The Oldest Beliefs in the World

Tutor: Dr. ALEC GILL MBE, BSc. MSc. Author, psychologist, DvD producer, broadcaster, folk historian, University lecturer and public speaker.

I entered the topic of superstition from a background of scepticism. My parents were not particularly superstitious (nor religious). Although my dad was a seafarer, he sailed on 'big boats' (cargo ships), not trawlers. While conducting interviews with the Hessle Road fishing families of Hull, they mentioned superstitions. Initially I ignored them as nonsense and my academic training dismissed them as ridiculous. But when a set of taboos were central to a life-and-death story, I was forced to note them down. Then I began to compile a list of them. This grew and grew. I began to ask questions and ponder their origins and purpose. 

This work then became my largest book to date - 'SUPERSTITIONS: Folk Magic in Hull's Fishing Community'. Indeed, it is this subject more than any other which has resulted in me being asked to appear on television in the UK and USA. I started a sceptic and now I am a specialist on superstitions - is that a stroke of Good Luck?

Every generation since the dawn of time has written off superstition as being nonsensical and about to 'kick the bucket'. Yet taboos keep springing back to life. Why do primitive omens survive in the Age of Science? Superstitions are many-sided: silly and serious, illogical and practical, Pagan and Christian. The ancient omens once touched every aspect of daily life: in the home; at birth, marriage & death (hatched, matched and dispatched); animals; and women in particular are the centre of many home-spun rituals. Audiences all seem to relate to  'touching wood' and avoiding ladders. It is interesting how primitive rituals are passed on to the next generation. Superstitions are universal. They are the 'oldest beliefs in the world' and, I believe, will outlive all the major religions of today - perhaps even science.

TOPICS INCLUDE: [Note: Below is the outline of my former adult residential college course that I often presented during the 1990s - but no longer do so. Nevertheless, it provides a good guide to this section of my website.


WELCOME: To each other and the topic.

bulletHOME, SWEET OMENS: Fun meander through a Victorian household from door-step to chimney-pot. Every homely object possesses its own folklore mystery. Mealtimes too are full of 'magic' - especially the English cuppa tea.
bulletHATCHED, MATCHED & DISPATCHED: Childhood / Wedding / Funeral beliefs. Every stage of life is saturated in superstition.
bulletRABBIT'S FOOT: Animal and pet superstitions. Humans have a strong identity with their fellow creatures on this tiny planet. Naturally, we wrapped them in our own superstitious beliefs - perhaps in an attempt to control them.
bulletWHISTLING WOMAN: Mimic magic at the kitchen sink. Women had power over the elements. The deep female dimension dates back to Goddess worship and witchcraft.
bulletLUCKY FOR SOME: Friday 13th., Eastertide and other seasonal events on the Taboo Calendar. The Last Supper or Moon Magic?
bulletBIBLE & SUPERSTITION: Church v. Pagan beliefs - Amen or Omen? Superstitions were rarely written down. Their strength came from the oral tradition - not the written word. Indeed, it was sacrilegious to write down inner beliefs.
bulletSCIENCE v. SUPERSTITION: Will ancient taboos boldly go where no beliefs have gone before? Science loves certainty. Superstition loves uncertainty.
bulletRELATED TABOOS: Royal Family Rituals / Body Parts / Greenery / Money / Seasonal / Numbers / Medicinal / Children's Games / Occupational taboos: Fishing; Theatrical; Farming; Mining, and Space Travellers / Old-time sayings.
The Superstitions page was last updated on 08 June 2011