A recent appearance on Premier Radio’s breakfast show discussing superstitions got me thinking. What are the origins of our superstitions?
It was evident from the callers to the show that superstitions are present in almost every family, and certainly in every culture in the world. Here are a few that were mentioned:
Nigeria – never sweep the house at night
Greece – put something representing and eye into the hand of a new born baby for luck
UK – never put new shoes on the table
You will probably know of your own. Some of the familiar ones from the UK were discussed – including those to do with a wedding, e.g. groom carries bride over threshold of their house, bride wears a veil and the groom musn’t see the bride before the ceremony.
What almost all of them have in common is a desire to excercise control over evil spirits. For example, carrying the bride over the threshold (I dropped my wife into the hedge when we tried this) is meant to carry her over the evil spirits that are to be found around the door. Throwing spilt salt over one’s shoulder is to throw it in the eyes of Satan. The list goes on.
They are found in every culture in the world, because every culture has believed in the presence of evil spirits in the world, and wants to be able to control them. In the post-Enlightenment western world many feel that such things are nonesense. But you don’t have to spend long in somewhere like India to realise how powerful these kinds of things are in ordinary people’s lives.
It is therefore one of the greatest things that Jesus does for people whose lives are shaped by these superstitions – to set them free from the fear of spirits. Jesus doesn’t deny they exist (he actively deals with them) – he simply points out that he is more powerful and wiser than they are. This is vital for billions of people who are bound by the fear of malevolent spirits and superstions – even in the West.
For me, when I became a Christian, it was wonderful to know this freedom – even though I came from a family that thought it didn’t believe in such things. I had developed a few superstitions of my own (I was quite inventive) – and to be freed from them was wonderful. Nowadays, if I see a ladder I go and walk under it just to prove a point.