Round Table

Round Table: What’s Your Woo?

As skeptics, we always try to approach subjects with logic and reason. But superstitions and habits can be hard to get rid of. From old tales our parents may have told us to fears about the paranormal, our parents confess their stories about irrational beliefs.

Share your irrational fears or illogical beliefs in the comments!


Kavin Senapathy

I don’t have many current pseudo-scientific beliefs as far as I know, especially when it comes to parenting. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • I refuse to apply weed-killers to my lawn. For some irrational reason, I just don’t want my kids and precious dog playing on chemical-coated grass! The “Weed Man” and other local lawn care services try their best every year to suck us in, and it never works. I even ended up blocking their number from my phone.
  • I have a deep-rooted love of Oprah Winfrey. Her promotion of unscientific “experts” like Dr. Oz and Deepak Chopra cause me great dissonance. I continue to subscribe to O Magazine although it’s chock full of “all-natural” type advertising, advice on superfoods to “flush fat from your body,” etc. I cringe when I see titles like, “5 Ways to Lessen Your Exposure to GMO.” That said, I can’t shake my love for Oprah.
  • A childhood friend’s mother used to insist that if there too much laughter, a tragedy follows. To this day, I feel a twinge of unfounded fear when my kids or I are having too much fun. I do my best to suppress this and never show it around my children.
  • So many of my OCD behaviors, especially in the past, have been ultra-woo. As I’ve described previously, OCD compulsions so often resemble superstition. I spent a lot of my early motherhood literally knocking on wood to prevent calamities befalling my children (read more about this here.) For an entire year of high school, I’d blow bubbles in the shower with body wash through the O of my thumb and forefinger until I produced one of sufficient quality and longevity to ensure a smooth day ahead.
  • Finally, I don’t disbelieve in ghosts or gods, although I don’t necessarily believe in them.


Lou Doench

Conspiracy Theories were my weakness even after my introduction to skepticism peeled away most of the supernatural woo that I believed when I was young and gullible, a period which our 43rd President demonstrated  could last well into ones mid 30’s. No matter what evidence I was shown I was convinced that FDR knew about Pearl Harbor, the Illuminati had been pulling the strings of the Bilderbergers with the help of the Rosicrucians in order to combat the Knights Templar and their allies the Freemasons. And JFK was definitely assassinated by a shadowy cabal of mobsters and war profiteering industrialists. Oswald was a patsy, there were definitely multiple shooters on the grassy knoll. The cover up went all the way to the top! Kevin Costner said so!

JFK was the one that hung on the longest. Eventually, after much reading and listening I made my piece. Maybe Oswald just got off a lucky shot.  Thankfully I came to my senses before 9/11, or I might be one of those fool Truthers nattering on about controlled demolitions.



Erich Bacher

Well, for starters I have Trypophobia. Not really a belief, but definitely irrational. It nauseates me, sometimes for up to an hour.

Before rolling a dice, I try to clear my thoughts and think of the number I want to come up (but not too hard.) It works just often enough that it feels like its working.

Before I was a skeptic, I was quite convinced by the Truthers for a period of maybe 6 months until I finally got ahold of someone who had clearly explained responses to their claims. That whole experience of being fed a convincing lie, repeating it to others, finding out how wrong it was, and regretting it is part of why I learned about skepticism.



I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I was paranoid about leaving my cats alone with my newborn baby. I was convinced that they would sit on her chest (because she was so warm) and asphyxiate her. I never looked up any research to see whether or not this was just an old tale.

I watched Paranormal Activity in the theaters, and I couldn’t sleep right for 2-3 months after, because my nocturnal brain was convinced that every breeze was in fact a demon trying to pull me out of bed. Despite the fact that I don’t believe in ghosts or demons, I could not shake that fear, and now I can’t watch paranormal movies. I had a friend (who was a fellow skeptic) who scoffed at my “fear” of demons pulling me out of bed, and he told me that I should set up a camera and film myself sleeping, just to prove that nothing weird would happen. But of course, if you’ve seen Paranormal Activity, filming the demon is exactly what pisses it off. (Also, I don’t want to watch myself sleeping.)

This is fairly common, but I fear very improbable disastrous events moreso than probable ones. For example, I’m scared of my house burning down more than I’m scared of heart disease. I fear getting in a plane crash more than I fear driving my car every day.

My husband used to have a superstition about tabletop gaming dice. If he rolled a die and it turned up too many bad numbers, he would “shun” it and get a new die.

I can’t watch underwater scenes in movies, especially the scenes where the camera is bobbing up and down at the surface of the water. It makes me feel like I’m drowning. When I was more superstitious, I believed that maybe one of my past lives had drowned. (I don’t believe that anymore, of course.)

Sometimes I carry around a “good luck” charm. I found a plastic four-leaf clover a long time ago, and I hid it in my purse and forgot about it, and sometimes I will find it randomly and it makes me feel like something lucky is going to happen.

I have sciatica, and normally I can get through episodes of pain by doing stretches and core work. However, sometimes the pain lasts for too long, and I actually have a chiropractor that I see. Not all chiropractors are the same, and mine also has a degree in sports medicine, so she does a lot of stretches with me, in addition to working the kinks out of my back. There is no neck-manipulation involved (by my request). Maybe it works, and maybe it doesn’t, but it does make me feel better the next day.


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Mary Brock works as an Immunology scientist by day and takes care of a pink-loving princess child by night. She likes cloudy days, crafting, cooking, and Fall weather in New England.

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  1. oh, Lord, what *isn’t* my woo? my parents raised me as a pagan and my mother embraced a lot of her Celtic heritage. I used to burn a wickerman with my family on Halloween and at midnight on New Year’s we’d run around the house banging pots and pans and screaming to drive the demons out. then we’d sweep in things from the threshold — wallets, symbols for luck — whatever we wanted to come to us in the new year, and sweep out things we wanted to leave. we’d also eat ham and beans on New Year’s day. I lived in a farmhouse from 1837 and there was definitely a ghost — one time I watched the hangers on my closet rod tip one by one, making the clothes fell off them. I toss spilled salt over my left shoulder. I knock wood for luck.

    I was raised to do Tarot readings. my sister, the biggest skeptic of all of us, is the best at it.

    as an adult, I believe in covering my bases. 😉 I have a St. Brigid’s cross wedged in my doorknocker under the peephole, and a distelfink above the inside jamb. I have a big mirror across from the front door to repel evil (a feng shui principle). I have a dreamcatcher over my bed that I add important things to, such as the necklace I wore when I met my (ex-)husband, a rosary from a family friend who died, that sort of thing. I even got married on All Saint’s Day just to make sure that nobody felt slighted. not that it did any good.

    but I think that all of this stuff has served to make me even more skeptical of the power of superstition or superstitious acts to have an effect on my life. the ghosts are not something I can explain, and the rest of the things I do are habit (I don’t burn a wicker man or do anything special for New Year’s anymore). I almost use them as a way to reset my attitude. I spilled salt? well, throw some over my shoulder and *slow down* in my eating/cooking. the dreamcatcher reminds me of the people and things that I love and I use it to not get on the hamsterwheel of anxiety so that I can sleep.

    I have a set of intention cards, but I generally use that as a tool as to what I should focus my energy towards, as I tend to be a somewhat cynical person. if I remind myself via the cards to stop negative self-talk then they are serving their purpose.

    my ex-husband’s accident showed me the futility of finding meaning in random chaos and tragedy, so I guess that having these behaviors and beliefs is my own spiritual-not-religious way of having a small amount of control over the universe.

    sorry, tl;dr, I know, but I can go on and on. 🙂

    1. I read all of that! I want to hear all about the hangers in your closet. No matter how skeptical we are, it’s hard to shake that kind of thing. Also, would love to hear more about your being raised as a pagan.

  2. I used to be a part of natural child birth, but I got over that one the hard way.

    I have always had this belief that a person’s name really means something about them. All “crystals” are this way or that. Its pretty ridiculous!

    I still think astrology is fun even though it doesn’t work.

    I’m also one of those baking soda and vinegar people who hates using conventional cleaning solutions with fumes and scents and whatnot. I get freaked out about toxins in cleaning supplies (probably because I don’t have enough training in chemsitry to fully understand what is dangerous or not).

  3. Baseball. I was raised in a baseball loving family, and find myself doing things like wearing a lucky shirt (or lucky hat, or lucky necklace, or lucky scarf – you get the idea), thinking this will make a difference. I catch myself doing this and know it is dumb, but it is so ingrained in me it is hard to shake.

  4. Shoot, I totally lost track of time and never got around to adding my woo. So here it is in comment form!

    -Detox/Juice Cleanses – I want so much to believe that there is a magic bullet combo of honey-cayenne-lemon water and kale smoothies that will make me feel refreshed and cleansed and “toxin” free, ideally while losing 10-20 pounds of excess whatever. Every spring I see people try these and rave about how great they feel and I know in my heathen scientific heart that the weight loss is a combination of deprivation and water weight and that the supposed renewing effects are probably just the sudden actual consumption of nutrients and lack of sugar. But I WANT TO BELIEVE! [Note, I’m not talking about breakfasting on green smoothies as a way of getting more good nutrients into your diet, but rather the idea that it is even possible or necessary to detox in any meaningful way.]

    – Magic – I was trying to think of a way to combine all of the aspects of eclectic paganism that I dabbled in in high school and astrology and Voudoun and all of it boils down to magic. There are times in my life when I want there to be magic in the world. I want it to be possible to predict anything other than the appearance of the night sky based on the date, place and time of birth. I want other fortune telling to be based more on actual magic than reading people and educated guesses. There are moments in my life when I want to think that using the right annointing oil and sending up the right chant and offering over dirt from the place I want a new job might be enough to counterbalance that mediocre interview. But…I can’t.

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