Do you want to know why there are no werewolves nearby? I string up bulbs of garlic whenever there is a full moon. And it works — I never ever hear a howl at night: so garlic obviously keeps them away. I also bang a couple of rusty cans together every 21 days at noon for 10 seconds: that works equally well.
I’d like to think that even a young child could see the problems wth the logic here. But there are many adults who are superstitious, and honestly believe in astrology and celestial influences on our lives.
I have a bit of a problem understanding a causal connection between how stars billions of miles apart can be anthropomorphised into mythological symbols, random patterns of which are superimposed on groups of stars. As the sun tracks across some of these groups during the course of a calendar year, this is claimed to exert an influence on our lives, past and future. And all this flows from the relative configurations at the moment of our birth.
Some people are fervent believers in astrology, and claim that there really is “something in it.” But even those who purport not to believe in astrology or horoscopes sometimes admit to taking a peek at their daily horoscope in the newspaper. I still smile when a past astrologer for the UK newspaper, The Sun, was sacked for lazily re-issuing horoscopes published in previous years: the editor began the letter of dismissal “As you will no doubt have foreseen….”
As every popular newspaper publishes horoscopes, I’m left wondering why we never see a newspaper headline: “Our astrologer scoops lottery jackpot!”
One of the common factors that sometimes undermines the quality of our life is the belief that we are not in control of it. Many people assume that external influences — people and events — really do shape our lives. Even those who claim not to be superstitious nonetheless avoid spilling salt, walking under ladders, and stay safely at home on Friday 13th — “just in case there might be something in it”.
But for those of us with a more rational perspective, a couple of interesting research studies recently helped to dispel some cherished beliefs. And one in particular confronted one celestial phenomena that even rational people consider has some sort of influence over us — the moon. Although few believe that the full moon transforms normal human beings into werewolves (thank goodness for the protective powers of garlic), we do know it influences the tides. And many feel that the full moon does have some sort of influence. That has just been tested.
Some 5,000 children from five continents, from a wide range of backgrounds, were surveyed to ascertain whether the full moon really did have an effect. The results were unequivocal. It didn’t. The only empirical outcome was that the subjects slept less: 1% were affected.
I also conducted a small social experiment with a Facebook group, when Mercury was in “retrograde”. This is where Mercury appears to reverse its track across the sky for a few days (or nights) and then resumes its usual course. It occurs due to the relative changes in viewing the annual orbit of Mercury which revolves around the sun in 88 days, and that of our earth’s 365 days. Astrologers often claim that such a rare event (it happens once every few decades) was fraught! This event was a harbinger of doom-laden malevolence raining down on us. So I thought I would test this.
I asked a small sample of 100 people on a Facebook group to which I belonged, whether the previous day had been normal for them, or worse than normal. Mercury was in retrograde the previous day but I did not mention Mercury or its orbit. About one person in seven said the day was worse than normal: 17%. When I repeated the question a few weeks later, the response was about the same: 17% said the day was worse than normal. So the results showed that the orbit of Mercury was hardly a cataclysmic day from hell.
Somewhat ironically, I incurred some not inconsiderable stress on the day Mercury was in retrograde: my laptop kept booting up in “safe mode’ -and it took a few frustrating hours’ investigating the problem, which merely turned out to be a ‘stuck’ shift key. The more superstitious of those to whom I mentioned this said it was due to the malevolent influence of Mercury. I chose to conclude that I saw no reason to assume this was a portent of celestial Armageddon from the gods.
Meanwhile, let’s all have a big party to celebrate the doom-laden arrival of the imaginatively named”Planet X”, aka Nibiru, which has been prophesied to smash into Earth this weekend, on Saturday 23rd September. If anyone believes this really is going to happen, can you let me have all your possessions? Well, you won’t be needing them…