Taboos, Superstitions and Non-Religious Beliefs

Published: 05th May 2010
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Non-religious beliefs are part of the culture and tradition of every country and will be encountered in various forms and guises everywhere in the world. They include manifestations such as legends, myths and folklore, omens, premonitions and other kinds of divination, palm-reading, clairvoyance, extra sensory perception and other forms of folk religion and while a person from another country may not give credence to them, one would be extremely foolish to make fun of them, or even worse to ignore them.

There are many countries where the rite specialists including functionaries such as rainmakers, astrologers, priests of many kinds, diviners and witch doctors would be invited to give advice and their help may be sought on particular occasions for example a new business venture of a family occasion such as a wedding, or in connection with prestigious construction projects. Not so long ago government officials in Indonesia solicited the assistance specialists in rituals who subsequently succeeded in bringing about favourable weather conditions for a State visit. Non-religious beliefs can take many forms, sometimes the avoidance of particular inauspicious words, numbers and dates, for example the elimination of row 13 by some airlines, or floor levels or room numbers in hotels; replacing certain letters and words with signs or symbols such as asterisks (***); not walking under ladders; wearing a talisman to ward off the evil eye; the allocation of lucky telephone number combinations to its favoured citizens, while those judged to be inauspicious might be allocated to foreigners; the choice of an appropriate date for commencing a new business venture and even the location or site of a business enterprise.

In Hong Kong and several other South East Asian countries where the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui is practiced, a master or expert will often be called in to give advice on whether the location of a building or shop is suitable, he will also advise on the day, hour and even the minute of opening in order to launch the venture to an auspicious start. Feng Shui which can also be interpreted as vibes or vibrations, refers to the relationship between nature and ourselves, so that we might live in harmony within our environment. Numbers play a significant part in superstitions and the perception as to which numbers are lucky or unlucky vary from country to country. In Italy the really unlucky calendar date is Tuesday 17th, while Friday 17th is also unlucky but not quite to the same degree as a Tuesday In many countries Friday the 13th is considered to be unlucky and not an appropriate day for weddings or boarding a ship. In other countries including Greece, Spain and Mexico the unlucky day in Tuesday the 13th. Even a combination of numbers, for example, launching a new product on March, 16th which would be as 3/16 could be considered astrologically auspicious to someone from China. The numeral 3 signifies alive and 16 plenty to eat and where 316 would signify as long as you live our business will be lucky and prosperous.

It is usually for religious but sometimes also on non-religious grounds that some species of animal and other living things are favoured as a source of meat for some societies, whilst for others they are unclean and therefore forbidden food. Such beliefs last for ever. To the Pacific islanders the meat of pigs and dogs was the mainstay of their lives, whilst to Muslims and Jews it is forbidden food. In Europe the dog has not been eaten during the Christian era except under condition of extreme famine, whilst in some parts of Vietnam they are still available in typical local eating houses. In France horsemeat is part of the national cuisine, whilst people in the United Kingdom would equate this to eating one's best friend.

Many superstitions are associated with sneezing and it was believed that sneezing expels the soul or the breath of life from the body and if one is in the presence of someone who sneezes, one is meant to protect him from danger by uttering appropriate words. The practice of blessing a sneeze dates back many centuries and is known in most cultures and societies. Even in Roman times when someone sneezed people used to say 'long may you live'. Some book publishers encourage writers to research all their sources.

Now-a-days in the United Kingdom when someone sneezes it is customary to say 'bless you'; in German-speaking countries 'Gesundheit' (health), in Italy 'salute' (health), and in France 'a tes souhaits' (to your wishes) to which one should respond with 'merci' (thank you). Japan is one of the fewcountries where, when someone sneezes, no comment is made as it is commonly believed that someone is missing the person who sneezed, or talking about them behind their back.

And lastly, there is an old English adage which says: a sneeze before breakfast is a sign that you will hear exciting news before the end of the day. Since 1926 the Savoy Hotel in London has kept a three foot high carved black cat called Kaspar. Superstition has it that, at a table of 13 whoever leaves the table earliest is destined to die first. Therefore, at any party of thirteen, Kaspar is placed on the 14th chair to avert catastrophe. A napkin is tied round his neck and he is treated like a bona fide guest. Depending on the generosity of the host, Kaspar is either served a chilled pint of milk or the whole menu, dish after dish, but always with the full complement of china, glass and cutlery.


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