Crossing fingers, black cats, rabbit's feet, broken mirrors, they are all harmless superstitions that people believe in that help them through their day. People use superstitions like crossing their fingers or saying a certain chant or phrase to prepare themselves for difficult tasks they feel they can't do by themselves. Athletes and musicians also rely on their superstitious beliefs—like lucky clothing articles, or some routine before a performance—because they think it makes them play better. Superstition is a safety net for people when the other things they rely on fail. They use their superstitions to help them in life.
Superstitions can be beneficial to the people who have them because they can make the people act like they would not normally act whether they want to or not. Even though they think the superstition is causing them to do better, it is just their new confidence or experience that is making them do better. Without the superstition though, the person might be thinking about how they don't have their extra edge, which would cause them to perform worse. How do people get caught up in superstitions so easily?
When an athlete, or anyone for that matter, attributes something they do that is beneficial to them to be caused by some superstitious act or object, they fall into the circular reasoning fallacy described by Michael Shermer. He says “[Circular reasoning] occurs when the conclusion or claim is merely a restatement of one of the premises”. Take a lucky sock for example, if someone asked an athlete why the sock was lucky, they would say it is because it helps them to play better. Then if asked why it makes them play better, they would say it is because it is lucky. Notice how the conclusion, the sock is lucky, is derived from the premise that the sock is lucky. Circular reasoning like this is behind many of the superstitious practices today, but some are based on religion or culture.
The Mexican culture here in America is a good example of a culture that has a rich history in the supernatural. 80% of Mexican Americans practice Catholicism (Figueredo 161). Their form of Catholicism is differs from the traditional form however. They hold a more personal form of religion. “As [Latinos] see it, there is a world beyond what people call the ‘real world.’ Because of this attitude, Latinos interpret religious experiences in a very personal way, often throwing in their own interpretations” Figueredo, 172). This quote shows that the Latino population feels they are free to change their faith based on their own interpretations. One way that their supernatural beliefs is spread is through simple word of mouth.
The ever increasing amount of communication between people in the United States is what is causing the spread of superstitious belief. “If prayers are answered, and word of the 'miracles' gets out, friends and neighbors may ask if they, too, may pray and leave offerings” (Oktavec 51). One can see how this could spread the belief of the supernatural quickly. Since America is so diverse, people from other religions could hear about this and start to believe as well. Email and cell phones are two of the main modes of communication now and there are all sorts of chain letters and phone scams that fuel superstitious thoughts.
Since so many young people are using email now, they are exposed to the chain letters at a young age, they are more likely to be caught up in the superstitious world. If young people are exposed to this early then they are more likely to believe in it and carry that belief on with them through their lives. Some of these habits are bad, like being easily swayed into thinking one way over another without any real reasoning. There is nothing that says you will have bad luck if you don't forward a message to 15 other people in 30 minutes, it is just bogus. Is superstition a bad thing?
Stevie Wonder said “superstition ain't the way” in his song Superstition. This shows he thinks of superstition as a bad thing in peoples lives. The only superstitions he mentions in his song are negative—only bad luck superstitions. Breaking a mirror, walking under a ladder, or seeing a black cat, these are all bad luck superstitions. Where did the thought of seeing a black cat cause bad luck come from? One possible answer is that supposedly Napoleon saw a black cat just before he lost a battle against the British and ever since people have thought of black cats as bad luck, except for people in Britain. Not all superstitions are bad however.
Even though the logic behind a superstition is flawed, the repercussions may benefit the user. Since superstitions usually involve some type of precautionary act, it will usually benefit the person even though the superstition was not the cause.
Even people who do not consider themselves superstitious or have any regular superstitious activities may consider it to be “better safe than sorry” and practice superstitions related to their culture. If people see a ladder they might instinctively avoid walking under it. Even though the person isn't superstitious, they still might get a feeling of confidence from knowing they avoided bad luck. This feeling of confidence is what really benefits the person, not the alleged bad luck they avoided. That is a simple superstition, but there are others that are more complex.
Most people who follow baseball know about the curse of the Bambino. This curse started in 1920 after the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. After the exchange, the Sox could not win a World Series. The other part of this myth is that after the sale, the Yankees had tremendous success (Stout). Was it truly the curse that caused the Red Sox to not be able to win a World Series? It may never be known, but in 2004 the Red Sox beat the Yankees and went on to beat the Cardinals to win the World Series.
Superstition helps people through their daily lives by giving them a false sense of confidence. It might sound bad, but it is good at the core. Superstition can spread through almost any media, but Email is becoming more and more popular now and is fueling the spread of superstition in America. Works Cited
Figueredo, D.H. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Latino History & Culture. Alpha, 2002. Oktavec, Eileen. Answered Prayers: Miracles & Milagros Along The Border. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1995. Stout, Glenn. Yankees Century: 100 Years of New York Yankees Baseball Houghton Mifflin, 2002. Wonder, Stevie. “Superstition.” Perf. Wonder, Laurence. Motown Records, 1972.