The Effect of Superstition on Modern Culture

The Effect of Superstition on Modern Culture

By Emmanuel Paige

August 2, 2020

Superstition, according to merriam-websters.com, is defined as “1a: a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation b: an irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature, or God resulting from superstition. 2: a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary” (Meriam-Webster).

This social issue is significant because it affects many humans across the globe and can influence how they make decisions. Although mostly benign and harmless, if left unchecked, superstitions could possibly result in fears and phobias resulting in anxiety, and may even cause a variety of mental health issues like obsessive compulsive disorder “magic thinking” or depression (Healthline). In the extreme, superstitions could result in other unhealthy behavior, such as excessive gambling, feelings of immortality, or death resulting from irrational beliefs or delusions that lead to risky actions with profound consequences or catastrophic results.

History is full of examples of superstition: black cats crossing one’s path brings bad luck, fear of the number 13, crossing fingers for good luck, a four leaf clover or rabbit’s foot as a good luck charm, a special shirt worn during a sports game, incantations, a talisman, dreamcatchers, and too many more to list. Most people know that these beliefs and rituals are absurd yet continue to indulge in the behavior hoping to influence events despite that there is no scientific evidence that it will have any effect on the outcome.

How are cultures affected by superstitious beliefs? Is this a significant and important social issue? How does superstition affect the five major institutions of economy, government, family, religion, and education? “Superstition arises spontaneously in the human heart. At the beginning, it is not the fruit of shrewd machinations or plot of power to keep the people submissive. Rather, it springs from uncertainty and fear, from the need to exorcize the ever-pending natural and social dangers” (Bodei). It is a phenomenon whereby cultures exhibit their shared base and primitive fears and pass them from generation to generation in what become a mythological pool of common social anxiety and taboo.

The biggest social issue that could be observed as resulting from superstitions is that of fears and phobias. If people become so involved in these primitive superstitions it could affect their health and well-being, and potentially could result in hazardous activities that result in sickness, mental health issues, and even death. For instance, psychologists must deal with mental patients who have been convinced that there is a Heaven and a Hell where they will either go to paradise or suffer for their sins and burn for eternity in perdition. Many cultures have superstitions, for instance the inhabitants of the Ozarks have a rich tradition that traces it lineage back to Europe. Some of these people cling to primitive superstitions and live their lives in strict observance of these beliefs. “There are manifold superstitions in the mountains,” and this is an “inevitable consequence of isolation, inbreeding, and ignorance [that] is the prevalence and strength of superstitions. … A number of superstitions clung to in the mountains are found elsewhere … Elizabethan beliefs brought to our country and scattered over it, but preserved in purer form in the hill country” (Barker). Every country has superstitions, but some of those that are noteworthy are countries such as China, India, Latin America, Russia, The United States of America, and Europe which have all shared in contributions to the superstitions throughout history, seeming to have existed for millennia. Religion is undoubtedly the fountainhead and wellspring from which many of the fears and primitive beliefs flourish and become part of the cultural myth pool. In the end “all sorts of superstition, extravagances, and absurdities can emerge if human beings give too great a sway to faith and fail to give reason its proper role in assessing religious truth. Sensuality, lust, fear, and carelessness … deliver humanity into the hands of priests who, motivated by self-interest and profit, warp notions of God and religious practice into foolish rites, vice, and superstition.”

It may be argued that superstitions stem from religiosity originating in primitive cultures and have transcended to modern belief systems in every culture across the globe and influence the way people think and behave. These thinking processes can have a direct link on how humans make decisions in their daily lives. How people vote, where they go to church, how they spend their money, marriage, family, gambling, flights, cruises, driving on the highway, naming our children, our soldiers going into battle, and more mental health issues and unhealthy belief systems that influence human interaction and decision making can all be influenced by superstition and can be found in every culture on Earth.

A chapter in a book titled “Superstition. In Geometry of the Passions: Fear, Hope, Happiness: Philosophy and Political Use” is about superstition, philosophy, and the politics involved in these beliefs. This source is appropriate to my social issue because it explores how cultures and governments have been influenced by superstitions around the world. I am including this source because it is modern and scholarly and peer reviewed. I used a targeted keyword search with a phrase like “sociology superstition culture” to find this one in the JSTOR database. This source differs from the other two because it looks at the aspects of politics and philosophy in governments and cultures of society.

“Yesterday Today: Life in the Ozarks” is a book by Catherine Sweazey Barker that deals with superstitious beliefs by people who live in the Ozarks and how it affects their culture. This source is pertinent to my social issue because it shows how the social issue from the standpoint of a culture that is regional in the United States and can be used as a reference of superstition and how it affects less advanced cultures. I am including this source because it is from the JSTORE database, modern, credible, and full of useful information about superstitions in general. I used a targeted keyword search with a phrase like “sociology superstition religion.” This source differs from the other two because it deals primarily with the mountain people of the Ozarks and how their culture has incorporated a unique superstition within their own region.

A chapter in a book titled “Magic in the Modern World: Strategies of Repression and Legitimization” edited by Bever E. & Styers R., is about magic in the modern world. This source is relevant to my social issue because it goes deep into why religion has influenced mankind throughout history and inspired superstition in the followers. I am including this source because it is modern and scholarly and peer reviewed. I used a targeted keyword search with a phrase like “sociology superstition culture” to find this one in the JSTOR database. This source differs from the other two because it looks at the aspects of magic and religion throughout history and how religion has transcended to modernity to continue to inspire superstitious beliefs in an age of technology and science.

Students, teachers, psychologists, and mythologists are my target audience, although I would also include creative writers and story tellers who are interested superstitious belief systems and how they are integrated in different cultures.

Superstitions are of concern in the social science principles specifically with social norms and beliefs and values. Superstition is a belief in irrational and unprovable coincidence, and a notion that people can have some influence on random occurrence and chance by practicing certain rituals or incantations. The values stem from mostly religious or ritualistic principles passed down through generations. The social norms and customs are adopted in an attempt to avoid taboo or bad luck, or alternatively, influence good luck and affect a positive outcome by adhering to obedience and conforming to ritualistic practices. Superstitions are irrational beliefs without any empirical evidence to support them. In primitive and modern societies there are customs associated with superstitions that have little to no practical purpose or rational explanation, yet they reoccur often, in newer and invigorated forms, and have strong lasting power, able to transcend generations. Superstitions come and go, but many of them are ancient and strongly influential, and they can catch on in society and affect the beliefs, norms, and values of any people on Earth.

Superstition affects people and their beliefs and values daily. Someone might decide to wear a lucky shirt or amulet in an attempt to have an influence or desired outcome on the future: win the lottery, see their favorite sports team win an important game, get a big promotion at work, tilt the odds of good luck in their favor in general. There are certain situations where superstitions will affect human interaction, such as how we greet each other—like shaking hands a certain way, or speaking the same words simultaneously as another, that may arouse superstitious beliefs. It affects our decisions, if we are superstitious, and when we see something like a black cat crossing our path, or if it is Friday the 13th we may stay home to avoid catastrophe stemming from bad luck.

Our values can be affected, too, by superstitions, and we may avoid people or places that we think are jinxed to avoid being contaminated by their bad luck, causing us to be prejudiced and judgmental toward others. Superstition comes from our ancestors and have been handed down through the generations, changing and morphing to become modern beliefs, urban legends, and irrational fears that cause anathema. Many superstitions deal with forbidden topics that are taboo, or stem from religious rituals and sacred elements that become ingrained in our psyche over time and can affect society as whole. Superstition is contagious, like a disease, and if left unchecked can cause hysteria and irrationality. These become social norms and are part of the regional or global belief system and are highly influential in social interaction and traditions.

I will tailor my message to my audience, but also refine who my audience is for this article. I would say that my article will be written for a general audience of researchers interested in superstitions and how it affects modern culture. Anyone looking for this subject matter, facts, and information, for example students, teachers, psychologists, mythologists, creative writers, storytellers, statisticians, and historians may all find my article to be useful as a reference during their research. I will tailor the language to be concise and easy to read, while keeping the register formal, however, packing the tools of analogy, anecdotes, history, and defining and simplifying when necessary while keeping the technical aspects intact for a high level of understanding and comprehension.

How are cultures affected by superstitious beliefs? How do superstitions affect different cultures and society and what are the resultant behaviors from practitioners of these irrational fears and beliefs? Is this a significant and important social issue? How does superstition affect the five major institutions of economy, government, family, religion, and education? Money contains symbols that are derived from superstitions. Wall Street investors are uneasy on Friday the 13th and there have been crashes as a result of this superstition. Government examples come primarily from the military where they are superstitious about clothing, jewelry, and patches that might cause them to die if worn out of reverence for certain superstitions. Religion has so much superstition, but the most important aspect is that of the power of prayer healing the sick and diseased. It is believed that avoiding vaccinations and treatments like chemotherapy can be supplicated simply by praying for better health—I do not believe there is any scientific proof that this works, and it falls under superstitious beliefs. Education has its own superstitions, such as fraternities, sports teams, students who wear lucky charms to pass tests or win games. Family superstition is plentiful, as well, and especially during marriage ceremonies where it is considered bad luck for the groom and bride to see each other before the ceremony. There are many more, but for the sake of argument, each of the five institutions are indeed susceptible to superstition.

Through scientific study and clinical research, clinical psychologists and cognitive therapists can discover why cultures in society and individuals develop primitive superstitious beliefs that result in anxiety and other mental health issues. First, they would examine individuals who suffer from anxiety, ask them questions, observe their behavior, and draw conclusion from what they discover during these research periods. Second, they would combine all the facts and findings and develop a strategy to treat patients who have similar symptoms induced from irrational fears and anxiety disorders. Third, they can develop treatment programs that will deal with the symptoms that stem from an unhealthy belief in superstitions. Finally, they can develop preventative measures and educational programs to help deter people away from these superstitions that have been around since the beginning of recorded history.

References

Anderson, J. (2017). “EARLY-ACQUIRED SUPERSTITION”: Conjure and the Attempted Redefinition of Racial Honor. In Ayers E. (Author) & Mayfield J. & Hagstette T. (Eds.), The Field of Honor: Essays on Southern Character and American Identity (pp. 242-256). Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv6sj7nz.24

Barker, C. (2020). Superstition. In Perkins J. (Ed.), Yesterday Today: Life in the Ozarks (pp. 211-220). Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctvrxk2mp.21

Bodei, R., & DOEBLER, G. (2018). Superstition. In Geometry of the Passions: Fear, Hope, Happiness: Philosophy and Political Use (pp. 129-146). Toronto; Buffalo; London: University of Toronto Press. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctv5j02f6.13

Healthline. “Superstitions: What’s the Harm?” Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/superstitions#mental-health

Meriam-Webster. “Definition Of SUPERSTITION.” Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/superstition

Morris, K. (2015). Superstition, Testimony, and the Eighteenth-Century Vampire Debates. Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural, 4(2), 181-202. doi:10.5325/preternature.4.2.0181

Styers, R. (2017). BAD HABITS, OR HOW SUPERSTITION DISAPPEARED IN THE MODERN WORLD. In BEVER E. & STYERS R. (Eds.), Magic in the Modern World: Strategies of Repression and Legitimization (pp. 17-32). UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA: Penn State University Press. doi:10.5325/j.ctv14gp3tq.4

Williams, J. (2019). Superstition. In Sorace C., Franceschini I., & Loubere N. (Eds.), Afterlives of Chinese Communism: Political Concepts from Mao to Xi (pp. 269-274). Australia: ANU Press. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvk3gng9.47

Copyright © 2020 Emmanuel Paige - All Right Reserved.