Science in Superstition

“Magic is just science that we don’t understand”, said Arthur . C . Clarke.  Similar is the case with most of the present day superstitions. They were all once practiced because of a scientific reason and the later generations started following them blindly for the sake of it or were made to follow by instilling fear to prevent laziness from terminating these practices. The current COVID-19 pandemic has instilled back some science in superstitions. As of this writing, the picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the French President Emanuel Macron greeting each other with ‘Namaste’ is trending on Internet for right reasons!

Most people are so engrossed in the temple that they forget the deity. One should go to the temple for the right reasons for which they were initially put in place. The vibrations there give out positive energy. This is due to the positioning (vastu, etc.) based on the high magnetic fields around the place with metal plates placed below the deity as copper generally absorbs earth’s magnetic waves and radiates the same. The sound of the bell (made of special alloys) in temples and churches also do the same generating a positive aura while calming your mind. These places are generally built at higher altitudes. Climbing up and down, circumambulating round the sanctum sanctorim, sit-ups before Ganapati, prostration, kneeling down before the lord in Christianity and Islam all these are exercises. And not to forget the fresh air and oxygen we get in the place surrounded by so many trees amidst other features.

Ancient sages have said the god does not exist in any shape or gender but idol worship is practised so that one can focus on the idol than an abstract thought of God (if the eyes are closed different thoughts come to our mind). They had further said ‘God is the Energy’ that created this universe and the human beings. Temples hold more of this energy. The stories about God are to instill morals in an individual to live harmoniously in a society, differentiating good from evil, and not to promote any religion or segregation among the individuals. People worshiped the Tulasi (holy basil) plant and swallowed the leaves for its medicinal values while avoiding the Arsenic in it from tarnishing the teeth. Revolving round a Peepal tree is in practice in many temples as it releases a high amount of oxygen which aides in ridding of hormonal imbalances and improving concentration. In essence, the original preaching about the God was for an individual to become a moralistic person, and not be ritualistic. “Prayer is when you talk to God and Meditation is when you listen to God.”

Science behind some superstitions like not stepping on the partition between pathway tiles is to prevent one from tripping. Walking under a ladder was just to prevent the person below from knocking down anyone on top accidentally. Sneezing when someone was just about to leave home was tried to control though involuntary because, with very few having the luxury to visit a doctor back then, it was only told as the germs from one’s (traveler or the house member) nose could make others sick during the travel. In the western culture, Jesus Christ is associated with Touch Wood or Knock the Wood; he was crucified on a wooden cross and it is just like thanking God or asking his blessings.

While leaving the house, especially for an important occasion, some people consume curd sugar mixture because curd calms the mind and cools the body while sugar has carbohydrates and can give instant energy so that the work is done well. If one is not well prepared, no matter what, the work will go vain anyway. People generally traveled on bullock or horse carts before automobiles came and these animals, at night, could get scared and lead to an accident seeing the glare on the eyes of a cat reflected when the lantern in the cart cast its light on its eyes. Moreover, on forest routes cats also meant wild cats like lions, tigers and panthers. You may halt to prevent yourself from running over the cat and not for illogical reasons. Hanging a charm, a string piercing through green chilies and lemon, has Science behind it too. The folic and citric acids in these fruits when mixed produced a chemical to repel insects and pests and not evil spirits as we are made to or forced to believe. Amulets are metals and have magnetic energy that is good for our body and hence absorbs negative vibrations into itself (energy! not spirits). Conducting offerings to the God of Fire (‘Agni’, ‘Havan’ or ‘Homa’), using of salt, red chills, burning a broom stick, lighting a camphor on a container with turmeric and vermilion (‘nazar utaarna’ in Indian culture) are also scientific in nature as these objects release chemicals, when burnt, that can kill bacteria and viruses when someone returns home after a travel where they possible have mingled with many people and any of them could have been sick and spread some germs. Sleeping under a tree at night is prohibited since it releases carbon dioxide at night and you could have lack of oxygen the entire night leading to severe stress the next morning. Throwing coins into sacred rivers was to increase the copper content which had health benefits as most people and animals had rivers as the source of drinking water. Feeding crows in the morning helped detect poison in food as crows generally eat any dish but can easily sense toxin. Greeting guests with a folded hands not only prevented germ exchange but also helped remember the person longer as the finger tips touched the pressure points that activated the eyes, ears and brain. Hand shakes and hugs helped in exchange of energies though. Sitting on the floor while eating ensured the proper digestion as gravity acted only till this system and did not have to work on the legs and prevented Arthiritis as the elbow and knuckles flexed. Meals began with spices that activated digestive juices and ended with sweets to deactivate these. A Rangoli with rice flour outside the house was to feed ants while the brain worked analytically to create symmetric geometric patterns. Henna on the hands of Muslim and Hindu brides on weddings had antidepressant properties to decrease her pressure of the big day and fear of leaving home plus it’s is an anti-fungal and antiviral agent.

See the logic behind telling pregnant women and children not to go out, not to eat or even cook and not to look at the Sun or Moon during an eclipse. As the Sun is blocked, its powerful and Vitamin D rich rays are not reaching the Earth. Hence, bacteria and viruses that die in the sun rays can affect the vulnerable pregnant women, children, contaminate the food and also as the Chromosphere is covered, only the harmful UV rays from the other layers of the Sun, reach the Earth which being strong can affect one’s eyesight. In fact, this is why umbrellas are not opened indoors too. Umbrella is used to prevent both rain and shine and no one washes an umbrella daily. Also, bathing after attending a funeral or when a lizard falls on a person is for the same cause. The dead body, having started to decompose, would have the presence of micro organisms and to prevent it from affecting the attendee or the non attendees in the attendee’s house. The lizard is poisonous and could have left toxins on the skin.

During ancient and medieval times, there was no proper lighting. Tiny valuable things can get swept away unknowingly, one could cut the skin while cutting nails or shaving in the dark, hence these activities were curbed. Combing indoors can cause hair to fall on food. Mirrors were expensive and made up of cheap material and to cause caution, it was associated with fear. Cold blooded snakes can bite even after being killed if the fangs aren’t destroyed. Moreover, why to give it a painful death till it lives, finishing off in the first strike is better for the creature too. Washing the hair was avoided on certain days to preserve sebum or natural oil and the practice helped in water conservation too. Holding fasts was a natural detoxification. Earth is a huge magnet in itself with its South pole towards the geographic North, having one’s head in the North makes it tough for blood circulation during sleep causing high blood pressure and related diseases (asymmetric alignment as body too is a magnet and repelling poles should be apart). Cleaning the floors with cow dung was an antiseptic. Cow dung’s smell invited flies. Menstruating women were told to stay away from household chores as they needed rest and also there weren’t sanitary napkins etc for hygiene and not as they were impure as blind believers say these days. They were also told not to touch pickles as it could increase their cramps.

Women wore ornaments as each has its own significance. Toe ring made of silver absorbed Earth’s energy through the nerves to the uterus. Marital chain made of gold converged body’s energy to the heart, bangles being round prevented body energy from passing out. Acupuncture was the purpose of earrings and nose pins while wearing vermilion on forehead could keep her stress free as vermilion is a mixture of mercury, turmeric and lime and had to touch the pituitary gland to control blood pressure and make her smart in making decisions. Kumkum in between the eyebrows was for acupressure.

People also used natural medicines like turmeric for antiseptic, anti-fungal and anti bacterial properties and doubling up as a toner and waxing agent. Coconut oil grew hair and moisturised the skin. Salt baths was a homemade scrub. Neem was a skin irritations’ solution. Cloves cured dental issues. No gyms were visited as using mortar and pestle, rolling stone, mill, etc. in cooking were healthy practices just like washing clothes on stone, swimming in lakes, use of iron, copper and earthen utensils were in pre-tech era.

Follow rational things. As Nobel Laureate, Niels Bohr was asked by a guest if he believed in the Horseshoe hung outside his house during the great plague. He said, “No, but I am told that they bring luck even to those who don’t believe in them.”

-Tulasi G (One of the Prize Winners of Article Writing Competition 2020 in the 25-44 Years Age Group)

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