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Friday 13th - how superstitious are you?

Saluting magpies, staring at full moons and walking around ladders - these superstitions really are a nuisance, writes Geraldine Gardner

Geraldine Gardner


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DONALD Trump clearly doesn’t suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia – an irrational fear of the Friday the 13th - because that is the day he visits the UK.

The superstition surrounding the date is thought to go back to the Last Supper, where 13 sat at the table – Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples.

The union of day and date has also been traced back to King Philip IV of France arresting hundreds of Knights Templar on Friday 13 October 1307.

They were eventually burned at the stake and, according to tradition, the curse they put upon their captors ensured every subsequent Friday the 13th meant bad luck to one and all.

But superstitions and old wives tales generally have survived over the centuries and continue to vex.

For instance, what is it about magpies that mean I have to do a weird kind of salute and mutter a rather embarrassed ‘good morning Mr Magpie’ in order to banish any bad luck that seeing a single one of the thieving black-and-white feathered friends will inevitably bring upon me?

I was strictly a Blue Peter girl growing up, so why do I hear the theme tune of ITV’s rival offering, ‘One for sorrow, two for joy’ playing over in my head when I see a magpie?

Frustratingly, I haven’t yet worked out whether having saluted the purveyor of misfortune, I have then cancelled out any ‘joy’ that might come my way when I see his mate wandering around behind him.

To be on the safe side, I have to go through the whole rigmarole again, much to the amusement of my family.

Neither have I seen six magpies gathered together, so the pot of gold still eludes me and I’ve no idea what the significance is of seven ‘for a secret never to be told’.

Would that be a secret I have that I mustn’t pass on, or a secret someone else will never tell me? If it’s the latter, I’m never going to know anyway, so it makes it pretty pointless.

These superstitions really are a nuisance. Generally speaking, I am a sane, rational person.

When I see a ladder I choose not to walk under it simply because there’s more space to walk round it.

I’m not bothered when a black cat crosses my path and the number 13 holds no fear for me.

I passed my driving test on the 13th, the first house I owned was number 13 and one of my children was born on the 13th, and yet...

For years I have looked at the moon, crescent, half or full, and merely marvelled at the mysteries of the universe.

That is until a few years ago when someone told me it was bad luck to look at the full moon through glass. Whoa, hang on.

You mean looking at a full moon through the window will bring plague and pestilence upon me?

Now if I catch sight of that particular orb, I try desperately to convince myself that it isn’t a full moon at all and keep staring at it to spot the little bit that is still in shade, which means I’m safe... for 24 hours at least.

On the first of the month I am a little bit annoyed if I forget to say ‘white rabbit’ before uttering anything else.

I have absolutely no idea when that started, or who told me it was a good idea, but it has become a subconscious part of my routine.

Perversely, I don't have a rabbit’s foot, I’ve never seen a four-leafed clover and I’m always amused when people clutch their ‘lucky mascot’, paranoid that without it they will not succeed in life.

I don’t set much store by horoscopes and, if I break a mirror, I just about manage to ignore the nagging feeling that seven years bad luck will follow.

Incidentally, I’m not in the habit of breaking mirrors, but it has happened.

One piece of good news, though, when I was Googling old wives tales, I came across this: if you accidentally break a glass you get seven years good luck. So smash a mirror then innocently knock a glass over, and you’re in the clear.

But (there has to be a but) I do find that whenever I have an itchy palm I come into money – whether it’s a 10p piece lurking at the bottom of my pocket, or a money-off voucher from the supermarket.

Although again, my extensive Googling informs me that it’s only if the right palm is itching, the left is something different altogether. Or was it the other way around?

Googling is a bad idea. I found one website that had pages and pages of superstitious actions and events – I willed myself not too look at it, I really can’t face taking on any more stupid rituals.

None of it makes sense and yet such superstitions have been handed down over the centuries and will no doubt continue for years to come.

In the meantime, as I throw some spilt salt over my left shoulder, whatever happens during President Trump’s visit, he might be hoping he gets touched by a chimney sweep as he steps on to British soil… 

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