Superstition. Nothing Is Incredible Enough Not to Be Believed In

Pre-University Paper, 2012

17 Pages, Grade: 0,7



1 Introduction

2 Superstition
2.1. What Is “Superstition”?
2.2. The Origin of Superstition
2.3. Superstitious Practices
2.3.1. Symbols of Good & Bad Luck
2.3.2. Lucky Charms
2.3.3. Astrology
2.3.4. Dreams & Oneiromancy
2.3.5. Magic
2.4. Supernatural Creatures
2.4.1. The Devil
2.4.2. Vampires & Werewolves
2.4.3. Witches
2.5. Superstition & Religion

3 Superstition In Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”

4 Modern Superstition
4.1. Superstition In The 20th Century
4.2 Superstition In Modern Literature Using The Example of “The Vampire Diaries”

5 Conclusion


1 Introduction

“Superstition is the weakness of the human mind; it is inherent in that mind; it has always been and always will be.” Frederick the Great1

It is really true that superstition has already had a long tradition. Its roots can be traced back into Ancient Greece; it played an important role in antiquity and had its peak in the Middle Ages which is especially known for the witchcraft trials. Many tragedies, dramas, and poems from that period of time dealing with superstition are still popular today.

By definition “superstition is a widely held but irrational belief in supernatural influences, especially as leading to good or bad luck, or a practice based on such a belief.”2 It attributes powers to persons and things which are not nature-given.

Is superstition a current matter nowadays? Which elements are still present today and how far is it spread? Is there room for anything so old-fashioned, credulous, and primitive in our modern, rational time determined by reason, intellect, and sanity? Or is it just an unimportant “fashion” which recurs every now and then and is only smiled at by the majority? Does superstition have any significance other than entertaining us? What do superstitious rites include and what traditions are still exerted today?

2 Superstition

2.1. What Is “Superstition”?

“In fact men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as

for a living truth – often more so, since a superstition is so

intangible you cannot get at it to refute it, but truth is a point

of view, and so is changeable.”

- Hypatia3

The term “superstition” comes from the Latin word “superstitio” which means “craze” and the Greek word “deisdemonia” which can be translated as “fear of the gods”. It is a steady temptation for everyone who tends to stop asking questions easily, who mixes or gives up religious belief in favour of more manageable practices and handier “being in the know”. Single phenomena of conventional belief are absolutized, perverted, and cultivated. Superstition attributes strength to things and persons that are not nature-given and so is a substitute trust in “things” which protect life instead of religion – abundantly unconsciously hidden behind many mechanisms, rites, and customs.

Otmar Schnurr differentiates two different forms of superstition:

1) Public superstition is based on very old customs which have developed and been handed down from people who were directly connected with nature. They had experienced the natural powers and introduced rites to soothe the forces.

2) Art superstition is a result of secret arts and occult sciences which are based on speculations.

Superstition needs to be taken seriously and understood as an indicator of deeply felt human needs. It is an attitude against the traditional belief.4

2.2. The Origin of Superstition

Forms of superstition are based on the experience with IN-security and UN-faith. The fascination of it originates from need of speculation, the human liability to secrecy and from the unappeasable urge to obtain knowledge. Knowledge gives power – even over the uncertainty and the menacing, but it can also develop neuroses. Quiet, introverted, insecure persons are especially endangered. This is most notable when they isolate themselves. Church bears also part of the blame because to many, it is not a home anymore.

Five psychological roots of superstition can be categorized as follows:

1) Fear of the future, death, war, loss of job, and threatening illnesses which technical and medical aids do not suffice to conquer. Therefore people try to come to grips with their fear with the help of magic, God, the devil, or other mysterious forces and make them subservient.
2) Naïve devil fear is dated back to the time mankind did neither have knowledge about thunderstorms nor earthquakes nor medicine against diseases. That is why they blamed bad creatures, Satan, or other people who were said to be in relation with the devil due to their weird lifestyle or odd looks. Despite all scientific progress, this fear of deceitful powers has not died out.
3) The desire to know about the future is another root of superstition because not everyone has got the strength to live a life in the face of an uncertain future.
4) The longing for mysticism, ecstasy, and transcendency is another reason. The world we live in has become cold and “matter-of-factly”. Thus teenagers often escape to drugs to experience similar aspects like spiritism in which they come into touch with transcendence.
5) The last reason for the emerge of superstition is cruelty, sadism, and aggression which is based on the human instincts. “Witch-hunt” is an example of mankind living out its impulses at somebody else’s expenses. The torture which is a part of sadism is the “playing field” of human aggressions and suppressed sexual wishes. Nowadays, we likewise have the “black masses”.

All these aspects originate in the fun to experiment with the new and exceptional and the human desire for the mysterious, especially, when our world becomes more rational and the perspectives duller. But these causes of superstition can only be defeated by the victory of sanity.5

2.3. Superstitious Practices

2.3.1. Symbols of Good & Bad Luck

Even in today’s modern world many symbols stand for good or bad luck. You can find many customs in everyday life such as crossing fingers, hanging a horseshoe over your door, catching a falling leave in fall, spitting over one’s shoulder or throwing salt over your own shoulder. If you find a four-leaved clover or meet a chimney sweep, you are said to be a very lucky person.

There are also signs for bad luck. It is said that if a black cat crosses your way or if you break a mirror, you will have a bad fortune. Other omens for mischief are spilling salt, walking under a ladder, getting up on your left foot or if the horseshoe over your door turns around, your chance will fall out and you will be afflicted. Especially feared is the hoot of an owl because this is a death sign. For some people the simple number “13” is horrifying because it is reputed as an indicator of bad luck whereas in other regions like China or a small part of Brazil it is “the lucky number”. In Mandarin, the digit “1” when positioned in tens sounds like the word “definite”, while the digit “3” sounds like “life”. As a result, the number “13” can mean “definitely vibrant” or “assured growth”. Another tradition which is an anxiety-provoking aspiration for fortune are chain-letters. Supposedly, they bring happiness to those who follow the instructions and pass them on and bring harm to those who do not obey. Chain-letters are a promise and a threat.

Furthermore, men have always kept charms to protect themselves. There are active charms, so called talismans that are supposed to bring good luck and additionally passive charms, such as amulets or birthstones which are said to defeat harmful things.

On top of that, making a lot of noise is also a good way of keeping evil spirits away as is traditionally practiced at eve-of-the-wedding parties.6

2.3.2. Lucky Charms

Accidentally found lost property is assigned a special significance concerning the extraordinary manner of acquisition, both bringing good or bad luck. They can be a meaningful omen.7

2.3.3. Astrology

“In the sky, there is neither coincidence, nor approximately,

nor wrong way, nor illusion, in contrast solemnly order, truth,

reason, and continuance.”


“Astrology” had its origin in Mesopotamia where it arose due to the geocentric worldview. It is also called “Speculative Astronomy” because it examines the cosmic impacts on men based on the interpretation of the relation between the stars and our earth just like the moon influences the ocean’s tides. However, it is contradictory if the stars have any kind of power over mankind or if they can predict human existence. Still, it is the most wide spread form of fortune-telling in terms of horoscopes.9 After all, Astrology can be influential as shown in this popular case: In the year 1524, astrologers predicted a second deluge due to the conjunction of the three planets Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars influenced by Pisces. The closer the time approached, the bigger the people’s fear was. Emperor Charles V. was advised to consign his troops to a high mountain range and to set up huge warehouses. In Toulouse, there was even built an ark. Luther also thought this harmful constellation to be an emblem of God.

Though this is only an extraordinary example, the position of the stars is often observed to determine one’s destiny.10 Especially at the time of birth, the planets’ constellation are said to have a great impact on a person’s life which can promise wealth and stability or unfortunately suffering, poverty, and death.11

2.3.4. Dreams & Oneiromancy

The faith in prophetic and symbolic dreams which require interpretation has existed since antiquity. Dreams are seen as important connection inside humans between the sensual and the extrasensory world which burst through the familiar and accustomed reality and apparently belonging to another “reality”. They are intuitions that pronounce something present or prospective.12

Dreams dealing with children or pieces of art stand for sorrow and grief, whereas tragedies warn you of great danger. White objects or a dead person who steals from you in your dream forecast a close friend’s or relative’s death. Water is interpreted as displeasure, dance as rage, and pearls as tears. Dreams of comedies mean that you will have to endure mocking.

On the contrary, a dream of barkeepers or tax collectors bode well, fire stands for big joice, and eggs bring good luck. If you dream of apples, you can expect joys of love and if you dream of lice, it means that you will gain a lot of money.13

Similar phenomena are visions, second sight, or apparitions.

2.3.5. Magic

Magic is defined as an action grounded in superstitious tendencies. It is used to reach something beneficial or to keep away everything unwanted and even to harm others.14 It is the highest level of theosophy which describes the most intimate unity with God himself where a person himself is qualified to accomplish supernatural actions.15 There are two forms of Magic: “theurgy” and “black magic”. The used forces of theurgy belong to the natural order such as tricks, hypnotic influence, mind reading, and certain healing powers.14 In contrast, black magic is grounded in the subjugation of evil spirits through mystic formulas and actions.15

2.4. Supernatural Creatures

2.4.1. The Devil

Satan is a creature of malice whose only effort exists in misleading men to commit a sin. His subordinates are demons. The devil emerged around 400 B.C. because it displeased men that God supposedly leads them into temptation.16 In the late Middle Ages, people did not doubt the efficiency of supernatural practices. Their undisputed effect was assigned to different possibilities but their initiator was in every case of devilish origin. The “deal with the devil” is believed to be the premise of every superstitious initiative. Especially wizardry shows up demonic provenance in particular for predictions. On the contrary, angels have a protective function for men. They pull humans off evil forces and lead them to good.17 Today evil takes shape through a person’s will and actions.16

2.4.2. Vampires & Werewolves

Since antiquity, mankind has believed in creatures that torture him in service of the underworld. A person who was condemned from the legal community was said to turn into a wolfman. In ancient Rome, murderers had to wear a hat made out of wolfskin.

King Charles IV. (1316-1378) was reputedly a werewolf. In 1589, a man was executed near Cologne because it was attested that he had torn apart human bodies and eaten their brains while being in shape of a werewolf. A similar criminal was locked into a mental home in France nine years later. In Salzburg in 1717, five werewolves were punished with penalty of galleys for eight years and expatriation and in 1720 a werewolf was executed. This superstition lives on in Wallachia and the Balkan region.

A corpse of a supposed vampire was dug up and cut into pieces in Maravia in 1617. In 1732, thirteen vampires were spotted in Serbia. This extraordinary form of superstition still haunts Slavic peoples today.18

2.4.3. Witches

Witches cannot be assigned to a special social rank. “Witches” were often women who had an obvious advance in knowledge due to their experience in curing the sick. In former times, the female sex was in charge of child births. Women were midwives and doctors and were responsible for the people’s health. That is the reason why she was blamed for diseases, impotence of men, dead births of babies, and commitment of newborns to the demons. A few hundred years later, only physicians with completed studies were allowed to work as doctors but only males were admitted to university.

The traditional woman’s function was to be fertile and she had a reputation of having a magical connection with the fertility of the earth. This belief was based on the menstrual cycle which equals the lunar cycle, so men thought she had power over nature and the cosmic powers. Women were the ones who sowed the fields. Back in the days, it was only logical for the people that the one who charmed the harvest from the soil was also capable of destroying it. Due to their linking with the earth, women were accused of storms, bad harvests, the perish of cattle, and the ruin of foods and seeds.

Since Eva was thought to be a temptress, women were reputed to be outstandingly liable for every kind of vice and excesses. The so-called witches apparently had a magic salve through which they could fly if it was spread on the skin. With the aid of this product they flew to the “Blocksberg” to celebrate “covens” with excessive consumption of alcohol, inhalation of intoxicant fumes, naked round dances, and exhibitionistic acting out of their sexuality only for the sake of lust and appetite. In the Middle Ages, the faith in the “pact with the devil” existed. He was said to act through the witches.19 Those women were equipped with practices and knowledge in the domain of spells concerning harm, healing, love, and weather. In the late Middle Ages, “magic” got the meaning of “harm spell”20 what is probably the reason of the occurrence of the witch trials which had their peak at that time.


1 (30.04.2012)

2 (30.04.2012)

3 (30.04.2012)

4 Schnurr, O.: page 12-14, 21, 112, 114

5 Schnurr, O.: page 16f., 23, 38f., 95, 112

6 Schnurr, O.: page 9, 47, 51

7 Baumann, K.: page 466f.

8 Stemplinger, E.: page 599

9 Schnurr, O.: page 28ff.

10 Stemplinger, E.: page 111

11 Baumann, K.: page 289

12 Schnurr, O.: page 40

13 Stemplinger, E.: page 34f.

14 Schnurr, O.: page 47

15 Stemplinger, E.: page 58

16 Schnurr, O.: page 70ff.

17 Baumann, K.: page 292, 314f.

18 Stemplinger, E.: page 62, 92

19 Schnurr, O.: page 54-60

20 Baumann, K.: page 440f.

Excerpt out of 17 pages


Superstition. Nothing Is Incredible Enough Not to Be Believed In
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Lisa-Sophie Schöben (Author), 2012, Superstition. Nothing Is Incredible Enough Not to Be Believed In, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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