JUST WHAT IS SUPERSTITION?
It’s difficult to find a finite definition of superstition. It is felt that it owes a lot to our desire to control uncertainty and unpredictability in our lives. In the cold light of day the vast majority of superstitions just don’t make sense in this day and age, yet still they persist. When using, the endeavour is to eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive by keeping out bad luck and encouraging good. Therefore, they may come into play at times of greater uncertainty and stress. People can then go on to associate their good luck with their action, their choice of talisman or charm rather than any hard work or preparation that had gone into the event. Our minds can be tricked by our thoughts even if they are irrational. The scientist and therapist in me appreciates the saying ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get.’ A good saying to be discussed over a glass of wine!
SUPERSTITION BEGUN AT A YOUNG AGE
I can remember lying on my stomach on my parents’ lawn looking for a tiny four-leaved clover, though rarely do I recall actually finding one. I have the feeling that what fascinated me was seeking out the ‘different to the run of the mill’ rather looking to the lawn for luck. I have to say that I retain a liking of somewhat quirky, different things as well as the minutiae of life. The four leaves of the four-leaf clover are said to symbolize faith, hope, love, and luck.
I remember making my way along the pavement chanting ‘If you tread on a nick (the gap between the paving slabs), you’ll marry a brick and a beetle will come to your wedding.’ Maybe the children who followed on a few years later would have been happy to tread on those nicks in the hope that one of the ‘Fab Four’ Beatles would come to their wedding! What a difference that vowel swap makes. One possible origin for such childish rhymes is the concept, from goodness knows how long ago, that cracks can be filled with evil forces, or were maybe a point of weakness between the world of the dead and our living world. This being a pattern repeated with many other superstitions and their links to times gone by, as well as to the concept of magic.
These are just two of the supposed bringers of luck forming a part of our superstitions. Others include the various talismen such as a rabbit’s foot or a St Christopher’s medal; and avoiding walking under a ladder. This is one to which I do adhere, though on the grounds of health and safety. This is especially so if there is someone actually up said ladder maybe with a hod of bricks or a tub of paint. Then we have variations on a theme such as a black cat. In some countries considered a good omen, whilst in others a bad one. As for me, I could not possibly consider a black cat as anything other than a gorgeous furry companion. Having said that, UK cat homing charities struggle to house black cats more than cats of any other hue.
Then there is the avoidance of the number 13, believed by many to be unlucky. A belief that has many different roots from across the world. It has led to multi-story buildings often omitting a 13th floor; hotels omitting Room 13; people avoiding doing things, especially if involving flying or long drives on the 13th, especially if this happens to also be a Friday! I hadn’t realised that some airlines don’t have a 13th row on their aircraft, and Lufthansa also has no 17th row as the number 17 is considered unlucky in some countries to which I presume they fly frequently.
There’s even a word for fear of the number thirteen – triskaidekaphobia. What’s the betting that that trips me up on the podcast – fingers crossed that it doesn’t!
THE CHINESE CULTURE AND SUPERSTITION
Although they claim not to be superstitious, it seems that many Chinese people are, following in the footsteps of their ancestors and their traditions. Red is a lucky colour – a colour widely used especially around festivals such as the New Year money wallets given to children. 8 is a lucky number. This link takes you through to the most popular.
When visiting my son and his family in Hong Kong, I came across another superstition which fascinated me. I was looking at a relatively new, large apartment block not far from the coast. In the middle of the block was a huge gap - not something that I had come across before in similar buildings. With the cost of apartments in Hong Kong, said gap must have meant a far from insubstantial loss of income. The reason? To allow the spirit dragons access from the mountains behind the building through to the sea.
SPORTS PEOPLE AND SUPERSTITION
It seems that those who are seemingly driven by competition, a need to win, tactics, great levels of fitness also frequently have superstitions which they hope will also help them. Some team players always have to be first or last on their way out to the pitch. Others can be seen genuflecting, offering a prayer to their god as soon as they are on the pitch. I believe that superstition could well be attached to the timing of this action, setting their particular scene for the game ahead. A scene that they consider would be adversely affected if they didn’t carry out their particular actions.
Rafa Nadal, the tennis champion includes precisely lining up his water bottles amongst his many rituals. He is reported as saying that he feels that they help him with his focus and performance. Maybe I should have included pre-serve multiple bounces in the days when I played tennis. Maybe I would have been more successful.
Golfer, Tiger Woods, always wears a red shirt for final rounds of golf, whilst other sportspeople have their lucky socks, wear odd socks or always HAVE to put one shoe on first. Though I imagine that many of us do the same simply out of habit rather than by way of hoping that it will have any influence over the day ahead, or actions within that day. Or is that just me?
Many sports people are convinced that their actions do make a difference – and they continue with them whether on a winning or a losing streak. Presumably in the hope that a winning streak will remain, or that a losing streak will disappear. It may have begun as a small, familiar, action which gave comfort at a time of stress. An action which went on to mean much more to them. Having worked hard to get their bodies in peak condition, maybe the actions, or their ‘lucky charms’ serve to put their minds in the right space for a good sporting performance.
I am aware that there are sports people who make use of hypnotic techniques to imprint success onto their mind, or to endeavour to wipe out a failure. The afore mentioned Tiger Woods, and Justin Rose both have specific ways of handling their clubs, of handing them back to their caddy after a good or a bad shot. I wonder if this imprinting also owes anything to superstition.
THEN WE HAVE PLANT SYMBOLISM..
Many plants are associated with specific feelings, symbolise different things, so will be sent at particular times, given to particular people. For example, myrtle is said to be an emblem of lasting love, and is included in all royal wedding bouquets. Much of this folklore, superstition, seems to have been lost to us today. Could it be due to the easy availability of the ready prepared mixed bunches of flowers at supermarkets and garages? In the days when we could take flowers into hospitals, I remember always being told not to take red and white ones as that signified blood and wasn’t deemed a happy choice for the patient.
There are those who believe that you have to apologise when picking herbs in order for them to forgive you for taking their leaves. Maybe that is why mine all died. They sulked and then went into a steep decline. Then again, it could have been that I forgot to water them.
Throughout Europe, basil has long been considered a symbol of love and is often put in windows or at doors in order to keep away negative influences. However, the original thinking behind this may surprise – it is explained in garden-superstition
ARE SUPERSTITIONS HERE TO STAY IN TODAY’s WORLD?
Maybe you don’t consider yourself to be superstitious –but do you automatically say ‘Bless you’ if someone sneezes? This is from an old belief that the devil is able to enter and steal your soul if you sneeze. Many of us do though we have no idea of why we do. Is it simply one of those engrained superstitions – one that has become a habit.
Many of us have a deep seated need for routine. Could these seemingly small superstitions fulfil this need, and simultaneously provide a link to our childhood family sayings, memories?
What other reasons do we have our superstitions? Behavioural scientist, psychologist, and specialist in superstitions, Professor Stewart Vyse, suggests “Those lucky socks can’t really be lucky, but we tend to give in – it’s often called acquiescing – to this more gut level reaction of the brain. We make connections between things that are just coincidental, we give them special significance where there is none there. Superstitions have such a strong psychological pull…I don’t think we’ll ever be rid of them.”
So, will we continue knocking on wood to avoid putting the mockers on something. Crossing our fingers to keep away negativity. Raising a glass and saying ‘cheers’ - things that we just do, without realising that they are superstitions. Says she who previously stated that she wasn’t superstitious but who just said ‘bless you’ to the cat when he sneezed!
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