Thursday, April 5, 2012

Superstition in the South

I have lived firmly ensconced in the Bible Belt my entire life. I grew up in Alabama and now live in Georgia. There are churches on pretty much every street corner down here. And we're not picky at all. We have Southern Baptist, Independent Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, LDS, the list goes on and on. But after this past weekend's trip to Savannah, GA, I got to thinking, "if we're so darn religious in the South, why are we also so very superstitious?"

The whole thought process began when my friend M and I were heading back to the hotel after a night of people watching and she said "rabbit, rabbit, rabbit" when the clock struck 12. As an aside, this is a British superstition that is supposed to bring you good luck for the month as long as it's the first thing you say on the first day of the month. M and I really got to talking about the roles of superstition in our Southern culture the next day when we took a tour of Downtown Savannah and the tour guide pointed out some of the superstitions of the folks there. For instance, a good number of the houses have a Mahi fish downspout. I was only kind of listening to the reasoning, but it has something to do with keeping out bad spirits.

It seems like most of the superstitions I have ever heard of, have been passed down by women. My mother is one of the most churched people I know. She's been in church every Sunday morning and night and Wednesday night for her entire life. But she is also one of the more superstitious people I know as well. My grandmother was the same way, and I guess she rubbed off on my mom.

Here are examples of some of the ones I notice the most:

  •  - If a cat crosses the street in front of my mom, she makes seven "x's" on her windshield. 
  •  - She does not wash clothes on the first day of the year. And since I've moved out of the house, she  calls me every year to remind me to not wash clothes. Apparently, if you wash clothes on the first day of the year, you will wash the clothes of a loved one who has died before the year is over.
  •  - She must eat black-eyed peas, collard greens, and ham on the first day of the year. This is pretty much considered a Southern tradition at this point, but let's be honest, this is straight up superstition. 
  •  - She will not sweep or vacuum under anyone's feet. So, if she's sweeping, she'll make you get up as opposed to making you raise your feet so she can sweep under you. I'm pretty sure this one is because if someone sweeps under your feet, they are sweeping away your chance at true love.

As much as I try to not succumb to superstition, I most certainly do not wash clothes on the first day of the year. And I do eat black-eyed peas, collards, and ham on January 1. But, my question to myself is always "why, if you trust in a sovereign God, do you let these rituals influence you so much?" It doesn't make sense does it? How is it that I trust so much in these superstitious acts to keep someone from dying or to bring me money in the new year? 

So what about you? Have you ever had this struggle? Are there any rituals that your family does that you can't make yourself not do despite the fact that you know they are unnecessary?

Mahi fish downspout