The Superstitious Rituals of Highly Creative People, from Salvador Dalí to Yoko Ono
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
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
Lucky Number 5
French clothing designer
Held onto His “Essence”
Slept Facing North
Charles Dickens (1812–1870) carried a navigational compass with him at all times and always faced north while he slept—a practice he believed improved his creativity and writing. The author of such classic novels as A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations, Dickens was also a social critic guided by a strong moral compass, which he made evident through his incisive depictions of socioeconomic conditions.
Lighting a Match
Renowned multimedia artist and peace activist
Diane von Fürstenberg
Lucky Gold Coin
Fashion designer and icon Diane von Fürstenberg has a gold twenty-franc piece her father hid in his shoe during World War II that he gave to her when she was a girl. She tapes the coin in her shoe for good luck before every fashion show. Best known for her iconic wrap dress, von Fürstenberg’s influential designs are available in more than fifty-five countries worldwide.
Mexican painter and icon
Wore a Hat When Blocked
Author and illustrator Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904–1991), better known as
Spanish surrealist painter