When you believe in things that you don't understand, then you suffer. - Stevie Wonder
I don't agree with Stevie Wonder. I actually think superstitions are normal and healthy.
Like many (perhaps most?) people of East Indian descent, I am highly superstitious and I strongly believe that there are things in heaven and earth that simply cannot be explained (or denied) by modern science and technology.
Superstitions guide me throughout every single day of my life and will probably dictate my choices and behaviors until the day I die. It's not rational, nor logical, nor scientific, yet I abide by them devotedly.
But, believe it or not, I don't think my superstitions have harmed my life in any way nor gotten in the way of my happiness (others might disagree).
I have read that people with excessive superstitions likely suffer from a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I wouldn't deny that I, too, have a form of OCD - but if I do, perhaps I have learned how to manage it properly.
So, in honor of Friday the 13th, here is a brief list of my daily rituals and superstitions:
*Before I leave my apartment every morning, I check and double-check and sometimes triple-check, to make sure that all appliances are turned off, windows are shut, the stove is off, and faucets are closed. I also make sure that my TV set (which I make sure is turned off) is nonetheless set on 'Channel 7 (seven being my lucky number).
*I greatly fear the numbers 5 and 6. In Christian mythology and lore, the number 6 (or 666) is the mark of the beast, the devil; while the number 5 also has some sort of association with the devil. Ironically, I am neither a Christian nor do I believe the devil even exists - yet, I am fearful of these numbers.
For example, I have refused to rent apartments that were on the fifth or sixth floors of a building.
*In connection with the number 5 and 6, I am (no surprise) a big practitioner of numerology. I am always counting up numbers in various daily activities - and if a particular number adds up to 5 or 6, I become greatly concerned (although in most cases, there is little I can do about it).
*Seven is my lucky number (which, from what I gather, is rather conventional). I'm not sure of the origin of this particular superstition, but it seems to work for me.
For example, the numbers of my birth date add up to 7, so perhaps why I adhere to this belief. I always count up the digits of a particular date -- if they adds up to 7, it will likely be a good day. For example, Friday the 13th of April 2012 is 4 + 13 + 2012, which if you add up all the individual digits equals 4. Since I have no particular fear of 4, it's likely to be a neutral day.
Confused? Well, it's not confusing to me at all since I've been following these rules for so many years they are second nature to me.
*I also greatly fear Tuesday. In classic and ancient mythology, Tuesday was associated with Mars, the God of War, or the 'Red planet.' Red is associated with blood, violence and death. I think Indian mythology also has some similar grim warnings about Tuesday. Thus, when I combine my fear of Tuesdays with my fear of the numbers 5 and 6, I am absolutely terrified of Tuesdays which numerologically add up to 5 or 6.
Scoff if you must, but let me point out to you that Sept, 11, 2001, fell on a Tuesday and which numerologically added up to 5.
*As I live in New York City, I ride the subways every day - this mundane activity also is imbued with superstition and ritualistic behavior.
For example, each subway car has three doors - one in the front, one in the center and one in the rear. I always enter a subway car through the third (or rear) door - without fail. When I am at my usual subway stop, I know exactly where to stand on the platform, such that I can easily enter through the rear door.
In unfamiliar subway stations, I often find myself standing in the wrong location -- which prompts me to race over to the right location so I can enter through the correct door, or, if I am too late, leads me to wait for the next train, (Ok, I admit, this superstition might actually be harmful).
Also, it doesn't matter which car I enter, but I have to walk through the third door of any given car.
Why do I favor the third door?
I think long ago I somehow associated the third door with connoting a good day. What probably happened (and which I can't remember) is that perhaps I entered in the middle or front door one day and then had some kind of unpleasant experience either on the train or later at work. In any case, I made the illogical decision that the door I enter will influence the course of subsequent events.
I have many other superstitions - too numerous to mention. However I am quite comfortable in my irrational fears and behaviors. I know that there are people with extreme forms of OCD who are basically so paralyzed by fear that they can hardly get out of their house and have anything like a normal life. I'm not that bad at all.
Interestingly, some of the most superstitious people I have ever met are from Italy and Greece.
I wondered about this since in the Western (Christian) civilization, superstitions are generally considered backward and unsophisticated. Indeed, some fundamentalist Christians regard such behavior as downright Satanic. But then I realized that when Christianity spread across Europe, it could not stamp out some of the Pagan beliefs and rituals of the native peoples. Hence, the Italian, Sicilian and Greek obsession with curses and the evil eye.
Also, a great many professional athletes are highly superstitious. One of the most prominent was probably Wade Boggs, the baseball star who won many batting championships primarily for the Boston Red Sox, He had a large number of rituals that he went through before, during and after every game. But given that he had a spectacular career that ultimately led him to the Hall of Fame it doesn't appear that his irrational behavior hurt him in any way.
I think I'm in good company.
In case you're wondering I have no fear of Friday the 13th at all (keep my fingers crossed).
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.