They are an odd collection. An accumulation of small objects grouped together in no particular order on the base of my Muji lamp to the right of my computer. This in turn stands on the old headmaster’s desk (rescued from a private school being demolished in London’s NW2 in the 1970s) that I write on.
Some of the objects are relatively new. A few have been here quite a while, having made the journey from Japan to Scotland in 2013.
All, I suppose, are associated with luck. The good kind of luck, not the bad, which I would not wish on anyone.
It’s a phrase we use without too much thought, a kind of useful tool to help others on their way, in the everyday, in life itself: Good luck!
Every culture has its own form of similar encouragement. In France, a near literal interpretation: Bonne chance.
In Spanish-speaking countries, Bueno suerte.
In Swahili, Bahati njema.
In Japan, it’s more complicated. (Most things are.) Never use the phrase Kouhn wo oinori shimasu face-to-face, and only when addressing a stranger or acquaintance; it’s too polite for common usage. People would laugh, I’m told.
Address a friend about to take an exam, Gambatte kudasai. If calling to a parent off to start a new job, Gambaryro! Neither imply luck of any kind, but rather are an encouragement to endure difficulty. Typical Asian pragmatism.
The English word luck is defined as fortune, good or bad. Not physical fortune (ie a pile of gold coins), but one rooted in the metaphysical. It’s connected to fate, destiny. We reach out into the unknown and, touching wood (something I do near instinctively), pray for the best. (I’m trying to keep hope out of my vocabulary, having a dubious and even negative context.)
I asked my Japanese husband if he believed in luck and he said no.
“Because it’s silly.”
But Japan is a very superstitious country…
“Yes, but only because we learn to be, from education, from our family…”
His mother, aunt, uncle, grandmother were all superstitious, he said, wasting so much time and money on palm-readings, clairvoyants, talismans and charms.
“They relied on them in life. None of them took responsibility for their own good fortune, made something of their lives. They were all disappointed.”
An extreme? Maybe. But with a good point. That maybe we need to make our own good luck, rather than expecting it to manifest via unknown, unseen forces.
Or maybe there is a balance to be found: that middle-ground again.
It has taken a while to find my own. I grew up with a mother who was so other-worldy that she found it hard to ground herself in reality. My father was the opposite: by staying in the safe zone of practicality, he missed out on swathes of possibility. Yet he was the one who wanted to take advantage of the government’s £10 passage scheme to Australia in the 1950s; she was the one who said no, fearful of risk and losing the little security they had. They were a complicated couple.
When my father wanted to cut down a rowan tree, planted as a sapling in the back garden, my mother went berserk. Rowans protected against witchcraft and enchantment, she insisted. Cutting one down would be bad luck.
I wonder if she also knew (on some level) that in Nordic mythology, it was the tree from which the first woman was created. (https://treesforlife.org.uk/forest/mythology-folklore/rowan2/)
Siding with my father through childhood, as daughters often do, I put aside such thoughts and raised my own children not to be superstitious. Or so my own daughter told me the night I flew to Buenos Aires from Toronto in 1999. It was Halloween, which Canada (having jumped on America’s pumpkin train) celebrates big time.
I was freaked, spooked, not liking flying very much anyway, and embarking on a trip that was as much about chasing my grandfather’s ghost as being rooted in any sensible rhyme or reason. I write about this experience in Chasing Shooting Stars (Amazon.co.uk), published in 2013.
But back to my desk, which has always served me well. I wonder if the initials carved into it have made their creative mark over the years? Or is it simply that I have always tried to put the desk to good use. Respected it. Loved it. Good energy is – and creates – good energy.
As for the objects, let me remind myself of how they came to be here, where they came from, how they help, if that is what they do – or I choose to believe they do.
The black ammonite – the fossilized spiral shell of an extinct sea creature – has (by far) the longest history… Azzah gave it to me years ago, after one of her visits to our house in Zushi.
(You can read about her in Chasing Shooting Stars, and Household Stories/Katei Monogatari (www.amazon.co.uk) published late last year via Amazon’s print-to-order self-publishing facility, Create Space. If in the USA, order from www.amazon.com; if in Japan, www.amazon.co.jp
If there are other links being used, it would be good to hear of them – Europe, the Antipodes, etc.)
Quite often when beginning to write, I hold this cool object in the palm of my hand to bring me, what? Luck, I suppose. As in a positive connection of some kind that will encourage my words forward…
Often I add the grey stone bearing the image of a raven, sent me to me by my Aunt Jo for Christmas one year. It was such an unlikely gift for a pragmatist; she despised superstition and dismissed mysticism as fanciful. (The exact opposite to her sister, my mother.) The following year she sent a similar stone bearing an insect. How I wish I knew her mindset at that time.
There is a smooth crystal that I think James gave me. An equally smooth blue stone heart from Julia, with a small blemish that sparkles. (Julia often brought me bits and pieces she picked up around the house, on the beach.)
Where the pale pink and pale blue stones came from I have no idea. Very un-me. And yet, here they sit, claiming their space.
There is a piece of stucco, picked up from a pathway winding its way around the Temple of the Sun just outside Mexico City. I would never have pulled away a piece from the actual structure, but it was just lying there… inviting me, I like to think: (http://guanajuatomexicocity.com/mexico-city/Pyramid-sun-teotihuacan.html)
The tiny flying duck is from a broken brooch. (I have three 1930s ceramics on the wall above the doorway, all broken, all glued back toegther.)
The pill box and ceramic Mandarin duck were gifted by Akii at Christmas 2016. He gave me a whole box of things, all related, and as he he explained), to help inspire me to return to the story I had drafted before leaving Japan.
The most recent token is a small metal hand holding what I assume to be a crystal ball. I was in Dunkeld last autumn, parked, when a woman rapped on the window. She was in her sixties, with wiry hair and a weather-beaten face. I don’t know why I knew instinctively she was Roma, which she was, and proud to be.
She knew a few things. That I had a daughter across the water. That my son had been ill as a child. That I had lived in the ‘Orient’. That I had never really every had a proper job (that’s very true!) but made my own way.
“You have had a great life”, she said. “You have been brave, made many changes, been very lucky. I see even greater years ahead, lady, so keep challenging…” And so saying, she placed the hand in my own.
My belief in talismans and omens as such, is not to be tested too deeply. But I do believe in signs, in part because twenty-six years in Japan did leave me more open to possibility than I had been in the UK. Actually I think I was open, very open, but often found it difficult to defend myself against my father’s scepticism and dismissal of anything that could not be proven by science.
Rooted in Shinto-ism – Japan’s animist nature-based religion – its culture and people are deeply superstitious. Most shrines and Buddhist temple have a kiosk or shop selling good luck charms and talismans, and the largest and most popular are hugely affluent as a result. I know, because my husband used to have a major shrine as a customer, and reports vast sums being processed, especially at New Year – priests running to and from bearing sacks of cash.
New Year (O-shogatsu) is when you buy arrows to symbolize shooting into the future for good fortune. You tie white papers inscribed with wishes and hopes onto the branches of trees or specially erected frames. You draw numbered sticks to discover how the year ahead is going to pan out. And you throw in a few fervent prayers, just in case…
So deep is the Japanese belief in the occult, that there blessing ceremonies for just about everything, from babies to new cars. And if you don’t believe me, just watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hf6B-_tp6gM
All this I saw as fun rather than to be taken too seriously. In the main it did no harm, except empty personal coffers. But there is always a dark side: for many people, it was serious and tended to affect future actions, reactions, hopes and fears.
Reading my pack of Angel Cards at the turn of the year, the word OBEDIENCE challenged my natural inclination to break rules and ignore advice. In this situation, however, it was just what I needed.
On December 11, 2017, my left knee joint was replaced at Perth Royal Infirmary, and while the operation itself successful, there were subsequent complications that that left me weak as a newborn…
So (once allowed home just ahead of Christmas) I needed to obey the instructions of the nursing staff: eat, drink, rest, medicate. I needed to do the physio exercises that would get me back on my feet. I needed to unscramble my brain, affected by a whole battery of drugs. Most of all I needed to listen to my own body, and rebalance in sensible fashion.
This has taken awhile, and why I am late in wishing you a happy new year, and – of course – the very best of luck…
But now here I am. At my lucky desk. With my lucky charms needing a dust but at the ready to do their job.
When I get started, that is.