11 Famous Superstitions And Their Surprising Origins.

This article is based on "The Surprising Origins of 9 Common Superstitions" and "25 Common Superstitions And Their Origins". If you're interested in reading more, check out the links at the end of the article.

1. A black cat crossing your path

In the Middle Ages black cats were thought to be the companions of witches or even witches in disguise. A black cat following you or crossing your path meant that the devil was watching you.

2. Horseshoe

The Celtic people believed that elves and goblins lived in the woods and caused mischief such as infertility in livestock and kidnapping children. Legend has it that the goblins feared the weapons of their enemies, which was in this case iron. To ward off goblins and elves Celts would hang iron horseshoes on their front doors. They chose horseshoes because they resembled the Celtic moon god's crescent.

3. Walking under a ladder

5000 years ago in Ancient Egypt triangles were considered sacred because they represented the trinity of the gods. To step on one or pass through one was to desecrate the gods so passing under a ladder, which makes a triangle with the ground, was avoided. Also in Christianity the ladder is seen as a symbol of betrayal and death, as a ladder was left resting against Jesus' crucifix after he had been buried.

4. Opening an umbrella indoors

During the 18th century in Victorian England umbrellas were just coming into fashion. The spring mechanism that opened and secured the umbrella was still being finessed so it sometimes sprung open abruptly. It was seen as hazard to open one indoors as the spokes on the end could injure someone or hit something, causing a bad relationship with whomever or whatever you hit.

5. Bad luck for seven years if you break a mirror

In Ancient Greece seers would analyze people's reflections to predict their future and death. The act of catoptromancy, divination through mirror gazing, was done by placing a mirror underwater and asking the person to look at their reflection. If a sick person look distorted they would die soon, if it looked clear they would live longer. Later in 1st century Rome, the thought came that health moved in 7-year cycles so the superstition changed that a broken image meant seven years of bad health.

6. Four-leaf clover

Druids believed that carrying a 3-leafed clover meant they could see evil spirits coming and have a chance to quickly escape. Four-leaf clovers had a similar power: they offered magical protection and warded off bad luck. Children thought if they carried a four-leaf clover with them they would be able to see fairies.

7. Saying "Bless you" after someone sneezes

In 6th century Italy Pope Gregory the Great was faced with a terrible pestilence characterized by sever sneezing quickly followed by death. While sneezing was previously seen as a positive bodily function, as it was thought to expel evil spirits, it was now seen as the bringer of death. The Pope urged people to pray for the sick by saying "God bless you" anytime someone sneezed. He also suggested that if you sneezed while you were alone that you should say a quick prayer of "God help me" to yourself.

8. The number 13

Fear of the number 13 is known as triskaidekaphobia. This fear originates in Norse mythology. One story goes that twelve gods were dining in Valhalla in Asgard, the city of the gods. The trickster god, Loki, arrived at the party raising the number of guests to 13. The other gods tried to remove Loki from the gathering but a fight broke out and a beloved god, Balder, died. As a result Scandinavian people would avoid parties with specifically 13 people and generally avoided the number.

9. Rabbit's foot

The Celtic people believed that rabbits in general, not just their feet, brought good fortune because they lived deep underground and were in communication with the gods of the underworld. Many cultures would also carry or hold certain animal parts because it was thought that it would give the carrier the strength of that animal. In the case of a rabbit's foot, it would bring speed or fertility to the bearer.

10. Putting a hat on a bed

It was thought that bad spirits live in people's hair and therefore their hat as well. Putting a hat on a bed brought bad luck to the bed, meaning to the person's fertility.

11. A groom and bride seeing each other before the wedding

Marriages used to be previously arranged, business-like transactions between families. Couples were not allowed to meet prior to the wedding ceremony. It was thought if a groom saw an unattractive bride he would call off the wedding, bringing shame to her family. Instead the couple would meet for the first time at the beginning of the ceremony. Brides even wore veils so that their appearance would only be revealed at the last possible second.

Sources: 1, 2


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