Superstition (Lat. superstitio) had for its ancient sense that of worship over and above that which, was appointed by proper authority. Hence religious systems not recognized by the Roman State were called superstitions, Christianity itself being for some centuries among the number. The word has been used so indefinitely that it is difficult to determine its precise meaning. It does not seem always to have been used in a bad sense in old English, as is shown by Ac 17:22, where it represents, δεισιδαιμονία, a word used by the apostle as indicating that the Athenians were a God-fearing people who would not refuse to listen to his appeal about the "unknown God." Superstition must not be understood to mean an "excess of religion," as if any one could have too much of true religion, but any misdirection of religious feeling, manifested either in showing religious veneration or regard to objects which deserve none-that is, properly speaking, the worship of false gods or in an excess of veneration for an object deserving some veneration, or the worship of God through the medium of improper rites and ceremonies" (Whately, On Bacon, p. 155). It is generally defined to be the observance of unnecessary and uncommanded rites and practices in religion; reverence of objects not fit for worship; too great nicety, fears, or scrupulousness; or extravagant devotions; or religion wrong directed or conducted. The word may be applied 'to the idolatry of the heathens, the traditions of the Jews, the unscriptural rites of the Catholics; to the dependence placed by many on baptism, the Lord's supper, and other ceremonies. It may be extended to those who, without any evidence, believe that prophecies are still uttered or miracles are performed. Some forms of intellectual skepticism involve superstition' of a far more dangerous kind than that involved in the credulity of ignorant piety, as belief in witchcraft, magic, table-turning, spirit-rapping, etc.
"Superstition," says Claude, "usually springs either
(1) from servile fear, which makes people believe that God is: always wrathful, and invents means to appease him; or
(2) from a natural inclination we all have to idolatry, which makes men think they see some ray of the Divinity in extraordinary creatures, and on this account worship them; or
(3) from hypocrisy, which makes men willing to discharge their obligations to God by grimace and by zeal for external services; or
(4) from presumption, which makes men serve God after their own fancies. See Claude, Essay on the Compositions of a Sermon, 2, 49, 299; Saurin, Sermons (Eng. ed.), 5, 49; Gregory, Essays, Essay 3; Blunt, Dict. of Hist. Theol. s.v.; Buck, Dict. s.v.; Fleming, Vocabulary of Phil. Science, s.v.