What rituals or charms help you to achieve success in sports, school, or other endeavors? Are these practices magic? Why or why not? Would outsiders view them the same way?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As with any topic about religion, magic, and superstitions, there will be a variety of answers offered.  Few can really speak to having "the correct answer." I think that the realms of sports and school or other endeavors that place a heavy emphasis on external products, rituals, charms, or superstitions are common.  Since there is so much weight on external performance, individuals tend to place primacy on rituals or charms in the hopes of delivering a desirable end product.  The big presentation in front of the shareholders, the championship game, or the final exam are entities in which end results are essential.  There are end results that spell success or failure in clear terms. The presentation flops, the game is lost, you bomb the exam.  All of these are endeavors where there is an externality.  This can be seen in the professional realm of sports, something to which Tampa Rays manager Joe Maddon recently spoke:  

"I'm not a jinx guy," says Joe Maddon.

No kidding. Once, in another lifetime, as a minor-league manager, he used to do the stuff everyone does. Wouldn't change socks if his team was on a winning streak. Wouldn't wash his underwear. Then he asked himself: What am I doing?

Rituals and superstitions are present in such external ends because no matter how much preparation goes into them, it's human nature to be mortified of a negative end result.  It is with this in mind that we embrace rituals or charms as a way to displace such fear.

With this in mind, it's important to distinguish from superstitions and religious worship.  The former is heavily driven by end product.  The latter is more process based.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church differentiates between both quite effectively:

Superstition is a deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand is to fall into superstition. Cf. Matthew 23:16- 22(para. #2111)

It's important to differentiate between both superstition and religious feeling. Both are rooted in a larger configuration. Yet, superstition, rituals, and charms are geared towards the fulfillment of an end product or "external performance." Religious worship is more spiritual and process oriented.  For example, if a basketball player believes in Lord Ganesh, their spiritual belief is not going to be repudiated if they make or miss the game winning free throw. If they say, "Lord, help me make this free throw or I will not worship you any more," it is no longer religion or the "efficacy of prayers," but rather an experience of "external performance" that is apart from the "interior dispositions" of religious expression. It is here where one sees the difference between religious faith and expression and superstition in the form of rituals and charms.  The process of religious faith transcends the outcome- based element of rituals and charms.

With this in mind, I still find myself holding on to rituals.  When we play against our crosstown rivals, I have to wear my white long- sleeved shirt.  Our team had a pizza lunch one game and pulled out a win, and so we had to have pizza lunches before every game.  While I know it's illogical, I find myself still holding onto rituals and charms.

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