Top 13 believed superstitions and their origins

Superstitions have over the years have become a normal part of our lives. From when we are children we are told about them through nursery rhymes, television and children’s books. We are taught that bad luck is caused by random incidents such as breaking mirrors or having a black cat cross your path. Stories that started out as old wives tales have resulted in many people going to extremes to avoid them. These include the simple occurrences that most people experience daily, for example stepping on a crack. In this article, we will explain the history behind these household myths.

1.     Walking under a ladder

This superstition dates back to the medieval times where the ladder symbolised the gallows, the place where people were hanged. Ladders were typically propped up against the gallows to help the person who had the job of removing the dead bodies. It was believed that when someone walked under a ladder, it was a sign that he or she would face death by hanging.

2.     Black cats

The superstition of black cats dates back to the middle ages when black cats were thought of as companions to witches and evil demons. It was believed that a black cat crossing your path blocked your connection to God and the entrance to heaven. This paranoia led to mass felicide, the killing of black cats, and the killing or severe punishment of their owners. Black cats were also put in prison in some cases.

3.     Broken mirrors

The superstition of broken mirrors dates back to before metal or glass mirrors were even invented. When looking into a pond, pool or bowl of water it was believed that if the reflection looked distorted a disaster would strike. The ancient Greeks, Hebrews and Egyptians produced mirrors made out of brass, silver or gold, as they were thought to be unbreakable and possessed magical abilities. If a mirror was broken, it was thought that seven years of bad luck would be cursed upon the person.

4.     Open umbrella

The origins of this superstition are still being debated. Some believe that it dates back to the early Egyptian times when umbrellas protected people, mainly royalty, from the sun. Umbrellas were thought to ward off evil spirits. To open one inside or even in the shade it would offend the God of the sun.

5.     Horseshoes

Horse shoes are considered to be good luck when hung upside down on a door. Many believe this act draws the good luck floating by to the location of the horseshoe. If a horseshoe is hung with its legs pointing downwards, it is thought that the good luck would spill over the door and stop evil from entering.

6.     666

This superstition dates back to the bible as in the Book of Revelation, 666 is considered to be the sign of the ‘beast’ and it is often interpreted as a mark of Satan and represents ‘the end times.’

7.     Step on a crack

This superstition dates back to the early 20th century when it was common to tell children stories about the bad things that would happen if they stepped on a crack. For example, they were told that they would be eaten for lunch by bears. Another superstition about stepping on a crack is that the number of cracks stepped on is linked to the number of bones you will break in your body.

8.     Friday 13th

The superstition of Friday 13th is fairly recent, dating back to the late 1800s. Friday has long been considered an unlucky day, according to Christian beliefs Jesus died on a Friday, and 13 has a long history as being an unlucky number.

9.     Bloody Mary

The superstition of the Bloody Mary has taken different forms over hundreds of years. Through all the different versions a few aspects always stay the same: a vengeful spirit known as Mary that can be summoned through a mirror. The ‘ritual’ to summon Mary is normally completed by chanting her name or a phrase expressing belief in her existence into a mirror. Phrases such as ‘Bloody Mary killed your wife,’ ‘hell Mary,’ ‘I believe in Mary Worth,’ or simply ‘Bloody Mary’ are believed to summon her ‘spirit’ from the mirror.

10.     Find a penny

This superstition is thought to stem from ancient times when metals were thought to offer protection to people from evil spirits inside the pennies. Some people believe that finding a penny heads up can bring good luck but finding it tails up can bring bad luck to the person.

Some believe that the penny superstition evolved from a pagan ritual ‘find a pin and pick it up; all day long you’ll have good luck,’ as this is very similar to the more recent rhyme: ‘find a penny, pick it up and all day long you’ll have good luck.’

11.     Bless you

The custom of saying ‘bless you’ after a person sneezes originates from Pope Gregory the Great who allegedly said it to people who sneezed during the time of the bubonic plague. Blessing someone after they sneezed was linked to the idea that the soul left the body during the sneeze and that the heart momentarily stops. Saying ‘bless you’ was a way of welcoming person back to life.

12.     Knock on wood

To knock on wood or to touch wood is supposed to help ward off unlucky consequences, banish evil spirits, to undo something that is said and that could possibly tempt fate. It was also seen as a thank you gesture to the spirits or to God for bringing good luck and blessings. Today it is acceptable to knock on wood-like surfaces for good luck or knock on their own heads if no wood is available.

13.     The number 13

This is a well-known mythological tale which originates from when 12 Gods were invited to dine at Valhalla a banquet hall in the city of the Gods. Loki the God of strife and evil went to the dinner uninvited and therefore raised the number to 13. When the other gods tried to remove Loki, the favourite among them, Balder, was killed after a struggle ensued. Many people still shy away from the number but there is no real evidence to show that 13 is an unlucky number.

Siobhan, Kiera and Trinity.