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Superstitions: Where do they come from?
Do you think breaking a mirror will bring seven years bad luck? Do you stay at home every Friday the 13th? Knock on wood every time you say something that could tempt Fate?
We all have our superstitions. Some are so deeply ingrained that we don’t ever question them. Some are our attempt to make sense of the world around us, of events we can’t explain. Being a fan of history and research, I’ve come across the origins of many of these superstitions. Maybe if we understand them better, we might not be so afraid. Then again, there is a reason superstitions scare the daylights out of us.
The number 13 and Friday the 13th: Between 17-21 million people in the United States are affected by a phobia of Friday the 13th. Most hotels don’t even have a thirteenth floor. However, there is no written evidence of this fear before the 19th century. But the reasons actually go much further back. Some historians believe it was because the Knights Templar were rounded up and executed on Friday the 13th in 1307. An even older belief has to do with the story of the goddess Frigga in Norse mythology. A goddess of love and fertility, she was banished and labeled a witch when the Norse and Germanic people converted to Christianity. Frigga, which is where the word Friday originated, convened a meeting with eleven other witches and the devil, thirteen in all, every Friday. In Scandinavia, the day became known as “the Witches Sabbath.” And of course, one of the darkest days in American financial history just happened to be on a Friday. Writers also have a huge influence on superstition, and Chaucer wrote about “unlucky Friday” in the Canterbury Tales.
Opals: Today many of us believe that owning an opal, unless it is your birthstone, will bring bad luck. As a gem and rock collector, I avoided this stone like the plague. Ironically though, it was an author who gave opals such a bad reputation. Before that, it was considered a stone of good luck, because it possessed all the colors of the rainbow. Sir Walter Scott's Anne of Geierstein, published in 1829, changed all that. In Scott's novel, the Baroness of Arnheim wears an opal given to her by her lover. When a drop of holy water falls on it, the opal turns into a colorless stone and the Baroness dies soon thereafter. Due to the popularity of Scott's novel, people started to associate opals with bad luck and death. Within a year of its publication, the sale of opals in Europe dropped by 50%, and the superstition remains today. I am happy to say that I now own several opals, and my luck has not changed for the worse.
There are superstitions that also arise due to major disasters or war. During the French Revolution, where my book Past Her Time is set, French citizens started donning a red ribbon around their necks. The ribbon symbolized “the kiss of Madame La Guillotine” and it was believed that wearing it would prevent being beheaded by said guillotine. During the Black Plague, people carried a “pocketful of posies” to ward off the disease. I’m sure you all know the nursery rhyme.
The Romans, who gave us so many wonderful inventions and art, also gave us the idea that breaking a mirror would bring seven years bad luck. They believed that glass had the power to capture one’s soul, a belief shared by many other cultures. Breaking it would trap the soul and fragment it, leading to bad health for the person. And the seven years part? It was because the Romans believed that the physical body renewed itself every seven years, thus that’s how long it would take to recover one’s well-being after shattering a mirror.
So, what superstitions do you believe in? Will you wear an opal? Or party on Friday the 13th? I would love to hear about some of your beliefs, and where they come from.
In the midst of revolution and betrayal, can these two learn to take off the disguises and trust each other? Or will the fate of the world and time travel rest on Alex's ability to betray the one man she has come to love?
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