pull. This creates higher tides and greater extremes between high and low tide.The proponents of the SuperMoon theory claim that this, in turn, affects the planet in other ways during the 6 days either side of the Full Moon. They remind us, too, that there are a number of SuperMoons during each year. And state that some kind of natural disaster happens on each occasion. The one in March 2011 is simply an extreme example of this. Now I'm no scientist (a 35 percent mark in my 3rd Year Chemistry exam attests to that!), so I don't know how likely this sounds. Perhaps it is the case, but perhaps there are just as nasty natural disasters occuring when there is no SuperMoon at all?

But it is a fact that over the past few weeks, we've probably all been wondering when the current wave of turbulence and tragedy that seems to have gripped the world, might end. And just what is coming next? You'd think, if you were at all superstitious, that someone had shattered a very, very large mirror. 

Not that I really subscribe to that theory. I'm not what I'd call a superstitious woman. I don't read horoscopes, or visit fortune tellers. And while I have items that are remarkably special to me, that remind me of times and people I cherish, and which I'd be devastated to lose, I don't actually believe that my very life depends on carrying them everywhere I go. Nothing like being diagnosed with asthma to give you a very real sense of the things you truly rely on (my inhaler is the only thing I'm guaranteed to have with me at all times). But I know that, just like everyone, I'm prone to all sorts of superstitious behaviour. 

This is hardly surprising. My Nana must have been the most superstitious person on the planet. She claimed that her years of bad luck (and although she didn't always have an easy life, I don't remember her being any more unlucky than anyone else) was down to her once refusing to buy some 'lucky heather' from what she called a gypsy at her front door. As the disatisfied lady turned to leave, she cautioned by Nana: "A curse on you!". After this, every bit of bad luck that went Nana's way was down to that one moment. And she became determined to change her ways. My Dad speaks of often returning from school to find Nana in the garden chatting with a visiting gypsy over a pot of tea. Nana lived with us for over a decade and I, too, recall the occasional gypsy calling at the door. Although Nana no longer invited them in, she always bought a piece of lucky heather or some clothes pegs for fear of extending her perceived spell of misfortune. 

But Nana's superstition stretched beyond gypsy curses. And in some of them, she was obsessive. She would throw salt over her shoulder, should she accidentally spill some on the floor. Should she drop a glove, she would refuse to pick it back up again and wait for someone to do it for her. She'd cringe if anyone attempted to put up an umbrella indoors. And the thing is, when you live with someone so ritualistic about their superstitions, it begins to rub off. To this day I cannot bring myself to put an umbrella over shoulder height when I'm indoors. It's as if Nana's own hand is pressing down on the darned thing if I try!

And I am, thanks to Nana's urgent interventions, also completely unable to place a new pair of shoes on a table. Anywhere. A decade and a half after she passed away, I am still left with this sense of impending doom should I not heed her warnings. I have to admit a part of this might be me simply acceding to her traditions in her absence, but this aside, there are certain things that even I, as pragmatic as I like to think I am, either cannot bear to do, or am compelled towards. And that without really knowing the reasons for the superstition in the first place. So this week I decided to find out. It seems that the shoe thing comes from the tradition of placing the deceased shoes on top of their coffin. Or at least that's one theory. Because that's the problem with these superstitions. They are so ingrained in our culture that the true origins are hard to divine. Most of them, of course, are almost habitual, without really having any idea of the misfortune we are supposedly risking if we disregard the warnings. And yet that doesn't really seem to matter. There are millions of otherwise sensible, logical people who find themselves, occasionally at least, stepping over the cracks in the pavement.

And, if you think you don't follow any superstitions, let me ask you this? Do you cross your fingers when you think you're tempting fate, or perhaps do that behind your back when you have to tell a white lie? (Protects you from bad spirits) When you got married did you follow the 'something old, something new, something borrowed & something blue' tradition? (Ensures a happy marriage by reminding you of your ancestors, your new life, the support of your family & friends and represents either your joy or your purity). Do you avoid walking under ladders? (to avoid the evil spirits that lurk there) Or put a coin in a new purse before giving it as a gift? (To ensure it's never empty) Perhaps you have a horseshoe nailed above your door? (It holds the good luck for all those who reside there) Or throw a money spider over your shoulder rather than kill it? (Doing the latter would risk losing your money) I know I do. And I also know that none of them make much sense, of course. Except perhaps not walking under ladders, but that has more to do with  objects that might drop on your head than lurking evil spirits! But nonetheless, I'm not convinced that, in my case at least, I don't hope or expect that things will just run more smoothly if I do these things.

And if you're still not convinced that you're at all superstitious, think about this. How many times a week do you touch wood? Or even just say the words? And how often do you say: "Bless you!" when someone nearby sneezes? You might not be wishing God's protection on someone showing the first symptoms of the Plague, but that is, after all, where it originates.

And when it comes to it, if the past few days have taught us anything, it's that there are some things that no amount of preparation can prevent, so is it any wonder that we all call on a little extra help from the Fates?