Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year's Superstitions

The website for Merriam-Webster defines a superstition as "a belief or way of behaving that is based on fear of the unknown and faith in magic or luck : a belief that certain events or things will bring good or bad luck."  One of the days that is most likely to have superstitions surrounding it is New Year's Day.  Below, I will list just a few of the popular superstitions for this first day of the year.


It's hard to imagine a quiet New Year's Eve - one without fireworks, noise makers, singing, etc.  In fact, if you've ever experienced a simple New Year's Eve without all the commotion, you know that it's pretty anti-climactic, almost depressing.  But what is with all the ruckus and roar?  As it turns out, all the carrying-on that happens on this night is traditionally done to scare away evil spirits.  So, when the time comes this year, make sure to cause quite the stir - it could help you out immensely in the upcoming months!


Whether it's just a peck on the cheek or the biggest smooch you've ever seen, a kiss is a wonderful way to show someone you care.  And not only that, but if you get one at the stroke of midnight on New Year's, it will ensure that you have plenty affection to last the whole year.  Oh, you say you're alone this year?  As long as you have a pet like a dog, cat or bunny nearby, their mojo will work too.  And if you get desperate, maybe you can kiss yourself while gazing into a mirror?  No one would know!


Every New Year's Eve morning, I set a cup of water next to every major entrance to my house.  Water is one of the four elements and it's a spectacular purifier.  The liquid will also absorb all the negative energy in the area.  When the clock strikes midnight, I briskly toss the water out the door.  By doing this, I banish unwanted energy and start the year off fresh.  However, this practice totally contradicts the next superstition.


Don't take out the trash, don't throw out food, don't take anything out of the house on New Year's Day.  Some people even go so far as to set their pot-luck items outside on New Year's Eve or make sure all items are taken to their destination prior to the first day of the year.  The idea behind this one is that you don't want to be losing things all year long.


Don't do any laundry, don't wash dishes, don't even take a bath/shower.  Believers in this superstition think they will be washing away all their good luck, and may even bring death to a family member in the coming year.  Personally, if I don't wash dishes for a day, they get totally out of hand and that will be all I have time for the next day.  Besides, who wants to go to a party all stinky and smelly?


Some people eat black-eyed peas and greens.  Others eat grapes, pork or lentils.  Whether you eat southern food or something else on New Year's Day, chances are the nourishment you take in represents money or symbolizes forward movement.  While I was growing up, we always ate pork and sauerkraut.  I'm told that as animals, pigs root forward for their food, so if you eat pork, you'll move forward in the coming year and never have to worry about having enough food.  To contrast that, I was also always warned off from eating chicken on New Year's Day.  For this, I was told that chickens pick and scratch for their food.  Who wants to pick and scratch for their food all year long?

So tomorrow morning when I wake up, I'll put my cups of water by the doorways.  At the stroke of midnight, I'll hoot and holler and kiss my hubby, our kids and my cat before I toss the water out of the house.  Then, on New Year's Day, I'll cook the pork roast that is currently sitting in my refrigerator.  What are your plans?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lucky Beings of Myth and Lore

I received a question on my last blog post asking if there were any mythical beings that brought good luck.  This post is in answer to that question.

There are indeed creatures that are thought to bring good luck.  For the sake of this post, I have researched a few popular cultures, but not all.  With that being said, this is in no way a complete list of lucky mythical beings.  The cultures I have looked into are Chinese, Japanese and Celtic. 


Note that I am not grouping these two cultures together because I think they are the same.  I am listing them together because I have found that many of the myths and legends of these cultures are highly similar.


Most people are familiar with dragons.  More or less, these are creatures that are large, reptilian and breathe fire.  These four-legged mythical beings have been thought to be able to control water in order to bring about natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes.  However, they are also symbols of power, strength and good luck.

Feng Huang

These creatures are also called phoenixes.  They have been labeled the Emperor of Birds.  When a male and female bird are represented together, they symbolize everlasting love.  They are birds of the sun and warmth and the summer and harvest.  Feng Huang are symbols of the Empress of China and of brides on their wedding day.


Giraffes were once mistaken for these beings.  This mythical beast looks a lot like a demented pony with very long hair and antlers.  Though the Kirin looks vicious, it eats only fruits and veggies, punishes wrong-doers and is a bringer of good fortune. 

Maneki Neko

If you've ever been inside of an Oriental restaurant, you may have seen one of these statues.  The Maneki Neko is basically a cat with one paw raised in the air.  With a name that means "beckoning cat," this creature brings good luck and prosperity. 


Far Darrig

A lone faery who dons a red cap and coat, this being is also known as the "Red Man."  He enjoys playing practical jokes that have a gruesome twist and is considered lucky for farmers to have around.


The "Man of Hunger" is another solitary being.    A Fear-Gorta is a phantom that resembles an emaciated human.  He roams the land during a famine and will bring good luck to those who leave offerings of food or money.

Though some of the creatures listed do not look like the average protagonist in a Disney cartoon, they are all lucky to have around.  Looks can be deceiving and that is apparent in many stories and tales.  Just as a stunningly beautiful person can be totally ugly on the inside, so too can a creepy-looking old beggar woman be a goddess in disguise.

Like stated above, this list is not a complete list of lucky beings of myth and lore.  If you know of any others, please let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mummies and Their Curses

Wikipedia defines a mummy as "a deceased human or animal whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or accidental exposure to chemicals, extreme cold, very low humidity, or lack of air, so that the recovered body will not decay further if kept in cool and dry conditions."

Whereas mummies have been found on every continent, the most well-known are Egyptian.  Some of these Egyptian mummies are also said to bring curses on those that disturb their slumber.  And why not?  What other culture is so unbelievably old, mysterious and romantic all at the same time?  But are these curses real, or are they merely a fabrication of Hollywood and the media?

A National Geographic article called "Curse of the Mummy" details some facts about mummies and their curses.

Through an expedition funded by Lord Carnarvon, the tomb of King Tut was discovered in 1922.  Howard Carter was the first person to take a look at the treasures of the tomb, and he set off quite the trend for Ancient Egypt.  Because Carnarvon died of blood poisoning and six other members of the excavation team also died within a decade, talk of curses ensued.

But what do Egyptologists think of these curses?

Salima Ikram (American University in Cairo) thinks that stories of curses were used in Ancient Egypt to scare away grave robbers.  Dominic Montserrat thought that a writer may have seen a play where authentic Egyptian mummies were unwrapped.  This writer probably wrote a story about what they saw, then another writer wrote something similar, then get the idea.

A scientific take on mummies and curses states that the Egyptian tombs may have been shut up for so many years, that they produced dangerous pathogens.  Most scientists, however, think this is just not the case.  In fact, it has been said that the conditions of Upper Egypt in the 1920s were so unsanitary that those conditions would have been more likely to kill a person than anything shut up in a tomb.

What's my take on mummies and their curses, you ask?

I think it's easy to see a leathery-like body laying in a museum (or on a table, or elsewhere) and think about sinister, creepy, evil things like curses.  But I also think that curses only have power over those that believe in them.  Do you know the saying "careful what you wish for?"  Well, if you spend all your time thinking of curses, you will be cursed.  Instead, try focusing your thoughts on positive things.  If you do good and wish for good, you will find that good things will come your way, and things like curses will start to sound very silly to you.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Bloody Mary


Bloody Mary is:
A. a popular adult beverage
B. a divination ritual practiced by adolescent girls
C. a historical English monarch
D. all of the above


D. all of the above


A mixture of vodka, tomato juice and a number of spices and flavorings, a Bloody Mary has been said to cure a hangover.  As many people know today, alcohol does not cure the horrible feelings of a hangover, it only masks the pain.  However, because of the link, a Bloody Mary is a popular adult beverage for morning, noon and night. 

I don't care for the beverage as I'm not a big fan of vodka.  I don't drink too often but when I do, I am lucky enough to suffer few hangovers.  But if I did, I wouldn't drown the feelings of a hangover with more alcohol.  To me, a hangover is simply your body trying to rid itself of a toxic substance.  It's a process that should be encouraged, not hindered with more toxicity.


Like with many other pieces of folklore, the "game" of Bloody Mary changes with the person telling the story. 

Historically, a girl is suppose to walk up a staircase in a dimly lit room backwards with a hand-held mirror.  By gazing into the mirror, the girl will see either the image of her future husband or, in the case of death before marriage, a skull.

The image of Bloody Mary can come as either a corpse, a witch or a ghost.  She can sometimes be covered in blood.  Bloody Mary is sometimes screaming at, cursing, strangling, otherwise harming, or drinking the girl's blood.

A more modern version of the ritual has participants taunting Bloody Mary about her baby.  This version ties the historical figure of Bloody Mary with the divination ritual. 

I remember attempting this ritual as an adolescent.  I don't remember ever seeing any actual images, but I do remember having the crap scared out of me.  I was to stand in front of a mirror and call out "Bloody Mary" three times.  I was told the image of Mary would appear behind me.  It didn't work.  My preferred method of divination lies with tarot cards.  I'm of a mindset that you shouldn't conjure anything unless it is absolutely necessary.


Queen Mary I of England (Feb 18, 1516 - Nov 17, 1558) was the only daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.  For the first years of her life, Mary was doted on by her father.  But when Henry married Anne Boleyn in 1533, Mary was deemed illegitimate, stripped of her title of princess, had her home taken away and was forced into servitude for her half-sister, Elizabeth.  Mary's relationship with her father continued to be strained until the Act of Succession of 1544 stated that after the death of Henry, his son, Edward would be king who would be succeeded by Mary and then Elizabeth.

Long story short, Henry died and was succeeded by Edward.  During his reign, Edward excluded both of his sisters from the throne.  Edward died at the age of 15, probably of tuberculosis.  For a short time, Lady Jane Grey - a cousin - was named queen, but the validity of this was highly questioned.  Mary fled to East Anglia and established a campaign to reclaim her throne.

After her success, Mary did her best to restore England to its Catholic faith - a religion expelled from the country by her father.  Over the course of five years, Mary had over 280 people burned at the stake for disobeying her religious beliefs.  Because of her ruthless religious policy, she became known as Bloody Mary.

Mary was married to Prince Philip of Spain.  Whether the couple had feelings for one another is unknown.  But there were a number of times that Mary, along with her court and her doctors, thought she was pregnant.  Each of these pregnancies turned out to be false, resulting in no children -an no heirs - for Mary.  She was succeeded by her half-sister, Elizabeth.  Mary and Elizabeth are buried together in Westminster Abbey.  Latin words are inscribed on their tomb that translate to "Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of resurrection."

Even though I'm not a big fan of religious zealots, I can't help but feel bad for Mary I of England.  She began life as Daddy's Girl, only to have it all ripped away.  She basically became a nobody.  As a writer, I do have future plans for Mary!