Md. Mosharaf Bhuiayan
11/9/00 8:30 PM
Emerged in Superstition
In the middle of the night often my mother cries out, "Oh God! The dog is whining in the middle of the night; this is inauspicious. Something terrible is coming! Riaz, go feed the dog." She is surrounded by all those superstitious beliefs. She even has book named Fazilatnama or Virtuous Obligation about all those superstitions, like what brings luck and what brings adversity. I am however a very rational person. I tend to believe in reason more than feeling, but I also happen to be superstitious- in my fashion and my culture. My superstitions are those that my mother conveyed to me, which are probably passed into her by her mother. Also the country Bangladesh, in which, I have grown most of my youth is full of superstitious beliefs. So superstitions are passed in the same way as my native language and my culture passed to me. Some examples of common everyday superstitions of my culture are the belief that if your palm itches, you will obtain money; that if your sole itches, you may travel; that if your right eyelash throbbed, you will face happiness. And the most common in all over the world as well as in my country is the belief that the number 13 is unlucky, and that a black cat crossing your path can affect your luck.
According to The Little Oxford Dictionary, superstition is "belief in the existence or power of the supernatural; irrational fear of the unknown; a religion or practice based on such tendencies; widely hold out but wrong idea." Now why do believe in something that has no logical explanation and according to science, which is completely wrong? We can find the answer in the definition of superstition. Though there is no rational explanation, we believe or obey those superstitions because we are afraid of the consequence of not obeying those rules. For example, my mother used to make me feed the dog in the middle of the night to save me from that "unknown but something evil," because my mother believes that a dog can sense this evil and feeding the dog is also one way of offering food to that evil. The evil will release me because I offered him food. Also this is a belief that everyone else believes. Now it may be wrong, preposterous, but all the other people think its right and you believe it too. For example, in my country everybody believes that it is inauspicious to travel on an amaavasyaa or New Moon day. On a New Moon day, it is believed that all the demons of the universe walk on the earth and collision with one of them could bring something ominous or harmful. So, that is why my mother would not let me go out at that night because she wants to save me from that "unknown but harmful demon."
On the other hand, Science is the knowledge of the physical world and its phenomenon, which depends on testing facts and systematic experimentations. My country may be full of superstitions, but many of them can be debunked through logical and scientific experimentation. For example, my mother believes that a dog whines in the middle of the night because it can see all the harmful demons around him. She also believes that on the amaavasyaa or new Moon day all the demons walk around the earth. So during amaavasyaa our dog should whine all night long because he can see those demons (if there any) around him. However during some of the amaavasya I did not even see him whining at all. So the dog only whines when he is hungry and only food can make him stop whining in the middle of the night. Now the widespread belief that it is inauspicious to travel on an amaavasyaa can be proved wrong through logical explanation. This superstition must have evolved before the advent of electricity. It would have been problematic to be stuck at night on a lonely road and plundered by lurking thieves with no moonlight to light up the way. So at that time when there was no electricity, people made superstitions in order to save their friends and relatives from actual thieves. Now people could have spread lurking thieve (which is true) instead of demon, but we are more scared of the unknown and invisible things rather than the visible lurking thief. Now everyday scientific and logical experiment can disprove the most common belief all over the world that the black cat is unlucky. For example, I have a friend who has a black cat. His black cat probably crossed his path hundreds of times, but I did not see any misfortune in his schoolwork or social life. If someone has crossed by a black cat and faced a terrible accident that would be a mere coincidence or the guy was simply not paying attention to what he was doing. So there are hundreds of beliefs like these in our everyday life, which can be debunked with scientific and logical explanation.
From the above discussion we can say that some superstitions are cultural beliefs and faith which some how conveyed to save our friends and relatives from the evil eye. People who hold non-empirical beliefs may simply be expressing a cultural, personal or spiritual view, and nothing more. This does not mean they are less intelligent, more primeval, childish or irrational. Believers in superstitions just do not want to give up their comfortable belief system. They are afraid to think independently and need the security blanket that all such belief systems provide. Michel Shermer in his book Why People Believe Weird Things, states "They sometimes want something comfortable rather than something true." On the other hand, science only beliefs those, which can be provided by theories and data. If the data do not match the prediction, then the theory is wrong. People who believe in science, they only believe if something can only be seen or consented with theories. According to science if a claim cannot be tested it is not scientific. A superstition cannot be tested so it is not scientific. Science is impassionate and always seeks for the truth. Now assume that I am suffering from a deadly disease. In that case, if science cannot help me to cure my disease, my mother would make me wear an incanted amulet to protect me form that disease. Even though there is no proof that the amulet will help to cure my disease, will give my mother a hope of light in the darkness of despondency. So Michael Shermer is right, people believe in things in what they feel comfortable and secure either if it is science or superstition.
From the above discussion it might sound that I prefer the rational over the irrational because I was able to successfully debunked all those superstitions. Eventually though I am a rational person, I sometime get caught up in my mother's superstitions. For example if a black cat crossed my path I step back three steps. Then I laugh in my mind why did I do that even though black cat hold no power to me! It is just that I do not believe in superstition but unconsciously or without my knowing I emerged myself into those superstitions through my youth. So these are not only some mere superstitions for me, they are more than this. These superstitions are my culture, identity, and best of all they are my mother's love for me- "process to save her son from the evil of the world."
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