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Living with Superstition

My mother has studied Feng Shui, the belief that a place's energy can be altered by careful rearrangement of its elements, for nearly three decades. When I was growing up, she moved the position of my bed whenever I had a major exam coming up.

(I was a bad student -- the operative term is, "lazy". I got one A out of nine subjects in my college entrance exams. She tried.)

She practices it quite faithfully, but refrains from doing more with it than personal uses. As she tells me, "It's not that I am selfish, but helping others takes a strong will." If she used it for anything bigger -- sick children, the hungry poor, saving the world, the karma related to each act would grow. She believes that. She believes that if you don't help people, it reflects on you as a human being. But if you do help them, anything you do is on you. If you mess something up, somewhere, that responsibility, that karma, is yours.

It's why she fused our everyday life with Feng Shui, but it never left our front door. It helped her understand life -- why good people get sick children, why the poor go hungry and why we'd all like to save the world, but we can't.

Superstition is like that. If you're a skeptic living in an environment that's all about people sharing a fantasy that helps make them feel better and understand life, you don't go out of your way to burst any bubbles. That's how society works. You learn to respect the rules, and play them by rote.

The story I'll be reading tomorrow at Borderlands is like that. It's a story about an exorcism -- my uncle's to be exact. I witnessed it when I was in my early twenties. There are no spinning heads, no talking in tongues. But it is about a collective experience growing up Malaysian, and how much superstition pervades our everyday lives. It is about how a group of people, coming together to build a fantasy, can make it real in the most practical, normal ways.

So, c'mon. Borderlands. 866 Valencia Street, between 19th and 20th in San Francisco, at 3 - 4:30PM. If you're in town, there's beignets around the corner, comicbooks and a honey store too. I'll be there, and lots of weird folks and those weird folks I call my friends will be there. Join us. We'll make our collective experience real.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 9th, 2009 10:02 pm (UTC)
That would be interesting!
I live in Northern Italy, but my grandmothers are both from Southern Italy so I can assert that Southern Italy too is kind of bound to superstition :O

As you said, "you don't go out of your way to burst any bubbles". But sometimes I really can't understand how people can be so subjugated by superstition (._.)
Oct. 10th, 2009 01:18 am (UTC)
I didn't know that about Southern Italy! What sorts of superstitions do they have there? :)

It's very interesting to me how, the more religious a place is, the more prone they are to be superstitious too. Faith in the supernatural, whether that revolves around gods or spirits/magic, go hand in hand.

I think that actually says a lot about how religion works. We need ways to explain things we don't know, and continually make up explanations because we're afraid of the things we don't know.
Oct. 10th, 2009 01:48 pm (UTC)
Here's an example, I think it's the most "esoteric" one.

Sometimes it happens that a person just catches a headache with no apparent reason.
Superstition says you've been charmed by somebody. Maybe they made a thought about you or something.
They take a bowl and put some water in it. Then they add oil. If oil, that would normally float on water, sinks then they say you've really been charmed.
Then, to take this headache away, people who know a specific "prayer" whisper that to themselves and the headache goes away. At least that's what they say :)
Oct. 9th, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC)

The other day I tried to explain the concept of karma to some rather, shall we say, uncomplicated thinkers. The idea of karma that your mother subscribes to, to be precise. They were very upset to hear it because, in their JudeoChristian Western world, people are punished for doing bad and people are rewarded for doing good. They couldn't even conceive of a spiritual system where people weren't punished, eye for an eye. I'm not sure if that's worse or not.

Anyway, break a leg at the reading! :D

Oct. 10th, 2009 06:38 am (UTC)
Karma really is one of those tricky subjects. I've had the same experience explaining it to people from the Judeo-Christian-Islamic spectrum. Eventually, they think you're deliberately obfuscating.

When faced with, as we say, 'uncomplicated thinkers', there's a high risk that they'll interpret karma as this system of punishment. Do good, and you will get good. Do bad deeds, and you will receive bad things. Except instead of God or angels, it's like life deliberately goes out of its way to punish you. Breaking down the idea that the universe isn't listening to them is hard.

That said, thank you! We totally have to meet up when you're next in town. I'm still sorry I dropped the ball the last time you were in. :D
Oct. 10th, 2009 01:11 am (UTC)
I wish I could! :(
Oct. 10th, 2009 06:38 am (UTC)
I wished you could too, pet. :(
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )