Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Child of Ignorance, Mother of Misery

I don't step on pavement cracks. Opposite my window is a mirror to reflect bad spirits. Every day I rub Buddha's belly for good luck. Crossed knives- I panic. I must throw salt over shoulder when it spills. If I see a lone magpie, I always say hello to his wife and children. And don't even get me started on walking under ladders.

Superstitions are an awkward subject matter. From my Dad they evoke a shrug and an eye roll. One friend takes them very seriously- to the extreme of burying the shards of a broken mirror in her back garden to stop the beckoning seven years bad luck. Another friend sees superstitions as a simple weakness of the mind.

In 1898, Robert G Ingersoll wrote an extensive essay on this subject. He listed, with vehemence, every superstition of his time to demonstrate their lack of evidence. He declared their roots to be a supernatural enemy of science, a disregard for cause and effect, of intelligence and reason. 'Superstition,' he wrote, 'is the child of ignorance and the mother of misery.'

Over one hundred years later, this is laughable. Even the most intelligent people partake in some form of superstition, however small. Perhaps without conscious knowledge of doing so. Picking up a penny from the street. Rubbing dice in hands before a throw. Fingers crossed with a wish. There's no madness in it. Or weakness. Superstitions are subconscious seeds sown as we are nurtured- taught at nursery, repeated as rhymes.

They may be crazy old wives tales. Fragments of a delirious imagination. Outrageous notions that have no scientific basis or proof. But I like them- these rituals. There's an element of security within them. A belief that by performing these rituals, we are protected from a potential evil, or provided with welcome good luck. There is no sense to it, no reason. But reader, do we need one?


  1. It's bad luck to be superstitious. (Sorry, bad joke.)

    "There's an element of security within them." --I think this is key. The human condition if often fraught with discord and a desire to alleviate woe, and this goes beyond the intellect/rational.

    That said, I tend to be the shrug and eye roll type more often than not when it comes to superstitions.

  2. I hope I don't ever get to that point...knock on wood.

  3. I do love superstitions. It gives me a kind of (fake I know) security or hope.. Although 13 seems to be my lucky number and I do love black cats :-)

  4. I don't usually pay attention to superstitions but when i think about it, i guess i do carry some out. Like not walking under a ladder. Or not opening my umbrella indoors. Its weird when i think about it! I'm more superstitius than i thought. Excellent post. Love your blog!

  5. They say we all need something to believe. Your post is very well written, and truly makes you think.

  6. It would be bad luck for me not to comment on a post that kept my attention till the end. I am the one you bump into on the street, bent over picking up that damn penny!! My daughter must have the lucky hair-tie on before performing on stage (and I drove half an hour to get it once). I love superstitions –they make me feel normal.
    My Wonderfully Dysfunctional Blog

  7. Hehe. See just by the responses (or lack thereof) superstitions are a tricky little subject to tackle. :)


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