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Cultural beauty is seen at its best when you learn about rituals, belief systems, clothing, food and the history of a group of peoples. But the wacky side usually comes out when you look into the superstitions of a culture (no offence intended, after all I am Punjabi I can make fun of myself right?). Born and raised into a Sikh Punjabi family, I’ve had my share of “OMG are you for real?” moments when a random auntie, or better yet, my mom informs me of things I should or should not do, simply because somewhere back in the day someone decided it was bad luck.

The irony of most superstitious beliefs is that they often go hand in hand with some religious beliefs. Although I don’t believe this, some atheists or opponents of organized religion view a belief in a higher power as a mere “superstition” that provides humanity with a false reason to justify their being. My opinion: God is a big deal and since I’ve been raised in a Sikh family the religion actually provides me with meaning and explanation for most things in life, but of course others can think as they feel.

A majority of superstitious beliefs were created in order to fight a societal fear or powerful group within a community that the leaders in question wanted to keep in check. For example, in the Victorian period widowed women were deemed as outcasts in English society and in some accused of being witches. Once their husband passed on she became financially in charge of his estate, finances and property. These newly independent women caused  much anxiety for the patriarchal legal system, often resulting in these women being ostracized by those in power.

But on a more light-hearted side, I also just think a lot of fed-up mom’s with undisciplined children created these sayings in order to crack the whip and discipline their children from misbehaving.

A classic example of my second hypothesis that I was told as a child by my grandmother:

“Don’t rattle your keys at night, its brings negative energy in the home!”

This was usually told to me as a child as my grandmother had a look on her face that I was clearly disturbing the higher spiritual order and risking harm to my personal safety with my key jingling.

My translation: “My child is being a pain and keeps jingling keys, while people are trying to relax and sleep, so yes I am going to instil some good old fear into her.” Okay I know this is a bit extreme, especially because I was one of the favourite grandchildren to my Nanni, but I am thinking of a really disgruntled and exhausted mother who just wants to go to bed.

Women as community leaders and creator’s of belief systems

All of this has led me to come to the conclusion that the ancestry of women is really important to the identity of a cultural group, because no matter how outlandish a superstition appears to someone (either a member of the group like myself, or a cultural outsider) at the end of the day, those superstitions become a part of a larger belief system that governs the rituals, special occasions, and important moments of an individual person’s life. And lets face it they are called “old wives tales” for a reason, women are a source of wisdom, authority and oral history in most cultural groups.

SAS’s List of Punjabi Superstitions

That being said, here are some superstitions I’ve grown up with; some outlandish, some beautiful and some that I stand by myself:

  1. A black crow outside your house means you will be getting guests to your home.
  2. Don’t wear white on happy celebrations. White in South Asian culture is worn at funerals and is symbolic of mourning.

  3. If you are a woman and your right eye flickers, it’s a bad omen. For men, the left eye means bad things are coming your way.
  4. Don’t step on books, they are sources of knowledge and givers of wisdom, so they should be respected and cherished.
  5. Don’t play with money. In the Sikh religion gambling is also considered a taboo.
  6. Don’t sweep the floor or do the laundry on the same day after a happy occasion in your home. You’re sweeping away your joys by doing so. Enjoy the moment.
  7. “Achoo.” You just sneezed, now you can’t leave the house right away, it’s a bad omen!

Do you have any cultural superstitions to share? I’d love to hear about them and your thoughts on them, is the belief you shared ridiculous or simply another representative of cultural beauty?