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Published on May 4, 2007
A superstition is the belief that events are influenced by specific behaviors, without having a causal relationship.
Superstitions are based on general, culturally variable beliefs in a supernatural "reality". Depending on a given culture's belief set, its superstitions may relate to things that are not fully understood or known, such as cemeteries, animals, demons, a devil, deceased ancestors, the weather, ripping one's sock, gambling, sports, food, holidays, occupations, excessive scrupulosity, death, luck, and/or spirits. Urban legends are also sometimes classed as superstition, especially if the moral of the legend is to justify fears about socially alien people or conditions.
In keeping with the Latin etymology of the word, religious believers have often seen other religions as superstition. Likewise, atheists, agnostics, deists, and skeptics regard religious belief as superstition. (Edmund Burke, the Irish orator, once said, "Superstition is the religion of feeble minds".) From the broadest perspective, all religion is a form of superstition.
Religious practices are most likely to be labelled "superstitious" by outsiders when they include belief in extraordinary events, an afterlife, supernatural interventions, apparitions or the efficacy of prayer, charms, incantations, the meaningfulness of omens, and prognostications.
Greek and Roman pagans, who modeled their relations with the gods on political and social terms scorned the man who constantly trembled with fear at the thought of the gods, as a slave feared a cruel and capricious master. "Such fear of the gods (deisidaimonia) was what the Romans meant by 'superstition' (Veyne 1987, p 211).