Gustav Jahoda - The Psychology of Superstition

The Psychology of Superstition - Gustav Jahoda

Superstitions are a little hobby of mine. I have a wide array of my personal superstitions which I have developed and perfected over time. I am also always interested in hearing about other people's superstitions. And on this occasion, I decided to learn something about their roots.

Do I know now why I sometimes have to count to 7 before getting up (or a plane will crash somewhere in South America)? No, not really.

What Jahoda does here mostly is just rebut all the theories about the origin of superpositions proposed by the likes of Freud and Jung.

There is some funny shit here. For example, and I know this will come as a shock to you, Freud (or one of his disciples, can't remember now) linked superstitions with some repressed sexual desires. Knocking on the wood is actually a symbolical rape of your mother. Wood is the mother, your finger is the penis and number three (because you knock three times) represents male genitalia. Well, I usually knock twice only, so sadly my penis is half castrated. I should probably look into it, it might explain a lot of things.

Jung, on the other hand, was quite superstitious himself. He was a firm believer of things happening 'for a reason' and produced a completely maddening theory of synchronicity. Neither me nor Jahoda could make heads or tails of this theory, so I will just quote Wikipedia: "Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance and that are observed to occur together in a meaningful manner."

Still unsure? Let me illustrate with an example (again courtesy of Wikipedia):

"A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream, I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from the outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), which, contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt the urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. I must admit that nothing like it ever happened to me before or since."

This is actually a quote from Jung's book on Synchronicity and it was quoted in 'The Psychology of Superstition' as well. Jung says it was the emotionally charged situation that caused the seemingly unrelated external event. It reminds me of that titmouse which knocked on the window of North Korean embassy to mourn Kim Jong Il.

Eventually Jahoda draws certain conclusions about superstitions - they let us think we can control what we can't control and they help us believe it's not all just meaningless chaos. 

My very own conclusion upon reading this book is that superstitions are very natural, inherent part of our nature and if I need to count to seven to stop planes from crashing, then so be it. This is my cross and I will bear it.