Cross Your Ladders And Knock On A Black Cat

Friday was the second thirteenth of the year (yes, this post is late. It’s my fault I have been sick and the official “blame someone else day” occurs on the FIRST FTT of the year) and for many people it is a day of consternation and concern. Stevie Wonder music not withstanding, many (perhaps most) people manifest symptoms of superstition.

It is the season of beards (hockey playoffs start shortly) and “lucky socks” (and other articles of clothing). March Madness brackets are out so there are thousands of supporters performing the magical actions needed to insure their team is victorious. Players slap the appropriate spot on the trip from the locker room to the field, cryptic incantations invoke the proper deities of the opposing teams for good and for evil. Scantily clad supplicants gyrate before the masses to build up the required frenzy for the coming slaughter…er, game.

Triskaidekaphobics have their own cause for concern. Just surviving the day will be challenging enough. And November has that whole election thing disrupting their lives, not just the usual Friday fright. Broken mirrors, ominous odors and malevolent observations cascading together to bring horror to the susceptible.

What many (perhaps most) fail to understand is that because events occur in sequence does not necessarily mean they are related in a causal relationship. If the sun rises on the same day you are involved in a car accident, it is (probably) not reasonable to assert the sunrise caused the accident (especially if it happened on the way home near midnight). Cause and effect is vastly more difficult to connect than simply observing my team wins more often if I neglect to brush my teeth on game days. (Both events might occur concurrently, but it is unreasonable to assert causality!)  There has to be a reason.

“Do you know,” said Prak, “the story of the Reason?”
Arthur said that he didn’t, and Prak said that he knew that he didn’t
He told it.
One night, he said, a spaceship appeared in the sky of a planet which had never seen one before. The planet was Dalforsas, the ship was this one. It appeared as a brilliant new star moving silently across the heavens.
Primitive tribesmen who were sitting huddled on the Cold Hillsides looked up from their steaming night-drinks and pointed with trembling fingers, swearing that they had seen a sign, a sign from their gods which meant that they must now arise at last and go and slay the evil Princes of the Plains.
In the high turrets of their palaces, the Princes of the Plains looked up and saw the shining star, and received it unmistakably as a sign from their gods that they must now go and set about the accursed Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides.
And between them, the Dwellers in the Forest looked up into the sky and saw the sigh of the new star, and saw it with fear and apprehension, for though they had never seen anything like it before, they too knew precisely what it foreshadowed, and they bowed their heads in despair.
They knew that when the rains came, it was a sign.
When the rains departed, it was a sign.
When the winds rose, it was a sign.
When the winds fell, it was a sign.
When in the land there was born at midnight of a full moon a goat with three heads, that was a sign.
When in the land there was born at some time in the afternoon a perfectly normal cat or pig with no birth complications at all, or even just a child with a retrousse nose, that too would often be taken as a sign.
So there was no doubt at all that a new star in the sky was a sign of a particularly spectacular order.
And each new sign signified the same thing – that the Princes of the Plains and the Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides were about to beat the hell out of each other again.
This in itself wouldn’t be so bad, except that the Princes of the Plains and the Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides always elected to beat the hell out of each other in the Forest, and it was always the Dwellers in the Forest who came off worst in these exchanges, though as far as they could see it never had anything to do with them.
      Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe, and Everything, Chapter 34

Many (perhaps most) should know better. Especially with the explosion of information and technology, we should be beyond whistling in the dark to keep evil away, pronouncing blessing after a sneeze to prevent the person’s soul from escaping, and performing ritualistic actions of knocking on wood, crossing fingers, or fondling dead animal limbs to influence the world to form more to our liking. We might not know everything (like Prak) but we certainly know more than our unenlightened ancestors did. We can use our wisdom to overcome the blind adherence to ancient ways of thinking. Prak was spot on regarding one thing…

Most of the good bits were about frogs.


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