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  • Writer's pictureBetty Girardeau


Yesterday when I was out walking I turned a street corner and immediately saw these two vultures sitting on the roof of the house at the end of the street. I honestly don't think of myself as particularly superstitious, but the first thought that came into my head was "That's not good." If I'm not superstitious, why did I think that? It's really pretty simple. I grew up hearing that seeing turkey vultures sitting around was a bad omen. All traditional portrayals of these birds show them as creatures of darkness and mystery and messengers of death and the underworld. I can honestly say that intellectually I know that is untrue. Vultures are, in fact, pretty important parts of our ecology. They are scavengers whose diets consist mainly of the flesh of dead creatures, which makes them natural purifiers of the earth. But it is this characteristic that has made them seem scary and ominous to humans all over the world. In fact, the most common superstition related to vultures in many cultures and traditions is that seeing a vulture means death, disease or other misfortune or event is near. Most superstitions have their roots in a period of history when people were uneducated and needed to find reasons in their surroundings to explain why bad and good things happened. Today we still honor many of them because they have been passed down to us from generation to generation. From knocking on wood to insure good fortune, to not walking under ladders, to saying "God Bless" when someone sneezes, to not opening an umbrella inside a building, many superstitions are so ingrained that everyone from lay people to scientists sometimes fall for these common superstitions. While many or us would agree that most of these beliefs are irrational, those who study the science of superstition say that engaging in superstitious behavior often helps people to have a sense of control that alleviates anxiety, especially during times of economic crisis and social uncertainty. There certainly seems to be more than a fair share of those two things in our world these days, but not enough for me to really think that those two vultures hanging out together on my neighbor's roof is a portent of worse to come. In fact, I more often see doves sitting on my roof, and that is "supposed" to mean that I will have good luck. And soon I should have hummingbirds at my feeder. Their presence will supposedly insure my good fortune and promise me success in my endeavors. I can hardly wait!

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