- Examples of superstitions.
- Value of superstitions.
Superstition literary means nonsense. When we are ignorant of the cause of some effect we are likely to commit a mistake. This mistake is superstition. The cause of superstition, therefore, is ignorance. It is the ignorance of the true causes of things which makes men superstitions. Men in primitive societies were very ignorant. When they did not know why a thunderstorm or why a flood comes. they imagined that some gods or demons created these terrible things. It is natural of men to be superstitious in times of peril, pestilence and danger. Superstition is the result of the ignorance of the true causes of things.
In primitive societies, people were faced with many terrible happenings. Not knowing how these things happened, they invented wrong reasons to explain these things. Our minds cannot live in doubts and uncertainties. Like nature, our minds dislike a vacum, or an emptiness. Emptiness creates fear and uneasiness. So we try to fill our minds with explanations of things. If these explanations are right we get patience; if they are wrong we get superstitious.
Superstition, then is an irrational belief above anything. It is irrational because it is ignorant and yet thinks that it knows. Fear is the root of ignorance and superstition. In a state of fear we try to pray or worship some powers which we suppose will free us from fear. A belief in the supernatural power is the result of superstition. Most of our religious ceremonies are founded upon superstition. Therefore superstition is also described as false religion. There is true religion as well as false religion. Any meaningless ceremony is superstition. That is why superstition is most common among people who are ignorant and illiterate. It is in our villages that we find very many superstitions.
There are innumerable forms of superstition. These superstitions vary from place to place. We get any number of examples of these when we think about the life lived in villages. Whenever diseases spread, people in villages think that they are caused by some mysterious goddess or other. When cattle do not give milk, when fields but do not yield crops, when children are lost, people imagine that some evil power is responsible for such happenings. When the epidemic of small-pox or plague spreads, people think that some local goddess should be worshiped. They worship trees or stones and images that by “. so doing they will be free from epidemics.
We now know that diseases come from dirt, germs and insanitary conditions. We know that small-pox can be prevented by vaccination. But people in the villages do not believe in science or modern machine. They consult astrologers instead of doctors and physicians. Again, it is ignorance of true causes which makes people superstitious.
A belief in ghosts and spirits is also widespread among the masses. Men imagine that houses and people are haunted by evil spirits. They believe that ghosts and spirits should be laid by ceremonies performed by priests or magicians.
There are amusing as well as serious examples of superstition. Among the former we may mention a few. It is believed that success or failure in our daily business depends upon favourable or unfavourable omens or signs. These omens or signs are usually ascribed to birds, beasts, reptiles and even to wicked men, widows and insanes. If a cat crosses our path it is supposed that we will not succeed in our job. This is perhaps the most common superstition among the Non-Muslims. If a crow flies to the left, it is thought to be bad; if it flies to the right, it is said to be a good sign. If a widow meets you when you start on a journey, you are said to be unlucky. If a married woman or mother meets, this is thought to be a very auspicious omen, ensuring success.
A large number of comic effects are seen as a result of belief. in such omens or signs. There was, for example, the story of the man who was supposed to be a bad omen for everybody. It was believed that his presence was sure to bring bad luck, people were afraid of meeting this man because such a meeting was sure to bring trouble. And so people avoided him thinking him to be the very embodiment of bad fortune. Students in particular were mightly afraid of meeting him when they were going to the examination hall. But the fun of it was that this man took revenge upon students by posting himself a squarely and openly before the examination hall. This was his revenge for ascribing evil luck to him. It is said this man used to charge heavy fees for not being seen. And so he became a very rich man and a very famous man in his own way.
However, superstitions have their own value. When they are not carried to excess, they exercise a good influence on human pride and egoism. A belief in supernatural forces is not wholly bad. It is bad only when it becomes irrational. But a belief in supernatural power is the very basis on which religion is built. In some cases, superstitions “make life romantic and amusing. It would be a very dull life in which everything became fully understood. A touch of mystery makes life interesting. If there are bad omens; there are also good ones. When we meet these good ones, it makes us comfortable and happy. There is no harm in such pleasing dreams. They often give us confidence. Suppose you meet with a good omen when you are going to your examination, this will cheer you up. On the strength of this experience you will do well in your papers. Of course this does not mean that success is guaranteed by good omens and signs.
Moreover, supersitions die hard. We find them exiciting even in the most civilised, educated and cultured societies. Education and the growth of reason do not drive away superstitions. We see that even the most progressive people secretly cherish superstitions, or even openly. The forms of superstitions change from time to time, but the spirit of superstition seems to be present universally. One reason why superstitions persist even in modern times is that men do not live by reason alone. Reason and nationalism are no doubt valuable but they do not cover the whole of our outlook on life. We live by faith, hope and expectation as much as by reason, commonsense and logic. It is reason which condemns superstition. Belief in luck and good fortune is fundamental to a happy life. That is why we believe in such things as palmistry, astrology and fortune-telling. These may be unscientific, but they are pleasing illusions which continue to shape our lives.
In addition, excessive faith in science and reason also develops into a kind of superstition. For example, if our ancestors. believed in invisible spirits, we today believe in invisible germs and microbes. If the old spirits caused evil, these microbes cause no lesser evils. It does not mean that these germs do not exist; they do exist. But an excessive anxiousness to destroy them will prove as superstitious as an excessive fear of evil spirits. After all we really do not, and can not, know the exact nature of evil. Great thinkers like Shaw do not believe in vaccination, for example. Most thinkers do not believe in patent medicines which are supposed to destroy diseases. We moderns believe in D.D.T. and fumigat ion in clearing the atmosphere. Are we less superstitious when we fumigate our houses than our ancestors who put smoke in order to drive away evil spirits? Are we less superstitious when we ask our children to wash with lifebuoy soap every time in order to remove germs in the dirt than our ancestors who washed themselves every time they touched something.
In conclusion, we may say that superstition is of course irrational and that we should not be excessively superstitious. We should not let our actions and thoughts be ruled by superstition. We must not stop going to the school if a cat runs across our path. We must not consult the astrologer when we have lost something or when we are dangerously ill. We must use reason and common sense in these and other matters. We must not let fear and ignorance grow. We must develop our reason and power of observation and judgment. But all the same we should know that we are more than reason and logic tells us. We must not destroy the faculty of imagination and faith and hope in our effort to become reasonable and logical beings. Man is a poor thing if he is led only by this reason. The essence of superstition is a belief in the supernatural. Reason does not believe in the supernatural. But our souls hunger for peace and jov, and reason cannot give us these. We must have faith in great powers that shape our life and govern this universe. If we believe in such powers we are not harmed. We must not be slaves of superstition, but we can be its masters’ and after all, superstition life fire, is a good servant, though a bad master. Let us by all means by irrational in our practical life, but · let us not prejudice our souls by an overdose of reason. Superstition is definitely dangerous when it leads to evil practices life animal and human sacrifice as was the practice with the Hindus of the olden days. It is dangerous when it is permitted to stand in the way of social progress. If monkeys and mice are mischievous, they must be properly controlled. We must not say that they should not be touched because they are gods or are vehicles of gods. Poisonous serpents have to be controlled even though they are pet reptiles of our gods. After all, even ignorant villagers even while they worship the stone images of serpents. This sounds commonsense. Therefore, let us not be foolishly and sentimentally superstitious. Let us be responsible, but let us not Be heartless and unimaginative machines of logic and reason. The good that superstitions do is in their feeding our emotional and imaginative life. If reason is prose, superstition might help poetry.