A good question here is, are we really a rational species? Phobias, fears, superstitions, and religious dogmas are all irrational.
Superstitions are a “gift” (sic) that is handed down through the generations. A superstition is viewed as a strange and/or eerie occurrence that is the harbingers of good or bad things to come. Some are used to scare children into obeying while others go back centuries to when man didn’t have the knowledge he does now. We usually consider some of them to be nothing more than “old wives tales”.
Some areas of life and certain situations lend to this superstitious attitude more than others. Halloween is one such example that we still hold to today. It may not be in the same context as it had in the 13th century (a carved pumpkin to scare evil spirits away) but we still have that ingrained in us to this day.
Comets, as portents of doom, are another. For centuries comets were viewed as bringers of evil and destruction. The Chinese likened them to a dragon. Christian kings and emperor’s saw them as evil omens for the battles to come. Only recently has this attitude changed with the advent of better telescopes and a lot of study.
Fear of the unknown or having faith in something or someone unseen, walking under a ladder, children’s rhymes like “step on a crack and break your mothers back”, even the rhyme that originated during the great plagues of the 1500’s (ring around the rosy, pocket full of posy’s, ashes, ashes, we all fall down) , are more examples of superstitions that still hang on to this day.
Having grown up an ethnic Catholic who went to Catholic school and church every Sunday, I was taught that there were certain unwritten superstitions that, if broken, would send me to purgatory or hell depending on how bad what I did was, that a bird in the house meant someone in the family was going to die soon. I was also taught to walk around a pole on the same side as the person I was with or it would be bad luck. I have no clue why, but it was supposed to be bad luck. The ironic part is I still do it out of habit.
As for religion, it takes faith to believe in something unseen. The various churches teach their superstitions about whichever divine being they believe in and what will happen if you don’t follow their laws and beliefs. By the time I was 17, I’d rejected a lot of the superstitions as just that. Of course, I had the benefit of reading the Torah, Koran, Buddhist texts, the Dead Sea Scrolls translations and many other books and writings. I was even a religion minor in college many years ago, and, after reading all of this, and seeing all the superstitions that attached to each one, I realized that there is no real difference in any religion. It is all personal perception of specific superstitions. They all believe in one Supreme Being. It’s man who has corrupted the original message of God and created all the superstitions around Him.
People are superstitious because it fills a void. It is the void between the rational and that which can’t, yet, be explained by rational or logical means. Humans have always needed something to believe in when the knowledge wasn’t there to tell them the answer. So superstitions arose to fill the gap. Now, they are ingrained in us and very hard to get rid of. Perhaps they’ve even become genetic over the centuries. Who knows?