by Kathleen Davis
Even if you don't consider yourself a superstitious person, you probably say "God bless you" when someone sneezes or find yourself knocking wood. And, though superstitions aren't logical, the idea of luck and magic can be comforting-especially when so many things are beyond our control. In honor of this unlucky day, we set out to discover the source for 13 common superstitions.
1. The Number 13
The belief that the number 13 is unlucky is said to be the most common superstition. This fear is so widespread that many apartments and hotels omit the 13th floor, and some planes have no 13th row. Avoiding the number 13 is thought to stem from Christianity-there were 13 guests at the Last Supper, for example, and some believe that if you have 13 letters in your name, you will have the devil's luck. Photo by iStockphoto.
2. Black Cats
Although in the U.S. we believe that having a black cat cross your path is bad luck, it's not the same the world over. In Egypt, for example, all cats are considered lucky-this dates back to ancient times, when cats were considered sacred. Our modern-day fear of black cats may stem from the Middle Ages, when it was believed that a witch could take the form of a black cat. Photo by iStockphoto.
3. Breaking a Mirror
The belief that you'll have seven years' bad luck if you break a mirror is said to come from the Romans, who were the first to create glass mirrors. But long ago many cultures, including Greek, Chinese, African and Indian, believed that a mirror had the power to confiscate part of the user's soul. The thinking was that if the mirror was broken, the person's soul would be trapped inside. Photo by iStockphoto.
4. Walking Under a Ladder
It makes sense that you shouldn't walk under a ladder for safety's sake, but superstition advises against it for other reasons. First, an open ladder forms a triangle, and triangles were once considered a symbol of life, so walking through that shape was considered tempting your fate. It is also thought that because it has three sides, the triangle symbolizes the Holy Trinity, and "breaking" it by entering the triangle is bad luck. Photo by iStockphoto.
5. Throwing Salt over Your Shoulder
The belief that you should toss a pinch of salt over your left shoulder to get rid of bad luck originates from the legend that the devil is always standing behind you, so throwing salt in his eye will distract him from causing trouble. Nowadays, most people only do this after spilling salt-which is thought to be bad luck, because salt was an expensive commodity long ago and folklore linked it to unlucky omens in order to prevent wasteful behavior. Photo by iStockphoto.
6. Opening an Umbrella Inside
According to superstition, bad luck will "rain" on you if you open an umbrella indoors. One explanation comes from the days when umbrellas were used as protection from the sun; opening one inside was an insult to the sun god. Another theory: An umbrella protects you against the storms of life, so opening one in your house insults the guardian spirits of your home, causing them to leave you unprotected. Photo by iStockphoto.
7. Saying "God Bless You" After a Sneeze
Considered a polite response to a sneeze, the phrase "God bless you" is attributed to Pope Gregory the Great, who said it to people who sneezed during a bubonic plague. Aside from the idea of protecting against the spread of disease, "blessing" someone after they sneezed originated from the erroneous beliefs that the soul escapes the body during a sneeze and the heart momentarily stops as well. Therefore, saying "God bless you" was a way of welcoming the person back to life. Photo by iStockphoto.
8. Carrying a Rabbit's Foot
The superstition can be traced as far back as the seventh century BC, when the rabbit was considered a talismanic symbol, and the left hind foot was a handy way to benefit from the rabbit's luck. Additionally, the Chinese consider it a sign of prosperity. In some cultures, the rabbit's foot is believed to promote reproduction, so women carry one around to boost their odds of getting pregnant. Photo by Getty Images.
9. Knocking on Wood
Knocking on wood, or simply saying "knock on wood" after making a hopeful statement, is rooted in the idea that you're tempting fate by acknowledging your good fortune. It's thought that the expression comes from the ancient belief that good spirits lived in trees, so by knocking on something wooden, a person was calling on the spirits for protection. Photo by Getty Images.
10. Crossing Your Fingers
It's a near-universal sign of wishing for something, but there are many theories about its origin. One is that when Christianity was illegal, crossing fingers was a secret way for Christians to recognize each other. Another is that during the Hundred Years' War, an archer would cross his fingers to pray for luck, before drawing back his longbow with those same fingers. Yet another, even older, theory is that crossed fingers were used as a gesture to ward off witches and other evil spirits. Photo by iStockphoto.
There are several theories here. The first is that the devil appeared at the door of a blacksmith, who agreed to remove a shoe from his hoof if he promised never to enter a place where a horseshoe is hung over the door. The second belief is that witches rode on broomsticks because they were afraid of horses, so a horseshoe is a good charm to scare them off with. Photo by iStockphoto.
12. Four-Leaf Clovers
Universal symbols of good luck, four-leaf clovers exist-they're just hard to find. Legend says that when Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden, Eve snatched a four-leaf clover as a remembrance of her days in Paradise. Since then, lucky attributes have been assigned to all four leaves of the rare plant-each associated with St. Patrick and the Holy Trinity in Irish legend. Photo by iStockphoto.
13. Bird Droppings on Your Head
It sounds like a recipe for the ultimate bad hair day, but many people the world over believe that if a bird lets loose on you, good things are coming your way. One idea is that it's a sign of major wealth coming from heaven, based on the belief that when you suffer an inconvenience (albeit a pretty gross one), you'll have good fortune in return. Photo by iStockphoto.Related Articles at WomansDay.com:
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