[Word count: 988. Approximate read time: 5 minutes]
When I was growing up, I often had déjà vu. I’d walk into new places and distinctly feel I’d been there before. My mother’s mother held many superstitions, so when she found out I was “having visions,” it spooked her. I was no longer allowed in her house after 6pm. Who knows what that was about?
The list goes on. Throw salt over your shoulder. Knock on wood. Don’t split the pole. If you dream about fish, it means somebody’s pregnant. If a bird flies into your house, then somebody’s gonna die. None of these things made sense then and they’re still crazy now. They seeped into the groundwater of our family’s faith though. It only made sense that when they were taught to live by the Bible, they lived it out superstitiously.
There’s a name for that: Syncretism. It’s the combining of different, and even contradictory beliefs. For instance, Voodoo is the syncretism of West African Vodun with Catholicism and other beliefs. Personally, I think my family mixes Christianity with any number of things, but they still only call it Christanity. This irks.
Memory Foam faith
Once I asked my Mom if she enjoyed Minnie Riperton back in the 70s. She said, “yeah, but I stopped listening after she died.” When I inquired why, she said with a nod to how silly it sounded, “I guess I didn’t want to die.”
Of course that’s ridiculous, but I understood the association. When I pack for a flight, I purposely exclude Aaliyah from my iPod playlist. Ridiculous, but still— no Aaliyah music on plane trips. It’s as if science had proven “Rock The Boat” causes crashes.
Yet, if I was a fan of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, or The Big Bopper, I’d have no problem playing them from L.A. to New York and back. Superstition is subjective: solid where we need support, flexible where we need comfort. It’s the Memory Foam of belief systems.
What is superstition?
Superstition is a pejorative term for belief in supernatural causality: that one event leads to the cause of another without any physical process linking the two events, such as astrology, religion, omens, witchcraft, etc., that contradicts natural science.
Stevie Wonder sang, “When you believe in things that you don’t understand, you suffer.” If you embrace a belief without even Googling it, you should at least feel a little uneasy. We run into problems when we do things without questioning them. If we do so for too long, we get “used to” that and a tradition is born.
Tradition is a belief or behavior with symbolic meaning or significance that has been passed down within a group of society. Traditions aren’t bad; they mark our history and give our cultures identity. But when we pass them on without knowing their origins, we may pass them past their expiration date. “We’ve been doing it like this forever. Why stop now?” People are creatures of habit and will keep doing things because they’re comfortable and familiar, even if they stop being functional or sensible.
Iyanla, fix my faith
My faith was once rooted in superstition and tradition. Though I know the fear in those practices is not biblical, it still persists. I’m now tasked with the work of rooting out those old habits out in order to have a purer faith.
Though any faith can be categorized as superstition, the goal is not to eradicate it, but reevaluate it when it gives rise to fearful practices like these:
- Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” The scripture is ketchup in my family. It gets slathered on everything. I wouldn’t object had it not overgrown into such a trip-line to communication. “Honey, don’t say you are tired. Say you feel tired. We don’t want to declare that over ourselves.” Ironically, hearing this correction makes me tired. That’s what’s taught at their church, but I reject it for myself. It hinders more than it helps.
- My mother taught me that if you consulted a psychic, God would curse you. She once got a psychic reading and thereafter, her young sister died from leukemia, and my father was killed on a motorcycle just hours after I was conceived. I recently asked my mother what she based this on and discovered she made a mistake. Neither of us could find a relevant “cursed with a curse” scripture having to do with psychics.
- A pastor at the family’s church recounted an example of some unfortunate happening. He began, “If my kids were to—“ and stopped, “no, I don’t want to give the devil a foothold.” If you look at Ephesians where that’s mentioned, its use here is out of context. It’s equivalent to saying, “Don’t say that. It’s bad luck.” I hate that no one recognizes this.
- An uneasy premonition made me think playing Stevie Wonder’s “Too High,” a cautionary tale about drug use, would cause a relapse in my best friend’s addiction. That’s neither sensible nor biblical. My friend’s been clean for years now. He’s a successful father with a promising medical career. Much like the irrational Aaliyah fear, Stevie’s music didn’t send my guy’s life down in flames either.
One useful scripture my mother drilled into me was: “In all thy getting, get an understanding.” If not for that foundation, I might not have the courage to challenge these interpretations of the Bible. In 2011, I left my church. Two weeks later, I lost my job. If I believed God was spiteful and vindictive, I’d have run back to church cowering. But I know God’s grace doesn’t work like that.
As the Bible says, “work out your own faith with fear and trembling.” Even people from the same religious denomination may have drastically differing rules they live by, though they all affirm these rules come from the Bible.
How about you?
- How do you decide how far is too far to stretch for a belief?
- Where do you draw the line between what is “walking in faith” vs. what is absolute lunacy?
- Were you taught any practices or beliefs as a child that you’ve had to abandon in your adulthood for sanity’s sake?
Please share your experience in the comments below!
- Am I Still a Christian? (junkyardsalvation.com)
- New Gig, Old Ghosts. (stacialbrown.com) — A refreshing piece that touches on not letting a “Word of Faith” upbringing discourage you from being honest.
- 20 Black Superstitions (newsone.com)
- Pole Splitting, Fish Dreams, & Palm Itching: Superstitions Black Folk Can’t Let Go (madamenoire.com)
- Cast Away II: Life After Leaving Church (junkyardsalvation.com)
Good read. I really love your frequent music references. This has me self examining for syncretism. Thanks for sharing it.
Glad to have stimulated your process. Let me know what you find! 🙂
I was actually just talking to my sister about the rules we grew up with. I struggled for most of my life with secular music. I grew up believing it was “the devil’s music” so I would sneak and listen to Mary and Mariah and Queen Pen and Aaliyah and Missy on my radio under my pillow at night. I felt terrible about it for most of my life until I actually read the Song of Solomon in the Bible. It was a love story. A love song. It changed my perception and I started to “work out my own faith” about it. Now, there is certain music I stay away from because of its message but I don’t cower in fear of listening to just plain ol’ GOOD MUSIC anymore.
Another “rule” had always been basically don’t do anything/go anywhere new. At least, that’s how I interpreted it. Everyone stayed painfully close to home with the same routine for decades. No one traveled. No one really had any friends outside of the church family. No one had a life. I always knew there was more to life than sitting in the same town, same house, same church year after year. College gave me the permission I needed to go and see and do. And even though I felt guilt here and there, there was SO MUCH FREEDOM! I realized I could venture into New York City and not end up raped or hit by a falling brick because I had “gone out from under God’s protection.” Don’t get me wrong, I do believe there are places that as Christians we should expose ourselves to but I also know that – as Christians, staying shut up in our homes/churches afraid of life is not how God intended for us to live. Not when everything the Bible tells me about my God and His disciples and the patriarchs was revolutionary. Fighting to be free and moving about in that God-given freedom has been the greatest gift I have given to myself.
This was long but I’m just ecstatic you wrote about this!!!!
I once read a Mary Mary interview where they stated their beliefs about secular music. Roughly paraphrased, it was, “No, it won’t send you to hell, but if that’s all you listen to, you will have a spiritual breakdown.” That was grace enough for me to relax my zero-tolerance rules and stop feeling so condemned about it. At one point, if a secular song I liked came on the radio, I really would run out of the room. This is why I believe religion can make you wacky.
I’m glad you escaped the no traveling thing though. It reminds me of that Pace Sister who admitted to Iyanla that she put off pursuing higher education because an elder at her church said “the world” couldn’t teach you anything.
LOL @ “raped or hit by a falling brick.” That’s life according to a Tyler Perry screenplay. Do anything that opposes the church, and you’ll HIV+ by the end of the movie. God is not Tyler Perry. LOL!!!
Man. This. Twin. Sheesh. Okay.
How do I decide how far is too far to stretch for a belief?
I self examine. Is it syncretism (I knew the concept not the word)? Is it fear driven? Does it make sense either with spiritual logic or physical reasoning? If it’s got negative roots, I axe it. If not, I challenge myself. I know I’ve abused the power of belief in the past through ignorance, but I’m not so ignorant as to think belief has no power. If there’s nothing negative driving it then it MUST be a challenge. How far am I willing to go? Do I even believe? That’s where I am. Basic, but it’s working for now. Helping me learn.
The line between faith and lunacy…
Well- I’m of the opinion that faith IS lunacy. From biblical definition or Webster definition. It’s crazy. But I know that crazy is what it takes to leave impact. For miracles to happen. To change the world. So, lately, I’ve been back at square one. What is faith? Like the active kind that’s reliable and DOES stuff besides sustain my belief? That’s been a series of experiments and observations and just thinking… so. TBD. Lol
Practices or beliefs that I’ve had to abandon…
Mmm. Yes, but not in the way you mean. There wasn’t really any direct thing I was taught that needed to be discarded. I was pretty smart and skeptical to discard, pick up, and discard again if necessary along the way. Lol What I DID have to toss eventually (even up to last year) was the scene of entitlement that I adopted along with all that. My story is one ahead of the curve, and so I expected things to flow a certain way and when they didn’t I casually filled in the gaps with my own substitutes and left God out. Until… I discovered that I tried spiritual alchemy on God, but He refused to become my genie. Faith doesn’t out God on my chain or make Him dance under my whip. Which… is kind of how church presents it. Hard lesson to learn.
Which feeds back into the faith question above…
And… yeah. That felt somewhat ramblish, but amen. Lol Great post!! I loved it.
Way to put the actual process into a succinct plan of action. This actually helped me process a couple things when I first read it! I’m surprised you weren’t taught to discard anything in particular. Your mom seems like a strongly principled woman! As for your sense of entitlement, I’ve been there. I think life experiences where things don’t flow the way you expect them to helps iron out those wrinkles.
I’m sure you’re still researching the best way to keep superstition out of your faith, so if you make any brilliant discoveries, by all means, let me know! 🙂
I’ll be honest. I’m still battling superstition. I got into an accident that totaled my car at the end of September. And now I feel averse to hearing James Blake’s “Retrograde” because of the “suddenly I’m hit” line in the chorus. Ridiculous, yes I know. But for now, I still favor safe over sorry. Even if the danger is only imagined.
Great post. Finally, it feels so close to me. I often have superstitions. A couple of months a go. I saw a dead birth on my balcony. When I saw it I felt to lazy to remove it. A couple of days later I found a box to put the dead bird in. I went to the balcony to remove the bird. Guess what, the bird was gone. In the same week or a week after: my grandmother died.
I also have this thing with ladybugs. They are in my house often. Whenever I notice one. The same day or a day after: something good happens 🙂 :-).
I do believe in those signs. My dad past away when I was 17. Sometimes I just feel him around me. Especially in my house.
Who knows if there’s any connection to these things. Sometimes I think one element is supernaturally influencing another. Most days, those same things seem as separate as east and west. But I hope we understand one day. Truly.
Thank you for reading and sharing your experience!
Great read! Warning, this may be long lol. I was searching Google for Christian superstions because late last year I realized I’ve been taught some and upheld them in my own life. The process of unlearning these things has led me towards real solid doctrine and pushed me to leave the church I had attended for years. I used to look down my nose a bit at people who were superstitious, Christian or otherwise, so it’s kinda funny that I was superstitious in my own ways. I guess the main one that comes to mind is the belief that some objects have demons attached to them. I recall a roommate in college gifting me with a wand she bought from the Harry Potter section of Universal Studios. I didn’t have any use for it but figured I may sell it on eBay at some point, so I kept it in my closet when I came home on winter break. Well my mom saw it one day when she was looking for old Christmas decorations and she said she had a dream of something evil coming out of my closet previously and told me to throw it out. When I told her I wanted to sell it she said “No, nobody should have that thing! You have to throw it out OUTSIDE!” At the time I believed that maybe it was possessed and she was right. But now, not so much. There’s no foundation in the Bible for anything like that. Another superstition I was taught and believed was the whole positive/negative confession thing you mentioned. I even recall denying I had a cold one time for fear of canceling out my faith for the healing I was “confessing over myself”…ludicrous! I told my husband recently to stop saying “I plead the blood of Jesus” in his prayers because it’s nothing but an unbiblical mantra, no different from silly incantations that are used in the occult. I have also totally changed my views on Halloween as there is nothing evil about costumes and candy any day of the year and a Oct 31st doesn’t have any spiritual power that suddenly corrupts them.
Thank you so much for your comment! Seems like we’ve had VERY similar experiences. So kudos to you for seeking out resources that solidified your doctrine. I hope my writing supported that process along the way. And if you have any resources you can share with me, by all means, PLEASE do! Stuff like this makes me want to write more often!
So thanks a million.
Mark, you continue to amaze me with your thoughtfulness and insight. If there IS a God (which as you know, I have some doubts about), I can not believe that “He” would be concerned with what music moves you or whether or not you spill the salt. I envision God as a presence that encompasses everything – and that unites all of us. That presence should only bring joy – not worry. The divine” is experienced in different ways by different people, but we all have a yearning for it.
(By the way, I really have trouble with the pronoun used to mean God. I can’t imagine that the presence I envision is male or female, but “it” seems too impersonal. We need a special pronoun to mark something so unique.)