The origin of superstitions can be traced to the element of fear (which is anti-rationalistic)., the urge for security and material welfare. Human beings cherish a deep Seated wish for their physical wellbeing.
They would go to any length to ward off, real or imaginary, danger to their bodies and falling prey to diseases and death. Also the desire for success in projects-involving material welfare is so great in human beings that even the thought of failure unnerves them.
They, therefore, believe in certain superstitions. Some of the superstitions involve either positively doing certain things or avoiding certain situations or happenings. Superstitions are a legacy from the Stone and Wood ages.
The primitive men then did not understand a large part of the natural phenomena. Their reason was not highly developed. They attributed their success or failure or physical condition to irrational beliefs.
Also superstitions came into vogue through repeated coincidences. For example, if a person often met a particular type of animal, while going out on a mission, and each time he was unsuccessful, he began to regard that animal as a bad omen.
Or conversely, success associated with a series of coincidental happenings also created a superstition.
In the Western civilization, one of the most well-known superstitions is the ill- luck number thirteen is supposed to bring. A person getting number thirteen for his car will shudder to drive his vehicle for fear of accidents.
A house with this number will fill the inmates with fear of disease and death. But such is not the case in India. Also, in the West, passing under a ladder is considered unlucky. This superstition also is not current in India.
There is, however, a long list of superstitions which are prevalent in India. A black cat is one of the worst omens. (In the West, too, it is thought so), if a black cat runs across someone’s path, it is believed, he either fails in his job or meets with an accident.
Owl is another ill-omened bird. Hooting of an owl is supposed to bring disaster in the neighborhood or to the particular house he is sitting on at the time of hooting Cawing of crow announces arrival of some guests. Wailing of a dog foreshadows death.
If one meets a Brahmin immediately on setting our for a job, one is most likely to fail. On the other hand, if one meets a sweeper / sweepers, it is supposed to bring success in job. (It is a rather contradictory superstition. Shudras are regarded as low and Brahmins as twice-born high caste beings in Indian society).
Looking at an empty vessel at the time of coming out of the house is also supposed to bring failure. If someone sneezes, when one is getting ready to go out to accomplish a task, he is likely to fail, people do not like to be called back and asked a question when they are setting out for some work Women’s braids are hung at the back of vehicles, sometimes even cars belonging to the posh people.
A newly-built house has to ward doff the evil eye. This is done by hanging on the facade of the house an ugly, fearsome face, usually painted at the back of an earthen vessel.
At times, superstitions are stretched too far. Particular people are regarded as ill-omened just because a death or a serious crippling accident took place to a family member after they appeared on the scene.
In the Indian set-up, the newly-married brides often have to pay a heavy price. If immediately after the bride’s entry in to her in-laws’ house the death of her husband or father-in-law or even some other member of the family occurs, she is blamed for it.
For the rest of her life, the daughter-in law is subjected to taunts and torture for no fault of hers.
Some of the superstitions, however, are meant to bring about social good or lessen the pain or feeling of loss. For example, finding of a horse-shoe and carrying it along is considered a sign of good luck. The action, thus performed, actually proves beneficial to society.
The horse – shoe, an otherwise dangerous thing, which could hurt a human or damage a wheel, is removed from the road by the picker. Similarly, the breaking of crockery on the occasion of a marriage ceremony is considered auspicious.
The superstition is again calculated to lessen the feeling of loss that would otherwise be caused on account of a financial loss. A strange phenomenon about superstitions is that even when in actual life many of the superstitions do not come true, people continue to cling to them.
Their hold on the minds of people is so complete that even if nothing happens to a man after black cartons across his path, he will not stop believing in it. Even if one meets with success in one’s mission having heard someone’s sneezing, one will not give up that superstition.
In fact, superstitions are stuck in that part of the mind which is beyond reason and logic. Superstitions are irrational and, therefore no amount of reasoning can refute them. This is the case even today. When man has landed on the moon, superstitions are still currents.
Superstitions, to say the least, affect human conduct. They fill men with unnecessary anxiety and fear, which lead to nervous strain. They reduce the capability of men to perform certain tasks or delay the accomplishment of jobs.
Many a man go back home because they have encountered some ill omen. Superstitions sour human relationships. Sneezing is a biological need likewise. Asking a question when somebody is about to leave for some job is a natural curiosity of human beings.
The purpose of education is to reduce the area of darkness and instill among people courage, self-confidence, and thereby free the society from the tyranny of superstitions. Although superstitious beliefs are still current, with the spread of education, many of the superstitions have died.
Since most of the superstitions hinder positive action, the elders can play a crucial role in freeing the youngsters from the yoke of superstitions.
They can explain to them the futility of believing in them. Also they can set an example by themselves not falling victim to superstitious beliefs.