On Superstitions
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On Superstitions


Born in the middle of the 19th century A. G. Gardiner (1865-1946) was recognized by his pen name ‘Alpha of the Plough’. Gardiner was very famous in his profession as a journalist, essayist, editor, and a high prolific writer. Gardiner was one among highly observant writers who never forgot to be truthful throughout his writings. Gardiner also put humor in his works, but reading his works makes one look forward to positive scenarios and, think rationally and reasonably too. His most famous works include “Leaves in the Wind”, “Priests and King”, “The Pillars of Society”, “Prophets”, “Pebbles on the Shore” and most popular is “On Superstition”.


In this essay, Gardiner talks on superstitions. People everywhere around the world have good faith and hope in things, and so, they pray, remember and serve God. But if you meticulously look deep into them, things are found very terrific. There are superstitious beliefs that have a bad impact on their life. While being superstitious people start believing in those things which are illogical and fake. Even in this modern time, there are places where these superstitious things are followed blindly as rituals.

As I belong to India, people do various superstitious things in the belief of getting good in return; the crossing of a black cat symbolizes bad luck, and the cawing of a crow is an indication of guests coming, itching on the palm believed to money is coming your way.

So being a vigilant writer, Gardiner in this essay, talks about some irrational superstitions related to numbers, counts, and myths that are accepted as true till this technical era from its ancient time. Gardiner also find this fact meaningless, when people left themselves in hopeless conditions because of these superstitions and end their life. He also feels worried about the people who are educated but left stereotyped in such beliefs. He concludes that keeping faith in superstitious things puts us on the negative side of the world where humans find themselves hopeless and feel numb regarding logical thinking and stop using their actual senses.


It was inevitable that the fact that a murder has taken place at a house with the number 13 in a street, the letters of whose name number 13, would not pass unnoticed. If we took the last hundred murders that have been committed, I suppose we should find that as many have taken place at No. 6 or No. 7, or any other number you choose, as at No. 13 that the law of averages is as inexorable here as elsewhere. But this consideration does not prevent the world remarking on the fact when No. 13 has its turn. Not that the world believes there is anything in the superstition. It is quite sure it is a mere childish folly, of course. Few of us would refuse to take a house because its number was 13, or decline an invitation to dinner because there were to be 13 at table. But most of us would be just a shade happier if that desirable residence were numbered n, and not any the less pleased with the dinner if one of the guests contracted a chill that kept him away. We would not confess this little weakness to each other. We might even refuse to admit it to ourselves, but it is there.

That it exists is evident from many irrefutable signs. There are numerous streets in London, and I daresay in other towns too, in which there is no house numbered 13, and I am told that it is very rare that a bed in a hospital bears that number. The superstition, threadbare though it has worn, is still sufficiently real to enter into the calculations of a discreet landlord in regard to the letting qualities of his house, and into the calculations of a hospital as to the curative properties of a bed. In the latter case general agreement would support the concession to the superstition, idle though that superstition is. Physical recovery is a matter of the mind as well as of the body, and the slightest shadow on the mind may, in a condition of low vitality, retard and even defeat recovery. Florence Nightingale’s almost passionate advocacy of flowers in the sick bedroom was based on the necessity of the creation of a certain state of mind in the patient. There are few more curious revelations in that moving record by M. Duhamel of medical experiences during the war, than the case of the man who died of a pimple on his nose. He had been hideously mutilated in battle and was brought into hospital a sheer wreck; but he was slowly patched up and seemed to have been saved when a pimple appeared on his nose. It was nothing in itself, but it was enough to produce a mental state that checked the flickering return of life. It assumed a fantastic importance in the mind of the patient who, having survived the heavy blows of fate died of something less than a pin prick. It is not difficult to understand that so fragile a hold of life might yield to the sudden discovery that you were lying in No. 13 bed.

I am not sure that I could go into the witness-box and swear that I am wholly immune to these idle superstitions myself. It is true that of all the buses in London, that numbered 13 chances to be the one that I constantly use, and I do not remember, until now, ever to have associated the superstition with it. And certainly I have never had anything but the most civil treatment from it. It is as well behaved a bus, and as free from unpleasant associations as any on the road. I would not change its number if I had the power to do so. But there are other circumstances of which I should find it less easy to clear myself of suspicion under cross examination. I never see a ladder against a house side without feeling that it is advisable to walk round it rather than under it. I say to myself that this is not homage to a foolish superstition, but a duty to my family. One must think of one’s family. The fellow at the top of the ladder may drop anything. He may even drop himself. He may have had too much to drink. He may be a victim of epileptic fits, and epileptic fits, as everyone knows, come on at the most unseasonable times and places. It is a mere measure of ordinary safety to walk round the ladder. No man is justified in inviting danger in order to flaunt his superiority to an idle fancy. Moreover, probably that fancy has its roots in the common-sense fact that a man on a ladder does occasionally drop things. No doubt of many our superstitions have these commonplace and sensible origins. I imagine, for example, that the Jewish objection to pork as unclean on religious grounds is only due to the fact that in Eastern climates it is unclean on physical grounds.


All the same, I suspect that when I walk round the ladder I am rather glad that I have such respectable and unassailable reasons for doing so. Even if conscious of this suspicion and ashamed to admit it to myself I walk under the ladder I am not quite sure that I have not done so as a kind of negative concession to the superstition. I have challenged it rather than been unconscious of it. There is only one way of dodging the absurd dilemma, and that is to walk through the ladder. This is not easy. In the same way I am sensible of a certain satisfaction when I see the new moon in the open rather than through glass, and over my right shoulder rather than my left. I would not consideration for any arrange these things consciously; but if they happen so I fancy I am better pleased than if they do not. And on these occasions I have even caught my hand which chanced to be in my pocket at the time turning over money, a little surreptitiously I thought, but still undeniably turning it. Hands have habits of their own and one can’t always be watching them.

But these shadowy reminiscences of antique credulity which we discover in ourselves play no part in the lives of any of us. They belong to a creed outworn. Superstition was disinherited when science revealed the laws of the universe and put man in his place. It was no discredit to be superstitious when all the functions of nature were unexplored, and man seemed the plaything of beneficent or sinister forces that he could neither control nor understand, but which held him in the hollow of their hand. He related everything that happened in nature to his own inexplicable existence, saw his fate in the clouds, his happiness or misery announced in the flight of birds, and referred every phenomenon of life to the soothsayers and oracles. You may read in Thucydides of battles being postponed (and lost) because some omen that had no more relation to the event than the falling of a leaf was against it. When Pompey was afraid that the Romans would elect Cato as praetor he shouted to the Assembly that he heard thunder, and got the whole election postponed, for the Romans would never transact business after it had thundered. Alexander surrounded himself with fortune tellers and took counsel with them as a modern ruler takes counsel with his Ministers. Even so great a man as Caesar and so modern and enlightened a man as Cicero left their fate to augurs and omens. Sometimes the omens were right and sometimes they were wrong, but whether right or wrong they were equally meaningless. Cicero lost his life by trusting to the wisdom of crows. When he was in flight from Antony and Caesar Augustus he put to sea and might have escaped. But some crows chanced to circle round his vessel, and he took the circumstance to be unfavourable to his action, returned to shore and was murdered. Even the farmer of ancient Greece consulted the omens and the oracles where the farmer to-day is only careful of his manures. I should have liked to have seen Caesar and I should have liked to have heard Cicero, but on the balance I think we who inherit this later day and who can jest at the shadows that were so real to them have the better end of time. It is pleasant to be about when the light is abroad. We do not know much more of the Power that

Turns the handle of this idle Show

than our forefathers did, but at least we have escaped the grotesque shadows that enveloped them. We do not look for divine guidance in the entrails of animals or the flight of crows and the Horse of Commons does not adjourn at a clap of thunder.

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