How Superstitious Are you?
What is a superstition? A superstition is the belief that events are influenced by specific behaviors, without having a causal relationship. A causal relationship is the logical relationship between one physical event and another physical event. So a superstition is where there is an event, but there is no logical relationship between an event and the cause, or subsequent event which is ascribed to it.
Superstitions are based on cultural beliefs in a supernatural "reality" and they relate to things that are not fully understood or known. Therefore, the type and nature of the superstition may be dependent upon the culture and the origin of the culture. This culture difference is evident when one thinks of the number 13 or the number 4. In Asian cultures the number 4 is considered unlucky and in western cultures the number 13 is considered unlucky. The Chinese pronunciation for the words "die" and 4 are similar, which explains why 4 isn't a favourite number in many Asian countries. In western countries which have a christian tradition, the number 13 is considered unlucky because supposedly there were 13 at the last supper. So superstitions are culturally relevant, but many of them have their origins in a belief in the supernatural.
What are the origins of some of these other superstitions?
1. Breaking a mirror will bring 7 years bad luck.
(Before the invention of mirrors, man gazed at his reflection, his "other self," in pools, ponds, and lakes. If the image was distorted, it was a mark of impending disaster.)
2. The devil or evil spirits can enter your body when you sneeze unless someone says "God bless you."
(Ancient man believed that his breath was also his soul or "essence of life." A rapid departure of that breath, a sneeze, is the same as expelling life from one's body. Also, it leaves a vacuum in the head which evil spirits can enter.)
3. If you spill salt, you must throw a pinch over the left shoulder to ward off the devil.
(Salt was once a rare and costly commodity. As such, it was economic waste to spill any. Also, salt is a purifier, a preservative, and it symbolizes the good and lasting qualities of life. It was mixed into the foods used in the religious ceremonies of both the Greeks and Romans. One source of this superstition is Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper. The betrayer Judas, has accidentally spilled salt onto the table.)
4. Black cats crossing your path bring bad luck.
(The Egyptians worshiped the cat and punished anyone who dared to kill one. In the Middle Ages, however, the black cat was linked to witches and Satan. Since it was believed that a witch had the power to transform herself into a cat, it was thought likely that a cat who crossed one's path was a witch in disguise.)
Without going through the origin of lots of superstitions, it is evident that many of them originate from a belief in the existence of supernatural forces which can either be harmful or helpful. Ancient man always had supernatural explanations for natural events. Supernatural explanations when systemized became religions and that is probably why we still find today that highly religious cultures are also superstitious cultures. That includes the majority of people on the planet except for perhaps those who are atheists, agnostics or skeptics. I haven't met any overtly superstitious atheists, but I have known many superstitious theists. Superstition and religious beliefs appear to walk hand in hand.
Religious practices are most likely to be labelled "superstitious" by those who do not share the religious belief. Especially when they include belief in extraordinary events, an afterlife, supernatural interventions, apparitions or the efficacy of prayer, charms, incantations, the meaningfulness of omens, and prognostications. Greek and Roman pagans, (who were theists but not christians), scorned the man who constantly trembled with fear at the thought of the gods, as a slave feared a cruel and capricious master. "Such fear of the gods (deisidaimonia) was what the Romans meant by superstition." (Veyne 1987, p 211).
PS: Don't forget to watch the video I made.