Sunday, January 19, 2014

Very superstitious....

Superstitions hold a special place in the minds of many paranormal writers - because a great deal of what we write is based on superstitions.

So for today's blog I'm going to talk about some commonly held superstitions here in the West and offer little insight into how they came about... and I think you'll be surprised.

 You're probably familiar with some superstitions like;
- it's bad luck to walk under a ladder...
-breaking a mirror will cause 7 years of bad luck...
-if you say and 'touch wood (English)' or 'knock on wood' (America), you're less likely to have something bad happen to you...
-you shouldn't speak ill of the dead...
-thirteen is an unlucky number...
-step on a crack and you'll break your back...
Where do these saying and superstitions originate?

Well first of all, lets look at the word itself;
A superstition is essentially a false belief or irrational belief in the supernatural.
The word superstition itself has an interesting etymology.

superstition (n.) Look up superstition at
Early 13c., "false religious belief; irrational faith in supernatural powers," from Latin superstitionem (nominative superstition) "prophecy, soothsaying; dread of the supernatural, excessive fear of the gods, religious belief based on fear or ignorance and considered incompatible with truth or reason."
It means literally, "a standing over," noun of action from past participle stem of super & stare "stand on or over; survive," from super "above" + stare "to stand". 
There are many theories to explain the Latin sense development, but none has yet been generally accepted. Originally especially of religion; sense of "unreasonable notion" is from 1794.
(courtesy: Online Etymology Dictionary)
So why is it bad luck to walk under a ladder?
 This is an interesting superstition, because it is still a widely held belief today (I myself avoid walking under ladders). Most people believe that this is a very practical superstition - after-all, if you do walk underneath a ladder, there is a higher risk of something dropping on your head and hurting you. Yet, there are two other interesting theories of why it should be unlucky.
  1.  The ladder you see, forms a sort of triangle. This triangle may represent the Holy Trinity (Christian docterine - The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit) and to walk through the Holy Trinity may be disrespectful to God and the Trinity itself.
  2. Some suggest that due to the fact a ladder was used to take Jesus off the cross (following his crucifixion) and that ladders were used to take condemned criminals to the gallows - created a connection with imminent death. Thus the ladder may been seen an omen of death.
Breaking a mirror will cause 7 years of bad luck... 
This particular superstition is derived from the ancient myths and fears about ones own reflection. Thoughout mythology reflections were said to have magical powers and perhaps retain remnants of the individuals soul. Naturally then, if your mirror broke, or there were ripples in your reflection - something untoward may happen or be happening to your soul. Myths relating to reflections often are surrounded by fears of witchcraft and sorcery. Interestingly as well, mirrors were sometimes thought to hold the soul of the dead person who own the mirror, especially if the dead looked in the mirror whilst they were dying. Therefore breaking the mirror would disrupt the dead's soul and they punish the breaker with seven years of miserable luck.
So why seven years?
  1. The most common theory relates to the importance of the number 7 in fundamental Christian belief systems. It is alleged that God created the earth in 7 days - thus in the Godly cycle of things it should then take 7 years (why not days? I don't know) to return to normal.
  2. There is also allegedly an ancient pagan belief that cycles of life happen in seven year time spans. The the superstitious damage of breaking a mirror therefore would last seven years.
         There are, however remedies, to the seven years of bad luck;
  1.  Bury the mirror shards in consecrated ground.
  2. Throw them into a river.
Touch wood.
I am also guilty of doing this one.
Sometimes the expression 'touch wood' is spoken to counter a threat that a person may incur while speaking about something that may or may not happen. Often just the invocation of the phrase 'touch wood' is enough, though often, the individual will search for something wooden to touch whilst saying the words. If no wood can be found, they often might touch their own head (indicating their heads are wooden and they're fools) instead.
The reason behind 'touching wood' stems from an ancient belief of 'tempting fate'. That is tempting the gods to smite you for boasting, or speaking ill of something.
Thus 'touch wood' is a protective invocation.Why wood? I hear you ask.Well, there are few theories (naturally) about this.
  1. People may seek protection from wood, as it was a wooden cross upon which Christ was hung and therefore wood is special.
  2. The ancient pagan gods often were those of trees and wood, and so 'touching wood' may invoke their protection.
  3. there was a 19th Century children's game 'tag-touch-wood', in which the child would only be safe in the game if they were touching a tree or something made of wood.  
You shouldn't speak ill of the dead...
 This belief dates back possibly to pre-history, but is most noticeable during Roman times - and again, this is a superstition that still holds true today.
It was thought that to speak ill (badly) of the dead would disrupt the soul's eternal rest and therefore bring them back as ghosts - angry ghosts!
To prevent this happening, you often still hear it said to day  'My darling Jim was a terrible grump in the morning, God rest him!'
Saying such as 'God rest him,' 'God bless his soul,' 'rest in peace' are often said when speaking of the dead - and this is done so, so as to not offend the dead and as a mark as respect.

Thirteen is an unlucky number...
The number thirteen is considered unlucky in the west, apparently stems from the fact their were 13 people at Jesus' Last Supper - because ultimately that last supper didn't bode particularly well for the host.
Therefore it is considered quite unlucky to host a dinner party with 13 guests.
Belief in this unlucky number  has really only become prevalent in the 19th Century. As a result, many skyscrapers and hotels do not have 13th Floors, or room 13's.

Friday the 13th is considered 'black Friday' and is said to be particularly unlucky. This is due to the fact that Jesus was crucified on Friday, that combined with his unlucky dinner with 13 guest makes Friday the 13th particularly inauspicious.

Step on a crack and you'll break your back...
Stepping on cracks in the pavement is said to be unlucky... Originally the saying was 'Step on a crack and you'll break your mother's back'.
Here are some theories about it;
  1. If you do step on a crack, and it's a particularly deep one, you may well fall down and hurt yourself (maybe even break your back.)
  2. If you do step on a crack, and hurt yourself, you may well break your mother's back as she bends down to tend and care for you until you heal.
 And here are some funny and interesting superstitions I've discovered in my reading;
  1. Cross dressing confuses the devil. This was used primarily with children, cutting a pretty baby girl's hair to make her look like boy - would confuse devils / faeries so they wouldn't try and snatch the child.
  2. Cats should never be left alone with corpses; If a dead member of a family was laid out in the house prior to the funeral it was imperative that the cats were kept away. If the cat jumped over the corpse the cat must be killed immediately as a cat jumping over a dead person was injurious to the deceased's soul. Cats were often kept in an overturned basket or bucket until funerary details were done. The origin of this superstition isn't particularly clear, but cats are often linked with witchery / sorcery and have been considered demonic creatures.
  3. Telling the bees; According to old wives tales, the bees should be told about all formal family events such as births, deaths and marriages. Sometimes, the bees were even given a slice of wedding cake to help celebrate. This is likely to have come from Ancient Greek myth and the prophetic Thriae (part bee part human) and placating them, so that they bring good fortune instead of bad.
  4. Spilling salt is unlucky; stems from the belief that ever grain of salt equals a tear shed. This superstition hails from a time when salt was in high demand and very sought after. Thus to spill salt indeed would have been a great waste. Incidently there is convergent superstition that says throwing salt over one's left shoulder sends the devil away. It was believed during the 16th Century that the devil perched on ones left shoulder and whispered wicked things in the ear. Thus throwing salt at him, would make him go away. Salt was then also used prior to a baby's christening to ward away evil.
And that, is all I have time for today. Have a magic week. 

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