Three Stories on Myth and Superstition

Photo by Michael Coghlan CCBY 2.0

This Friday, May 13th, is the only “Friday the 13th” in 2016. To celebrate, here are three stories that explore myth and superstition, including the history and persistence of “sympathetic magic,” the sheer range of human superstitions, and the strange disappearance that coincided with an 11-year Stanley Cup drought for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“Very Superstitious.” (Colin Dickey, Lapham’s Quarterly, Summer, 2012)

At Lapham’s Quarterly, Colin Dickey mines the history of “sympathetic magic” to uncover why superstitions persist to this day. “Even aware of the fallaciousness of such belief, Plato seemed hesitant to ignore it altogether, and the Laws goes on to advise that while white magic is perfectly acceptable, any professional diviner or prophet suspected of “doing mischief by the practice of spells, charms, incantations, or other such sorceries” be put to death, while an amateur practitioner should pay a fine.”

“How Superstition Works.” (Stuart Vyse, The Atlantic, October 22nd, 2013)

At The Atlantic, Stuart Vyse looks at superstition in politics, sports, education, and gambling in a post adapted from his book, Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition. “Some students used more common talismans, such as rabbit’s feet, dice, and coins, as well as teddy bears and other cuddly toys. In this category the Albases reported one particularly unusual case. A young male student would not take an exam unless he had “found” a coin, which he interpreted as a sign of good luck. As a result, he would search for a coin on the day of an exam, often wasting precious study time “scrounging around bus stops” until he was successful—even at the risk of being late to the exam.”

“Lost Leaf ‘Bashin’ Bill Barilko a Canadian Myth.” (Megan O’Toole, The National Post, September 3rd, 2011)

In 1951, Bill Barilko’s game-winning goal won the Toronto Maple Leafs the Stanley Cup. Later that summer, he disappeared — starting a Stanley Cup drought for the Leafs that went on for 11 years — ending only after they discovered Barilko’s body. The Leafs went on to win four of six Stanley cups from 1962 – 1967. The team hasn’t won hockey’s greatest trophy since. Read this intriguing story by Megan O’Toole at The National Post.