Bengali Myths Demystified

Md. Joynul Abedin

25 January, 2019 12:00 AM printer

Myths Demystified

Macbeth, the protagonist of the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare, reminds us of a great leader who faces denouement just because of putting faith on prophecy by three witches. In the play, Macbeth receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become the King of Scotland. Unable to contain his ambition he falls for the witches’ words (he was also instigated by his wife) and consequently murders King Duncan to claim the throne. Forced to commit more and more murders to protect himself, he soon turns into a tyrannical ruler which ultimately brings his fall in the end. Now think for a while – if Macbeth would not believe the prophecy (believing prophecy is also a form of superstition), he could have avoided all the aftermaths including his tragic death. Macbeth is a fictional character from the seventeenth century. Even after so many years there are many people in our society who believe in superstition ignoring the fact that such belief may invite unanticipated dangers for them just like it did for Macbeth.  

To define the term, superstition is actually a widely held but irrational belief in supernatural influences, especially as leading to good or bad luck, or a practice based on such belief. Majority of people likely have never experienced anything supernatural, but the concepts have been passed on to the coming generations orally. Starting a work by visiting holy places, wearing particular clothes or preferring a certain colour to get what you want are very common trends in our country. There are more serious myths as well prevailing among people. Rational folks are often quick to dismiss them, but the comparatively less-educated groups always gamble their fate depending on such myths. If you dig deep enough, you will get to know that all those things (considered as myths) can be explained rationally. Let’s try to rationalize those myths so that our readers can come out of those stereotypical beliefs:


Dog howling outside at night is considered as a bad omen

Many people in our country believe that if a dog cries at night, it means something ominous is going to happen. But experts hardly found any relation between dogs’ barking and bad fortune. According to them, dogs have very good hearing power and they can hear sounds that we cannot notice or hear. As the dog is noise-sensitive, it reacts to strange sounds with barking. Moreover, the dogs do it to make contact with other dogs when they are bored or lonely.


Clipping nails at night may bring bad luck

Another most accepted superstition in our country is that trimming nails at night carries bad luck. But science did not find any relation between these two. From the very beginning of civilisation, usually knives or other sharp tools were used to trim long nails. So bleeding (caused by cut) while trimming nails was very common. Moreover as medical facilities were so rare in the past, such wound resulted in deadly infections. As a result, people typically tried to avoid using sharp objects at night to avoid hurting themselves. Thus, this myth got a ground. 


Co-relation between itching palm and money

There is a superstition in our country that when your palm itches, it indicates something related to money. Some believe that an itchy right palm means money coming in and an itching left palm means money to be paid out. The superstition warns you not to scratch your palm unless you want to counteract the effect. But experts say it is nothing but a co-incidence. Doctors say several conditions may be responsible for itchy palms. The most common palm itching is caused by uncontrolled growth of skin cells while it can also happen if someone touches certain chemicals or substances that he/she is allergic to.


Eye twitching related to good or bad luck 

Many people believe that if your right-eye twitches, you are going to hear good news, quite the reverse if your left-eye jumps: you are going to hear bad news. There are additional variations to this theme, but all emphasize the difference between the left and right eye in relation to bad versus good events. But this phenomenon is largely baseless as psychologists say eye jumping may be caused by stress in some form. When a negative or otherwise anticipated event occurs following an eye jumping episode, it can be easily connected to eye jumping because the phenomenon sticks in the mind of the affected person. However doctors say eye twitching may occur without any identifiable cause. Yet, eyelid twitches may be caused or made worse by eye irritation, eyelid strain, fatigue, lack of sleep, physical exertion, medication side effects and use of alcohol, tobacco or caffeine.


Sleep paralysis associated with demonic influence

To many a people, it happens that after waking up at midnight they cannot move a muscle. They can feel that their mind is awake but not the body. The scary inability to move may make them feel anxious and afraid. Some people also hallucinate many things during this time. They may see, hear or feel things that are actually not there. Others may even think that another person is in the room with them. This phenomenon has long been explained by paranormal or demonic activity and people in our country (in the rural areas to be particular) believe that such situation arises when demons or witches sit on someone’s chest. But in science, this weird phenomenon is known as sleep paralysis. Although the exact cause is unknown, doctors say it occurs due to stress, lack of sleep and use of stimulant drugs like amphetamine. Sleeping in a supine position is another risk factor for sleep paralysis. According to several studies, people with mental disorders such as anxiety and depression are more likely to experience sleep paralysis.


Sneezing before you step out symbolises bad omen

Another popular myth is that sneezing before stepping out of the house or at the onset of a new task or journey brings ill luck. But scientifically it has no ground. A sneeze, as we know, is often taken as a symptom or indication of illness. During the days when modern transportation was a distant dream and easy access to medical care was not easy, a sneeze before leaving the house would induce fear of two things. First one is that the person is soon going to fall sick or is vulnerable to catching cold. As journeys those days were long and tiring, falling sick on the way was a scary thing. Secondly, the person carries germs which he/she is likely to spread when he/she ventures out. However people still associate sneezing with something bad despite the fact that medical science has already explained the reasons that may cause sneezing.


Hanging animal jaw in the tree to keep evil force away

Hanging animal jaw in trees to keep evil forces away is a very common practice around the countryside in Bangladesh. This is completely irrational as there is no relation between an animal jaw and the presence of ghost or any other supernatural element.


Black cat crossing your path is considered unlucky

It is deemed in Bangladesh that black cats crossing someone’s path from left to right is a very bad omen whereas there is no definite reason or proof for this belief. It is assumed that this concept has come to this sub-continent from western countries during British era. During the middle ages, people in the European countries held same belief. They thought black cats were the companions of witches. That is why a black cat crossing your path was an indication of bad luck and a sign that the devil was watching you. Interestingly, in some countries, such as Japan and Ireland, black cats are considered as good luck!

Well, psychologists, who have investigated what role superstitions play, have found that people feel very desperate to find reasons for all the misfortunes they come across. For many people, engaging with superstitious behaviours provides a sense of control and reduces anxiety – which is why levels of superstition increase at times of stress and angst. Moreover new studies have revealed that superstition finds its root in a society owing to ignorance. So, the key lies in enlightenment. The only way out of such superstitious situation can be derived from awareness and clarification. The rest depends on the intention of the people.