Rather than print a list of superstitious rules to be obeyed, it’s more interesting to take a look at the reasons why these outwardly strange behaviours are carefully undertaken. Superstitious beliefs often have their own internal logic, even if it’s the logic of the madhouse. We looked at some possible origins for such supernatural behaviours last week, and now it’s time to round things off with a few more.
Knock three times
Both “them” and “us” are more similar than the media would have you believe, and this extends to certain superstitious concepts of tempting fate, inviting bad luck and also warding off both of the above. We share the notion of knocking on wood (America and Russia) or merely touching it (in the UK) to deflect misfortune.
Russians who pursue this type of magical thinking will make a point of rapping three times on whatever piece of timber is to hand, whereas we in the west think that one brief connection is enough to keep fortune on track. It seems that whether East or West, the substitution of our own skulls is good enough if the correct raw material is not to hand! But why three times?
Well, this is an interesting absorption of Christian elements into pagan, magical behaviour. Three is considered a holy number because of the Holy Trinity, the all-encompassing symbol of Christian faith. Wood is an important material in the ancient religion as a source of
nature’s strength and power, so the two systems of belief sit happily side by side still; seemingly without contradiction, in a joint effort to ward of evil. If you can have the protection of two systems, theoretically. Then why not?
Interestingly some (at least in the West) also believe that phantasmal rappings heard in supposedly haunted locations may also arrive in groups of three when dark forces are present and the evil entities are mocking the Trinity itself, an unsettling experience, no doubt.
Cursed by association
We often seek to avoid adopting the behaviour of those we consider undesirable or even cursed in some way, lest we create some form of psychic connection or link that will somehow contaminate us by association. Such patterns of thought generate superstitious practices in themselves. Take for instance the Russian superstition that young women should not sit at the corner of a table, otherwise they will not marry for seven years.
The worst seats at the table are at the corners; there is the minimum amount of flat space to place your plate or rest your arms and spread out. Also it’s tricky to get ‘tucked in’ to your seat because of the barrier set by the table leg. These 2nd class positions were therefore given to the poor and socially inferior members of the congregation; societies “spare parts” in the eyes of their peers. Significantly, this included the husbandless “old maids” of the group. None that an optimistic young woman seeking a partner could (or would) identify with.
The connection between “old maids” and their corner places became reinforced to the point that young superstitious females believed that they would become cursed by adopting such undesirable seating, themselves. Mimicking the behaviour would establish a psychic connection and thereby invite the consequences; such is the logic of insanity. The women concerned would of have been indoctrinated with such a belief from childhood of course, and seen it reinforced by the behavior of their immediate family members. So it became “true”.
One thing leads to another
Interestingly, adopting a superstitious belief can lead to secondary beliefs to accommodate the first. It’s part of superstition’s own internal logic: if ‘X’ is now true, then you must also accept ‘Y’, and do ‘Z’! An example of this occurs with the Russian superstition of sitting down silently for a few minutes before you embark upon a trip (no, not to the shops!). As well as some quiet time to reflect, gather thoughts and perhaps share a few moments with family members, there are the house spirits to placate, although modern departees may have forgotten (or never have known) this important consideration.
It makes sense from an ancient point of view; when each home had spirits living within, alongside the mortals occupants. Significantly; the domovoi who dwelled behind the stove and protected the house and family, -provided that the humans honored their obligations and respected his presence, of course.
Ignorance is spiritual bliss
So, once you have accepted the supernatural presence within your home; then you had best keep the entity/entities happy, even through deception. These homely sprites were not happy when a family member left the dwelling, so a convenient way to placate them after the conspicuous preparations for travel was to simply sit calmly for a while. This lull would fool the being/s into believing that the travel was ‘off’ and that no one would be leaving after all. Peace would therefore be maintained with good luck (and no supernatural harassment) bestowed upon the traveller. You know it makes sense.