Most people today think of themselves as not being superstitious and may even frown on such practices. Yet our everyday lives are filled with common expressions and habits that fit into the category of superstition. While avoiding such practices as walking under ladders makes perfect sense, other superstitions are so imbedded in our belief system that we fail to recognize them as superstitions. So just how superstitious are you?
Do you say “bless you” when someone sneezes? At one time it was believed that when a person sneezed their soul was thrust from the body. A person close by would utter “Bless you” to protect the detached soul from being claimed by the devil until the soul rejoined the body.
Do you consider horseshoes to be good luck symbols? Horseshoes used to be made from iron which was considered to have magical qualities because it was able to withstand fire. The blacksmiths who made the horseshoes were also thought to have special powers because they worked with the fire element and magical iron. It used to be common practice for people to hang a horseshoe over their front door to welcome good luck.
Do you say “knock on wood” and follow up with a couple of raps on something made of wood? This expression is commonly used to avoid tempting fate to change a string of good luck. One explanation suggests the superstition originated in the eighteenth century when men would knock on the wood stock of their muzzle-loading rifles to settle the black powder charge and ensure the weapon would fire cleanly. Another theory suggests the tradition has pagan roots. Pagans, believing that trees were home to fairies and spirits and other mystical creatures, would knock on wood once to request a favour or good luck, then knock a second time to express their thanks.
Do you avoid having a black cat cross your path? The Western culture especially views this as an omen of bad luck. Black cats have long been associated with witches and evil spirits. Gamblers are especially wary of the ‘black cat curse’ if they see one on their way to a gambling event. In certain cultures however, including Japan, Great Britain and Ireland, black cats are seen as omens of good luck.
Do you shake hands with someone you meet for the first time? This tradition is believed to have originated as a gesture of peace to demonstrate the hand concealed no weapon. When two people shook hands to seal a business agreement, the agreement was not official or legally binding until the hands parted.
Do you cross your fingers when you tell a lie or wish for good luck? This superstition tends to be more common in Christian countries, suggesting it is related to the sign of the cross—either asking forgiveness for telling a lie or calling on the Heavens for good luck, depending on the intention.
Do you believe that a broken mirror brings seven years of bad luck? It was once commonly believed that a mirror captured part of a person’s soul, and when a mirror shattered, part of the soul was scattered too. In some cultures, mirrors and reflective surfaces are covered in a house where someone has died, to allow their soul to leave without getting trapped in the mirror.
Do you believe that accidentally spilling salt is a bad omen? One theory suggests this superstition originated with Judas Iscariot when he purportedly spilled salt at the Last Supper shortly before he betrayed Jesus. Another common superstition holds that throwing a pinch of salt over your left shoulder balances out the bad luck with good luck.
Do you believe the number 13 is unlucky? This belief is so widespread that apartment buildings skip the thirteenth floor and instead number them from twelve to fourteen. Interestingly Apollo 13 was the only US mission that failed to land on the moon. One theory links ‘thirteen’ to the Last Supper, where it is believed Judas Iscariot sat at the thirteenth place at the table. Or it may have evolved from Viking lore—Loki, the trickster being the thirteenth god. On Friday October 13, 1307 King Philip IV of France ordered the arrest of the Knights Templar. Most of the knights were tortured and killed.
Are you familiar with the superstition around ‘Dead Man’s Hand’— a pair of black eights and a pair of black aces, plus a fifth unspecified card? Although this is actually a good poker hand, legend has it these were the cards held by Wild Bill Hickok, the famous Wild West lawman, when he was fatally shot during a poker game in Deadwood in 1876. If you see a character in a film dealt this hand, it is highly likely he will soon meet his end.
I lived my first fifteen years in a house at 13 Rosemount Avenue. Our family certainly had more than its share of bad luck even though I recall seeing a horseshoe hanging over one of the doors. Given the same circumstances today, and if my parents had the money to do so, they might hire a Feng Shui practitioner to advise them on how to change the energy in the house. Or perhaps rid the house of negative energy by burning sage. Instead of carrying a rabbit’s foot for good luck, people today wear angel pins or keep statues of angels and other symbolism like crosses or stones in their home to watch over and protect them. (I am one of those!) We think of ourselves as more spiritually aware souls but have we simply exchanged one set of superstitions for another? And will future generations look back on our well-intentioned practices as superstitious beliefs? What are your thoughts on this?
©Beverley A Young 2015