Can learning superstitions teach you a country’s culture?

Most people across the world will be familiar with superstitions. A superstition is defined as “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.”

You’ll likely be familiar with superstitions such as the number 13 being particularly unlucky, or Friday the 13th being an unlucky double. You may also avoid stepping on cracks or walking under ladders. For the most part, these sorts of superstitions and unusual beliefs are passed off as being “foolish” or even “humorous” things that seem to be commonplace in every culture. But have you ever considered the use of superstitions and how they could actually be used as a learning tool?

Why Do People Believe in Superstitions?

In order to tap into the learning potential of a superstition, it’s important to consider how and why superstitions spread in the first place.

According to Lifehacker’s interview with Dr. Stuart Vyse, the author of multiple books of superstition, magic and why people believe in them, part of it is down to the fact that superstitions are taught to us when we are young. “They’re part of the lore of any culture. The basic process of socialization is a major part of it,” explains Dr Vyse. Dr Vyse also notes that superstitions emerge in contexts in which people cannot control things and so they use superstitions and odd beliefs as a sort of stand-in.

The popularity may also come as a result of superstitions being featured in popular culture. The CW’s Supernatural is all about extraordinary magical happenings and Syfy’s Superstition focuses on arcane weapons and magic. In Canada, Ron James has talked about traditions and superstitions, poking fun at them while multiple fledgling television shows including Blood Magick and Beowulf have also played it up. While these borrow heavily from existing superstitions, they also help these superstitions to spread.

What Are the Most Popular Superstitions Around the World?

We’ve already touched upon some common superstitions but there are plenty of popular ones to take a look at. One of the most well-known is the concept of lucky and unlucky numbers. According to Betway Casino’s research on the subject, these are rooted in real psychology, such as the number seven being seen as lucky because of the abundance of groups of seven (e.g. seven colours in the rainbow and seven days of the week). A whopping 25% of people surveyed in the UK said that the number seven was their lucky number.

Other popular superstitions include the concept of lucky charms, which are seen as an artifact or item that holds lucky properties. Cracked says that some weird lucky charms include the lucky rabbit foot, a lucky penny and a lucky four-leaf clover. There are also some lucky symbols, including lucky horseshoes and lucky fish, as well as the lesser-known lucky albatross, which is considered to be a good luck sign by sailors.

How Understanding Superstitions Teaches You About a Culture

When examining superstitions, it can actually inform a lot about a country and its culture. For example, four-leaf clovers are popular in Ireland because clovers are commonplace in the country but four-leaf clovers are rare (hence why finding one is seen as good luck). The lucky number seven is also rooted not just in psychology but also in Christian cultures and, so, where the lucky number seven is a popular idea, you can understand that the country’s culture has a huge connection to the Christian faith. The lucky symbol of a fish is also popular in Chinese, Hebrew, Tunisian, Ancient Egyptian, Indian, and Japanese cultures – in China, fish like the Arowana are specifically seen as lucky because the fish resembles the dragon, an animal in the Chinese zodiac.

On the one hand, superstitions can provide a greater understanding of a culture, how it works, as well as its traditions and its history, greatly enriching your experience of a place. But, on the other, it can lead to more questions as you explore and find out more about where these symbols and items can be found and how popular these different superstitions are.

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