The other day Kim asked me what the word “superstition” meant. I pondered for a minute and then told her I’d look it up.
From Wikipedia I learned that it’s pretty much a negative term, one that non-practitioners use to disparage the “irrational” beliefs or practices of others, largely because those beliefs involve some sort of magic, especially in foretelling future events. Sometimes an entire religion can be written off as “mere superstition.” I’ve not heard of followers of two different religions each accusing the other of being superstitious, but it probably has happened.
Let me skip over the religion/superstition comparison, as there is obviously a lot more involved in religious practices than avoiding cracks in sidewalks or having a lucky number. (My long-time lucky number, 8, has consistently come up empty for me ever since it was my winning number in some sort of lottery when I was, maybe, nine years old.) On the other hand, Kim and I have a lucky number – two numbers, really – the date of Kim’s birthday. I have appropriated it as “our” lucky number, and it works, for whenever we see it, usually on a digital clock, I feel a wave of warm appreciation for our marriage. I also feel this warmth when I use our anniversary numbers on the keypad to open our garage door. In other words, my “lucky number” superstition works – except for my 8. (I admit that my lucky numbers have not helped me with the lottery, which I foolishly enter from time to time as a sort of voluntary tax payment to Michigan. A friend, a math teacher, told me that whenever he felt an urge to buy a lottery ticket, he flushed a $5 bill down the toilet – same result.)
So, what about such “superstitious” practices as astrology, fortune telling, or belief in what can be labeled as “paranormal”? If “paranormal” means, simply, beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding, then how can we deny the existence and power of the paranormal – do we really think that science can or will explain everything? Really? How soon will that happen? Maybe it’s time to re-visit the writings on the inevitable Uncertainty acknowledged by quantum mechanics, where, according to Heisenberg, the path a particle takes “only comes into existence through this: that we observe it.” Or maybe the paranormal, the engine driving superstition, lives in the space with Kim’s magical birthday numbers, where my belief, in fact, gives them power to warm my spirit. If you hear your fortune told, maybe it’s the hearing, and believing, that makes it come true. I predict that some of you will disagree. But in my 30+ years of teaching, I rarely had a cold, and when I thought I felt one coming on, I would lie back and visualize my white blood cells attacking and destroying cold “germs” – an image probably derived from Pac-Man. Whatever – it worked for me. Science? Paranormal?
Another confession: In my post-divorce pre-Kim bachelor days, I would play solitaire, using my success or failure to predict how well my day would go. Sometimes it would take two or three games to get me to a successful day ahead. More than one meant that I would have to work a bit to have a good day.
The word “superstition” comes from the Latin, roughly meaning a station or status that is more or beyond: super-station. How can we object to that?
Most common superstitions involve predicting or controlling what we call “luck,” perhaps the subject of a future blog entry. Some favorites:
· Walking under a ladder will bring bad luck. This may be more common sense than superstition.
· Don’t let a black cat cross your path. OK – but it may take you longer to get where you want to go.
· Cross your fingers to prevent bad luck. Works for me because I’m lucky.
· Beginner’s luck. There should be a veteran equivalent to this. Suggestions?
· Friday the 13th means bad luck – unless it’s Kim’s birthday, as it is this year
· Rabbit’s foot will bring you luck – unless you are the dead rabbit.
· Knocking on wood brings good luck – unless the wood’s in your head.
· Keeping your legs crossed means you won’t get pregnant. Kim’s grandmother taught her this one.