Using Superstitions in World-Building
It's Friday the 13th, so let's talk superstitions!
For the fantasy, horror, and other speculative writers out there, creating superstitions is a great way to dig into and expand your world-building. Superstitions, after all, tend to be deeply rooted into the history and culture of a place and its people.
Take Ireland for example.
I’m not sure how many of my clients and followers know that my mother was Irish—as in born and raised—and I’m an American-born Irish citizen with the passports to prove it. And folks, the Irish love their tales and their magic. This means that growing up, I heard my fair share of superstitions.
Here are just a few of the ones that came up frequently:
A knife to the floor means a man to the door (a fork brings a woman)
Itchy nose means a fight (which would be followed by a quick slap to the hand to “get it over with”)
New shoes on the table brings bad luck
One magpie brings sadness, two bring joy—if we spotted one, we had to wait to leave the house till a second had been spotted
Opening an umbrella in the house welcomes bad weather (bad happenings) inside
Itchy or burning ears means someone’s talking about you
How Can Superstitions Be Beneficial in Your World-Building?
Superstitions develop as warnings or as a means of soothing fears—they’re a way to feel a sense of control over something beyond our own actions. They’re illogical, but they survive generations and many of us continue to abide by them.
Because of this, much like values, religions, and customs, the superstitions you invent can reveal not only aspects of your world, but also insight into your characters and their psyches.
Remember: your world and your characters play into how you grow and resolve your plot. How could superstitions become part of that?
A Note on Sensitivity & Authenticity
If you do choose to include superstitions that may have cultural backgrounds other than your own, it’s important to research and be attentive to avoid use of anything that may be used to create negative perceptions of the culture from which that superstition originates.