The majority of people, regardless of race or culture, have little to no understanding of magic. Most such individuals have heard of magic, and they often use it as a convenient explanation for any catastrophe. If your crops failed, someone cast a curse on you. If your child falls ill, it means a haunt lurks in the shadows. If you can’t uncover an obvious answer for any occurrence, the default answer is, inevitably, “magic.”
When magic enters the life of mundane individual, it is invariably a source of misfortune and tragedy. Folklore is replete with stories about magic’s siren call and its inevitable price to the unwary; even the most beneficial spell comes with at an unpleasant price. Likewise, dozens of superstitions offer guidance and advice for avoiding magic and those practicing it.
The existence of magic has helped give rise to thousands upon thousands of different superstitions. Across the breadth of Stormfell, accepted superstitions vary in degrees both small and large. Some cultures, for example, have grown more accustomed to and comfortable around magic. As a result, their superstitious beliefs tend to be moderate; members of the culture may even realize when they are merely being superstitious. In other, less advanced cultures with rare exposure to magic often have stronger belief in their superstitions, and a greater distrust of all things magic.
Superstitions aside, gone are the days (for the most part) where people would eagerly burn at the stake anyone even suspected of magic use. Although magic use has never been – and likely never will be – common, attitudes towards magic practitioners have evolved to the point where their lives are not in jeopardy just for using magic. This does not mean, however, that people easily trust or accept magic-users. Overall, people (especially humans and dwarves) are more accepting of clerics and divine spellcasters than they are of wizards, warlocks or other arcane casters.
The majority of superstitions revolve around avoiding an unpleasant or horrific fate at the hands of evil magic-users, fey beasts, or wicked monsters. Many of these same superstitions inevitably involve a measure of common sense, but often wrapped in some peculiar (and sometimes inaccurate) advice.
Often, a culture’s most common superstitions offer an in sight into what that culture considers important and proper (or improper). Amongst the stalwart warriors of Uthland, for example, many superstitions involve shadows, the undead, and nightfall. Given their proximity to the wastelands of Shaddoth, this is unsurprising. The dwarves of Rünehast, on the other hand, have a number of superstitions dealing with evil fey creatures, fey magic, and the Feywild. Because the Veil between parts of that kingdom has grown thin, the dwarves suffer numerous incursions from the Feywild.
As expected, superstitions also differ from one race to the next. For example, human superstitions seem most concerned with death and aging, while dwarven superstitions often involve loss of status or honor.
A number of scholars have attempted to catalog and investigate superstitious beliefs and their origins. Their efforts have led to a number of intriguing books on the subject. Overall, their conclusions offer some valuable insight about the value and the power of superstitions. Many superstitions contain at least a grain of truth or wisdom. Even the most outrageous superstitions held at least a tenuous link to reality at one time. Amongst the Uthlanders, for example, there is a superstition that leaving a corpse out in the open for more than a day invites possession by a shadow demon. In the distant days when they stood at constant war with the Empire of Shaddoth, this was fact, not superstition. Since that time, however, there have been no reported cases of shadow demons possessing a deceased individual. Nonetheless, most people in Uthland steadfastly believe in the superstition, regardless of the evidence.
The sages who studied superstitions and associated behavior also noted that most superstitions seem to encourage “appropriate” behavior (both culturally and racially), while at the same time demonstrating the consequences of “inappropriate” behavior. This ties back to each culture and race’s overall views towards magic. A culture with greater appreciation for magic has proportionally fewer superstitions about the perils of its use. In Uthland, for example, magic is an accepted practice for clerics, paladins, and similar divine casters. Arcane magic, however, is viewed with mistrust and even fear. Their superstitions reflect these cultural biases.
Not surprisingly, humans rank high in the sheer number and variety of superstitions they observe. Only the goblinoid races apparently are even more superstitious. Dwarves are, in their own ways, almost as superstitious as humans. Eladrin overall hold to the fewest superstitions; most eladrin seldom take superstitions seriously. Of note, halflings have a large variety of superstitions they profess; despite this, most halflings seem to possess an overwhelming desire to “tempt fate” and test superstitions one way or another. Thus, although halflings hold onto many different superstitious beliefs, they are unlikely to take those beliefs too seriously. At one time in the recent past, gnomes would have ranked towards the bottom of the scale; most gnomes scoffed at superstitions in general. As the gnome race falls into decline, however, many gnomes have become increasingly superstitious, often abandoning all belief in the power of knowledge, rationality, or science.
The most remarkable discovery, however, continues to stir debate throughout universities and colleges. Several sages concluded that some superstitions have become factual simply through the power of belief and acceptance. Put another way, a superstition may begin as fiction, but if enough people believe in that superstition, it becomes true, at least to some extent. How or why this might happen remains a mystery. Indeed, most scholars disagree with this conclusion. If true, however, this suggests people have more control over the magical world than they realize – sometimes to good effect, but often to their detriment.