How often have you scratched your itching palm and heard someone tell you that you would soon be receiving money?
That is just superstition…unless if you were standing in front of the ATM machine waiting for YOUR cash and the message: “Please don’t forget to take YOUR card.”
Superstitions have been called ‘false notions’ but ask any African and they will tell you that what other people call superstition, we call reality. Such is the belief in superstition that in Africa and elsewhere, superstitions seriously affect people’s lives.
Not only African people have deeply ingrained superstitions but people the world over believe in them.
When there are thunderstorms and lightning in my tribal home in my native Zimbabwe, it is known, accepted, believed and practised by some that all you have to do to prevent lightning from striking your home is to take a musika (lehetho) and put it in a pot of clay full of water. Presto! The lightning will shy away from your homestead.
Meanwhile, in Botswana, you simply drive an axe into the ground of your homestead to keep lightning from striking your residence.
And across the oceans in America, there is real fear of the number 13 so much that some buildings have no 13th Floor, thus from the 12th Floor, the immediate upper floor is the 14th Floor. “Some places and roads do not have a number 13,” says Uttertrivia.com. “Some hospital wards do not have a number 13 room or bed. Instead they call it 12a.”
And there is added terror when the 13th of a month falls on a Friday. The fear of this number is more pronounced in the series of Friday the 13th movies, which have almost become a cult of terror entertainment.
But why is Friday the 13th so feared? It does not appear to be a superstition ritual any more; there is belief and grudging respect for this day.
Well, one site says the superstition over Friday the 13th, Fridays, and the number 13 have their origins in Christianity.
“There were 13 people present at The Last Supper + Judas Iscariot (the betrayer of Jesus) was the 13th guest + Friday being the day that Christ died = Friday the 13th, the unluckiest day of the calendar!”
But Friday itself is associated with many not-so-good happenings.
Muslims consider it unlucky for 13 people to sit at the same table and have dinner – they think that if this is done all 13 diners will die within the year.
Making matters worse for Friday is the fact that, in the old days, execution by hanging in the UK usually took place on Fridays.
Uttertrivia.com says that legend has it that Adam was tempted by Eve to eat the forbidden fruit of the apple on a Friday.
”The Great Flood of the Old Testament when Noah built the Ark started on a Friday and other Bible references to Friday being a bad day include God tongue tying the builders of the Tower of Babel and the Temple of Solomon being destroyed on a Friday.”
Wikipedia says: “Superstition (Latin superstes, standing over) is a belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge, in or of the ominous significance of a particular thing, circumstance, occurrence, proceeding, or the like.”
An online information page says that superstition is a form of magic readily found in the modern world.
“Its foundation rests on the ancient belief that unseen forces in the universe take an active and not always positive role in our lives, and may even go out of their way to wreak jealous havoc if things are going exceptionally well. People once sought to placate these unseen forces by simple rituals and many of these rituals, such as knocking on wood after an optimistic statement or throwing spilled salt over the left shoulder, still persist today.”
Belief in superstition is so strong that there are people who cancel their trips or journeys if they see a black cat crossing their path.
“In the Middle Ages,” says Bigfoot.com, “black cats were believed to be the companions of witches, and after seven years of life, the cats were even said to turn into witches, or even devils and demons! All of which were to be avoided at all costs.”
The controversial Jehovah’s Witnesses say much of African culture is based on superstition and add that superstitions are found all over the world.
“They are sometimes esteemed as part of a cultural heritage,” they say on their website. “In the Western world, superstitions are usually taken with the proverbial grain of salt.
The site says that superstitions vary immensely throughout the world, and their propagation depends on local folklore, legends, and circumstances.
“But the common denominator is the belief that someone, or something, from the invisible spirit world needs to be appeased.”
Bigfoot.com says that throughout the periods of history, from ancient to present, people have feared what they didn’t understand. They turned and even depended on many things to explain the phenomenona happening around them. “From religion to science, people have tried to satisfy their puzzled minds.
Some, however, accepted these phenomena and simply took up practices to protect themselves from them. Known as superstitions, these curious rituals have continued to fascinate us, and some are still even practiced by some people.”
Then there are superstitions that have made it on calendars the world over: Halloween and April Fools day.
“The druids (priests, magicians, or soothsayers of the ancient Celtic religion) believed that on Oct. 31, the dead rose from their graves to revisit their old homes,” says Bigfoot. “’Trick or treating’ evolved when frightened villagers ‘offered’ fruits and nuts to the wandering and restless souls to keep them from destroying their homes and property.”
There are several theories on how April Fools Day came to be celebrated. April Fools Day is also called All Fools Day and is celebrated on the 1st of April each year.
Until noon people get to play tricks, practical jokes and hoaxes on each other.
“In some ancient calendars, such as the Romans and Hindus, New Year Day was celebrated on 1 April, soon after the vernal equinox,” says Uttertrivia.com. “In the UK it was celebrated on 25 March up to medieval times. This was known as the Feast of Annunciation, which celebrates The Archangel Gabriel’s revelation to Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, that she would conceive a child to be born the Son of God.”
Pope Gregory XIII, it says, ordered a new calendar in 1582 which came to be known as the Gregorian Calendar. It was to replace the old Julian Calendar so that New Year’s Day would be celebrated on 1 January.
”France was the first Country to adopt the new Gregorian calendar on order of the French King Charles IX. Those who did not accept the calendar change or who still thought New Year started on 1 April were known as April Fools. Such people were known as Poisson d’Avril, which translates to April Fish.”
Considering how powerful superstition is, would it not be prudent for the government of Botswana to move the inauguration of the new president to the day after April 1?
Jamaican Dr. Rebecca Tortello, writing on ‘Deadly Superstitions’ says in her book, Pieces of the Past, “Superstitions permeate many aspects of Jamaican life. Not surprisingly, the cultural influence most often cited is African. What may be unrecognised, however, is that the area with the strongest retention is death, including burial practices. Most of these beliefs are born out of fear of the unknown; fear of what happens after death and how it can affect the living. These actions are carried out because it is believed that they will protect those left alive from the wrath of the spirit of the dead…”
So next time your palm itches, just smile and thank God you are alive and have feeling in your arm. There won’t be any money coming your way, unless if you are in real good books with that ATM…