How many times have you nervously averted your gaze if a black cat crossed your path? Or wondered if the two crows on your wall were a good omen or a bad? If you have done these, you’re not alone! Irrational as they might be, Superstitions like these are prevalent in every country. From lucky horseshoes to some African believing the superstition that stepping on a crack, invites harm to a loved one.
So what are superstitions and where do they come from? Experts define superstitions as “a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, or, trust in magic”. Superstitions commonly surround beliefs of luck and particularly the belief that future events can be foretold by specific (apparently) unrelated prior events.
Here are some common superstitions all Pakistanis have (yes, even you).
- Eating Fish After Drinking Milk
Many people are fearful of drinking milk before fish, because they believe it will lead to white spots appearing on their skin. Although this belief has no basis in scientific knowledge, it is so deeply ingrained in our culture that we have taken to treating it as scientifically sound information without questioning. To a point that young kids often wonder if people with Vitiligo made the unforgivable mistake of not listening to their mothers and ate fish after milk.
2. If Your Palms Are Itchy Then Money Is Coming Your Way
This superstition prevails globally, not just in Pakistan. Although it varies slightly from culture to culture. It is said to have European roots. The Celts believed the only thing to cure an itchy palm is to scrape it with a silver coin. This developed an association between itchy palms and money that lead to various superstitions. The most common one being a prophecy for imminent wealth.
3. If You Sneeze It Means Someone Is Missing You
There a surprising number of beliefs associated with sneezing. In Polish culture it is believed sneezing means your mother-in-law is talking about you!
The belief in Pakistan is more general. Sneezing is thought to mean that someone is missing you, or is talking about you.
However, neither belief has an basis in fact. In fact, sneezing is an involuntary reflex that all humans have.
4. Black Cat
Much to the chagrin of cat lovers, this superstition is also found worldwide. A myth as old as time, it started in the dark ages when in 1232 AD Pope Gregory IX declared black cats to be “a reincarnation of Satan”.
Things went downhill for our dark furry friends from there. Soon after, people started believing black cats to be witches or familiars of witches.
Pakistanis have a particular fear around magic and witches, so the prevalence of this myth is no surprise.
Did you know, Hitler was deathly afraid of black cats? Which may be why, in some countries, like Germany, if a black cat crosses you left to right, it is said to bring good luck!
5. Crows Cawing Announces A Surprise Guest
This superstition is thought to be originated from India. Crows would frequently visit balconies and caw at people near the home. By chance, when guests did follow the Crow’s caws, it built an association between them and surprise guests.
It’s all a number’s game though, as crows can be a good omen, just as well as a bad omen. Depending on how many there are. It’s no bizzare to blame things on crows.
The question is, why do we keep believing in superstitions despite knowing they do not have a basis in rational thought? Often, behavioral psychologist, B.F Skinner’s concept of “Partial Reinforcement Effect”. He proved, through experimentation that whenever an individual performs an action expecting a reinforcement, and none seems forthcoming, it actually creates a sense of persistence within the individual. This strongly mimics superstitious behavior in humans because the individual feels that, by continuing this action, reinforcement will happen. If their superstitious belief has been reinforced in the past, it leads to them believing, this might be one of those times. And so, we continue avoiding black cats and wondering if a guest might be on his way after spotting a crow nearby.