Ides of March

Ides of March

LOGAN — What a week! This week we have three amazing and a little spine tingling calendar events — a full moon; Friday the 13th; and the Ides of March!

So if you believe in superstitions, you might just be a little spooked.

Not only was Monday’s full moon a “supermoon” the annual March full moon is commonly referred to as the “worm moon”.

Most experts agree the March full moon will be the first of two consecutive supermoons this year (the full moon in March and the full moon in April), meaning that during these months the orbit, of the moon will track closer to the Earth than an average full moon. Because of this, the moon can look up to 30 percent larger and brighter, especially when atmospheric conditions cooperate.

On the other hand, the March full moon’s nickname, “worm moon,” is also called the Lenten Moon, Crow Moon, Crust Moon, Chaste Moon, Sugar Moon, and Sap Moon.

The Worm Moon is usually the last full moon before the equinox which will take place next week (March 19).

The vernal equinox thus marks the end of winter, and the long awaited start of spring. The worm moon is named after the earthworms that begin to emerge at this time of year.

With the willy thoughts of a super worm moon behind you, we can look forward to the first Friday the 13th of the new year this Friday.

But did you know that the ill-luck associated with the number 13, actually had its superstitious origins rooted in the Bible? It is said that the fate of Jesus as the 13th guest among his 12 apostles in the Biblical account of the Last Supper and his crucifixion the next day, tainted the number 13 as unlucky hence forth.

With 13 being an ill fated number, the 13th Friday of the month suffers a similar reputation.

Some attribute this day of fear-fullness to the origins to the Code of Hammurabi, said to be one of the world’s oldest legal documents. The code, may or may not have superstitiously omitted a 13th rule from its list. Still others claim that it was the ancient Sumerians, who believed the number 12 to be a “perfect” number, and considered the one that followed decidedly non-perfect.

Regardless, one of the most popular theories draws a connection between Friday the 13th and the fall of a fearsome group of legendary warriors, the Knights Templar.

This monastic military order was founded about 1118 and was devoted to the protection of pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land following the First Crusade. Crowned heads of Europe lavish the Knights Templar with donations which quickly raises them to one of the richest and most influential groups of the Middle Ages.

By the turn of the 14th century, the fierce Knights Templars had established a system of castles, churches and banks throughout Western Europe. It was this astounding wealth that would lead to their downfall.

The end for the Templars, began in the early morning hours of Friday, October 13, 1307. After receiving secret documents that included accusations of lurid details and whispers of black magic and scandalous sexual rituals by the Templars, King Phillip IV of France began their arrests and charged them with a wide array of offenses. Over the next seven years, the Templars were kept in isolation, fed meager rations, tortured, and even burned at the stake.

In the spring of 1314, the order’s Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, and several other Templars were burned at the stake in Paris, bringing an end to their remarkable era, and launching an even longer-lasting theory about the evil possibilities of Friday the 13th.

In Western civilization, the taboo against 13 remains very pervasive and powerful. In high society it is a universal practice not to seats 13 at a table, and more than 80 percent of high-rise buildings all over the world lack a 13th floor. Some hotels and hospitals often choose not to have a room with the number 13 and airlines and airports routinely skip a 13th aisle or the 13th gate. So when the 13th day of the month is a Friday it adds a little extra paraskevidekatriaphobia (irrational fear of the date).

To complete this week’s creepy triad, we have the “Ides of March” this Sunday. March 15 is the anniversary of the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. When William Shakespeare pinned the Soothsayer’s line in his play Julius Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March,” he had no idea just how famous the soothsayers line would become. Not only did the phrase stick, but they branded those words with foreboding, dark connotation.

People who use the phrase today probably have no idea behind its true origin and that the Ides of March is actually very non-threatening. Three markers were used by the ancients in reference to dates in relation to the lunar phases. They were Kalends, Nones and Ides.

Ides actually referred to the full moon of a given month that usually fell between the 13th and the 15th. Additionally, at one point, the Ides of March was a time of rejoicing and celebration since it signified the new year.

But the Ides of March actually has a non-threatening origin story. Kalends, Nones and Ides were ancient markers used to reference dates in relation to lunar phases. Ides simply referred to the first full moon of a given month, which usually fell between the 13th and 15th. In fact, the Ides of March once signified the new year, which meant celebrations and rejoicing.

Despite the unlucky associations of Friday the 13th and mysterious effects of the full moon, and unwarranted superstitions about the Ides of March, and the fact that most of us know that these superstitious beliefs are irrational, we still abide by them.

Why do we do it? Do superstitions fulfill an important psychological role, and if so, what is it?

In my research I learned that superstitious thinking is universal, and evolves from fundamental principles of human thinking to serve several purposes.

For instance Phillips Stevens Jr., Associate Professor of Anthropology, University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences, reports that some superstitions can be useful to us as practical warnings or prohibitions of an earlier time.” He explains that superstitions also can be seen as agents of “social control,” enforcing socio-cultural norms and standards of behavior and morality, noting that they also can give individuals a sense of personal control, hence comfort, in the impersonal confusion of life.

In the Medical News Today article How do superstitions affect our psychology and well-being?, Ana Sandoiu tends to agree explaining that the fascinating thing about superstitions is that we often believe in them despite knowing, on some level, that they can’t be true.

Sandoiu explains that there are billions of people in the United States and across the world that are superstitious.

According to her, about one-quarter of adults in the United States consider themselves to be superstitious and noted that recent trends reveal that younger people are even more superstitious, noting that about 70 percent of US students relying on good luck charms for better academic performance.

Superstitions, she continued, are not merely a manifestation of our flawed cognition. Sometimes superstitions offer a host of benefits.

“Superstitions can have a soothing effect, relieving anxiety about the unknown and giving people a sense of control over their lives. This may also be the reason why superstitions have survived for so long — people have passed them on from generation to generation,” she noted, quoting an article that appeared in the internal Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Science that state, “Superstition has its roots in our species’ youth when our ancestors could not understand the forces and whims of [the] natural world. Survival of our ancestors was threatened by predation or other natural forces.”

“As a result, superstitions have “evolved” to produce “a false sense of having control over outer conditions,” and reduce anxiety. This is also why superstitions are “prevalent in conditions of absence of confidence, insecurity, fear, and threat.”

Interestingly enough, Sandoiu discovered that by alleviating anxiety, superstitions may objectively improve performance.

Stuart Vyse, author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition and former professor of psychology at Connecticut College, explained this in an interview for the British Psychological Society:

“There is evidence that positive, luck-enhancing superstitions provide a psychological benefit that can improve skilled performance. There is anxiety associated with the kinds of events that bring out superstition.”

“The absence of control over an important outcome creates anxiety. So, even when we know on a rational level that there is no magic, superstitions can be maintained by their emotional benefit,” Vyse concluded.

Sandoiu reported that one study examined performance in “golfing, motor dexterity, memory, and anagram games,” found that making gestures, such as keeping one’s fingers crossed, or uttering words, such as “break a leg” or “good luck,” boosted the participants’ performance.

This mechanism, she noted is mediated by increased self-confidence.

“These performance benefits are produced by changes in perceived self-efficacy. Activating a superstition boosts participants’ confidence in mastering upcoming tasks, which in turn improves performance,” she concluded.

Life may be just a series of random coincidences that we shape into our own little superstitions. Things that can’t be explained, but are somehow reassuring for us to think that we have some measure of control over. Whether it is trying to avoid breaking a mirror, or not letting a black cat cross your path, we can control those little things about our lives and society that cannot change.

So celebrate this week’s calendar events and remember, the full moon is a time of culmination and the promise of fulfillment which was started at the new moon. For us this culmination phase, could mean a time of new opportunity and resolution a tune to “spring forward” in to the open arms of next week’s dawn of Spring.

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