Superstitions are so common that they have almost become a second nature. They are usually passed down through generations and your belief in certain superstitions may be different to someone else, depending on what you were taught by your family. I know my mum always used to say ‘Don’t put your new shoes on the table it’s bad luck!’. When you see a ladder do you walk around it or walk under it? Why do you say bless you when someone sneezes? What about knocking on the table when using the phrase ‘knock on wood’. These and many other little quirks are ancient old superstitions. But where exactly to they come from? Will I really have 7 years of bad luck if I break a mirror? Here are the origins of some of the most popular superstitions.
A superstition by definition is a widely held but irrational belief in supernatural influences, especially as leading to good or bad luck, or a practice based on such a belief.
Ever been out for dinner and someone says, oh can you pass me the salt? It accidently gets knocked over and salt spills onto the table. No big deal. To some people it is and they will pour some salt in the hand and throw it over their shoulder. Not just any hand, it has to be your right hand over your left shoulder? Why is that? The origins of this superstition dates back to ancient times as salt was used in a lot of rituals and practices. In a lot of cultures it was believed to be a magical substance. Part of the original superstition was that it not only brings you bad luck, but the act of spilling the salt was an invitation to let the devil in. It was said that good spirits exist on the right side and the devil exists on the left side. It is thought that by using your right hand to throw salt over your left shoulder, it keeps the devil away and bad luck off our backs and behind us. It was also shown in the picture of the Last Super that Judas had spilt the salt. He ultimately betrayed Christ and it was widely believed by a lot of Christians that due to this spilling salt was bad luck.
Walking Under a Ladder
I just can’t seem to bring myself to walk under a ladder. I was always taught it was bad luck. But why and what will happen to me really? This superstition dates back over 5000 years ago to ancient Egypt. The Egyptians obviously believed in the power of pyramids and the shape of a triangle (which is the shape a leaned ladder will make). By walking under the ladder, you are breaking the sacredness of the pyramid. In the 1600’s in England, criminals were forced to walk under ladders on the way to the gallows awaiting their death. It caught on that if you walked under a ladder it meant you would face your death. Ladders were used during the hangings in these days as a ladder was used to lean up against the gallows and was used to assist the person in charge of removing the dead bodies. Because someone essentially died at the top of the ladder, it was even believed by some that their spirit would become trapped in the pyramid of ladder making it a haunted space. If you do find that you have accidently walked under a ladder, apparently if you walked backwards through the ladder it will reverse the curse.
Breaking a Mirror
I broke a mirror once by accident. While I pretended it was nothing, I was secretly worried that I was in for 7 years of bad luck. I did have some bad luck during that 7 years but would it have happened if I didn’t break that mirror? Most probably life would have been the same, but I am still cautious. Strangely enough this superstition was invented before mirrors were even invented. It can even be related back to Scrying. People would look into bowls of water or lakes etc where they could see their own reflection as a form of divination. If the reflection was distorted, it was believed that bad luck would follow. Mirrors were the follow on from water. Ancient Greeks, Hebrews and Egyptians apparently made mirrors of brass or silver which were unbreakable. For this reason they were thought to have mystical properties. Where does the 7 years come from though? It is believed that this comes from Roman times and the belied that each person’s body goes through a physical regeneration every 7 years. Your reflection was thought to be a reflection of your soul. If it were to be broken, it signified a break in the person’s health and well being. If you do happen to break a mirror, apparently you can break the curse by burying the broken pieces under the moonlight.
Knocking on Wood
I will quite often use this all the time. A phrase like ‘I haven’t been sick all year’ and then I will knock on a piece of wood. It can’t just be any surface, it has to be wooden for it to work. It is like by saying these words, I have just cursed myself into it happening, but if I knock on wood, it will reverse it. This superstitions is believed to date back to ancient pagan times and the belief that spirits lived in trees. Knocking on a tree would acknowledge them and call upon them for protection. Some believe that evil spirits may try to ruin our luck and by knocking 3 times on wood will ward them off. Quite a lot of cultures over time have worshipped trees believing they have an association to gods again connecting the thought that spirits lived in trees. Even just by touching the tree, you can receive good luck as you thanking and acknowledging them. By the time the 1800’s rolled around, children’s rhymes were invented about knocking on wood for luck. It is one of those things just stuck around and was passed on from generation to generation.
Saying God Bless you when sneezing
When I think of this reference I always think of an episode of the Simpsons. You know the one where Bart sells his soul to Millhouse and he is told that when you sneeze it is your soul trying to escape and by saying ‘God Bless you’ your soul stays. Back thousands of years, it was the belief that breath was the representation of our soul. When you took a breath in, you were breathing in life. If you sneezed, it was a quick release of your soul. The most popular belief however relating to this dates bated to February 16 590AD. Pope Gregory the Great said that prayers needed to be said to fight a deadly plague in Italy. Those who seemed to sneeze, ultimately died. By saying ‘God Bless you’ it protected people from the disease. It is also associated with the Black Plague in Europe in 1665. The end stages of the disease was violent sneezing. The pope made it a law that anyone who sneezed must be blessed because they were surely about to die. Over the years and particularly today, it is not used so much in a superstitious way, it is more a polite thing to do. We more just say ‘Bless you’ rather than ‘God Bless you’ to be polite.
A Black Cat crossing your path
It is thought that if a black cat crosses your path, then it means bad luck and can also mean an oman of death. If the black cat walks toward you, it can bring you good luck. If it walks away from you, it can take good luck away. In Ancient Egypt, all cats, and especially Black ones are highly regarded and well protected from death or injury. In the Middle Ages, black cats were seen as evil demons and companions to witches. Because of their connection to witches and witchcraft, it was thought that they should be destroyed. As they were seen as demons, it was thought that when a black cat crossed your path, it would block your connection to God and the entrance to heaven. Sadly, this misconception and paranoia caused a lot of black cats to be destroyed and death of it’s owner pertaining to witchcraft. Thankfully, the superstition is not as extreme as those days and there are lots of healthy and beautiful black cats walking about (possibly bringing us bad luck who knows)
There are so many different superstitions I could have written all day. I found it really interesting researching the actual origins of each superstition. I am sure a lot of you can probably relate that we tend to follow these superstitions, but we don’t really know why or how they came to be. What is your favourite superstition and what do you do to reverse the curse?
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* Images are not my own