Touch Wood and Superstitions – How They All Started

What does it mean when a black cat crosses your path? Does it signify bad luck? Well, technical it means that the cat is going somewhere.

Superstition as per Oxford Dictionary means, “A widely held but irrational belief in supernatural influences, especially as leading to good or bad luck, or a practice based on such a belief.” In simple terms, superstition may be defined as a belief in the power of omens and the existence of supernatural beings. Since ages, superstition has been binding mankind throughout history, and across the globe. Mangal dosha, evil eye, spiritual possessions upon peepal tree, Friday the 13th, black cats, etc. are a few paragons of beliefs in India and around the world.

India is a land of superstitions. The people believe in a number of omens, perform a number of ceremonies to achieve their ends, and live in a fear of ghosts and evil spirits. Even today in the 21st century, stepping out of the house after someone sneezes or when a cat crosses your way is believed to bring bad luck.

However, many of these superstitions can be explained with scientific or logical reasoning. Let?s try some.

The grown-ups should not crossover a child as it would check his growth. This superstition is an embodiment of wisdom. Practically, there is another way to say the same thing – if the grown-ups cross over a child, they might injure the delicate child!

During periods, women are not supposed to go in the kitchen or temple. This superstition is not only a belief in dark but also has a proper scientific reason. In the ancient world, women had to do a lot of physical labour throughout the day, and during the menstrual cycle their body is comparatively weaker and demands rest to remain healthy. So, this ritual was created in India so women can rest well.

The food of the baby should be covered with a cloth or towel. Scientifically, it is a warning that exposed food is more likely to be infected by bacteria which in turn will harm the health of the baby. Hence, the food should never be left uncovered.

Closed wells are abodes of evil spirits, so one should not go near them. Closed wells and stagnant water generate toxic gases which once inhaled can badly affect the health of the person.

Similarly, the superstition that one should not sleep under the shade of Banyan tree as it is inhabited by ghosts is also based on sound reasoning. The tree, like any other tree, takes in oxygen at night and releases carbon dioxide (CO2). And being a huge specimen, the Banyan tree releases a correspondingly huge quantity of CO2. Also, tree roots make the ground lumpy and sleeping on it might cause back problems in the future.

The restriction upon buying groceries on Friday could be understood through common sense. For centuries, shopkeepers refilled their inventories on weekends. Hence, the stuff on Friday generally used to be stale. Hence, purchasing groceries on Friday will end up in poor quality goods or food in the household.

Thus, we can easily say that sages and gurus during ancient times in India tried to give good precautions, which over a period of time came to called superstitious beliefs.

But due to technological advancement, the scenario now is not what it used to be during ancient times. What we have lacked so far is the ability to accept the change and move on with it. People are still stuck to those century old ideologies. There are some superstitions, which have absolutely no logic but still exist. But this does not mean that such superstitions are typical of India alone. Every country has its own dogmatic beliefs – even the advanced and highly educated Europeans are superstitious. Number thirteen is regarded as inauspicious among them. Even today, there is that room in a hotel, having the number thirteen on it, in which no one would like to stay. More than half of Americans belief in some superstition or the other. Even the youth admitted on being a little superstitious about certain things.

In essence, we all believe in some superstition or the other, however we call it, even though we may not openly accept it. Now the question – why do we believe in something even when we know that there is no concrete logic behind its existence? Why after being scientifically aware we follow these beliefs?

It is all about human psychology. Superstitions, or beliefs in general, provide people with the sense that they’ve done one more thing to ensure it results in the outcome they are looking for.  We often face a situation in life where something really important is about to happen, we’ve prepared for it at our best, but it’s still uncertain; it’s still unclear, no matter how confident or prepared we are for an event, things can still happen beyond our control. As such, a sense of security and confidence are perhaps the greatest benefits we get emotionally from superstitious thinking or behavior.

While superstitions, or beliefs, seem to have some reasoning, they might also come result in negatives in some circumstances. If you’ve done well in the past with a particular shirt on, it helps relieve anxiety and promotes positive thoughts with same shirt on next time. But this thinking can also hinder your performance, if say, you lose that shirt, or any lucky object for that matter – your confidence will be completed shaken. It plays a negative role, especially with a bad habit such as gambling. If you’re a compulsive gambler who believes that you can get lucky, then that belief may contribute to your problem.

There are many things in nature which are beyond human knowledge. We try to understand the mystery of nature but there are still many things in the nature which cannot be explained through reasoning. As a person begins to understand the right relation among things, and the real cause of phenomenon, they cease to be superstitious. But many of them are so deeply rooted that no amount of knowledge or science can weaken their hold or fully shake them off. That is why so many superstitions still persist, even in the most advanced countries of the world, and even the most educated. They believe in several roots from the evolutionary tendency to avoid harm. No wonder superstitions descended so well from early ancestors to the current generation.

– Contributed by Riddhi, a Student of Bachelor of Commerce (Hons)

Picture: The black-cat-crossing superstition is also popular in the west.

Most Popular

To Top