How do you feel about the number four or thirteen?
Would you walk under a ladder or open an umbrella indoors?
Do you ever place your chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice?

Some of you might familiar with a few of these superstitions. You might have even got scolded by your parents for doing those things unintentionally. 

So, what is superstition? And why does everyone follow it? There is no single explanation, but in short, it is a belief in fate or supernatural influence and fear of the unknown. Superstitions are generally irrational and defy scientific wisdom. Even though they have no basis in science, many strange rules and beliefs have equally weird and specific origins. 

Many of them are based on religions, such as the number thirteen associated with the biblical Last Supper. Jesus Christ ate with his twelve disciples and eventually got arrested and crucified. This incident resulted in the idea that having thirteen people at a table was terrible luck, which resulted in the belief that thirteen is an unlucky number. The fear of the number thirteen, also known as triskaidekaphobia, is widespread. Many buildings decided to skip the thirteenth floor, going straight from the twelfth floor to the fourteenth floor. 

 

 Meanwhile, other superstitions, such as knocking on wood, come from the folklore of the ancient Indo-Europeans. Many believed that trees were home to various spirits, giving people particular blessings and protection to those who knock.

But, not all superstitions are religious. Let’s take the example of the number four. In Cantonese, the number four sounds identical to the word for death. Other languages that borrowed Chinese numerals, such as Koreans and Japanese, also hold the same belief. That is why if you stay at international hotels, especially in Asia, there will not be any number four in the elevator nor the hotel rooms.

But, you have clearly stated that they are irrational. Why do people still believe in those coincidences and bits of religion?

For many people, superstitions are being viewed more as a cultural habit rather than a conscious belief. Well, no one from the start knows that they should avoid walking under ladders. However, suppose you grew up being told by your relatives to stop or avoid doing these things. In that case, chances are they will make you feel uncomfortable along the way, even if you understand that nothing terrible will happen. Also, avoiding them does not require much effort to follow, so it is easier to do than consciously resist them. 

Besides, superstitions often do seem to work.

Do you ever have a lucky charm? It can be in various forms, as long as you believe that it will bring you luck. Maybe you have a lucky charm in the form of a cap or a pair of shoes. When you wear it, you probably can reach a new record or score a home run.

You might have a dreamcatcher hanging in your house. Originally from Native American folklore, it is believed to catch bad dreams when entering a household. By capturing those dreams, the owner will feel happier and luckier.

That is how our psychological bias works in real life. By believing in these lucky charms, they could make us try and do our best by giving us the illusion of controlling certain events. If assuming these irrational beliefs can make you gain confidence, maybe it might not be useless after all. 

Words by: Victoria Liv

Picture credit: Pinterest, Tofugu