What superstition has life proven to be true



"Superstition" means - like the prefix But- expresses - an opposite position to a belief that is largely recognized as true. The German word "superstition" has been traceable since the 15th century and was used as a synonym for "after-belief" or "misbelief" to denote rejected beliefs and cult acts. In the present, superstition is qualified from three sides: on the one hand, superstition becomes the counter-term for the “right”, theologically standardized belief, on the other hand, modern science takes an opposing position based on its criteria (rationality, verifiability, consistency): superstition proves itself in it that it happens against better judgment, against reason. From the point of view of folklore, “superstition” is a collective term for elements of a folk belief that has developed alongside the “orthodox” church teaching tradition. Superstition thus consists “in the holding of beliefs that contradict the theological or scientific conceptions in force” (Röhrich).

Modern superstition makes use of mysterious means to achieve practical results, although the user should know that these means are not really suitable, but rather are based on wishful thinking, illusions or self-deception (Hemminger). However, some of the “new” ideas attributed to superstition are by no means new. Some of them have been handed down for centuries in connection with so-called popular superstition and everyday magic. Magical practices often turned out to be an elementary means of helping life, overcoming crises and making dreams come true. In addition to the characteristic of irrationality, the immediate rationale for thinking and doing is particularly significant. The superstition shows itself in a corresponding expectation and a practice that is determined by ideas and the use of aids, mostly to bring about personal happiness or to ward off unhappiness. Superstitious forms can generally be divided into: Observation (Observation of things that we encounter symbolically or allegedly fateful), Divination (Future show) and sorcery (Practices and techniques to make or prevent something). Long-term demoscopic studies have shown that the German population has become more open to ideas that are conventionally referred to as superstitions over the past 30 years. According to a survey from 2005, 42 percent believe that a four-leaf clover brings good luck. 40 percent believe that shooting stars would mean good things for their own future (Allensbacher Reports 7/2005).


The spectrum of superstitious practices can extend to all areas of life. Some of them also feed on religious traditions. Overall, superstition lacks a religious goal and an ethical orientation. Magical elements play a special role in superstitious attitudes and behavior. Magical practices aim either to ward off evil or to bring about good. This can take the form of actions or behaviors that are not justified in terms of ideology or special attributions of power or power to certain objects (amulets, images, defense symbols). In addition, superstitious ideas and ritual actions appear in the context of important everyday events and occasions in human life (birthday, turn of the year, birth of a child, wedding, death / dying). In addition, in the esoteric scene today, there are mantic practices for helping people with life and for interpreting the future individually using appropriate aids (crystal ball, pendulum).

Generally one can use the Protection or defense spells of a Appropriation magic distinguish. In protective and defense magic, various aids are used to keep evil away from people. A amulet can take on an apotropaic function. The talisman on the other hand - in the context of appropriation magic - happiness is supposed to "draw in" mainly in a magical way.

In the course of the esoteric movement, the market-like offer has expanded considerably. Access to the offers is faster via the Internet: from “successful love and money spells” to helping “white magic partner reunions” and damaging “black magic rituals”. The latter include: instructions for voodoo magic, curse, death magic, love magic (with mirror or with wax doll), instructions for conjuring spirits and demons, devil pact, satanic rituals, damage magic, revenge magic, mirror magic, spell magic. In the context of the life support market, “fortune tellers” or “very well-known clairvoyants” promise their customers the prospect of “prosperity, happiness and extraordinary power in life” in the tabloid press, on the Internet, via special TV channels through paid telephone advice.

The shape of the Defense spell can also be found in the now common three-time phrase "Toi, toi, toi". It is supposed to protect against a happiness being destroyed because one has spoken about it, because one has "called" it. According to a widespread view, “talking” or “shouting” causes the opposite, because - according to an old belief - by talking about evokes the envy of evil demons or gods. "Toi, toi, toi" is supposed to imitate the sound of spitting, whereby the magic of saliva was already regarded as an effective remedy against calling or shouting in ancient popular belief. The purpose of spitting is to remove the power of magic from a thing.

1. In addition to superstitious ritual acts, so-called Magic books assign to the realm of superstition. “The Sixth and Seventh Book of Moses” has achieved a relatively high level of awareness and distribution. The title appears for the first time in an advertisement for sale in the Allgemeine Literarisches Anzeiger on March 18, 1797. This is a compilation of miracle drugs, magic formulas, incantations, spells of salvation and interpretations of fate that has been changing again and again since the 18th century, depending on the edition. This form of occult-magical colportal literature has nothing to do with the biblical Moses. However, there is an extra-biblical line of tradition that assigned important magical abilities to the figure of Moses. Since he was born and raised in Egypt after Ex 2, he was brought into connection with the occult tradition of this country. - A pseudo-Kabbalistic addition or continuation of this genre is an "Eighth and Ninth Book of Moses - The Book of Jezira", which supposedly consists of "the oldest Kabbalistic documents" and is praised in advertisements as the "main work on magic, hidden forces and secret sciences" . - The “Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Book of Moses” is even said to contain “a secret from old documents from 1524 Doctoris Johannis Fausti zu Wittenberg that has been hushed up and hidden for 400 years”.

2. Also Chain letters, Disseminated by post or e-mail, can be assigned to the area of ​​superstition. They usually present themselves as a lucky charm - at least for those who take the trouble to forward the letter to 20 other people. Failure to comply will result in bad luck. Fortune tellers also make use of a superstitious “mechanism” with the help of bulk mailing (usually only stating a foreign PO box address of the sender) in order to win over customers for their dubious services and offers. It is suggested to the recipient that he would miss his luck or even suffer damage if he ignored the offer. The spread and reception of such letters and chain letters is characterized by the fear of magical automatisms, which nowadays have by no means been eliminated, but only suppressed.

3. Superstitious or negative connotations can still be looked at Friday the 13th determine. The combination of a number and a certain day of the week, which is unlucky for some, is a new phenomenon. According to recent research, the escalation on Friday the 13th - a trend that has been observed in Germany since the 1950s as "flirting with misfortune" - is fed by three sources (Hirschfelder): (1) the culture-specific one that has evolved over time Dealing with numbers, (2) from a similar way of dealing with days of the week. Both strands ran parallel until the middle of the 20th century without touching one another. (3) The strands were brought together in the 1950s as part of the West German culture's particular orientation towards the west. Significant impetus for this came from the USA. This "tradition" goes back to the year 1869, when the American gold market was exposed to extreme price fluctuations. And again it was supposedly a Friday the 13th (in reality it was a Thursday) when the stock market began to slide in 1927. As a result, this case is by no means an ancient superstition, but rather a modern cultural stylization (see also the US horror film production Friday the 13th), which is, however, in the general consciousness, not least in the media a certain wink is considered. This is probably due not least to the fact that, according to survey results, apparently less “messengers of bad luck” than conventional “lucky charms” such as the four-leaf clover, shooting stars or the chimney sweep are in demand in Germany (see Allensbacher Reports 7/2005).


The renaissance of superstitious ideas and practices is closely related to processes of change within the current religious culture. With the increasing secularization in society and the loss of traditional religious orientations and not least due to an attitude of protest against a worldview determined exclusively by rationality, there is a “return of the magicians” and a renaissance of superstition. In theological terms, superstition means disregarding the First Commandment. In the biblical sense, true faith is associated with knowledge and worship of God. This is why the Old Testament criticism is directed against forms of "superstition" in which an irrational fear of opaque powers is expressed (cult of the dead, idolatry, fortune-telling, sorcery, black magic) or with the help of which people take refuge in false securities or in general withdraws from ethical responsibility. The gospel of Jesus Christ opens up a new space of experience for the believer, which can finally free him from self-produced constraints and suggestively created "mechanisms".

Behind the superstitious practices prevalent today is primarily the fear of unknown evil, which leads to the use of magical objects and rites. The attempt to conjure up and disempower the unknown with magical means arises from childish wishful thinking. Superstitious beliefs and practices meet people's longing to seize life - without God - with the help of specially constructed securities or to force happiness through blind trust in magical or manipulable "laws". Often fears should be eliminated or at least contained. A critical assessment of superstitious attitudes and behavior should be based on biblical standards, psychological and pastoral aspects. Especially in the latter case, the fascination and temptation associated with people with superstitious ideas and practices must be taken into account. In doing so, it is particularly important to ask about the individual motives for superstitious ideas and practices. Often, purely rationally oriented ways of argumentation do not help in dealing with those affected. The intensity of the practices must be taken into account in pastoral care. In a conversation it can become possible to concretise, name and finally “work on” individual fears.


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Dr. Matthias Pöhlmann, March 2009