Archive for the ‘Superstition’ Category

Service of Superstition

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

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Matthew Hutson has written a book to be published soon, “The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane,” and an Op Ed piece in The New York Times, “In Defense of Superstition.”

I’ve covered superstition before in “Service of Old Wives Tales” in April two years ago, by gum. Aha! What is it about April? Should I buy an extra lotto ticket? I don’t hop over cracks in the sidewalk but as I noted two years ago, I’m big at knocking on wood and saying “God bless you,” when people sneeze.

psalmsI wonder if everyone would agree with Hutson when he compares the affect of reciting psalms in a warzone with carrying a lucky charm to succeed at a game or playing better with a golf ball you’re told is lucky. All three examples might calm a person and might offer what Hutson characterized as “..Psychological benefits that logic and science can’t always provide: namely, a sense of control and a sense of meaning.”

He told us that in studies, those informed that they were playing with a lucky ball landed 35 percent more puts than those with a standard one and those playing memory and word games with a lucky charm did better than those without.

He then wrote: “In a more real-world example of this effect, the anthropologist Richard Sosis of the University of Connecticut found that in Israel during the second intifada in the early 2000s, 36 percent of secular women in the town of Tzfat recited psalms in response to the violence. Compared with those who did not recite psalms, he found, those women benefited from reduced anxiety: they felt more comfortable entering crowds, going shopping and riding buses – a result, he concluded, of their increased sense of control.”

Are those who believe in the “Bible” superstitious and believers in magic? Some might jump on those implications. And don’t all these examples illustrate “it’s out of my hands now,” and a matter of luck or God, rather than providing a sense of control Hutson reported that occurs when a person leans on charms, golf balls and God?

turning-pointHutson addressed the “everything happens for a reason,” perception which he calls “another law of magic.” He wrote: “In research led by the psychologist Laura Kray of the University of California, Berkeley, subjects reflected on a turning point in their lives. The more they felt the turning point to have been fated, the more they believed, ‘It made me who I am today’ and, “‘It gave meaning to my life.'”

While I can’t argue with Kray’s findings because this is what she observed about the people she studied, I’m struck and alarmed by the passivity of such thinking in many instances. I agree that things happen for a reason: The reason might be that I made a mistake or waited too long to apply or chose the wrong person to marry or decided to risk living next to an aggressive river that overflows its banks twice a year so my basement is flooded all the time. Fate didn’t make me subtract wrong causing expensive overdrafts in my bank account leading to financial disaster or misspell the client’s name in a proposal with the result I didn’t get–or lost–a financially lifesaving account.

Fate does have its place–who your parents are, where you are born, brought up or educated, that you were caught in traffic and missed a flight that crashed, your health. And if you’re lucky….

Where do you place superstition, magic and fate in your life?

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Service of Old Wives Tales

Monday, April 12th, 2010

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Do you avoid walking under ladders or cross the street when you see a black cat or shudder if you break a mirror or worry that you’ll have a fight if you spill salt on the tablecloth so you fling over your shoulder a pinch of the dropped grains to avert a spat?

clamshellMy husband wants to shoot me when I toss a steamed clam that in spite of the heat remains clamped shut. He made me sit still and do nothing but listen while he read aloud from “More Classic Italian Cooking” to hear what renowned cookbook author Marcella Hazan wrote to debunk what I’d been told: That you’ll get sick if you must pry open such a clam shell to get to the mollusk inside. Hazan, who grew up in a fishing village, wrote that being closed tight just proves that the clam is fresh. How did the myth I’d been told get going–because there are so few that stay closed while most open? This is no doubt why I am still suspicious of a closed steamed clam shell.

deadplant1I have a friend who believes that when a plant dies it means that someone you know will die. [She must have a green thumb.] I hadn’t heard of that one before but I tucked it in the back of my mind where it popped to the front this winter as a dear friend become increasingly sick and eventually died. Simultaneously my usually robust indoor garden, that for years shouldered cold temperatures and countless gray days with barely a shrug, suffered a lot of losses.

While on the subject of death, my husband told me that a moment after his Mom died, the woman who was caring for her opened the bedroom window to let her spirit go free.

I pick up coins and cross my fingers on behalf of a friend who is hoping something will happen because I love the concept that something can stimulate luck.  I also knock on wood to ensure that good–health, client, windfall, job offer–remains so.

These days we get piles of wild information over the Internet much of which seems too good to be true–and often is. There’s Snopes urban legends reference pages to confirm everything from news of a deadly computer virus, outrageous claims about a politician’s antics to a campaign to send a get well card to cheer a terminally sick child [who never existed].

Do you pick and choose the old wives tales and superstitions you believe in? What are some of your favorites and which have you found to be merely tales? Do some tales stick with you no matter what?

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