What is Superstition?
TL;DRWhy We Have Superstitions, What They Mean, and Why They Aren’t Just “Old Wive’s Tales.
In modern times, one would think nobody is superstitious anymore, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Superstitions are as old as time itself, and belief in superstition is a large part of a people’s cultures. That’s one reason why proving a superstition untrue isn’t so easy. Who has proof something is just an ignorant belief as opposed to being real, and what is the benefit of respecting superstitions anyways?
Defining superstitions, looking at what some of them are, and learning about the harm they can do shine light on how we view the supernatural and our role in controlling our World.
Superstition is defined by some as a belief based on lack of scientific knowledge, and based on unfounded belief in magic or the supernatural. It is considered to be based on ignorance, and lack of education. Another word for superstition is fear, and superstitions are referred to as old wive’s tales, suggesting the older generation knows nothing of value. Some consider those who ascribe to superstitions as being in awe of something they simply don’t understand, and some believe that all superstition can be explained away with book learning.
However, people who practice magic, or have folk beliefs would beg to differ. Most superstitions are based on something somebody observed to be so, and people who practice magic do so with full understanding that simply making up a superstition will not make it be true. Superstitions have to do with the sacred, or to do with blessing and protecting yourself and those you hold dear. For example, somebody at some point in time noticed that certain shades of blue looked like the sky, where they believed ghosts would get lost, so ghosts stay away from those blues. This led them to paint porches, doorways and shutters this color. Furthermore, it’s been proven that wasps are deterred by certain shades of blue. Thus “haint blue” is painted on people’s porches to protect the entry of the home to this day. This is no less rational than wearing a crucifix for protection.
A less derogatory definition of superstition is that superstitions are beliefs that draw a connection between the sacred or supernatural to the mundane. Researchers think we may be superstitious because our superstitions give us a feeling of control over our lives and that reduces anxiety. Indeed, if we are nervous about getting a shot as a child, a pair of “lucky socks” that grandma gifted us made us less fearful of going to the doctor. More than just fear triggering us to use charms and prayers for protection, being superstitious shows belief in sacredness, and human ability to influence the spirits, our own fate, and general power over those things that could harm us.
Unfortunately, some people do take superstitions too far and the results can be catastrophic. These unfortunate cases show the dark side our superstitions can take if not balanced with a grasp of reality. The Witch craze is a sobering reminder of this. Springing from the Inquisition, by the 15th century, irrational fear of witches and the Biblical devil were in full swing, and thousands of innocent people were put through unspeakable torture to make them “confess”. Some were allowed to do penance and live, and others were put to death. Because there is no way to prove exactly how many were affected, experts disagree, but they estimate that as few as 40,000 and possibly up to 4 million people were executed for practices no human being is capable of. Mysticsense has explored what can happen when such superstitions incite panic in this article about The Salem Witch craze.
There is no limit to things people see as meaning more than just what is on the surface. Some say you see something simply because it is there and others don’t think so. Beliefs that are generations old ascribe deeper significance to seemingly ordinary things like animals, objects, and events.
So important is our bond with our animal kin, we have set beliefs of what it means when we see them. Beliefs as to what a certain animal encounter means go beyond just a chance meeting. Some believe these creatures bring blessed or frightening messages, and we should respect what they tell us.
Bee in the House Superstition
Don’t swat or shoo a bee out if it decides to fly into your house. It brings great luck with it, but the luck will only hold if the bee is allowed to leave on its own!
Bird in the Windowsill Superstition
Bees might be considered good visitors in the home, but some say birds are not. These folk would tell you it’s never good to bring a bird into the house, and if one comes in, or even just lands in your windowsill, it’s a warning of bad luck. If a bird pecks on your window, it portends death of a member of the household.
If you are from England you don’t want to fall asleep by the river, or the “devil’s needle” aka dragonfly could come sew your eyes shut! You don’t want to harm or kill a dragonfly, though, because that can bring bad luck or even death of a family member. If you save dragonfly wings- wings you did not take yourself- of course, it’s considered good luck, and if you catch a dragonfly, it is believed you will soon be married.
Seeing a hawk is a good omen meaning you are protected and growing spiritually. Seeing a hawk is also the Universe telling you that if you focus on your goals, you will be very successful.
Praying Mantis Superstitions
A great sign of luck for the gardener, mantises are natural predators and gobble up plenty of those undesirable mosquitoes and moths. Praying mantises are also believed to guide lost children home, pointing the way for them. Be thankful if a praying mantis jumps on you because it’s brought you very good luck.
Grasshopper in the House Superstition
Don’t think of grasshoppers as pests when they are in the house. On the contrary, you want them there! If a grasshopper is in the house during a pregnancy, the creature’s energy is said to help the pregnancy go smoothly. They also bring wealth and general good luck into the house- IF they are left to live in peace. However, make sure if one dies in the house, to remove it quickly, because a dead grasshopper in the house is believed to bring bad luck.
A horseshoe hanging above doorways right side up draws luck from the moon, simply because it’s shaped like the crescent moon. Upside down, it’s for protection. Hanging a horseshoe above the bed prevents nightmares, and it’s believed by some the horseshoe wards off the evil eye. Horseshoes made of iron- or anything made from iron for that matter- wards off witches and malevolent spirits.
Knock on Wood Superstition
Wood in general is considered sacred, and some knock on wood, asking for protection from the wood of the crucifix of Christ. Others knock twice to ward off bad spirits. Some believe knocking on wood rouses the creatures of the wood, who will fly to their side and protect them.
The Evil Eye
The evil eye superstition is so widespread, Wikipedia says about 40% of people Worldwide believe in it. The evil eye means somebody has the ability to look at you with malevolent intent, and that in, and of itself can cause harm. This gaze is often done when you are unaware, and it can strike quickly, making you fall deathly ill within a day. Some Hindus and Islamics in South Asia believe if somebody is giving a child too many compliments it’s a possible attempt to curse the baby using a form of evil eye, and mothers will recite a prayer or use red chiles to take away the curse. Recognizable from parts of the Middle East and Eastern Europe is the colorful nazar, an amulet painted with an eye, that is believed to ward off evil eye threat. The nazar can be worn as jewelry, displayed on walls, in windows, hung in cars, and even on clothing.
Babies Born with a Caul Superstition
The baby born in a sac superstition is one that comes to us from the British Isles, and it says that if a child is born with the amniotic sac over its head, or if the baby is born completely inside it, it’s good luck. In American Appalachia, some say the child born with a caul will have great spiritual or psychic powers, possibly being able to communicate with spirits. With less than one in 80,000 births being this way, the fact it’s so rare may be why it’s considered special. The cauls were sold for luck to lawyers, and some carried them into war for protection. It is believed by some a child is especially blessed or destined for a successful life if born in the caul or with it on their head. Indeed, some very influential people including Sigmund Freud, Liberace, and Alexander the Great, were born this way.
Belief that people turn into werewolves during a full moon is one of the unfortunate and dangerous superstitions. Werewolf hunts followed the structure of witch hunts, with the accused being brought in, tortured to illicit sensational confessions of pacts with the devil, and often resulted in execution. Cannibalism occurs sometimes when widespread starvation devastates, with people sometimes digging into new graves to make meals out of the bodies of the recently deceased. Indeed many accused of shapeshifting into a wolf to devour human beings were caught robbing graves. People cannot transform into animals, so these superstitions have no foundation in reality.
Superstitions that the full moon makes people act erratically, however have been proven to be true. The full moon makes it harder for some people to sleep, thus making their behavior the following days irritable and irrational at times. Doctors have found that some bipolar patients have manic episodes on full moons. However, studies have found no increase in violent crimes. Going “loony” with the lunar change it seems, is not as widespread as some state, but it does happen sometimes.
Blue Moon Superstitions
A blue moon is when a second full moon occurs in one month, and some believe that sleeping with its light shining on your face can drive you completely insane. Don’t dismay, though, because a blue moon is not seen as all bad. Turning a coin over in your pocket during a full moon brings luck. Flip your mattress during a full moon to get extra fertility, and if you are a woman who wants to get pregnant, spending some time looking directly at the blue moon can help with that. Even better news is that if you plan a goal under the blue moon, you will definitely be successful!
New Year’s Superstition
People in the United States say you have to eat pork with sauerkraut for New Year’s Day, and this will assure good luck for the year. Others swear it’s black eyed peas, herring, or collard greens you need to eat to make sure of this. Some believe whoever you are with at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve will be the person you are with for the year. Some people go out of their way to make sure they are kissing a date, out of fear they may otherwise end up single, maybe even for life. In Spain, eating twelve pieces of fruit at midnight assures luck for each of the twelve months of the year, and eating twelve grapes will lock this luck down. Make sure your larders, cupboards, spice racks, fridges and freezers are not empty, because this could bring the bad luck of going without abundant food! In China, parents try to keep their kids up as late as possible on the eve of their New Year because it is believed that the longer the kids stay awake, the longer the parents lives will be.
Superstitions aren’t all bad, and a lot of them are founded on understanding of the way things really are. People’s beliefs vary, but everybody is somewhat superstitious. Human beings have strong control of our own lives, and we have the ability to communicate with the spirits, the divine, and the earth and her creatures in general. Sometimes, a black cat goes by you simply because it’s going someplace. Other times, the black cat superstition that the cat crossing your path is good luck is correct! Sometimes bad news really does come in threes- and sometimes you get one bad bit of news or five. We shouldn’t make ourselves hysterical worrying about whether an ant has hidden meaning, but we should acknowledge the connection the supernatural has in our lives.
So, knock on that wood, let the bees come in, and have a heaping plate of collards as you kiss your sweetheart on New Year’s. We could all use a little extra luck.
Know about the Superstitions of the Head and Face