Superstition is another sin against faith. The gravity of this sin depends on the amount of knowledge which the superstitious person possesses, and on the more or less criminal end he wishes to attain. The most sinful form of superstition is witchcraft, which consists in invoking the help of the devil or some evil spirit in order to gain riches by digging for treasures, or to learn hidden things, or to do harm to any one. There have been persons who made a covenant with the devil, and gave themselves up to him, whether they really held intercourse with the Evil One or only had the intention of doing so, and who invoked his aid in order to obtain worldly goods.
There are also people who believe that their children or their cattle can be bewitched; that there are men who by an "evil eye" can harm our bodies. Those try to expel the witches by other superstitious remedies. Then there arises false suspicion, and the most hideous crimes are committed when people think they have found the witch. This mania was rife in Germany, especially, 200 years ago, (add another 100 years to that as this book is over 100 years old) and more so in the Protestant than in the Catholic states. Thousands of men, women, girls, and even children were accused of having caused misfortunes, for instance, hail-storms, diseases, cattle-plagues, bad seasons, etc. Confessions were extorted from them by the most horrible tortures, and afterwards they were given up to a most painful death, generally by burning. This deplorable superstition has not quite died out yet among the people. Poor old women, especially, are often suspected of being witches and made to suffer for it. This is a sinful folly. Holy Church furnishes the Christian with the arms with which he can combat witchcraft, incantation, and all influence of the Evil One. They are the sign of the cross, holy water, and blessed objects. Let the faithful, therefore, commend themselves, their bodies and their goods, to the protection of God and be in peace.
In modern times there has spread, especially among the higher classes of society, a new form of superstition, which we find already in the Old Testament visited with severe punishments. It consists in consulting the spirits of the dead in order to obtain news or any other kind of information from them. The persons who carry on such nonsense, as a rule, belong to a class who do not believe in anything supernatural, or in any mystery of religion,—in fact, have no religion at all. Of these the saying is true: "The most unbelieving are the most credulous." Fortune-Telling and Interpretation of Dreams.
God in His great wisdom has hidden coming events from us and has left us in uncertainty as to our future fate. He does not wish us to be cast down by impending misfortunes, or elated by anticipated success, We are to leave our life in the hands of God and work out our salvation. Therefore we sin against God by trying to lift the veil which covers the future, or by prying into things which God has thought good to hide from us. This is chiefly done by fortune-telling and interpretation of dreams. He who without having received a divine revelation takes upon himself to tell things which cannot be known according to the natural order, or attempts to inquire into those things, has his fortune told, or his dreams interpreted, and seriously believes in all this, sins grievously, and fortune-tellers and interpreters of dreams doubly so if they practise their craft for mercenary purposes.
Fortune-tellers pretend to gather their knowledge from the lines in the palm of the hand, as we find gypsies doing. Others pour melted lead into water and interpret the shapes it assumes; others again read the future in tea-leaves; one of the most common methods of finding out things which we are anxious to know is by cutting cards. All these things and others of the same class are opposed to the virtue of faith.
Or the idle custom of expecting help from things which neither by the will of God, nor by their natural power, nor through the prayers of the Church can help us. Thus, for instance, superstitious people fancy they can prophesy good or bad fortune from the cry of birds, the howling of dogs, the call of the cuckoo, the falling out of teeth, and other natural phenomena. Others claim that they have made themselves proof against blows, thrusts, and bullets. Or they use certain remedies against diseases—for instance, the wearing of papers on which certain words or ciphers are written; orthey suggest the use of natural remedies accompanied by extraordinary proceedings—for instance, throwing a remedy over one's shoulder into a stream at a certain phase of the moon in order to get rid of a fever or some other illness, and numberless follies of the same kind. This kind of cure they call "cure by sympathy."
There is an innocent kind of " sympathetic cure" in which neither anything forbidden nor foolish is employed. If we wish to try such a cure, we must formally protest to ourselves that we do not wish to obtain anything contrary to the will of God. It is likewise sinful to believe in lucky or unlucky days, and to model our conduct accordingly. So, for instance, Friday is supposed to be an unlucky day, in which one is not to do anything of importance. And yet Friday is the most blessed day of all, for it is the day of our Redemption. It is true that on Good Friday we are not to do anything contrary to the spirit of the Church, which recommends us to dwell on that day with special devotion on the bitter passion and death of Jesus Christ.
There are also superstitious, and therefore sinful, prayers and books—for instance, such in which we are assured for certain that, as often as we recite them, a poor soul is set free, or that we are preserved from certain diseases, or that we cannot be lost if we say them every day. The prayers or the books in which these prayers are contained ought to be given to a priest or destroyed. On the contrary, it is not sinful, but rather praiseworthy, to wear objects blessed by the Church, especially scapulars and medals of Our Lady. For we do not ascribe any power to them, but by wearing them we place ourselves under the protection of our blessed Lady, whom we wish to honor, and in whose intercession we hope and trust.
Holy Scripture speaks in these words of the different forms of superstition: "Neither let there be found among you any one that consulteth soothsayers, or observeth dreams and omens, neither let there be any wizard, or any one that seeketh the truth from the dead. For the Lord abhorreth all these things, and for these abominations He will destroy them" (Deut. xviii. 10-12).
"Learn not according to the ways of the Gentiles: and be not afraid of the signs of heaven, which the heathens fear" (Jer. x. 2).
"The hopes of a man that is void of understanding are vain and deceitful: and dreams lift up fools. The man that giveth heed to lying visions is like to him that catcheth at a shadow, and followeth after the wind. Deceitful visions and lying omens and the dreams of evil-doers are vanity. For dreams have deceived many, and they have failed that put their trust in them" (Ecclus. xxxiv. 2, 5, 7).
"Wizards thou shalt not suffer to live" (Exod. xx. 18).
"Sorcerers shall have their portion in the pool burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Apoc. xxi. 8).
King Saul had fallen away from the Lord, and God had withdrawn His grace from him. When he was going to war with the Philistines, this once courageous warrior was filled with fear, and went to Endor to an old woman who had the reputation of being able to conjure up the spirits of the dead. Of this woman Saul begged that she would call up the Prophet Samuel, in order that he might inquire of him. But when the woman began her foolery, God raised up the spirit of Samuel in reality, and he declared the will of God to Saul for his punishment, and foretold him that he should be defeated in the battle against the Philistines, and lose his life, and that the kingdom should be given to David (1 Kings xxviii. 16-19). After the death of Solomon ten tribes rebelled against his son, and God gave them Jeroboam for a king. But he did not walk before the Lord, and led his subjects also into idolatry. In order to deter them from going up to the Temple at Jerusalem, as it was commanded, he set up two golden calves, one at Dan and one at Bethel, on the confines of his country, and said:
"Behold thy gods, O Israel, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt'* (3 Kings xii. 28). And the people went to adore. But the Lord sent word to him through the Prophet Ahias: "Because thou hast made thee strange gods and molten gods, to provoke Me to anger, and hast cast Me behind thy back: therefore, behold I will bring evils upon the house of Jeroboam . , . and I will sweep away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as dung is swept away till all be clean" (3 Kings xiv. 9, 10). And the Lord did as He had threatened. Jeroboam was defeated by Abias, king of Juda, in a bloody battle. There fell wounded of Israel five hundred thousand valiant men, and Jeroboam lost many cities, which he never recovered (2 Par. xiii. 17). Ochozias, king of Israel, was grievously sick and sent to Accaron to consult the god Beelzebub on the issue of his sickness. But God sent Elias to meet the messengers and to say to them: ''Is there not a God in Israel, that ye go to consult Beelzebub, the god of Accaron ? . . . Go and return to the king that sent you, and you shall say to him : . . . Thou shalt not come down from the bed on which thou art gone up, but thou shalt surely die" (4 Kings i. 2-6). When St. Paul preached Jesus Crucified to the proconsul Sergius, Elymas the magician tried to turn away the procon ul from the faith. But Paul, filled with the Holy Ghost, looking upon him, said: "O full of all guile and of all deceit, child of the devil, enemy of all justice, thou ceasest not to pervert the right ways of the Lord. And now behold the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a time. And immediately there fell a mist and darkness upon him [Elymas], and going about, he sought some one to lead him by the hand" (Acts xiii. 10, 11).
Thus God punishes all who do not put their trust in Him, and rebel against His commandments.