and two tailed lizards...
We've all heard of superstitions, oldwives' tales, sayings, myths, and legends... Where do they come from and how have they persisted through the centuries? I certainly don't know how they originated nor how they continue to perpetuate. As anyone who visits these pages regularly already knows... I am not shy about sharing my thoughts or questions about the nature of these subjects.
Christianity vs. SuperstitionAmerican culture, like many western cultures, is permeated with Christian tradition while simultaneously entertaining a benign interest in superstition. Expressions like "good luck," "good fortune," "best wishes," "knock on wood," "don't walk under a ladder," "crows are bad luck..." and many more are not uncommon in this society. I even remember clergy quite innocently wishing someone "good luck." I never paid much attention to the conflict of these beliefs or the paradox the co-existing beliefs represented, until a Korean friend of mine who was trying desperately to learn English and understand American culture asked me a perplexing question -- "how does a country that is 'Christian' recognize superstition...?" He was raised Catholic (in Korea) and was taught that a belief in superstition was a problem, because from what he understood about his religion, if one believes in God there cannot be superstition and any belief in superstition is to doubt one's religion (Catholicism). I found this to be a perplexing question, because I understood what he meant , yet at the same time, I understood how superstition co-exists in European-American culture. I really couldn't give him an explanation of how the belief in Christianity and superstition in this culture could be reconciled. There seem to be many points where the two seem to come together such as "Halloween," "All Saints Day" and in some countries "Day of the Dead."
Two-tailed Lizards?Pondering my own encounters with superstition and mysticism, I remember my mother once mentioned that in the Italian countryside where she was raised, two-tailed lizards were considered to be very lucky for anyone who could catch one. They are quite rare, but she said that one of my uncles had caught one and that "...good fortune has followed him ever since." When I was a kid, I remember a rabbit's foot was considered "lucky" -- apparently not for the rabbit though. I also remember reading stories about magic swords, sorcerers and all sorts of romanticized "mythical" magic. The Catholic Church has a whole industry built around saints commemorated in cards, medallions and figurines. Some of these saints are specialists -- in that they serve special functions and help those of us with special needs -- such as St. Jude who helps "hopeless cases" or St. Benedict who among other things is the patron of the homeless or those in need, or St. Francis of Assisi, protects animals. Do Catholics pray to the saints? Catholics argue that they "pray with the saints." Other Christians believe this practice to be a form of idolatry. Personally, I was raised with saints as part of my religion so I don't really have a problem with the position that saints hold within my religion, but I can certainly understand that others may not share my viewpoint.
A Gift of CrystalSeveral years ago a friend of mine gave me a small crystal as a gift. He also gave me a book describing what crystals were [supposedly] capable of doing. According to the book, crystals have all sorts of "mystical" powers. The book indicates that a crystal can attract various energies and is capable of channeling that energy as desired by its owner. Sounds pretty amazing, but then again, I certainly can't say that they don't have that ability; I try to keep an open mind about such things. Apparently God imbued quartz crystals with the ability to pulsate in such a way that they are used in electronics, watches and computers for their time keeping characteristics, so who am I to say that they don't have more characteristics. Everyday some new phenomenon is discovered that may have been considered an impossibility just a few years before -- for instance, prior to DSL, it was believed that the copper wire in our homes would never be suitable to allow a computer to connect to the Internet at more than 128k! Since then, DSL and other methods have proven that previous "scientific" belief wrong. I won't go into my television argument again -- it's available in issue 1.
What about shamans, fortune-tellers and so-called psychics....Well, the popular exotic psychic with the Jamaican accent, Miss Cleo was discovered to be an American lady born in Los Angeles, California... She lured people to call her 900 numbers for "free" psychic readings that ended up costing the callers a great deal of money. There are many "Miss Cleo"-like psychics out there. They will gladly charge a customer some significant cash to give them a "psychic reading." I am not saying that they are all less than genuine. I believe in fact that there are a certain number of "mystics" who truly believe in what they are doing and ask for little or nothing in return. For instance years ago a psychologically conflicted individual that I knew sincerely believed that a "magic spell" had been placed upon him. He had been in and out of psychiatric care but the notion of "magic spells" simply would not go away. The friend had frequented bogus psychics who had divested him of much of his savings, and had done nothing to help the situation... A relative of the person told me that he was once again about to spend money on bogus psychics and wanted to know if I could help to prevent this? The treating psychiatrist did not endorse nor discourage these psychic visits but then again California Law is very bad concerning controlling psychiatric patients -- the ideology allows for something called "patient rights" which require that the patient be allowed to choose their treatment. This is a fine notion when the patient's brain is functioning properly, however it presents quite a paradox when the mechanism that needs the treatment (the brain) is the same mechanism which must choose the treatment -- these laws are probably the reason for a large portion of the "homeless" who wander the streets carrying on conversations and sometimes arguing with "invisible" individuals.
The Lone Pine Medicine ManAnyway back to the recounting of my friend's search for a psychic... I asked some acquaintances if they knew anyone who called himself or herself a "psychic" and sincerely believed in what they were doing and had no interest in payment. A good friend of mine came through with a telephone number of a Native American "medicine man" or shaman who lived in Lone Pine, California -- about 4 hours north of Los Angeles. I called the shaman and asked him, if he would be willing to help my friend. He said that it was his purpose to help those who sought him out. I asked him, how much it would cost and he said that he did not require payment, but he did like a certain brand of tobacco! That was the answer that I wanted to hear. I figured that at least he believed in his calling... which was a lot more than I could say for the bogus "psychics" who had cost my friend his entire savings.
When someone believes in what they are doing it makes a difference. My friend visited the Shaman's reservation and met with him after his exit from a sweat lodge. The Shaman confirmed my friend's "demons" -- perhaps metaphorically or semantically but the Shaman saw that my friend was troubled by these beliefs, so he simply told my friend that he would make them go away...
My friend was very happy and was calmed by the experience. The ride home was much better. The friend however still needed psychiatric care, but the psychiatrist did notice a little improvement.
The mind is a strange and fantastic part of the human being. The positive that it is capable of producing is infinite, as is the negative. Thoughts and beliefs materialize in action, invention, creation and sometimes destruction. Thoughts are more than the ether. They are as tangible as we believe them to be.
Gigliotti, Lorenzo. "Crystals, shamans and two tailed lizards...." The Random Times
The quixotic mind of Lorenzo Gigliotti
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