9 Popular Superstitions For Our (Ir)Rational Minds: Do You Believe?

Posted on March 13, 2012 in Specials

By Ashutosh Kumar:

Superstitions can be defined as the irrational belief in the existence of unseen forces controlling people’s fates or the outcomes of events, with negative effect, unless particular actions are taken to prevent the ill effects or to produce the desired Good effects which may involve a person’s behaviour and actions or places etc. Not only the illiterate, but also many educated, intelligent people still believe in a variety of superstitions in the world. But it’s not easy to dismiss something that has been practiced for several centuries. These beliefs have been transmitted from generation to generation. Some of the most common superstitions of the 21st century are:

1. Black cat crossing the path — When a black cat crosses a path, people don’t want to continue on that path because they think that something bad will happen to them. Black cats are a sign of bad luck. This belief also has Christian origins as the Egyptian goddess Bast’s symbol was a black female cat so Christian priests, who wanted to wipe out her influence once and for all, claimed that a black cat cuts you off from God and blocks the entrance to heaven. Also during the witch hunt, black cats were believed to be personifications of more experienced witches.

2. Why is Friday the 13th a day of misfortune? Jesus was crucified on a Friday and he was surrounded by 12 disciples, one of them out to betray him. Noah’s flood supposedly started on a Friday; Adam and Eve were apparently expelled on one such day. Also, it is said that whenever 12 witches get together, their 13th member is the devil himself.

3. Knocking wood three times– You must knock on wood 3 times after mentioning that good fortune or the evil spirits will ruin things for you. The American version is “knock on wood”, while the British version is merely “touch wood”. The tradition traces back to an ancient pagan belief that spirits resided in trees, particularly Oaks, and that by knocking on or touching the wood, you were paying a small tribute to them by remembering or acknowledging them, and could call on them for protection against ill-fortune. Also, you were thanking them for their continued blessings and good luck.

4. Sneezing once when you make a statement indicates that what you said is true– This tradition is not new at all, but if anyone finds it true in 21st century then the era is definitely full of irrationality.

5. Open an umbrella indoors and bad luck will “rain” on you: Some people believe that if there is a sick person indoors, opening an umbrella indoors will make them sicker. Strangely, it is not considered to bring an already open umbrella which has been left so to dry. The most common reason stems from the days when umbrellas were used mainly as protection against the sun. To open one indoors would be to insult the sun god and invite his anger on everyone in your household.

6. Walking under a ladder – Walking under a ladder has long been regarded a bad luck. Some believe that in the medieval times, a leaning ladder was thought to resemble gallows, so if you walked under a ladder you were guaranteeing your own death by hanging. Another, more likely reason is that the shape formed by a leaning ladder is a triangle, and the triangle is the symbol of the Holy Trinity. Therefore, by walking through the triangle, you are violating and desecrating God.

7. If you spill some salt, you must take a pinch of the spilled salt and throw it over your left shoulder. Historically, salt has been highly valued and considered to be a purifying substance, capable of driving away evil. The Romans paid their soldiers in salt —hence the word “salary”. It has long been useful as a preservative, in medicine, and is also used in magic, ritual, and thus also in superstition- to purify, bless things, and drive away evil.

8. Crossing your finger– Crossing two fingers (the middle and pointing fingers) on one hand as a sign of hopefulness or desire for a particular outcome. By making the sign of the Christian faith with our fingers, evil spirits would be prevented from destroying our chances of good fortune.

9. And finally, breaking a mirror brings you bad luck. Before the invention of mirrors, humans gazed into their own reflection in ponds, lakes, and clear surfaces. If the image they see is distorted, they believed that it is a sign of impending disaster. When the unbreakable metal mirrors were invented in the Greeks and Egyptians, it was valued and was believed to be magical. When the glass mirrors were invented, the Romans began to believe that breaking it will cause impending bad luck to reverse the bad luck, you are supposed to bury the pieces, sometimes by moonlight.

The world moves and civilization progresses, but in this modern era old superstitions remain the same. “As human nature does not change, and the superstition is a part of human nature.”

Image courtesy: http://fromkoreawithlove.org/2010/12/07/superstitions-in-korea/