Every country has its own unique rituals that people use to attract good fortune and repel bad luck. In his latest column, our intrepid agony uncle Jazid Contreras explores some of these quirky Colombian superstitions and the magical thinking behind them.
Dear Jazid, When I was visiting my friend the other day, I set my purse down on the floor and she gave me a really hard time about it! What’s going on? How is that bad luck? Are there other Colombian superstitions I should know about next time I go over to her house?
– Puzzled purse owner
When I was young, some of the decorations I saw in my grandmother’s house would really creep me out. One memorable example was a spiky aloe vera plant which had lots of twisting branches and hung above the door. In my mind, it resembled some sort of mythical monster that would inevitably end up giving me nightmares. Ironically, the plant was supposed to be a lucky charm that protected the house from bad energy.
Many people here are actually quite superstitious and will go out of their way to avoid an unlucky circumstance. And while some of these beliefs might seem quaint to the modern eye, Colombian superstitions are nonetheless an important part of people’s day to day life.
For example, you might have seen newborns wearing beaded bracelets to ward off the evil eye. In fact, babies are often subjected to all kinds of rituals by parents who are concerned for their health and well-being. According to some, if your child is constipated, you should lay them on the floor and have a pair of twins walk around the child in a cross pattern. If the baby has the hiccups, you might be able to cure it by placing a piece of thread on their forehead.
Some parents keep their kids away from funerals or wakes in order to stop the “ice” of the dead from entering their bodies and making them sick. I’ve also heard tell that if you bring babies that haven’t learnt how to walk to a funeral, they might never walk.
There are a lot of dos and don’ts, especially don’ts and especially for women. For instance, if you’re menstruating, apparently you shouldn’t shower at night, cut your hair or even walk barefoot because it could affect your ability to conceive. Don’t get married on a Tuesday, don’t travel on a Tuesday and, actually, just don’t leave the house on a Tuesday, especially if it’s the 13th day of the month.
Never put the salt shaker directly in someone’s hand. It’ll bring you bad luck. Instead, put in on the table where they can reach it. Avoid giving knives or scissors as presents unless you want to cut people out of your life. And remember to leave the broom behind the main door when there’s an unwelcome visitor in the house and you want them gone as soon as possible.
If you plan to have a barbecue, you better place two crossed knives on the ground, or spoons, or an egg, or a mirror (I’ve heard conflicting reports). It is supposed to prevent the clouds from pouring rain on your location. However it only works if you do it before it rains. Once the drops start to fall, you’re out of luck.
Colombian superstitions abound regarding people and their will to do anything to control the weather. In 2011, the Bogotá mayor’s office allegedly paid over three million pesos to a shaman that supposedly kept the sky clear for the closing ceremony of the FIFA U-20 world cup. It’s also rumoured that the late Fanny Mickey, founder of the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro, gave 30 eggs to a geriatric nursing home as part of a ritual to avoid rains on the opening day of the first edition of the festival.
If it is love you are seeking, you should tie a statue of Saint Anthony with a cord and hang it upside down. Never let anyone who is sweeping the floor pass the broom over your feet or you’ll be single forever. Also, don’t plant hydrangeas in a household with unmarried women or else they won’t find husbands. I know, sexist.
And, once you’ve found the love of your life, one tradition particular to Bogotá warns people not to take their significant other to Monserrate or the relationship will be doomed, nor should you give them shoes unless you want them to walk out of your life.
Don’t put your purse or wallet on the floor (or you’ll be poor), don’t brush your hair before going to bed (you might sink a ship)… the list goes on and on. I bet you can think of others too, but let me finish with one last useful tip. If your ears get hot, it means someone is talking about you behind your back. So, watch out!