Today is Friday the 13th and, to the superstitious, a very inauspicious day.

According to Merriam-Webster, a superstition is “a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation”. Humans seem to love superstitions as they abound across the world. Practically every culture has a set of superstitious whether they be jumping over a bonfire to ensure fertility or wearing an amulet to ward off evil spirits or knocking on wood to avoid tempting fate.

Most superstitions seem to revolve around luck, either averting bad luck or enhancing good luck. A European tradition of saying “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit” immediately upon awakening on the morning of the first day of the month is said to ensure good luck for the entire month while breaking a mirror is said to confer seven years worth of bad luck on the breaker.

Some superstitions seem to have a partial basis in reality – at one time, glass was expensive so breaking a mirror meant a loss of money. The same with spilling salt. As for walking under ladders, anyone who walks underneath a ladder is susceptible to having things dropped on their head from a clumsy person at the top of the ladder.

Depending on location and culture, some things have different superstitious significance. Take the black cat for instance. In Irish and Scottish folklore, black cats are symbols of good luck, but it’s believed that Christianity twisted that belief into the reverse meaning – a black cat crossing a person’s path is an omen of misfortune. That belief came about largely because cats, especially black ones, were thought to be witches’ familiars.

Over the centuries, we’ve taken away the mystique of some superstitions and turned them into simple traditions or even just children’s rhymes. Look at wedding veils, at one time, Roman women believed that hiding their faces would protect them from evil spirits.

There’s also the children’s rhyme:
One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told,
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss
Ten for a bird
You must not miss.

which is derived from a superstition relating to the consequences of seeing certain numbers of magpies. And the infamous game of jumping over cracks because if you step on one you’ll break your mother’s back.

So, tell me, what are your favorite superstitions? And do you have any superstitions of your own?



4 responses to “Superstitions!

  1. raymondbolton

    I have not had any superstitions since I was a child when black cats, ladders and whispering to dice carried some weight.

  2. Ha, no I don’t have any, but the Chinese are extremely superstitious. One of the crazier ones is you should never have a tree directly outside your house that grows taller than your house, or else you won’t make any money. I had an uncle try to kill a tree for this reason. Thankfully he didn’t succeed and the tree got bigger and bigger. Eventually he moved.


  3. Theater folks have a few very serious superstitions. Wishing someone good luck before a show is bad luck; we really did say “Break a leg!” And speaking the name of Shakespeare’s Scottish Play in the theater may cause a riot, as will quoting any of the lines (unless you’re actually rehearsing the play). When I was in highschool, someone decided to test the rule and say “Macbeth” on stage. Our director – who also taught the Shakespeare courses – had us all spin counterclockwise three times before we could continue the rehearsal.

  4. Pingback: What Happened To The 13th Floor? « The Narcissistic Anthropologist

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