12 Well-Known Superstitions and Where They Originated

You've gotta ask yourself a question: "Do I feel lucky?"

Rob Feeby Rob Fee

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People all over the world have strange beliefs and take superstitions extremely seriously, yet most of us have no clue where they came from or how they began. Here are twelve superstitions that you may or may not have heard of and how they all came to be.

1. Black Cats
Even if you don’t believe in superstitions at all, you know it still freaks you out for a brief second when a black cat walks in front of you. The most likely source of this fear comes from the Middle Ages. There was a strong fear of witches at the time and people believed that a witch could transform into a black cat. So if you saw a black cat crossing your path, it was probably a shape-shifting witch and not just an overpopulation of the pet community.

2. Walking Under a Ladder
The ladder forms the shape of a triangle and the triangle was a symbol of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – the Holy Trinity. If you walked underneath it, you were breaking or disrupting the triangle and, of course, breaking up God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit was considered a very bad idea.

3. Stepping on a Crack
There are several theories of where the idea that stepping on a crack would bring bad luck came from. Some of the consequences believed to come from stepping on a crack included breaking your mother’s back or, during the early 20th century when racism was running rampant, the phrase was “step on a crack and your mother’s baby will be black.” Clearly they did not know how babies were made. The oldest theory is that some believed hell lied beneath the earth’s surface and stepping on a crack would give a demon the opportunity to grab your foot and pull you to hell.

4. Don’t Open An Umbrella Indoors
This one is believed to have originated in England during the Victorian time period. Umbrellas had become common and were covered in metal, which was sharp and jagged on some points. If you opened it inside there was good chance you could break something or even injure someone. From that, people decided it was not a good idea to open an umbrella indoors and years later we are still fearful of it.

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5. Knock on Wood
Whenever someone talks about something positive they hope will happen, they’ll often knock on wood or say the phrase “knock on wood.” This is a result of a belief that spirits lived inside of trees and so if you said something about your future, you would knock on the tree to request the protection of the spirits.

6. Unlucky Number 13
It’s interesting that the number 13 is considered bad luck in most of the western hemisphere while the Chinese consider it a lucky number. The most common theory of where this superstition originated comes from the Bible, oddly enough. During the Last Supper, Judas was the 13th and final person to be seated. Then, of course, Judas went on to betray Jesus and hang himself. It’s such a strong superstition that numerous hotels and apartments won’t have a 13th floor.

7. Breaking a Mirror
When mirrors were first created, they weren’t considered just décor for your home. Many cultures were so fascinated by them that they truly thought mirrors could capture part of your soul. That’s right, even before the Kiefer Sutherland movie this was a belief. If a mirror could capture your soul and it was shattered, then your soul would be trapped in the mirror forever. So to them, breaking a mirror meant losing your soul for eternity.

8. Crossing Your Fingers
There are two popular theories as to why we believe crossing your fingers brings good luck. The first is that during the Middle Ages, if a witch approached you and you had your fingers crossed it would keep her away. The other theory comes from Christianity. During the time when Christianity was forbidden and illegal, you could signal a fellow Christian by crossing your fingers in a visible way. That way you would know you were in safe company.

9. “God Bless You”
When someone sneezes, the most common response is “God bless you.” Some believed that a sneeze was your soul trying to escape from your body and so you would say “God bless you” as a way to welcome the person’s soul back into their body. They also believed your heart would stop for just a moment with each sneeze. This is obviously untrue.

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10. Horseshoe
A horseshoe seems like an unlikely source of luck, but this is yet another superstition that originated with the fear of witches. Many believed that witches chose to ride on broomsticks because they had a fear of horses. If you had a horseshoe with you the witch wouldn’t come near you because they feared there was a horse nearby.

11. Four-Leaf Clover
The fact that it’s difficult to find a four-leaf clover only adds to the superstition that they contain the power to give you luck. They’re also believed to protect against evil spirits and even help you find love. The oldest belief that a clover will bring luck comes from Christianity where they believed that Eve carried a four-leaf clover with her at all times in the Garden of Eden. I’m not sure how they knew this, but if it’s good enough for Eve, it’s good enough for me.

12. Throwing Salt Over Your Shoulder
It’s interesting how many superstitions have spiritual origins. Throwing salt over your shoulder is no different. Some believed that the devil or some other evil being was always standing behind you. If you threw salt over your shoulder it would get in his eyes and keep him from bothering you. If that was actually the case, I would say there are much more effective tools to slow down the devil as he’s chasing behind you than salt.