Some Common Superstitions Explained, from Spilling Salt to Bird Poop

Superstitions are known to be a widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief. There are many common superstitions that people believe in, but they do not know where they originated from. Kate Behring highlights 10 of the most common superstitions in the United States.

Reynolds Sandbox
The Reynolds Sandbox

--

Superstition #1

Walking under a ladder is bad luck.

This superstition originated 5,000 years ago in ancient Egypt. A ladder leaning against a wall forms a triangle and the Egyptians related their ancient pyramids to the triangle. To them the triangle represented the trinity of the gods, and to pass through a triangle was to desecrate them. Centuries later, the Christians also believed this to be bad luck. A ladder rested against the crucifix, this led it to represent a symbol of weakness, betrayal, and death. Later, in the 1600s England forced criminals to walk under a ladder on their way to the gallows.

Superstition #2

It is bad luck to open an umbrella indoors.

Starting around 1200 BCE, ancient Egyptians used to use umbrellas made out of peacock feathers and papyrus to shield them from the sun. When opening an umbrella indoors, away from the sun’s rays, this action would anger the sun god, Ra, and create a whirlwind of bad luck.

Superstition #3

A broken mirror gives you seven years of bad luck.

Originating in ancient Greece, it was commonly known for people to consult “mirror seers”. Mirror seers would explain people’s fortunes by analyzing their reflections. During this process, a mirror was dipped into water and a sick person was asked to look into the glass. If the image of the man/woman looked distorted it resulted in seven years of bad luck or death.

Superstition #4

When you spill salt, toss some over your left shoulder to avoid bad luck.

Spilling salt has always been considered bad luck. It began with ancient Sumerains and later spread to the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and later, the Greeks. It began with how much people prized salt as a seasoning. The etymology of the word “salary” shows how highly we value it. The Roman writer Petronius, in the Satyricon, originated ‘not worth his salt’ as opprobrium for Roman soldiers, who were given special allowances for salt rations, called salarium ‘salt money’, the origin of our word ‘salary’.

Superstition #5

Knock on wood to prevent disappointment.

Many people knock on wood in order to keep bad things from happening to them. When someone says something out loud that they do not want to happen, they knock on wood to reverse the curse. This originated from an ancient religious rite of touching a crucifix when taking an oath. Many people knock loudly in order to keep out the evil spirits.

Superstition #6

A black cat crossing your path is lucky/unlucky.

Ancient Egyptians believed black cats to be good luck. They believed this because King Charles I had a black cat as a pet. Upon the cat’s death, his luck was gone. The very next day, King Charles I was arrested and charged with high treason. During the Middle Ages, people in many parts of Europe associated black cats with witches. They believed that if a black cat crossed your path, it was an evil spirit watching you.

Superstition #7

The number 13 is unlucky.

Fear of the number 13, known as “triskaidekaphobia,” has its origins in Norse mythology. In a well-known tale, 12 gods were invited to dine at Valhalla, a magnificent banquet hall in Asgard, the city of the gods. Loki, the god of strife and evil, crashed the party, raising the number of attendees to 13. The other gods tried to kick Loki out, and in the struggle that ensued, Balder, the favorite among them, was killed.

Superstition #8

Stepping on a crack will lead to breaking your mother’s back.

This superstition originated from the early Europeans and Americans. The basic idea was that beneath the cracks was danger. If you step on a crack, it can put your family at risk of death or injury. Therefore, when you step on a crack the evil spirits below will break your mother’s back.

Superstition #9

Find a penny heads up, then all day you’ll have good luck.

Many people believed metals were precious gifts from the gods. Pennies are not worth much, however when finding a penny it brings luck and increases your wealth. The bad luck from pennies comes from the understanding of a constant battle between good and evil. If one side brings good luck, the other must bring bad.

Superstition #10

Getting pooped on by a bird brings luck.

For centuries birds have been known to be mythical creatures. It is very rare that when a bird flies in the sky that you just happened to be in their pooping zone. Many people say that when you get pooped on by a bird, you should play the lottery the same day. Russians are the ones who originated this superstition. The rarity of it actually happening is what makes it good luck.

Listicle Journalism by Kate Behring for the Reynolds Sandbox

--

--

Reynolds Sandbox
The Reynolds Sandbox

Showcasing innovative and engaging multimedia storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab in Reno.