When I was about eight, my aunt, who was living with us in Connecticut at the time, taught my brother and me that we had to whisper the surah Al-Ikhlas (Purity) three times and then blow into the air around us three times before we went to sleep each night. By doing this, we would be protected from any harm, she said. She also said that if ever we were in any kind of trouble, we should recite this surah repeatedly.
Years later, I would find myself going through the ritual of reciting this verse three times and blowing in three directions not only before sleep, but before basketball tryouts, final exams, and on board planes as they picked up speed down the runway, thereby protecting everyone on board.
I sometimes still find myself reciting the verse. I knew what it meant once, when I was nine or so, but forgot steadily over the years. Reciting simply became a spell I could cast over myself: believing in my old personal ritual gave it power over me.