People talk about spirituality and faith and I’m always left puzzled. Talk to me about organised religion and my eyes glaze over as I reach for my Richard Dawkins books. Lecture me on Eastern mysticism and I shudder and look away. If you want to tell me about astrology, cosmic ordering or the time your deceased neighbour communicated with you from the spirit world then I’m anything but fascinated.
I escaped my religious upbringing as soon as I was able and I avoid anything with chanting or incense. I suspect that my chakras are more than out of alignment but are actually non-existent. A woman at a party once told me that a dead woman called Marjory was wanting to talk to me and I politely told her to go away and take Marjory with her.
If I think about it, though, I do have a religion of sorts: superstition. I can’t pass a single magpie without saluting it. If I see a shiny penny on the floor then I have to pick it up and I touch wooden things with alarming regularity. This can prove very awkward. Saluting a magpie during a driving lesson will guarantee that a frantic instructor will shout at you in alarm and grab for the dual controls as you allow the car to veer across lanes of traffic. Ducking down whilst on a date to snatch a coin from the street whilst drunkenly shouting: “A lucky penny!” will almost certainly ensure that date number two will not be forthcoming. Grabbing a penny from a colleague’s desk will get you odd looks too. Reaching for tree trunks in the street to touch wood will perhaps risk arrest, if done too conspicuously.
My superstition is as sound as anything and no less valid. It’s based on centuries of tradition. I know it’s not true and that it’s a mad way to run my life but what’s not to like about not opening an umbrella indoors or keeping new shoes off the table? It’s hardly a hardship.
For me, it’s more a way of keeping anxiety at bay, like a very mild strain of O.C.D. I see a black cat and I feel instantly calmer. It has a flip side too, of course. Seeing one magpie can leave me lurching with angst. Its mild angst though and it passes. The major bonus for me is that my religion has no dietary restrictions, no observances and no tricky festivals to navigate. It also doesn’t disapprove of me being gay.
Maybe I’ll start a festival though. If anyone wants to come round to mine dressed as a magpie whilst bearing wood then I’ll gladly let you pick up all the pennies you like from my carpet. Tempted?
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