Baseless fear or rules to follow?

As I began typing the first few words of this article, I took a look at the clock. It was 4:44 p.m. Simple coincidence? Maybe or maybe not, but for many people seemingly harmless coincidences like this one could be more than just something random. We all know someone who is loud and clear about not believing in superstitions. Maybe it’s true, but until one of them comes up to me with a straight face and tells me that they have never knocked on wood, I won’t believe them. The act of knocking on wood is something people do when they feel like they have compromised their luck. Let’s say, for example, that your friend was bragging about having never failed a midterm exam before. He would then knock on wood to illustrate that he hasn’t failed an exam yet, but that he does not want to compromise his luck by saying so. Most superstitions, such as Friday the 13th, have their roots in ancient history and religion. The unlucky number 13 comes in part from the belief that having 13 people seated at a table will result in the death of one of them during the year. This superstition stems from the 13 guests at the Last Supper. Combining the number 13 with the unluckiest day of the week, due to the fact that Christ was crucified on a Friday, makes Friday the 13th one of the most feared days of the year.With Halloween just one week away, decoration stores seem to be overwhelmed with images of witches and their black cats. But does seeing a black cat really bring bad luck? In Western history people associated black cats with evil witches. However, in Britain and Ireland, black cats are signs of prosperity and good luck. It all depends on whether the cat crosses your path from left to right or right to left. Go figure.
Concordia students who are superstitious really have strong opinions and beliefs about it. Jason Whear, a graduating psychology student, believes in ghosts and paranormal activity, and revealed that premonitions he has in dreams sometimes end up coming true.
“I think someone who is raised in a very religious family is more prone to be superstitious and believe without seeing,” he said. “I think religion is definitely a major factor for people to have faith in superstitions.”
Biochemistry student Soo Yon Park comes from a religious South Korean family, and is a very superstitious person. “I am really superstitious about broken mirrors. If I break one, I will pick it up but I won’t look into it, because I believe that my face will get hurt if I do and that it will bring back luck,” Park said.
She also believes that superstitions are closely tied to religion. “People are religious because they need something to lean on”, she said. “Superstitious people believe in superstitions because they need to be reassured, and I think that they use superstitions as an explanation to things that happen to them that they do not understand.”
Joseph Snyder, a Concordia psychology professor, thinks that religion and ethnicity have something to do with how superstitious people are. “If you learned superstitions at your grandma’s or grandpa’s knee, you will most probably be superstitious, even if you are neither aware of or accept these superstitions, especially under stress,” he said. Other people consider superstitions to be more like rituals that have to be followed in order to have good luck. Knocking on wood would probably fit in this category. So many people do it that it has become a sort of joke. Journalism student Gregory Wilson sees it that way. “Knocking on wood became some sort of habit that people have and repeat all the time without really noticing anymore,” he said. Biochemistry student Ernesto Cuadra Foy is from Peru and his family is very religious, but he’s not really sure if he believes in superstitions or not. “When it comes to superstitions I think some people put it as an excuse for bad luck,” he said.
But there is also this idea of ‘what if’. “In reality, I don’t believe in ghosts, but you never know,” Ernesto added.  Apart from the religious students, sports players and athletes have proven to be amongst the most superstitious. They tend to have their own personal rituals and habits that they absolutely have to do before each competition or game or else they believe they will be unsuccessful. Cédric Houle, an international business management student, confided that he has a ritual he does before every game. “I tie my skates in the changing room with my team before a hockey game, but I always tighten them again before stepping on the ice, because I won’t play well if I don’t,” he told me.Against all odds, superstitions seem to be perceived in a more positive light today than in the past century. Snyder thinks these rituals or habits could in some way be tied to the theory of reinforcement. “This theory states that when someone gets a reward after doing a specific action, they tend to associate the reward with the action and do it again”, he said. “Often, there is a strong need for understanding or even just coping with life’s stresses. Superstitions often provide calming and reassurance with rituals and explanations, which work on occasion. This reinforces the behavior and belief.”
But honestly, are superstitions really tied to luck or does luck just happen? Are all superstitions worth believing? My roommate told me that she believed that dropping the saltshaker on the table brings bad luck. To remove that bad luck, you have to take it with your right hand and toss it over your left shoulder. I had never heard that before but kept it in mind.When I got to work at a local restaurant the next day, I was seating people at a table. I didn’t mean to but I made the saltshaker fall while giving out the menus. One of the guys exclaimed, “Oh my god, the salt fell!” and then mimicked the motion of grabbing the saltshaker and pouring some over his shoulder.
Yes, superstitions are still alive and strong. But the question remains – how lucky do you feel?

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