Superstition, belief, common sense, faith.

A bit of a departure, I know, but I’ve been thinking about beliefs the last couple of days and I’ve come to see that little atheist me is as superstitious as the best of ’em!

It all started with a discussion thread debating the possible existence of pre-Maori settlement of New Zealand. Now the orthodox view is that Maori settled the country somewhere around 1200-1300 AD. Oral tradition tells us they came in a group of waka (canoe-like boats) from their Pacific homeland Hawaiki (the location of Hawaiki is disputed – some think the name is a corruption of Hawaii, others think it was another island altogether). Recently a number of people have challenged this view, putting forward such ‘evidence’ as the Kaimanawa Wall and distinctive Caucasian features found in some pre-contact Maori (more on those two in a moment). Then there’s supposedly an old Scottish legend that tells of a group of Scotts who were intentionally exiled here sometime around 1100 AD and other ‘proof’ which is fleeting and unable to be sighted; when someone asks to see it, or asks more about it, they’re told that the ‘Powers That Be’ are ‘covering it up’. (I can’t remember who said this originally – I want to say author Terry Pratchett, but I don’t know if that’s right – but I remember reading a statement to the effect that it’s wonderful how much Governments and such can cover up, considering their lack of success in just about all other arenas…)  🙂

Anyway… I was intrigued by this theory (not that I believe it; for the record I think there may have been the occasional shipwreck on or near our coasts but I do think the evidence shows that Maori were the first to actually settle NZ) and I set out to find more info on the internet. Not the best of all research tools, I know! But I did find an article from NZ Skeptics that concluded the Kaimanawa ‘wall’ was a natural rock formation, and another (here) which uses DNA research to show exactly how and why pre-European settlement Pacific people can have light hair and eyes. The *real* kicker for me, though, was the racist political rants that showed up on pretty much all of the websites that supported pre-Maori European settlement – ramblings along the lines of how the Treaty of Waitangi was now void and the Maori were all greedy buggers, and so on. Prejudice and science don’t make good bedfellows.

But from there I found other interesting sites that put forward ‘evidence’ (I don’t have the scientific knowledge to judge it’s validity, hence the ‘-‘) for a very early Egyptian shipwreck in Australia and a range of hypothesis about very early human sea travel. Now these I could believe. After all, much of our knowledge of early humanity is based on conjecture. Are similarities in language, customs and myths due to common early experiences, or greater international contact than we currently credit early humans with? And the Egyptian writing (yes, I know the word for it but I can’t spell it!) looked authentic enough to my untrained and inexperienced eye.

I began to understand how beliefs take hold. After all, this is how religion works, isn’t it; someone says “I know how that happened, a God did it” and other people say “Oh yeah – makes sense to me” and voila! We have a valid theory  🙂  It also works to uphold prejudice, of course: someone (a man, usually, and usually one with serious sexual issues) says “God says women/gays/lefthanders are inferior and the cause of all our problems!”  and the others – who, lets face it, like to feel superior to someone – say “Yeah! And they’ve made God angry!!” And before too long you have a God who is immortalised in print as a schizophrenic megalomaniac who opposes blow-jobs. Or something.

I’ve always prided myself on being rather rational about the paranormal; I don’t ‘believe’ in UFO’s or alien abductions (though I do accept that the universe is more than big enough for other intelligent life to have developed), I don’t have any religious beliefs, I doubt the existence of the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster and other associated ‘monsters’. I was feeling quite smug there for a moment… until I remembered that I do believe in ghosts, ESP, and psychic phenomena. Not blindly, you understand – for example I think every one of the ‘mediums’ on the TV programme Sensing Murder is a fraud – but I do accept the possibility, and probability, of such things. Part of this is from my upbringing. I come from a family where this kind of thing happened on occasion. My Mother tells a particularly scary story of a time early in my parent’s relationship where she continually dreamt of my Father’s death. She saw it clearly; he was hooking up a car (he was a towie) on a deserted intersection in town in the middle of the night when a car came round the corner too fast, lost control, and hit him. It was very detailed; she described the clothes he was wearing, the car he was hooking up and the one that hit him.

Dad didn’t believe a word of it.

One night he was called out to an accident at that particular intersection. Mum said she ‘knew’ this was it, and she begged him not to go. My incredibly proud Mother, begging…. I can’t imagine it, but she did. He thought she was being silly. He left and she began chain smoking and crying. Here she was, a widow with a baby and not yet even 20 years old. How would she survive?

Eventually Dad came home, alive, white faced and shaking so hard he couldn’t light his smoke.

He refused to speak to Mum at first but after a while she got the story out of him… he’d been hooking up the car and turned to walk back the few steps to the cab. But he paused…. *something*, he didn’t know what, made him want to check the chain. He took a step back to do so and as he did a car came careening round the corner, speeding and out of control. It didn’t hit him, because he had taken a step out of it’s path, but it was so close to him he felt his skin-tight jeans move.

It was the exact same car Mum had seen in her dreams.

Then there’s the story of the friend who committed suicide… or was he murdered? Discussing the matter in bed one night Dad said something along the lines of “stupid bastard probably *did* kill himself”. That led to an immediate reaction; a photo frame sitting on the TV by the foot of the bed rose into the air for several seconds before smashing downwards with quite a bit of force on the table below. My folks slept the rest of the night with the light on.  🙂

Add to that the time my Brother saw a long lost relative in the hallway, my dreams of acquaintances (more than once, more than one person) on the night they die, and my Sister who knows things about long lost relatives that even my Grandmother had to look up… we’re an odd family, and I’ve gotten used to it. I believe in it. And while a skeptic would say that they use ‘common sense’ and that brings them to unbelief for me it’s the opposite. For me, believing the experiences of myself and others close to me (far, far too many to describe here) is common sense. I don’t claim to have the answers – after all, once having twins was considered a sign of the Devil’s influence; perhaps one day we’ll discover the ‘key’ to the paranormal and it will cease to be ‘unnatural’.

But in the meantime I think I will keep my stones to myself, as I hunker down in my House of Glass…

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