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Superstition is a pejorative term for any belief or practice that is considered irrational[1] or supernatural: for example, if it arises from ignorance, a misunderstanding of science or causality, a positive belief in fate or magic, or fear of that which is unknown. It is commonly applied to beliefs and practices surrounding luck, prophecy, and certain spiritual beings, particularly the belief that future events can be foretold by specific (apparently) unrelated prior events.[2] The word superstition is often used to refer to a religion not practiced by the majority of a given society regardless of whether the prevailing religion contains alleged superstitions.[2]

The superstitious practice of placing a rusty nail in a lemon is believed to ward off the evil eye and evil in general, as detailed in the folklore text Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from Utah.[3]

Due to the pejorative implications of the term, items referred to in common parlance as superstition are commonly referred to as folk belief in folkloristics.[4]

Etymology of Superstition

The word “superstition” comes from the Latin super-stare, usually translated as “to stand over,” but there is some disagreement over how to properly interpret its intended meaning. Some argue that it originally connoted “standing over” something in amazement, but it has also been suggested that it meant “surviving” or “persisting,” as in the persistence of irrational beliefs. Still, others say it meant something like overzealousness or extremism in one’s religious beliefs or practices.

Several Roman authors, including Livy, Ovid, and Cicero, used the term in the latter sense, distinguishing it from religio, meaning a proper or reasonable religious belief. A similar distinction has been employed in modern times by writers such as Raymond Lamont Brown, who wrote, 

“Superstition is a belief, or system of beliefs, by which almost religious veneration is attached to things mostly secular; a parody of religious faith in which there is belief in an occult or magic connection.”

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