Superstition, old wives tales, talismans, good luck charms—all used to hold real power over decision-making. Garlic protects from the evil eye and vampires. Throwing salt over your shoulder blinds the devil so he cannot steal your soul. Consciously relegated to the realm of harmless fun, these things get dragged out around Halloween and New Year’s. Though the more outrageous old practices are met with scorn, habits and attitudes reveal an underlying reliance on rituals to bring good luck.
Some of these habits make sense. Parents and caregivers know that ritual can help get children to sleep. The right blanket, stuffed animals, night light, and story provide a sense of security. As a child, I used to believe that no aspiring kidnapper could find me if I was wrapped under a blanket. My night light kept me from imagining the furniture into fantastical monsters. Although I no longer believe that a blanket will protect me from intruders, I still cannot sleep without one. Superstition still governs much of our lives. Adults still indulge in these types of beliefs. As a society, we have expanded them. There is a formula for almost everything which if not followed allows us blame ourselves or others for any misfortune that comes about. This enables us to believe that if we just stick to the script everything will be ok. A certain diet, a particular fitness class, clothing, can evade the evil and randomness of the world. Healthy habits can improve life quality, but they cannot shield us from everything. We want to think that illness will not strike our family if we only eat organic apples or that we can ward off rape with restrictive clothing. We judge other people from biases not from the rational mind. To maintain our illusion that we are safe, we have to find some flaw in the behavior of others. Those who suffer must have done something incorrectly or morally wrong. The alternative of a random, corrupt world is frightening.
As pastoral caregivers, it is important to recognize this tendency in ourselves and others. We need to remind each other that victims of violence and disease are not responsible for their situation nor are they able to simply go back to normal after a traumatic experience. Compassion includes acceptance of others where they are without blame.