“Do not disturb your mind … with other hopes and fears than reason may suggest: if you are pleased with prognostics of good, you will be terrified likewise with tokens of evil, and your whole life will be a prey to superstition.”
-Samuel Johnson, 18th Century English writer
Boo! Sorry, I just wanted to get your attention. After all, it is October, the month of Halloween, the month of ghouls, ghosts and goblins and scary things. So, to honor the tradition, here is a thought to scare you: Most human beings on this earth are influenced by superstition and it has probably been so since the beginning of recorded time.
What’s wrong with superstition? I hope the answer becomes very clear after you read the definition as given in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Superstition is: A belief, practice, or rite irrationally maintained by ignorance of the laws of nature or by faith in magic or change.
Oh boy, “ignorance.” To me, that is very scary, especially when I think of it terms of my job – helping others manage their thinking. This means that most people live some part of their lives out of, forgive me, faulty thinking and – ignorance. Then again, maybe ignorance isn’t all that bad or, is it? The real issue is that ignorance is usually the genesis of fear based beliefs, fear-based thinking and fear-based behavior. That’s what superstition is and it has, like all fear, two faces.
One side of the coin dictates that if you perform a certain frowned upon act or something negative happens outside of your control such as having a black cat walk in front of you – bad things are sure to follow. On the other side of the coin, people believe that if they consciously choose to do a specific act or think a certain thought, they will only have good luck befall them.
This all hit home when a scheduled client cancelled her coaching session with me because the session fell on Friday the 13th. She was absolutely convinced that our time together would not go well. Needless to say, that was fodder for our next get-together. It also gave me the gift of wondering how superstitions may hurt us or, perhaps even help. It tagged my curiosity and prompted me to search out where superstitions originate. I soon discovered that most common superstitions have their roots in medieval or even ancient times and all of them are passed down, generation to generation.
Think about one of the most common superstitions: black cats. Black cats have spawned literally hundreds of superstitions. Everyone knows that it is very unlucky to have a black cat walk in front of you. But it’s also unlucky if you step on a cat’s tail and you are in real trouble if a cat sneezes in the house. This superstition dates back to the Middle Ages when cats became associated with witches and were thought to harbor evil spirits. What are your thoughts about this superstition now?
My grandfather believed that walking under a ladder was bad luck. It was only later that I understood that to avoid walking under a ladder was both prudent and practical. You don’t want someone to drop bucket of paint or a hammer on your head! This particular superstition can be traced back to ancient Egypt. The early Egyptians believed that the particular shape of the pyramid had a special power and it was believed that it would be very bad luck to break the power of this shape as would a triangular ladder.
In Roman times, people loved to look at their reflections in pools of water. Many believed that these reflections were “glimpses of the soul’ and that if the image was disrupted, they would have only bad luck. Throwing a rock in the pool of water would be akin to breaking a mirror today. Seven years of bad luck!
With my background in theater, I have inherited a number of superstitions. Shakespeare’s play Macbeth is said to be cursed, so every actor I know avoids using its name. Those in theater refer to it as “The Scottish Play” instead. Neither should you ever say “Good luck” to an actor because, in this superstition, “Good luck” means “Bad luck.” Go figure. Instead, you must use the expression “break a leg.” If you forget and say “Good luck,” here’s what superstition demands you do: Go out of the theater, turn around 3 times, spit, curse, than knock on the door and ask to be readmitted. Make it easy on yourself. Just say, “Break a leg.” But don’t mean it – literally.
Have you every “knocked on wood” to give yourself good luck? I’ll bet most of you have. That superstition can be traced back to the days before Christianity. It was believed that good spirits lived in trees, and that by knocking on anything made of wood would call upon these spirits for protection against misfortune. Next time you knock on wood, imagine that you’re knocking on a tree. Ouch!
Everywhere you look you can find superstitions. Sailors to this day are ruled by numerous superstitions as are athletes and gamblers. There are superstitions that surround the marriage ceremony and others that influence people making stock market trades. There are superstitions associated with brooms, clover, ears, finger nails, beds and bees.
The real danger to you is that a particular superstition might sway you to make a choice that would really be destructive. You wouldn’t want to let the fear of a black cat walking across your path set you up to do something self-destructive or just plain stupid, would you?
Here’s the bottom line: If your belief in superstitions limits you or manipulates your behavior or choices you make, perhaps you should write down these destructives superstitions, become aware when they influence you – and let them go. So, after you finish reading this article, take a few moments to reflect on your superstitions and ask yourself, “Does this superstition limit my choices in any way? If the answer is “yes,” your thinking is faulty. Do yourself a favor and fix it. Happy Halloween!