Do Superstitions Control Your Life?
SUPERSTITIONS are found all over the world. They are sometimes esteemed as part of a cultural heritage. Or they may be considered a trivial curiosity—adding spice to life. In the Western world, superstitions are usually taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Elsewhere—in Africa, for example—superstitions can seriously affect people’s life.
Much of African culture is based on superstition. Movies, radio shows, and literature produced in Africa often highlight superstition and mystical subjects, such as magic, ancestor worship, and fetishes. Why are people so influenced by superstitions, and where do superstitions come from?
What Is Behind Superstitions?
Many superstitions basically stem from a fear of spirits of the dead or of spirits of any sort. Events are interpreted as attempts by these spirits to contact the living with a threat, a warning, or a blessing.
Superstitions are also closely associated with healing and medicine. For most people in the developing world, modern medicine is very expensive and often simply unobtainable. Hence, many seek cures or try to take preventive measures by turning to ancestral customs, spiritism, and superstitions. They also feel more comfortable dealing with a witch doctor who knows their customs and speaks their dialect than with a medical doctor. Superstitious beliefs are thus kept alive.
Superstitious traditions hold that illness and accidents are, not simply chance happenings, but events instigated by forces in the spirit world. Witch doctors may claim that a dead ancestor is unhappy about something. Or spirit mediums may suggest that someone has placed a curse on the victim by means of a rival witch doctor, and that is why the sickness or the accident took place.
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.
Innocuous or Dangerous?
To most families, the birth of twins is an exceptional and thrilling event. To the superstitious, however, it may be interpreted as a sign. In some regions of West Africa, many view it as the birth of deities, and the twins are worshiped. If one or both of the twins should die, small statues of the twins are made, and the family must offer food to these idols. Elsewhere, people view the birth of twins as a curse, to the point that some parents will kill at least one of them. Why? They believe that if both twins survive, they will one day murder their parents.
Examples like these show that although some superstitions may seem quaint and inoffensive, others can be dangerous—even deadly. With a sinister interpretation, a harmless event can be transformed into a dangerous affair.
Yes, in reality, superstition is a belief, a form of religion. Given the dangerous aspects of superstition, it is relevant to ask: Who is actually being served by superstitious beliefs and practices?
The Source of Superstitions
Despite evidence to the contrary, some people today tend to deny the existence of Satan or evil spirits. However, in time of war, refusing to recognize the existence of a dangerous enemy could only lead to disaster. The same could be true in a conflict with superhuman spirit creatures, for the apostle Paul wrote: “We have a wrestling . . . against the wicked spirit forces.”—Ephesians 6:12.
Even though we cannot see them, evil spirit creatures do exist. The Bible relates that an invisible spirit person used a serpent, much as a ventriloquist uses a dummy, to communicate with the first woman, Eve, and led her to rebel against God. (Genesis 3:1-5) The Bible identifies this spirit person as “the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth.” (Revelation 12:9) That one, Satan, succeeded in enticing other angels into rebellion. (Jude 6) These wicked angels became demons, enemies of God.
Jesus expelled demons from people, as did his disciples. (Mark 1:34; Acts 16:18) These spirits are not dead ancestors, for the dead are “conscious of nothing at all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) Rather, they are the rebellious angels who were misled by Satan. Contacting them or submitting to their influence is not to be taken lightly, for they, just like their leader, Satan the Devil, would like to devour us. (1 Peter 5:8) Their goal is to turn us away from the only hope for mankind—the Kingdom of God.
The Bible reveals one of the methods used by Satan and his demons: “Satan himself keeps transforming himself into an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14) Satan would like to lull us into believing that he can offer us a better way of life. Hence, some temporary benefits may seem to come through the intervention of wicked spirits. But they can offer no lasting solutions. (2 Peter 2:4) They cannot possibly bestow eternal life on anyone, and they are soon to be destroyed. (Romans 16:20) Our Creator is the only source of eternal life and true happiness and the best possible protection against wicked spirit forces.—James 4:7.
God condemns seeking help through spiritistic practices. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12; 2 Kings 21:6) That is flirting with the enemy, forming an alliance with God’s betrayers! Consulting a horoscope, inquiring of a tribal medicine man, or dabbling in any superstitious practice would mean allowing the wicked spirits to control the decisions you make in your life. It is tantamount to joining in their rebellion against God.
Protection From Evil—Is It Possible?
Ade,* a man living in Niger, was studying the Bible with a full-time preacher of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Ade explained why he had a talisman in his shop: “There are many enemies.” Ade’s Bible teacher showed him that only Jehovah can be counted on for real protection. He read Psalm 34:7 to Ade, which states: “The angel of Jehovah is camping all around those fearing him, and he rescues them.” Ade concluded: “If Jehovah can really protect me, then I will remove the talisman.” Now, years later, he serves as an elder and a full-time minister. Not one of his enemies has harmed him.
The Bible shows that time and unforeseen events befall us all, whether we are superstitious or not. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) But Jehovah never tests us with bad things. (James 1:13) Death and imperfection are due to sin inherited from Adam. (Romans 5:12) On this account, everyone falls sick from time to time as well as makes mistakes that may lead to calamitous consequences. Therefore, it would be wrong to attribute all sickness or all setbacks to the workings of wicked spirits. Such a belief would only tempt us to try to appease the spirits in some way.* When we are ill, we should seek proper medical attention, not advice from “a liar and the father of the lie,” Satan the Devil. (John 8:44) Statistics show that people living in countries where ancestral superstitions are prevalent do not live longer or better lives than people in other countries. Clearly, then, superstitions give no health advantage.
God is more powerful than any wicked spirit, and He is interested in our welfare. “The eyes of Jehovah are upon the righteous ones, and his ears are toward their supplication.” (1 Peter 3:12) Pray to him for protection and wisdom. (Proverbs 15:29; 18:10) Make an effort to understand his Holy Word, the Bible. Accurate knowledge of the Bible is the best protection we can have. It will help us recognize why bad things happen and how to gain the favor of Almighty God.
Benefits of Knowledge of God
Accurate knowledge of Jehovah and his purposes—the opposite of ignorance and superstition—is the key to gaining true protection. This is shown by the case of Jean, a man from Benin. Superstitions were deeply rooted in Jean’s family. According to superstitious tribal customs, a woman who had just given birth to a son would have to stay in a specially built hut for nine days. If she gave birth to a daughter, she would be confined to the hut for seven days.
In 1975, Jean’s wife gave birth to a good-looking baby boy, whom they named Marc. Based on their knowledge of the Bible, Jean and his wife wanted nothing to do with wicked spirits. But would they succumb to fear and the pressure to follow the superstition and have the mother stay in the hut? No—they rejected this tribal superstition.—Romans 6:16; 2 Corinthians 6:14, 15.
Did any harm come to Jean’s family? Many years have passed, and Marc is now serving as a ministerial servant in the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The whole family is happy that they did not allow superstition to influence their life and to jeopardize their spiritual welfare.—1 Corinthians 10:21, 22.
True Christians must keep the dark practices of superstition out of their life and accept the spiritual light offered by the Creator, Jehovah, and his Son, Jesus Christ. They can thus enjoy true peace of mind derived from the knowledge that they are doing what is right in the eyes of God.—John 8:32.
Names have been changed.
See the article “Does the Devil Make Us Sick?” in the September 1, 1999, Watchtower.
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Some Common Superstitions Around the World
• Standing chopsticks in a bowl of rice is a sign of death
• Seeing an owl in the sunlight brings bad luck
• A candle going out during a ceremony means that evil spirits are nearby
• Dropping an umbrella on the floor means that there will be a murder in the house
• Putting a hat on the bed brings bad luck
• The sound of bells drives away demons
• Blowing out all the candles on a birthday cake on the first try grants a wish
• A broom against a bed allows evil spirits in the broom to cast a spell on the bed
• A black cat crossing your path means bad luck
• Dropping a fork means that a man is coming to visit
• A picture of elephants brings good luck if it faces a door
• A horseshoe over the doorway brings good luck
• Ivy growing on the house gives protection against evil
• It is bad luck to walk under a ladder
• Breaking a mirror means seven years of bad luck
• Spilling pepper means that you will have an argument with your best friend
• Spilling salt brings bad luck unless a pinch is thrown over the left shoulder
• Leaving a rocking chair rocking while empty invites demons to sit in it
• Leaving shoes upside down brings bad luck
• When someone dies, windows must be opened to let the soul out
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Freed From the Clutches of Superstition
Jehovah’s Witnesses were preaching in an area in South Africa. When one door opened after their knocking, the Witnesses were confronted by a woman dressed in full Sangoma (witch doctor) regalia. They wanted to leave, but the woman insisted that they deliver their message. One of the Witnesses read Deuteronomy 18:10-12 to show her God’s view of spiritistic practices. The witch doctor accepted the message and agreed to a Bible study. She said that if she was convinced from her study of the Bible that practicing as a Sangoma was against Jehovah’s will, she would stop.
After studying chapter 10 in the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth along with the Bible, she burned all her paraphernalia related to witchcraft and started attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall. Furthermore, she straightened out her marital status, even though she had been separated from her husband for 17 years. Now, both are dedicated, baptized Witnesses of Jehovah.
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A “Sangoma” throws bones to divine the cause of a patient’s problems
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Accurate knowledge of God brings true protection and happiness