In Brief — In January of 2017, the author contemplated a piece on superstition and how we all fall victim to some really silly mythical beliefs. After a period of simmering, this piece takes a cynical look at the phenomenon. [Written in May, 2017.]
What Fools These Mortals Be (Shakespeare) —
I confess! I used to throw spilled salt over my shoulder to avoid bad luck. I knock on wood. I know it’s a silly habit, but I still do it. I cross my fingers…or at least say it fairly often. And I’m an atheist who doesn’t believe in myths like deities and an earthly Jesus. If I do stuff like this, what do others do? Are we captive to myths? Belief in a deity is a myth, but the majority of people on Earth are captives of this myth. This deserves exploration.
Common Myths —
We are all gripped by bushwa, by false beliefs. Some of it is force of habit, but some of it is really serious stuff that dominates our lives. Given that these myths have power over us, it’s necessary to turn a spotlight on them and raise awareness of the baloney that lurks in the in the shadows of our subconscious. This is the spotlight illuminating common myths.
- Walking under a ladder — While it is a practical fear that a can of paint or a tool may fall on you, it’s an old myth that a ladder resembles a medieval gallows or that the careless walker blasphemes the Christian Holy Trinity triangle.
- Friday the 13th brings bad luck — This one is widely believed and is an example of confirmation bias, i.e., that because the believer may have experienced misfortune on a previous Friday the 13th, the believer will look for bad luck when that day rolls around again. Another reason is that Jesus was allegedly crucified on a Friday. In Spanish-speaking countries, bad luck is associated with Tuesday, not Friday.
- A black cat crossing your path — Even though cats were worshipped in ancient Egypt and cats are frequent household pets, their association with the devil and witches makes them evil. In, Japan, however, black cats are believed to be omens of good luck.
- Knocking on wood — Depending on which myth you want to believe, this superstition is either good or bad. Pagans believed that trees were inhabited by spirits who would bring good luck to a person who touched a tree. Christians believe that a wooden cross representing the one on which Jesus reputedly died carried good luck. Makes you wonder why crucifixion is considered lucky.
- A rabbit’s foot is a good luck protective talisman — This Celtic myth…or maybe American-Caribbean voodoo, is believed to confer protection on the owner. Seems to me a three-legged rabbit whose foot adorns a key chain could dispute this.
- Breaking a mirror results in seven years of bad luck — A mirror doesn’t just reflect your image it is believed to capture your soul. Given the fact that the number seven is often associated with good luck, it’s a long time to burden the breaker with bad luck. That’s a heavy psychological weight to carry around and could doom the believer to years of needless misery.
- Wishing on a wishbone — Divination with bird bones goes back many centuries, but this one involves a belief that if one gets the larger piece in a contest with an opponent, the winner gets his/her wish. Presumably, this is a way of predicting the future. About that fifth race at Hialeah.,,?
- Bad luck comes in threes — This one is another good example of confirmation bias. How often have you read about an airplane accident, and you were on the lookout for additional instances of bad luck? By George, they appeared! You had primed yourself for two more and, sure enough, they happened… but you ignored the additional ones. You just confirmed that bad luck comes in threes.
- Crossing your fingers — This dates back to early Christianity. Crossing one finger over the other is supposed to approximate the Christian cross and was a sign of good luck. It was reportedly a signal to another Christian that s/he was among friends. Sort of like the secret symbols of fraternities. Cults, maybe? Just askin’.
These are just ten of perhaps hundreds if not thousands of superstitions. But you know something really astounding? Most of the billions of people on the planet believe in the biggest myth of all: a deity for which not even the most miniscule dust mote of evidence has ever been produced proving that a deity exists. Neither a loving deity nor an evil one. Nada.
There are numerous sincere believers who are devoted to bettering the lot of their fellow humans. These are truly practitioners of humanism, but they’re not followers of the superstition they purport to embrace.
All that said, this piece is about the little superstitions that we all carry with us. What are yours?
The Weekly Sampler—
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