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Archive for December 9th, 2019


Wisdom 14: Superstition

Monday, December 9, 2019

Castor and Pollux

When reading this chapter with footnotes, we will understand that calling a piece of wood here is a reference to the custom of calling upon the twin gods of Castor and Pollux for safety at sea.  “St. Elmo’s fire, the electric discharge from the ship’s mast during a thunderstorm, was regarded as their corporeal epiphany”.  According to Cyril of Alexandria (commenting on Acts 28:11), it was especially an Alexandrian custom to have pictures of the twins to right and left of the ship’s prow”.  (Meeks 1519)  The opening of this chapter reminds us of how foolish we are to pray to gods who do not exist when we will be wiser to appeal directly to God’s providence.  [I]t is your providence, O Father, that steers its course, because you have given it a path in the sea, and a safe way through the waves, showing that you can save from every danger, so that even a person who lacks skill may put to sea. 

I am thinking of the image of each of us as we put to sea each morning when we rise, to sail through the waters of the day, hoping to return to safe harbor at night.  Some of us are more skilled than others at navigating the waves of life, but when the storm clouds brew above us and the sea churns beneath us . . . who among us is not tempted to reach for a personal talisman as a security blanket to see us through?  When we sail with God, our expertise does not matter because even a person who lacks skill may put to sea. 

Notes tell us that verses 6 and 7 refer to the Ark of Noah and the wood of Christ’s cross: For even in the beginning when arrogant giants were perishing, the hope of the world took refuge on a raft, and guided by your hand left to the world the seed of a new generation.  For blessed is the wood by which righteousness comes.  These wooden objects save, because they are instruments of salvation that come directly from the Father.

John Peter Glover: St. Elmo’s Fire

The rest of this chapter tells us that the idea of statue-making and idol worship is an invention of man when turning away from God.  We might smile when a friend or relative confesses an addiction to a pet superstition.  And we can understand the comfort that this panacea may bring . . . but the relief from anxiety is temporary . . . and lacking divinity . . . and eventually leading us to a destructive end.

It is difficult to give up our folk customs which give an immediate but false sense of security.  It may be frightening to put away old habits that lead to a temporary reprieve from worry; but then is it not even more frightening to embark on life’s tide each day without the master pilot in our ship?  Is it better to appeal to these short-lived superstitions . . . or turn to God who upholds us infinitely?

Psalm 107Some sailed to the sea in ships . . . They reeled like drunken men, for all their skill was gone.

Mark 4:37-42A violent squall came up . . .

The Morning Star

Stepping out on our own is impossible, even with a million potions, sayings and powers in our hands.  Setting sail in a boat fashioned by the master shipbuilder’s hands, with sails sewn by his angels, with charts, sextant and compass as gifts from God . . . setting our course by the Morning Star . . . this is the wisdom that always leads us home.


Meeks, Wayne A., Gen. Ed. HARPERCOLLINS STUDY BIBLE (NRSV). New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989. Print.  (Meeks)

To learn more about the mythology of Castor and Pollux, click on the image above.  To learn more about Castor and Pollux and the Gemini constellation, go to: http://astroprofspage.com/archives/677 

For more information on the phenomenon of St. Elmo’s Fire, go to: http://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/climate-weather/atmospheric/st-elmo-fire.htm

For more about the Morning Star, click on the image above , or go to: http://www.futilitycloset.com/2009/10/03/the-morning-star-paradox/   or http://www.johnpratt.com/items/astronomy/eve_morn.html

http://www.johnpratt.com/items/astronomy/eve_morn.html or

Written on November 23, 2008. Re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

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