Superstitions #

People believe what they want to.

W.H. Auden has a beautiful line in The Shield of Achilles:

“They (soldiers) marched away enduring a belief Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.”

Rational people can rationalize or justify almost anything. We are good at self-deception.

All ideologies can be self-serving and delusional. That’s why philosophy, history and great literature is such a good guide to reality.

All early civilisations relied on gods. After the Persians had sacked Greece, Pericles spent heavily rebuilding the Greek temples destroyed by the Persians, the payment of sacrifices due to the gods for salvation, and the freedom of the seas. This despite heavy debt and deprivation of food for the people.

In 447 work started on the Parthenon and on the gold and ivory statue of Athena (by Phidias), which it was to house; the Acropolis project was to include, among other things, a temple to Victory and the Propylaea (started 437), the entrance gateway, far grander and more expensive than any previous Greek secular building.

A plague, during the war against Sparta took a further quarter of the population.

Ancient Greeks, until about Socrates, that sagacious Greek philosopher, believed that the easiest way to learn was by asking questions.

Alice in Wonderland, when ordered by the White Queen to :

“stop asking questions”,

defiantly counters with:

“no I won’t. The more curious you are, the more you learn”.

Hammurabi, Solon, Socrates and many others were clear thinkers. Socrates had the audacity to challenge sacred beliefs and died for it.

Andre Gide, a French philosopher wrote:

“don’t believe anyone who claims to know the truth; trust those who are searching for the truth.”

According to Socrates, virtue is fundamental and philosophy is an examination of ourselves towards virtue. He was accused of two things, which were corrupting the youth of Athens, and introducing a new God.

The later Greeks developed scientific analysis. The fourth century Christians destroyed it.

Greek historians claim that early Christians were not interested in discovering new knowledge; all you needed is to believe in the revelations from God. The Romantics too questioned the value of knowledge through pure reasoning, rational thought (epistemology) preferring a tendency towards more emotional, imaginative or intuitive processes. By the 1850’s we seem to have merged the two approaches.

As Rome declined and fell, civilization sank into the darkness of “the worst of times” and justice seemed to be extinguished by societies ruled by greed, cruel power, and raw vengeance. The Furies retook Justice. Primitive magical thinking and belief in the supernatural buried the scientific attitude.

Medieval times saw Demonology and witchcraft metamorphosed into a malignant scape-goating preoccupation that became twin to the Plague and rendering human understanding comatose.

From 1215, disputes were settled under the yoke of an adversarial system that relies on combat – originally physical (duels were legal until the 19th century), and now psychological and linguistic gladiatorial contests. “Might triumphs over right”. Trial by Ordeal was fashionable as late as the 16th Century.

The occult #

Any mystical, supernatural, or magical powers, practices, or phenomena.

Divinations come in many forms thought to be from the Divine: Sortilege - the practice of foretelling the future from a card or other item drawn at random from a collection.

Cleromancy - a method of divination through the casting of lots (or sortes). Astrology, superstitions and other supernatural sources are consulted. Other Psychics include Gramarye - occult learning; black magic or necromancy.

Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols in society.

Numerology The idea that numbers carry significant occult power. The west fear the number 13, while the orient are afraid of the number 4. The number 666 is used to signify the devil, the antichrist, or evil in general. To others it represents love.

Natural disasters #

Natural disasters were attributed to humans. In 1755, a huge earthquake had struck the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, followed by a tsunami. Within minutes, tens of thousands were dead.

The recriminations soon began. Protestants saw in Lisbon’s destruction divine judgement on Catholicism. Catholics proposed, with equal implausibility, the especial sinfulness of the Lisbonites as the disaster’s cause. Pyres were erected in the streets to burn heretics, as scapegoats for the disaster.

This combination of senseless death and even more senseless human responses outraged Voltaire. His first response was the impassioned:

Poem on the Lisbon Disaster of 1755:

As the dying voices call out, will you dare respond
To this appalling spectacle of smoking ashes with,
[…] ‘God is avenged. Their death is the price of their crimes’?

When ruling classes lose the confidence in their own legitimacy, they start to believe in signs and wonders. Confronted with the collapse of their 500-year order of tsardom, the Romanovs put their trust in Rasputin, the first mad Monk.

When the Iran-Contra scandal broke the Reagan presidency in 1986, Ronnie and Nancy became devoted to their astrologer to tell them how to deal with Gorbachev and other world crises. (Guy Rundle)