It was decided in one of our groups that we meet on Friday 13, and we agreed to discuss ‘superstitions’.

My first reaction was, I haven’t got  any.    I don’t have restrictive rituals that I must perform to avoid ill-luck, nor do I have ‘lucky’ objects.

Yet I do look at events around me and regard them as omens, though not conventionally, ie that black cats are unlucky or lucky.

But I would regard the events on days of special significance, such as weddings or funerals, as being heavy with meaning.     If a wedding day started with an evil event; if the couple were especially selfish in their actions, or used the day to settle old scores, I would regard this as an unfavourable omen.    Similarly, how one conducts oneself at a funeral, is I think of critical importance.   If you were less than generous; if you were unkind or unwelcoming to any mourner, however awkward, I would think judgement of the Fates against you would be swift and severe.    Every person who comes to a funeral should be treated with all courtesy and as an honoured guest.  The chief mourner is acting on behalf of the deceased, and his own personal relationship with any mourner is of no relevance on this day.    On these kind of occasions, I would do the very best I could, as if one’s whole life depended on it.

I would find it very difficult to refuse to give something that someone had asked of me, who clearly had need, lest my own needs be similarly denied one day.

In celtic tradition, the hero sometimes came with special prohibitions, so that for example, the Fates may have bargained with him that he would be king, so long as he harmed no flying creature of the air.    Although other people could do so with impunity, for him it would be death to do so.   Also in that tradition, the rules of hospitality are stringent.    Although from quite another culture, Mahatma Ghandi answered well when the King asked him aggressively why India was (by the King’s lights) behaving so badly, and Ghandi replied, I cannot answer your Majesty’s question while partaking of your Majesty’s hospitality.     At a special occasion, a place was set for the unexpected guest, (I can recall my grandmother actually laying out the place).   So when guests not due until the following day at the celebrations for Rory’s wedding arrived quite by chance, we regarded it as a stroke of great good fortune and swept them up into our party in spite of all their protestations.      Similarly friends arrived unexpectedly, not knowing of our event, at Elisabeth’s engagement party, and at the christening of Joanna.     We gathered them all in and would brook no refusal.

I think about my dreams.    Clearly some of them are just because over-tired or unwell, or a jumble of the day’s events, but if I dreamt anything of significance about a real person, I would pay close attention.     Obviously what you learned could not be treated as a fact, but your subconscious has noticed something that you haven’t and is sending you a message.     If in a dream there was some warning about someone, I would regard them with suspicion for ever more.

I take comfort from the natural world.   If I am out walking and suddenly am confronted by an unexpected sighting of an animal – say if a fox materialises from behind a tree, and looks me in the eye before he turns and goes about his business, then that is a magic moment.   A sentient creature of another order has stood before me in all his fiery beauty and has acknowledged me.   I have seen him think, a woman; not danger; not food.    I go on my way full of joy and wonder, feeling that I have received a precious gift.   Lucky.   (Photograph of fox in Southern England, courtesy of Robert Sullivan.)

I once sat on a balcony looking out across the lovely Knysna Lagoon (South Africa).   Only hours before some expert had told us that whales never entered the lagoon which had a very narrow exit to the sea.   I heard the characteristic hiss of the whale’s spray and looking up saw the telltale fountain of its breath.    There was a whale in Knysna Lagoon, and what is more, the tide was going out and it was in deep distress.   John went immediately to ask the lady of the house where we were staying  to telephone the coastguard.    When she did so, the officer said to her, ‘Are you quite sure?   Whales never come into Knysna Lagoon.’   ‘I’m looking at it,’ she replied.   When John came back to me, I said to him, ‘We cannot stay here.   If a whale comes in from the ocean to a lagoon where whales never come, and at the foot of our balcony it breathes its last, this is such a terrible omen that we must leave the entire country and never come back.’      John said, ‘Wait until morning.’     All night long the whale’s song of lamentation echoed round the bay.   We did not sleep, but kept vigil with her all night.    But the men of Knysna, former whale hunters, had been summoned, and they answered the call.   Within half an hour the coastguard had flown in an expert.   Men walked out to where she  was stuck and poured water over her.   It was difficult to see in the darkness, but they appeared to dig a channel around or under her, and when dawn came and the tide turned, they managed to heave her into deeper water, and then with two small boats they escorted her back to the lagoon’s entrance.    One last valedictory blow, and she vanished into the deep.   I thought, the men of Knysna rendered aid.   The doom has been averted.   I can stay here.

Superstitious?    Moi?     No;  rather I think of myself as a reader of runes, and an interpreter of omens.     Not quite, however, as the prophetess of the Sphinx:  she was crazy.   Nor as Cassandra, who was not believed and so Troy fell…