Chances are that many of us have knocked on wood, avoided walking under ladders, or carried some sort of good luck charm (maybe a rabbit’s foot or an evil eye) close to our bodies. These rituals, of course, are products of superstition: the comforting belief that a ritual or object has the power to bring good luck, or ward off evil.
“It’s part of the human condition: the desire to control things that we may not necessarily have in our power,” author and illustrator Ellen Weinstein told Artsy on a recent morning. “It affects almost everyone, to some degree or another.”
As a deeply superstitious person herself, Weinstein has always been fascinated by the rituals humans develop in hopes of ensuring success, productivity, or creativity. But she doesn’t like to divulge her own: “If I actually share them, they’ll lose their power,” she admitted with a laugh. Instead, Weinstein embarked on a journey to share the superstitions of some of history’s most remarkable individuals—including artists.
This month, she releases Recipes for Good Luck: The Superstitions, Rituals, and Practices of Extraordinary People, published by Chronicle Books. Through text and playful illustrations, the book unearths the superstitious habits of 65 famous artists, designers, musicians, scientists, athletes, and more. Their routines range from unexpected to eccentric. Model and TV host Heidi Klum, for instance, carries a pouch of her baby teeth wherever she goes. Novelist Mary Shelley wrote with a boa constrictor around her neck, and famously interpreted the snake’s movements as directions to continue writing or call it a day. And found that she painted better after tending to her garden.
While the luminaries and rituals Weinstein highlights are eclectic, a common thread connects them. “They all have a deep passion for what they do,” she explained. “If you don’t really care about succeeding at your work, then you won’t cultivate a practice or superstition to ensure good luck for it.”
Below, we share excerpts from Weinstein’s book, which reveal how creatives from to found comfort and inspiration in superstitions. Spoiler: One famous artist kept all of his nail and hair clippings for fear of losing his “essence.”