Most people are superstitious than they care to admit. Hardly a human exists that doesn’t harbor a few apprehensions – consciously or subconsciously – about black cats, broken mirrors, spilled salt, or the number thirteen.
In fact, so concerned are most people that hotels and buildings generally refuse to label a thirteenth floor (they call it 13A or fourteen, thereby avoiding the vacancies that number 13 would bring) Even in this age of information technology, emails and chain letters are still being circulated saying that if a certain message is not sent to so and so number of people, you’ll have badluck for the rest of your life.
Westerners may scoff at the benighted superstitions of African and Asian people. Some may be amused that Zambians believe eggs can cause sterility, that some Japanese avoid cutting their nails at night lest cat claws grow out in their place, or that Chinese voyagers never turn over the fish on their plates for fear of capsizing their ships.
Yet westerners—with the growing popularity of astrology, parapsychology, numerology, and various psychic manifestations – are rapidly becoming some of the most superstitious people on earth. Statistics show that Americans spend more than 50 million dollars each year on astrology, one of the oldest forms of superstitious beliefs. Hardly a newspaper or a fashion magazine exists today that doesn’t carry daily horoscope – reportedly one of their most popular features.
Few people will openly admit to being superstitious, as it implies naiveté or ignorance. But which one of us hasn’t at one time or another wished on a birthday cake candle, pulled on a wishbone for good luck, tossed a coin into a wishing well, knocked on wood, crossed our fingers for good luck (or when we told a lie), shunned openingan umbrella in a house (lest bad luck rain on us), felt happy at finding a four-leaf clover, or said, “Gesunheit” or “God bless you” to someone who sneezed?
Each of these actions, whether we realize it or not, stems from some ancient superstitious origin. Their original purpose was to placate the anger, or court the favor, of various deities.
Weddings, even when held in sacred sanctuaries, include dozens of superstitious customs which stem from ancient primitive fears. The groom must not see the bride in her wedding dress before the ceremony, the bride must always wear “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” (the English add the line “and a sixpence in her shoe”); the bride and groom must cut the first slice of cake together to be assured of long life, happiness, and prosperity, must toss her bouquet to single out which single lady will marry next; and the guests must pelt the newly-weds with rice as they depart—an ancient fertility custom.
These merely show the grip that ancient superstitions have on the modern-day human being. Of course, it’s comforting to think you can explain the inexplicable, rationalize misfortune, or control your own destiny through a proper understanding of superstition. In fact, the signs and omens don’t have to make sense to anyone but you.
Question is, on what or to whom should we actually put our faith and trust in?