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Using a multidisciplinary approach that combines psychology, biology, and astronomy with a masterly appreciation of historical background, Felix E. Planer provides an encyclopedic view of superstition - its definition and origins, its mechanisms and practices.
Briefly, superstition is defined as an irrational belief that serves to palliate fear. In order to rationalize the chaos of literally thousands of such beliefs, Planer divides superstitions into three major groups:
"Predictions of the Future" encompasses all forms of precognition. The motivating fear here is that of future events. Superstitions covered in this section include astrology, ESP, fortune-telling, and all forms of prophecies.
"The World of Spirits" includes belief in immortality, spiritualism, reincarnation, the soul, and poltergeists and demons, which Planer contends are based on the fear of death.
"Magic" covers magical men, such as witch doctors, cult heroes, and extraterrestrials; magic practices, such as faith-healing, telepathy, and dowsing; and magic objects, such as amulets, sacred texts, and fetishes. Planer traces all such superstitions to a fear of hostile forces.
As a subgroup of magic, Planer examines religion. He identifies the driving force here as the fear of supernatural sanctions and discusses the relationship between religion and magic, the evolution of major world religions, and religion as it relates to sin, cruelty, and moral evil.
Written in simple, concise language, devoid of technical jargon and with a warming strain of humor, Planer looks at the quirks and fears that motivate mankind's beliefs.
Imposes of the chaos of superstition a logical structure, showing that the many varieties of superstition are caused by fear of an ultimate threat.
Posted October 7, 2002