There's still time to make New Year's resolutions but since we’re already plunging into the cold and shivery days of winter, let’s not overtax ourselves. It's time to hunker down and hibernate.
Our New Year would have an entirely different feeling if we marked it at the vernal equinox with spring at hand, as people did through much of history. This scheme coincides with the cycles of nature and made good sense to the ancient Persians and Egyptians. In Europe the New Year was marked on March 25, the first day of spring, right through the Middle Ages.
I rather like the old deal, when at New Year’s we might have been shedding our heavy coats and thinking about tilling and sowing. Instead, we’re trolling in the mailbox for the first garden catalogs, the only sign of spring we’ll see for months.
There’s no looking back, though. Forget resolutions that you will only break. Honor the old ways and bolster your good luck quotient in the new year by paying attention to some ancient superstitions. Not surprisingly, many old-time omens of good fortune involve interactions with nature.
Having bats nesting in your belfry (or eaves) heralds great good fortune. If bird droppings land on your head it may be unfortunate for your hairdo, but is considered a sign that wealth is about to descend on you as well. I didn’t know that finding your initials in a spider’s web means you will have good luck forever, but I’m going to look more carefully from now on.
Encountering all sorts of animals is thought lucky, especially if they hop or crawl into your house. Butterflies signify good things ahead on the romantic front, grasshoppers and ladybugs mean important visitors are headed your way and frogs suggest that unanticipated money is coming soon. Snakes are good omens, too, so don’t harm them.
Meeting up with a cow, symbol of prosperity and fertility, is also auspicious -- but I dare say you will foil good fortune if you engage in the rural sport of cow tipping. (This has nothing to do with cash for good service, but rather involves encouraging a sleeping cow to lean on you until, when you suddenly withdraw support, it topples over.)
As winter thaws, be alert for the first shy blossoms and note the day of the week on which you discover them. Spotting the first flower of spring on Sunday or Monday predicts good luck. If it happens on Tuesday, big undertakings will be successful; on Wednesday, a wedding is approaching; on Thursday, look for unexpected luck. Should it occur on Friday, though, beware. Misfortune is at hand.
Don’t bring just one snowdrop or a single violet into the house — make it a bunch, lest you tempt fate. Finding the first daffodil of spring will bring gold and silver in the next 12 months, but if the blossom has its head hanging, expect reversals.
Finding a four-leaf clover is lucky, of course, and you often will meet your true love the same day. Keeping this talisman in your possession will enable you to see and avoid evil spirits.
Don’t pick marigolds or you will become a heavy drinker. Picking wild poppies will trigger a thunderstorm and picking a pansy on a fine day will bring rain — which can be lucky or unlucky, depending on how dry it’s been.
If you can’t remember these specifics focus on general principles. At a yard sale many years ago, I bought a book irresistibly entitled “How to Attract Good Luck,” published in 1952 by A.H.Z. Carr, an economist, of all things. (This little classic is still available in more recent editions at amazon.com.)
According to Carr, one short cut to luck is to approach life with zest, which keeps the mind fresh and resilient. Carr defines a zestful person as one who “may be occasionally angered or disquieted (but) loves life with all of its pains, absurdities and follies.” His advice may be summarized as follows:
Good fortune often comes to us through strangers, so be prudent, but remain open to chance encounters. Uncalculated generosity evokes similar feelings in the hearts of beholders — and every act of true friendship is proof that your luck potential is on the rise. Read a great deal, exposing yourself to the “sparkle and tang” of new ideas.
Finally, be primed for the near occasion of good fortune. Take to heart the words of a pioneer in the philosophy of luck, Mr. William Shakespeare: “If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.”
In other words, remain alert to the bonne chance. And don’t bring daffodils into the house when ducks and hens are laying — it’s unlucky.