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Life in Missoula, Montana.

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Anyone who knows me knows I'm into superstitions and people's little rituals. I only have a few of my own - I'm a frequent knocker of wood, and I have some lucky items - but I think superstitions are really interesting. Especially the old world rituals that people still follow.

Superstitions are still a big part of people's lives. Many pro athletes have very specific rituals that they must perform the same way before each game. 

Serena Williams, the famous women's tennis player, has many superstitions. She brings her shower shoes to courtside for each match, and ties her shoes in a very specific way. Before her first serve she bounces the ball five times, before the second serve she bounces it twice. Like many athletes, she will not change socks if she is on a winning streak. These rituals need to be followed exactly, as she attributes some tournament losses to not having performed them.

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The NBA's Jason Terry eats chicken before every game, and wears five pairs of socks during each game. His most strange habit, though is the night before a game. Jason feels he must wear the opposing team's shorts to bed, and many friends, players, and equipment managers have gone to great efforts to secure those shorts on nights before games.

These are just the superstitions of two famous athletes. Hockey goalies are notorious for their superstitions, as are baseball pitchers, but the habit extends to football players, skiers, and runners. They all believe, on some level, that if they don't perform these rituals they will lose, have bad luck, or even get injured.

But there are a lot of superstitions that all of us pay attention to on a daily basis. Like me, a lot of people knock on wood when saying positive things. the knocking helps you avoid the good thing being jinxed. the custom of knocking on wood has old roots. In Germanic folklore, people knocked on wood, in the forest, to wake up beneficial forest spirits. In the Celtic tradition, knocking on wood (specifically oak) was akin to asking certain gods for their protection. Oak was a holy wood and symbolic of certain higher beings.

Most people know that spilling salt is bad luck, and many people were even taught to throw some of the spilled salt over their left shoulder to minimize the bad effects. Where does that come from? First off, spilling salt was thought to be bad luck because, in Davinci's Last Supper painting, Judas is shown spilling the salt. Not only did he betray Jesus, but Judas was also the 13th person seated at the supper. It was thought by some that spilling salt would temporarily make you vulnerable to evil powers, (as apparently happened to Judas). Throwing the spilled salt over your shoulder is throwing it in the eyes of the devil, which would typically stand behind your left shoulder. 

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Here are some other things that cause bad luck or trouble. Tripping in a graveyard means bad luck is imminent. In Irish folklore, leaving shoes on a table is bad luck, so is bringing lilacs indoors! It's bad luck to start a trip on a Friday, or to cut one's toenails on a Sunday. In German folklore, walking between two old women brings bad luck. In many cultures, a bird entering your house means someone might die. Dropping coins on a boat means you will encounter storms. In Old Bavaria, it was considered bad luck to give a woman an odd number of flowers. In Russia, it is bad luck to give a woman an even number of flowers. Also in Russian folklore, whistling in your house or your car is bad luck, financially - it is believed that you are whistling your money away. If you bite your tongue while eating, it is because you have told a lie. If you bump your elbow, someone will give you a present.

It all seems silly and a little outdated  until you have a big game or an important meeting. Then we don our lucky socks, perform our little rituals, and hope that black cat doesn't cross our path.

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