Sometime in college, living in the dorm and under the spiritual influence of Girl Scout camp and comparative religious studies, I got it into my head that you could just declare a new belief or tradition, and that would establish it as existing and valid (although it might die with you if you could never convince anybody else to carry it on). I said, Okay, from now on finding a spider in your house means good luck. I remembered this whenever I saw a spider, and repeated the “superstition” to myself until it became comfortable. Even knowing intellectually, “Oh, you just made this up, and didn’t you steal it from some other belief anyway?” (I was never sure if I’d heard it somewhere before), it became “real” to me in a light-hearted sort of way, with the effect that encountering a spider in my house started giving me a warm, happy feeling — a lucky state in itself, I guess, in retrospect. Eventually, when I saw a spider in OTHER PEOPLE’s houses, or in their space in any way, I would tell them, “That’s good luck, you know!”
A couple of weeks ago my partner and I were hiking in Ha Ha Tonka State Park and picking up pieces of trash as we went. It occurred to me, Wouldn’t it be cool if we could propagate the idea, the legend, shall we say, that if you pick up a piece of trash when you’re in nature, that’s good luck? I had a vision of kids competing with each other to see who had the most good luck — who could bring back the most pieces of litter out of the woods.
Of course, it would be good “luck” — create more favorable circumstances for positive things to happen to us — in the literal sense, by improving the health of the environment (no losers in that game). But also, those kinds of superstitions operate from a different part of the brain than logic (“It is smart to pick up litter”) or right and wrong (“It is a moral necessity that I pick up litter”) — both of which, as we can see, fail frequently in the prevention of littering and litter cleanup. There’s nobody who hasn’t heard that we shouldn’t and should do those things. respectively, yet obviously, lots of people do. Maybe connecting doing a very specific good act — picking up litter from nature — with a magical sort of reward (“good luck”) taps into a different pleasure center than the one tapped by “doing the right thing.” It’s more of a game.
A lot of the things we are taught as children as superstitions stay with us as adults — many a grown-up stops to pick up a lucky penny. I think that is superstition, traditional or “home-made,” can be worth having if it makes us more inclined to do a positive thing, helpful to others or ouselves, and connects us lightly to a sense of fun and pleasure in the doing of it. It can be another way to help make that helpful act a habit. We don’t need to believe that a leprechaun will come and giveus a potof gold if we do something nice for someone, but for those of us who welcome any little burst of good feeling, cosmic or human, that comes our way, it seems worth our while. Play around with the idea. What little thing could you connect to magic in your life? See if it sticks. And have fun!
Good Luck and Good Fortune to All!
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