Superstitions are also known as 'folk beliefs.' The more I work with my clients, the more I realized that there are supersitions about everything, and that most people have superstitious beliefs and practices of one kind or another, based on their cultural background.
What are Superstitions?
A superstition is an irrational or invalid belief about the relation between certain actions (often behaviors) and other actions. The superstitious individual erroneously believes that the future, or the outcome of certain events can be caused or influenced by certain specified behaviors, despite the lack of a causal relationship in reality.
Many superstitions emerged from the notions of "good luck" and "bad luck"; the notion of "luck", however, can itself be considered a form of superstition.
Some popular superstitions are a result of misinterpreting correlations as causes, although many others are simply urban legends that have no rational justification whatsoever.
Superstition may be expressed in the terminology of religion, giving rise to skeptical thinkers' opinion that all religion is superstition. Greek and Roman pagans, who modeled their relations with the gods on political and social terms 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).
For Christians just such fears might be worn proudly as a name: Desdemona.
By its definition superstition is not based on reason. Many superstitions can be prompted by misunderstandings of causality or statistics.
Others spring from unenlightened fears, which may be expressed in religious beliefs or practice, or to belief in extraordinary events, supernatural interventions, apparitions or in the efficacy of charms, incantations, the meaningfulness of omens and prognostications.
Any of the above can lead to unfounded fears, or excessive scrupulosity in outward observances.
Fanaticism, some argue, arises from this same displaced religious feeling, in a state of high-wrought and self-confident excitement. Such unquestioning loyalty can apply to politics and ideologies as well as religion; indeed, it can even be focused on sports teams and celebrities.
Whatever the cause, superstition can lead to a disregard of reason under the false assumption of a divine or paranormal form of control over the universe.
A gambler might credit a winning streak to a "lucky rabbit's foot" or to sitting in a certain chair, rather than to skill or to the law of averages.
An airline passenger might believe that it is a medal of St Christopher (traditional patron saint of travellers) that keeps him safe in the air, rather than the fact that airplanes statistically crash very rarely.
Superstition is also used to refer to folkloric belief systems, usually as juxtaposed to another religion's idea of the spiritual world, or as juxtaposed to science.
Superstition and behavioral psychology
The behaviorist psychologist B.F. Skinner placed a series of hungry pigeons in a cage attached to an automatic mechanism that delivered food to the pigeon "at regular intervals with no reference whatsoever to the bird's behavior". He discovered that the pigeons associated the delivery of the food with whatever chance actions they had been performing as it was delivered, and that they continued to perform the same actions:
Like the pigeons, many people associate behavior (head-turning or worship of God(s)) with an external phenomenon (delivery of food or conquest by a foreign power) that was not necessarily connected in any way with personal behavior. Any misfortune could thus be interpreted as a sign of divine disfavor, whether or not the individuals who suffered bore direct responsibility.
Religious views on the subject of superstition
The Roman Catholic Church considers superstition to be sinful in the sense that it denotes a lack of trust in the divine providence of God and, as such, is a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states superstition "in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion" (para. #2110).
The Catechism even appears to turn a bit of a critical eye on Catholic doctrine whenever certain practices become frivolous or scrupulous:
13 Common (But Silly) Superstitions Live Science - January 13, 2012
If you are spooked by Friday the 13th, you're in for a whammy of a year. This week's unlucky day is the first of three for 2012. And it would come as no surprise if many among us hold at least some fear of freaky Friday, as we humans are a superstitious lot. Many superstitions stem from the same human trait that causes us to believe in monsters and ghosts: When our brains can't explain something, we make stuff up. In fact, a 2010 study found that superstitions can sometimes work, because believing in something can improve performance on a task. Here, then, are 13 of the most common superstitions.
I have recently been examining all the known
superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular
superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature.
They are all alike founded on fables and mythology.
When the human race has once acquired a superstition
nothing short of death is ever likely to remove it.
Allow me to make the superstitions of a nation and
I care not who makes its laws or its songs either.
I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer,
pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting,
the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive.
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