When I look back on it, I must have been a romantic seven-year-old. One day I came across a beautiful hawthorn hedge with magnificent white blossoms. It was stunning. Even as a boy I could see how beautiful it was. I cut off a few nice small branches and made a bouquet for my mother.
I then rushed home with my lovely present for my loving parent. Mam was busy in the kitchen as I stretched out my arm to present her with the lovely bouquet, expecting a big hug and a compliment for my thoughtfulness.
Instead she let out a blood-curdling shriek. Pale faced, she screamed at me: “Get out, get out! Throw those flowers out in the garden! They’ll bring bad luck on us.”
I thought I was doing a good deed, but instead I was being abused by an angry, trembling mother
Shocked, I sprinted to the end of the garden and threw the blossoms on the compost heap. I was upset and confused. I thought I was doing a good deed, but instead I was being abused by an angry, trembling mother.
The whole incident, which still stands out vividly in my mind, was due to superstition. Yes, superstition and the old belief that to take hawthorn indoors would bring you years of bad luck. Mother was deeply scared and believed all that sort of stuff. She was actually quivering with fright.
Superstition is mainly grounded in culture, religion and tradition. It is diligently passed down down through the generations, backed up with scary stories of what is supposed to have happened someone or other back in the mists of time. Logical people describe these as “old wives’ tales.”
Of course, most superstitions are harmless, whether you believe in them or not. However, some superstitions can play into mental-health conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some people’s minds are so programmed that it is impossible to convince them that everything is alright, nothing is going to happen. They are safe. That is the serious end of what superstition can do and can make a person suffer from extreme anxiety, depression or fright.
It seems absurd that the United States could be so nervous of the number 13 that it would abolish it from lifts and aircraft. That is superstition on an industrial scale
The American Psychological Association says that many people know that their superstitious beliefs are dislocated from reality, but that doesn't mean they are ready to let go of the belief. They steadfastly hold on to their ingrained beliefs, even though they secretly know it's all rubbish. It's probably all down to a series of coincidences or distorted yarns repeated down through the years.
A study carried out in 2016 suggests that superstitions are powerful intuitions that our brains don’t want to correct. They are highly ingrained. While the logical part of us may know that our superstitious behaviours don’t affect outcomes, holding on to them is still a way of “playing it safe”.
As well as causing fear, superstition can also provide a lot of amusing stories. I can remember one where I was the butt of the joke. It was back in 1980 when I was on my first visit to the United States. I was going up in a lift (sorry, elevator) in New York when one of my older, more experienced journalistic colleagues asked me to press the button for the 13th floor. Of course Mr Bean couldn’t find the button. On cue, my experienced colleagues fall around laughing. “Did you not know there are no number 13s in most escalators or on aeroplanes in America, ya auld eejit?”
Well, as it so happened, I didn’t know that at the time, but it seems absurd to me that a huge country with a massive population could be so nervous of the number 13 that they would abolish it from lifts and aircraft. That is superstition on an industrial scale.
Footballers are the most superstitious breed of people in the world. Even the great Brazilian player Pelé was highly superstitious
Another amusing story happened during the European Championship matches recently. Three members of a family in England sat on a couch watching their team play their way through each round. They found that every time the son got up to go to the toilet the team scored a goal. When this dawned on them they sat in the same places on the couch for each round and before it started they would fill the son with water and orange juice so that he would go off for a pee. Then Harry Kane would bang in the goals, just like that. Or so the plan went...
Footballers are the most superstitious breed of people in the world. Even the great Brazilian player Pelé was highly superstitious. Once he gave his favourite shirt to a fan. Unfortunately, during the following months his form hit rock bottom and he got very concerned. He got so worried in fact that he even hired a detective to try to get the shirt back, all to no avail. However, soon after, a good friend of his found the shirt and gave it back to the great man. Pelé was delighted and started banging in the goals again.
Years later, it was disclosed that his friend had presented him with one of his old shirts. Pelé never noticed the difference. His “lucky” shirt was never tracked down.
I got a painter to brighten up my house recently. He was a nice guy and did a good job. One day he was up high on his ladder and shouted down to me: “Don’t walk under this ladder if you happen to be superstitious.”
It was that painter who prompted this article.