Beware the Ides of March

Beware the Ides of March she said,
Or we shall have to tell
The way you died
A strange demise
On your way to rot in hell

That was the opening stanza of a poem I composed more than three decades ago, back in 1973, for a high school English class assignment. (And I still have a copy of it today.) I not only received an “F” on the project but my parents were called in for a conference because I submitted a piece of paper with the word “hell” on it. My mother was scandalized, but my dear old dad was more bothered by the fact that I was talking about this specific date.

The Ides, as a date, is a concept which dates back to the Roman empire and beyond, denoting the fifteenth day of March, May, July and October. They were all set aside for pagan festivities, but the 15th of March took on a permanent connotation of doom and bad luck. (Just ask Julius Caesar, who found the date to be extremely unlucky – at least for the few minutes it took him to bleed out.)

My father was always a very superstitious man, and it wasn’t just about March 15. He would, as much as possible, avoid leaving the house on any Friday the 13th. He informed me, as a child, that if a black bird landed on the window sill and looked in at you then you very well might die, become ill, or have something else horrible befall you. We lived out in the country where there were a ton of crows and starlings, so you can imagine the trauma I felt walking past windows most days.

The list went on and on. We have native American blood on both sides of my family and a lot of these things were stories that were passed down from generation to generation. Even in an age of enlightenment, it’s amazing how much of that baggage carries over and affects the real lives of modern man. I think one of the strangest ones came from my grandmother on the occasion of my moving into my first apartment. She told me in a conspiratorial tone that the very first time I crossed the threshold into the new residence I needed to walk in backwards. Why? Because it would make “them” think that you were leaving, rather than moving in, and “they” wouldn’t stick around and bother you any more. She never really elaborated on who “they” might be.

I always find stories like these intriguing, though they seem to be fading away in the 21st century. Please feel free to share any of your own superstitions or ones you’ve observed in friends and family. Do you avoid picking up a coin on the ground if it’s tails up? Have you ever thrown salt over your shoulder? Does dropping a spoon on the floor hold any special significance for you? We’re a curious breed, we humans.