Magic and Superstitions
So, concede to me for a few minutes that world views are codified into religions and philosophies and then linger on as superstitions before they are lost to history. And concede that this is how one’s family might be thoroughly Christian and still hanging horseshoes over doors or naming children after long-dismissed gods.
Now, see again, how we end up in that familiar, peculiarly American, spot, where the superstitions of the Christian Europeans mix with the religions of the Africans and draw in the medicinal knowledge of the indigenous people, to get our particular vernacular beliefs. If we see each folk practice as both drawing on its own traditions and adapting the useful beliefs of others, it ought not to surprise us to see The Long-Lost Friend or The Black Pullet in the homes of African American root workers.
If you prefer a purely rational way of looking at the world, it’s easy enough to see how curses work. Say you were my lover and I was tired of you, but fighting and throwing you out of my house seemed to do no good. Back you came, with your sorry ways, charming your way into my bed, even though I knew it was bad for me.
Easy enough to go down to Schwab’s and pick up some Hot-foot Powder. Easy enough to circle it around your bed or around your house or across your front walk, where you’re bound to step on it.
And, of course, easy enough for you to see it. And since you know me, you can guess what it is. Then, rationally speaking, it’s just a matter of time before your own mind starts to working, making connections between every little bit of ill-wind and what I’ve done to you.
But screw rationality. What’s really going on here? Even if the label on the prepackaged shit might guarantee that the powder will work, anyone who does anything for you will never make that guarantee. Instead, you might have to come back again and again to find something that works for you. True enough, if your client is paying you, this is a great money-making strategy. But let’s choose to believe that most folks who are doing this believe in what they’re doing.
So, again, what’s really going on here?
Things are always happening to us, forces are always working upon us. Luck is fate is what’s happening. In and of itself, it’s neither good nor bad, it just is. Think of it this way: say some young yahoo is going around with a bb gun shooting out street lights and the windows of people’s homes. Say you have a couple of young yahoos for sons, but, as far as you know, they don’t own a bb gun. Your tail light is reaching the end of its life.
Why does it burn out when you are in the Walmart parking lot and not closer to home? Why does the cop chose to pull you over and not the person five minutes in front of you who has some other minor problem? Why did your yahoo son leave his bbs in your glove compartment, so that they could spill out all over the floor when you reached for your registration?
What if you thought there was something you could do, a gesture you could make, a trinket you could carry that might move luck in your direction? The tail light burns out just as you’re pulling in your driveway. The cop only wants to tell you its out and lets you go back into Walmart for a bulb; he never asks for your registration. Your yahoo sons don’t fill your glove compartment with ammunition in the first place. Even if it only might work, even if you think it’s just superstitious nonsense, aren’t you tempted?
So, say my luck is always having a bed full of charming sorry lovers who do me wrong. Maybe it’s a result of generations of my people making commitments to people that aren’t the best choice for them. Maybe I associate commitment with being trapped in some small Midwestern farming hamlet, and so I look for people to whom I will never commit. Maybe there are many understandable psychological, rational reasons for why things are how they are. Family history, personal history, the weight of them pushes my luck in a certain direction.
But no ones fate is set. The future is only what should happen, based on what has happened and what is happening. Should. Not must, but should. (See how we carry this with us into our “rational” beliefs? Are you repeating damaging patterns? Go to a therapist or a psychiatrist or a priest and get some guidance. Let them help you get beyond this.) And there might be something I can do to change my luck. Depending on how deep the rut I’m stuck in is, I might have to do more than one thing, I might have to do something enormous and dangerous. But I can change my luck.
But another facet of this is even more interesting to me-the horseshoes, the hex signs, the St. Christopher’s medals. It suggests you can cultivate or attract good luck, that you can get in the habit of having good luck.