AMERICAN SUPERSTITIONS

(Investigator 140, 2011 September)


Do you want good luck? Here's how:
•    Wear old clothes
•    Knock on wood
•    Snap your fingers
•    Give a coin to a cripple
•    Carry an acorn with you
•    Drink at a fountain
•    Touch the hunch of a hunchback
•    When you sneeze, sneeze three times
•    Attach a horseshoe over a door
•    Stick a pin in the lapel of a friend's coat
•    Carry a crust of bread in your pocket
•    Throw coins to a beggar or into a fountain
•    Carry a rabbit's foot or a penny in your pocket
•     Watch for shooting stars until you see one
•    Bow 9 times at the moon while shaking silver coins in your pocket!
Bad luck will follow if you:
•    Find a pin
•    Spill sugar
•    Button your coat wrong
•    Hear the sound of an owl
•    Sing while playing cards
•    Cross paths with a black cat
•    Were born during an eclipse
•    Open an umbrella inside your house
•    Wear skirts that have buttons
•    Brag about your good fortune
•    Lend an umbrella or a handkerchief
•    Light three cigarettes from one match
•    Drop a card (any sort of card) on the floor
•    Look into a mirror by candlelight
•    Get trodden on the toes by a cripple
•    Let soap slip out of your hand to the floor
•    Stand a slice of cake edgewise and it falls over
•    Encounter a beggar shortly after leaving home
•    Take the last piece of bread on a plate
•    Wash blankets in months with an "r" in their name.
In its 110 pages A Brief Dictionary of American Superstitions (1965) lists hundreds of superstitions. Its lengthier entries include Amulets, Astrology, Athletes, Bees, Bible Divination, Birds, Bride, Card Playing, Cures, Dreams, Friday the 13th, Moon, Omens, Palmistry, Phrenology, and Theatre.

If you want better health, the superstitious way includes:
Or failing to regain health, you'll die more easily if your head points east!

The Dictionary defines some words you’ve probably never heard of such as:
Occasionally A Brief Dictionary cites scientific research:
Aluminium cooking utensils: There is a widespread rumor and belief that food in contact with aluminium turned to poison. Discredited by the United States Public Health Service and the American Medical Association [Nature, March 25, 1933]
"Discredited" but there’s more to be said. So let's leave the Dictionary for a moment. In the 1980s science linked aluminium to Alzheimer's — the following three quotes tell the story:
But patients with the form of dementia known as Alzheimer's disease also have abnormally high levels of aluminium and silicon in the diseased regions of their brains. (New Scientist (1986, February 27, p23)

Scientists are homing in on aluminium, the most common metal in the Earth's crust, as a key factor in the development of Alzheimer's disease… (New Scientist 1987, May 7, p28)

 Strong evidence aluminium is not the cause of Alzheimer's disease has emerged from the work of a young Australian nuclear physicist, Dr Judith Landsberg… The discovery…will help allay a global scare. (The Weekend Australian, 1992, November 7-8 — Research allays Alzheimer’s fears)
With the Alzheimer's scare laid to rest came the hip fracture scare. New Scientist reported that elderly people who had cooked vegetables in aluminium pots when they were in their twenties had twice the risk of hip fractures. People who started using aluminium cooking pots later in life, however, had no additional risk. The report suggests that aluminium affects the take-up of calcium in young bones that are still forming. Acidic foods, in particular, leached aluminium from pots into the food and put at risk people who in the 1930s to 1950s regularly ate stewed fruit. (1993, November 6, p20)

However "leached aluminium" should not be of concern. The “What’s Your Problem” section of The Advertiser responded to an inquirer worried about taking tablets containing aluminium hydroxide:
The body absorbs almost no swallowed aluminium, whether in medication or in food and drinks. The small amounts that are absorbed are efficiently removed by the kidneys…the evidence is not adequate to make public health authorities recommend any further controls on aluminium levels in food, drink or medications. (1992, July 27, p28)
Generally speaking, to be guided by superstition is foolish. The Dictionary entry "Anti-Superstition Society" tells about the Anti-Superstition Society - "composed of aldermen, judges and leaders of the business and industrial community". At their meetings they defy "the bad luck spells associated with broken mirrors, black cats, ladders, opened umbrellas, etc." Once they even met "in a mortuary and sat around an open coffin upon which stood 13 candles."


Reference:

Ferm, V. 1965  A Brief Dictionary of American Superstitions, Philosophical Library Inc.

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