Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Superstitions

Can things happen outside of the laws of nature? Does walking under a ladder inheritly bring you bad luck? Should you kill every black cat you come across? Those are age old questions and ones that will probably be discussed for many years to come. Superstitions are in every culture and stems from the belief that one even leads to another though without any natural link between the two. Unlike natural causality where we can see the connection between two events, such as a earthquake and a collapsed building, superstitions would connect you spilling the salt with your newly collapsed building. Though an earthquake made it happen, the real cause of the event was your bad luck. I'm not going to go into the history of superstitions or its evolution over time, but instead just touch on a few common superstitions that we see in our culture. You'd be surprised how many people believe in superstitions or the concept of good and bad luck. While mostly harmless, some superstitions have had catastrophic consequences and have caused some to live in fear for illogical reasons.

Horseshoes are thought to bring good or bad luck depending on how they are utilized. A common tradition is that if you hang a horseshoe with bot points up, it will bring you luck, while both points down will bring bad. Sailors often put horseshoes on the front of their ship to give them good luck in their voyage. The source behind the horseshoe and it's inherit luck comes from the story of Saint Dunstan and the Devil. Saint Dunstan was a blacksmith by trade and when asked by Satan to put a horseshoe on the devil's horse. Dunstan instead nailed it onto Satan's foot and only took it off when Satan agreed to never enter a place where a horseshoe was hung.

The unlucky nature of Friday the 13th seems to stem from the old belief that both 13 and Friday are unlucky. Put them together and you have super unlucky! The number 13 has been considered unlucky due to 12 being so awesome. 12 is considered the number of divine organizational arrangement or of chronological completeness.  Case in point: 12 months in a year, 12 hours on the clock, 12 tribes of Isreal, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 apostles of Jesus, and 12 signs of the zodiac. Simply adding another number made the whole thing irregular. Friday's bad luck stems from the Canterbury Tales, where Friday was considered an unlucky day to start a journey or undertake projects. Another common belief associated with Friday the 13th is that if you become a camp counselor on that day, you will surely be murdered by a man in a hockey mask or by his mother.

Black cats are considered to be bad luck in Western culture (save for the British Isles), and good luck everywhere else. Black cats are often associated with witches, something that has been believed since the Middle Ages. Old women who were in the company of many cats were believed to be witches, and could even turn into cats themselves. Thus, if a black cat crossed your path, it very well may have been a witch. This had unintended consequences during the plague years, as cats were killed wholesale. Thus, the rats carrying the plague were allowed to infect more and more people without any pesky cats around.

Ever heard someone say something hopeful, then quickly utter, "knock on wood!"? Everyone says it, but nobody is really sure why. We just say it out of habit because if we don't, that hopeful wish won't come true, right? This superstition stems from the belief that if you said something boastful or proud, fate would intervene and bring you down a peg. The only way to stop this from happening was either shutting your cake-hole, or knocking on wood. But why wood? Trees were believed to house good spirits, and by knocking on where they lived, you were basically asking for their protection. Here's hoping that the tree spirit can still help you after you had it turned into a coffee table.

Four-leaf clovers are said to bring luck to anyone who possesses one. This belief stems from the hard to find clovers use as a charm in Celtic times. The clover is said to be most abundant in Ireland, leading to the association. According to tradition, the four clovers represent, in order, Faith, Hope, Love, and Luck. It is also seen as a reminder of the Cross for Christians.

As explained by The Simpsons, when you sneeze, your soul tries to escape your body, however saying "God Bless You" stuffs the soul back in. It's funny, but actually not so far from where the saying originated. People believed that the soul tried to get out when you sneezed, or that your heart stopped for a second, and seeing as you made it through the terrible, yet short ordeal, someone would "God Bless You". Another theory is that it was something Pope Gregory the Great would say to people who sneezed during the time of the Bubonic Plague. It has now turned into just something people say to each other to be polite.

There are a ton of other superstitions, but these were honestly the most interesting ones. Do some of your own research and find out why people do the crazy things they do!

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