It’s Friday the 13th! Watch out for black cats, ladders, spilled salt, broken mirrors, & all that stuff.
You aren’t superstitious, you say?
Have you ever said something, then knocked on wood to keep from jinxing yourself? Passed by a penny on the sidewalk because it was tails up? Saved a four-leaf clover that you found?
Superstition is so ingrained in our culture—in most cultures, in fact—that we may not even notice that it’s there. But those of us who live in the South know that superstition is alive and well, and we aren’t ashamed to admit it. In fact, surveys have shown the South to be the most superstitious region of the United States, with well over 40% of the population admitting to belief in some superstitions.
Here are a few of my favorite Southern superstitions:
#1 Never leave by any door other than the one you came in or you’ll never return.
I know some people who hold hard and fast to this rule. My problem would be remembering which door I came in through.
#2 If a knife is given as a gift, the one who receives the gift must give a penny in return, or the relationship will be severed.
This actually happened one Christmas when I was a child. Someone got a pocket knife for Christmas (this is the South, giving weapons as gifts isn’t that unusual), and I remember them having to go find a coin to give in return to protect the relationship.
#3 If you let someone sweep under your feet, you’ll never marry.
I can remember my grandmother telling us this one lots of times. But I can also remember several times when I lifted my feet to let someone sweep under them and here I am, twenty years married, so . . .
#4 Painting the ceiling of your porch “haint blue” will keep evil spirits out of your house.
I’m not sure where you find haint blue—I’ve never come across it in the paint samples at Lowe’s. But if you can find some, be sure to paint your porch ceiling, or some other part of your entryway, with it to keep out those pesky haints.
Haints, if you’ve never come across the term, is Southern for haunts or spirits. According to folklore, evil spirits can’t cross water, so if your entry is painted this shade of blue, they’ll be fooled into thinking they can’t enter your house. So . . . apparently evil spirits are also not very bright.
#5 Don’t place a hat on the bed.
I vaguely remember hearing this one when I was growing up. From what I can find, it seems to originate from the idea that evil spirits lived in people’s hair—um, okay—and if you left your hat on the bed the evil spirits would transfer to your bed. But given the choice, I’d rather have them on the bed than in my hair. Kind of gives new meaning to gonna wash that man right out of my hair, doesn’t it?
There’s an alternative explanation having to do with the spreading of head lice, but I’m not going to touch that one.
#6 If your ears burn, someone is talking about you. If your nose itches someone is coming to visit. If your palm itches, you’re going to come into money.
Now these I’ve heard a million times over the years. In fact, my mom will often answer my calls with “were your ears burning?”, meaning I had called when someone was talking about me. Usually her telling my dad I haven’t called in a while. Yet, never once have my ears actually burned.
Now, I admit there have been times when my nose was itching and company arrived shortly thereafter. But considering that pretty much everyone around here has seasonal allergies, this one isn’t really that much of a gamble.
This spring, I had a raging case of poison ivy. All over the palms of my hands, between my fingers. It was utter misery. I ended up having to get a shot to make it go away. Did I win the lottery? Not yet. But I’m ever hopeful.
#7 If you have a sudden chill, someone is walking over your grave.
This is another one I heard a lot growing up, but never really gave much thought to. When I did finally stop to think about it and realized it meant someone was walking across the place where I will eventually be buried, I found it much more disturbing.
Especially now that, thanks to end-of-life planning, I know exactly where my grave will be. Maybe. The thought of being trapped in a small box is one of my worst nightmares, and I keep telling my kids that they are going to have to bury me Snow White style. That is, above the ground in a glass coffin. If I’d lived in Victorian England, I’d for sure have had one of those graveyard bells. Actually, that’s not such a bad idea . . .
#8 If you set an empty chair to rocking, it will attract spirits. Or, alternately, you will fall ill within the year.
I don’t know about attracting spirits, but an empty chair rocking is certainly enough to creep me out. Have you ever read The Woman in Black? There’s not much that’s more terrifying than an empty chair rocking.
Case in point: Years ago my cousin was going up the driveway toward his house. His then four-year-old daughter made some remark about “the woman on the porch.”
There was no one on the porch.
“Where is she?” he asked, just to humor her.
“In the chair,” she replied, just as the empty chair on the porch began to rock.
Yes, it could have been the wind. Would I have gotten out of the car? Oh hell no. I would have thrown that car in reverse so fast we’d all have had whiplash.
#9 If a snapping turtle bites you, he won’t let go until it thunders.
Thank the lord, I’ve got no personal experience with this one. Which is surprising, considering that when we were kids, my brother and I caught one in the creek and put in an old milk crate. My dad says when he saw us dragging it across the yard, the turtle was doing its best to bite us through the milk crate, but he intervened before we had the chance to put that whole thunder theory to the test.
#10 Hanging an empty bottle from a tree in your front yard will capture roaming spirits and keep them from coming in your house.
Unless they come to the back door? Maybe hang one there too, just to be safe. While I’ve never done this, I have seen houses with bottles hanging in the trees. I assumed they were just there to be pretty, with the sunlight glinting off of them, until I heard about this superstition.
I kind of want to give this one a try. What happens when you catch an evil spirit in a bottle? Can you see it in there? Do you have to cork the bottle to keep it in? Will it grant you three wishes? I’ll let you know what I find out.
#11 No haint blue paint to be found? Don’t worry, leaving a child’s dirty handprint near the door will serve the same purpose and keep those pesky haints away.
Incidentally, it will also keep me away. Go watch The Blair Witch Project if you’re wondering why. The next best thing to creepy little kids in horror movies? Creepy little handprints left behind by creepy little kids.
Also, I think I’d rather just risk the haints. Dirty handprints on the wall isn’t really the vibe I’m looking for in home decor. Just ask my kids.
#12 When someone dies, be sure to cover all the mirrors in the house.
We don’t hear this one as much anymore, probably because so few people die at home, but this is to prevent their spirit from becoming trapped in the mirrors. Hey, maybe that’s how Bloody Mary got stuck in there . . .
Sidenote: I don’t look in mirrors in the dark. Not a superstition exactly, just paranoia. I’m convinced that if I look into a dark mirror, I’ll see something I really don’t want to see standing behind me.
#13 Eating black-eyed peas and greens on New Year’s Day will bring good luck and wealth in the coming year.
This one is pretty well-known across the South, and some restaurants, especially those that specialize in down-home country cookin’, have New Year’s Day specials featuring them. I think we have eaten them a few times on New Year’s, but isn’t something we’ve done often.
Another harbinger of good luck is to have a dark-haired man be the first to enter your home in the New Year. Tall, dark, & handsome? I kind of see where they’re going with this one . . .
On the other hand, I think it may be related to an old Scottish custom that says your fortune for the coming year is tied to the first man to cross your threshold in the New Year, and that the worst fortune comes if it’s a red-haired man. Seems a little unfair.
So, there you have it. A few more things to worry about this Friday the 13th. Oh, and did you know there’s a full moon tonight, too? Better get those silver bullets and keep them handy.
Have you heard these superstitions before?
What superstitions does your family have?