6 Superstitions and Their Historical Origins

What if spitting actually keeps away bad luck?

Kyrie Gray
Sep 28, 2020 · 4 min read
Image licensed from Canva

Have you ever seen a grandparent do something odd? Maybe they throw salt over their shoulder after they spill it. Or they refuse to kill a spider in their home. When you ask why, they only tell you, “It’s just an old superstition.”

Yet superstitious beliefs are not limited to the elderly living in tiny wood sheds in rural areas. They are ingrained in all of us, depending on our family’s background. From our fear of graveyards to our overpowering need to not look in mirrors at night, old tales have been boiled down to a single rule that we follow. But when you look harder at the superstition, sometimes you can find the solid logic behind it.

Never kill a spider.

It is bad luck to all a spider, old-timers say. When asked for a reason, some will tell the story of how a spider saved Jesus by keeping his hiding place secure. But the answer is probably simpler, going back to our roots. Spiders are helpful creatures who eat the pest that cause sickness and devour our food. Before storage or fly traps, spiders were the main defense against vermin. To kill a spider meant one would be at the mercy of the bugs again.

Bats in one’s home is a sign your will be possessed by a demon

Bats used to be much more of a problem in communities than they are now. Rural areas might still encounter them, but because we know how to keep them out, you’re less likely to get one in your hair.

If someone were bit by a bat back then and it had rabies, that person would be acting strangely indeed. One might even say like a possessed person. Before dying horribly that is. So bats, with their creepy wings, became the poster animal for demons and bad luck in western culture.

You have to hold your breath when going by a cemetery

Breath is a beautiful thing. Which is why the last one has such weight. In some cultures, the last breath is actually believed to be the soul leaving the body. So the rumor that a soul could get IN one’s body through breath arose. This fear explains why we should keep our breaths at a minimum when passing by a place of the dead. Better safe and oxygen-deprived than possessed.

Crossroads are unlucky places

Crossroads feature heavily in most spooky stories and lore. Often it has something to do with the concept of two places meeting and it thus is a space where the veil to the spirit world is thinner. This means one is much more likely to encounter the weird here.

The other cause for the trepidation might be from the old practice of burying suicide victims and others who could not go in church graveyards at a crossroads. One historian suggests that gallows were set up on crossroads because of the easy access for viewing from all sides. And as a warning to those coming to town that justice would be served. When one thinks of all that evil and death associated with crossroads, it’s easy to see why they still have a reputation as being a bad spot to linger.

Spitting will push away evil

My grandma used to spit to ward off bad luck. Others do so to dispel the evil eye. Spitting is an oddly common superstition in the east and the west. Yet scientists have an answer for why spitting might have had benefits. Saliva has antiseptic properties (at least more so than NOT doing anything) so those who spat on their wounds could avoid infection. Their non-spitter friends might die. Thus over time spitting was seen as a way to keep away bad fortune. Like death.

Cats suck the breath from infants

Cats really do get a bad reputation in the west when it comes to luck. Besides just generally being bad omens, they are said to cause the death of infants if left alone in the room with them. That’s right. Fluffy will take your child’s soul through their mouth and straight to its master, Satan.

OR this superstition arose from a place of warning to parents. Cats, even mean ones, crave warmth. Human bodies produce ample amounts of it while we sleep. Cats have been known to get too close and cause sleeping problems in adults. Therefore it’s not a stretch to imagine them accidentally killing a baby in their attempt to cuddle with a human who couldn’t push them off.

Some of the superstition’s roots are lost to history. But others have a rational story behind their origin. How many of us blow on things to fix them? Those kids being born now won’t understand, but you’ll explain that back in your day, blowing on a cartridge fixed everything. So blowing on something became a way to bring good luck. They might scoff, but who knows? Maybe they’ll blow on their insanely high-tech device and it will suddenly start working.

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Kyrie Gray

Written by

Writer of humor, spooky things, and history. Subscribe to my newsletter, Guffaw for updates, musings and other fun stuff https://guffaw.substack.com/welcome

Here There Be Monsters

Do you love monsters? Ghosts? The strange and weird? Then you’re in the right place! Here you’ll encounter horrible histories, chilling ghost stories, and more spooky content.

Kyrie Gray

Written by

Writer of humor, spooky things, and history. Subscribe to my newsletter, Guffaw for updates, musings and other fun stuff https://guffaw.substack.com/welcome

Here There Be Monsters

Do you love monsters? Ghosts? The strange and weird? Then you’re in the right place! Here you’ll encounter horrible histories, chilling ghost stories, and more spooky content.

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