Chain Letter from Heaven, 17th century. Image: Wiki.
Many of us have received those annoying chain e-mails that promise you money, love, or luck - but only if you immediately forward on the message to several of your friends and family. If you don't send the thing on, it threatens you with dire bad luck. It's not quite a chain letter, which illegally involves requests for money. This is more the superstitious variety, where the currency exchanged is your fate. Creepy, yes? The annoying e-mail that promises love or money seems to be one of those things that grew out of the Internet Age. It looks like a cousin of virus hoaxes, pyramid schemes or urban legends. In fact, it is a superstition all of its own.
On October 1, a teen horror flick called Chain Letter starring Brad Dourif saw limited release. It suggests that the ubiquitous tech gadgets that we have can suddenly make us traceable to some maniac who decides to target us. If you don't pass the medieval junk message on to your friends (who then in turn can be traceable victims), the monster will come after you. The film has a similar premise to the 1998 Japanese cult horror film, Ringu, except that the tech tools used there were a VHS tape, televisions and regular telephones. Once one character had watched the tape, they had to make someone else watch it, in order to get the curse off their heads. The first thirty minutes of the film (below) provide the set-up.
Ringu (Part 1). Film (1998) © Toho Company Ltd. Video: Youtube.
Ringu (Part 2). Film (1998) © Toho Company Ltd. Video: Youtube.
The idea of passing on luck (good or bad) is ancient. The ancient Hebrews, Greeks and Syrians all developed the idea of a sacrificial animal, a scapegoat, which could have the ills of one community visited upon its head. This of course was translated into the core founding principle of Christianity, with a divine human substituted for the sacrificial animal. In Scotland in the eighteenth century, there was a New Year's Day ritual of transferring any ill luck meant to befall the family in the coming year onto the head of the family cat or dog. Several European superstitions maintain that if you want to get rid of disease or bad luck, you put it into a coin and leave it at a crossroads for someone else to pick up. The moral of these stories is simple: we can pass bits of our fate on to others, but destiny is a fixed quantity. Sooner or later, someone has to pay the price.
Additional note: One of the commenters on the fourth part of this youtube Ringu posting (here), ironfistconsumerist, says: "if this story was real and i saw the video knowing my definate death would occur in seven days, i would post that video on youtube and drag as many of you down as i could. muahahahahah!"