Friday, August 01, 2014

Writing Superstitions

The countdown has begun. As of this writing (Thursday 7/31) there are ninety-one days, six hours, twenty-seven minutes and ten seconds until Halloween.
That means you have time to buy candy, eat the first batch you buy, then go out and buy another bag (or two - how much candy corn did you eat anyway??) and hide it away from whoever is eating it. Or from yourself.

You also have that much time to get your outfit together for Trick or Treating. Lucky You-Who-Cosplay, DragonCon, WorldCon, ComicCon, and every other fantasy conference imaginable is about to take off for a Halloween dry run. Here in Atlanta, it's exactly one month to DragonCon and its downtown parade, where children of all ages, shapes, sizes, and superhero persuasion dress in blue tights and body paint and masks (which is a good thing) and flaunt their hero worship for the world to see.

Which leads me to ask:
What do we and the characters we create do to ward off the odd bad mojo?

Our neighbors' kids yell "Trick or Treat!" and we pitch candy in their bags to protect ourselves from soapy windows and toilet paper'ed front yards.
And how about our superstitions?
Spill salt, pitch a pinch over your shoulder.
Today is the first day of the month - did you say "RabbitRabbit" before you said anything else?

My wip (tentatively titled The Flour Girl) opens with my heroine Lori Grace up before dawn, already on her third cup of coffee pondering the sky's red glow, and an old saying of her grandmother's (and mine) pops in her head - "Red sky at dawn, sailors take warn". It's a portent of a day she wishes was already over.
Her front door is painted "Haint Blue", a color commonly found on doors and porch ceilings in the south to confuse spirits and make them think it's water they cannot cross. (It's also a natural defense against wasps for the same reason. ;)  )

In Anna Steffl's Solace Trilogy, she uses glass blue eyes to mark the hants as a warning because supposedly the ancient Judges stole the soul through the eyes and they used the Blue Eye relics. This is based on Turkish beliefs. (hm... blue again) She also uses Spiritbanes - stinky sachets tied around peoples' necks - to ward off spirits in the Hants, much the same as garlic wreaths were used to ward off vampires. 

Do you give your characters superstitions? Do they have legends or landmarks (like kissing the Blarney Stone) to help them find love or protect them from spirits? 


Cari Hislop said...

Great post! I don't think I've yet had a character with superstitions. Something to file away. Perhaps I've had superstitious characters, but I was too stupid to notice. The Southern Superstition sound fascinating. I've never heard of Haint Blue...curiosity engaged!

Speaking of red skies; my husband grew up in Suffolk, England in farming country (he's not a farmer which is just as well because I would be a farmer's nightmare - I'd end up saying all the time "I was just trying to help - I didn't mean to set the crops on fire or feed the pigs poison etc) but they have a saying "Red Sky in morning is Shepherds warning" and "Red sky at night is shepherds delight" apparently there are meteorological reasons that these sayings are true. Makes one wonder what is superstition and what is just reality as we don't yet understand it.

Pamela Mason said...

Hi Cari!
Substitute 'sailor' for 'shepherd' and you've got the same saying - huh...small world!
I reeeally love your last line here- "what is superstition and what is just reality as we don't yet understand." Of course superstition was just the way people coped with what they did not know or understand due to lack of education (thank you science and technology), and religious/folklore beliefs creeping into their daily routines. I watch Rachel Ray pitch salt over her shoulder every day she's cooking on tv - but really, where did that come from?
'Sokay... thank you for visiting and good discussion fodder!

Jillian said...

very cool idea. I love this. I haven't thought of superstitions. I do like to give characters quirks and this would be an awesome one.

Your book sounds great.

Pamela Mason said...

Thank you for reading Jillian! I like the idea too; we all have those daily little things don't we?

Louisa Cornell said...

Ooh, Cari, where in Suffolk did your husband grow up? I lived in a little village called Kelsale near Saxmundham, about 22 miles from Ipswich.

Great post, Pam! I've studied voodoo for over 25 years and that particular belief system is rife with superstitions!

I have a gris gris bag made by a voodoo priestess in New Orleans. It is made from the foot of a 100 year old alligator snapping turtle. I don't know what she put in it, but she told me to add things from time to time to bind the spirits to me. I have hair clippings from my dogs that have crossed the Rainbow Bridge and a tooth from the wolf-hybrid I raised.

My Mom is very superstitious, but I would expect no less from someone who is half Cherokee and half Creek.

She says you never put shoes on the bed. You never rock an empty rocking chair. If you give someone a knife as a gift they MUST give you a penny in return.

Pamela Mason said...

Louisa! I am a native of NOLA, and I respect voodoo as a religion. Your gris gris bag is fascinating; I've never seen a real one.
And along with shoes, never put a hat on the bed.

Carla Swafford said...

My mom wouldn't let us tell her our dreams before we ate breakfast. She didn't want to take the chance that they would come true (if they were bad).

Knocking on wood was big in our house (wards off evil or brings good luck, used in different contexts).

There was so many superstitions when I was a kid. I don't think I passed it on to mine and I rarely hear of anyone being that way now. Or they hide it. :-D

Pamela Mason said...

Carla, my mother used to say that dreams of weddings meant a death was coming in the family. Another was birds in the house, which actually proved itself true for me last year - in 2011 a sparrow or something flew all over my living room before I could guide it back outside. The following year into '13 I lost four close family members and my cat.

Cari Hislop said...


He lived in Stowmarket. I can't remember if that's near Saxmundham or not. He moved away about twenty years ago, but before that he lived there for about thirty years. I love that part of the world. There's just something so utterly magical about Suffolk. I think it must have been on my first drive there that I noticed how all the trees looked as if Gainsborough had pulled out one giant brush and painted them. For years I used to scoff at his painted trees - as if trees looked like that - I can be so dumb! If I was rich I'd have a cute house at Aldeburgh (my favorite beach)!