The Science of Superstition


Ever wondered what exactly superstition is or why so many people avoid specific situations because it is considered to be bad luck? In this blog post we go through what exactly superstition is and the back stories of some of the most common superstitions.

What is superstition?

Superstition usually means believing that supernatural forces, such as fate, can influence a range of unpredictable factors. This comes from the need that a lot of people have, to resolve uncertainty in everyday life. Individual beliefs and experiences are a massive influence and drive most superstitions, these often defy the current scientific understanding of the universe. Put simply, most superstitions originate from the assumption that a link exists between co-occurring, non-related events.

For a lot of people, engaging in superstition allows them to feel in control and more at ease, especially during stressful times. A lot of superstitious behaviour, for example; an athlete having a ‘good luck’ ritual before a game that they feel that have to do or they wont win, doesn’t influence the outcome of the game at all, however it could calm down the athlete and make them less anxious about the game, therefore making them play better and more likely to win.

Some of the most common superstitions…

One example of a common superstitions is ‘Touch wood’, the action of knocking on or touching wood, or your head is there isn’t any wood around, after expressing a hope for the future. The thought is that touching the wood will lead to good luck. The origin of this superstition is often debated but it most likely comes from the belief that malevolent spirits inhabited wood, therefore if you knocked on wood after expressing a hope for the future, you are preventing the spirits from hearing your hope and interfering.

Triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number thirteen, is another common superstitious fear. It is thought that the number thirteen is unlucky and anything associated with it is also unlucky. A lot of hotels and airlines don’t use the number thirteen in floor numbers or seat numbers as people have been known to ask to change rooms in hotels and seats on flights. It isn’t clear where this one originated from but has been declared a legitimate phobia.

Passing another person on the stairs is also thought to be bad luck. This one makes a lot of sense and dates back to before bannisters for staircases were made, meaning that it was quite dangerous to pass someone on the stairs as it increased the chances of one person falling off.

‘One for sorrow, two for joy…’ is a common saying that refers to Magpies. It is thought that seeing one magpie on its own is a sign of bad luck to come, whereas seeing two is good luck. The rhyme as well as how to combat the bad luck that is said to come with see one magpie differs around the world, the most popular one being to salute the magpie on its own to show it respect. It isn’t known where exactly the rhyme originated from.

Some other common superstitions are; shoes on the table, entering the house through one door and leaving by another, walking under ladders and a black cat crossing your path.

So if you have a fear of the number thirteen or you salute a Magpie if you only see one, you can rest easy in the fact that these are just superstitions and not an indication of bad luck to come! 

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