Friday 23 October 2009

Being superstitious is being stupid

The City of Aurora in Ontario is now allowing residents to eliminate the unlucky number 4 – or any other unwanted number – from street addresses. It has a bad luck connotation for people from East Asia. It's no different than the old number 13.
In Asian cultures, the number 4 sounds like the word "death" when spoken, so is considered unlucky. As a result, some numbered products manufactured in Asia, such as certain cellphones, PDAs and cameras, do not have the number 4 in their series names.

On streets where numbers progress by intervals of four or more – for example, 2, 6, 10, 14, 18 – the street number "14" can be substituted with the numbers 12 or 16. For people who speak Cantonese, 14 is considered one of the unluckiest of numbers.If there's an interval of at least four, then an opportunity to change the address exists. If the street numbers progress by two in even and odd numbers on different sides of the street – 2, 4, 6, 8 – then the numbers cannot be changed. The number 13, considered unlucky in Western cultures, was eliminated many years ago in Aurora's residential street numbering system.

Typically, people asking for number changes are selling their homes or are potential buyers. One Asian couple who was delighted with their purchase of a home with the number 8 in its street address, because the number is considered lucky, as are the numbers 2, 3, 5 and 7.

The reality is, most people will buy if the price is right. One Asian couple purchased a home with an unlucky street number after the price was dropped $30,000.

In Vaughan, which allows the practice, along with Newmarket and Markham in York Region, one resident requested a rural street number be changed from 666, which is the mark of the Antichrist or Beast in modern pop culture, to 668. The request was granted. I can appreciate that request because many people may not enter a home with the house number being 666.

If the number 4 is considered a bad omen to the Chinese, what will they do when the live on a street in which all the house numbers begin with a 4? In Mississauga, all the house numbers have four digits so what will they do if their house number begins with a 4? Would they refuse to live in any house or even visit anyone living in any house in which the house numbers are 4000 through 4999? That covers a lot of houses.

If the number 14 is not acceptable and the house owner’s neighbours on either side of him or her on his or her side of the street are 12 and 16 and the house across the street from him or her is 15, what is that person going to do then? Will their house number be 13.5?

What will Chinese people do when they have an appointment with their doctor and the doctor’s office is on the fourth floor of a building or the suite number is 4 or 14 or 24 etc? Suppose the building address is 44 Fourth Avenue?

Their superstition could result in them avoiding one tenth of every house and building in the city. That means that one tenth of their lives will be hindered as a direct result of their superstition. If they are suffering from severe pain as a result of a toothache and the only dentist in their town has his office number as 4 or 44, will that Chinese person refuse to seek help from the dentist?

The fear of the number thirteen (13) is so pervasive that it even has it's own fancy Greek term: triskaidekaphobia. The belief that thirteen brings bad luck is an extremely pervasive belief throughout many societies, and is strong enough that many major hotels and high rises traditionally either build only twelve floors, or, if they want to go higher, skip labeling the 13th floor entirely! Many people refuse to stay on the 13th floor, or in room 13. Most airports don't have a thirteenth gate.

We are all familiar with Friday the 13th. But what is so different with that day than other days? Nothing really. We can have worse days of the year and a great many people do. What is worse, going on a great trip on Friday the 13th or losing a loved one in a car accident on Thursday the 12th?

Paraskevidekatriaphobia is the official term for the fear of Friday the Thirteenth. Jesus was said to have been crucified on Friday and the number of guests at the party of the Last Supper was 13, with the 13th guest being Judas, the alleged traitor.

To the ancient Egyptians, we are told, life was a quest for spiritual ascension which unfolded in stages — 12 in this life and a 13th beyond, thought to be the eternal afterlife. The number 13 therefore symbolized death — not in terms of dust and decay, but as a glorious and desirable transformation. Though Egyptian civilization perished, the death symbolism they conferred on the number 13 survived, only to be corrupted by later cultures who associated it with a fear of death instead of a reverence for the afterlife.

In Topeka, Kansas, where the zip code starts with 666, they skip from 66612 to 66614 which highly inconvenient to anyone living in a house with that number because it would be highly notorious to having 66613 as a zip code.

I remember when I was a young kid, listening to other kids telling me not to walk on a crack in the side walk. The rhyme went like this; “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” I stepped on many cracks on the sidewalks and my mother’s back was just fine. She lived to the age of ninety-one without any back problems. Imagine how inconvenient it would have been for me if I had to look down on the thousands of sidewalks I walked on so that I wouldn’t step on a crack.

I am sure all my readers have heard of the superstition that says that; You should not permit a black cat to cross your path in front of you. What nonsense that is. My wife and I have a black cat and it walks across our paths every day. We love our cat and I think the feeling is mutual because when we enter our home, it is right at the foyer waiting to greet us and get petted like all cats irrespective of their colours. Our cat is called “Happy” and both he and my wife and I are pleased that we are sharing our home together. My oldest daughter has Happy’s brother and her cat is also black and she calls him “Mushy” They too get along with each other.

Christians, of the past wanting to rid society of all traces of other religions, convinced the ignorant that black cats were demons in disguise and should thus be destroyed. In the process, they also destroyed the kindly women who cared for the cats, believing them to be witches. Being demons, a black cat crossing your path would create a barrier of evil, cutting you off from God and blocking the entrance to heaven. Have you ever heard of such nonsense?

Historically, salt has been highly valued and considered to be a purifying substance, capable of driving away evil. The Romans paid their soldiers in salt – hence the word "salary". My grandparents were missionaries in Nigeria and they paid their help in salt. It has long been useful as a preservative, in medicine, and is also used in magic, ritual, and superstition to purify, bless things, and drive away evil. I am sure my readers have heard the expression; If you spill some salt, you must take a pinch of the spilled salt and throw it over your left shoulder. If I did that, the first thing my wife would say is; “It’s your mess. Now you clean it up.”

Have you heard the words, Walking under a ladder will bring you bad luck. That is true if someone is on the ladder above you and is painting the side of your house. If you exclude the obvious that something might fall on you from above, the belief that walking under a ladder will bring bad luck seems to stem from the ladder forming a triangle with the wall and the ground. This represents the ‘Holy Trinity’, and if you violate this by entering the space, it puts you in league with the devil, and you're likely to incur God's wrath. More religious twaddle. Hangmen used to use a ladder to hang someone from the gallows, and it was believed that if you walked under a ladder, the hangmen would turn his gaze your way, or 'Death would notice you'. The only way a hangman would turn his gaze your way is if you were walking under the ladder he was perched on.

How about this one? Breaking a mirror will bring seven years of bad luck. One's reflection in a mirror is thought to be the representation of a person’s soul or spiritual state. Breaking the mirror, and therefore the person's reflection, would bring damage to their soul and spiritual hardship. Taking the pieces outside and burying them in the moonlight could avoid this. The true reason that breaking a mirror was 7 years bad luck is because when mirrors were first made they were so expensive that if you broke one, you would serve 7 years as an indentured servant to the owner of the mirror because not too many people could afford to buy another one to replace it. Now that really would be bad luck.

Have you heard the expression, Knock on wood? It implies that you must knock on wood 3 times after mentioning good fortune or the evil spirits will ruin things for you. The American version is "knock on wood", while the British and Canadian version is merely "touch wood". The tradition traces back to an ancient pagan belief that spirits resided in trees, particularly Oaks, and that by knocking on or touching the wood, you were paying a small tribute to them by remembering or acknowledging them, and could call on them for protection against ill-fortune. Also, you were thanking them for their continued blessings and good luck.

It is not uncommon for someone to carry around a rabbit's foot for luck, and these can frequently be found in bins at the drugstore checkout or dispensed from gumball machines. They are often dyed bright colors and come on a keychain. The proper foot for luck was the left hind foot of the rabbit, although I suspect that manufacturers today produce these charms using any of the rabbits' feet. Dying the foot bright colors is modern and contains no significance; it's only for visual appeal.

Although the practice is also prevalent in England, it was originally considered a Southern (United States) tradition to carry a rabbit's foot; particularly among African Americans. The tradition made its way to the States with African slaves, and it is thought to be among the oldest traditions in the world, dating from around 600 BC.

Rabbits and hares have long been considered symbols of fertility and, by extension, abundance. To have rabbits traipsing through your yard was a sign that your garden would be fertile. When a rabbit runs, its stride is unusual because the back feet hit the ground ahead of it's front feet, and so the back feet were considered lucky. Therefore, to possess the rabbit's hind foot would be to acquire good fortune. Over 10 million rabbits feet are bought every year in the United States to feed the rage for this fetish. Animal lovers and animal rights activists alike (and rabbits) discourage the practice due to the cruelty and senseless deaths involved in producing these amulets.

Cross your two fingers (the middle and pointing fingers) on one hand as a sign of hopefulness or desire for a particular outcome. Give me a break. This is probably the superstition that is most widely used today. By making the sign of the Christian faith with our fingers, evil spirits would be prevented from destroying our chances of good fortune. It is also used as an expression: “Cross your fingers” is often told to someone hoping for good luck or a particular outcome. Sometimes, when someone tells a lie, they will cross their fingers (usually behind their back). This somehow absolves them from the consequences or makes the lie not count.

Open an umbrella indoors and bad luck will rain on you. That is more silly nonsense. Although this superstition likely evolved from coincidental attribution of bad luck to somebody blaming the umbrella being opened, it is claimed by some that the origin can be traced back to when umbrellas were used as sun protection. Opening one indoors supposedly was offensive to the sun (or sun god) and would bring his wrath down upon the offender. If this were so, then why would not opening an umbrella anywhere, especially outdoors, offend the sun god? I would rather open an umbrella indoors to make sure that it works than try opening it outside when it begins to rain and discover to my horror that it won’t open.

Hold your breath when you go past a cemetery or else you will breath in evil spirits. How is that for a silly superstition? Supposedly, this is because you will either wake a spirit with each breath or else you, still being alive, will make the spirits jealous. Some people think that it is order to avoid inhaling evil spirits. This last idea seems to be the most prevalent. Can you really hold your breath when the cemetery is three blocks in length?

Bless someone who sneezes. Humankind has long been equating the soul with breath. It was thought that when one sneezed, the soul briefly flew out of the body, and this might allow an evil spirit to take up residence within. Nowadays, demon possession does seem a rather extreme consequence for just having sneezed; but because early peoples didn't know all about germs, disease transmission and the like, they equated sickness with evil spirits. On the other hand, it is also said that blessing someone who sneezes is necessary because their heart skips a beat when they sneeze; it is wishing them continued good health. I think merely saying “Bless you.” when someone sneezes is simply wishing them well.

A horseshoe hung above the doorway to a home will attract good fortune. More silliness. Do you really believe that billionaires have horseshoes over the doorways of their homes? In most of Europe protective horseshoes are placed in a downward facing position, but in some parts of Ireland and Britain people believe that the shoes must be turned upward or their luck will run out. Have you really heard of such nonsense?

Throughout Europe, the horseshoe has been nailed to doors to ward off the evil eye, evil spirits and to bring good luck. Charms in the shape of horseshoes are often carried or worn by believers for the same reasons. Rings made of horseshoe nails can also be worn for luck. The origin of the horseshoe superstition is a rich convergence of many ancient roots, beliefs, and traditions. The horseshoe, or crescent shape, fits in well with numerous ancient beliefs and forms of worship.

In Scotland, iron was used as protection against fairies, and usually this was the reason why a horseshoe was placed over a door. As iron is stronger than other metals and able to withstand fire, it has long been thought to be imbued with magical properties and hold the power to ward off spirits, witches, fairies, and other malicious or mischievous supernatural beings. Do you really place a horsehoe over your door for this reason?

Breaking a turkey wishbone. That is done everywhere. During Thanksgiving, it is traditional to roast a turkey. When it is served, it's also traditional for two people to take the wishbone (the bird's clavicle), which resembles the lowercase Greek letter lambda (λ) or an inverted lower-case "y"; each making a wish, they pull apart the bone to break it. The person ending up with the larger piece will supposedly get his or her wish. Do you know anyone who ever got his or her wish? I certainly didn’t get my wish.

Blow out your birthday candles and make a wish. Further, according to the custom, you are not supposed to tell anyone what you wished for. They say that it is a sign that you are in good health if you can blow them all out in one breath as it would mean that your lungs are in good shape. Try blowing out 76 candles in one breath. Fortunately on the 27th of this month, I won't have to do that because we couldn't get a fire permit so there will only be a few candles on my birthday cake.

Millions of people wear the holy cross as an amulet around their necks or St. Christopher’s medal for wellbeing and or safety on a journey. Have you any idea as to how many millions of people have died in accidents despite them wearing these amulets? If it makes them feel good, then they should wear them but counting on them is not really going to help them. It is merely a placebo.

In Conclusion

Superstition can be defined as the irrational belief in the existence of unseen forces (frequently thought of as evil spirits) controlling people's fates or the outcomes of events, usually with negative effects, unless particular actions are taken to prevent the ill effects or to produce the desired good effects; this may involve a person's behaviors and actions, avoidance of actions, places, etc., or the use of amulets, etc.

Many educated, intelligent people still hold on to a variety of superstitions, almost as though they are cherished traditions of a sort. If you ask them, when it gets right down to the nitty-gritty, they don't actually believe in something, yet they still act upon the belief.

But is being superstitious really being stupid? Throughout the periods of history, from ancient to present, people have feared what they didn't and still don’t understand. They turned and even depended on many things to explain the phenomenons happening around them. From religion to science, people have tried to satisfy their puzzled minds. Some, however, accepted these phenomena and simply took up practices to protect themselves from them. Known as superstitions, these curious rituals have continued to fascinate us, and some are still even practiced by a great many people.

It is a human trait in all of us to want something we can’t normally get and to fear that which we don’t understand. Unfortunately, being superstitious isn't going to help us at all, in fact, it will hinder us by having us do things we don't need to do.

Superstition is a form of magic readily found in the modern world. Its foundation rests on the ancient belief that unseen forces in the universe take an active and not always positive role in our lives, and may even go out of their way to wreak jealous havoc if things are going exceptionally well. People once sought to placate these unseen forces by simple rituals, and many of these rituals, such as knocking on wood after an optimistic statement or throwing spilled salt over the left shoulder, still persist today.

Certain sectors of our society often hold their own particular superstitions. Gamblers, for instance, devise their own personal and often elaborate methods for choosing combinations of lucky numbers, and many carry the traditional gambler's good luck charm--the lucky horseshoe. Actors are also highly superstitious. They consider it the worst of luck to wish each other good luck before a performance. Preferring not to tempt fate, they encourage each other to "break a leg" before the curtain goes up.

The important thing to remember however is that being superstitious isn’t really going to make you a better person, make you richer, smarter or happier. If you want to be a better person, a rich person, a smarter person, or be happier, you have to work at it. Wearing amulets around your neck and carrying a rabbit’s foot with you isn’t going to do anything for you at all anymore than nailing a horseshoe over your door.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to fix the horseshoe over my front door. It seems to be loose.

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