Today, as scientific knowledge increases, many of the old superstitions have died away but even now, many of us hold core beliefs that are as irrational as any believed by “primitive man”. Some delusions are still clung to, such as a drowning man goes down three times, or milk is soured by thunder.
The following are examples of stories and beliefs that many of us still adhere to without foundation.
FRIGHT CURES HICCUPS
An English sportsman, John Mytton (1796-1834) nearly killed himself trying to cure his hiccups by setting fire to his nightshirt. Whilst nobody knows if his hiccups stopped or not, there is no reason to support the idea that fright cured them. Nor does drinking out of the wrong side of a glass, or holding breath. Jack O’Leary of California suffered hiccups for eight years and tried 60,000 suggested cures – none of which worked. He claimed finally to have been cured by a prayer to St Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Hiccups are spasms of the diaphragm and generally disappear of their own accord. It is certainly safer to let an attack pass than risk the effects of a sudden fright which is responsible for killing far more people.
SURVIVING EXECUTION BY HANGING
It was once commonly believed, although not supported by law, that if a man could be revived after hanging, he was free to go. There were occasions when this was successful, although in the case of house breaker, Jack Sheppard, the crowds were so dense that all attempts at rescuing him failed. In 1885, John Lee had been found guilty of murdering his employer Emma Keyse by cutting her throat and setting fire to her house. Three attempts were made to hang him, all of which failed because the boards of the trapdoor had been warped by rain the previous night. His sentence was therefore commuted to life imprisonment and he was released 23 years later. This was however, a humane gesture by the Home Secretary and not an established law of the land which stated a prisoner should be “hanged by the neck until dead”. There were no provisos for a sporting chance if the equipment failed or if he could be revived.
CINDERELLA WORE GLASS SLIPPERS
Every child is told the story of Cinderella and her impractical footwear. It was not, however, always the case. In the original French version of the story, she wore pantoufles en vair – slippers of fur or white ermine. These were used only by royalty and therefore fitting for her new-found status. By the 14th century, the word “vair” had gone out of use, so when Charles Perrault rewrote the story in 1697, he mistook “vair” for “verre” or glass and so to us and the French, Cinderella’s slippers will always be made of glass.
LIGHTNING NEVER STRIKES TWICE
Clearly untrue as lightning often strikes prominent buildings over and over again. In its first decade, the Empire State building was struck 68 times and many British churches with their tall steeples have been hit repeatedly too over the years. For this reason, tall buildings have lightning conductors which helps discharge into the air before strikes result in a discharge into the earth.
MEMORIES OF YOUR LIFE FLASH BEFORE YOU AT THE MOMENT OF DEATH
The action replay of your life in the moments before death is often used to great effect in film. There are numerous cases, however, where people have been saved from the brink of death without experiencing this. In most cases they were only concerned at finding a way out of their predicament or so terrified their minds went blank.
It is difficult to credit that under those circumstances, the brain could select key events from your life and place them together so rapidly that a complete sequence is created in a matter of seconds. The brain would also have to predict the future moment of death to decide when to start the lightning playback, which it is not equipped to do.
IT IS RAINING CATS AND DOGS
Okay! Nobody believes that cats and dogs fall from the sky so where did this saying originate? In Scandinavia, cats are associated with storms and wolves and dogs are associated with the wind. Thus, raining cats and dogs is an imported expression meaning heavy rain and wind.