The Surprising Origins of 12 Common Superstitions

History Behind 12 Common Superstitions

Even if you consider yourself immune to superstitions, chances are you’ve knocked on wood or hesitated when encountering a black cat crossing your path. These long-standing beliefs continue to thrive in contemporary society and stem more from folklore and cultural traditions than paranormal phenomena.

Some superstitions have become so deeply ingrained in society that they influence even the most skeptical among us. But where did these curious beliefs come from? Let’s check the history and origin of some of the most common superstitions around the world.

Hanging a Horseshoe as a Lucky Charm:

history of common superstitions
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Once upon a time, especially during the early 20th century, people living in rural areas would often attach an old horseshoe, typically discovered along roadsides, to their gates or doorways. Believed to bring good luck and prosperity, there was a peculiar catch – it must be an old horseshoe. This belief emerged from the medieval tales enveloping horses, which were perceived as fortunate and valuable creatures.

Moreover, there’s a belief that has been around since ancient times suggesting that iron, the primary material of horseshoes, possessed the power to ward off evil spirits. Unsurprisingly, horseshoes have become symbols of luck and protection worldwide, from China and India to the far reaches of Europe. In our own popular culture, the horseshoe has served as a centuries-old emblem of luck, guarding homes and, in the form of a “martisor,” even shaping destinies.

Friday the 13th: A Chilling Day

Often regarded as a day full of misfortune, Friday the 13th has gained quite the infamous status. One historical event contributing to this fear dates back to 1307 when King Philip of France initiated a brutal persecution of the Knights Templar. Accusing them of heresy and satanic practices, the king subjected these warrior monks to torture and execution by fire. In reality, King Philip was heavily indebted to the wealthy and influential Templars, who had received support from the Church for their contributions during the crusades.

Despite the Templars’ protection from the Pope, the king’s greed prevailed, leading to their downfall. This dark event has forever linked Friday the 13th with ill fortune and death. One theory behind this superstition ties it to Jesus’ crucifixion, which, according to biblical accounts, occurred on a Friday before Easter. Adding further to the ill-famed nature of the number 13 is Judas – Jesus’ betrayer – who is often regarded as the thirteenth apostle.

The Four-Leaf Clover:

leaf clover common superstition
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According to an ancient Irish legend, when Eve was banished from Paradise, she held onto a clover leaf as a reminder of heaven’s riches. This story gave birth to the symbolism of the four-leaf clover, representing luck, abundance, and fortune.

Each leaf of the clover symbolizes faith, hope, luck, and love. The ancient Druids held white clover in high esteem, believing it could ward off evil spirits and used it in a range of enchanting rituals for community prosperity and healing.

Also Read: 13 Irish Superstitions You Should Know About

Knocking on Wood:

Many of us have reflexively knocked on wood when discussing misfortunes, illnesses, or accidents in the hope of warding off bad luck. The roots of this peculiar superstition are somewhat elusive, but it is believed to trace back to ancient times when people believed that benevolent tree spirits protected them from malevolent forces.

In ancient Greece, there was a belief that touching an oak tree allowed a form of communication with Zeus, the mightiest deity in the Pantheon, seeking protection from this powerful god.

Crossing Fingers for Luck:

origins of common superstitions
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The cross has long served as a symbol of protection, strength, and good fortune. In ancient times, two individuals who made the same wish would cross their index fingers in the hope of having their wishes granted. This practice later found a place in Christian tradition, serving as a means for believers to identify one another and invoke divine protection.

In more contemporary times, the superstition surrounding crossed fingers has taken on various meanings. For instance, crossing your fingers is a way of hoping for luck or success, often used when facing daunting challenges. Some individuals might even cross their fingers behind their back or keep them tucked away in a pocket when making insincere promises, believing that this gesture will shield them from potential repercussions. In such cases, crossed fingers serve as a defense against any potential harm or mischief from malevolent forces.

Itchy Palms and Money:

The notion that an itchy palm signifies financial gain or loss is a well-known superstition. Its origins, however, are somewhat complex. This superstition dates back to the late Middle Ages, a time when occult practices like palmistry or palm reading became increasingly popular in Western societies.

In this belief system, the left hand, associated with the heart, represented good news and, therefore, was the recipient. In contrast, the right hand, engaged in most activities, was associated with giving. In palmistry, an itchy right palm symbolizes the transfer of energy, suggesting that you may soon part with your money, goods, or services without receiving a proper reward in return.

The Enigma of Black Cats:

black cat superstition
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In various cultures, black cats have been linked with evil omens or misfortune. In ancient Egypt, all cats, regardless of color, were revered and celebrated. From there emerged the belief that a black cat crossing one’s path brought good luck, a stark contrast to the superstition we are more familiar with today.

This positive reputation was revived in 17th-century England when King Charles I cherished a black cat as his pet, considering it a harbinger of good fortune. However, following the cat’s demise, he believed that his luck had deserted him. Whether by coincidence or design, the king was arrested the very next day and charged with high treason. As the Middle Ages progressed, parts of Europe adopted the opposing belief that black cats were associated with witches and brought ill fortune. Some even feared that a black cat crossing their path indicated that the devil was tracking them.

Also Read: 10 Weird Festivals of Asia

Saying “Bless You” When Someone Sneezes:

The age-old custom of saying “Bless You” when someone sneezes has persisted through the ages, even though its original significance has been largely forgotten. In ancient times, people believed that sneezing depleted the body’s strength and capacity to fend off illnesses. This belief was so ingrained that during the Middle Ages, sneezing was often associated with death and the dreaded plague.

In fact, during those times, the Pope himself encouraged the practice of wishing good health to those who sneezed and offering prayers for their souls. This custom endures to this day, albeit with its original meaning largely obscured by the passage of time.

Avoiding Opening Umbrellas Indoors:

common superstition umbrella
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Most historians trace the caution against opening umbrellas indoors to Victorian-era England. According to Charles Panati’s work, “Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things,” when waterproof umbrellas with metal spokes began to gain popularity, opening them indoors became hazardous.

A sudden and unexpected opening of a rigid-spoked umbrella in a confined space could lead to injuries, potentially harming adults or children and damaging fragile objects. Even minor accidents could result in disputes and bring bad luck upon families or friends. Thus, the superstition arose as a deterrent against opening umbrellas indoors.

Common Superstitions About Salt:

For those who harbor superstitions, spilling salt on a table is believed to bring bad luck or conflict into the home. Some think that wiping away the spilled salt with a damp cloth or tossing a pinch of salt over the left shoulder can reverse these ill effects. The origins of this fear are rather ambiguous, but one theory suggests that it dates back to a time when salt was an exceedingly valuable commodity. Wasting something so precious would surely incur bad luck.

Alternatively, Leonardo da Vinci’s artwork might be partially to blame. In his renowned painting “The Last Supper,” Judas Iscariot, the apostle who would later betray Jesus, is depicted accidentally knocking over a salt cellar with his elbow. Due to the proximity of his arm to the salt, it’s plausible to assume that Judas inadvertently upset the container during the meal. The Bible narrative tells of Judas’s subsequent betrayal of Jesus, hence the association between spilled salt and dishonesty and betrayal.

Breaking Mirrors and Seven Years of Bad Luck:

broken mirror superstition
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In ancient Greece, mirrors were consulted to predict one’s financial fortunes. Depending on how one’s reflection appeared, it was believed that they could anticipate whether they would gain or lose wealth. This divination practice was known as catoptromancy.

Subsequently, in the first century AD, the Romans altered this interpretation. At that time, it was believed that an individual’s health underwent changes in seven-year cycles. A distorted self-image seen in a broken mirror was interpreted as a harbinger of seven years of sickness and misfortune rather than an omen of death.

Walking Under Ladders:

The superstition surrounding walking under ladders has ancient roots, dating back 5,000 years to Ancient Egypt. In Egyptian belief, a ladder leaned against a wall formed a sacred triangle—a symbol of utmost importance to the culture. This triangular shape represented a trinity of gods, and passing through it was viewed as sacrilegious.

Centuries later, during the 1600s in England, walking under a ladder was considered a surefire way to attract bad luck. Even the condemned, en route to the gallows, had to walk under a ladder.

In Conclusion: Origins of Superstitions

These captivating superstitions have undoubtedly woven themselves into our daily lives. While many might brush them off as simple oddities or outdated stories handed down through generations, it’s intriguing to ponder their continued presence across time and cultures. Superstitions provide a window into tradition, mythology, and the power of human creativity. They serve as reminders that sometimes the unexplained and enigmatic aspects of life bring a dash of wonder to our modern, logical world.

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