Superstition

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The general root of superstition : namely, that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss; and commit to memory the one, and forget and pass over the other. ~ Francis Bacon

Superstition is a credulous belief or notion, not based on reason, knowledge, or experience. The word is often used pejoratively to refer to folk beliefs deemed irrational. This leads to some superstitions being called "old wives' tales". It is also commonly applied to beliefs and practices surrounding luck, prophecy and spiritual beings, particularly irrational belief that future events can be influenced or foretold by specific unrelated prior events.

Quotes[edit]

The office of reformer of the superstitions of a nation, is ever dangerous. ~ Thomas Jefferson
The greatest burden in the world is superstition, not only of ceremonies in the church, but of imaginary and scarecrow sins at home. ~ John Milton
Those afraid of the universe as it really is, those who pretend to nonexistent knowledge and envision a Cosmos centered on human beings will prefer the fleeting comforts of superstition. They avoid rather than confront the world. But those with the courage to explore the weave and structure of the Cosmos, even where it differs profoundly from their wishes and prejudices, will penetrate its deepest mysteries. ~ Carl Sagan
  • When man seized the loadstone of science, the loadstar of superstition vanished in the clouds.
    • William R. Alger, in James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 544:20.
  • One of the largest promises of science is, that the sum of human happiness will be increased, ignorance destroyed, and, with ignorance, prejudice and superstition, and that great truth taught to all, that this world and all it contains were meant for our use and service; and that where nature by her own laws has defined the limits of original unfitness, science may by extract so modify those limits as to render wholesome that which by natural wildness was hurtful, and nutritious that which by natural poverty was unnourishing. We do not yet know half that chemistry may do by way of increasing our food.
    • Anonymous, 'Common Cookery'. Household Words (26 Jan 1856), 13, 45. An English weekly magazine edited by Charles Dickens.
  • The general root of superstition : namely, that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss; and commit to memory the one, and forget and pass over the other.
  • The superstitions of today are the scientific facts of tomorrow.
    • John L. Balderston, in the play Dracula (1927), spoken by the character Von Helsing. In the script Dracula: the Vampire Play in Three Acts (Samuel French Inc., 1960), 25.
  • A visitor to Niels Bohr's country cottage, noticing a horseshoe hanging on the wall, teasing the eminent scientist about this ancient superstition. 'Can it be true that you, of all people, believe it will bring you luck?' 'Of course not,' replied Bohr, 'but I understand it brings you luck whether you believe it or not.'
    • Anecdote about Niels Bohr, as described in Clifton Fadiman (ed.), Andrè Bernard (ed.), Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes (2000), 68.
  • It is the business of science to offer rational explanations for all the events in the real world, and any scientist who calls on God to explain something is falling down on his job. This applies as much to the start of the expansion as to any other event. If the explanation is not forthcoming at once, the scientist must suspend judgment: but if he is worth his salt he will always maintain that a rational explanation will eventually be found. This is the one piece of dogmatism that a scientist can allow himself—and without it science would be in danger of giving way to superstition every time that a problem defied solution for a few years.
  • Thus identified with astronomy, in proclaiming truths supposed to be hostile to Scripture, Geology has been denounced as the enemy of religion. The twin sisters of terrestrial and celestial physics have thus been joint-heirs of intolerance and persecution—unresisting victims in the crusade which ignorance and fanaticism are ever waging against science. When great truths are driven to make an appeal to reason, knowledge becomes criminal, and philosophers martyrs. Truth, however, like all moral powers, can neither be checked nor extinguished. When compressed, it but reacts the more. It crushes where it cannot expand—it burns where it is not allowed to shine. Human when originally divulged, it becomes divine when finally established. At first, the breath of a rage—at last it is the edict of a god. Endowed with such vital energy, astronomical truth has cut its way through the thick darkness of superstitious times, and, cheered by its conquests, Geology will find the same open path when it has triumphed over the less formidable obstacles of a civilized age.
    • David Brewster, More Worlds than One: The Creed of the Philosopher and the Hope of the Christian (1854), 42.
  • Foul Superstition! howsoe'er disguised,
    Idol, saint, virgin, prophet, crescent, cross,
    For whatsoever symbol thou art prized,
    Thou sacerdotal gain, but general loss!
    Who from true worship's gold can separate thy dross?
  • The origin of certain superstitions is often connected to the intention of attributing adverse events to specific causes.
    • Fausto Cercignani in: Brian Morris, Quotes we cherish. Quotations from Fausto Cercignani, 2013, p. 39.
  • For my own part I would as soon be descended from that heroic little monkey, who braved his dreaded enemy in order to save the life of his keeper; or from that old baboon, who, descending from the mountains, carried away in triumph his young comrade from a crowd of astonished dogs—as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies, offers up bloody sacrifices, practices infanticide without remorse, treats his wives like slaves, knows no decency, and is haunted by the grossest superstitions.
  • Science of to-day — the superstition of to-morrow. Science of to-morrow — the superstition of to-day.
  • Mankind have been slow to believe that order reigns in the universe — that the world is a cosmos and a chaos.
    ... The divinities of heathen superstition still linger in one form or another in the faith of the ignorant, and even intelligent men shrink from the contemplation of one supreme will acting regularly, not fortuitously, through laws beautiful and simple rather than through a fitful and capricious system of intervention.
    ... The scientific spirit has cast out the demons, and presented us with nature clothed in her right mind and living under the reign of law. It has given us, for the sorceries of the alchemist, the beautiful laws of chemistry; for the dreams of the astrologer, the sublime truths of astronomy; for the wild visions of cosmogony, the monumental records of geology; for the anarchy of diabolism, the laws of God.
    • James A. Garfield, speech (16 Dec 1867) given while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, introducing resolution for the appointment of a committee to examine the necessities for legislation upon the subject of the ninth census to be taken the following year. Quoted in John Clark Ridpath, The Life and Work of James A. Garfield (1881), 216.
  • Alas! you know the cause too well;
    The salt is spilt, to me it fell.
    Then to contribute to my loss,
    My knife and fork were laid across;
    On Friday, too! the day I dread;
    Would I were safe at home, in bed!
    Last night (I vow to Heaven 'tis true)
    Bounce from the fire a coffin flew.
    Next post some fatal news shall tell:
    God send my Cornish friends be well!
    • John Gay, Fables (1727), Part I. Fable 37.
  • History warns us ... that it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.
    • Thomas Henry Huxley, "The Coming of Age of the Origin of Species" (1880). In Collected Essays (1893), Vol. 2, 229.
  • The office of reformer of the superstitions of a nation, is ever dangerous.
    • Thomas Jefferson, on the teachings of Jesus Christ amidst the intolerant superstitions of his times, in a letter to William Short (4 August 1820)
  • May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.
  • Through it [Science] we believe that man will be saved from misery and degradation, not merely acquiring new material powers, but learning to use and to guide his life with understanding. Through Science he will be freed from the fetters of superstition; through faith in Science he will acquire a new and enduring delight in the exercise of his capacities; he will gain a zest and interest in life such as the present phase of culture fails to supply.
    • Sir Edwin Ray Lankester, "Biology and the State", The Advancement of Science: Occasional Essays & Addresses (1890), 108-9.
  • [Science] "intensifies religious truth by cleansing it of ignorance and superstition.
    • Charles Lindbergh, Quoted in "Antiseptic Christianity", book review of Lindbergh, Of Flight and Life in Time magazine, (6 Sep 1948).
  • Astrology is a sickness, not a science ... It is a tree under the shade of which all sorts of superstitions thrive.
  • Wherever modern Science has exploded a superstitious fable or even a picturesque error, she has replaced it with a grander and even more poetical truth.
  • The greatest burden in the world is superstition, not only of ceremonies in the church, but of imaginary and scarecrow sins at home.
    • John Milton, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 573.
  • It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people... Who indeed could afford to ignore science today? At every turn we have to seek its aid... the future belongs to science and those who make friends with science.
    • Jawaharlal Nehru, Quoted in Atma Ram, "The Making of Optical Glass in India: Its Lessons for Industrial Development", Proceedings of ihe National Institute of Sciences of India (1961), 27, 564-5.
  • So I had to face the fact that I was blessed with abilities that were considered symptoms of emotional abnormality or mental derangement by psychology, often thought of as demonic by religion, and whose very existence was denied altogether by science. So in my darker moments I used to think that my psychic initiation and subsequent experiences were a mixed bag, to say the least. But the fact is that i was very sensitive to criticism for the very good reason that often i shared many of the beliefs that stimulated it.
    • Jane Roberts, in The God of Jane: A Psychic Manifesto, p. 48
  • Hence, to the realms of Night, dire Demon, hence!
    Thy chain of adamant can bind
    That little world, the human mind,
    And sink its noblest powers to impotence.
  • Midnight hags,
    By force of potent spells, of bloody characters,
    And conjurations horrible to hear,
    Call fiends and spectres from the yawning deep,
    And set the ministers of hell at work.
  • Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavour after a worthy manner of life.
  • Those afraid of the universe as it really is, those who pretend to nonexistent knowledge and envision a Cosmos centered on human beings will prefer the fleeting comforts of superstition. They avoid rather than confront the world. But those with the courage to explore the weave and structure of the Cosmos, even where it differs profoundly from their wishes and prejudices, will penetrate its deepest mysteries.
  • Some devils ask but the parings of one's nail,
    A rush, a hair, a drop of blood, a pin, a nut, a cherry stone;
    But she, more coveteous, would have a chain.
    Master, be wise: an if you give it her,
    The devil will shake her chain and fright us with it.
  • I pull in resolution, and begin
    To doubt the equivocation of the fiend
    That lies like truth: "Fear not, till Birnam wood
    Do come to Dunsinane."
  • A fool's brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education.
  • Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition.
    • Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776, 1801), Vol. 2, 314.
  • Men are probably nearer the essential truth in their superstitions than in their science.
    • Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 27 Jun 1852, in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau (1906), Vol. 10, 158.
  • Laws should be made, not against quacks but against superstition.
    • Rudolf Virchow, in Fielding Hudson Garrison, An Introduction to the History of Medicine (1966), 577.
  • Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy; the mad daughter of a wise mother.
    • Voltaire, "A Treatise in Toleration". In Voltaire, Tobias George Smollett (ed.) and William F. Fleming (trans.), The Works of Voltaire (1904), Vol. 4, 265.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 770-71.
  • Superstitione tollenda religio non tollitur.
    • Religion is not removed by removing superstition.
    • Cicero, De Divinatione, II. 72.
  • Accedit etiam mors, quæ quasi saxum Tantalo semper impendit: tum superstitio, qua qui est imbutus quietus esse numquam potest.
    • Death approaches, which is always impending like the stone over Tantalus: then comes superstition with which he who is imbued can never have peace of mind.
    • Cicero, De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, I. 8.
  • Superstitio, in qua inest inanis timor
    Dei; religio, quæ dei pio cultu continetur.
    • There is in superstition a senseless fear of God; religion consists in the pious worship of Him.
    • Cicero, De Natura Deorum, I. 42.
  • My right eye itches, some good luck is near.
    • John Dryden, paraphrase of Amaryllis, Third Idyllum of Theocritus, line 86.
  • Dish yer rabbit foot'll gin you good luck. De man w'at tote it mighty ap'fer ter come out right en' up wen deys any racket gwine on in de neighborhoods, let 'er be whar she will en w'en she may; mo' espeshually ef de man w'at got it know 'zactly w'at he got ter do.
  • Minimis etiam rebus prava religio inserit deos.
    • A foolish superstition introduces the influences of the gods even in the smallest matters.
    • Livy, Annales, XXVII. 23.
  • Why is it that we entertain the belief that for every purpose odd numbers are the most effectual?
  • Number three is always fortunate.
  • Superstition is related to this life, religion to the next; superstition is allied to fatality, religion to virtue; it is by the vivacity of earthly desires that we become superstitious; it is, on the contrary, by the sacrifice of these desires that we become religious.

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