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This Friday the 13th, are you superstitious?

January 13, 2017

You’re walking along a street, notice a penny and pick it up. Do you believe it will bring good luck?

If you make an unfavorable observation, will you knock on wood in order to avoid tempting fate?

If you see a black cat, do you go out of your way to avoid it or perform some ritual to do away with any potential bad luck?

These may be just three common superstitions among a sea of others, but even doing something as simple as knocking on wood — to invoke the power of the gods and spirits said to be living within trees, they say — can define a person as superstitious.

Santa Fe High School junior Evelina Cavalli is always knocking on wood — if the superstition calls for it. Like most people, she is unaware of the exact origin of this particular ritual, but she inherited it by mimicking the behavior of those around her.

“I definitely got knocking on wood from my parents and whole family ever since I was very little,” she said. “We would literally knock on a table or nearby wood, if nowhere close to wood, the tops of our heads, every time we would mention an unfavorable situation or outcome that was beyond our control.

“Although it’s not proven to prevent really anything negative from happening, it makes me feel better in the moment.”

Santa Fe High School freshman Eliana Romero also has her superstitions. “I won’t walk under a ladder because I believe it brings you bad luck,” she said. “Right after my sister walked under a ladder, she tripped over a rock and spilled ice cream all over herself, and that’s when I started to become superstitious.”

Listening to old wives’ tales and learning about superstitions that are shared among cultures or those unique to individuals can be very entertaining. For example, in days of old, black cats were seen as symbols of witchcraft and thus as an omen of death, but who today really goes out of their way to avoid them?

Yet at the end of the day, it seems many people still maintain a fear of certain superstitions.

Vince Clark, director of the Psychology Clinical Neuroscience Center and a professor of psychology and neuroscience at The University of New Mexico, said there are many reasons people still believe in superstitions. Maybe they need to.

“Many people don’t understand that much about the world around them, or how to control it,” he said. “It makes us feel anxious. The belief that we can predict or control events makes us feel safer.”

But the extent of one’s belief in a superstition might depend upon the type of person he or she is, Clark said.

“Someone who understands and uses the scientific method is more likely to look for proof of a causal relationship and test it experimentally, even in just an informal way, and give up ideas when they don’t really work,” he said. “Letting evidence guide belief makes people more able to see what’s true.”

But others still realize that even though superstitions do not always ring true, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to avoiding them or countering their potential power, he said. Clark said that some superstitions might be taught, while others are organically learned or simply passed down from generation to generation. But, he said, “As we learn more about the world, we need superstitions less.”

A 2000 Gallup poll showed that a little more than one 1 in 4 Americans (27 percent) were superstitious. A recent online Statista poll on Americans’ belief in 12 common superstitions found that 88 percent do not believe 13 is an unlucky number. Only 33 percent said picking up a penny means good luck.

Still, many people still believe in their own acquired superstitions and come up with methods to combat them.

Romero, for example, performs certain rituals and actions when playing a volleyball game. “If I have my sleeves rolled up [during a game], my superstition is that I will mess up until I put them down,” she said.

Santa Fe teen Nina Wickert always carries a tiger’s eye necklace with her when she leaves her house. She also believes that people act differently in the presence of a full moon. Why?

“I think everybody needs something to believe in, something that makes sense, and just plain answers,” she said. “It’s really scary to think that some things have no purpose, so for me, it’s all about having little answers to things that would otherwise make me question everything.”

Aside from religious affiliation and personal beliefs, Wickert said the “trendier” aspect of superstitions attract people.

“Sometimes it’s just a thing people do for fun or because it’s mainstream,” she said. “Most people don’t actually believe it, they just go along. People will throw a coin into a water fountain and make a wish because everyone does that and it’s sort of just a thing you do if you have the chance.”

Ramona Park is a junior at Santa Fe High School. Contact her at yoharamona@gmail.com.