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Blocking the Bad-Luck Bite of Friday the 13th

November 12, 1987|MARY ELLEN STROTE | Strote is a Calabasas writer. and

So you're planning to spend this Friday--the dreaded 13th--hiding under your bedclothes. The bad luck that's supposed to go with the day will have to work hard to find you, right?

Well, you might not have to pull a disappearing act after all--because you're about to learn seven guaranteed ways (trust us) to ward off any misfortune that might be waiting to pounce on you.

If you're a little sheepish about being superstitious, it may be comforting to be reminded that you've got millions of brothers and sisters--many of whom dread Friday the 13th, which occurs three times in 1987.

Anxiety about the number 13 is so widespread it has a name: triskaidekaphobia. And this hard-to-pronounce condition is so common that thousands of tall buildings don't have a 13th floor.

The idea that Friday the 13th spews out danger probably comes from a combination of two ancient superstitions, experts say.

One was the belief that the number 13 was unlucky because that many people dined at the Last Supper.

The second has its roots in prehistoric times. Friday started out with a good reputation, as the day belonging to Freya, the goddess of love in Norse mythology; but after the emergence of Christianity, Freya became known as a witch and her day acquired an aura of peril. Fortunately, for every ill omen that ancient man could perceive, a charm, amulet or magical practice was developed as a countermeasure.

Some of these old antidotes are still available. And if learning about them doesn't truly take the bite out of your Friday the 13th, at least you'll have had the luck of receiving a mini survey of humankind's war against bad fortune.

--Find a four-leaf clover. One legend holds that the four-leaf clover abounded in the Garden of Eden; Eve is said to have carried one with her when she left.

It's scientifically proven that the ordinary three -leaf clover is beneficial, at least to farmers. According to Mike Henry, county director/turf adviser for the Orange County Cooperative Extension Office, clover is used in rotation planting because its nitrogen-fixing is helpful to future crops.

Despite his knowledge about clover, Henry can't qualify as an expert on the four-leafer and any magical powers it might have. "I've never found one myself," he said.

"When it gets close to St. Patrick's Day, you will see a four-leaf ornamental oxalis being sold in nurseries as clover, but it is not true clover."

When pinned down on whether he believes a four-leaf clover is lucky, he said: "They are pretty rare . . . so if you find one, you're lucky."

--Meet a chimney sweep. Throughout much of Europe, it was considered lucky to meet a chimney sweep by chance. Legend has it that on encountering a sweep, one should bow or otherwise greet him. (If you see someone spit when he meets a sweep, don't think he's being hostile; he's just trying to double up on his good fortune, using a practice described in the next item.)

"Even now, we sweeps are invited to weddings," said Jerry Marx of the Chimney Sweeper, a firm that cleans and repairs chimneys. "Usually the people who ask us are of English, German or Scandinavian descent. They pay us to attend wearing our traditional top hat and tails. We are there to bring good luck to the newlyweds.

"We have seven sweeps cleaning chimneys for us," he said. And, he promised, "Every one of them is lucky."

When asked about the greetings that sweeps get from the superstitious, Marx said: "Most people just want to shake our hands. . . . but we get kissed too, even though we are usually covered with soot."

It's cheating to seek good luck by looking for a sweep, but it would probably be OK if you just happened to run into one whom you had hired to clean your chimney this Friday. And, for that safe-all-day feeling, don't forget to deliver a bow or--if it's a sooty cutey--maybe a kiss.

The Chimney Sweeper, 14248 1/2 Oxnard St., Van Nuys , (818) 909-7044 , (213) 877-9337 , (213) 533-0604.

--Spitting. Saliva, once believed a powerful agent of magic and protection, has inspired superstitions almost everywhere in the world. Spitting, people thought, not only averted evil but increased the potency of whatever brought good luck. For this reason, some people would greet a chimney sweep by spitting on the ground.

A cautious soul would spit before entering a dangerous place. A fighter would spit on his hands before throwing the first blow. To make the work go better, a laborer would spit on his hands before digging.

In their book on superstitions, "Take Warning," authors Jane Sarnoff and Reynold Ruffins promised, "Bad luck can be driven away if you hold the back of your hand to your face and spit three times through the forefinger and middle finger."

Spitting for good luck is quick, easy (for those with the right technique) and indisputably cheap. But these days--with the possible exceptions of cowboys and professional baseball players--he who spits a lot spits alone.

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