Many of us do not believe fully in superstitions, but we may follow some because we think it is safer to do so. A superstition is a belief based on fear and not on the laws of science. Science tells us that everything which happens has known cause and effect. Here’s an example of this:
Cause: You put your car keys in a coat pocket that has a hole.
Effect: The car keys drop out the hole and become lost.
Superstition doesn’t consider the real cause and effect of what happens. Instead, superstition tells us that certain things happen because of luck or chance. A superstitious person might say you lost the keys because you got up on the left side of the bed and jinxed your day.
Many superstitions are so old that we don’t know exactly how they started or where they came from. How do you know that the number thirteen is unlucky? You just know it. How do you know that finding a four-leaf clover is lucky? It just is.
Some people have studied the history of superstitions or how they began. These historians believe that superstitions have probably existed as long as people have existed.
Today, we can explain why many things happen in the world around us. But thousands of years ago people didn’t always understand why these things happened, so they made up ways to explain them. Historians say that these old explanations have become our superstitions.
More than a million superstitions still exist in the United States today. Here’re the histories of some that you may believe in or laugh at.
The unlucky number thirteen
In some European countries, you can’t live in a house with number 13 address. The address No 13 doesn’t exist. Instead, the address 12 is followed by 12 ½ and then by 14. Many office buildings in the United States skip the thirteenth floor. Some airlines refuse to wear the number thirteen on a sports uniform. Some people will not start a trip on the thirteenth day of any month. Others will not buy or use the thirteen of anything.
How did the number 13 get such an unlucky reputation? Historians can only guess at the reasons. One explanation is based on event from the Bible. Thirteen represents the number of men present at the Last Supper before Christ was put to death. Another explanation goes back to an old North tale. The tale is about twelve gods who were having a party when the evil spirit Loki dropped by. Loki, the thirteenth to join the party, killed one of the gods.
Walking under a ladder
This superstition has some truth to it. You could get a bucket of paint dumped on your head if you walk under a ladder! But the old belief is that if you walk under a ladder, bad luck will follow. To curb the bad luck, you must quickly cross your fingers and make a wish.
Historians say that this superstition may have started because a ladder, leaning against a wall, forms a triangle. The triangle is a symbol of the Holy Trinity in Christian religions.
Getting out of bed on the wrong side
The act of getting out of bed on the left side is believed to make a person’s entire day unhappy. You are supposed to rise from the bed and place your right foot on the floor first. This superstition has to do with an ancient belief that right was good and left was bad.
Meeting a black cat
Superstition says that if your path is crossed by a black cat, you’re really going to be in for bad luck unless you return home immediately.
The Egyptians believed that cat was a god, and they punished anyone who killed a cat. Europeans, however, believed the cat was linked to witches and the devil.
If this happens, you’re supposed to take a pinch of salt and toss it over your left shoulder into the face of the devil.
This superstition may have come from the ancient belief that salt was magic because it could stop certain foods, such as meat, from turning bad. People began to believe that salt could keep anything bad from happening. Salt on the table came to stand for justice and goodness. If person spilled the table salt, bad luck was supposed to follow.
Breaking a mirror
This is good for seven years of bad luck, or it could cause a death in the family. If a mirror breaks, you are supposed to get the pieces out of the house quickly and bury them.
Before the invention of mirrors, people discovered what they looked like by gazing into ponds and lakes. If a person’s image was distorted by the water, bad luck was sure to strike. In those days, a sneaky person could probably ruin someone’s day by pitching a stone into the water!
Water was replaced by first using shiny metal mirrors and then glass mirrors. But the belief about bad luck being caused by a distorted image did not give way to some other notion. After all, a broken mirror can make a person’s image look just as distorted as moving water can.
Why does seven years of bad luck follow a broken mirror? Historians think that the number comes from a Roman belief. The Romans thought that a person’s body renewed itself every seven years.
Knocking on wood
If you mention good luck, you are supposed to knock on wood three times. This will keep your luck from turning bad.
Historians have traced this superstition to ancient times when people believed gods lived in trees. For example, the god of lightning and thunder was thought to live in trees because that’s where lightning often hit during storms. People came to believe that they were touching magic when they touched wood.
The lucky horseshoe
You should hang a horseshoe, with its prongs pointed upward, above your door if you want good luck.
One explanation of how the horseshoe came to be a good-luck charm has to do with the fear of witches. People used to believe that witches rode broomsticks because they were afraid of horses. A horseshoe, therefore, was good protection against witches.
Dressing boys in blue and girls in pink
This practice goes back to very early times when people believed that evil spirits lurked around babies. They also believed that the spirits would avoid certain colors, especially blue. For this reason, baby boys were dressed in blue.
Why then were baby girls dressed in pink? Historians think it may have been because parents didn’t want to waste blue on their daughters. Parents used to believe that daughters were not as important as sons therefore, they thought evil spirits would not be too interested in their baby girls.
By Sharon White