Superstition
Overview
Superstition is a belief
Belief
Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.-Belief, knowledge and epistemology:The terms belief and knowledge are used differently in philosophy....

 in supernatural
Supernatural
The supernatural or is that which is not subject to the laws of nature, or more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature...

 causality
Causality
Causality is the relationship between an event and a second event , where the second event is understood as a consequence of the first....

: that one event leads to the cause of another without any process in the physical world linking the two events.

The word is often used pejoratively to refer to practices (e.g., Voodoo) other than the one prevailing in a given society (e.g., Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 in western culture
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

), although the prevailing religion may contain just as many supernatural beliefs. It is also commonly applied to beliefs and practices surrounding luck
Luck
Luck or fortuity is good fortune which occurs beyond one's control, without regard to one's will, intention, or desired result. There are at least two senses people usually mean when they use the term, the prescriptive sense and the descriptive sense...

, prophecy
Prophecy
Prophecy is a process in which one or more messages that have been communicated to a prophet are then communicated to others. Such messages typically involve divine inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of conditioned events to come as well as testimonies or repeated revelations that the...

 and spiritual beings, particularly the belief that future
Future
The future is the indefinite time period after the present. Its arrival is considered inevitable due to the existence of time and the laws of physics. Due to the nature of the reality and the unavoidability of the future, everything that currently exists and will exist is temporary and will come...

 events can be foretold by specific unrelated prior events.
The etymology
Etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

 is from the classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

 superstitio, literally "a standing over (in amazement)," but other interpretations include an over-scrupulousness in religion or a "hold-over" from older beliefs.
Encyclopedia
Superstition is a belief
Belief
Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.-Belief, knowledge and epistemology:The terms belief and knowledge are used differently in philosophy....

 in supernatural
Supernatural
The supernatural or is that which is not subject to the laws of nature, or more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature...

 causality
Causality
Causality is the relationship between an event and a second event , where the second event is understood as a consequence of the first....

: that one event leads to the cause of another without any process in the physical world linking the two events.

The word is often used pejoratively to refer to practices (e.g., Voodoo) other than the one prevailing in a given society (e.g., Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 in western culture
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

), although the prevailing religion may contain just as many supernatural beliefs. It is also commonly applied to beliefs and practices surrounding luck
Luck
Luck or fortuity is good fortune which occurs beyond one's control, without regard to one's will, intention, or desired result. There are at least two senses people usually mean when they use the term, the prescriptive sense and the descriptive sense...

, prophecy
Prophecy
Prophecy is a process in which one or more messages that have been communicated to a prophet are then communicated to others. Such messages typically involve divine inspiration, interpretation, or revelation of conditioned events to come as well as testimonies or repeated revelations that the...

 and spiritual beings, particularly the belief that future
Future
The future is the indefinite time period after the present. Its arrival is considered inevitable due to the existence of time and the laws of physics. Due to the nature of the reality and the unavoidability of the future, everything that currently exists and will exist is temporary and will come...

 events can be foretold by specific unrelated prior events.

Etymology

The etymology
Etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

 is from the classical Latin
Classical Latin
Classical Latin in simplest terms is the socio-linguistic register of the Latin language regarded by the enfranchised and empowered populations of the late Roman republic and the Roman empire as good Latin. Most writers during this time made use of it...

 superstitio, literally "a standing over (in amazement)," but other interpretations include an over-scrupulousness in religion or a "hold-over" from older beliefs. The word is attested in the 1st century BC, notably in Livy
Livy
Titus Livius — known as Livy in English — was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people. Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC...

 and Ovid
Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

, in the meaning of an unreasonable or excessive belief in fear or magic
Magic in the Greco-Roman world
The study of magic in the Greco-Roman world is a branch of the disciplines of classics, ancient history and religious studies. In the ancient post-hellenistic world of the Greeks and Romans , the public and private rituals associated with religion are accepted by historians and archaeologists to...

, especially foreign or fantastical ideas. Cicero
Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

, however, derives the term from the "superstitiosi" ("survivors"): parents indulging in excessive prayer and sacrifice hoping that their children would survive them to perform their necessary funeral rituals. By the 1st century AD, it came to refer to "religious awe, sanctity; a religious rite" more generally.

Superstition and folklore

To European medieval scholars the word was applied to any beliefs outside of or in opposition to Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

; today it is applied to conceptions without foundation in, or in contravention of, scientific reasoning and knowledge.

Superstition and religion

In keeping with the Latin etymology of the word, religious believers have often seen other religions as superstition. Likewise, atheists
Atheism
Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities...

 and agnostics
Agnosticism
Agnosticism is the view that the truth value of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—is unknown or unknowable....

 may regard any religious belief
Religious belief
Religious belief is a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny. Such a state may relate to the existence, characteristics and worship of a deity or deities, divine intervention in the universe and human life, or values and practices centered on the teachings of a...

 as superstition.

Greek and Roman pagans, who modeled their relations with the gods on political and social terms, scorned the man who constantly trembled with fear at the thought of the gods, as a slave feared a cruel and capricious master. Such fear of the gods (deisidaimonia) was what the Romans meant by "superstition" (Veyne 1987, p. 211). For some Christians, just such fears might be worn proudly as a name: Desdemona.

The Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 considers superstition to be sin
Sin
In religion, sin is the violation or deviation of an eternal divine law or standard. The term sin may also refer to the state of having committed such a violation. Christians believe the moral code of conduct is decreed by God In religion, sin (also called peccancy) is the violation or deviation...

ful in the sense that it denotes a lack of trust
Trust (sociology)
In a social context, trust has several connotations. Definitions of trust typically refer to a situation characterised by the following aspects: One party is willing to rely on the actions of another party ; the situation is directed to the future. In addition, the trustor abandons control over...

 in the divine providence
Divine providence
In Christian theology, divine providence, or simply providence, is God's activity in the world. " Providence" is also used as a title of God exercising His providence, and then the word are usually capitalized...

 of God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 and, as such, is a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments
Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue , are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, which play a fundamental role in Judaism and most forms of Christianity. They include instructions to worship only God and to keep the Sabbath, and prohibitions against idolatry,...

. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
Catechism of the Catholic Church
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the official text of the teachings of the Catholic Church. A provisional, "reference text" was issued by Pope John Paul II on October 11, 1992 — "the thirtieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council" — with his apostolic...

states superstition "in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion" (para. #2110).

The Catechism attempts to dispel commonly held preconceptions or misunderstandings about Catholic doctrine
Doctrine
Doctrine is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system...

 relating to superstitious practices:
Superstition is a deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand is to fall into superstition. Cf. (para. #2111)


In his Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

 (who called the papacy "that fountain and source of all superstitions") accuses the popes of superstition:
"For there was scarce another of the celebrated bishoprics that had so few learned pontiffs; only in violence, intrigue, and superstition has it hitherto surpassed the rest. For the men who occupied the Roman See a thousand years ago differ so vastly from those who have since come into power, that one is compelled to refuse the name of Roman pontiff either to the former or to the latter.”


Some superstitions originated as religious practices that continued to be observed by people who no longer adhere to the religion that gave birth to the practice. Often the practices lost their original meaning in this process. In other cases, the practices are adapted to the current religion of the practitioner. As an example, during the Christianizing of Europe, pagan symbols to ward off evil were replaced with the Christian cross
Christian cross
The Christian cross, seen as a representation of the instrument of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, is the best-known religious symbol of Christianity...

.

Many traditions hold many example of our common every day superstitions. To begin with, the traditional and rare four-leaf-clover is always said to bring good luck, as well as the horseshoe. In addition, some superstition actions are said to bring good luck: such as knocking on wood, crossing your fingers, and so on. Other mistakes are said to bring quite a lot of bad fortune: breaking a mirror, stepping on a crack, and walking under a ladder.

Superstition and psychology

In 1948, behavioural psychologist B.F. Skinner published an article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, in which he described his pigeons exhibiting what appeared to be superstitious behaviour. One pigeon was making turns in its cage, another would swing its head in a pendulum motion, while others also displayed a variety of other behaviours. Because these behaviours were all done ritualistically in an attempt to receive food from a dispenser, even though the dispenser had already been programmed to release food at set time intervals regardless of the pigeons' actions, Skinner believed that the pigeons were trying to influence their feeding schedule by performing these actions. He then extended this as a proposition regarding the nature of superstitious behaviour in humans.

Skinner's theory regarding superstition being the nature of the pigeons' behaviour has been challenged by other psychologists such as Staddon and Simmelhag, who theorised an alternative explanation for the pigeons' behaviour.

Despite challenges to Skinner's interpretation of the root of his pigeons' superstitious behaviour, his conception of the reinforcement schedule
Reinforcement
Reinforcement is a term in operant conditioning and behavior analysis for the process of increasing the rate or probability of a behavior in the form of a "response" by the delivery or emergence of a stimulus Reinforcement is a term in operant conditioning and behavior analysis for the process of...

 has been used to explain superstitious behaviour in humans. Originally, in Skinner's animal research, "some pigeons responded up to 10,000 times without reinforcement when they had originally been conditioned on an intermittent reinforcement basis." Compared to the other reinforcement schedules (e.g., fixed ratio, fixed interval), these behaviours were also the most resistant to extinction
Extinction (psychology)
Extinction is the conditioning phenomenon in which a previously learned response to a cue is reduced when the cue is presented in the absence of the previously paired aversive or appetitive stimulus.-Fear conditioning:...

. This is called the partial reinforcement effect, and this has been used to explain superstitious behaviour in humans. To be more precise, this effect means that, whenever an individual performs an action expecting a reinforcement, and none seems forthcoming, it actually creates a sense of persistence within the individual. This strongly parallels superstitious behaviour in humans because the individual feels that, by continuing this action, reinforcement will happen; or that reinforcement has come at certain times in the past as a result of this action, although not all the time, but this may be one of those times.

From a simpler perspective, natural selection
Natural selection
Natural selection is the nonrandom process by which biologic traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution....

 will tend to reinforce a tendency to generate weak associations. If there is a strong survival advantage to making correct associations, then this will outweigh the negatives of making many incorrect, "superstitious" associations.

See also

:Category:Superstitions
  • Magical thinking
    Magical thinking
    Magical thinking is causal reasoning that looks for correlation between acts or utterances and certain events. In religion, folk religion, and superstition, the correlation posited is between religious ritual, such as prayer, sacrifice, or the observance of a taboo, and an expected benefit or...

  • Luck
    Luck
    Luck or fortuity is good fortune which occurs beyond one's control, without regard to one's will, intention, or desired result. There are at least two senses people usually mean when they use the term, the prescriptive sense and the descriptive sense...

  • Folk religion
    Folk religion
    Folk religion consists of ethnic or regional religious customs under the umbrella of an organized religion, but outside of official doctrine and practices...

  • Taboo
    Taboo
    A taboo is a strong social prohibition relating to any area of human activity or social custom that is sacred and or forbidden based on moral judgment, religious beliefs and or scientific consensus. Breaking the taboo is usually considered objectionable or abhorrent by society...

  • Numbers in Chinese culture
  • Post hoc ergo propter hoc
    Post hoc ergo propter hoc
    Post hoc ergo propter hoc, Latin for "after this, therefore because of this," is a logical fallacy that states, "Since that event followed this one, that event must have been caused by this one." It is often shortened to simply post hoc and is also sometimes referred to as false cause,...

  • Theatrical superstitions
    Theatrical superstitions
    Theatrical superstitions are superstitions particular to actors or the theatre.-The Scottish play:Shakespeare's play Macbeth is said to be cursed, so actors avoid saying its name . Actors also avoid even quoting the lines from Macbeth inside a theatre, particularly the Witches' incantations...

  • Baseball superstition
    Baseball superstition
    Baseball is a sport with a long history of superstition. From the very famous Curse of the Bambino to some players' refusal to wash their clothes or bodies after a win, superstition is present in all parts of baseball. Many baseball players—batters, pitchers, and fielders alike— perform...

  • Witch window
    Witch window
    In American vernacular architecture, a witch window is a window placed in the gable-end wall of a house and rotated approximately 1/8 of a turn from the vertical, leaving it diagonal, with its long edge...


Further reading


External links

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