Superstition Is the Word

By , September 14, 2010

I try very hard not to be superstitious, but there are times (and lately there have been many) when all empirical evidence points toward superstition as the only way to deal effectively with the universe.

Sailors have historically been an extremely superstitious lot, and on our recent sailing trip, Dave, Anke and I did our share of whistling for wind. Slacktide is a motorless sailboat; if it’s necessary to move without wind, they use a yuloh (sculling oar) or a pedal drive, an outboard motor-type affair with bicycle pedals to drive the prop. We had many long periods of no or contrary wind on the trip. Many times the favorable wind would die as soon as we raised the sails. Prevailing currents that should have been favorable became counterproductive back eddies in the little bights and coves we passed, sometimes encompassing whole passages. Before long, we had to accept the evidence before us: the Universe had turned against us!

Once we’d established this irrefutable fact, how to deal with it became our main concern. Beyond the usual sailing rituals, adapted to our particular situation (no backstays to scratch, for instance) there wasn’t much to do other than shrug, laugh, and carry on.

It became easy to understand, however, how easy it is for people to look at what’s happening, and understand, purely from a logical point of view, that something is consciously working for or against one, and see evidence that changes can be brought about by various actions to appease. Even moderns appear far less sophisticated than we’d like to think we are as soon as things stop going our way.

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