America's superstitious obsession with forecasting the future.
Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina
Not Out of Africa also did a good job of debunking the wacky beliefs of the Shriners/Masons.
Years ago, on CNN, I saw Pat Buchanan interview a defrocked Catholic priest who led a church in the District of Columbia. When asked about a church icon depicting Jesus as black, he stated that He was, indeed, black. His proof? During the reign of Augustus the Levant was considered to be Africa. QED.
Having worked for many years on construction sites with an inordinate number of drunks, drug addicts and otherwise unhandy people, I am a great believer in not walking under ladders, even when unoccupied as some tend to leave their tools dangling up there.
Masks were a stroke of brilliance for the grifters. They tend to cause a marked increase in CO2 retention and prevent a certain amount of oxygen intake, thereby creating ideal conditions for fuzzy thinking and increased anxiety.
Authentic superstitions–the ones handed down from our ancestors–are a means of making sense of the dangerous world in which we live. Mary Douglas’s once famous book on Ritual and Danger makes this point very clearly in regard to such things as Kosher laws, which have nothing to do with food safety.
Dr. Fleming has gone too far this time–disparaging leprechauns! What’s next, banshees? And to think Tom Fleming is a Douglas County boy. There may be a McGrath, Riley, McGeraghty, McDonnell, Garrity, or McDonald, looking for you.
I always assumed that the large amount of superstitious practices coming from nautical professions were tied to sailors being so clearly at the mercy of the powerful and unpredictable sea. From knocking on wood to never going to sea on Friday to the elaborate ceremony of Crossing the Line, there’s more than a fair share of superstitions and rituals on the bounding main. The other big superstition I’ve run across comes from when I was an usher at the Shakespeare Festival and learned about “The Scottish Play” precaution. On a smaller level, I remember we would wear “rally caps” and such things in little league baseball to try to keep a hitting streak alive, but it was mostly so we could goof off and wear our hats in dumb ways and had little sincere belief behind it.
Regarding Punxsutawney Phil, though, we stopped in hi hometown for a quick look on our way to the Summer School, and I have to say he pulls his weight and then some in financial terms. Has a tiny little cave bear ever been one of the economic foundations of a community before? Because they definitely make a lot of money off that groundhog!
Far from disparaging leprechauns, I respect them where they actually exist–in Ireland. My wife makes fun of me for insisting that, when we were staying at the foot of Mt. Pelion for a week and d riving around the mountain, I saw centaurs. The one set of superstitions in America I respect are those of the miscalled Native Americans. I sometimes fear that like, the aliens in the OT who were moved into the Promised Land during the Captivity, we are being punished by the old gods of the land–and wicked gods they were indeed. In Canada we have seen the art of both the Ojibwe and the so-called Inouit. In our wall of horror otherwise known as the sunroom, we have a variety of grotesques including an Ojibwe mask that is terrifying for its blankness. When I see these things, I am struck by what a nightmare world these people lived in. Leprechauns and even banshees seem particularly benign by contrast.
PS My aunt Catherine married a McDonald. He was a nice man and a rum bird, but a far cry from the MacDonalds and MacDonnels of yore. My old friend Mike Hill wrote a find book on Sorley Boy MacDonell and his resistance to the wicked English Queen Elizabeth.
PPS The only Disney movie I ever enjoyed was Darby O’Gill and the Little People, starring a young Sean Connery.
There is an argument that leprechauns have a connection to reality in ancient Ireland. When the Gaels arrived–beginning about 300 BC, they easily conquered the original inhabitants of Ireland and banished them to the bogs and forests. Those original inhabitants were said to be a far smaller people than the conquering Gaels and had to survive by their wits and guile. During the next century they were assimilated or died off and hundreds of years later were remember as the clever wee folk–leprechauns–who inhabited bogs, caves, and woods.
Prof. McGrath’s comment on Ireland reminds me of Jean Raspail’s theory, in his Who Will Remember the People, of why the Kaweskar wound up all the way down on the all but uninhabitable tip of Tierra del Fuego. He hypothesized that they were simply too small and gentle so were driven progressively south by far more aggressive tribes, ending up in territory that practically none were clever enough to inhabit, except them.