I Don’t Believe in That Nonsense . . . Gulp.
Some writing on the wall about superstition.


It’s Friday the 13th. You’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel unlucky?” Well, do ya, punk?

Dirty Harry probably wasn’t very superstitious. But are you? What are you superstitious about? Do you avoid walking beneath ladders? Or do you go out of your way to walk beneath them? Do you knock on wood?

I have a mild interest in fortune tellers–I read the fortunes in my fortune cookies, and will glance at astrology columns–though I never expect to learn anything, and no prediction has ever come true. Does that make me a fortune-telling agnostic?

As for all the other paraphernalia of degenerated paganism–black cats, cracks in the sidewalk, the number 13–nah, zero interest. I am curious about those who are interested, though. My trainer, who is from the Bahamas, said that when he lived there he saw a spirit that was captured in a barrel. How did you know it was inside the barrel? I asked. The barrel was shaking, he said. How was it captured? You put sugar around the rim, he said. (Sounds like a big caipirinha.) I was also interested to learn, from Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast, that sailors attributed magical powers to Finns, Finland being a haunt of witches.

My wife believes that if she feels something good is about to happen, it won’t. This, she says, is the origin of belief in the evil eye.

When I read “The Changing Light at Sandover,” a long poem by James Merrill, supposedly dictated by a spirit through a Ouija board, I was disgusted and alarmed. The exercise struck me as Satanic.

– Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor at National Review. His next book is Right Time, Right Place: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement.

I was born in Leesville, La., and am part Choctaw. In my family, religion and superstitious beliefs, which were sometimes indistinguishable, were extremely important influences. Once I began to think for myself, I rejected most of the family superstitions. For example, I had an aunt who convinced me that it was bad luck to have my photograph taken or be part of an odd number of people in a photograph. I grew out of those superstitions.

I was taught, however, that superstitions need not be all negative, and that one can be superstitious in a positive way. One example is what my Aunt Bert called the “rule of three.” She believed that good things or bad things happen in threes. I still believe in this “rule” and when something bad happens, I find myself being more cautious about what I do in order to avoid the second and third events.

– Ward Connerly is president of the American Civil Rights Institute and author of Lessons from My Uncle James: Beyond Skin Color to the Content of Our Character.

A few years ago I got as a gift a music box that plays the University of North Carolina fight song. We had a family ritual on basketball (and football) game days–dress up in Carolina gear (the dog, too) and open up the music box. When the Tar Heels lost two straight earlier this season, we stopped putting the sweater on the dog and kept the music box on the shelf. They haven’t lost since.

– Rick Henderson, an editorial writer at the Rocky Mountain News, blogs at Deregulator: Musings of a Tarheel Far from Carolina.

I’m what might be called a cowardly rationalist. In my faith life, I’m a pure atheist by inclination, but with preening hypocrisy: I have no difficulty praying during extreme moments . . . just in case. So it is with the supernatural. Can’t read Stephen King because monsters don’t live in basements, they just don’t. Nor do lawnmowers turn psycho and try to mow their owners. It’s all crap. However, if you ask about that antic fat man racing a black cat along the street–the animal’s grace against his lumbering panic–the answer would be me, as I try to beat him to the imaginary spot where our paths might cross. He always wins, but I claim dispensation for my effort. Then there’s that salt thing: I can only say, if you see me spill it, don’t sit behind me, even if I’m sounding off on the silliness of the ignorant folk.

– Stephen Hunter is a recovering film critic, who served time with the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post. His latest novel is Night of Thunder.

If I see something particularly beautiful and unusual in nature, such as a cobalt-blue butterfly in Central Park or a scarlet cardinal, I think that maybe something good will happen to me that day–like having an article accepted for publication. I don’t have a negative omen counterpart.

– Heather Mac Donald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

While I have no personal superstition–other than Stevie Wonder’s jam on my iPod–I am concerned about the growing number of people who, in this chaotic age, superstitiously cling to ideology.

As the conservative intellectual Russell Kirk warned, ideology claims to possess an absolute truth that can perfect human nature and attain a terrestrial utopia. The horrors of the 20th century reveal the falsity of this vision, and the lethality of its illogic.

Remember, friends: “Conservatism is the negation of ideology.” I suggest you stamp that on the horseshoe over your office doors.

On my part, I will continue to cling to my God, family, gun, and cherished way of life, as we Republicans work to restore order, justice, and freedom in this, our blessed sanctuary of liberty.

– Thaddeus McCotter represents Michigan’s 11th district and heads the House Republican Policy Committee.

I own a black cat. We cross paths daily.

– John J. Miller is national political reporter for National Review.

My main superstition is to tap my tennis bag with my tennis racquet three times before I walk onto the court to play. I do this before a match, and also on each changeover. I’m not sure how I got started doing it. At first I believed that it helped me play better and win, but over the years I’ve realized that it doesn’t. But that doesn’t really matter because, like many superstitions, it’s prophylactic: I now believe that if I don’t tap the tennis bag three times with the tennis racquet I’ll play worse. Moreover, I tap the bag because it just feels good. Here we go . . . watch the ball . . . hit out . . . kick butt . . . tap, tap, tap.

– T. Jefferson Parker is a mystery writer who lives in California and hacks away on the court when he’s not writing books. His latest novel is The Renegades.

I’m a writer: My unoriginal superstition is not to tell anyone what I’m working until I have no choice, which comes into direct conflict with the question uniformly asked, that is, “What are you working on next?” “Oh, still figuring it out . . . in its formative stages . . . putting something together. . . .” It is actually part superstition and part silly paranoia, thinking that one of those people you tell will run out and write the same book and convince your publisher not to publish yours while they’re at it. On the subject of superstition, the one that plagues me as a volunteer at an animal shelter is the black cat: Black cats are actually good luck in most cultures, and the pagan roots of the bad-luck superstition are not pretty. Let’s just give that one a rest, please.

– Matthew Pearl is the author of three historical novels: The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, and The Last Dickens, which comes out next month. He’s still figuring out what’s next and has a black cat.

Am I superstitious? Well, yes, in the petty ways that stick to a mostly secular man coming out of a culture that used to be less secular. I knock wood–more often, I knock the side of my head, on the assumption that it’s made from the same substance. I say “gesundheit” when somebody sneezes. I toss a pinch of salt over my left shoulder if I spill some. If I drop a slice of bread, I’ll sometimes kiss it when I pick it up–that’s one I know I got from my mother. But if I forget to do any of those things, I don’t make it up later and I don’t spend any time worrying about it. They’re remnants. They add a little flavor to life, which isn’t a bad thing. I can’t say that I take them seriously.

– Harry Turtledove tells lies for a living–but probably not right here, right now. His novels include The Guns of the South, The Man with the Iron Heart, and the forthcoming Hitler’s War.


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