Friday, March 16, 2012

Ritual and Superstition

Thinking about the relationship between ritual and superstition.  Clearly some rituals are non-superstitious.  No one thinks that not getting together for Thanksgiving will invite bad luck.  The ritual is culturally enforced, but has clear and explicit social goods (enforcing unity, allowing a time for rest and rejuvenation,...) completely explainable without resort to anything that one would classify superstitious. 

One often hears the claim that athletes are the most superstitious people around.  It's an empirical claim, don't know if it is true.  But, I was a lacrosse goalie for many years and up through the end of my playing days as a college student, I had an intricate pre-game ritual.  Before the game the two teams line up with goalie at the end facing each other to receive instructions from the referees.  this ended when they said "goalies cross" at which point the two goalies met in the middle for a handshake which signaled the rest of the players to do so and then the game would start.

I would always sprint to the middle to make the other goalie come to me.  I would then sprint down to my goal with my stick in my right hand.  When I got to the goal, I would transfer the stick to my left hand and touch the left post, the crossbar, then the right post with the butt end of the stick, pivot around holding the stick in both hands, reach behind me to tap the right post then the left, do a knee-bend while twirling the stick in my hands, and then finally jog out to touch gloves with my three defensemen -- right side, crease, and then left side.  I always did it.  I would feel that odd feeling in my stomach if I didn't or if I deviated from the way it was usually done.  I did not think that it invoked the lacrosse gods, but it seemed a necessity to get things off in the right way.  When I returned to play an old-timers a few years back, thirteen years after I had last played, I found myself doing it exactly that way without thinking.

Was the sense that something was amiss if I didn't do it just so an indication that it was a ritual that was grounded in superstition?