The more I work with clients, the more I realize there are superstitions about everything, and that most people have superstitious beliefs and practices of one kind or another, based on their cultural background and programming. As physical reality is based on the study of emotions, superstitions evoke fear and are primitive in nature. They are linked to religion and mythology. They are another way to control human behavior.
What are Superstitions?
Superstition is the belief in supernatural causality - that one event leads to the cause of another without any natural process linking the two events - such as astrology, religion, omens, witchcraft, prophecies, etc., that contradicts natural science.
Opposition to superstition was central to 17th century Rationalist Benedict de Spinoza and the intellectuals of the 18th century Age of Enlightenment. The philosophies at that time rejected any belief in miracles, revelation, magic, or the supernatural, as "superstition," as well as unreasoned Christian doctrine.
The word superstition is sometimes used to refer to religious practices (e.g., Voodoo) other than the one prevailing in a given society (e.g., Christianity in western culture), although the prevailing religion may contain just as many superstitious beliefs. It is also commonly applied to beliefs and practices surrounding luck, prophecy and spiritual beings, particularly the belief that future events can be foretold by specific (apparently) unrelated prior events.
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 travelers) 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:
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