Knock! Knock! What’s there?

Circa 1990

We like to think were not as superstitious as those who’ve passed this way before.
Our conceit is that we live in an age of reason, of logic, where the forces of magic don’t hold sway.
And we’re right, touch wood. I mean, yes, we may be conducting experiments to talk to dolphins but, then, they’re highly intelligent creatures. Trees may also have a lot to tell us so we’re trying to find ways of communicating. These are not superstitions; these are manifestations of our non-differential, non-linear, non-specific, New Age ways of rationally comprehending the universe. We may be non-sexist and non-ageist but we will have nothing to do with anything old wives tell us. (Men who are married to old wives are excused this injunction, of course.)

As an Aries, I have no belief in the powers of astrology. People born under my sign are known to be rational and straightforward. We have no time to be wondering what the silent spheres are getting up to out in space. When someone tells me they are born on the cusp, I can only sympathise. We rams have other things on our minds.
I do not wear amulets, fetishes, rings, crystals or medicine bags to ward off evil sprits and defend against bad karma. All my personal effects are contained in a pig skin briefcase made from the hide of a swine that lived a long and happy life, before dying peacefully from natural causes.
I do not talk to spirits. If you see me muttering to myself as I stand at the traffic lights, I am using my phone. If I am seen muttering to myself at the racetrack, I am tearing up dud tickets and composing imprecations for recital over the little wax effigies of jockeys I keep in my sewing basket.

However, I don’t want to give you the idea that I’m against superstitions. Far from it. I actually seek them out, encourage their acceptance and rejoice in their discovery. I remember as a kid we’d hold on to our collars whenever we saw an ambulance until we saw a dog. Don’t ask me why, but who knows what mysterious forces would be provoked if we didn’t?

I can’t remember whether it’s good or bad luck when a black cat crosses your path. The sheer absurdity of stepping out into the traffic to avoid walking under a ladder impresses me —but I still do it. That’s apart from mv occasional concentration on not stepping on cracks in the footpath, not putting shoes on a tabłe, picking up and saving pins, making a wish upon the first star I see tonight, and always jumping puddles.

Because there’s something really quite wonderful about superstitions. They may be childish, absurd, and sometimes downright dangerous, but they give colour to this grey world and soften the hard edges of existence. I don’t throw salt over my shoulder when it spills but l can understand why people do. We live in a universe whose laws are so complex they will never be understood by mortals. Cause and effect can become so totally confused that we don’t know whether we make our own luck or if it’s more to do with the number of birds sitting on the wire.

So we go around performing these little ceremonies, bopping and weaving through the world, placating spirits, fairies, leprechauns, djinni, ghosts and a host of other invisible beings. It keeps us busy and it can’t be worse than knowing nobody’s there at all. Because no one likes to admit the sky is empty, that the breeze has no whisper, the sea no murmur, that we’re alone in the vastness of space. If trying to make contact by radio signal with beings from beyond Alpha Centauri is considered more sensible than trying to get in touch with your great Auntie Mimi through the ouija board, then we’re in danger of losing our sense of perspective.

We can’t stay as children forever. We can’t go back to revive the old myths, but we should remember what they were trying to tell us. The fairies may still be at the bottom of the garden, the pot of gold still at the end of the rainbow, but how will we know if we never pause to look?

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