Origins And Little-Known Facts About Some Common Superstitions

Superstitions are beliefs that people can take specific actions to either promote good fortune or prevent bad luck. Usually, these beliefs are irrational and stem from things that are unexplainable or out of one’s control. Common superstitions include not breaking mirrors, saying “bless you” to people who sneeze, or knocking on wood. Although many of these superstitions have become aspects of our everyday lives, we often don’t know the origins or meanings behind them. Read on to learn the history of common superstitions and decide for yourself if they’re worth believing.

There’s a reason Friday the 13th is a day feared by many.

Breaking A Mirror Is Seven Years Of Bad Luck

Photo Credits: Scott Peterson/Getty Images

In Ancient Greece, many people would go to see “mirror seers” who would tell your fortune by looking at your reflection. A mirror was dipped in water, and then the participant would gaze into the mirror. If the image appeared distorted, it meant the person was likely to die, and if it was clear they would live.

Later, the Romans believed that health events occurred in seven-year cycles, so a distorted reflection meant seven years of ailing health and misfortune. Today, when people think that breaking a mirror can result in seven years of bad luck, it’s because of an old Greek practice that changed over time.

Throw Salt Over Your left Shoulder After You’ve Spilled Some

Photo Credits: Denver Post via Getty Images

A common superstition is that after you spill salt, you have to throw some over your left shoulder to avoid bad luck. Although there are many theories as to this superstition’s source, one widely accepted theory is that it can be traced back to to the Ancient Sumerians around 3,500 B.C.

After spilling salt, they would throw a pinch of it over their shoulder to prevent any unfortunate luck. To spill any salt was already a sign of bad luck since it was so expensive and valued, so people created another act to cancel out any further misfortune. It is a reflection of how prized salt was back then and and the tradition has stuck around since.

Bad Luck To Walk Under A Ladder

Photo Credits: E. Brookes/Keystone/Getty Images

There are a few theories concerning the origin of this superstition. The first one is believed to have come from Ancient Egyptians. The Egyptians believed that triangles were sacred shapes (the pyramids) and that to walk underneath a ladder can be seen as the ultimate sign of disrespect.

However, some believe that it may have been established by early Christians who saw it as a sign of blasphemy for breaking up the Holy Trinity. Christians saw this in the form of a triangle comprised of the Holy Father, Holy Son, and Holy Ghost. The most recent belief is that it represents the gallows and anything associated with the gallows can be viewed as bad luck.

The Number 13

Photo Credits: Wodicka/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. In cultures all over the world, the number 13 is considered to be unlucky. Many buildings don’t have a 13th floor, most airports don’t have a 13th gate, and people generally tend to avoid the number altogether.

The negative omen surrounding the number is believed to have originated in Christianity. Judas was the 13th member at the Last Supper before he betrayed Jesus. It is also thought to have come from Norse mythology where 12 gods were invited to a feast in Valhalla but the evil god Loki went as a 13th guest and killed one of the most revered gods.

Believe it or not, Friday the 13th and the number 13 aren’t as closely related as you may think.

Friday The 13th

Photo Credits: Prisma/UIG/Getty Images

Although not entirely related to the number 13, Friday the 13th has become a day full of superstition that most consider being a day filled with bad luck. Some people take the day so seriously that they won’t even go outside. There’s even a horror movie franchise based on the day.

Although there are a few theories about how this came to be, one is the most widely accepted. On Friday, October 13, 1307, King Philp IV of France had hundreds of the Knights Templars (a religious and military order) arrested, tortured, and killed, which gave a negative stigma to the day Friday the 13th.

Knocking On Wood

Photo Credits: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

When people knock on wood after saying something hopeful, it’s a small gesture to keep their luck from going bad. In the UK, people merely touch wood with the same goal in mind. This association with wood and warding off bad luck has a few supposed origins.

The first comes from pagan religions that would hit sticks together, making loud noises noise to fight off evil spirits from their homes and surrounding trees. The other is believed to come from pagans who worshipped trees. They thought that placing their hands on trees when asking for a favor or praying to the gods would increase their chances of being heard. They would also touch the trees after a streak of good luck as a sign of thanks to their gods.

Ever wonder why it’s common courtesy to say “bless you”?

Bad Luck To Open An Umbrella Indoors

Photo Credits: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The idea that it’s bad luck to open an umbrella indoors merely came about as a way to prevent people from doing it. When modern metal-spoked umbrellas came about in eighteenth-century London, they were pretty hazardous. Opening one up in a crowded room could result in injuring someone or breaking something in the vicinity.

So, in the hopes of trying to prevent people from doing it, the superstition was born that it was bad luck to open an umbrella indoors. Considering that it has been over 300 years since that kind of umbrella was invented, it appears that the superstition has worked so far.

Blessing Those Who Sneeze

Photo Credits: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images

When somebody sneezes, it’s common courtesy for the people around them to say “bless you” or “God bless you,” but why? It is reported that during the plague of 590 AD, Pope Gregory ordered unceasing prayer and that anyone who sneezed was supposed to be blessed because sneezing was the first sign of contracting the disease.

Furthermore, blessing people who sneeze is also believed to come from the thought that souls could escape during a sneeze, or that a person was susceptible to evil spirits entering their body, or that it was the body attempting to rid itself of an evil spirit. Finally, some people believed that the heart stops when you sneeze and “God bless you” was an encouragement for it to keep beating.

See what gives black cats a bad reputation.

Horseshoes Are A Talisman Of Good Luck

Photo Credits: Paul Grogan/PhotoPlus Magazine via Getty Images

Horseshoes are believed to symbolize good luck in a variety of different of cultures. This can be dated back to the Greeks who thought that iron was a gift from the gods and could keep evil spirits at bay. Horseshoes are also in the shape of a crescent moon which for the Greeks was a sign of fertility and good fortune. So, horseshoes became an all-around good thing to have around.

The belief that horseshoes were good luck continued throughout the ages and even found its way into Christianity. People would hang them on their door because they believed that witches feared horses and witches would see a horseshoe as a threat. People also began hanging them on their doors pointing up as a way to catch any good luck floating around in the area.

See A Penny, Pick it Up. All Day Long You’ll Have Good Luck

Photo Credits: Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Finding a penny on the ground is considered to be good luck by many. Mainly, this comes from the ancient belief that metals come from the gods and also because they symbolize wealth and power.

Although it’s only one penny, the fact that you found stray money on the ground means there has to be some luck involved. Eventually, the superstition transformed to say if a coin is heads up that it means good look and if it’s head down it means bad luck. In that case, you are supposed to turn it over so that it’s good luck for the next person to come across it.

A Black Cat Crossing Your Path Is Unlucky

Photo Credits: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

Although it hasn’t always been this way, in Western culture, if a black cat runs in front of you or crosses your path it’s considered to signify bad luck. Some civilizations such as the Egyptians and Scots revered cats of all kinds, and people in the United Kingdom still see them as good luck.

In Western history, during the time of the pilgrims, black cats began to be associated with evil, the devil, and witches. People thought that witches could shapeshift into black cats and that they were connected to sorcery and sin. During that time, if someone was seen with a black cat they were usually accused of witchcraft and punished or even killed, so seeing a black cat was never a good thing.

Don’t Step On A Crack…

Photo Credits: Jacobsen /Three Lions/Getty Images

The saying goes “step on a crack and break your mother’s back,” meaning that if you step on a crack in the pavement, it will bring misfortune to you and your family. Primarily, this was a rhyme made up by little kids in the 19th century that eventually turned into a superstition.

Although there are numerous variations to the song, kids made it up as a game to make walking on the sidewalk a little more exciting. Over time, it became well-known to almost all children and remains a superstition among the younger demographic.

If you find a four-leaf clover, hold onto it tight.

Crossing Fingers

Photo Credits: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Crossing your middle and index finger is a standard way to ensure good luck either for yourself or someone else. Crossing one’s finger is believed to have originated in during the early stages of Christianity. Christians would cross their fingers as a symbol of Jesus’ cross and as a form of protection from evil.

Also, during the prosecution of Christians by the Romans, crossed fingers were a way for Christians to communicate with one another and show their dedication to the religion. Over time, crossed fingers were used when making wishes and turned into what we use it for today. People also cross their feelings when they’re telling a lie and to ask God for forgiveness at the same time.

A Four-Leaf Clover Is Good Luck

Photo Credits: DEA / L. CREMASCOLI/De Agostini/Getty Images

The shamrock or four-leaf clover is considered to be a symbol of good luck and happiness because they are rare to find in nature. Your odds of finding a four-leaf clover are one in 10,000 so if you see one it means that you’re lucky.

The origin goes back to the Old Testament story of Adam and Eve, where it is believed that Eve took a four-leaf clover with her on her way out of Eden to remember how beautiful the garden was. They have been a distinct sign of good fortune for hundreds of years, and there are supposedly a lot of powers behind them.

The Power Of The Number 7

Photo Credits: Richard Blanshard/Getty Images

In cultures and religions around the world, the number seven is significant. It is often associated with good luck and has frequently been referenced since ancient times. Many ancient cultures have seven gods, God created the world in seven days, the Arabs built seven holy temples, there are supposedly seven major chakras, there have been seven ancient Buddhas, the list goes on and on.

Gamblers believe that seven is a lucky number since three sevens are 21 in blackjack. It’s an excellent number to roll in craps, and straight sevens is a win on a slot machine. Furthermore, there are seven wonders of the world, seven seas, and seven continents. There’s just something that attracts people to the number seven.

Carrying A Rabbits Foot For Good Luck

Photo Credits: Gabe Ginsberg/FilmMagic

Although a little morose, it’s considered good luck to carry around a rabbit’s foot. Some people attach them to their keys, purses, leave them in their car, or place them anywhere to try and score some good luck. Initially, Celts thought that all rabbits were good luck because they burrowed underground could probably communicate with the underworld.

In other cultures and in the practice of hoodoo, rabbit feet are believed to help with fertility because of rabbit’s breeding capabilities. However, today, many of the rabbit feet that are sold aren’t real and are usually manufactured. But there are still real ones out there!

Think twice before giving a knife as a gift.

Give A Penny If You Receive Something Sharp

Photo Credits: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Another unusual superstition involves the gifting of a knife to someone. If you are given a knife, there must be an exchange of money no matter how small. It’s terrible luck otherwise and can result in that knife cutting the relationship between the two people.

Often, people will come prepared with a coin that they give along with the knife just so that the receiver can give it back and avoid any issues. The exact history of this superstition is unknown. However, it is believed to go back hundreds of years when people deeply cared about and respected blades such as their swords and other weapons.

Cheers! Never Make A Toast With Water

Photo Credits: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Making a toast with water can be seen as wishing bad luck on the people around you and even death. This comes from the Ancient Greeks who would use water to toast to the dead, who they believed drink water from the River Lethe in the Underworld.

Some people even think that toasting with water can be wishing death upon yourself, signifying the water you will soon drink from the River Lethe. So even today, toasting with water is still considered a negative thing to do. Firm believers in the notion say that it’s better to toast with an empty glass than with water.

Superstitions Surrounding Owls

Photo Credits: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

In many cultures, owls are considered symbols of death. In some Native American tribes, to dream about an owl means that your death is approaching. To the Cree tribe, owl cries were the sound of the spirits calling out to you, and if you answered back and didn’t get a response you were going to die soon.

To the Greeks and the Romans, owls were thought to be involved with witches that could turn themselves into owls, much like how pilgrims believed black cats were witches. However, among other cultures such as the Australians and Aborigines, owls are believed to be the spirits of women and are considered sacred.

Hiding Your Thumbs In Japan

Photo Credits: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

There is a superstition in Japan that involves hiding your thumb. The word thumb in Japanese is “oyayubi,” which translates to mean “parent finger.” When some people in Japan see a funeral car, they will hide their thumbs in their palms.

They do this because they believe that their parents will die young otherwise. This is most commonly done among young children who fear that their parents will die. Some people are so serious about this superstition that they will even hide their fingers as they pas a funeral or graveyard.