What’s luck got to do with it?

Superstitions in your day-to-day life

For the superstitious, something as simple as a broken mirror means seven years of bad luck.
For the superstitious, something as simple as a broken mirror means seven years of bad luck.

You may not believe in leprechauns or pots of gold, but chances are you’ve received a blessing from someone you don’t even know after a sneeze. Over the years, people have picked up habits such as saying “bless you” when someone sneezes and knocking on wood after an ill-considered comment while forgetting the superstitions on which they’re founded.

One explanation for the “blessed sneeze” says that in 16th-century Europe, a sneeze was seen as an act of expelling evil from the body—an act meriting a blessing. Another account holds that a blessing was used to prevent a sneeze’s potential to spread plague and disease.

Many superstitious practices are still widely used in our culture today.

Anna Tombs, ArtSci ’09, considers herself somewhat superstitious. For Tombs, believing in these superstitions isn’t about where they come from. It’s about playing it safe.

“I feel it is safer to do so. Why risk it? If you can avoid something that could potentially bring bad luck, why not do it?” Tombs said she believes karma has the potential to affect her life and that the consequences of her actions will eventually come full circle.

“I think you can control your luck to a certain point and people who see the better side of things are generally luckier,” she said.

Carly Watters, ConEd ’09, wouldn’t call herself a superstitious person. She said she doesn’t believe in superstitions because she has never found one that has worked for her.

“I don’t think there is such a thing as luck. You work hard for what you get.” Sociology professor Vincent Sacco said there’s no one way to determine how superstitions come about.

“Most superstitions are quite old and have an origin lost in the midst of time. Over time, they do become a part of culture and folklorists try to trace down their origins,” Sacco said.

“Culture consists of a lot of entertaining bits of knowledge, rumours, traditions. And they’re partially there to amuse ourselves.”

He said superstitions relate to human behaviour dealing with uncontrollable experiences in an unpredictable environment.

According to Sacco, superstitions likely don’t play a major role in decisions but can factor into how we behave in smaller ways.

“Superstitions are on the margin of affecting behaviour. It lurks in the less significant aspect of behaviour, as a lot of superstitions just get folded into tradition,” he said.

“Most of us aren’t very good with figuring out the patterns of cause and effect. We underestimate coincidence in our lives. If coincidence is somehow tied to superstitious beliefs, then we don’t think it’s coincidence.”

People engage in a fair amount of magical thinking, particularly about uncontrollable elements in their lives, Sacco said. But he thinks most people wouldn’t make major decisions based on superstitions alone.

For the majority of people, though, Sacco said he doesn’t think it plays too much of a role in their lives.

“It’s not a hindrance when you show up to an exam with your lucky pen. If someone’s life is dictated by it, then its an issue,” he said.

More likely, people are just playing it safe. Sacco said people don’t necessarily believe in superstitions, but think there’s nothing to be lost by adhering to them.

“Why tempt fate?” he said.

“There is a very famous story about an elderly woman in Ireland. When asked by a reporter, ‘Do you believe in leprechauns?’ She replied, ‘No, but they are there all the same.’”

Even if you don’t really believe in superstitions, there’s no harm in keeping them in mind once in a while, Sacco said.

“It has a sense of playfulness and people just go along with the joke.

“It’s probably less safe to walk under ladders, anyways.”

Superstition origins

• The superstition that breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck dates back to an earlier superstition that suggested seeing your reflection distorted in water foretold impending disaster.

• The legend behind the superstition that walking under a ladder brings bad luck began with the idea that a ladder leaning against a wall forms a triangle, a sacred symbol of the Holy Trinity punishable to enter.

• Warnings you’ve heard about getting up on the wrong side of the bed come from the Romans’ belief that the left side was the “evil one.” A Roman citizen would even enter a friend’s home with the right foot forward.

Source: trivia-library.com

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