Superstitions are beliefs that certain objects, events, or actions can influence one’s fate and bring good or bad luck. They exist in every culture and often stem from folklore or spiritual beliefs. While superstitions may seem irrational in modern society, many people still follow or avoid certain practices out of habit, tradition, or just for fun. This article explores 10 of the most well-known superstitions from around the world.
1. Black cats
One of the most prevalent superstitions is that black cats are bad luck, especially if they cross your path. This belief originated in Europe in the Middle Ages when black cats were associated with witchcraft. People thought witches could transform into black cats and back again. When the witch hunts began, cats – especially black ones – were killed along with the accused witches. Over time, this created the superstition that black cats were evil omens.
In some places like the UK and Japan, black cats are considered good luck. Sailors in the past had black cats on ships to ensure smooth sailing. But in places like America, people still avoid black cats out of centuries of inherited superstition.
Black Cat Superstitions Around the World
2. Breaking a mirror
The superstition that breaking a mirror brings 7 years of bad luck originated in ancient times when mirrors were considered magical objects. Mirrors were rare, expensive, and thought to reveal a person’s true self. If a mirror broke, it was seen as a disruption to a person’s inner spirit and life force. Romans also believed that life renewed every 7 years, so 7 years of bad luck would follow mirror damage until the renewal process completed. Though mirrors are commonplace today, the 7 years of bad luck myth endures.
3. The number 13
Many buildings and hotels skip the 13th floor or room number 13 altogether due to fears surrounding this number. Though origins are uncertain, the most common theories about 13 being unlucky stem from Christianity. Some believe the stigma dates back to the Last Supper, when Jesus dined with the 12 Apostles on the 13th day of a month, then was crucified the next day on Friday the 13th. Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, has also been considered the 13th guest at the Last Supper. Additionally, Norse mythology tells of a banquet of 12 gods that was crashed by a 13th mischievous god named Loki, who started a commotion that led to the death of one of the gods.
4. Walking under a ladder
Fear of walking under a ladder comes from the shape it forms: a triangle. Early Christians strongly believed in the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They thought if a person walked through a ladder’s triangle, it violated the Trinity and blasphemed the religion. Additionally, a ladder against a wall forms a cross. Since criminals were crucified on crosses, ladders also bore a negative association.
Ancient Egyptians also saw triangles as sacred symbols that represented life. Breaking the symbolic arrangement by walking under a ladder showed disrespect. Over time, walking under ladders became associated with bad luck due to its connection to Christianity and Egyptian beliefs.
5. Lucky rabbit’s foot
This popular good luck charm has an unsettling origin. Rabbit feet symbolize fertility in some cultures because rabbits are known to multiply rapidly. However, the feet were obtained by capturing and killing a rabbit. Hunters in the early 20th century popularized rabbit feet for good luck when searching for food. They believed the talismans increased their odds of successful hunting. But overhunting reduced wild rabbit populations drastically.
Today, lucky rabbit feet are banned in most places. Only domestic or commercially raised rabbits can be used in places where items like keychains and trinkets with feet are still legal to buy and sell. The inhumane origins make this particular superstition very controversial.
6. Lucky pennies
Finding a penny on heads is considered good luck according to a famous old saying: “Find a penny, pick it up, all day you’ll have good luck.” The superstition originated in ancient European folklore. Coins and metal were thought to offer protection against evil spirits and bad luck. Pennies made of copper were believed to amplify that good fortune. Pennies found on heads were especially lucky since the profile of a ruler on coins was meant to symbolize power.
For even greater luck, people believed the penny should be picked up with your right hand. And if the year on the penny is one’s birth year, it means especially good fortune!
Ways to Use a Lucky Penny
- Keep it in your wallet or purse
- Press it into a family photo frame
- Put it in your shoe when taking a test or trying something difficult
- Use it in heads-or-tails coin flips when you want luck on your side
7. Knocking on wood
Knocking or tapping wood after a positive statement wards off bad luck according to superstition. The tradition has pagan origins – ancient pagans thought trees were the homes of fairies, spirits, and gods. Knocking on wood called on these nature gods to bear witness to a promise or claim. It was believed they would prevent misfortune from happening by knocking back and acknowledging they heard.
Variations on tree knocking spread with Christianity. Some believers say it originated with the cross Jesus was crucified on being made of wood. Knocking on wood references that cross and brings good luck.
8. Lucky horseshoe
Horseshoes famously signify good fortune, especially if hung facing up in a U shape. The luck is said to pour out when the horseshoe tips down. Horseshoes were considered supernatural because iron has a magnetic charge. Their shape also resembles a halo, giving spiritual associations.
However, horseshoes indicate luck due to their history protecting horses from injury and poor foot health. Nailing an iron shoe to a horse’s hoof became common to avoid lameness. Humans superstitiously believed hanging a horseshoe with the ends pointing up could similarly “catch” any good luck that happened to be passing by.
9. Four-leaf clover
Each leaf on a four-leaf clover is said to represent something: fame, wealth, love, and health. The rare genetic mutation that causes four leaves instead of the usual three represents good fortune. However, four-leaf clovers were considered magical long before they represented any meaning. According to Irish folklore, clovers helped humans see fairies and escape their mischief. Then carrying a rare four-leaf clover brought even more powerful abilities to ward off bad luck.
Some Irish traditions claim Eve was the first to step on a four-leaf clover after being cast out of Eden. Because it gave Eve hope for the future, clovers became the symbol of faith and luck.
Ways to Find a Four-Leaf Clover
- Look in grassy areas that get a lot of indirect sunlight and rainfall
- Bring a magnifying glass to examine clovers closely
- Aim to find a clover patch with 10,000 to 20,000 three-leaf clovers to find a four-leaf clover
- Check areas where clovers faced less human disturbance and trampling
- Best times are early mornings after rain or cooling summer temperatures
10. Lucky bamboo
Lucky bamboo is a popular feng shui cure believed to bring prosperity and fortune. It’s a common houseplant that can be grown in just water. However, it’s not actually bamboo but a type of resilient dracaena grass. Though lucky bamboo only requires water and sunlight, its neglect can cause the plant to wilt and die.
The number of bamboo stalks determines the kind of luck and blessing bestowed:
- 2 stalks – good luck in love
- 3 stalks – happiness
- 5 stalks – wealth
- 8 stalks – growth
The bamboo plant itself symbolizes long life and strength through adversity in Asian culture. Lucky bamboo combines that significance with the symbolic numbers of specific stalk arrangements.
Lucky Bamboo Care Tips
- Use purified or distilled water, changing it every 2-4 weeks
- Keep away from direct sunlight or heat
- Make sure the container has drainage holes
- Choose green-gold stalks which are healthy
Superstitions reveal the optimism in humanity’s attempts to control unpredictability and influence unseen forces. While superstitions stem from misinformation, folklore, and spiritual beliefs, many people still value them for tradition, fun, or reassurance. Have any unusual superstitions not covered here? Let us know in the comments below!