Sunday, March 28, 2010

Don't Look Now...

Reviewing some of my writing over the years, it's interesting to see how often I've utilized superstition either as foreshadowing or as a way of setting theme. It's also served me well as a plot device and a mcguffin.

Superstition---it's one of those words that everyone knows and yet struggles to define. Essentially it's an accepted notion not based on "reason, knowledge, or experience". Yet, that limited definition doesn't really do it, does it? It doesn't capture the spirit of the word of the concept. After all, we could apply that to people who form opinions based on bias without really knowing what they are talking about, especially in politics.

No, I think any use of the term needs to include references to the supernatural, to luck and prophecy. After all the word itself means to stand outside the ordinary.

As a writer, using the supernatural allows me a way into a reader's mind. Consider these superstitions about death and tell me if you don't have a slight sense of discomfort. I know some of them are absurd, but don't think about it, let it work at an emotional or affective level.



  • The smell of roses when none are present is a harbinger of death.
  • If rain is allowed to fall into an open grave, someone in that family will die within a year.
  • A bird crashing into a window, or one getting into a house is a sign of death.
  • A white moth inside a house is a sign of death.
  • A recently dead person appearing in your dreams to hold you is a sign of death.
  • If you hear three knocks and no one is there, death is close by.

Of course, it's silly, isn't it?



My superstitions? I never EVER make mention of a possible snow day at school. Even if the weatherman is talking about a foot of snow and a glance outside the window shows me flakes the size of hams, I insist on saying: "Well, I'll see you tomorrow." What's sad, is that my kids at school have taken this on as well. If someone starts to make mention, they'll panic, holding up warning hands and hushing him before he commits a grievous error.

7 comments:

Sullivan McPig said...

"-A bird crashing into a window, or one getting into a house is a sign of death.
-A white moth inside a house is a sign of death.
-A recently dead person appearing in your dreams to hold you is a sign of death."

Hmmm... if these three were true I'd be as dead as a Dodo by now or wouldn't have anyone around me as they's all croaked.

As for my superstitions:
Can't really think of any right now.
I never pass under a ladder, but that's just common sense in my opinion.

Christine Purcell said...

I don't think I'm a superstitious person, but some of those on your list would probably creep me out.

The only superstition I have is hockey related. I have to wear my toque or my team will lose. Sometimes they lose anyway. So much for superstition, I guess.

Steve Buchheit said...

I've always wondered if you put a mirror on stage during a production of MacBeth, what would happen?

Stewart Sternberg said...

Sully, don't tempt fate. You know one other sign of impending death is a guy ripping open your bathroom door with a fire axe and screaming.."H-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-r's Johnny!!!!!"

Hockey...time to put aside those Canadian pleasures and pick up a real sport. You know, curling.

The problem with MacBeth isn't mirrors...it's patent leather shoes....wait.......wait......wait.....okay now.

Jon said...

My wife's family, deeply rooted in the coal hills of Pennsylvania, brought with them the stories of mysterious flower scent and threek knocks with no one there. The big one was a bird flying into the window. But don't forget that if a picture flies off the wall or a nic-nac lands unaided in the middle of the floor, someone's done for. But the biggest of all is that things (especially concerning death) ALWAYS happen in threes. It's also not good when you see filmy black spirits floating around your ceiling. Or if a lightbulb flickers. Or if a hound howls in the night. Or if your dog stares at you when you're sleeping. Or if a cat has an unnatural interest in baby. Don't get me started on signs that the devil is near.

L.A. Mitchell said...

These are great. I've never heard of some of them. I am guilty of knocking on wood, though it's SO cliche.

Sullivan McPig said...

"You know one other sign of impending death is a guy ripping open your bathroom door with a fire axe and screaming.."H-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-r's Johnny!!!!!" "

Oh, that one I can believe! ;-)