What do Kiwis really believe?

Last updated 23:52 09/08/2008

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JOHN CAMPBELL insists he's not really superstitious, but if someone wishes TV3's star presenter good luck when he's heading for the studio, he looks about anxiously for something made of wood.

"Given the absence of wood in the miserable TV3 building, I allow myself to touch a wood product, ie paper. Because I'm usually carrying scripts, I'm covered."

Campbell's admission that he indulges in a little magical thinking came after he was asked to complete the Sunday Star-Times "Believe It or Not" survey. (You can take the survey here.) 

The survey, developed in conjunction with Victoria University senior lecturer in psychology, Dr Marc Wilson, is an investigation into some of New Zealand's more unusual, not to mention bizarre beliefs. Participants are asked to reveal their attitudes to psychics and the paranormal, lucky numbers, black magic, broken mirrors and horoscopes and much more.

Campbell's answers to the survey reveal he is a dyed-in-the-wool sceptic most of the time. The only other superstition he'll admit to is that he has a lucky pen - a gift from colleagues - which he likes to twiddle and wave while on the set of Campbell Live. "Sometimes I leave it at home and it feels really odd to do the show without it."

Former champion jockey Lance O'Sullivan is far less shy about his superstitious fears, which at time blighted his days as a top sportsman. "I should have been locked up," he told the Sunday Star-Times. "I had lucky silks, lucky sticks. I always put my right boot on first. I always folded the the tags on my towels inwards."

The reason? "I had a mad mother. I was brought up with things like never put shoes on the table even when they're new. I still do those things."

Star-Times columnist Rosemary McLeod has little time for horoscopes, perhaps because she used to write them for a magazine, and was unimpressed the one time she visited a psychic. But she does confess to having had a few spooky experiences, including when she was visiting her Uncle Ivan when she was about nine, and heard "a kind of voice in my head that said he was going to die. Which he did, within a day or two. Weird."

Vicki Hyde, head of the New Zealand sceptics, is predictably unmoved by superstitions, premonitions and the paranormal, but is still fascinated by the lot.

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"When the Sceptics Conference opened on year on a Friday 13th, we had a ladder parked over the entrance doorway and everyone came through under it. We also had a box of mirror glass to break, chain mail letters to ignore, salt to spill, umbrellas to open inside. It was the one onference where all the speakers ran to time."

But she doesn't believe scepticism means being a killjoy. She'll happily throw a coin in to a fountain or well "for cultural reasons, and often because the money is collected for a good cause". She would never wear a stinking old rabbit's foot, but does sometimes wear a half-billion-year-old trilobite fossil in a silver mounting, which she got for Christmas.

Don't talk to her, though, about TV psychics ("ethicially objectionable") or horoscopes: "I got to the point of thinking that being told to be wary of someone simply because they were a Scorpio was as distasteful as being told to be wary of Samoans or Jews."

Marc Wilson says the survey is an opportunity to investigate more closely numerous fascinating questions. Are religious people more likely to believe in the paranormal? Who's more likely to believe in ghosts -- men or women? Do New Zealanders believe in the literal existence of taniwha?

The "Believe It or Not" survey will run online for two weeks, and results will be published after that. Readers who take part will be entered in a draw to win one of two Vodafone BlackBerry Pearl 8110s, worth $899 each.

- Sunday Star Times

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