If we don't believe in superstitions, why do we coin the phrase good luck without a belief in bad luck? Like our ancestral beginnings, we still live with fears of the unknown. So, go get that blanket you hide under and make sure all your closet doors are closed!
For centuries, people have entertained beliefs in ghosts and superstitions. Superstitions have existed for centuries and basically come from a fear of something unknown. Whether it is a ghost, apparition, or some superstition, they either become a conditioned belief or a practiced custom. That conditioned belief becomes a practice from the habit for many and can be influenced simply by an object such as a black cat. Indeed, there is a superstition that can be linked to almost anything. There are numerous accountings of ghost sightings and a whole host of lists of superstitions, including superstitions that are compared to ghosts. There are too many examples on either topic to name them all, and there is also too much interest involved to name just one.
A ghost is what used to be a human being in body form. A similar term is a spirit. A ghost has been defined as an apparition and is said to be viewed as a cloudy mass or a duplicate of the person who used to be among the living in body form. In some religions, there is the belief that the spirit can leave the body when it is in an unconscious state. Indeed, people who hold these beliefs, groups of them may gather to invite the spirits to visit. Some believe a ghost and spirit are the same while others say there is a distinction. Rosemary Ellen Guiley in The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits states that a:
“spirit is not accurately a ghost, or a spirit of the dead, though the distinction between the two is often vague….nor is a spirit precisely the soul, though the term ‘spirit’ is often used in describing the soul.”
Technology has presented today’s society with equipment to seek these apparitions. Regardless, such things are still a mystery and because the validity of someone’s story of experience cannot always be disproved, it also cannot be explained away. It comes down to a matter of believing in the existence of ghosts or not.
Patricia Telesco explains the several types of ghosts in her words in Ghosts, Spirits and Hauntings. Her discussion includes topics on spirits who are angry, concerned, evolved, fearful, fettered, malevolent, or even those who have stories to tell. She talks about the spirits who suffered a sudden death or have an unresolved issue. She shares about one of the most haunted places being the Tower of London. For example, she writes about the ghosts of Edward and Richard Plantagenet whom she says were murdered in 1483 at the word of their uncle. Supposedly, they can be seen walking the halls in the tower. Sir Walter Raleigh allegedly has appeared in spirit form. Anne Boleyn is said to have appeared without her head. Telesco defines a ghost as being,
“an apparition, often shadowy, of a dead person. The word comes from the Anglo-saxon gaest — a shadow or trace of breath or spirit, or a faint secondary image. Researchers reserve this term for recurrent apparitions of spirits believed trapped between the worlds. Most ghost sightings are visual. One third of sightings are also auditory. Most ghosts seem dimly aware of the living beings who see them.”
Telesco defines an apparition as:
[a] supernatural occurrence, such as a ghost sighting, that cannot be explained as a natural occurrence. Apparitions of humans, animals, vehicles, and various objects have been seen. The Titanic’s ghostly images is a notable example.
She defines a spirit as:
[a] disembodied intelligence or consciousness, with a definite personality, will and disposition. From the Latin spiritus, meaning breath. This term may also refer to supernatural beings such as fairies and spirits.
It is unknown where a lot of superstitions were born, but it's known that a lot of them were believed for one reason or another because of fear or doubt, that they must be believed in order to prevent bad fortune.
Superstitions can include topics such as clairvoyance and the casting of certain spells. It can involve the belief in a simple good luck charm such as a rabbit’s foot. It can involve certain concocted medicines to serve as a remedy for some ailment. It can also involve the belief in the practice of future telling by way of some crystal ball. Whatever the case, it entails the apprehension of misfortunes that can be delivered, an ongoing ritual to practice, and some simple restriction to commit to memory to avoid any bad misfortune.
Iona Opie and Moira Tatem edited an interesting book entitled, A Dictionary of Superstitions. Their works include many superstitions that evolved from Great Britain. For example, it was believed that a fern seed could make one invisible. Even Shakespeare wrote in The First Part of Henry the Fourth, with Chamberlain speaking to Gadshill, "…I think you are more beholding to the night than to fern-seed for your walking invisible." Supposedly, this plant carried seeds that were naked to the eye, thus if one was to have possession of the plant, to the best of my understanding, then one had the powers to become invisible.
In marriage, it was believed at one time that the youngest within a family should be married before the oldest and that the oldest should dance at their wedding without any shoes. In Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Katherina says to her father, Baptista, of her sister, "…She is your treasure, she must have a husband; I must dance barefoot on her wedding day …."
A many-faceted example was, and still is, the mirror. It used to be believed that it could bring a person bad luck if they were to look into it while being ill, or that a reflection of a deceased person in a mirror could bring about bad fortune. The mirrors were to be covered during a thunderstorm because it was bad luck to see the reflection of lightning in a mirror. It was also believed that there were powers of foretelling while gazing into a mirror. Additionally, it was believed that one could see their future spouse in the mirror while combing their hair with one hand and eating an apple with the other. It was considered dangerous, too, for a child to look into a mirror before turning the age of one. And it was considered unlucky for any bride to look into the mirror after she was all dressed in preparation for her event. A person was not to look at their face by candlelight, or to let a cat look into the mirror, and that if a woman looked into the mirror after putting on her nightcap, she would become an old maid. Finally, if two people looked into a mirror at the same time, it was believed they would have an argument.
What about the fear not to believe?
For similar reasons why people believe in superstitions, they believe in ghosts, spirits, or apparitions. We had the classical ghosts going back to Homer’s time all the way to the ghosts of our modern century’s time. In Appearances of the Dead — A Cultural History of Ghosts by R.C. Finucane, he shares of one incident that allegedly occurred in 1587. A Hertfordshire woman named Mary Cocker said she was visited by a bright thing of long proportion without shape, closed as it were in white silk, which … passed by her bedside where she lay. Allegedly, Mary was supposed to give Queen Elizabeth a warning. The author notes with particularity how this experience was a bit unusual due to the Reformation, in part, as well as how every religious sect at that time could argue the occurrence.
Finucane writes about Louis Lavater’s De Spectris, a Protestant book about apparitions written in 1570 (translated in 1572),
Of ghostes and spirites walking by nyght, and of strange noyses, crackes and sundry forewarnynges. In Lavater’s writings, he stated some thinking every small motion and noyse to be spirits” or “some so fondly perswaded that there are not spirits. In regard to other causes of apparitions, Lavater states that Wemen, which for the most parte are naturally given to feare more than men … do more often suppose they see or heare this or that thing, than men do.
In the 16th Century, Protestants believed that such things were delusions or hallucinations, or that they were good or evil spirits. Catholics believed these things were souls coming back from the dead. With the Protestants, there were so many reports of alleged incidents of apparitions, that it played on their belief system. Lavater had suggested the viewers of such things probably had too much to drink or were physically ill. Also, that it was simply based on a vivid imagination, an untruth, or just a mistake in what was seen. A humorous Catholic example was with Cardinal de Retz who was frightened one night by discovering black shapes coming from a river. As it turns out, these shapes were only Augustinian friars having an enjoyable time taking a nighttime bath. The Catholics, however, believed in their doctrine of purgatory and that the dead could return from it. There was much controversy on this topic during the Reformation period as to whether such entities existed.
The first time I watched The Shining, I wished I didn’t watch The Shining. It was like I had this personal dare to see if I could get through a scary movie. Sleeping wasn’t a problem because I had a small lamp. And probably 30 years ago, I stopped reading books that unnerved me because, well, they unnerved me. The same dare principle plus I like to see the writing styles of other writers and how creative they can be. I rarely have nightmares, but one night I woke up and thought I saw a knife coming at me. I had just finished reading Misery. At best, I surmised it was a good book. It did its job. It stirred fear. Kudos to Steven King.
I moved on to non-fiction.