Why do we believe in superstitions?

(Originally published on 06/07/2020)

We as human beings are creatures of habit and as we all know it takes repetition for any habits to stick. Do you know what else sticks due to repetition? Our belief in religions and superstitions.

For this week I would like to recount a childhood story of mine that involves holy water. I grew up in a country where the vast majority of the population practices Buddhism. So, naturally I was raised with Buddhist customs and beliefs. Although I was never really a big believer in religion, it still played a major part of my childhood life.

As I’ve mentioned in my earlier post, it was only when I turned 16 that I learned to start questioning my belief system, which led me to become an agnostic and eventually an atheist. However, I still find myself struggling to unlearn some of the superstitions that were ingrained in me from a young age.

Holy water

It became a lot more obvious when I noticed this small bottle of mineral water, with its seal still intact, that has been sitting in my room for the past 3 years. The bottle originally came from a Buddhist temple my parents visited when they were here in Singapore for my convocation in 2017. Upon their return from the temple, my dad handed me the bottle and said it was blessed by a Buddhist monk so it obviously contains “holy water”. So, he asked me to keep it with me for good luck and fortune, and I did!

Over the past 3 years, I have moved around a couple of times and I still made an effort to bring that little bottle with me everywhere I went. It never crossed my mind to pop it open and drink it even when it’s the only thing I have left to drink at times. At the same time, I never had the heart to just toss it in the trash. Go figure!

I finally came to a conclusion that I was subconsciously saving it for that one rainy day when I would be down in the dump and I would need saving from a supernatural force.

No matter how much I like to tell people about my atheistic stance on religion, I still catch myself believing in superstitions that I was told as a kid. I still believe to this day that that bottle of water actually contains holy water and that I could drink it to potentially turn my luck around on my darkest day. 

Can holy water fend off nightmares?

In addition, there is another reason why I have such an attachment to the aforementioned bottle of “holy water”. I must have been about 7 or 8 when it happened. There was an incident when my sister and my cousin tried to help me get rid of my nightmare when we were just kids.

As a kid, I used to sleep with my parents but on that particular evening they weren’t home. So, my sisters decided to keep me company since I was afraid of the dark and ghosts as a kid. However, I had trouble falling asleep as my mind kept thinking about ghosts and other horrible stuff kids usually conjure up in their sleep.

I told my sisters that I couldn’t sleep and that I was having nightmares although I hadn’t fallen asleep at all. The first thing my sisters thought of doing was to bring me up to a prayer room, (yes, every Buddhist household in Myanmar has a room dedicated for praying and meditating usually decorated with statues and images of Buddha with fancy lights and flowers), and pray the nightmares away. They brought me upstairs wrapped in a blanket with my elder sister leading the way and my cousin tailing behind. When we made it into the prayer room they both started praying for me so that “the devil” that’s transmitting nightmares into my head would leave me alone and at the end of the ordeal they gave me some holy water to drink.

It’s all very funny in retrospect, but at the time it felt like I was going through a crisis and my sisters were the only people there to get me out of it. I can’t remember exactly whether it worked or not but to this day I remember the incident vividly as it plays out in my memory. It puts a smile on my face every time I think of it.

This got me thinking about how I still cling on to my childhood beliefs even though I stopped believing in god a decade before. Ultimately, what I realized is that you can’t switch off that part of your brain that processes all of your religious beliefs even when you decide to leave your religion behind. It takes years to forget something you learnt to be the absolute truth as a kid.

If there’s one thing you take away from this post, I would like it to be this. Think twice before you introduce any ideology to your kids. Let them grow up to an age when they can decide to pick up any beliefs of their choice.

They would still love you unconditionally despite the lack of religious beliefs.

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