History of Superstitions

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origin of superstitions

India is a country of incredible diversity and uncountable cultures. By every border you cross, the culture seems to vary one another, thus it is much common to have loads of superstitious beliefs. For instance from lemon and chilly to breaking mirrors- our theory for ‘Ashubh’ is everything you need to avoid. Or if a black cat crosses your path, it is said to be not an auspicious symbol while breaking a mirror will bring you 7 years of bad luck. There are several others as well like the twitching of the left eye is inauspicious, removal of evil’s eye from dried chilies, adding one rupee to a gift sum, and sweeping after the sunset is forbidden.

Only Indian superstitions can tell you that crow shit is actually good for you! Right from the perils of sitting under a Peepal tree at night or even sleeping with your head facing the north directions, superstitions can be found just about anywhere and everywhere. But what do these superstitions serve? From where they originated or most importantly, what’s the reason behind them?

Origin of superstitions

Even if you see yourself as a die-hard cynic, chances are that you probably have believed in one or two superstitions once in your lifetime. But have you ever wondered how these superstitions materialized themselves? The earliest superstitions were made to tackle public ignorance and cause mass hysteria. Yes, they were created as a way to deal with incomprehension or fear of the unknown. If you dive deep into the history, you will be amazed to find that almost every surviving superstition has its roots attached to the early religious belief system.

For instance, the number 13 in Christianity is considered an unlucky number. It is believed that there were 13 people present at the Last Supper including Jesus and his 12 Apostles. This happened just before he was arrested and died. Thus, people started believing that when the 13th member dines, it is inauspicious. Even die within a year at least! The fear of number 13 became so heavily influenced that it’s now a clinically recognized phobia known as Triskaidekaphobia. Whereas in Japan, the number four is considered unlucky.

origin of superstitions

It can be easily predicted that superstitious beliefs originated ever since humanity evolved. Humans when are faced with natural disasters like a thunderstorm or an unpredictable illness, the fear of the unknown made them create a world of superstitions that could have been influenced by the actions. It was sort of an attempt to regain control over unforeseeable events. With the growth of humanity, a lot of superstitions were scientifically explained but that doesn’t necessarily mean that this irrational belief system was in control. In fact, during this time these beliefs gained a lot of momentum with emerging different religions and soon they took an ugly turn with human sacrifices! It was a time when people started to believe that human sacrifices can actually tame an angry god or it can bring prosperity to them. In Hinduism, the practice of Sati was introduced, where a widowed woman was forced to burn to death on the funeral pyre of her husband. The holdover of such beliefs was too strong that some of these practices are even encouraged today.

But not all superstitions have religious roots; some were created on individual chance factors. For instance, if a person carries a single pen to each exam and coincidentally he gained good marks in each of them, they subconsciously start believing in the pen to be their lucky item. Similarly, if an athlete wears a particular cap on his every match, it can be predicted that it’s his lucky garment. In such cases, it can be believed that future successes reinforce the idea of superstitions. It is this belief that strengthens our beliefs in success or failure.

Additonally, beyond all such ideas, superstitions can be an outcome of parenting. Especially in countries like India, superstitious beliefs are entrenched deep into our cultural practices. For example, if your parents from childhood avoid crossing a black cat, chances are that you too do the same. These are the superstitions that with time are turned into a tradition and so their roots become centuries old. While irrational beliefs go parallel to our unconscious practices that may overlap with time but have distinctive reasons.

Few Indian superstitions and the reason beyond

Hanging lemon and 7 green chilies

In India, you probably won’t visit any store or shop without the lemon and 7 chilies hanging outside them. Basically, there are two reasons behind this belief- one is traditional, and the other is scientific. Well, traditionally, it is believed that the God of misfortune, Alakshmi, brings bad luck to the shop owners, and as she likes a sour and pungent thing, the lemon and chilies are a perfect welcome snack. While entering the shops, she takes her favorite food and satisfies her hunger, and returns back without actually entering the place. This way, the predicted misfortune is prevented. While on the other hand, according to scientists, in ancient times, there was no availability of pesticides, and shops were made out of muds, and as outcome pests were seen everywhere. Thus, the seven chilies method actually serves as an alternative for pesticides to protect the products from damage.

origin of superstitions

Breaking a mirror will bring 7 years of misfortune

“Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the sweetest in the all?” while you fantasize about mirrors like Disney princess or just take it as a casual thing- the mirror is indeed something both unique and central. It is also said to be men’s best companion. But do you know that breaking this companion can actually cost you 7 years of misfortune? Well, according to Indian superstitions, it can! But is it a mere tactic to save money or a crazy belief? An ancient belief says that the mirror was considered a God’s weapon and thus was used in seeing the future; hence, breaking it can cost you misfortune. But the seven years came from the belief of seven birth concepts which says that a human soul will be reincarnated 7 times and breaking a mirror causes odd effects on those seven lives. It was the Romans who tagged this superstition, which soon spread to the other parts of the world. While scientifically it is also believed that back then mirrors were very costly, thus to prevent it from using carelessly, it was reinforced that breaking a mirror could cause 7 years of bad luck. This was a simple scare tactic.

Bribing God

Bribing the god in India overrules all the superstitious beliefs. Such type of events can be witnessed almost every day in India. From temples ‘Chaddhawa’ (offering) to mosques ‘Zakat’, the system of bribing god has overlapped with corruption. You may have often heard people trading goods with gods to ensure the success of their future tasks such as a student’s prayer before exams. But some people have taken this system to the next level by offering animal sacrifices to gods. We can’t understand how the blood of his own creation can satisfy his desires?

Be it superstitions or one’s faith in the power of the unknown, the origin of these delusional beliefs is still questionable. 

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